Tuesday, September 22, 2015

7193. BELOW THE WATER LINE, pt. 16

(pt. 16)
I always remember one thing that impressed me,
not for any big reason, but just because I always
thought it was unique. Out front of Rahway Prison,
on the lawn off to the north side, there's a marker
in the grass. It's hard to see, you have to find it.
I found it purely by luck and accident one day, and
I have since found one or two others also  -   one also
on the campus of Princeton University, by Nassau
Hall. In the ground, a little, rounded, brass marker -
a mower wouldn't even catch it, it's that flush with
the ground, in both locations. It's brass or copper,
or whatever that utility metal is that turns green over
time. The U. S. Geologic, or Geodesic Survey, or
something official like that, plants then around as
they survey and map; something like the 'victor' both
claiming and marking the land he's conquered. Anyway
they have some info on them, numbers, etc., and, with that
always, the elevation of the land at that point, as determined
and as surveyed. The one at the prison states ; 'elevation,
13 feet above sea level.' I can't right now remember what
elevation the Princeton University one states, but it's not that
different, maybe higher by 20 or 30 feet; not sure. I guess
in the hills and mountains around, the numbers get higher,
quickly. Anyway, I'm always looking and, as a kid, when
I stumbled  upon the Rahway Prison one, I was totally
taken, and impressed  - it was, seemingly, very important
and very special and  -  to a kid  -  it lent a whole other way
of thinking and looking at things. Imagine! Who ever thought
of gauging things by heights above sea level! So cool. By the
way, they've made a real mess out of that side of the prison lawn.
There used to be a decent little stream which ran there, separating
into two parts this long expanse of grass and land. No more. It's
been chopped and channeled, as they say  -  the state has built new
stuff all around, paving, a big motor vehicles agency operation, a
radar-signal tower of some sort, and the rest has been gobbled up
commercially  -  parking garages, car dealerships, one huge mess.
All those mechanizations of the unseen powers who rule things are
represented pretty well both by the survey markers and by the way
that area has been disregarded and abused. No matter how politely 
they go about 'telling' you things  -  the elevation, the latitude, the
longitude, etc, as on these ground markers - you know they're in 
charge and that's why they want to tell you. So you know. The 
prison building itself remains as ominous and strangely-foreboding 
looking as it ever did, no matter what they've done to it. Crossing the 
tracks and going into that prison farm area  -  we'd put all sorts of 
things on the tracks for trains to run over and it was a genuine 
subtext to most everything we did. Pennies. Railroad rocks 
(which would either go flying out from the speeding wheels or 
get crunched up into pulverized little pieces accompanied by 
instantaneous and tiny sparks, we'd guess from the heat and 
compression of that moment). I mean we didn't stop there either  -  
bicycle pedals, metal levers and clamps; most anything short of 
the really dangerous and big  -  we never wanted to derail  or mess 
up a train. Sometimes, also, after surreptitiously smoking one or 
two cigarettes (usually Kents stolen from my aunt, or Kenny Kaisen's 
(dead now, Kenny) mother's Raleighs), we'd find that putting the 
entire matchbook on the tracks would also make a nice, quick, 
momentary flame-out under the metal wheel as it passed over,
and ignited by heat and compression, the matchbook. There was
also a railroad call box on a pole near the trees right there  -  we'd 
often crank-call something in on that phone, or make strange noises
or something equally dumb. It's a wonder they never sent railroad
detectives out after us. If they did, we never saw them. Crossing
those tracks was like crossing a river of gold  -  on the other side,
no matter the US Government Geographic Survey markers, even with
the riflemen guards and the barbed wire, it was our kingdom, wide 
open and unsullied. I did learn, eventually, however, even as a
youngster, that all that glitters is not gold, and/or that there is, as
well, such a thing as fool's gold. Pyrite. Be careful what you wish for.

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