Wednesday, September 23, 2015

7198. BELOW THE WATER LINE, pt. 17

(pt. 17)
For the moment, I'm taking a breather on the small and
specific things about my Avenel growing up, and going 
'general' for a page or so  -  so please bear with me, we'll
get back in a minute. These are broader comments, about 
the larger picture around me back then. Probably unique
and twisted, nonethless, my own views then as well as now.
I'd have to say, without compromise, that what it was like 
for me was : 'oddity', things never adding up, a coarse fix.
A combination of a straight-up false reality and illusion,
mixed with crankiness and endearment, if you can. The 
elementary school principle, a Mr. Lund, who quite specifically 
and almost perfectly resembled Dwight Eisenhower, our
(2-term) President. His authoritative status came partially 
from that and from his tall, commanding position as head of 
the local school into which we'd been unceremoniously dumped 
at age 5. Cast-offs, as it were, onto a sinking raft but told to, and 
managing to, somehow stay on and remain afloat. Life was a
 big, sidewinder dream, listing and falling off. How is it that 
such adults regard these roles as their natural right? What 
ungainly creature of thought could this Mr. Lund have been 
to assume that his role above us was predicated upon the idea 
that all his opinions, outlooks, acts and attitudes were correct
 and absolute? Where did he live? Where was he from? One 
of those old-line big houses around? Or perhaps not even 
here  -  instead some nearby, older town with grand, 
higher-class habits and livings and homes? We never 
knew; nor were we ever 'introduced' to anything about 
him at that level. He had one presence and one role in Avenel, 
and that's how we saw him, and got him. In a military sense, 
early on, he was to be  -  we were told  -  our 'commander in
 chief' and no questions asked. It wasn't a 'maybe' world we were 
presented, to be given and shared. It was, by contrast, the
 first of many 'absolutes' which would be forced upon us.
You need to remember that much of this was 'class'. In a 
supposed classless society, we were, indeed and anyway, 
classed with the riff-raff. Avenel was a low-class town  -  
place, actually, never even a 'town' to speak of. Instead it 
was a sort of 'shoreline' onto which any and all sorts of 
arrivistes and castaways in those years washed up  -  the 
grinning ex-soldier types, perhaps with yet a piece of 
shrapnel lodged in the thigh or back; the heavy hand-laborers, 
building cars in Linden, or working at the airport, forging 
steel or molding glass bottles. Mechanics. Carpenters. The 
laborers at Merck or Union Carbide. Township workers, 
plow-drivers, gas-station guys. That was the world there 
and about at first  -  and only slowly did it change, and even 
then never much. Society changed first  -  there came a time 
when - instead of single-family homes  -  rows of apartments, 
garden-apartments, meaning horizontal stacking of people 
instead of vertical  -  began cropping up on the swamplands 
and fields of my youth. They'd fill up, slowly but eventually, 
with a different sort of person, a more temporary presence. 
One the way to something else. Asians and people from India, 
white coat lab-guys, medical technicians, more scientific types, 
working in labs and offices in still those very same places  -  
Union Carbide, Linde, Merck  -  and probably with quicker and 
better wages than any of our local fathers were working for. 
Teachers as well moved in  -  the Andes Brothers, local 
high-school teachers, lodging with Mr. Wintergrass  -  also a 
teacher, a crazed and notorious one  -  they became legendary for 
their visible presence in Cloverleaf Gardens. Plain and bland enough 
to pass right by you, they could be seen in that passing, sitting 
out on lawnchairs or on their tiny, concrete stoop. Where once 
before the teacher's only presence was in the classroom, now 
they shared real life as well. Mr Calvin, I recall, used to live in 
Woodbridge in a rather squalid and large 'rooming' house, 
with probably 16 other tenants, on the very corner where now
St. James Catholic Church has its once-modern monstrosity of
tax-exempt, overblown church and parking. It was a large, rambling,
dark-brown structure of many rooms. An official 'rooming house',
for teachers and professionals. Across from it there was a bakery, and 
from there one could sometimes glimpse stern Mr. Calvin, in a wicker
chair, on the full-length, wide-upon porch; as if it were a vacation home
Seeing him, out of school, was always a complete surprise, something
odd-by-contrast. You didn't speak, nor acknowledge. Back then, if
you indeed 'saw' Mr. Calvin outside of school, you grimaced. 
Somehow the world as presented to us was a vertical stacking of 
possibilities, rights, ranks and privileges. We were supposed to 
know our places and the schools and churches were only there to 
reinforce that. Early on, as things were kept to scale, I'd say it 
worked to an extent that was considered passable. Only later, 
as society itself grew and its things began encroaching upon us, 
was some mystery and meaning first subtracted  -  the process 
had begun. The local meat-market guy, about 1956, with his business 
partner, decided to close up his little, independent grocery outpost 
in the middle of Avenel Street and open instead a 'Shop-Rite'  -  
a newfangled, then, idea of supermarket grocery store where 
ALL categories of foods and such were kept and sold under one 
large roof. The 1957 American had emerged. After that, it didn't 
take long for the rest. I can well recall, on Boy Scout meeting 
Wednesday nights, with my friend Larry Walker (dead now), 
stopping by choice at this Shop-Rite along the way to another friend's, 
house to pick him up for the scout meeting in the old, now unused, 
church  -  it had become a social hall of sorts for basketball stuff and 
scout meetings while the bigger, fancy 'new' church held (or was 
'thought' to hold) all the sacredness and church rites  -  and waiting 
for Larry  -  a master-thief of sorts evidently  -  to exit the supermarket 
a few minutes later, pockets bulging with stolen candy, enough for the
rest of our evening, during and post-meeting (merit badge for 
thievery!). Go figure that out for societal change and the premise 
behind the new world. Where once before the meat-market proprietor 
would nab you and slap you down for the theft, now it was all 
becoming as easy as it could be. Somewhere in there we all 
were able to supposed to be able discern all about this life.

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