Monday, October 19, 2015

7313. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 48)

(pt. 48)
A surprising number of my friends from these childhood 
days and episodes are dead now. I could list names and 
things, but I won't. It wouldn't mean much to anyone else  
-  heart attacks, industrial cancers, all that. I don't think 
anyone's been killed or maimed. One or two suicides, 
yeah. I could go on with more, but I won't - right here. 
It's just sad  -  especially for me to think that  -  though 
the memories are still here, and I can re-visit, they're 
out of reach. Like a solid wall of dream, but  - as IN a 
dream  -  my hands are in that wall but stuck, retrieving 
nothing, and allowing me neither entry nor exit. Tough 
deal. For me? For them? I can't figure  -  whoever knows 
anyway where whoever wants to be? The thing about life 
is that it's a closed door, but it's always open. Go figure. 
Nobody on that other side to hear me either, I guess. It 
isn't as if there's any distinguishing character to the dead, 
and I am sure that the same number of deaths by ratio 
would be seen most anywhere. What does seem sad is 
the young age of those cut down by 'death' because at 
the very same time, during the most formative and 'best' 
of their years they were under death assault as well by 
the voracious, meddling appetites of a vast war machine, 
which sucked up anything it could. One of my first real 'jobs', 
when I needed one, I got because I was able to fill the 
space of a guy who'd just been shipped off to Vietnam, 
leaving a vacancy where his workplace had been. I took 
it. It didn't last, but I took it. I'll get back to that later. A lot 
of these dead friends have kids -  grown now. That's even 
more weird. if I bumped into any one of those kids, 
adults, anywhere, they wouldn't know a thing about me, 
nor who I was  -  yet I'd know more about their dads 
than they could ever imagine. Line's gone dead. 
Phone's off. 
At the end of our street, at first, there was woods; 
a beautiful woods, with, deep within, a small pond, a 
few trails, and lots of nice places. I spent my good 
share of time there, learning all sorts of Daniel Boone 
ways. One memory that stays with me, as I've 
mentioned before, is the early Saturday mornings 
of getting up and out quickly, and reaching the woods 
by early light, to be able to see, suspended upside 
down from the limbs of a big oak tree long ago cut 
and destroyed, opossums. There was, I guess, a 
family or two of possums living within the woods 
and we'd often find them sunning or sleeping or 
whatever it is they did while suspended, hanging, 
from a limb, upside down. Sometime about 
1961, '62, the woods came down and a small 
development of still more homes, about 20 or 25, 
went up. Eventually that brought more friends and 
more people, but that's about it. At one point, while 
the construction was underway, we used to play on 
and within these partially built homes (and wreck 
things too) and one day I fell into the cellar opening 
of one, and gashed open my knee on an oil tank, 
requiring, later, 8 stitches just above my knee cap. 
There was no or very little blood, just a weird, 
whitish, pulpy jagged opening where my skin had 
separated and one could look deep in. No fun. 
Mr. Zellner, the local bus driver, drove me to the 
hospital. His son, Billy, with whom I'd been playing, 
got me to his house and got his father involved. No 
further complications ensued. About this time, too, 
my Scoutmaster (for the time I was in Boy Scouts), 
an Armenian guy named Mr. Arjemi, had moved into 
these homes also, with his family. Right where 
our best woods had been.
The end of our street, from early on, took one to Route
One North, a simple turnoff, or, if headed south, an
underpass and curve. To get there, one passed a few,
one or two, truck terminals (Teufel Bothers was one,
which I always loved since it meant Devil in German),
the junkyard I already mentioned, and the 'Hiram's Trailer
Park spoken of (Haystack Calhoun). One morning, about,
I guess, 1959, after a huge overnight snowstorm, my
father walked with me, in deep, new snow, with no
footprints or tracks in it yet - fresh snow - all the way
out to Route One right there, just to see the snowstorm's
results, visit the landscape and understand the quiet.
It was a curiously touching and bonding moment, one I
remember always, and one that was otherwise totally
out of character. I was struck simply by the peculiarity
of the father/son moment, the quiet walk, the simple
understanding of things and, upon reaching the
destination, the simple ceasing of progress just to
stand and watch - piles of new snow, whitened trees,
the distant roadway where a few cars tried navigating,
the distant sound of road-plows and the rest. We
walked back in pretty much the same fashion, this
time amidst our own, still solitary, footprints; the
selfsame footprints which had brought us there. All
the years later, it was never mentioned again, nor,
I believe, was that moment ever surpassed. It was
by far the most heartfelt stretch of time I'd ever spent
with my father  -  outside of all the usual commands
and concerns. Almost without words, walking together,
we shared a massive snowstorm, and it piled up within
each of us, together, too. I really shared very little with
my parents, and frankly never quite understood our
whole connection - why I was there, amidst them, and
how and what was expected of me. There just always
seemed to be far too many blocks and barriers to our
ever getting anywhere. I often envied other kids, families
with, it seemed, a little more money and promise
(I'm not being materialistic in that sense), who seemed
to be far better grounded, with some sort of dialogue
and understanding with their parents - almost a family
'tradition' of some sort, a wellspring to draw from. I never
had that; everything was fast, haphazard, of the moment,
slipshod and loud. Sad, in a way. I had a friend, Alex,
who used to comment upon my family by saying that all
he ever saw there was tons of fiery energy,
everywhere, but with absolutely
nothing ever coming from it.
One morning, about 1959, I awoke - my sister and I had 
stayed overnight at the house of Joanne and Johnny 
Wolchansky, the last house at the end of the block by 
those woods, while my parents attended a wedding 
somewhere. They had gotten home late at night. As I 
looked out in the morning light, looking down the street 
about 16 houses where ours was, I could just determine 
by peering, that something was not right. The car in front 
of the house (another '53 Ford Station Wagon) was bent 
or mis-shapen or something. Turns out, on the way home 
from the wedding my father, driving, had been involved in 
a car crash of some sort, and the car, though drivable, 
was pretty mangled. I never found out any more on this 
story - the car was fixed eventually, and nothing really 
more was ever said. Another childhood mystery. Another 
car point, previously mentioned : when I was about or 6, 
my father used to take great pride in the fact that, as we 
drove along, I was able to identify perfectly pretty nearly 
every car going past us - '51 Buick, '56 Chevy, etc. It 
seemed to mean a lot to him that I could do that. For me
it was just fun, and easy because I'd always had an eye, 
even that young, for design study and shape identification, 
etc. Cars were fun, gas was 19.9 cents a gallon too.
After I got hit by that train, in '58 or what it was, I spent a long 
time in the hospital, some of it in a coma - long time enough. 
My Aunt Mae always told me that, until I re-entered the world 
after that accident and its resultant coma, I had been the happiest, 
sweetest, most comical little boy she'd ever known, but that 
subsequent to that experience my whole being changed. She 
said I was always dark and serious, distant and a little odd after 
that. Probably very correctly surmised. I don't know if that's 
exactly the sort of thing you should be telling or saying to a 
young nephew, but I kind of knew what she meant, right off. 
Except that I wanted to tell her I was still pretty funny, with 
hopes of a comedy career too. My aunt and uncle always had, 
on the wall in their hallway in Rutherford, on Delafield Avenue, 
a painting of some Tunisian or Arab guy, a Nomad I guess, or 
Taureg, or something, in his native garb, standing upright on 
desert sand, portrayed up-close, and he was standing on one 
leg, with the other up his other leg's knee, forming a triangle 
of sorts, at the bottom half of his figure. He bore a slightly wild, 
rough-hewn expression on a very rugged face, strange and 
black-stained teeth, a few whiskers. He seemed to be peering 
right into the viewer, quizzically, from another world or someplace 
else, faraway, distant. I was always fixated by that picture, and 
spent long spells just staring at it. Aunt Mae noticed, and it 
became a shared something between us. Ever since that 
hospitalization and coma and all that rest, I'd noticed that 
certain things, this among them, had a predilection somehow 
to ring bells in my head, awaken lights or memories or 
something, transport me and take me away from where 
I (was told I) was. I'd somehow lost all Earth-bearings and 
felt myself living and being somewhere else. Maybe 
echoes and voices and words yet ringing in my head - 
alarms or guidances, other places and people. Suffice 
to say, I was no longer so specifically 'grounded' here, 
not that much any longer 'of this world'. There had somehow 
been made, for me, a blood and mind connection to 
something greater, broader, more current and more real. 
I admit to that now, and probably did, at least to myself, 
then. It flowed through me, deepened my understanding 
of things, and yet at the same time made it more and more 
difficult for me to get these ideas across. It didn't take 
long before I'd turned myself completely around - through 
reading, and writing. I began to read anything and 
everything I could, even at the young age of, say, 10,
I was trying to plod through books I didn't always fully 
grasp - poetry, essays, certain non-fiction things, like 
Vance Packard and such. My mother and father got, 
not surprisingly, Reader's Digest, Life Magazine, 
Reader's Digest Condensed Books - all that suburban 
household crud, but I ate it up. Photo essays, famed 
photographers, by-lined little caption-stories, things 
that took me all around the world (Around the World 
in Eighty Days, as a piano song, was what had won 
me that crazy talent contest; it was also a book, and 
I feel into place with Phileas Fogg). Seven Days in May 
(Fletcher Knebel), Advise and Consent, and many other
things. And, to top it all off, my much wiser and far 
more worldly and world-wise Aunt Mae had a 
subscription to Paris Match, which I adored. It 
was, somehow, like a French 'Life Magazine', 
but better, more urban, more chic. At home, I 
actually had a subscription, in my name, to an 
oversized and always startling magazine from Moscow, 
called 'Soviet Life'. A communist propaganda prize for 
sure, but I loved it, and it took me to such odd places 
as Kiev, St. Basil's Cathedral, the streets and shops 
of Moscow, and more. It was, I guess, in 7th grade 
that I did this massive report, a school-project for 
History or something, on St. Basil's Cathedral, in 
Moscow - all those wildly colored turrets and towers, 
in a place (church) present in a land where it was 
supposedly outlawed. Caught my imagination 
immediately. No one else knew what the heck I 
was talking about. For a seventh grade Science 
Fair, in contrast, by which I was totally bored, 
I took one of my mother's spaghetti colanders, 
covered it in form-fitted aluminum-foil, stuck a 
few large toothpicks in it, and called it a 
'solar-power collector' - all completely bogus, 
made up and exhibited and explained in my 
own pure gibberish, but sounding somehow 
right, and I got away with it all. No prize, but
respectable enough. Stupid jerks, they'd fall
for anything, I found, if you played it right.
It seemed always to be like that : nothing really 
bore any reality. My sensation of living was grander 
and broader now, connected to other things - material 
and images, ideas and words, which spoke to me, 
rather silently, and which I understood. I didn't really 
understand anything else spoken at me. I'd connected 
to something grander and more faraway and distant - 
I sensed messages in shapes and forms and colors, 
sensations in things, forms within shapelessness, 
and carrying meaning. I was long gone. That was 
a tough sensation, for it meant I had to re-learn 
and acknowledge my distance, and realize that - 
almost sadly - nothing around me could hold my 
attention, certainly nothing which would fill up 
time or give sense to a certain, specific and 
personal Reality that I could not share. I 
understood where I was, to where I was 
going, the distances and worlds of space 
and time, stars, travel, clouds, planets. 
I'd look up and read dark-night skies, even 
by the waning number of stars left for me 
to see. I'd been away. I'd been somewhere, 
and now (it seemed) I was back, maybe 
with a different jacket, a different skin; 
something recognizable but not me. They'd 
sent me to school. I had to listen to the endless 
stupidities of the things that made sense to 
parents and teachers and doctors and lawyers. 
I had to look at pictures and words, dead on the 
page, carrying stupid and heavy meanings that 
were all wrong. I knew that directions had been 
altered and that the world had been taken over, 
taken over by those others who would mis-direct 
it, run it into the ground, and twist and force 
everything into fake meanings and destinations 
that they'd get others to believe. For their own 
gain. Devils and evil princes. Snakes. 
Temptations. Everyone had fallen, everyone 
had bitten the same dumb apple and the fallen 
world just went on. In my little attic room, with 
my father's innocent help I'd built that crystal-set 
radio, a sort of short-wave contraption by which 
I could get the world. Distant earth places. It
took me everywhere. My favorite book was 
'Around the World In 1000 Pictures'. I still have 
a copy. I tried reading 'Profiles In Courage' (Kennedy), 
but it bored me. My Six Crises (Nixon). Bored me. 
These normal people had no magic, no tact or 
understanding of the world at all - they were just 
using words, dead words, to bring forth horrible and 
stupid and equally dead results. Just like school, or 
church, or any of that. My mind was with that desert 
nomad, standing sentinel, on one foot, waiting and 
staring out. At our tiny, small public library, a little later, 
I'd get endless books of poetry, new things, stuff that 
captivated me : 77 Dream Songs, Berryman, Dickey, 
Plath. Reflections In a Convex Mirror, John Ashbery, 
and many others. My very favorite was A Coney Island 
Of the Mind', by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. His NY to San 
Francisco odyssey fascinated me (He'd been a N. Y. Jew, 
Lawrence Ferlin, eventually got to San Francisco and 
the nascent beat scene, began living in a beat-hip Italian 
neighborhood and, to better fit in, decided to become
'Ferlinghetti', like spaghetti. Amazing stuff. Something
 like a Richard Brautigan story, but fifteen years earlier). 
It was brash, colloquial, in your face, snide, ironic, hip 
and forceful, all together. I memorized some, and pieces 
of others. I'd sit around and just go over things like 'I Am 
Waiting'. By the end of high school that purloined poem 
of mine which they stole from me and put in the literary 
magazine against my wishes, was in a perfect Ferlinghetti 
style, and was called, I think, 'My Friend 
Frank, the Telephone Pole.'
Anyway, I only slowly got back into things, into this life. 
And I never really wanted to. 1958, '59' and even '60, are 
a vague blur. I remember cars getting dual headlights, 
I remember cars losing their fins and, by 1961, suddenly 
all having flat back-ends where fins used to be. I remember 
the demise of Packard and most of Studebaker and Hudson, 
much like, in our day, Oldsmobile and Pontiac and Plymouth 
have disappeared as brands. Most people were 
unconscious of this having any meaning. I found 
it all pretty cosmic. My friend Donald, across the 
street, and his brother Richard, had an attic-full of 
comic books. They were strewn everywhere, and there 
had to be, constantly growing, a collection of four hundred. 
We'd pore over them, mostly meaninglessly and without 
any import. On the back pages, 1000 toy soldiers for a 
quarter, or plastic ships and boats, a hundred for a dollar, 
body-building ads, flyer and glider balsa-wood places, 
magic kits, all the usual crap of childhood and comics. 
My other friend, Raymond, on the other hand, had a 
very neatly-kept and pristine attic all set up with a train 
set - HO size (small) - with bridges and tunnels, grass, 
service stations and trees; all that meticulous railroad 
stuff. His little family dog was named Pepper. Very cool, 
small bull-type or something. When I was about 6, my 
father took his own great pleasure in setting up, in the 
basement, an enormous train set-up of his own devise - 
L-shaped, trestles, tunnels, straightaways and, instead 
of smaller HO size, he'd had the big guys put in place; 
full-scale Lionels, with a double transformer and 
smokestacks that puffed smoke when you put a 
smoke pellet in them. Me and my sister had striped 
engineer hats, and even big trainman's gloves. She 
never much cared for it, and I cared  only a bit more - 
but my father was in his glory lording over that scene. 
Later, in Pennsylvania, he'd loaded it all up, dismantled, 
in his station wagon and brought it up there for me - 
ostensibly to use for my own son's pleasure, as he 
had for mine. I propped the entire apparatus up 
alongside a shed, and there it stayed. I never 
touched it again. Or the trains, which I later gave 
away to my friend Donald, and which giveaway, 
once he found out about it, my father demanded 
back, and, I think, got back, from Donald, still in 
NJ, across the street on Inman Ave. Way too 
much attachment for me. Things
I couldn't understand.

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