Friday, October 2, 2015

7237. BELOW THE WATER LINE, pt. 27

(pt. 27)
Eccentricities abounded, yes, and there were always
odd things lurking: there was an actual hermit living
at the corner of the woods and yard up at the Krug 
Mansion, as we called it. The corner of Monica Court,
on the northeast side of  Woodbridge Ave. Actually, it's
the very spot, to the centimeter, where some years later
a sometime friend of mine named Ron Sutor and his family
had their house  -  red brick one, modern, plain style. More
on that in a bit. I once read that in the height of Victorian
England, that era, it was the pinnacle of fashion to have a
hermit living on your property.  Maybe that's what went
on here, I don't know. Another friend of mine, John
Virchick, with his older brother Mike, and his father, lived
right across the street from this as well. The hermit was
always there  -  a small, short guy, raging white beard, 
longish hair; he was always in a gray colored khaki type
work suit  -  pants anyway, with maybe a flannel shirt
and suspenders. Some sort of country hat. He never talked,
that I recall, but we were, as kids, merciless towards him -
throwing stones and pebbles at him, and his little, square
one-room hut. If I ever saw it today I'd swoon  -  it was most
assuredly the coolest thing in the world. I don't remember
any weathers about him  -  hot, cold, snow, rain, can't remember
a thing and it seems, in retrospect always nice and cool and
crisp and sunny out. Neither do I know who he belonged to, 
why he was there, what he did, who kept him, how he was 
fed and ate, where his bathroom was. His beard, white, was
yellowed all around his mouth, like food stains or something
had taken its toll  -  maybe tobacco, I can't recall. He'd slump
around, trying to ignore us, but we never quit  -  I guess it was
on Saturdays and stuff, because I can't remember much else;
maybe all Summers long. I don't know how many years it 
went, or what he did or where he was before our houses, right 
up to his very yard, were built. The nearby Krug house was 
tall and white, with one of those widow's peaks atop it, whatever 
they were called, a tower lookout, inside staircase I guess, all 
that. There were paths through the grasses and trees, to all 
different places in the big yard, but we knew nothing of them. 
No dog or anything either  -  just this strange hermit guy. 
Anyway, to us he was like anti-matter today : a negation, he 
wasn't supposed to be there, wasn't supposed to exist  -  he went
against everything we'd been taught and had learned. Unsocial,
an unkempt loner, someone else's ward, an underling. For all I
know, thinking back now  -  and I've thought on this many times  - 
he was maybe just a gardener, a lost uncle to the family, a crazy
son no one ever knew what to do with, a pity case. Maybe it was
the war, anything : no matter, one day he just went at us with a
salt-pellet gun. He'd finally had enough, we'd broken through. 
And from that time ever after  -  which wasn't really long  -  
anytime we even came close to the place out came the pellet
gun. We called it a salt-rifle, because we thought it shot rock
salt or something. I don't think we meant to say 'assault' rifle;
it wasn't, and we weren't that dumb. Quite close, maybe, but not
that. The game was over, evidently. I don't know what happened. 
He was gone. I know I'd never told anyone about him, and I don't 
know if any of the others did. But one day his little house too was
gone, and the next season the land was cleared there, and Ronnie
Sutor's house went up. The Krug house was still there, and remained
in place until Winter '68 or '69. I have photos of it somewhere that
I hope to be finding soon; but nothing of the hermit, nor his place.
I always thought of it as more a sad story than anything else;
being a jerk to the guy, I'd wish forgiveness now and would
have loved, thinking now, back, to have talked to him instead
of taunting him. Stupid, jerk, Avenel brat, me.
This Ron Sutor guy, I've lost touch with him a hundred years ago,
his story is odd too. As a casual School #4 acquaintance in maybe
5th and 6th grade, it was just 'Hi, what's up, how are you?' Real
simple and off-handedly casual. I thought nothing of it. Then one 
day his father called my parents up. He said that it was Ron's 11th
or 12th birthday or something, and Ron's request, as a birthday gift,
was to go to Palisades Amusement Park for the day....with me. If
I had been able to curse at home I would have said, 'Huh? What
the fuck's with that?' No matter, it was all agreed upon, and a few
Saturdays later I got picked up and had an all-expense paid day with
Ron and his father in Palisades Amusement Park. And, basically, 
that was it  -  we remained 'friends', distance returned, I think maybe
Boy Scouts, can't remember, but we never became close buddies 
or anything like that. It was weird. The next Summer, I remember,
Ron got only slightly injured crossing Rt. One at Avenel Street on
his bicycle  -  brushed by a car and hitting the pavement hard  - and
I asked his father about him, how was he, send wishes, etc. But, no
more  -  and then he too disappeared; I think they moved away. The
house is still there. I can remember, that day, up by Fort Lee, Ron's
dad pulling over to ask some guy how to get from where we were to
Palisades Park. The guy seemed a bit annoyed, and crankily said,
'Well, do you mean Palisades Park, the town? Or Palisades 
Amusement Park? It's two different places you know.' Cranky
chip-on-the-shoulder bastard he was. Not Avenel at all.
I consider things like that to be oddities  -  stuff I remember like
yesterday (which of course it was), but which lack meanings and
reasons, which don't quite even yet have all the lines colored in. I
wish I had more. Reconstruction, like after the Civil War, is sometime
just a poor replacement for the real anyway. Lots of Avenel things 
are like that to me. There were a few girls I can recall who, as the
phrase went back then, around town 'had reputations', were 'fast'. 
I wondered then, and still do now, if that could have been true, 
or how one got to find this out. Even then, it was about words.
John Virchick had an older brother, Mike. Never saw him much, but 
there was a small contingent of older teens around when we all were 
about 10 or 11  -  they already had cars and hot rods and car clubs 
and special carplates for the club on the rear. In those years cool
cars were lowered in the rear, not the front, like in the 70's and
80's. Lots of dagger-like chrome, megaphone exhaust stuff, loud,
low rumbles. These guys, and some girls, used to hang out with 
their cars, either at the School 4 and 5 wall  -  which used to seem
like it was 6 feet high, where they sat and hung out  -  now it looks
to be about a foot and half high  -  or down the street some, at 
Cameo's  -  another soda and sweet shoppe  -  and do the same
thing. Probably the other side of Route One Avenel had its own
places. I never knew. Down that end there was like 'Dirty John's',
a pool-hall sweet shoppe of sorts  - really considered bad-ass and
nasty (and I'd heard about, 'good' for girls, wink, wink), or again
Charlie's Sugar Bowl. Same deal. Charlie's Sugar Bowl was cool
because it had a row of really nice, wooden pay phone booths
along one inside wall, maybe 5 or 6 booths. When later I had a
crummy car of my own, I used to go there and call Chicago
direct, right out of one of those phone booths, to order parts
from the J. C. Whitney catalogue. I did that at least 5 or 6 times.
There were always interesting and solitary things in the background,
it seemed. Avenel was filled with the quaint and the eerie, the quiet
and the loud, the easy and the hard. Growing there as a kid, you
really did have to stay sharp  -  so as to be able to distinguish, pick
your direction, go straight or go crooked. I had a kid I knew, for
instance, Joey Banich, and his brother Eddie. Eddie was in my
6th grade class, and just basically sat there the entire year  -  never
much spoke. Nicest guy in the world, if you could get to him. Word
was, at home, his Albanian family only spoke Albanian, so he was
having great difficulty merging into English here, with us. I tried a
few times to prod him along, be nice. Nothing much happened. On
the other hand, he did have, a grade or two back, a brother named
Joey, who was the complete opposite  -  brash, crazed, energetic,
fulsome, strong. No problems with language  -  every other word
out of his mouth was 'fuck' or 'fucking'  -  verb, adjective, noun,
you name it. He had the language conquered by 5th grade. No
matter what they spoke at home, he picked this up really well.
Another kid, 6th grade, Peter Tolendino, who also had an older
brother (one whom I did not know, in any way); Peter spent the
entire year reading a book, always with him, called 'God Is My
Co-Pilot.' He loved that book  -  I'm not ever sure what it was or
what sort of book  -  I think it was a war-memoir about someone
flying crazy war missions in the air and leaving it all to God. My
own life was getting good  - I was picking things up everywhere,
knew what to watch for, stayed aware of all that was developing. I
was not so much in any way learning 'school stuff' or excelling   -
that was all chump-change anyway to me, and I figured, if they 
wished, probably any fruitcake could put their mind to it and do
good at school. It wasn't for me  -  my route was going to be more
direct, without all the niceties and the bullshit of parents' nights,
teacher's conferences and all that. I was going straight for the
heart of life  -  like a kid-surgeon with a really mad exacto-blade.

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