Friday, October 2, 2015

7238. BELOW THE WATER LINE, pt. 28

(pt. 28)
In 1953, the Swiss playwright Max Frisch  wrote a
play entitled 'Biederman and the Firebugs', as it was
known in this country. That actual title was 'Biedermann
und die Brandstifter', or 'The Firebugs', also. Of course, I
did not know of this, only learned it much later in Elmira
College with German Literature and Nazi Era Germany
concentrations I was taking  -  with Christina Rosner, my
little professor. She was a small, German lady, who'd lived
through the Nazi Youth era, with her stories of the time. The
UN eventually hired her and brought her here as a translator,
and later she was hired by Elmira College. I spent a lot of
time with her  - doing everything from reading and writing
to talking and running discussions, to August berry-picking
trips as well. Her big funny story was that  -  upon first arriving
in this country, about 1955, she looked up in NYC and saw
all the apartments on high, each with a little birdcage out the
window, and thought 'What a wonderful land! How they care
for their birds everywhere!'  -  Turns out, later, she realized
she'd mis-interpreted air-conditioner units. Talk about being an
interpreter for the UN). Anyway, Max Frisch's play was a
disguised allegory about the Hitler years  -  salesmen arrive in
a town, talk their way into homes, as new lodgers in the attics, 
and eventually, (which everyone in town first kept denying they
knew about) playing with matches, burn the place, all the 
places, down. I'll get back to that later. But, for Avenel, every
time I heard that play talked about or mentioned, I thought of
being a kid in Avenel. One year, about 1959, 1960, we had a
great idea : at the end of Inman Avenue, at the Route One end,
on the left side was the big woods  -  which later became Doreen
Drive and Mark Place, etc.  -  and on the right was a smaller
woods  -  less marked, less used. A feeble waterway ran 
through the edge of it, out to the tracks, and the large center
section was pretty open, not dense with trees and foliage. So
that year we decided to snatch up every thrown-out Christmas 
we'd see  -  up and down the blocks, the first week or so of 
January, people started throwing them out for the trash. We'd  -  
one tree at a time  -  just grab and drag. Into the woods, we 
must have had 40 to 60 trees in two weeks maybe. Our idea,
which we implemented, was to use that center cleared section
and pile the trees up, interlocking a little, stacked to a tall pile
of dried and drying trees. A pretty big pyramid. We waited until
dark one night  -  after school, or Saturday, I can't recall  -  and 
(yeah!) torched it. Which was our idea from the start. In about
ten seconds, to our astonished terror, we had the fiercest, most
crackling-noisy 100 or more feet of flames! Terror and panic
gripped us instantly. 'Holy shit, what have we done!' The heat
was intense, sparks were flying up everywhere, flames were 
snapping and crackling  -  the only thing, I guess, which saved 
us was the few inches of dreary old snow on the ground. The 
heat was peeling our faces, the red-yellow light was intense. We
were frozen in place, in fear, not really knowing what to do,
what we should do, what was happening, and how it was going
to end. 6 or 7 eleven-year-olds, in abject fear for their lives. 
Fortunately, and most fortunately for us all, the thing about 
fire is it consumes itself, we soon realized. It began lessening, 
and we began scurrying around to be sure nothing else was 
afire, no sparks were starting blazes. Lesson learned.
A few years earlier, in fourth grade, two of my friends (I will
not name names, and it will go with me to my grave, thanks),
had been playing with matches in the sawdust heap behind
Monarch Cabinets  -  which was a wooden-cabinet-making
business adjacent to Abbe Lumber, on the curve in the road, 
and with its own railroad siding for boxcars, in the rear  -  which
was also where this sawdust pile was located. Needless to say  -
one weekday night the whole place went up, a huge, destructive
fire, which blazed for hours, and took the business down. This was
about 1958, '59. All us kids, of course, went down there, hooting
and hollering as if to cheer on the fire. Along the curb, where 
now the back area of the newest section of School #5 is  -  right
across from the blazing inferno  -  a Spanish lady turned on us,
crying, and told us : 'Why don't you boys be quiet', then she 
began tearing up, and said, 'you wouldn't be cheering so much
if your own father worked here and this meant he'd no longer
have a job.' Uh-oh. Shut us right down, or up, or whatever it is.

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