BELOW THE WATER LINE
As I grew, my thoughts began changing - it was as
if I began seeing things for what they really were. I'd
like to think, actually, that Avenel had a lot to do with
that. As a place, it had bluster, and it had a kind of
in-your-face bluntness that stripped things bare. No
pretense, as it were. You got what you got, and shut-up.
Fourth grade, Mrs. Evans - recently transplanted, by way
of a Boston upbringing, most lately from Pennsylvania,
to little, old Avenel. Our classroom, on the high floor of
School #4, faced out at Avenel Street, across from the
Shop-Rite and such. She'd look out and ask a question
about the cobbler on the corner (when there was one
there). Cobbler? We all looked at each other. Cobbler?
Turned out she meant shoemaker. A Cobbler is what
they called a shoemaker in her own, little, old Boston.
Of course, we boys wouldn't let that one die. We went
at it all the time, making fun of her seeming pretense of
saying 'cobbler' instead of shoemaker. Known to us :
Shoemaker, lady, get it, shoemaker! If we had, as a
group, auditioned for Dead End Kids, or even an older
version of a mean and surly Little Rascals show, we
would have done good. Miss Artym, the next year, she
had the stupid audacity to cancel our class participation
in the 5th and 6th grade class-bus-trip to Philadelphia, to
the Betsy Ross house - get that, an entire day out of
school, riding a bus, to a distant and fair city. Canceled.
Why? Because that year, being forced to sell stupid seed
(named 'Burpee' Seed Company, no less. Are they crazy?)
packets for like seven cents each to aunts, uncles, cousins,
friends and neighbors (that was really stupid - we're all
selling the same crap, and they expect us to then try and
sell it to each other? 'Scuse me...! What'd you say?),
someone stole the weekly money packet with the sales
proceeds in it. She left it hanging around, in the usual
spot, and it was gone. We knew who took it, yeah, but
none of us chose to give him up. That's the way it went,
even for Avenel 5th grade boys. Same as for Al Capone
or any of those guys we'd see on The Untouchables, at
home on TV. That's was 'learnin' for us. So, she gave us
a few days to turn this kid in; we wouldn't, and we didn't,
and she canceled us. It was supposed to teach us a lesson.
Sure it did, and it also probably made hardened criminals
and gang members out of a few too. The way we saw it, it
was just more lame-brained lady-teacher stuff - boring
and trite and stuffy; like being forced in the Army to
remake your bed because it had a wrinkle in the bedding
after inspection, or like having to kiss your sister for
a family photo or Christmas card shot or something.
Up the end of my street, at Route One, was this really cool place,
mentioned previous - Hiram's Trailer Park. A long time ago it
was more than that. It was like a campgrounds and a grove for
people passing through, up or down the small highway that
it was then - like the Okies in The Grapes of Wrath, weird
groups of people, moping about, looking for someplace to stay
for a night or two, pull over, park, eat, sleep. They were tired.
It was cheap, and I have no idea who Hiram was. But, anyway,
over time as that road-traffic ceased, it just became a trailer
park. A really low-brow one too. The trailers were all small,
odd-looking, some were even just, like, Airstreams and big
or not so big campers that became permanent somehow. A
tree would grow up around one, and everything just stayed
in place. People had old junky cars, flower pots. A lot of guys
without wives, and the other way around too, I guess. I know
my friend Gary Anthony, stuck there from Virginia or North
Carolina or somewhere like that, he lived there with just
his Mom. They had a really cool accent, like a slurry. And
then he was gone - I never even knew where they went, or
when. I had other friends in there too - went to a really
cool birthday party one time in Bonnie Agolio's trailer. I
was scared out of my skin, approaching the place, didn't
really now the people well; it was maybe 7th grade, I think.
There were people (other girls, actually) that I knew and liked,
Jane Moyers, or Culp, whichever last name was right, I never
knew. Sharon D'Angelo. Everybody in this one cool trailer -
the brothers, a sister or two, and Bonnie's parents. It was neat.
Exotic. Different. Made me feel like something I wasn't.
Earlier on, in that same trailer park, maybe 4th grade, there
were two crazy, burly, foul, rollicking wrestlers, professional
wrestler guys who lived in trailers and made their way around,
to NYC and places, on their professional, and sometimes
televised, wrestling tours. Bouts, Contests. They had young
boys my age - we became friends, and I'd go there to get
all crazy and young-kid fired up. I forget the names, of the
wrestlers, and the kids - Karl Van Hess, I think, a big,
swooping bear of a guy, all unkempt and with crazy skin
and hair. Maybe Haystacks Calhoun, or something like that.
They all belonged way down south somewhere, these guys;
even Van Ness, if he really was Germanic, seemed more just
like a bizarre, big, fat hillbilly. Let alone what Haystacks
Calhoun came across as. As a kid, mysterious into everything,
yeah, it did often dawn on me, about these guys, and their kids
in trailers, always boys, alone - like, what did they do for
women? You know, when the need arose? And how'd they
get these kids? Where is that lady now? Where I lived,
right down the stupid block, 'divorce' was still unheard of,
and most every one of the families was intact. I'd see things,
yeah, at the First Aid squad picnics and stuff at the Maple Tree
parks/grounds, or the gathering Saturday or Sunday town picnics
at Avenel Park, a few half-drunk people, here and there, going
at it, with looks and stuff, or coming on real strong, to other
people's wives or husbands. Shit happened like that, I knew
it. That's what these drunken revelries were about anyway.
But these trailer guys, I mean, what was up? No one I
knew ever got divorced.
Those trailer-girl names I mentioned just before - those girls
used to send me crazy-like. Jane and Sharon, woo-wee, as the
kid-saying went back then. Before them, in fourth grade, I was
real friendly with Donna Eidson - swept away. She offered
me part of her sandwich or something one day when I hadn't
brought a lunch, whatever, and after that it was adulation.
Young-kid stuff. Second grade, third grade, there were little
girls all around, with little faces and cute names. It was crazy.
A few other things pop up - the car years that went from 1957
to 1958, that was massive : automobile styling, being what it
was, was growing bizarre and big. In 1958, all of a sudden cars
began having, instead of one, TWO headlights on either side.
Dual headlamps, it was called. That changed everything. Nothing
ever looked the same. The Lincolns even slanted their dual
headlamps - making some really, really weird-looking front.
There's in fact, still one of these hidden alongside a fence, in the
weeds, right down by Hiram's (see photo). Cars got longer and
sleek. In 1959 Pontiac, and Oldsmobile, sharing a body-style,
went w-i-d-e; by an inch or two anyway - just stupid sheet-metal,
but they advertised it as 'wide-trackin!' - they actually called it
that and did advertising around the concept. Assholes. It was
nothing at all. Around about that same time, maybe the very
end of '59, maybe '60, I can remember hanging around the front
of my house, around my father's car, with Ray Szemborski, a
local friend a few houses off, and others, and just watching the
cars riding along our street, talking about them, remarking on
styles, etc. He had a tad more serious bent - in that, he actually
also talked that day about a guy named Frank Sinatra. Damn!
Adult crooner music, from Ray. Like nothing. Also, I can't
remember the date or anything, but - doing pretty much the
same thing - we had heard that Adolph Eichmann had been
captured by Israeli agents in Argentina, after all those post-war
years hiding out with other Nazis, with new identity, and all that.
Our big joke of that day, to whoever else was approaching went
like this - essentially, a stupid, jerky, kids' Jewish joke: 'You
can relax now, Bobbie (or Bill or John, whatever), they've
caught Eichmann.' I think it was supposed to mean, like,
no longer would he need to worry about being
rounded up because of his race and religion.
Big yuk in 1960.