BELOW THE WATER LINE
One thing I always remember about my father,
as I was growing up - something he always did,
even into late life, and one I never quite figured
out. Whenever I'd bring someone over, a friend,
somebody from around, anyone, no matter the
age, and introduce that person - say, if were
hanging around, or in the yard, and my parents
came by, or my father. If the guy's name was
Robert, or Bob, Joseph, or Joe, whatever the
name, my father - instantly and always -
would break it down to its diminutive form.
'Hi, Dad, this is Robert, he lives on Madison.'
'Hello Bobby, how are you?' - or Jim or
James, to Jimmy. I don't know if that works
with girls, or if he did that, but whatever. It
was something sometimes weird - not everyone
uses their shortened super-friendly's version
of a name. Not every Theodore or Ted wants
to be an instant Teddy. As a kid, it was
manageable enough, but in later years not
too many people like being an adult Frankie,
unless you're first invited to do so or are that
used to the friendship. I guess anyway - that
was my point of view. Then again, everyone
did always call my father just 'Andy', so maybe
the worldview came naturally.
Let me get back a minute to my friend Kenny
Kaisen, and his father's Oldsmobile Holiday. It
was a great car, with a large rear-window that ran
a little up, into the roof - which meant that while
riding in the rear seat, if you put your head on the
top of the seat back and looked up, you'd see sky
instead of the car interior roof. We loved that, and
Kenny and I would do it whenever we were being
driven somewhere - usually to the Woodbridge
Theater, over by the police station, or any of the
more-numerous trips to Carteret (they were
Ukrainian or Greek Orthodox Rite or somesuch,
and their church was in Carteret), or to Linden,
for whatever we went there for. Can't remember.
Anyway, later on Kenny became best friends with
Howie Belfor, whose parents owned the candy store,
Murray and Martha's. After school each day -
Kenny's father, remember, worked in NYC, and
the car just sat there all day, and his mother worked
at her job (Bamberger's) until later too, well after
school - he and Howie would fire up the car, and
go joyriding around - here and there. No license,
no nothing at all. Just going out for a ride. This
went on for a long time, at least nearly one full
school year. They'd carefully return the unscathed
car, I guess with gas refilled and everything, and no
one knew the difference - until finally one day a
neighboring at-home mother, I guess having pangs
of guilt or having seen it all just one too many times,
blew the whistle on them and told Kenny's parents.
That was the end of that escapade. This was the same
Kenny who, earlier in another chapter, recall, I wrote
about as they guy who smelled everything.
Howie and Kenny went their ways and I lost touch,
after many years of real childhood 'pal'-ing around. Many
were the days when we'd go to the Woodbridge Theater
together. 1959, 1960. It was always Winter, cold outside.
We'd go in, watch a dumb movie - they ran continuous
showings, so you could actually go in any time, watch the
film and then stay around for the next showing too until you
got back to the part you started with. Journey To the
Center of the Earth, The Time Machine, Hayley Mills stuff,
(I liked her), Mostly gibberish, all. But the deepest impression I
had came from a curious film called 'Invaders From Mars'.
Good God, I was caught up in that one, and saw it numerous
times. I won't tediously declaim it here, but just quickly, this
kid (my age then) sees Martians land, no one believes him,
he's going nuts over it, and meanwhile the Martians have
slowly taken over his town and the adult-authority people in it,
including his parents. How he knows this is by seeing the
receptor-pin that's been implanted in these people's
neck-backs. Unwittingly, one by one, he realizes everyone
is denying his reality because they've all been transformed
into the Martian-stooges the neck-pierce makes them. The
kid is speechless, and the movie - actually a propaganda
piece of Red-Scare fluff - made the case for me that everyone
around me was in on this great sucker job that I was being
presented with - Life and all its Society. Not even Kenny
ever knew what the blazes I was talking about - as he smelled
his popcorn container. In this film, of course the Army and all that
American armed might arrives in the nick of time - weird warfare
ensues, the Martians are killed and defeated, and the satisfied
kid gets his world back in one piece.
The last time I saw Kenny was at my mother's funeral - he
popped in, unexpectedly, from his home in Bangor,
Pennsylvania. I go there a few times a year now. Kenny's dead.
He died a little after that funeral, after telling me of his cancer
scare from some industrial solvent he'd been dealing with for a
number of years at work - the cancer was treated, he had all
his therapies and such, and it was in remission. He swore he'd won.
Poor Kenny was dead within six months. Me and my wife and
my childhood friend Donald Florio, we went out to Bangor for,
this time, Kenny's funeral. It was sad, but, hey it felt good, and we
did right. Nobody knew us at all, except Kenny's sister Christine,
who was in from Texas with her family. Funny story - we got
lost in Bangor; there are two funeral homes with the same name,
one in town and one out farther, on the rural outskirts. That was his.
We went to the closed and empty one in town, but they wouldn't
let us in - 'No funeral here today, no.' We stopped at a pizza joint, in
the little middle of this dumpy nowhere town, and told our story to
three or four bumblebrain locals out front, looking for directions.
Doing my best country-yokel imitation, I sidled up to them on the
stairway they were sitting and said, in an almost Texan twang -
'Don't this beat all. Now how d'ya suppose a dead body got itself
to the wrong funeral home?' They thought that was hilarious, rolling
off the porch with their endless pizza laughter. All my friend Donald
could do was say - 'You'll have to excuse him. He don't get out much.'