Friday, October 9, 2015

7270. BELOW THE WATER LINE, pt. 38

(PT. 38)
Over on Clark Place one day, right at the curve
across from Louie Carew's house, the house of
Kathy Jones and her family burned down. It was 
the first house-fire I'd ever seen, and the place was
pretty well burned up. I don't know how long we 
were living there when that happened, but it could 
have been two years : anyway, I never knew where
they went or to where they were taken or what they
lost and who if anyone had gotten hurt, nothing 
about it at all. It stayed a wreck for a while, and then,
just like that, men started working and it got all
rebuilt  -  and they were back. Nothing was ever
mentioned again, as if it had never even happened. 
Only years later, 1978, in a blistering Winter 
snowstorm, did we somehow, my father and wife
and I, driving around like fools somewhere, pick
her up, walking along Avenel Street, to  -  of all
places  -  St. George Pharmacy, which store was
open but had said to her that, in the storm, there'd 
be no deliveries. So, for the medicine she needed, 
for her kids or whatever, she'd set out walking. 
But even then, as we drove to and fro, we never
mentioned the fire, or how they'd all fared, those
many years before. Funny stuff, that moment.
There was something about the orderliness of our
streets that  was unnerving. Yes, it all was new and
probably the macadam and concrete was even yet not
really dry, but the strict cadence of all those evenly
spaced houses, in their rows, and with so little to
differentiate them, was harsh. The colors, at first,
were all bland and even  - neutral tones. Various
people, over time, added their bright greens and
yellows and reds, as they re-painted or selected to
change. My father's charge here was simple to
take public possession  -  he had our property
fenced, but not with any, commercial fencing.
He actually made on old-style, wooden, highly
detailed, picket fence, with post-caps, design
works, and individual pickets and gates  -  a 
broad double-gate for the driveway. It was a 
pretty bold statement for mid-block like that.
Looking more, at times, like some Texas prairie
spread, in miniature of course, all fenced in and 
tended to, it was his complete satisfaction and 
pride. Just about every Summer, the white paint
buckets would come out and the entire thing had 
to be re-painted. I'm not meaning a slap-dash and
quick whitewash  -  these were individual pickets,
there had to be three hundred, plus posts, crowns,
headers, and gates. Everything had four sides  -  
the front and back, and the skinny little sides of 
each picket. It was a total and pesky task, and I
somehow managed, though involved, to end up
really doing as little of it as I could get away with
not doing. Put a sheet down on the grass, sit on it,
carefully dip the brush and apply the paint. Tedium.
Boredom. And heat too. And after awhile, in the
sunlight, the white of all that white just burned 
one's retinas bare. I hated it, and it led me to
realize that I hated all that sort of stuff  - the
repeat motions of unimaginative tedium.
I've already made mention of my 'Visible Man' 
model as built in my room. Two other supposed
'toys' that drove me nuts were Lincoln Logs, and
Erector Sets. Somehow I managed to end up with
both  -  in fact, 2 sets of Erector Sets, the second 
being larger than the first, and it came with one or 
two tiny electric motors and wires and stuff so you
could hook up your crummy metal windmill or
whatever and make it turn with power, albeit
slowly. I'd always figured, the oldest-designed 
things we could ever see were all those light and
wire-carrying brackets and trestles which ran
alone the railways, and those electric-tower
things that ran all across the country, carrying
stepped up power and making the power-grid
for the nation  -  there's a bunch of them through
Avenel Park, and all along Route One, heading 
down from Menlo Park and Edison. They were
pure 1910 design -  unchanged. These Erector
Set pieces were just like that  -  bare, right-angled,
flat metal. I hated the feel, the touch, I hated the
screws they gave you and those really lousy, and
square, nuts and bolts to use, along with that 
crummy combination screwdriver and wrench 
thing they supplied. A piece of dumb flat metal
pretending to be something else. Lincoln Logs
I won't even go into to  -  at least they were wood.
Interlocking wood pieces, with green accents on
the other pieces. One thing I always wanted to make
was a mini log cabin, and all faked out too. Right. The
Erector Sets meant nothing to me. The people that
did them, and enjoyed them, were the most boring 
characters. It was all process -   just like the scientific
life and its outlook, and just like school  -  nothing
to it. As long as you agreed that A followed B, and
you stayed with sequence and all its logic, you could
make anything at all. But who wanted that, except
these perfectly boring kids who'd be satisfied with
an end-result of perfect predictability. Same with
all those kids who made car models, Revel stuff 
and all that. You'd get a model of a '55 Chevy, all
plastic and snap-apart stuff, an instruction page,
sequenced out, and some paint and glue and you'd
make yourself  -  guess what?  -  a '55 Chevy! No
matter what you did to it, that's all it could be. What 
else were you going to do, put wheels on the roof and
the steering wheel on  top of the trunk lid?
None of that was ever for me -  that was the physical
dreck of existence. Making things, following suit with
one sequential pittance of a thing after another. And 
then, to take satisfaction from that? It was like being
proud of having mowed down 150 Germans from your
machine gun nest hidden behind a castle wall, Basically,
it was the only thing that could happen, so, what. I was 
so far out of that box-thinking it wasn't even funny. No
different from having to go to church every day, like
some people did, to thank God for the life you weren't
living. Each year, the kids at Cameo's would have a
window-display, model exhibition of their work. 
There'd be all these pridefully displayed models of 
Buicks and Mercurys, all perfectly painted up and 
with added touches  -  back seat, rear-shelf, fur
covers, baby moon hubcaps, lowered, raked, with
all plastic stuff for chrome. I used to think of 
them as hoodlums. Process hoodlums.
But, it made them happy; as happy as
my outlandish, far-out thinking made
me happy. We left each other alone.

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