Tuesday, October 13, 2015

7291. BELOW THE WATER LINE, pt. 43

(pt. 43)
Previously, I made mention of my mother's little
lesson-episode about the ice water and the guy down
the street who died from gulping it too fast, (she said), 
and the resultant lecture about that to preserve myself.
She often went on like that  -  there's another instance 
 like that which always stuck with me. Over time, the 
awkwardness of it all made me realize that what I 
really felt was more akin to the unfairness of life
itself, working down upon me. When you're a kid, 
there's not really much you can do about anything  - 
be a snot about it, or grin and bear it. This episode
really bugged me. 5th grade, I'm pretty sure it was,
home-for-lunch time, first or second full day of
that school year : she was ironing, as was her habit,
on the ironing board in the 'living room'  -  (I think
my family actually called the 'parlor'), in front of
the television. That gave her a view, through the
picture windows, of the street, and of the television 
as well, distractions to pass the busy-work. In the
mid-afternoons she always watched things like 
'American Bandstand', a Dick Clark, Philadelphia
based teen show  - 45's, new music, schlock, etc.,
played with a little commentary and introduction,
while a group of twerpy teens danced. It was all on
camera, and televised; live I guess. She liked hearing
the music and watching the kids dancing and the rest.
Really dumb 1958/59 stuff, but whatever. I walked in,
she asked about school, my new teacher and my new 
class. Then she asked who else was in class with me,
meaning of course the local kids, whose names she
would know  -  no one else would matter because they'd
be unknown. I rattled off a few names  -  nothing I had
any choice about anyway. The accident of school
placement was all it was. I answered with about five
or six names of local boys I knew. She disliked them,
for reasons of behavior  -  and then she began hollering
and yelling at me, to the effect that they were all bad
influences, troublemakers, always up to no good and
'now you're going to be just like them, you'll turn out
just like they are.' I was flabbergasted, right in place.
I had, firstly, nothing to do with this, and, secondly, it
was false. I call that bizarre behavior (hers). Whether
even true or not, by whatever psychological premise
one would judge such 'group-behavioral' categorization, 
it stunk and was completely unfair to me. It had nothing
right then to do with me, it was all her own coloring of
the situation, a projection, and was, in fact, right then
the very last thing I wanted to hear about. Her, and her
stupid American Bandstand and her ironing board
window outpost and her dumb Dick Clark. It was all
so crass, foul, dense, and wrong. I forget what I said,
something back, and just turned and left. Right back to
the school yard  -  yep, to hang out and scale the heights
of ignominy to which she'd just fated me, with my new,
creepy friends.  In so many ways it was perfectly
indicative of the things she thought about  -  a somehow
strange mix of fatalism, hypochondria (she was totally,
medically brainwashed and evidently thought I'd now
'catch' something), brutality towards my personality, a
complete disregard of 'me', and some sort of passive
idea of bad fate ready to wring its way through, yes,
once more, our family and my system. I was  -  to
put it nicely  -  disgusted.
I don't recall the rest of that school year, except for the
fact (again) that none of us kids ratted out Louie Carew
on that Betsy Ross/school trip episode. (see previous
mention early on). I've pointed out before how, as the
'newcomers' to Avenel, in 1954, our entire Inman Ave,
Clark place, Madison Avenue, and Monica Court bunch
had to find a way to integrate and mix with all that had
previously been 'Avenel' : the old-kids who'd been there,
the old families, and their houses. It took time to mix. 
Once that underpass thing was built anyway, some ten 
or fifteen years at least  before us, the town got all 
screwed up anyway  -  losing the guts of its business
district, and losing a few of the great old buildings that 
used to crowd around the train station as a town center. It 
was all cut apart and sundered   -  dead end streets now
to the tracks, where once they all connected. The old
post office and library and train waiting room and all 
that, just ripped away  -  blind-fronted vacancies from
some of the old businesses was all that was left, and they
now faced the nasty, concrete wall of the underpass,
which just rendered them all virtually useless and
invisible. There are old, 1910's photos around of the
small town parades and celebrations which apparently
once took place at the 'village' center; completely wiped
out, and the entire scene is nearly unimaginable now.
Always referred to as 'the Underpass', when we arrived I
can distinctly, perfectly, with a closed-eyes brilliance,
remember the painted slogan, bold and strong, on the
bottom wall of the underpass, right by the entrance to the
long, grimy staircase that now took one up to the station
platform. It was there for many years  -  at least until
1967 or '68, and it probably was in place for 10 years or 
more. It boldly stated, complete with a skull and crossbones
at the very bottom, 'We Want a Recreation Center!', with
the sign-off, 'Avenel Boys.' They never actually got one,
except maybe Korea. That sign, as I said, remained there
a long time  -  all through my days; and it was years later,
in the 1990's that I met an old-timer, a denizen of the 
Hillcrest, which was a nearby tavern, who laid claim
to being the one who made that sign. I actually did
believe him:  he was a fine old-timer, a real Avenel 
veteran, who went by the nickname 'Rowdy'  -   
(I used to know his real name, but no longer 
remember it). He had a good memory, and related
all the ins and outs of that to me. Avenel, at that point
in the 1950's, had a number of clubs : car clubs, social
clubs and even a motorcycle club. The influence of the
scary 1950's of course  - with its James Dean, Sal
Mineo, Rebel Without a Cause stuff, and the prevailing
fear for parents was in having their kids taken from them
by gang-membership, and all that overblown (mostly)
rhetoric; ending up, I guess, in bast-case scenario, 
as 'West Side Story', a conflicted NYC re-telling of
a Hispanic version of Romeo and Juliet on the NY
streets, perfectly illustrating this. Anyway. I would
often  -  as a young boy  -  see the hot rods lined up
for the warm, Summer evenings of profiling, cruising,
parading, and generally the just 'boastful' hanging out
along the elevated sidewall and the curb in front of
Schools 4&5. The chromed and lowered '52 Chevies,
'49 Mercs, mid-decade Fords, older cars, and a few
new ones too, each done to perfection, rumbling, and
often with cherry-pack mufflers and sidewinder pipes.
They were most-often lowered, some chopped as well.
Beneath the rear license plate of each car usually hung
the nameplate of their club, which name I forget. It hung
on a small chain from each top corner, and the closer the
car was lowered to the ground the more nearly the plate
scraped very close to the ground. Part of the deal. 
Everyone paraded around, trying to look tough -   
and they probably were. The girls with them, well,
who knew. My father and mother, by that time and
because of this stuff, had already banged it into my 
head to be wary  -  these club guys were dangerous, 
they'll suck you in (a 10-year old?), there was no
escaping them once they got hold of you, and there'd
be nothing but trouble and bad reputation. To my 
parents' minds, there was no way out; growing up was
to be seen as a fearsome trip through a minefield of
such things as this  -  tough boys to men, girls with
swagger and sweaters (and pointy breasts beneath them,
evidently). I had no clue ever to what my parents referred; 
their fears were from somewhere else, somewhere I'd
not been. I did not know what they feared nor why they
were so tightly wound over this issue. I just liked the cars,
seeing the people, and just watching, and listening. (I'd 
keep my discrete, 'kid's', distance, watching from between
the two schools  -  before the connecting tunnel was built
it was open area and two separate buildings). No threat 
at all there, to me, except for the constancy (and the
fascination) of the 'imagined' threat that had been beaten
into my head from the harping and talk. I guess, at one 
level, the dementia here of my parents' view was of a
more nasty, inner-city, variety  -  where the thugs and
violence may have necessitated acquiescence, but this
was theirs, a new suburbia, a clean slate, their own
new place. What was going on in their heads? - I 
thought to myself. And why me? One time, at a
school lunchtime break, I saw, driving right past
the sitting-wall, now covered as it was with grade-
school kids swarming all over it on their lunch recess,
the most beautiful car I'd until then ever seen, as it
went whizzing majestically by. I was awed and, for
the moment, it was as if time had stopped  -  all those
silly, crossing-guard kids, the lady who crossed and
stopped traffic, the swarms of storm-headed children
screaming out of school had been forgotten. It was
a still quite new and shiny, white, 1957 Cadillac
Eldorado Biarritz convertible  -  a completely
novel and different car for those days. My mouth
agape, the car passed in a few seconds as it then
disappeared beneath the underpass  -  but it
remained in my head for years, a ghostly chimera
of an auto I never, or seldom ever saw again. It was,
to be sure, my moment. One of a time and a place
having nothing to do with this grimy, stupid location.

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