Friday, October 16, 2015

7303. BELOW THE WATER LINE, pt. 44

(pt. 44)
So it all went. Avenel was nothing to me except, 
in its manner, a big street-lamp. The nasty streets, 
wide and torn or narrow and old, were separated 
all by light  -  an artificial, neighborhood light, to the 
extent that, even, the old or at least 'older' parts of 
town had no contact with or awareness of, any of 
the newer parts of town. The situation was odd 
and hopeless  -  there were parts of older Avenel, 
the 1920's parts, with large-sized bungalows, 
houses of somewhat older and traditional looks, 
which never seemed to come out of themselves 
to join with or agree to  the newer parts  -  and 
since it was all a jumble anyway none of it 
mattered a bit. The streets there, as well, had
older, more traditional names, New York
oriented  -  there was Fifth Avenue, and Park
Avenue, and others. It bespoke, in its own little
ways, a deeper connection to something, the
past, a legacy, a traditional view. Nobody had
ever told us who this John Inman guy was that,
supposedly, our street was named after. The rest
of it, Clark Place and Monica Court, they might
as well have been Bob Street and Jimmy Avenue  -
named for people's kids, or the developer's family.
No one knew; it just sounded weak, by comparison.
The old parts, funny to see, had a real difference,
all older people in them  -  single elders, paired as 
husbands and wives with their homes emptied 
of the kids (there were, yes, some kids still
around too; I don't mean to say there weren't), 
who may have once lived within and grown up out
of these streets  -  onto other things  -  these were 
the great elders of the larger, tree'd quieter parts 
of town. Or no town. It was quiet and older, more 
staid and solid. Nothing ever happened  -  the 
old men died off and, usually, what was left were 
widows, single old women, living alone, living out 
their post-husband lives without being able to take 
out their garbage, rake their leaves, burn their leaves 
(it was still allowed), shovel their walks from  snow  -  
we'd do all that, knocking door to door, for a quarter 
or a dollar, some hot chocolate or candy, whatever. 
One time I recall a few of us raking the Autumn leaves 
from some elderly couple's vast yard  -  bringing them 
to the curb to burn (controlled open fire), and the old 
man coming out to us with a large handful of potatoes, 
wrapped, as I recall, perhaps, in foil. He proceeded to 
show us how to put them into the fire and thereby 
cook or roast them (whatever  it's called) in that fire 
as the leaves burned. He said that, in his youth, that 
was pretty much how they often ate. By God, by the 
time we were done that chilly long-late afternoon, 
those were the very best roasted potatoes of any 
sort I'd ever tasted, nay, feasted upon. (This was 
down towards the end of 'Fifth Avenue', a section 
where there were yet a few large houses which 
then petered out again in size to the end, where 
was located 'Avenel Park', back in the 1950's a 
run-down, afterthought, leftover spectacle of a 
town park, adjacent to swamps and meadows 
and bogs and, oddly enough, a cinder block
'American Legion' building, which just never 
seemed to get finished. Old, wiry men, walking 
around, entering and leaving, in their strange old 
cars). As I think back now, looking over the past, 
of those days  -  which was just as close to the 
First World War era and before (1910, say) than 
1960 is to now, as I write  -  these old folks that 
we knew, men in their late 70's and entering their 
80's, in 1960  -  were born in something like 1885, 
lived through a time when everything we know of 
now was inconceivable to them then, and were  
most probably veterans, if so, of World War I. On 
the whole of itself, perhaps that might not mean 
much, but in retrospect now it was, or I see as if 
it was, me looking through a porthole at a fading 
past which was quickly getting smaller as the 
contemporary ship I was riding (not theirs) was 
getting farther from the shore (theirs). It can be 
said, yes, to be confusing, but if you look at it 
clearly, it wasn't. It was just another time living 
over into our time  -  these were people who 
tendered yet their reservations about the 
automobile, had rickety, after-thought garages 
put up in the rear of their yards  -  utilized as 
well as tool-sheds, in which they kept a weird 
assortment of manual things  -  large scissor-like 
hedge trimmers, saws (I can recall, in fact, my 
father himself going on, in almost a reverie, about 
saws. He was a major Henry Disston saw fan  -  
a brand he swore by; all about saws), metal tools,
manual things  -  no plastic anywhere  -  boxes of 
nails (they each size and each use), one, old, 
fabric-insulated extension cord (again, nothing 
plastic, not even the cord coatings), hand drills 
and boxes of drill bits, canvas bags, push mowers, 
heavy potato sacks, steel garbage cans, power-cords 
with lights on the end  -  lights in protective cages. 
I could list more, for it all just went on, and went back 
as well into the recesses, truly, of another world right 
then ceasing slowly to exist. Everything was changing 
focus, speeding up or being sped up into a more 
accelerated time and all the accelerated meanings 
and definitions of things which went with it : they did 
not take part in that change, though they were not, 
at the same time, cognizant of resisting it. It just 
never entered their thoughts; it was how things 
were. That guy who showed us the potato-bake 
thing used wooden-strike-anywhere matches, 
and just talked right through everything. He'd 
not know anything about a discourse on safety 
matches, or even the reverse-positioning of the 
strike-panel on regular matchbooks that took 
place in the late 60's - it used to be on the other 
side, the same side as the flipped-up open 
match top, exposing the matches, all, to the 
danger of flaring up when the strike panel was 
struck and perhaps produced a spark (sometimes 
happened, the spark, but I'd never seen matches 
flare up in anyone's hand). Yet, that was perhaps 
the first or one of the first of those endless 
alleviate-for-safety things which began happening 
around that time; it soon got much worse. I'm sure 
those folks must have just scratched their heads. 
I think what it is that is so different, between these
times now and theirs, is the idea of 'efficiency.' 
It's a new and more modern concept  -  the idea 
of streamlining for cost and efficiency, perhaps 
once used for industrial purposes initially. Over 
time, and as it was 'professionalized' into some 
form of business acumen, efficiency spread its 
ugly glove and began seeping into the national 
fabric. More and more was 'Modernism' praised 
for its efficiency. These people, on the other hand, 
were leftovers from an era when none of that really 
mattered  -  what mattered more was the presence 
of being, the location of the experience, the slow, 
plodding work of developing a Life. My boyhood
friends, Al Zinze and Robert Stewart, they both 
lived down there, right at the edge of the park and
that every-slowly-going-up, or not, American Legion
hall, which was, essentially then, just a grey pile of
cemented cinder-blocks, a wall or two connected to
nothing at all, and it stayed that way for many years.
Robert Stewart had a nose that was constantly running,
even in school, sniffles and liquid nose drip, and just
a general what-must-have-been-really-annoying nasal
situation for him. Nice guy though. Al Zinze, his neighbor
close by, was a more-sensitive type, a bit deeper and
darker, with whom I could feel a little more close, 
friendlier. I didn't know anything about their families,
there may have been sisters or whatever -   they were
just the kind of crossings you get from being mixed at
school. It was always a funny feeling  -  knowing kids
and not knowing them at the same time. One of the
secrets of Avenel was that  -  no matter what you 
knew  -  everyone also had another side of family 
and home that you probably didn't know at all  - 
everyone from somewhere else  -  the complete 
opposite of all that 'traditional' greeting card bogus
American home and hearth stuff. We were kids, pliable,
courageous, and partially stupid too. We just accepted
what was forced down our throats. I always felt that
growing up entailed reaching the point when you
knew that it all had to stop. That was my view  -  for
most others, as it turned out  - their view was that
reaching adulthood just meant continuing and carrying
on with all that crud  -  with the additional benefit of
having a job, a bit of money, and 'vacations.'
Looking back at things now, like a hundred million 
other things, there are changes and there are none. 
The left side yard of that potato guy at 39 Park Ave., it
seems way diminished now, maybe built upon, can't
remember that little neighboring house, but who knows.
Houses never change as much as we do -  or they get
taken down, rebuilt, added to, and all that. I had my 
own ways of getting to the park  -  which is, I think,
the Avenel secret of having named it Park Avenue -
pure efficiency and utility  -  sounds like NYC, but
really just gets you to the park, that's all. The Legion
Hall now is always all a hubbub -  karaoke night,
rib-fests, polka dances, poker nights  - even biker 
runs. You name it now, the fancy will always turn 
their tricks for love. Real love. Like the love I have
for all the things that once passed through my heart.

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