BELOW THE WATER LINE
My father was a big couch guy - being an
upholsterer, he was always talking furniture,
well, a lot anyway. I heard curious terms all my life,
'sectionals', 'love seats', 'convertibles' - any and
all of that furniture lingo. I never really caught on,
but I knew that - wherever I went - friend's houses
or whatever, relatives, and the rest, I glanced over
their furniture. It became a second-nature sort of
thing, and I never knew why, never even knew what
I was looking for. Or cared. Like seeing what sort
of car people drove. It just meant nothing, but it did
mean something. I mean, what 10 year old cares to
go around with a headful of crap about furniture -
I learned all this stuff about it from my father :
the kind of 'cheap' stuff they made in the Carolinas
and sold up here of trucks at the side of the road.
Inexpensive, lousy wood, poorly made. My father
hated certain fabrics too - 'No good, it wears out
quickly, has no stay, nothing but an oil/water mix.'
He meant synthetics, etc., I think. Some of his
customers , they'd pick from these really cool
fabric sampler books - large loose-leaf-ring like
hoops, but BIG, that would have a hundred of more
flippable pages, each with a fabric sample and notes
and explanation - least expensive to most expensive.
But none really cheap - these Westfield and Scotch
Plains, West Orange, people and such, they never
scrimped. Wanted only the best fabric quality -
often they had heirloom pieces of furniture, stuff
from Grandpa and such, which had been in the
family for generations, getting maybe the third or
fourth reupholster. He'd always drag me along, or
me and one of my friends, to pick up or deliver a
couch or some chairs, footstools, whatever. We'd at
least get to see some cool other places, large homes,
stairways, grand entrances, etc. But not always either :
some were apartments with twisty, narrow stairways
and all that. We'd then sit around while these old
lady types ooh'd and aah'd over their newly covered
furniture piece. Throw us some cookies or candy,
something to drink, maybe a dollar as well. My father
would do the deal, get the money or the check, make
all the concomitant small-talk, introduce me, or us -
I'd have to act like I cared, smile and say nice things.
Or, if we were picking up a piece, instead, I'd wait
while she inspected a billion samples, talked color
and fabric, bored out of my skull, or our skull, and
then lug the junk out. Only a few times was it
worthwhile - I'll let you in on a secret - sometimes
they'd have really interesting daughters around. I
always liked that - I always enjoyed seeing how
girls went, the things they wore, how they acted. It
was visits of that sort which were my favorite - girls
my age, but better and mostly older - when they'd
achieved some awareness of self or something. I
could just tell - nothing crazy romantic or sexy, I
just really liked seeing the 'hows' of other places and
homes and people. Mostly anyway - mothers usually
bored me, and the old ladies drove me nuts. Their
places were always too warm, smelled of staleness
or something from long ago, and were usually pretty
horrible too - neat and poorly-fashioned, I thought.
But, I did what I had to until, later, as I got older, I just
really hated it, and I'd start making excuses for not
going. Sometimes it worked, but not always. I used to
love the Bayway Circle - usually on the way to some
place above Elizabeth or Newark, my father liked
Route One - and the circle always fascinated me.
It was, like, the cars in Avenel, on Route One, where I
saw them, it was just a straightaway - not the Green
Street Circle, when that was there, but just a straight
strip right up through Rahway and Linden and Elizabeth.
Then you got to the Bayway Circle (my father always
drove like a madman, speed, closeness, etc), there'd be
cars flying every which way. Close calls, Curses, Horns
blaring. A real trip for a lifer like me. Furniture-hauling
kid that I was. On the edge of my seat that I was too.
Then I'd get back to Avenel. Ho Hum. Humdrum, The
pink Spaldeen against the curb - curb-ball. Flipping the
baseball cards against the wall, seeing who got closest,
how the cards stood up, losing some cards, winning
others back. Playing stick-ball with an old broom-handle
bat in the courtyard at school 4, on which wall we'd
painted strike zones - two, far enough apart so that,
if needed, two games could go on at once. Someone
would inevitably hit a homer, over the school fence
and right onto the library roof right there. We'd
managed to have established footholds on the library
wall and sub-roof which easily got us climbing to the
roof very quickly. Back down. Start again. A few local
girls would come by, sit on the 'portable' steps by Mr.
Roloff and Mr. Raisley's room, and watch us. All of a
sudden, showoffs. 'Look at me, I'm Whitey Ford!'
Look at me, I'm Ted Kluzewsky. Mickey Mantle.
Roger Maris - 'who ya' like, sweetheart?...'
School 4 & 5, the schoolyards, they sufficed for a lot
of things. Parents would send us to church on Sundays -
we'd never get there. Instead, the inner courtyard enclave
of the same portables, but the other side, where the rooms
for Mr. Ziccardi and Miss Stein were, they were pretty much
hidden - we'd hid out, smoke cigarettes, goof around. It
was a grand racket - we were all kids in the kingdom of
the snake. No one ever told, and we were all in it together.
Boys anyway - I don;t know what girls did; I guess they
all just stayed with the program, 'cause I never saw any of
them cheating the game the way we ever did. We'd time the
church crap too, chew on some gum, go home at the right
time, and pretend it was all good. No one ever said, 'Now,
Gary, what was today's sermon about?'. Gulp.
Well, ma, it was about loyalty and honesty, and how kids
should always stick together, in whatever they're doing,
because God and Jesus and Mary too, they're always
watching and writing it all down, and like how whatever
you're doing - sometimes even if it seems bad - it's not
because if you do it all with the love of God in your
heart then you'll be OK and everything will be forgiven.
Except, like, if you're robbing a bank or committing a
murder, it doesn't work for that - even you you do that
stuff while thinking of God, well you're sunk no matter,
Ma - which is how it should be, you know, because then
it would be too easy to get away with, like, anything if
all you had to do was say you were 'thinking' of God, or
Jesus, or I guess even Mary, while you were doing it.
Y'know? Well that was what the sermon was about.'