Sunday, October 18, 2015

7310. BELOW THE WATER LINE, pt. 46

(pt. 46)
As a youngster  -  born to run, yeah, all that crap
too  - I sort of just stayed in place, to learn from,
observe, and catch what ran by me. Had me and my
friends too, for that matter, been raised anywhere 
else, everything for each one of us could have, would
have been different. Who knows how? Look at it this
way : we first-generation arrivers here, we'd all been
born somewhere else, and raised there too, until 4 or 5,
under whatever general influence that other place maybe 
had cast.  None of us was like the kids later, the brothers
and sisters who began being born, hatched, right there.
Not us; we were marked, for life, and we were going to
stay different too, because of it. I never knew what the
old 'planted' America was like  - I'd hear about it, it
was taught in Civics and History, again all that older,
Americana stuff; the big multi-generational house, with
the layers of family and groupings within. That wasn't
us, we were mixed, all, into something no one knew of
and into something 'new'. Gone away. Cast-outs. We
were  -  without even knowing it  -  each our own
Huck Finn  -  riding some slaggard river raft somewhere,
and each with our own raft-pal, our own 'Jim', and
trying always to elude, as well, that mean and 
smothering hand of Pap and Aunt Polly. Whatever.
I never really knew what to make of what I held  -  Avenel
Street, once you got there, was nothing at all really  -  unless
you wanted a Tootsie Roll or a Cherry Coke from old wooden-
leg, gimp-hipped Murray, over at Murray and Martha's, with
that metal Breyer's Ice Cream up above the corner, and 
perpendicular to the street.  I think it was Breyer's anyway.
There was a mess of them  -  everybody flew a different flag,
so to speak, at the various sweet shops and confectionery stores.
Breyer's, Sealtest, Dolly Madison : some vein-blood flow of
fake American commerce trying to entice and suck in yet
another raggy bunch of snotty sixth-graders to plunk down
their measly twenty cents and get lost  -  buying something
at least, some crap with which to stay afloat on that raft.
What did we know anyway? What kind of old word was
'confectionery' anyway? Nobody uses that now. It was a
candy store, and who cared? Go in there all grimey and
sweaty from playing two hours of stickball across the street,
get done with the gawking girls, plunk down 12 cents or 
whatever it was  -  some odd number like that  -  and drink a
cold, syrupy, sweet-ripe flavored soda until you burst. Watch
one of two of the local Dads come in for a 5-cent Daily News,
as they flipped over to the back-page banner headline to see
who the Yankees had beat up on the afternoon before  -  no
night games yet, then  -  flip back over, read some Castro or
Kruschev shit about Cuba, look at pictures of the Kennedys, 
and pretend, just for a moment, it was about them. Watch 
Murray and Martha  -  or at least hear  -  Murray and Martha
go into yet another steaming family battle and screaming
match about something, until a door slammed and one of
them would hunker off  -  the back door to the stairway which
took them up to their living quarters. One down, for this
half-hour at least; and then they'd fire it all up again, re-enter
the zone, and set to firworks again. All the same. it was great.
Living upstairs of the store like that  -  everyone thought that
must be great. I just stayed back, watched, and walked away.

I'd  just move on. Looking back now, the ancient 
word 'Maya' describes it all best for me. 'Illusion'. 
That's the given  -  the real impetus is to find 
whether or not it's an illusion or a 'veil of illusion' 
of any consequence. If it's not, just live through it 
and go on; you may as well remain invisible. If it is
-  or if you think or decide, anyway, that it is  -  that's 
when the heady problems come up. You then have 
to do something about yourself and about everything 
else, and get it started quickly and steadily. There's 
no slacking. That's what makes it all so crazy. That's 
what makes the things and the places  -  even those 
like 'Avenel' arise  -  someone's personal push for 
glory, for the scrutiny of others : wrecking woods 
and fields, planting small-scale, all-the-same 
houses, built cheaply and quickly and sold that 
way too. Streets named after children  -  Lisa Lane, 
Mark Place, Monica Court, Clark Place, again come 
to mind  -  things dumbed down so as to be pleasant 
and cute and, if made quaint, only in the most 
ersatz and imitative fashion. I basically have 
always worked blindly, just pushing on. These 
others, however, I've noted, work by plan, one 
deliberate and crafty step at a time. Everything 
is orchestrated. Their end-idea is to make money, 
whatever the cost. Nothing else matters  -  the 
quest for gain and profit and lucre takes 
 precedence, takes over in fact, and carries with 
it, in lockstep, everything else. Everything can 
be sacrificed for that end. The larger the effort, 
the more corporate the effort, the fewer and 
fewer chances exist to convince someone of 
the errors of their ways  -  they're all starry 
eyed and dumb and stupid, looking at figures, 
returns, amortizing this or that, cutting deals, 
figuring ways in and ways out, quickly and 
stealthily, so as to bring for themselves the 
most return for their own least effort  -  as 
if they'll live forever, take it with them, and 
have something that matters. Then  -  and 
only then  -  will they worship their God, 
while proclaiming that, all along, it had 
been their first concern anyway. It's all 
and everything a lie. There is no reality. 
It's all gibberish. In their endless hold and
confinement to a cosmic Timelessness, 
they end up, surprisingly and oddly, 
worshipping only the moment  -  which 
is constantly slipping away and never 
stops and thus is never really 'here' at all. 
It's all illusion, once again. Dumb bastards.
I always figured that's where the Devil was,
and that was where Evil lived too.
I used to like cars  -  even way back, when I was 
young, I'd look at them, learn the names, the 
forms, the engines, the way they worked, etc., 
and I'd watch too  -  who owned what, which 
person bought this or that, and try to find out 
why, or wonder why. Styling clues, sculptural 
clues, color clues, the push and the prod of 
design, the thrust of a fin or a rear-swoop, 
the barreling of headlamps, the bump of a 
grill. Everything, it seemed, was trying to say 
something : even with toasters and TV's, 
lamps and roller skates, bicycles and radios; 
everything portrayed something, was trying 
to get a point across, a point just slightly 
 different and off-site from the 'use' of the 
same object  -  as if two voices were coming 
through everything. Had I been present, I 
figured, in the 1860's or whatever, I'd have 
had the same point of interest towards yoke 
collars, oxen plows, gate latches and 
lanterns and wagons and pails and shovels. 
Who knows? I certainly didn't. Other things 
had come along and completely taken people's 
 minds off the essentials  -  sound had come in, 
emitting itself, or being emitted anyway, from 
those boxes and cabinets I was looking at; light 
and pictures came, same thing  -  from television 
sets. Planes and helicopters; bombs and bullets 
came from them. No one really 'made' anything
anymore  -   which was immediately one 
distinction from the older days. I guess anyway. 
I don't really know who made shoes back in the 
1400's, I guess people made them themselves? 
Or was a shoe-maker's guild already in control 
of that? No matter, the design concept is what 
I'm writing of, not the means of making it. 
I loved all that, and I questioned it all. And 
still do  -  for it seems to me basic and cosmic 
that we live with the shapes and forms that 
we do. It all has to come together and go 
right so as to unify the thinking by which 
we live. We have the concept 'streamlined'  
-  no other reason except that we have it. 
By same, we then define the curve and the 
arc of anything made for motion, or in 
motion, or simulating motions, as 'streamlined' 
(which, in point of fact, once meant a lot more 
than it does now  -  streamlined is passe now, 
but once it was a cutting-edge parallel to the 
way mankind was about to be living. But, then 
again, nothing was more streamlined than 
those two A-bombs we sent off, even though, 
for their peculiar trajectory downward and 
in free-fall, it really wouldn't have mattered. 
That was just 'Avenel stuff' again, talking). 
That idea, that 'concept' took precedence, 
defining itself and all other things by its 
 meaning. A bullet, piercing the air, had 
to be streamlined. But, was a cannonball? 
Was that round, globular shape defining the 
same thing  -  without mankind's knowing it? 
How important was any of this? Where did 'art' 
enter  -  a Brancusi form, a gentle, un-gilded 
curve? What did that signify? I'd guess this 
form of thinking made me a bit more solitary 
than others. I'd sometimes find myself standing 
on a ball field somewhere, smelling the leather 
of the baseball glove on my hand, thinking 
about the cutting of those fingers and the 
webbing and the leather strap intertwined 
and closing on each of the four fingers off from 
the thumb  -  the feel, the passing, the lining, 
the label  -  lost in some crazy space between 
here and there, until the crack of a bat anyway 
would call me back in. What did others think 
about? I never knew, but I just went on, 
adequately covering my bases, and keeping 
my own counsel. It was all a charade anyway  -  
all that stupid banter and boyhood small-talk 
between bases and innings. I knew I really 
cared little for it. But I went along. Maybe, 
but what else can one do at 10 years old or 
whatever? Cops and detectives, they pick up 
on clues and tics and evidences of things. 
They do that after training and after the 
cop-school progress and education. I had 
that same observational context, early on, 
in everything I did, without being a cop or 
having a training. It was just how I lived, 
and how I learned to pick up on things, 
on the signals and things being sent my 
way by the world around me. I may have 
more than this wished to 'BE' on Mars or 
someplace else, but here I was  -  here, and 
stuck here, and thereby forced to continue 
my own experimentations and works.
All day long, even to this day, my head 
splits with quickly-passing ideas, phrases, 
 words and concepts. If I don't just cease 
what I'm doing and jot them down  -  and 
I don't always  -  the gruesome truth is, 
ten minutes later, they're gone and most 
never recoverable. I try to associate the 
thought with something, as a memory aid, 
or recite it in some form of parody or rhyme, 
but I lose a lot, and it pains me. It's a bummer. 
I try and I try getting the idea back, re-creating 
 the path of thought I was on, trying to reclaim 
the field, but cannot. I don't know what the 
word for this is, if there is one, but the very 
continuity of this page hinges on it, as early 
today I had some grand notions of how to 
extend this concept here, the episodes of 
this chapter, but they're gone. That can 
only show what a vast Whimper this entire 
idea of Life itself is  -  a thought, a passing 
 puff of something, and then it too is gone. 
There's a certain flow that has to be 
maintained in order to make something 
like this work, and I have to stay hard at 
it doing its bidding, or lose it. When I was 
a kid I wasn't really aware, in these terms, 
of what loomed ahead of me  -  just instead 
I stayed watching. What's it called, I wonder 
too, when a person lives a life but stays out 
of it enough so that it both fails him later on
and at the same time it allows him to hone 
and sharpen an incredible outsider status 
into a vast, long period of creative energy? 
And, between the two, which is worth more? 
I'll take the latter, thanks. And, anyway,
I already did.
Even as I was growing up and seeing the 
other 'Dads' and 'Fathers' around me (that 
in itself was an important distinction), I 
never used the term Dad, always said 'Father' 
when relating to my own  -  as in 'my father 
says' or 'I have to call my father to pick me up.' 
Others in those sentences would have used 'dad'. 
I never did. There were distinctions between 
families, and I saw it much more in the fathers 
than in the mothers  -  the mothers always 
seemed more or less the same : clotheslines, 
washing, cleaning, dusting, having afternoon 
coffee so as to babble on with another other or 
whatever. Let's just say, on Inman Avenue,  
Gloria Steinem and Betty Freidan were yet 
afar off.  Some of the mothers were, obviously, 
vastly better-sexed than others; in fact, even 
as a young boy I sensed one or two of the 
local mothers putting great, enormous, crazy 
streams of sexual energy everywhere, and 
probably having sex with a string of men
 and keeping it all steady and concealed, 
or just maybe dumping all of it on their 
 own husbands, but I somehow doubted 
that. The Fathers were different  -  there 
 seemed to be the 'Executive' sort of Father, 
and the 'Sporting' type  -  two different sorts. 
One was distant, removed, superior, 
pre-occupied. The other (sporting) were 
good old boys, throwing snowballs, playing 
ball, sitting on front stoops, monkeying around 
with the kids, remarking on things, getting wise
and sassy. Loose. One type was seen everywhere  -  
Little League fields to backyard barbecues. The 
other type (Executive) never seen. Silly of me 
to make only two distinction like that, but that's 
it. I soon enough got out of all that anyway, 
 since it didn't matter to me and none of those 
ideas stayed long with me. The seminary to 
which I was going had men being both Fathers 
and Mothers to teen-age boys  -  if you can 
imagine that, or a need or a reasoning for 
something like that. It was medieval right from 
the start, as if I'd gone from 1961 right back 
to 1451 in one fell swoop. All I needed was those 
yoked oxen and grape fields on a hill somewhere. 
The weird thing about the seminary too  -  in 
light of the aforementioned guardianship and 
medieval atmospherics of it all  -  was that 
 after all was said and done  -  all the rigor 
and routine and recitation and practice  -  
a seminary kid could still steal off to the 
athletic section, where there was a gym 
and basketball courts, play fields, tennis, 
etc., and select from a bevy of vending machines 
any of the very normal candy and junk one 
could want : M&M's, soda, pretzels, Mars 
bars, ice cream sandwiches, mints, gum, etc. 
It was pretty crazy, like light seeping in from 
somewhere else (or maybe it was darkness). 
And, in the most Portnoyish of behaviors, 
jerk off to any of the mid-1960's Sunday 
NYTimes Magazine underwear ads or models.
At the same time, you have to figure, we all 
have our own beginnings and our own 
 references. I never even knew what hit me  -  
was almost just reacting hard to stay atop 
the twirling barrel I was standing on. It was 
all around me, and it was swirling  -  the 
overlaps of seventy-five years of wartime 
atrocities, twisted reasonings and basically 
just dirty and bizarre politics. Anything of 
the 'old' ways had long ago been moved off 
point-center, and a vast, new, noxious 
autocratism was stepping in to fill the 
void of that which it had already destroyed. 

And no one knew a thing, or cared.
On balance, as I look back, I can now realize 
a sort of fine equilibrium for the things which 
had affected me : a sort of parallel equilibrium 
between New York City and Avenel. It was often 
said that New York was like a small town, or a 
series of small towns, and everyone took care 
of everyone, etc., as in a small town. It was 
never, of course, like that, except maybe for 
the wealthy. It was dog eat dog, and it was, 
if anything, everyone else in your business 
just to snoop and to see what they could steal. 
A nasty mercantilism was rife. Speculative 
 frenzies came and went, with everyone 
wishing for quick and easy money while 
 doing nothing to earn it - except making 
profits off of what others produced and/or 
labored over. Like Avenel, it was speculative, 
fast-growth, and it had decimated the 
geography and naturalism of the 'place' 
of the place. Just longer, or out of reach of, 
people's memories, no one really knew or 
cared about what gone before. Like the old 
cities which, once their 'modernism' had 
arrived, tore out from their cores and centers 
anything which once made them livable - trolleys, 
surface rails, stables, wagons and horses - and 
replaced them with roadways, broad avenues 
for cars, systems of lighting and traffic, etc. and 
then 75 years later found themselves in a mess 
and tried returning to grace and livability by 
re-introducing all those things - retro-fitting so
to speak, to bring back the trolley and the surface 
rail - but admitting no mistake, so too Avenel 
made a complete mishmash of everything. But - 
instead of retro-fitting or admitting of mistake - 
it remained at a complete and utter loss as to 
what had occurred, never admitting anything, 
and instead,  kept expanding, inviting newcomers, 
wiping out woods to build still more homes and 
apartments, and taking a subservient role to 
roadways, highways, exchanges, gasoline stations, 
auto-marts, and auto-oriented sleaze-bag hot-sheet 
motels, one after another after another 
all up and down the highway. Progress.
As I drive back to places I knew then today - Avenel, 
yes, of course, but just as well my parts of NYC and 
Newark and environs, I realize how little is left, 
how little outside of memory I have left, and how 
truly I most rather inhabit a ghostly past that 
yet lingers. All it does is bring forth silence and 
awe. There's really nothing to say, because 
these places are now not what they once 
were; the old is now an alternate universe, a 
reality and place that - yes - still exists and 
which I can still inhabit though it has no 
'place' to enforce itself through any longer. 
Like a dead body, a cemetery remnant. All 
those people who once lived there, those 
whom I knew, and the others who just were 
there, Mr. Metro, Mrs. Kuzmiak, Mr. 
Cermyan and others, they may all be 
gone, dead and forgotten, yet, as in a 
cemetery, theirs is still a place, a 
scrolled marker of some sort that 
keeps them present for those who 
can imbibe that less-sweet and 
more-bitter juice. Places, like 
people perhaps, have ghosts that linger.
My upbringing diluted things, in fact 
everything after WWII diluted things, 
homogenized things. People who, in 
older pictures, look distinctly European 
and factional, ethnic, and showing their 
locales (Hungarians and Swedes, Jews 
and Italians) by 1960 had somehow shifted 
certainly their own looks and most certainly 
the looks of the generation they'd produced - 
which generation in turn again diluted the 
 looks of its own children - so that, by now, 
nothing any longer looks like anything. 
Tribe breeds with tribe, ethnic group and 
nationalities mix and mingle in that great 
swamp of sperm which produces today's 
human. We warred, killed, decimated and 
fought to preserve nations and places, only 
to somehow have it all taken away when it 
comes to 'here'. Ideology has made 
everything the same.

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