Tuesday, October 27, 2015

7351. BELOW THE WATER LINE, pt. 56

(pt. 56)
Back when we were chasing the Masons,
as just related, it little fell to us to know the
difference. What a world it all turned out to be.
As it is, Masons themselves, in that day anyway,
(I don't know, nor do I care, about Masonry today)
were segregated  - one had to be a 'free-borne' to be
admitted. Blacks were slaves; thus, no blacks. A
roundabout way to get  racism. Then this black
fellow in Massachusetts, 'Prince Hall' was his
name, he charted a lodge but had a very hard time.
The Mother Lodge, in England, of which there were
two, eventually took sides, one or the other, and
'African Lodge' Masonry came to be. 'A. M. E.' is
what it goes by, as title. We didn't know any of this,
and these people were the result of Prince Hall and
his early, groundbreaking work. Little known to us
what we were dealing with  -  essentially a breakaway
of a breakaway, through the lineage of 'ex-slave
freedmen.' So wonderfully interesting.
See, the thing here is you'd want to probably think,
'why is he getting so far afield?', but it's not. It's the real
kind of Americana that would never have been taught to
us in either School 4 OR School 5, and that was the
representation of Avenel by which we got our knowledge.
It's vitally sad, in  a way, to be so localized. But as kids,
we managed. I have no idea what kids in Kansas or Kentucky
do, but I'd bet it's about the same. One time my friend Kenny
Lackowicz and I, we'd go home to his empty house often for
lunch  -   whatever we had, we'd just gobble it down and get
back up the street, eventually. We'd found, through some sort
of 4th grade self-chemistry, that baking soda  - which his
mother kept in the kitchen  -  would fizz up big time if
set-to with water, in whatever concentration it was. Kenny
knew all this stuff, he'd worked it out. I wasn't that way, didn't
care for formulas and prescriptions  -  anyway, he'd set up
some weird thing whereby by letting a certain amount of
water drip into something he'd set up there, it would eventually
load up with water, tip itself over, and fall the water into the
baking soda, also set up, beneath it, at which point this
big (to us) fizzing, steaming oddball pile of baking soda
muck would smoke itself off, or something. He'd had it
figured to take about 4 minutes for the cup to fill and the
smoke-a-mania to begin. We treated the entire zany idea like
we were building an atomic bomb or something. We finished
up, he set it running, the water and all, and we took off
running, high-tailing it back to school, with the knowledge
that, in some four minutes, our little baking soda bomb thing
would have set itself off inside his house. Whatever. That
was our thrill  -  I never did get there to find out what the
damages were  -  but I figure there were none. Also, one
other thing with Kenny  -  in my Kindergarten class photo,
I'm the kid in the dumb little tie and the busted up and
scabbed lower and upper lips. A day or two before the
photo date, I got whacked in the face with the swing from
Kenny's swing set in the back yard, when he launched himself
off of it at high speed  -  sort of like broad-jumping, but
swing-propelled and flying through the air. We'd measure
our landing spots off against each other. Well this time the
loose flying swing went somehow awry and smashed me
big-time, right in the face, busting up my lips and face.
So, in the picture I look just like a pugilist; somebody's
bruised sparring partner, just like my Father was once,
in old Bayonne. Yep, the apple and the tree, falling
again, not too far from one another, like they say.
It's funny how the mind remembers things. Later on, 
far past the time, I suddenly find myself remembering 

things, of no real import, from youth. The stuff I did 
yesterday, still and quite vivid, is always there, but 
this other material seems to float up, through some 
chinks or cracks in the armor, and resurface all these 
years later without any real control by me over or upon 
it. I don't feel compromised by this, it just makes me 
quite curious - what's going on, what's underway. My 
own theory (unfortunately) is that while the mind slowly 
deconstructs itself, begins falling slowly apart, it 
fragments things, sets them loose, and they somehow 
filter up and out, or whatever directional imperative the
mind uses. One of the fine uses of being a writer, after 
many years and much intent practicing of the craft - prose, 
poetry, stories, memoirs, what have you, even drawing captions - 
is that these can be savored, examined, listened to and used 
and re-crafted. It's only the idiot who loses it altogether, the 
babbling old-timer with abstracted and loose memories swiftly 
blasting off into the ether. What is this life anyway, perhaps, 
but an unconscious mixing of all these blasted-off pieces of 
 other people's life re-made into the contortions we then find 
ourselves dealing with - the meanings and definitions of our 
everyday existences. I don't know. I actually don't think it is 
so, but so what? My own memories - a different category - I 
accept and deal with. Luis Aparicio, I believe of the Baltimore 
 Orioles, about 1958, and another Aparicio, a brother, maybe 
a Ken, somewhere else, playing. The two Boyer brothers; Ken, 
a third baseman of renown for the NY Yankees in that same 
period, right up to the 60's, early, and his brother too, Ken, 
playing somewhere else. Minnie Minosa, Moose Skowren, 
\Lew Burdette, of the Pittsurgh Pirates, I think. A vicious 
World Series sometime back about then too, Pirates and 
Yankees, '58, again I don't know, where many of these 
names clashed. Some sort of epic baseball battle. Red 
Shoendienst, Ted Klazewski and Don Clendenon. Like 
baseball card hall of fame, or a gum-flat assortment 
of names and ideas, all this sticks around. I don't know 
why. Names linger. Not just baseball either. Bernard 
Baruch, Adlai Stevenson, dying on the street in London,
 I think; Robert Lowell, dying in a taxicab, I think. Hemingway, 
blowing his brains out. Christine Keeler, some British 
sex scandal, John Profumo. It's a riot. It's upon everything - 
my own life a wild, blown-out assortment of abstracted 
names and beings seen only by a child, but somehow 
absorbed. Marianne Moore at her endless Mets games. 
I could go on; but I'll simply stop myself right here. I'm 
sure you too have your own lists. It's like, as a youngster 
sick in my parent's bed and home from school for some 
days, I'd drag down the huge family bible, all those glossy 
and idealized pictures and stories, and get to portions of 
Genesis and other places which were nothing but lists 
and lists of names and begots and begats. I never 
understood that stuff; wanted to jump and run. But I 
can see the precise, infantilism involved just as much 
as not. A determination to make valid the claims and 
lineages of the people within the story the narrative of 
which you were trying to control. One has to show 
 complete and exact mastery of name and place and 
subject in order to make convincing twaddle instead 
of just twaddle. I read once where novelists, it was 
 said, go through old graveyards finding names for 
their characters. Maybe that's true, there are some 
good ones and some ordinary ones too - but mostly 
they are, in fact, pretty dated. I can't remember the 
last 'modern' book I read with a character named, 
say, Jedediah, though there is Jedediah Purdy to 
reckon with, even if he's not a 'character'. Maybe 
a run through old baseball rosters would work just 
as well. Except for the weird nicknames, things 
like Pee Wee and Speedy and Gopher and Lick.
I always sort of lived my life outside of definitions, 
 and I never knew why. It wasn't the sort of thing 
I could put my finger on. When people died, I never 
missed them. I could never get involved with people's 
 illnesses or sorrows. Just didn't matter to me, wasn't 
real, had no 'necessity'. As a youngster I could blow 
all that off, run right by it; but later on as I grew older 
I started wondering about it, why it as so. I may have 
mentioned already - I actually do forget - by one time 
I somehow managed to say something to my father 
like 'all the good people are dead', or something like 
that. He'd asked who it was that I had regard for, or 
something. He couldn't figure that out at all, but he 
too just let it go. What I meant to say was that it 
seemed to me that any people of real import - the 
ones with the 'ideas' and things by which we'd built 
society, had already all long ago died. He sort of took 
it as an affront to those living, as if I was beholden to 
them, I was duty-bound to respect and select someone 
from among the living with whom to gauge the bywords 
 of my time. He always took everything wrong, and got 
offended by everything, or so it seemed. And maybe, 
just as well, I always said everything wrong. Anyway, 
I hated the world and just wanted to run and hide - 
which is sort of how I ended up in the seminary.
When I got there, everything seemed different. 
It seemed sacred and holy, secretive and quiet, 
reserved and reclusive. It seemed, at the least, to 
be a place which allowed and expected an interior 
life and gave over long periods of time for which to 
have that happen. I'd never seen that anywhere else. 
All the other fictive stuff of which we were supposed 
to believe and fall all over ourselves with, that was 
okay, doing all that was easy enough and passable. 
It was a trade-off that never bothered me. I'd never 
seen anyplace else that didn't mind if you went inside, 
way inside, yourself - and they'd allow you to use any 
excuse of 'religious' purpose to get away with it. It was 
 like a philosophy book always open - no one knew what 
I was ever 'really' thinking; they all just figured I was 
within the program and thinking all that crap through. 
Fact was, I couldn't have cared less for all that rosary 
and Holy Mary and sacred heart and Jesus the Savior 
stuff. They were always going on about something - 
downright pitiful and stupid mostly - but I could just let 
it roll through me without too big a fuss. And it wasn't 
even that I was thinking of girls - that wasn't so difficult 
to forget about, even though I did think about them, in 

a simple way. What can you expect when this place was
way out in the sand-woods of a faraway pineland and 

there'd be girls' underwears and bras and stuff hanging 
from trees, as I did already mention, signifying some local 
boy's Saturday night car-conquest of some girl's virtue. 
The rules of the boy's clubs were that you hung her 
panties on a branch of the tree where you'd had her. 
Weird, frightful custom, but, whatever. I guess some 
girls just brought spares since they already knew this 
stuff was going to happen. We track-team runners and 
meditative walkers and wanderers through the woods, 
or at least me, had a hard enough time figuring out the 
'virgin' in Virgin Mary, and then that difficulty was 
compounded by these spectacles defaming all our 
ideas of what was really 'Life' and its Godly happenings. 
What a bungle it all was. And then, to make it worse, 
we'd have to learn about the 'Passion' of Christ and 
recite 'ejaculations' - what the hell? 
What was a kid to do?

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