BELOW THE WATER LINE
You know how it is about life, how
sometimes things about others flabbergast
you when you think of them later, or sometimes
it's things about yourself that you still can't
believe or understand? I go through that a lot,
in that I spent a lot of my time with with
people I liked - other kids around me, with
whom a certain sort of local-brotherhood took
root and grew, and then one day was just gone.
The ones who are gone and dead, yeah I'd like
to talk to them now, sure - some sort of local
Inman Avenue area megaphone to the new and
shiny dead. But it can't happen and it's all the sadder.
My friend Joe, who blew his brains out with a rifle
shot (I guess it's never two) and was only found an
afternoon later in his back driveway, in his car, plastered
over as it was with his brain mattter - found only
because his dogs were howling and the lights had
been left on. Yeah, you know, Mr. Big Deal, found
dead in his freaking Renault Le Car, the running (but
only sometimes) joke of the later 1970's. Right up there
in Pacer heaven with the rest. Yeah, I'd have a few
things to say - and just as much I'd like to hear.
Death by death is one thing - but death by 'interdiction',
yeah that's another thing entire. It ain't right. How are
you supposed to grieve for someone who only ended
up, selfishly once more, doing what HE wanted?
My other friends who've died. What of it? What can
I do now? Just gotta' move on. Things about myself
that flabbergast me - my (living) friend Al Zinze, he
tells me about a verbal showdown he remembers me
having with Martha, of Murray and Martha Candy Store
fame. I can't believe it, nor can I remember it, but Al
has it down right. Martha was Jewish - I've written
before of that - it never made much matter to me. He
says one day she'd scolded me for throwing down some
paper candy-wrappers in front of her store instead of
putting them in the trash can. In the verbal scolding,
evidently I turned to her and sarcastically said back,
after she said something like the old 'do you live in a
barn?' routine - I said, 'Yeah, well at least we don't
eat with our hats on.' That's crazy. I tell you, crazy,
and he remembers that like one of my golden,
Oscar-moment lines. I remember nothing of it; nor,
I here swear, does it seem like something I'd say
or even have the gumption to say - let alone even
know about (eating with hats on?), yet he remembers
it perfectly. Another time, he says, a few years later
in my later-teen years after all the squibbling and
squabbling problems I'd gone through, he remembers
himself and Robert Stewart seeing me near them on
a bicycle, passing along, and they called out to me
to have a moment, say hello, all that, and that I
simply looked right past them, completely ignoring
them, and went along my way. I don't recall that
either, and again it doesn't really sound like the
'me' of me. For these sorts of things, now, I'm
humbled, sorrowful even, to these people, for
what I've apparently done, and for being a schmuck.
'Flabbergasted' is what I called it, right? I have to
live with it, and can't take anything back. And I
will. What is this life anyway?
Murray and Martha's was a candy store - of gold to
us. Cherry Cokes and candy, ice cream, all that stuff of
Summer, after playing stickball in the schoolyard nearby.
It was something like 7 cents for a refreshment. They
had a million stupid little penny-candy type things in
an open glass case to the left of the register. The register
itself was in a sort of little box-cage corner, but not 'caged'
as in today's security caging, just like 'removed' so it
got to look important and serious, and of course it
overlooked the open-faced candy trays too - glass
display, endless array. My friend Alex tells me the
shoplifting quotient was pretty high - I don't know, and
it seems like it would be a pretty difficult heist, but he
was tight with the family, so maybe so. I can recall,
in a closed-eye visual of the place, pretty much every
last detail of the interior. Newspapers. Magazines.
School supplies, rulers, models, hair pins, glue, a
entire array of things. It was something. I had, in my
fourth-grade class, under Miss Evans, a girl named
Patsy Ann Zionce (check the spelling; a guess), and
there was a time, that Spring, when for some reason
the class or the grade was having an 'ice-cream party'
for something. The classroom windows looked out
over Avenel Street, and Miss Evans sent Patsy out to
get the ice-cream order (another time I can recall
Murray himself limping over with the boxes). Anyway
the boxes were plain, gray cardboard, with little round
holes every so often, about the size of a quarter, I guess
for air flow into the interior or something. I can remember
Miss Evans looking out the window with us all, at Patsy,
holding the ice cream, maybe two or three square boxes
of twelve ice creams each, or something, and she remarked
'Look at her, isn't she a beautiful girl?' And Patsy, was, yeah -
her reputation, for a fourth-grader, was that she was very
pretty. But, hearing Miss Evans say that, aloud, it was weird.
I only think she was a 'Miss' anyway; could have been a
Mrs., I guess. Don't know.
Murray and Martha - I mentioned earlier - seemed always
to be at war over something, seething and screeching at each
other. Somedays the Cherry Cokes (all made from syrup)
would be made with happiness - other days you could just
feel the anger and animus with which they were made - so
much so you hardly wanted to drink it. Funny. I guess they
always made up.
Over on that other side of Route One, right by the light, our
neighboring family, the Raspitzzis (check my spelling anew),
they moved out from Inman and ended up there - a big house,
still there (but not for long, I'm told) behind that little building
that later became Nelson House Printing, but which at the
time was the original Introcaso Cleaners. Walter and Betty
Fehring - with the encyclopedias I mentioned in an early
chapter, they bought the Raspitzzi house, and moved here
from Elizabeth. The house the Raspitzzis moved to was
nothing like the Inman Avenue houses - it was large,
really large, and rambling, and from another time and
another Avenel day entire. I never really heard from
them again. They had two kids, I think - Laurie, the
girl, and perhaps Peter, the younger boy. That's an
example of the sort of 'layering' that I mentioned - in
which Avenel has so many different stratas of housing
and people - the new, the old, settled and recent, all
mixed into these varied sections. The mingling between
them all was just never that much. Things from 'another'
time were always so much more rambling and over-sized.
As was their idea of 'Time' itself, I always thought.
Across from them, there was - for a while - another
'supermarket, when those started happening. Foodtown
or something, and later then, a 'Fine Fare'. Now it's
been a print-shop for years - my once-friend Steve
Glassman moved it there from Perth Amboy, where he'd
started out in a little dump named 'Business Cards
Tomorrow' - which at first was just that; a niche supplier
of next-day business cards to other printers, so they didn't
have to bother (business card printing was always a pain in
the butt - small size format, ink washes, etc. The idea of
'gang-running' a bunch at a time actually made some sense).
Near him also was another friend, Louis Schlesinger, whose
father, right there in the next building, ran Schlesinger's
Hardware, for years. It was a really nice, crowded to the
hilt, with a massively great hardware store aroma, traditional
hardware store. Louie himself, in later life (now) has become
a fairly important psychoanalyst or somesuch, forensic stuff,
etc., with a few of that subject reference type books to his
name. I lost touch years ago. There was, also, just around
the corner there, in a house now right next to the pizza place
there, another friend, and his sister, a twin, Peter Panzarella.
I think I remember his sister's name as Patricia - it was one
of those family-deals where the kids names began with a 'P'.
They disappeared early on too. A lot of stuff I just lost
touch with. That older side of Avenel - closer to the
origins - also had a number of places, in the middle of the
blocks, that were local stores - foodstuffs, cakes and
bread, milk and eggs, stuff like that. They're all gone now,
but one or two of the buildings remain. This was all the stuff
which pre-dated 'supermarkets' - which eventually wiped
out all these very neighborly and local stores, in one fell
swoop, they came in, got everything consolidated, and
closed up all the little guys - because people always went
with the new, the latest, the largest. Go figure, yep, go figure.