BELOW THE WATER LINE
I used to walk between things a lot - whenever
I walked, also, I would walk close to the buildings,
as if slowly crawling my way along, outside of the
passers-by's traffic walking by. I never know how that
got started, but I think it had a lot to do with alienation.
I don't know where I got it from, maybe one too many
Kafka books read (man, they were deliberate and
plodding, one sequential, mysterious disclosure
after another). It was a way to 'show' or make
manifest, my 'separate' status. It was a manner
of acting out my inner Kafka. Well, maybe - in
any case, it's not the stuff you talk about, so I never
did. But my quirk was no different either than the
quirks mentioned earlier, of my friends : Jimmy
Yacullo reciting back everything he'd just spoken,
and Kenny Kaisen, smelling everything he touched,
pulling everything to his nose (the opposite of my
dog, who pulls her nose to everything). The emotional
equivalent of one of today's 'emo' kids - the feelers and
those with complete fearful and soft relationships with
the world. The kind of kids you just want to swat.
You think of it now - when we were kids we were
insulated from all that. The place was wide open, and so
were we. I never knew exactly what was going on inside
the heads of the grown-ups. I'd see them on their little
steps, porch-things, stoops, whatever they were called
on those new houses with the minimum of everything.
But I never really knew what they were thinking, or where
they were at - and I'm just as sure that they, looking at me,
never thought a second either about 'what' it was I was about.
It's odd. My father used to come home from work, in the
Summer anyway, and - after eating - it seemed most every
night my mother and him both would come out, she would,
when done with dishes and chores and stuff, and sit. My father
always hosed the lawn ; he'd sit there in one of those metal and
plastic strap lawn-chair things, from Two Guys, the store, and
just hose-spray the lawn, always. The spray would move around
as he moved his arm, and eventually it all got hit with water.
I guess, by planning - it was more ritual relaxation for him.
Less about the lawn and water than it was about his 'closing'
the envelope of the day. Neighbor to neighbor, some would
talk, or shout back and forth - hey, hello, what's up...all that
stuff. But they mostly stayed apart too. My father also used
to get the square cube of ice cream Shop-Rite used to sell, a
large, I guess, half-gallon box. He liked it, we all did. But we
could only get the flavor - what he called 'Neopolitan' I think
it was - three flavors (vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, or
their ersatz versions of these flavors anyway) in one box, in
rigid rows, all the way down. He'd sometimes bring that out
too, and sit there with a long spoon and pick at it as it softened.
We'd do the same too, eventually. There'd be these great tunnels
of picked ice-cream by whosever it was who last ate at it, their
favorite flavor. Very weird, but simple and - back then - like
69 cents or something. In the meantime, we kids would be out
in the street, going bonkers for the evening, playing wiffle ball,
wiffle ball home run derby (which meant beast-fully bashing the
plastic ball and bat to only hit high, crazed wiffle arcs that we'd
hope would launch over the opposite curb). Or, the same, with
Spalding (pink) balls, against the curb. As Fall got nearer, it
would change over to touch football scrimmages and games,
telephone pole to telephone pole, or sewer cover to sewer
cover, whatever. Parents watched. Lightning bug, crickets,
mosquitoes, the whole array of stuff. I'm not sure what it
was that girls did, but I guess they had their own pastimes
and games. Then it would slowly darken, things would
settle, things would hush, and we'd all be gone. Other
nights, different pastimes - hide and seeks, ringolevio
games, 'box' ball (which was a sort of bouncing games
using three of the sidewalk sections as playing field, and
slapping some sort of careful corner action on the pink
Spaldeens). I can't really remember. Also, the younger
kids had chalk-lines of Hop-Scotch and all that stuff.
Later on in years, Jim Yacullo, and Ray Szemborski,
both had basketball hoops installed, regulation height
and size and all, on the telephone poles at their properties.
Ron Napoli, also down the street, had a really nice one
installed at the top of his driveway, where there was a garage.
It had a nice, dedicated 'dribble' paving area, good range
for shooting, and we'd gather there, for a while, nearly
every night after school. It was funny how habits and
small schedules of time for these things developed
themselves. We never went without - cold and dark,
or hot and sweaty.
It was chummy stuff - when an outsider arrived you'd
know something was up - interest in a local girl, some
connected grudge to work off, or a budding friendship with
an 'outsider' - which usually meant then that we'd be 'losing'
somebody. It was like family, and when attentions and
allegiance shifted, everyone knew. Pretty much, anyway,
that's what adolescence was all about - expansion, both
of geography and of emotion. Yeah, I can almost remember
falling for someone different, some other girl, somewhere,
in a crazed infatuation, back then, at age 11 maybe, like
every other week. Now they say it's healthy and it's normal
to experience and evaluate varied kinds of sexuality. Huh?
Had I heard that shit then, I'd have barfed. For me it was,
first and foremost, the feminine aspects of life I wanted,
the opposite of me for sure - I was in no way after my
pals. That can be colored a hundred different ways, yeah,
and psychoanalyst stuff will do that to it, but all we ever
cared about was girls. You can talk a blue streak about
anything you want, but that was for sure the truth.
People would move about; even as I grew through the ten
year old and eleven year old level, I can remember things
expanding. One time, by myself, I took my bicycle all the
way up Route One, up to the Linden Airport area. Just to
see; that was big-time travel. Another time I did the same
thing all the way up St. George or whatever it is, as it
threads northward, all the way up the Warinaco Park
area - Roselle or Linden or Elizabeth, I didn't know.
My friend, Robert Shipley - maybe two years older
than me - was in a sort of awe. He just said something
like 'Boy, you're brave!'. He had a perfectly kept J. C.
Higgins bike he rode around on, really nice, black - and
on the back of the rear fender hanging down, like the car
clubs, he had a plate installed, that read 'Black Beauty'.
He'd named and titled and plated his bicycle! Now that,
to me, was more amazing even than running up Rt. One.