Thursday, October 1, 2015

7232. BELOW THE WATER LINE, pt. 25

(pt. 25)
One year, when I came home for a visit from
seminary school  -  probably 1963 or '64  -  to
my surprise, I saw that Inman Avenue had been
paved. Regular hard-black macadam. The small
gravel and stones with light tar were gone. The pebbles
were no longer pushed to the sides by the weight of
passing cars. Walking up the street, from the train station
and Abbe Lumber area, it suddenly appeared to me like
a major thruway  -  seemingly wider now, and ready for
big traffic; uniform, straight, smooth and new. Almost a
solid letdown, there was really no room for any elation,
though I instantly knew all those fathers and their cars,
and the snow-plow guys and the bicycle kids and all the
rest must already love it. It was  -  for most practical
purposes a perfectly good representation of the state of 
things : Lyndon Johnson, his 'Great Society' programs,
efficiency, thrust, a vague collectivist spirit at large about
everything. Get things going, 'We'll' do it for you, no worry.
One dead President out of the way, and let's move on. 
Tough times to have to pick a side. But it was all coming, 
and I  knew it and sensed it already. Entering those years, 
my sense of 'place' had begun to both dwindle (since my 
old Avenel stuff was mostly gone), and grow, (since my 
expanded horizons were crying out in hunger for substance 
and fulfillment). The smell of the Vietnam War was (also) 
just around the next corner, and it did finally break everything. 
If you weren't there for that, it will be hard for me to explain, 
but eventually I'll get to that.
As a kid, about 8 or 9, 1959, the first transistor radios came out.
I got one for Christmas that year : it was a stunner. A black,
12-transistor Emerson. about the size of a small book. A not
so bad looking black plastic, with silver-imprinted knobs and
numbers, and a little disc or circular thing to move for channels
and volume and such. Back then pretty sleek-modern. 12 transistor
was pretty big-time, most were 6 or 8. I think that had to do with
strength of signal, or what you could draw in, or something. In
those days, music was nothing like it is now. Mostly mainstream
stuff, for staid adults, kind of moody and always tiredly romantic.
Boring people talking on about their boring stuff. Who cared?
And then, with this, all of a sudden here and there I'd get tuned in
to some blissfully alive, real thing : a sound, with words, something
I could fit my teeth onto. Now always about 'Love' and heartbreak, or
at least not in those same old, tired, un-ripe ways and words. The first
song that really slayed me, I'll admit, was something enticingly strange 
to my ears. By Ben R. King, whoever he was back then, it was called, 
or I called it 'There Is a Rose in Spanish Harlem'. If you don't know 
the song, go, please, look it up now, and listen. It's hard to say, but it
confirmed for me that 'my' world, the other world, where my feet and 
mind were headed, existed. About a flower, or even a person, if need
be, named Rose, blossoming, growing up through the concrete, 
bursting out to the street. There's a line in there about 'I'm going to 
pluck that  rose and watch her as she grows, in my garden'... well, or 
something like that. I was smitten, lost, and taken away. Let's talk 
confinement, let's talk ghetto, entrapment. And then let me talk, 
myself, of my own liberation. Real-world juxtapositions or right and  
truth as only I saw it. No matter what else Inman Avenue was doing, 
had done to me, it was soon to be over. I swore  -  even its own crummy
 sidewalks, in spots, were already heaving and breaking up. A few years 
before, I'd ride my bicycle blissfully over those cracks and heaves, 
pretending I was an airplane pilot somehow cruising over the jagged 
and rutted landscape below me as I scanned down. Now that was over. 
Arthur C. Clarke had once written a book called 'Childhood's End'. 
I was certainly at mine.
Another song of those years, this one on my Dad's car radio, 
also took me away. We were parked down by Avenel Street 
and St. George Ave., out front of the St George Pharmacy, 
(there's still a crummy row of  stores and banks and Dunkin' Donuts 
crap there, but this was real early on; none of that existed except 
maybe for the sweet shop or whatever, called then 'Charley's Sugar 
Bowl'. It too is gone). I stayed in the car, my father had gone inside 
for another of the endless rounds of prescription medicine for my 
mother (usually we had it delivered; don't know what this was about).
I so remember it well, in my mind's image anyway  -  it was freezing
cold, it was late January, the car-heater was blasting, and the
Winter's snow was piled up, in plowed and dirty gray heaps,
and on the radio came this massive, grand song that just blew me
right out of my clothing. 'In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion
sleeps tonight'. It was by the Tokens, I think, some black guys and 
the song was from South Africa  - a folk tune, all re-done. I took it
immediately to heart  -  that lion was my soul, about to awake, 
sleeping inside my peaceful for now body. But soon it would arise,
there's be a roar, and it would be me! Reborn again, and ready!

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