Wednesday, November 4, 2015

7401. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 64)

(pt. 64)
For a goodly number of years, friends came and
went. Things changed around and alliances and
friendships moved  -  some people, it seemed, just
disappeared, while others just did other things. The
little psychology of life is like that, as we grow. At
about age 11, I don't know, I had suddenly a new
friend, someone who just showed up. How it came
to be, I don't know. It was the same season as some
goofy show called 'Car 54, Where Are You?' a really
bad, in retrospect, and stupid show about 2 New York
cops, on their cop-car route, and their business. One guy
dumb as a shaft, and the other so earnest about everything
that he came across as just as dumb if not more -   and all
the supporting characters too were nimble fools running
through dumbness hoops. The stereotypical NY 'wives'
were at home too. Like the Goldbergs, early TV years
before, the show seemed Jewish in its slant and characters,
but they weren't. I don't think. Tooty and Muldoon. Maybe
it was a New York thing. Anyway, this new friend, Alex,
was a schoolbus chum, that's how it started. He got off
one day at 25 Chase Avenue, or on a near corner anyway,
and in order to remember his address clearly  -  I was to be
going there later that day  -  I paired it with Car 54. My
version, in a cop lingo, was 'Car 25, Chase!', as in cop-car
chase. Well it worked. I never forgot the address.
Alex had a home life I immediately liked, envied, in fact.
It was quiet, seemed serious and dark. He had his own,
added-on room along the side of the house, narrow and
long, and his parents seemed to respect it as a no-go
area, his own private thinking zone : some books, shelves,
collected stuff. Plus, Alex had these really cool clear plastic
little boxes, with drawers, like five rows of four or something.
They were little  -  good for screws and erasers, maybe
paper-clips, coins, things like that. I'd never seen a thing like
that before  -  it seemed especial and private, secretive and
right. I see them everywhere now, but I've still never bought
one. The house I later moved into had a few of them, actually,
in the basement  -  and they became mine, though I never did
use them either in the so-precious fashion I had envisioned.
I liked Alex's house. He had a quiet little sister. I never
really got to know her, she was quiet to the extent of
being non-communicative, and I let it be. His mother was
a great, seemingly wonderful, chirpy lady  -  full of fun
and wise-cracks. She called her son by his last name. It
was kind of fun. She seemed witty. Their kitchen and
sitting area maintained an uncluttered, strict neatness. I
was used to a bunch of people milling about, leaving
things around, and with always a hum. This was quiet.
Alex's father was this great guy  -  he seemed gently
authoritative, seemed to know his stuff, get it done with
a pointed yet almost arrogant non-aggression. Seems
paradoxical, yes, but that's what I took from it. A more
simple kind of effectiveness than the bombast and flutter
I was used to at home. Our house was small, but this house
was even smaller, and kept small, and kept neat, and quiet,
and serene. I didn't know what it was, but I could detect
something quite different about it. Alex himself seemed to
fit in here nicely. He shared, with me, a certain young-boy's
'intellectual' bent, or pose, maybe it was. We were both
reading books way out of our leagues, spouting profundities
and worldly and adult opinions with outlooks we really
knew little about. It never stopped us  -  Alex was always
getting pounded on by somebody for something -   whether
at the school bus stop, the church or school yard. at the park,
wherever. He had a habit of stirring up the dust by his verbal
pronouncements  -  almost wise-ass sassy  -  but I was always
sure the person at the other end never got a minute's worth
of what Alex was driving at, or what his 'intellectual' approach
of attack was, but instead just got pissed off enough by being
sort of shown-up, that they'd start lividly pounding on him,
always, soon enough. For me, it often came down to a guilt
by association, but I only got into a few scuffles, by
comparison. Alex, on the other hand, seemed always
to be, once again, down on the mat.
Halloween, 1961, pretty sure, perhaps it could have been '60,
I don't know, we went out together for trick or treat. The long,
glorious house to house slog went on  -  all the right houses for
the best hand-outs. We walked a lot of blocks and covered
territory. That year I wore a Fidel Castro mask  -  it was a
hard-plastic sweat-inducing mess. I can remember beads of
sweat and moisture on my upper lip from the mask. Alex went
as Winston Churchill, or someone ponderous like that. Anyway,
'round about somewhere  -  one of those houses with the big,
high hedges and places for kids to hide, these two older kids,
middle teens I guess, ambushed us  -  mostly me, with the
Castro mask - (Castro and Cuba was a big-deal issue back
then, with Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban
Commies and all that crud. Like we knew or cared.) - and
jumped out of the hedges and began beating the crap out of
me -  in a kid's Halloween way anyhow. I went down, Alex
got roughed up. My Castro mask, all that hard plastic and the
fake, molded cigar thing, had been punched in, smashed down.
That kind of earlier plastic didn't return to its shape much.
Behind it, of course, was my own real, and pretty pliable,
face. The cheap-ass assailants took off  -  dumb jerks didn't
even steal my Castro candy. I forget what we did for the rest
of the night, went home detailing our anguish, or just continued
on. I forget. That was my young-boy's introduction to politics,
or at least to the fake mask of politics  -  where opinions don't
much bend, and the snap-back from a bad showing just ain't
that snap-backy.
Alex was funny. He'd know before hand, what his Auntie Lee
had brought him for Christmas -  he'd say, 'I know, an umbrella
an almanac' (for the upcoming year). It never failed. He did
always get that, while I knew him anyway. Before the Internet,
and when we were kids, kind of, an almanac was a real resource.
An eccentric resource, but one nonetheless. There were maybe
three or four differently published ones -  The NY Times
Almanac, another one called something America Almanac, I
forget. They were thick, smelled like neat ink, on thin paper,
and had all that bizarre stuff listed, for pages, the most, the
best, the largest, the first. It had world maps, the year (news)
in review, breakdowns by month, deaths, happenings, weather,
disasters, tragedies, news  -  legal, courts, government, address
and names; a million things. It was a paper-reference for, well,
for what I never really did understand. But he got one every year.
Just goes to show the things you notice.
A few times, in Alex's father's 1957 Chevy, they'd take us down
the Jersey Shore somewhere  -  Seaside Heights or something  -  
to swim. Not amusements stuff, just a swim day in the ocean 
waves. It was fun. The only thing I disliked, only because it was 
uncomfortable, was that  -  when we got there  -  in the parking 
lot, they'd cover the windows with towels and we'd each, one by 
one, change into, and then later out of, our bathing suits. It was
just something I'd never done before, and seemed weird. In my
house, we'd just ride home with our sandy wet suits, and when
we'd arrive there they'd already be under our regular clothes. Back
in those days, the car seats weren't upholstered fabrics as they
are now -  they were just some utilitarian plastic seating, and
impervious to water.
Mostly, people didn't mingle too much with other kids' families,
I mean like uncles and aunts and stuff -  if you knew someone 
was getting a visit, you just stayed away. For the day. At least
my friends did. We wouldn't much know anyone else's uncle
or aunt as would they know ours. People were still old-fashioned,
and entitled, as it were, to space. Parents and adults were always 
a lot more stern, serious, worried and dour. Not like now, when  -  
with credit and wages and bank cards and all that, most people
live pretty rich, have what they want, care less about things, and
are just most generally more happy and easy and outgoing. Take
cars, for instance  -  now, when ever the dumbest bozo wants or 
needs a car, all he or she has to do is sign their name to some sort
of presentment about themselves  -  even if they're the stupid
ice-cream man or something  -  and that signature will get them 
credit, and a car loan too. That's the way America is now -  a
splendid expansion that takes in everyone. Most everyone's in
some form of debt, but easily and happily so. And living nicely
for it. It wasn't always like that. In the 1950's people and their
finances were still pretty shaky  -  there were lots of broken down
and marginal cars around, used and running on way past their
prime  - because people just didn't have that sort of free-dough
to throw around. Mostly, uncles and aunts were as unhappy and
unsure of things as the rest of people were  -  so then, really,
who'd want to meet them anyway? 

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