Sunday, November 8, 2015

7415. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 67)

(pt. 67)
About 1959, my father took me one evening over to
the corner of Gill Lane and Route One. What's here
now bears no resemblance to what was there then.
At that time Route One was a quite simple roadway,
 and the sides were wooded, and on each side of the
area were Jewish graveyards. There were long and 
twisted trees a strange sense of loneliness and dark. 
No construction, nothing of what's there now, at all. 
The Woodbridge Center (mall) area was claypits.
The stores and condos all there now ere non-existent,
and across the road was also just wooded land. The
Garden State Parkway, about a half-mile down the
road, had only just recently, a few years, been cut
through and opened. There was a place called the
White Birch Inn, on the other side of the parkway.
That would be the Ford Avenue corner now.
The rest were truck lots, and an oil-truck field.
Past this and past the White Birch Inn was a tract
selling used Army surplus vehicles, in the stretch
of what is now endless Bennigan's and Steak &
Ales and all the later food-shaft-you businesses
which have replaced them as they've failed. The
corner of Gill Lane and the Route One was a 
cemetery. An old, rickety, rather unkempt and
sparsely filled cemetery and burial grounds. Not 
the organized and maintained kind which were 
around it. What we were doing there was watching 
the end of the workday for the workers there  -  
they were removing graves. Hoist, truck, shovels, 
backhoes, and men  -  all together they'd cut and 
dig and then pull up, I guess it was, a casket. It 
was pretty eerie, and fascinating too  - I don't know 
what they were doing with these or to where
they were taken, nothing of that nature. They were 
placed on the back of a truck, grouped together. 
That's all I know  -  what we watched and what I 
saw. It was getting near dusk, and there were bright
lights on stanchions, temporary and mobile units, 
being used to light up the diminishing scene. We
only went that once, and my father briefly explained
that they were moving the graves to make a paved lot.
It, for years after that, was a truck lot, like much else
there. Later it did become a Mobil gas station, for years,
the a jughandle was built, looping around it, then the
roads were widened, the big stores were built, the
conference centers and hotels went up behind it, and
now again it is just a section of land, jughandle, road,
yard and parking area for food, corporate, and hotel
places. Pretty amazing.
There's  -  in many places around Avenel  -  no trace
of what went before. It's a process, and it's underway 
to this very day. Ribbon-cuttings and proud little blurbs
about growth and progress, new stores and eateries. When
I worked in the printing industries, I'd have a lot of dealings 
with the graphics sections  - art and illustrators, the people
who made the layouts and the separations (for the colors)
of the printed work. Everything was on an 'overlay'  -  a
piece a printer's graphic, clear plastic. You would flip each
plastic sheet up, and on each one would be the pieces of
the whole  -  the blue, the red, the yellow, the green, and
the base, black text, etc., layered. You couldn't really 'see'
the whole, as each color had its layer. It's like that with 
the world and reality too  -  certainly with Avenel and 
environs; anywhere. One layer at a time things overlap
and co-exist, to make the visible whole.You never really
'see' the whole  -  each layer has its buried time and only
those who know something of the past know there are 
other layers. The new arrivals here, the thousands plus of
Pakistanis, Mexicans, Indians, Vietnamese and Chinese, 
etc. they have, yes, now superseded what went before  -  
yet in their own way they have NO clue. They have no 
idea of the 'place' except for their own, current, overlay
of what's there  -  where they walk and live and shop 
and talk. More real to then is their own past, their own
foreign land. That's why it all is so strange and so
conflicting. It was the same way in 1898 and 1914 and
1924,  I'm sure, for my forbears, Italian or whatever, 
and everyone else's who brought their foods, clothing, 
and habits with them to the America they'd cling to and
inhabit, while still clinging to and inhabiting their own
land, mentally, too. Life is a difficult process. It garners
nothing, sometimes, but pain, grief and toil, and wonder.
Another time, even earlier - though I cannot recall the 
year, maybe 1958, chilly  -  there was some sort of huge
oil tankfield fire on Staten Island, just across the water
from us at Perth Amboy. The sky was fierce and red and
lit. My father and I, in his car, traveled the Outerbridge 
Crossing (the name of the bridge to Staten Island from 
Perth Amboy, or back, which bore that weird name, 
of its engineer, John Outerbridge, but which always  
made it seem so distant and strange and far-off), and
went over to Staten Island  -  getting pretty up close to
the fire scene to watch the blaze. There were firetrucks,
cops and personnel everywhere  - keeping people and 
cars back, yes, and controlling the scene. We were in 
some sort of a shelter. I can recall pretty well the very
vividness of the scene, and the people watching. There
was a kid, a polio-victim kid, on crutches and braces, 
and he was having real trouble getting to drink water 
from a nearby water fountain. He couldn't maneuver,
nor could he stretch up to get a drink. Mt father went
right up to him, unknown and unseen, and simply
swept the kid up, braces and all. Lifting him over the 
water fountain and getting him to have a drink. Just
like that  -  it was pretty amazing, yes. And then that 
kid hobbled over to us, and I spent the rest of the time
there in his company, watching the massive oil fire
with him. Why does that stick in my mind? I don't
really know, except the impulsive keen-ness and the
decided strength of action it took for my father to do
that in the instant. Nowadays he'd probably get 
arrested for touching or fondling or perverted 
behavior or something  -  some crazy, twisted 
logic of today.
Inman Avenue itself was pretty weird to me, in 
that it held, always, one frightening perspective 
which I always disliked  -  I guess I'm not much 
of a conflict person. I'd just as soon walk away 
than quarrel over some stupid point of reference 
or outlook. My father, on the other hand, was
a quarreler, and on this block there seemed always 
to be breaking out another squabble between him 
and someone else. It was horrible for me to suddenly 
see two adults, men, yelling and shouting back and 
forth at each other, house to house or front stoop 
to front stoop. Never fisticuffs or real face-to-face 
stuff, just stupid loudness, curt insults, calling each
other an asshole, whatever. It never made any sense, 
and of course it then unbalanced everything else. 
Was I then supposed to like or no longer like the kid 
or kids from that house? Where did it leave me? 
Would 'Johnnie's' father then take it out on me, or 
keep me away, or whatever and however would 
this go? It never made any sense, seemed so trivial
and stupid, and made me just dislike the entire 
adult mental scene. What were these people's 
Everything was changeable -   two months later. Maybe
they'd be friends again. or not. My father always sizzled
and brooded about things  -  stuff that angered him and 
never went away. Imagined slights. Off-handed 
comments he'd swear had been about him and coded 
in some way. His justification for violence and anger
was always a sense of 'making things 'right.' It's totally
subjective, always, but he could never see that. One time,
(I'm told; I was not present), he even went out after one
of my friends, Alex, for whatever reason I do not know.
I don't know how raucous or 'violent' it got, but I was
told it was quite a scene. I'd already left town by then.
Any psychological profile, by today's, or any day's,
standards, would I guess have red-lined my father as
an immediate head-case, a threat to the well-being of
those around him. It never ceased, and sometimes I 
wonder why he bothered or how he managed to live
his own life within all that. It was pretty sorrowful 
sometimes  -  and I'd feel really bad, but unable to 
do any thing. We never had any sort of relationship, 
father and son or whatever, where I could sit down 
with him and just try to start talking  -  like. 'Dad, 
what the fuck's up with this.' That's kind of the way 
you'd have had to talk to him to reach in. He'd just
get angry, and make the whole thing worse, and
compounding the situation. And now the son broods:
we were just never the same in any way, I could 
never talk to him, it was all pretty bad and just 
surface stuff, the only things which would work.
Every other subject we ever touched on led 
immediately to a problem. Honestly, from painting
a house, how to or not to, to trimming and gardening,
to cars and engine size (he detested downsizing and 
especially detested 4-cylinder cars. 'Gebeeps' he called
them, or 'jabeeps', something like that), working or 
not working, sitting around idly, cleaning, getting jobs,
discipline, well, on and on.)...He burned through
numerous jobs  -  one after the other would fall away
through some conflict or job-floor problem. Towards
the end  -  again I wasn't around  -  by default he 
somehow managed to become the sexton, handyman,
janitor, go-to, do-everything, guy at St. Andrew's, his
local catholic church. It lasted for 6 or 7 years, I guess,
but there was constant, without fail, conflict  -  disliking
various priests of the parish, carping about this or that,
insisting on doing things his own way, and of course,
quarrels. With other people, with the elders and the
officials of the church  -  all that stuff. It finally came
to some big, horrible head over some issue or another, a
massive blow-out, and he was gone. I just turned away.
Over the years, I knew that job  -  as a kid the sexton 
would see me nearly every Summer morning  -  6am
mass altar boy stuff. He'd be there with me, we'd open
the doors together, weird, odd things  -  he was usually
soused or on his way to some form of same. I thing
his name, as I recall was Charlie Price, and then he 
was followed by Bill Leahy, a much more robust
fellow with no drink problem that I ever saw. I liked
him, actually, and we got on really well, almost fatherly.
These are just names I remember, it's foggy notion stuff.
After that, incredibly, my father became the personal 
driver for this fellow, a Mr. Houbigant, of Houbigant
perfumes. It was basically a large perfume factory or
somesuch, in Caldwell or up above the Jersey meadows
somewhere  -  he'd take the Turnpike each day, traffic and
all, both ways. This Mr. Houbigant guy was supposedly
very wealthy  -  fancied himself as an artist too, had a
Fifth Avenue NYC pad, Central Park South, catered
and hand-served everything, big-deal car, and my father
just drove him around. I don't know how they got on, what
sort of relationship they had, and I never met the guy. I'd
just hear about him  -  he kept his own little art gallery, 
filled with his own paintings; he traveled around NYC to
all these important places and people. And out to the
meadowlands and the factory too  -  essences and scents,
oddball people concocting this liquid gold, as it were. I
sort of do wish I had met the guy  -  I'd have loved an
introduction, a look-see. Never got one, or anything close.
Everything was always fractured and divorced. A shame,
yes, mostly for me. Bad son stuff, always. It's pretty
horrible  -  but really you can't re-do a past you
screwed up the first time anyway.

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