BELOW THE WATER LINE
The first car I ever got was a car I was given.
At 92-94 Avenel Street in about 1969, some
guy had an old, bluish-green, Renault 4CV out
on the curb with a windshield note for the junkyard
guy who was coming to pick it up. I went up,
knocked on the door, and asked the guy, or said to
the guy, that if he was about to junk that car, I'd
gladly take it myself. He said 'go ahead.' I later
towed it with rope, and my father's car, the few
blocks needed to get it to my Inman Avenue
address. I plopped it down deep in the middle
of my parent's house's long backyard meaning
to fix it up and get it going after title and
registration and all that. which I did. It had a
fiber-plastic, not metal, timing gear, intermediary
between the crankshaft or cam shaft or valve shaft
or whatever it was. The teeth on that fiber timing
gear had rounded and worn down. Chandler Motors,
in Linden on St. George Ave., was a Renault dealer,
as their foreign-car line, in addition to Chryslers, I
think, their main line. Anyway, they ordered the gear,
it came in in about two weeks, and I managed to do the
work and re-gasket the cover too, with a new gasket,
and away I went. It worked fine. The '4CV' meant
4 cylinders, vertical, in French lingo, as, say, opposed
to VW's 4-cylinders, which were 2 and 2 laid down
horizontally. The Renault turned out to be a great car
for me. 50 miles a gallon, for sure, a little-cramped,
(my girlfriend's brother had reassured her mother that
we'd never have room to 'make babies' in that thing),
easy enough to take to 65mph, simple to maintain, and
free! What the heck. The one real, but simple problem,
which I got used to quickly and always accomodated, was
that on certain types of bumps and rippled roads, if in
third gear (of 4) and if my hand was not on the shifter,
it would pop out of third gear during the bump. That
car took us many places, in every direction, and it was
most especially suited to New York City - though
it did not navigate the Skyway too well, very slow for
that traffic, nor toll roads, which I never took anyway,
like the Turnpike and Parkway. It had a 'city horn', and
a 'country horn', which was very cool. Little roll-up
windows, and a canvas, peel back sunroof. Tiny little
car, that worked perfectly, I never thanked the guy, nor
even ever knew who he was. It was a sublime deal.
Most kids got jumpy and crazy to get their license and
a car too, sometimes, by immediate age 17. Having
re-located to NYC, and usually walking everywhere, or
bicycling (which was still an adult-rarity, back then),
and even when in NJ mostly walking or bicycling, I
cared little for, nor wanted a license, and didn't get
one until age 19. I liked 'cars' as a concept and as a
design-exercise for sculptural quality and all that,
but they otherwise just seemed an annoyance, and
one which demanded some money as well - title,
insurance, gas, etc. That all took some convincing
for me. One time, adding to the annoyance, some
dweeb in an open-topped MG, with his friend in the
seat next to him, passed me while I was at the corner
of Avenel Street and just turning into Cornell Street.
They stopped the car, after some catcalls about my
long hair, clothes and stuff, backed up, parked, and
got out of the car. I was with my girlfriend. They
proceeded to slam me to the ground, and the two guys
brusquely added a few punches and hearty slaps, before
they ran off, jumped back into their MG, and took off.
I was, somehow, always the bane of someone's existence.
Just like that Halloween pummeling over the Castro mask
it all amounted to idiocy and had no lasting effect. I never
fought back - couldn't be bothered. My NYC street smarts
would have had me just simply stab the bastards and be
done with it, but even Avenel didn't seem to be worth it.
A knife is so much easier than a gun, with far fewer
complications attached. Except for airports, I guess. In
these recent, post-9/11 days, with all the beefed-up
security, I've turned myself away from numerous places.
The Jewish Museum, in New York, they always want all
your pocket contents dropped into a metal-detection tray.
I always refuse when I find that out, and leave. Same with
the very-interesting NYState Appeals Court Building at
Madison Square (just the other day, in fact). I had the
usual knife on my belt, and pockets full of other things
that were none of their business, so upon being requested
I just turned and left. The person I was with stayed on and
went through it all, just to visit the sights. I stayed outside.
Jury Duty too. Once a real problem. Seems like dumb
people just make dumb problems for themselves and
then agree to live with them, instead of just changing
the situation and frying a few of the perpetrators right
off, as a public example, and moving on with the
warning. Instead, now they've made a growth industry
of thousands of fool, marginal, certainly non-college
material people, getting all puffed up by paying for and
getting what are euphemistically called 'Criminal Justice'
Degrees - a bogus catch-all of trash if ever there was.
A perfect 'in' for real criminals to get inside jobs too.
Whatever it is with people, I never could figure it out -
not that I ever cared to. I knew exactly from what I had
come up, the friends and places I'd grown through and -
yes - I knew that I'd come out a little differently, with
probably very different sensibilities, but I was still open
and active amidst other people. My own Humanity was
to give, to interact and impart. These others, by contrast,
just seemed closed-minded idiots about themselves.
Down the Woodbridge end of Rahway Avenue there's
a place called 'the White Church'; it's at the Barron Arts
building. It's really an old colonial church - if you go
inside you'll be stunned - but ruined on the outside
because they've stupidly built a 1960's version of plain
old 'church' all around it. It looks like nothing. Old
Woodbridge, Colonial era, hiding in plain site. Bad
example. Right next to it, on the left is a real old,
authentic and original old red brick Episcopalian
church, from the very beginnings of settlement here.
A much better example. Anyway, I digress. The NY
bus stops at the White Church, after leaving the NJ
Turnpike and traveling through Carteret. I used to
get off at that church stop on days, Saturdays mostly,
when I'd come home to see my girlfriend. It almost
never failed that this local cop, Sgt. Crilly, I think it
was, the rank of Sgt., anyway, would be there within
two minutes, as we were walking along, and he'd
always manage an inquisition: why are you here, how
did you get here, do her parents know she's with you?,
etc., it went on. Each time. My long hair and unkempt
demeanor always flagged me. NJ and Avenel just wasn't
ready. It was bad enough when the high school kept
throwing me out, but this was worse - the common,
everyday occurrence of living was apparently no longer
being allowed. And this is Autumn, 1967, mind you.
Another time, in that little Renault I just told you about,
he again stopped me, with her, and got me out of the
car, grilled and searched me. It was nuts, and it was
always him, ex-Marine or whatever he was. In his
mind anyway, I should have been in Vietnam.
Thankfully, he never asked about that.
Not to beat a dead horse, but one more time I was out
being driven around in my friend's 1961 Plymouth Valiant,
the real odd-looking initial design when they first came
out, and we stopped in a Hardee's, some hamburger
drive-in joint in Hazlet, NJ, Airport Plaza. I stayed
in the car, front passenger seat, while they went inside.
Two jerks opened the back seat, grabbed my head and
hair from behind and pulled me back, my head, on the
top of the front seat (no headrests back then) and just
started, yes, once again, bashing my face with their
fists, calling me a fucking hippy, a girl, a commie,
and worse. My friends came back, and the assholes
ran off. Never lost any teeth in any of these encounters,
but got bloodied a few times.
A far cry, all this, from the friendship streets of boyhood
Avenel. It seemed as if the whole world was changing,
and it was, all around me. There was a growing churn
of war, and I knew it, all that Gulf of Tonkin fake crisis
stuff, the Pueblo, or some lost submarine or something
I remember, idiots like Sen. Everett Dirkson and his ilk,
always whining for war, people stammering in the streets
for vile and violent actions, advisers, Buddhist monks,
Everyone knew what was to come, they just weren't yet
sure on how to 'involve the youth.' War, and the
rumors of war, harbingers of things to come.