Wednesday, November 11, 2015

7429. BELOW THE WATER LINE, (pt. 70)

(pt 70)
One early episode I remember well was when
myself and my friend Harold Witt, together,
were taken by our mothers to some hospital
scene, of some sort, at about age 6. We were
both entered into a large dental operation (by
the way, this is going to sound very weird but
it's God's honest true, the memory is vivid, it
has always stayed in my mind, and my friend
Harold Witt is still around, a quite-successful
businessman now  -  family, kids, all that. You
can ask him if you feel you need to), where we
were gassed. Knocked out, strapped down, and
had teeth or molars or wisdom teeth or something,
extracted. I remember FOUR at one time. As in,
let's get it out of the way now, in one big deal.
And they were each in the four far corners of
my mouth. It was something about they'll grow
in wrong, no room for them, they're sideways, or
something. It's vague, and it already seems all
so perfectly typical of my mother's medical
thinking. I don't know about Mrs. Witt. She was
an intriguing, tall, straight-black haired lady whom
I always liked  - she hailed from rural Pennsylvania
somewhere, as I recall. Almost American-Indian
looking. As I said, we were gassed, while on a
gurney; I remember the hard Bakelite and leathery-
plastic mask and mouthpiece being lowered down
onto my face while I was told to just keeping breathing
in deeply. Out in an instant. Harold too. We awoke hours
later, in this large, concrete room  -  kind of evil looking,
gray, shiny wall paint, all-encompassing walls and ceiling
around us, echoey, silent, totally weird. It was something
like the concrete play room, for volley-ball and stuff, we
used in the basement of School 4 for gym stuff. But
this was different too  -  we were scared, and silent,
dawbs of cotton filled our mouth, to sop up the blood
from the open tooth holes. Someone came around,
changing them. That's sort of all I remember -  totally
spooky, and a harsh introduction to some sort of world
I knew little about  -  outside world stuff, process and
procedure and medicine and people submitting. What
did I know? Again we were doing someone else's
bidding, under someone else's decision-making power
that affected us. Who knew what was necessary and
what wasn't  -  removing teeth before they even get
started? These teeth weren't even out yet? Then they
were removed? I was completely baffled. I never heard
more -  I don't know what this cost, where it was, how
the idea took root. Some gim-crackery dental scam
thing going around? I don't know. For Harold and me,
this was just a passing moment. We never dwelt. We
remained friends  -  Harold was a powerful left-handed
first-baseman on many of our local ball teams, we roamed,
and  -  if you recall the early chapter  -  it was Harold
with whom I'd take those early April fishing-season
walks to the Rahway River to fish, and it was his aunt
there, somewhere, who'd have sandwiches for us in
the lunch time hours. I saw him two or three years ago,
at some gathering. He's doing well. Nice teeth too.
You know the old traveling Medicine Man shows that
would hit the old pioneer towns? Well my mother was
very susceptible to that sort of thing  -  cures and elixirs,
pills and prescriptions. So it came as no surprise to think
that perhaps she just fell for some 'medical' proposition
she'd heard about children's teeth. Probably sixty bucks
back then to have them clawed out before trouble starts.
If it was phrased right, she'd certainly fall for it. It's all
in the power of suggestion, how things are phrased and
presented. Something like that old 'stupid is as stupid
does' thing  - which means if you can get to them in the
exact manner in which they think, you've got'em.
Another wonderful memory that's never left me, from 
early on  -  I was only 6 for this, but the manner in which
I remember it and they way in which I can still recall
perceiving everything must have me thinking a little ahead
of my day. At the end of our block, same side, down towards
the Mulligan's house, nearing our play-woods, about the 
fourth house up, the first owners of that house (they left 
quick and early after this) was a friend of my mother. They
had apparently somehow quickly became new neighborhood
friends. I guess my mother would have been about 30. I'd
figure this other lady for maybe 25; a young girl, lady, 
newly-married, and still nearly a sparkling teen-type. There
was, I'm going to admit, something immediately lascivious
to me about her. She was unlike the other 'mothers'  - first
off, she had no kids, and secondly she acted more like a
high-schooler than a married woman. I don't know how her
and my mother hit it off  -  but, she had this beautiful 1953
or '54 Studebaker Hawk. It was a car the likes of which 
I'd not ever seen : strangely shaped, odd, daring. The color
and the finish, which I forget now, was beautiful. This 
woman's name was Marion, or Marian, however it's 
spelled. She asked my mother one day (while Marion 
was at work) to take her car to inspection for her. My
mother said yes. When that day came, I went along. I
was thrilled. I remember fitting myself in, the rear 
portion neatly closing in the occupants, the funny nose
of the car out front. My mother was probably one of the
worst drivers in the state, or at the least a very plodding
driver, and the inspection station was perhaps two miles 
away, maybe. Rahway Avenue back then (that was the 
section of the 'way-outs' in the earliest chapters here) was
nothing but a thin strip of roadway through reedy and 
wooded areas, the prison, one or two truck places, and 
two or three bars, taverns, pizza joints. Down the end was
the NJ Inspection Station, back then a quite thorough
inspection. Wheels, alignment, tie rods, light balance,
horns, turn signals, quite nearly everything. It took forever,
and I was glad. I loved sitting in that car, and riding in it,
and I couldn't believe my luck  - that she'd entrusted this
car to my mother for the day. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I
never saw Marion after that, nor did I ever see her husband,
ever, while,they lived there. She just disappeared, yet that
car and that ride has always stayed with me.
There weren't too many houses that changed hands early 
on, as I mentioned earlier, but that was one. I think it had 
about three or four families through it quickly. There 
was another family, five houses down from us or so,
original first owners, the Ortermann family, as I recall.
They stayed a few years, had a number of cool vehicles 
and things, and a son, name of Jack, who was a few years
older than I was. The family had some money, more than
the usual for the block, and the house had been done up
nicely. They moved, to Florida, I think, or some southern
state. No matter. Next to them was a woman named Mim 
Kellish, and her son Freddy  - one of our group. mostly.
It was her husband and his father who had died of that
ice-water thing I talked of in the first chapters. Anyway,
I don't know how it happened or anything like that, but
as soon as the Ortermann's moved out, they moved one 
house over and took the Ortermann place as their own.
I guess it had all been pre-ordained, listed, purchased
and signed for. It was a nicer house, and  -  even after
Freddie was gone  -  Mim lived their for many years.
'Mim' was short, I think, for Miriam; they sold their 
old house, next door, to some other new people.
When you're a kid, I guess you notice things like that,
because it adds to the mix of things you're putting
together in your head  -  how things combine, the
parallels and the axis-points of what make people go.
I saw Freddy years later, I really mean years. He invited
me to a little reunion cookout thing at his house, in
Freehold; I think he worked for the Dept of Streets
and Roads, or somesuch Freehold Township job.
It was the same sort of block as was Inman Ave.;
all the houses the same in long rows, but they were
much larger, multi-level, and newer.
The other end of town had a large ice-cream factory,
Costa's. The owner was Joe Costa, who lived in the 
town I much later moved to, about 10 miles away. He
was the Mayor, actually  -  big house, double-sized lot
and the second lot went into use only for the built-in
pool and deck and cabana areas. Later, after his death 
and all, they took all that away and a contractor built a
second home on that old pool lot, and sold it for big
money. In Avenel, his ice cream factory was pretty big,
and beneath it, entered through the grassy lot along the
highway which ran against it, were these very large
sluice pipes. They were quite easy to enter, and damned
if we didn't enter them every chance we got. There was
only a little trickle of water running along the bottom,
sometimes more, sometimes less, but never anything 
threatening. In them, you could stand up. Of course,
we were just kids, not tall men, but you know what 
I mean, WE could stand up in them. They meandered 
around, and I never quite got their reason for being or
where they really lead. It never mattered; they were 
just fun, and secretive, and  -  probably  -  off limits.
The thing about places like Avenel is the hidden 
infrastructure, which kind of makes it what it is. Long
before we got there, the place was wet and swampy land;
there was no real 'geography' to speak of; hills and heights.
Just an occasional rise, a roll. But originally water had been
most everywhere. Farmland ponds and water runs, wet-runs
for the cows and cattle, one guy had acres and acres of pear
trees, and then there was swamp and fen  -  marshgrass and
mosquitos and frogs and water. The back end of Avenel
Park, right near this Costa place, still had all that when I
was ten and after  -  they soon enough filled it in with dirt 
and fill, took the water and fens away, and built a skidillion
apartments on top of everything. Named them all funny things
too  -  'King's Gardens', 'Cloverleaf Gardens'  -  which kind 
of sounded like some beautiful Irish oasis of a green and 
lovely place  -  except that the only clover they referred 
to was the nearby ring of roadways merging about three 
different highways and some roads, by means of what was
highway-termed a 'cloverleaf', because it had four big rings
of access and eggress roads to flow traffic. Lucky clover, 
indeed. All that water had to go somewhere, ad it was. In 
order to build on things, everything was taken underground;
sluiced and channeled. If you didn't know any better you could
have lived your entire life without even realizing that you were
living in a swampy, once-wet terrain. And I bet there are people
who do live their entire Avenel lives without knowing about that.

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