Monday, November 16, 2015

7450. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 74)

(pt. 74)
Once I arrived in Avenel, young as I was I had
to begin to forget all about the Bayonne waterfront
where I'd just left. I guess it was naturally easy,
since I was so young. The new environment, plain 
and bright and wide open, was so different from the
darker, brooding, shades of gray, post-war bleakness
of the Bayonne, the Kill Van Kull, the boat and ship
and freight and ferry traffic incessantly bleating and
passing by, the on-high swish of the Bayonne Bridge,
that it was as if another world anyway. Beckoning me,
each, I lived between or in, for a while, two worlds. The
more soulful part of me always wished it had never left,
or been uprooted from, this more original and sympathetic
place. I was more akin to that darkness and shade of 
Bayonne than I ever was to the comparative bright light
of Avenel. Along the Bayonne waterfront, in fact quite
nearly directly across the street from our 'veteran's project'
apartment, was a rickety, thin, old-line amusement park
stretch called 'Uncle Milty's.  It was (this is all memory
now, long and faded, distant and lost) a ramschakle but
quite lively stretch of buildings, hugging the waterfront 
to the sidewalk (it's all parkland now  -  just to sit and
watch the harbor traffic. A pale imitation of then, but I
do it nonetheless. There was once a folk-group called
'The New Lost City Ramblers', of whom I very often
feel a member, perhaps plucking a sour banjo). Uncle
Milty's was wooden shacks, fronting, I think, mostly,
inland sidewalk, but some fronted the waterway too  - 
the usual arcade games, wheels of chance, rifle-shoots,
ice-cream and custard and sherbet, all that stuff. It was
noisy, and at night it had wonderful strings of lights 
above, and the reflected lights of the waterway, the 
tugs and barges, all made for a stunning scene. Walking
in all directions were newlyweds, veteran survivors,
lovers, sweethearts and people with babies in strollers.
Late 1940's and early 1950's round, bulbous cars were
parked everywhere along the street, and people flocked
and milled. It ran, as I said, long and thin, perhaps a 
stretch 3/4 of a mile long, at most. I don't know anything
about ticket-taking, money, entry or cash-in of chips, or
any of that stuff. I guess it all happened. I guess there were
the usual low-life types, the schemers and crooks too. It
little mattered because in this post-war dark collection of
survivors and hangers-on, all that was prevalent anyway.
All I can really remember are the ladies with their long
coats, and, if not, the black line of stocking that ran down 
the back of their legs  -  I guess that was a hosiery fashion 
or style in those days. Everyone seemed to smoke cigarettes.
There must have been alcohol somewhere  - but I can't
really recall bars or taverns, or liquor-service  -  but in any
such honky-tonk environment such as presented here, there
always was, somewhere. So, I guess.
What I'm trying to say, by this, is the strange distance between 
these two places. For me, and for my parents too. You go to
sleep one night in the noise and hubbub of such a New Orleans
type festive place, and you wake up in the morning in some
jagged, raw, cut of woods and field with a mess all around you.
I did anyway. It didn't really bother me and I just rolled with it,
in a little boy fashion  -  good as any, I guess. All the friends and
pals and neighbors I was about to meet, they too would all have
come from their own circumstances  -  stuff still rattling around
in their yet-forming minds, but no one ever talked of it. If the
sins of the bedroom are never talked about in the parlor, then
probably a lot of these parents stayed quiet too. These were
men, remember, who only recently were under the barrage of 
firepower and violence that was war. Massive war. They too
each had their stories and worries. To hide. Or to talk about.
Or not. Much of that distractive energy then went,instead,
into the putting together of this new place, these rows of
this new settlement on a plain and lunar landscape.
What's a little kid know anyway? You want to say 'not much' 
but you'd better be careful with that. If I myself was any 
indication, a surprising lot of stuff gets noticed, reasoned 
about, memorized, and catalogued. This whole idea of
'kids' was a new paradigm anyway. Used to be, by age 7 
or so, you were no longer that much of a kid  -  12 year
olds ran kingdoms, back in the day. The older people and
the retainers, they were usually the stupid ones. Speaking
for myself, the young mind was like a shuffle-tray of new
impressions  -  everything was noticed and filed away. It 
didn't always yet have its own tray of meanings and the 
connections which go with the meanings  -  that was the
old-people type of thought, all those connections, that
pretty much froze people into place. You just become 
a crank, someone always 'reacting' to frozen and old
categories and imperatives, if that's how you live. Like
being stuck in a jail-cell forever, with the Pope or with
someone one like that  -  old, tired, rigorous, stratified.
Even at age four I swore it would never be like that for 
me. I was going to Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone them
to death. I was going to Buffalo Bob their attitudes and
skewer all those presuppositions with which they ruined 
the world, and I was going to  -  and I mostly did  - make
and carve out, quite simply, a place of my very own and
the rest be damned.

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