Wednesday, November 18, 2015

7462. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 77)

It's hard to mend hearts and feelings when
you've really got nothing to go on. As I
grew a little older, each go-round, each
season, I'd notice things changing. For my
11th birthday, strangely enough, my parents
got me a stamp-collecting album. I'd never had
one before, nor any of the cool things that went
with it  - the obligatory magnifying glass, the
hinges to mount the stamps into the album
without harming them, and the rest. I treasured
it. I'd always collected stamps, taken them off
of mail, etc. My aunts corresponded with people
in Italy  -  letters on that thin, strange and bluish
'airmail' letter-paper. My uncle from Germany had
plenty of German mail. I'd get the stamps. I'd send
away for the 10 cents for a hundred stamps offers
in the backs of comic books and magazines  -  most
often it was just the same stamps over and over,
but I never cared. It was a private urge, a figment
of some idea to collect  -  foreign nations, kings
and queens, oddly-shaped stamps, African scenes.
I don't know  -  yet again  -  how the idea took root 
in my parents head, but it worked and I was grateful.
I still have the first album, the one they gave me, and
one or two others as well. Stamp collecting gets a
bum rap  -  dweeby, for geeks, nerdy, all those 
stupid words. I'd just say, in one word, 'solitary'  -  
which of course then made it perfect for me.
1960 was the centenary of the Civil War. I was
in 7th grade that Fall, and I remember vividly 
the classroom in which, at the back bulletin 
board, a display had been put up about the 
Civil War. I was entranced : photos, captions, 
tales and stories. It was a backwards window 
for me to look out of, far off, back into time - 
into, incredibly, a place and time I really wished 
I was at, instead of the unseemly and callow 
present in which I existed, learning, turning,
trying to make work. There was a period of my life,
right then, where I just was unsure where I was, 
which world I was living in. I knew I didn't fit. The
words and the language of my life were  -  most
certainly  -  inadequate, and whatever I could get
across of it no one understood anyway. That takes
its toll. I'd see that old Matthew Brady photographs,
the dead bodies, the battle carnage, the bloated bodies
and horse carcasses everywhere, the old battle
smokes still lingering in the sky  -  twisted trees, a
brutalized people and landscape, tears, death, and 
the rest, and it was just apparent to me that this living
afforded no respite from anything. Any fool could
have fun and make a good time of life  -  but what for?
What value was that? I was hurting already, and that
was all I knew. Kids around me were starting their hunt  -  
guys chasing girls, girls budding their breasts, crazed
seeping of unidentifiable sexual energies coursing through
everyone. No one cared. No one stopped along their ways
any longer. It was confusing  -  some insipid, pike-faced
teacher in the front of the room trying to explain to a
roomful of fat-assed maniacs what the 'Civil War' meant,
and not a soul; listened or even seemed to care. I tried.
I tried hard  -  and then it was suddenly three o'clock
once more and a bunch of ratty kids would race back
on to a schoolbus for the trip back to Avenel from Iselin. 
Pandemonium. Girls and boys. Anarchy, with everyone
at a different level. The bold boys with their hard-ons
in the faces of the bold girls with their shirts loosened, 
and the meek and scared ones, trying to notice nothing
at all. It amazed me that they let animals such as this
just crowd together and feed off each other -   in a stupid,
yellow canister no less, with no controls except old 'Rat-
Nose', as the driver had been nicknamed the beginning of
that school year. He did nothing but drive. I did nothing
but fester. By the Spring of that year, Kenny Lachowicz
and I had given up on the bus  -  we found it easier just to 
walk home to Avenel across the flat-stone graveyard along
Route One, Cloverleaf Cemetery, or whatever it is. It's a 
straight, easy line, as the crow flies, right over to the back
section of Avenel that gets you home easy enough. Then
Kenny got sweet on some girl from Iselin, and we'd start
the return walk, once or twice a week, in the evenings,
back for a basketball game or something, where they
could meet. Fortunately, my father would come and pick
us up, for the ride back. I'd walk across that cemetery 
just thinking things over - as if on some dirgeful Walt 
Whitmanesque Civil War pilgrimage to see the dead. I 
couldn't shake it at all, it stayed with me at all times :
it was conflict turmoil, church, home, play, friends.
Everything was getting mixed up. I was lost and I knew
it  -  no longer in my element; my mind had taken me 
over and I knew I had to find a way out. That's when 
the 'seminary' idea began beckoning. I don't know how it
got started, but I knew it was a way out, without any
humiliation and with, in fact, some approval. I could just
leave all these smiling rats behind  -  home, family, school,
everything. People were suddenly surprised, thinking of
me 'where'd that idea come from?' If then they only knew.
It was a difficult moment - Avenel was a bad trap, school 
was dismal, no one seemed to speak anything that I
understood, events were meaningless and time was a 
fluid joke that no one seemed aware of. I wished to 
flee, run off, leave my time. That Civil War bulletin 
board may have been the best thing that ever 
happened to me; cheap, and random, and on the 
fly. I could dream and in my dreaming seem to be 
there and learn the words and the ways of expressing 
the things I felt - I was able to do it all on my own, 
in a solitary confinement I'd chosen. I was desperately 
seeking a way out, and soon found one; but for the
moment it was not yet here, and I would have to wait 
a bit and live just a little more before I got to it. The
problem then became how to explain what I had become,
or becoming, to others. It was -   once again  -  sad. None
of my friends could see me as I really was, and of course 
there was nothing I could communicate back to them. If
any one of those girls I knew back then (oh June Markeson,
where are you now?) had stopped me bare naked and 
climbed their beautiful self all over me, I'm still not sure
that would have halted me. I was determined  -  that I knew
where I was headed, what I really did wish to avoid, what
silence and solace I needed. It was, at that point, that all my
focus points simply lost mesh with the focus points of 
anyone else. Phil Poseil and Louie Carew, Tom Kungonis
and Don Florio, Ken Lachowicz and Aleck Grishkevich,
my friends, I was gone. It was all finished.
The ideas blooming in me were different, and they really
didn't belong in Avenel. The Civil War, as I've put it here, 
opened for instantaneously to the spirit, the doorway I
needed. I went right through it. Those strange, doe-eyed
old America farm boy creatures, dragged through trees and 
meadows, oddly spacey-looking, clutching a rifle or a long-gun, 
wearing oddly-fitting balloon field clothes, a somewhat jaunty 
cap perched crookedly atop their heads  -  they all seemed
to be madly marching slowly towards death. There was just
a nothing that could be done about it. I'd view the towns and
the lands  -  fiery, burning, torched and parched, and I'd
think about all those lives affected by the venomous fury of
their vague and unknown ideologies. Convinced. I was
convinced, that no one knew a damned thing about what they
were doing, or why. The sainted 'Cause' of all this carnage was
just a speech-maker's ploy to rile people up. America's
turmoil, back then, was  -  like mine  -  purely internal. All
things were amassing and bumping-around, layers of new
arrivals, immigrants of Irish and German and Scotsmen,
plus the piles of black people, North and South, de-valued,
being used. The new land itself was screaming out in terror.
By the millions, piles of Indian bodies and buffalo bodies were
strewn about over the plains and prairies and forest  -  the
'Amerycin' juggernaut had hit the ground running and was
now way up to speed, and it consumed everything in its path.
I read it all, like a between-the-lines, coded message. All those
people in Avenel and Woodbridge, schools and churches, and 
all the rigorous, conglomerated bullshit they were trying to live
was being foisted off on me  -  a complacency and a sense that
all things were right, if you'd just settle in, buy, build, consume, 
and keep smiling while everything around you fell and was 
carted away. That was, quite simply, NOT to be for me, and they
could all go to Hell. It's still like that today  -  look at any
disgusting highway corridor; and people still clamor for more.
Before I close this one out, I have one more thing to
mention  -  it baffled me, unsettled me greatly, when it 
happened, and I only look back on it now, some 50 years
later, to make mention. I'm not using names here, or if I
do they're not real  -  it's unnecessary to single them out, and
anyway death has intervened. When I was about 11, my friend 
and his sister had a really nice girl over for the day - a friend 
or something of the sister. I remember her well, I was caught 
up, and she was enchanting to me, don't know why, and we 
 were very young, perhaps 10 or 11. We were just hanging around, 
playing some stupid card game they had called Mille Bournes or
 something (I think it means 'a thousand miles'), a French game with 
cards and a board or something, about traveling, breakdowns and 
 accumulated mileage. Beats me. Passing the time of day. We'd all 
gone outside to the rear of the property. They had a fence with a  
gate marking the end of their yard. I don't know exactly what 
happened, but the next thing I knew my friend had this girl 
outside the fence, on the other side, and he was yelling intensely 
right into her face while she was completely collapsed, crying 
loudly, tears streaming. I was in a momentary confused panic, 
concerned. I'll never know what triggered that moment or 
how or why, but he had driven her from the yard to the 
outside of the fence and was screaming at her all sorts 
and every sort of 'you're a fucking no good Jew' accusations, 
calling out her religion, her race, her name, her family, 
her past and future and present too. She was hurt, shattered 
and destroyed. I'll never forget that. I'd never before faced off 
that sort of thing, and had no idea, at that moment, from where 
he could have gotten all this information and how this could have 
been started. Years later, in watching, I realized his father was a 
stern Germanic sort, as was his mother, a Lithuanian or Russian or 
something, and that this all probably came through their 
home-life and upbringing. But I didn't know that at the time. 
Yes, this girl's facial features, posture and bearing were very 
obviously 'Jewish' as we think of it, and lovely to 
boot, but it never, until that moment, mattered to me. 
After that time, I was stuck and branded by some form of 
that awareness. Right then, I really could have cried in 
shock and sorrow with her. Pretty amazing stuff. It was a 
brutal scene, as much as anything I'd ever see in my future 
German Lit. classes at Elmira College, of Nazi actions, 
ghetto cleansings, and the rest.
Lots of things make me sad, still. Lots of things still have 
me stunned. Still. There are things I can't get over, things 
which linger in my memory, things from which I make other 
things, build upon them, run with - but the essential kernel 
of Reality I went through is always there. I'm not special; in any 
way. And I really think that the sorts of things I live by are 
available to everyone - Life is a treasure, amassing nuggets 
of gold, But no one bothers to, or knows how to, pan for it. 
Can't be bothered. Too much trouble. Well then, walk on. 
Live your own miserable shit, and I'll work through mine. 
When we're all done, we're both dead.

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