Thursday, November 19, 2015

7465. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 78)

(pt. 78)
My friend who lived on Chase Avenue  - an Avenel street
oddly enough named after Salmon P. Chase, the sixth
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (who said old Avenel
had no pretensions?)  -  was living amidst a small clump
of older homes, streets in Avenel that, suddenly, did not
have the dumber names of developers' children or stuff
like that  -  there was 'Clinton Street', after DeWitt Clinton,
Chase, as I said, Park Avenue, Manhattan Avenue, Fifth 
Avenue  -  any one of these streets could have meant, 
by name, different things, but I always went for the 
most heightened. For fun. I didn't much care about the
'truth' of the matter, because in such a place as there, 
there was none anyway. It could all be swept away in a
month. Everything was standardized by money, and really,
that's all it took. Some years later, I'd work for one of those
interlopers, a guy from Linden. He started out, pretty much
a know-nothing, working up in Elizabeth at a notebook
printing plant called 'Boorum & Pease'  - they'd print 
thousands and thousands of the same, boring pages of 
lined paper  -  made into tablets, legal pads, notebooks
and the rest  -  the stuff you used to see sold in every
school-book and school-supply merchandise place. 
Like 'Boring as Peas', I always thought. He started 
'moonlighting' with a print-shop of his very own, on 
St. George Avenue, in a little shack over where now
there's an 'Advance Auto', and stuff by the corners
of Avenel Street and St. George Avenue. It was just
a rundown shack, with some windows, running
sideways with the road. Maybe it once was a vegetable
stand, or even a chicken coop. I never knew -  it's so
long gone it could have been a Roman ruin for all I'd
know. Nothing lasts around there, and everyone always
clamors for more and for new. This guy, Bob - the factor
of boredom and rote exercise never entered his life.
Everything could and would be done for money, to
realize some profit, of whatever sort. It all later grew
into St. George Press, he garnered millions, went into
other side businesses  -  stucco re-facing for a while, then
real estate and construction, and then re-construction 
and land, and then, up in New York State finally, 
buying foreclosures, putting in roads, and building 
strings of way-expensive and exclusive estate-type
homes on bluffs with great views and vantage points.
I worked, for some 20 years, with him, just as he was 
beginning in another building, just down the street,
after he'd outgrown that shack, and also had quit his
Boring as Peas job. From then on, somehow, for him
the money just rolled in -  everything always turned 
to gold. One time, with this Dr. Feiler guy  -  a dentist
from a dentist practice in Woodbridge  -  he bought
and flipped a property. With Dr. Feiler, who  wanted
it desperately so as to build a medical-procedure and
dental building. They made their deal one afternoon  -  
Bob owned the nicely tree'd parcel for about three
hours all told, and flipped it immediately with this
Feiler guy. He'd just bought it, but this Feiler guy
really wanted it. In two hours he walked away gaining 
like $750,000. It was crazy. The woods came down, the 
building went up, and there it sits today. Bob is also
the guy who bought that old Avenel Shop-Rite building 
on Avenel Street, and in the course of about six months
managed to transform it into about the ugliest, bunker-like
and uninviting fortress I'd ever seen. The inside is worse -
all horrid, institutional-style walls and doorways, a
catacomb and a warren of nearly windowless offices.
I don't think he ever lost a cent. Maybe some people just 
have the knack for turning coin like that  -  don't get me
wrong, he worked his ass off too -  total dedication and 
complete energy towards nothing but the task at hand.
Extreme  -  to the extent of the destruction of all else -
wife and family too. needless to say, without going into
detail, from the rubble he built an empire; all the time I
was there I got to meet very many of the Woodbridge,
and other, personalities who'd traipse through and
transform the area  -  all those mayors and councilmen
and Kiwanis Club bosses, Fire Chiefs and Inspectors 
and election officials, Middlesex County bigwigs,
elected and appointed, judges, clerks, publishers, etc. 
You pretty much name it, I could fill you in on it. Lots
of information  -  how the 'money' came to be, where
it went and how distributed. Who was in on the take,
the whole nine-yards, as they say. That's why I am, 
now, NEVER, ever sacrosanct about local politics  - 
it's all rigged, crooked, and dirty. Let no one tell you
differently, especially none of the self-serving 
maniacal types who go at it. Even the winners are 
losers. The funny thing I always said about that, 
knowing a real lot through Larry Campion over at
old Independent Leader, was that - in Woodbridge
corruption runs from A-t0 Z, that being Adams to
Zirpolo, and everything in between. (They were both
Mayors, through the 50's and 60's, cashing way big
time in on the transformation of Woodbridge).
My Chase Avenue friend Alex and I would spent lots of
darkened evening time, before St. George Press took 
over the building, at the house where there was, thru
1975 anyway, a travel agency  -  name I forget. There
were travel pictures and vacation posters and things
displayed. In the night and half-lights of the roadway
and interior building light, they'd always look so odd
and fascinating, engaging and absorbing. We'd be 
captivated, or at least I was. Probably  - so different 
was he from me  -  Alex was thinking of deals and big
money to get to these places, the practical matters of
business and success and deals  -  not so unlike the big,
frothy excesses of Bob Wiegers in his own way. For me,
it was just the romance of play, and other places, other
realms  -  things not Avenel. I have no business head in
any fashion, and just wind up folding, giving things away,
extending best wishes and asking nothing in return. I'd
probably get laughed out of any Chamber of Commerce
meeting, or business group. Some people have that 
resource, some don't. I guess I always had an 
artistic-dreamer-writerly sense that didn't ever do me
any good. And I hated doing 'the deal' -  with friends,
and bosses. I just know I always detested 'business' and
all the acts of the buying and the selling that went with
it. That house, later purchased by Bob Wiegers in 1977, was
completely absorbed by and transformed into, the modern
business building he built there. Him and Martin D'Aigle.
Martin was an older guy who pretty much was Bob's sidekick;
did everything for him, all the arranging, went crazy like a
plow-ox when work was there to be done. They tore that old
house apart, left standing what they could, and just 
surrounded it with the new stuff. When we used it as a 
print shop  -  inside  -  you could tell all the weird little
twists and stairways of the old house -  where the living
room and bedrooms had been, the sinks and plumbings, 
but you'd never be bothered by it. It was just in the middle
of the big vast area they built  - and then later expanded 
again. It's all gone now, beleaguered as a business as the
printing industry died, and as Bob transported himself 
more to New York State and real estate and construction
interests, and it finally burned or (was burned). 
Alas, Babylon. Long gone.
There used to be a bar across the road from it, the Blue Bird,
I think it was  - really cool, old structure. Gone too. That entire 
stretch of commercial roadway was lost long ago  -  whatever 
few actual houses were left on it disappeared into commercial
oblivion long ago. No one cared. People fight. They think
they're fighting the good fight but they don't know. In truth,
they really only want self-interest.
I remember one snow storm of the past, about 1958, when 
the entire world seemed white and windblown for days, and
just nothing else. I trekked all the way across Route One
that day  -  in white-out conditions with nary a car to be
seen, and down to St, George Avenue. To see. Nothing.
Not a thing was moving. The world was in a frozen 
lock-down, and it seemed perfect to me. It was as if
a form of perfection had been reached and all creation
had just decided to stop. Curlicues of snow, like icing,
were flipped over and a round the sign for 'Sentry TV'.
Funny to think now, but there was a time that the small
business named 'Sentry TV' was like Mecca for the people
I knew, not just my own family. On call, TV repairs, all
the stuff was big business back then. Large, big TV sets, 
tubes and wires. It was almost as big a deal, those TV 
house-calls, as having a doctor come to your house. I
can remember the sentry TV guy rolling in a tube cart, 
all these different connectors and working deeply into 
the huge back of the TV. The tubes used to have to warm 
up, glow red. all that. In his store itself, there was even a
tube-tester  -  hardware stores had them too  -  so that
if you were unsure what was ailing your TV, but thought 
it was this or that particular tube, you could plug it in
and get a reading. Pretty weird. Big-deal purchases,
back then, TV's and cars. I can also remember, and it
really freaked me out, about 8 or 9 years old : down on
Rahway Avenue there was a place called Avenel Hardware.
It always smelled really cool  -  fertilizers and stuff, real
pungent. A unique, red-haired, man and wife ran it. My 
father was friendly with him  -  I think his name was Jack,
not sure. I can recall hearing lots of 'Jack's Hardware' talk
from my father. They were real nice, and pleasant. They 
had a red-haired son too, about 6 or 7 years older than 
me. One day we went down there for something  -  my 
father and me  - and there was a sign taped to the front 
doorway glass. It really, really unsettled me. My father 
laughed it off and just said it must be the work of 'the kid.'
The nicely-hand-written sign read : 'Attention: Due to
Circumstances Beyond Our Control, There Will Be No
Tomorrow.' Whew, was I spooked by that!
A lot of the Catholic stuff, locally at St. Andrew's 
and not, was also cloaked in a spectral gayness. 
We had local priests, like Father Bill and Father
Tom, (these names are false. I'm just not here
going to be identifying anyone. If you know, you
know, and that's all)  who just plain 'enjoyed' their 
time with local boys, whether in small groups 
of two or three, or in a one-on-one situation. 
Little things, like spending evening times alone 
in the sacristy, or going out in their autos for 
ice-cream or a hamburger, a small fifteen-mile 
drive away to here or there. It always involved 
a lot of closeness, smug joking, occasional (yes, 
really) pinching or poking. I can speak here 
from personal experience, and can speak, as 
 well, for others. I was there. Father Bill 
drove a strange Nash (a car brand) of some 
sort, large and quirky. Once or twice he drove 
me all the way down to the Jersey shore, as a 
day-trip together. I can remember his odd 
habits. He'd like to talk about architecture and 
the shore homes we'd pass. He'd point out to 
me, in the plain and simple homes we'd pass, 
what to look for so as to determine 'quality'. 
Whether the roof-beams were straight across, 
or if, instead, the house sagged or rose at the 
middle (bad sign). How the exterior shakes 
or shingles were being kept up, whether moisture 
damage was visible, how the foundations 
deteriorated or needed bolstering; things 
like that. It was an odd interest, but at least 
something I found interesting. His brother 
owned a Summer house down there, (that was 
where Father Bill said he'd gained most of 
 his knowledge about house structures; in the 
rehabilitating of his brother's shore home) and 
that was to where we were going. Once arrived, 
I remember being told to go into 'that' room 
and change into my bathing suit, which I did. 
I don't know what any of that meant; when I 
emerged, he was already in his. I  recall we 
drove, a little further on, and arrived at a beach, 
into which we walked, waded, and swam. That 
was that. Father Tom mostly just liked the 
little, local, evening food and milkshake drives. 
I recall one time, with one or two other boys 
in the car, one of the more slovenly of the boys, 
fatter and more sloppy that us, spilled his 
milkshake all over the front seat, and how the 
 ridicule and debasement, in a teasing way, 
was foisted upon him for the remainder of 
the night, and it was Father Tom's almost 
womanly craziness over staining the seat 
(cloth) that stole the show. It was the 
odd things, like those, I recall the most.

No comments: