Thursday, November 26, 2015

7503. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt.84)

(pt. 84)
When things begin falling apart, you usually
know it beforehand, or at least you get inklings.
Like when you wake up and you see you forgot 
to put the milk away, but you compromise anyway
and use it because you need milk for your coffee.
You know you could probably just drink it black, 
but don't wish to, so you settle for the warmed, and
now on its way to souring, milk. Ugh, but yeah. That's
a simple version of the lesson here   -   life isn't ever
perfect, but it's all in what you know that makes it
seem good enough or bad. I think most people are
like that. I never knew any friend's parents or anyone
who were really bad off, a bit wobbly in the head, or
in bad straits. Everyone always seemed about the same.
You just tolerate what you have. It's only, even here
for myself, looking back, that you see the keen 
differences. My father had a friend over on Lehigh,
a guy named Harry Jones, and his wife, whose name
I can't remember. They had two boys, a few years
older than me. Harry was a big old guy, always robust 
and loud. He was just like 'fun' personified. He also 
knew the Yacullo's across the street, so whenever 
he visited it became a sort of three-family visit. Sitting
on the front stoops and just talking. I don't remember
what we kids did, but I guess not much  -  since I can
remember the talking and chatter, we must have just
been around. I'd never heard anyone call people out
before. It was a first -  'Ah, you big turkey!', or 'You're
a chucklehead', stuff like that  -  colorful phrases and 
things. I understand it all now, but then it was new. I'd
never seen or heard anyone go direct at someone before,
just say it to their faces  -  like instant analysis or 
something, and not worry of bestirring a reaction or 
hurting feelings, or any of that stuff. Harry didn't care,
he seemed, with all his bluster and happy bombast, to
just not worry about that stuff. Lehigh Avenue was a 
string of duplexes  -  nice, little, solid brick things. 
They're still there  -  over the years I've had a few 
friends in them too. I guess the place got too small
for the two boys and Harry and his wife  -  they soon 
enough moved over to a large, new split-level built
over along the way to Metuchen, on Wakefield Drive,
when you first enter town. I'd see them, only occasionally
here or there, around Metuchen in later years, but not
much. Harry's boys were also big guys, but really
quiet. They never much said anything  -  not even to
react to something. Same with Harry's wife. I guess
he owned all the talking in that household.
My friend Jimmy Yacullo  -  he's the guy with the uncle
'Doc' who used to ride us around in the new Imperial 
each year  -  I related that story in the earliest chapters 
here  -  he also had a contractor uncle or family friend
or something to whose place we'd occasionally ride our
bicycles  -  just to visit and hang around some. It was
'Almasi Contracting'  -  out in Woodbridge, along a road
that would somehow take us under Route 9, though 
we'd still be in Woodbridge. But it was like some other
part of Woodbridge, subterranean sort of, and on the
wrong side of things  -  or it felt like that. The highway
was in the wrong place, the streets around seemed to be
connected to nothing that was really 'Woodbridge' proper.
Nothing really led anywhere. There's a lot of streets marked
'dead end'. It just seemed a depressing part of town, if it
was 'town.' Always confused me, and I often wondered
where it was in later years as I recalled it. Now, of course, 
I know, and even understand the setting and the place. It
still isn't much of anything, but, whatever. We'd get there
and just stand around watching things in the equipment yard,
all those trucks and shovels and excavating trucks, claws, 
plows, lots of stuff yellow and marked up, piles of gravel 
and sand, guys standing around, things getting moved and
shuffled, trucks in and out. It was pretty cool  -  like a
municipal garage (Woodbridge back then had an easier 
one to find, over now across from where they built the 
mall they called 'Woodbridge Center'  -  which 
nomenclature is a complete lie because it's not 'center' 
to anything except a bunch more highway rim shots, to use
a continued, basketball metaphor). It too was, that garage,
like Almasi's, just a nondescript cinder-clock structure -
a huge truck-bay really, with a few little offices and rooms
thrown in. It was always cool to see large trucks 'inside'
something. They'd be in there for oil changes or work to 
be done. We'd hang around and gawk, and then just ride
home again, just wondering about things. That's the cool
thing about bicycles and kids  -  they're tooling along, but 
in their own little world as it passes. Motorcycles were
like that too  -  you're by yourself, and no one bothers
your space. Well, you hope, anyway. On a motorcycle 
it's a little different  -  seems they give out licenses pretty
freely these days, as part of your sympathy pack for being 
some weird new immigrant, they just let you drive. ID and
'International License' is good enough (I want one of those).
With the dumb fuss they make over everything now, it's 
amazing how it is that they let new arrivals drive around, in 
their own stupefaction, wearing head-dresses (literally!) 
and face-coverings, and all that. Try explaining to a cop 
that you ran into that guy at that light, well, maybe, because
you didn't see him out of the freaking slit in the cloth around
your God-damned face that your driving with. It's all excused
because people want to accept 'customs' of other lands and
people  -  traditional, tribal, religious stuff. All the ancient and
old ways. Yes, but, as Harry Jones would say, you chucklehead, 
you turkey, when did the 'tradition' of head-coverings and all 
get modernized enough now so that they're sold with little 
ear-pocket-to-mouth things so you can talk on the phone 
without needing to hold it. That's pretty 'modern' in my
estimation; nothing much traditional about it.
Anyway, I digress. Old Avenel, back when, I'm pretty
sure knew ONE thing, and one thing only  -  that was the means
of getting by in the usual 'American' survival mode. That's what 
made it so grand  -  it was probably a dirt-poor place. But nobody
of those new original 1950's people anyway asked for things. The
essential idea was that you just went on, worked it all out, stayed
with the task of struggle. There weren't any geeks around with
clipboards ; no people saying you've got too many cars in your
yard, you leave too many shovels and hoses around, your gate is
unsafe. Your porch is sagging. 'You're on my property, telling
me this? Isn't that why God made rifles? Excuse me please, 
while I go get mine.' Yeah, that was Avenel. The understanding
was that 'I'll be fine' was good enough  -  as look as you leave 
me alone enough to be fine. That's what got us kids to where we
were  -  we had our own rules and ways, and everyone knew it 
and left us alone. Now everyone wants to read (or see the movie 
of) some leatherstocking tale or some pioneer-crap movie, to
see how great it used to be when you could set out, just to do
what you wished, and accept whatever the risk  -  like Injuns in
the woods, with tomahawks and hatchets, while we steal their
stuff. That was pretty pure and unfettered. No one would have 
the balls to withstand that today.
One last thing  -  and this goes back to schooling again. All those
nice, wondrous people we knew and loved : did you ever notice
how they'd get all twisted up and sorrowful when teaching about
those 6 million Jews that were killed? The history and the facts
were blubberingly obvious and pretty simple. Sad stuff, miserable
war, unutterable misery and you gotta' just wonder why and how?
But then the subject would change, to the pioneers or the Civil War
or those pre-Civil War American settlement days  -  and not one of
these people had the niceness to mention to us, amid all their
wailing over other things, that those  'American' chumps, in getting
us then to where we are now had simply annihilated 7o to 115 million,
by proper estimates, Native Americans who were there when they
got here. Makes you wonder, for sure, that does.

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