Thursday, November 26, 2015

7507. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 85)

(pt. 85)
One time a plane crashed over Brooklyn, or rather
two planes collided over Brooklyn, and debris, and
bodies I guess, fell down into the city neighborhoods
below. That was about 1960. January 10, 1961, actually.
And some of the bodies (138 people) and debris fell
into Park Slope, Brooklyn, and the rest (other plane)
fell over and into Staten island. Anyway, the time that
happened my father and I were in Mayfair Pizza on
Rahway Avenue, waiting for a pizza to be made. We
were to take it home. The television in the pizza place,
a small TV screen, perched up high over the doorway
and waiting area, had all the reports, and the reporters
and people screaming and hollering about what they
saw  -  the live shots, and all that. It was pretty scary,
and I only grasped a little of it really  -  my mind had
somehow overlooked all the tragedy stuff and had
gotten transfixed, instead, (I remember it well) on
the physics and physical characteristics of the crash
itself : two planes in motion, opposite directions to
each other, meaning of course one was coming in 
and the other was climbing out  -  two different speeds,
one accelerating and the other back-pressuring to slow
the air speed and approach a descend-for-landing speed.
They collided, each with its own forward momentum  -
some things and people landing in Staten Island, and
the others in Brooklyn  -  a few miles apart, maybe
ten, maybe twelve miles, I'd think, at the most. (I 
know, I know, 'where'd they bury the survivors'  -  
that was an old, schoolboy joke, always making the 
rounds). But the aspects of that collision that captivated
my mind surprised me, inasmuch as they were almost
'technical' matters, precise and perhaps even with a
mathematical-force component. I found myself
surprising myself with that one. Everyone else in the
place was oohing and aahing over the dead, the wrecks,
the tragedy, the unknown, talking about their Uncle
Louey or Aunt Theresa in Brooklyn, or whatever  -  all
the human and emotional component. I'd glided myself
right past that, and found myself as a technocrat, computing
arcs and angles, wondering why nothing fell in the water
between the two places  -  all that stuff. It was a momentary
weird thing that stopped me, as myself, short. I found 
myself scolding that other 'me'. I was thinking like rich people
think : facts, cause and effect, cold logic. This was not
that sort of place -  it was old work-class Woodbridge and
Avenel, where people emoted, screamed and wailed. That
was a major class difference I saw. Why was I crossing it?
My friend Denny Montecalvo's family owned that pizza
place  -  formally called 'Montecalvo's Mayfair Pizza. If
memory is intact, it also had a little swim-club thing out 
back, where you could join and use the nice, olympic-type
built-in swimming pool. Very clever, captive pizza 
audience and all that. Inside, everything was weirdly 1950's.
Faux-leather, bright green seats, with rivets and designs
throughout, booths with matching backs, two or three rows
of seating, a bar area, and the pizza-serving area and ovens.
It was quite an operation, and it's still around there  -  without
the pool and the rest. Inside, I don't know. Haven't ever gone
in. Entire name-change and stuff, long time ago. Down the
road, towards Rahway there used to be another pizza place,
by the Maple Tree Tavern, called 'Snooky's' I think. That's 
long gone now too. It's as if a once-wagon-trail has, over time.
been changed over to an efficient and steady highway, with
any and all the weirdnesses just wiped away. I think when 
people worked in places, all around there, they got their 
lunches and stuff and frequented such places. Now -   years
later  -  there's no manufacturing to be found, no lunch crowds,
'no nothing', as they say, except truckers and 
stuff just passing along.
Speaking of which, there really was a time when Avenel had a
thrumming 'town-center' - a place of vibrancy, traffic, and
activity. At shift-change, twice a day, there'd be a cop posted
to direct traffic. The whole street would get clogged up; truck
deliveries, the Rahway Avenue entrance for the really large
ones, and the Avenel Street gatehouse for the smaller. There
was a large parking lot, filled with the swoop and swirl of 1950's
and 1960's cars. High School kids with little prospect of college,
or no interest, or better things on their minds, would take jobs 
there. The greasers and the hoods loved working there. It was
their Harvard! This was General Dynamics, previously named
Security Steel. It's all gone now  -  not so long ago obliterated
for some more of the usual yo-yo magnet condos and apartments
and assisted-rent housing which balances all the other high-end
stuff. They expect outsiders to run to it because it sits athwart
the train station. Great opportunity. For someone. It's all gone
now and just a large, leveled field right now with preparations 
starting for footings and curbs and pipes and plumbing. Only 
the lingering ghosts of what I remember still keeps it in place 
for me. It'll never die. It afforded this rat's ass of a place a 
reason for being. It actually added something to the general 
ambiance of where we lived. No one even ever really 'knew' 
what they made.  No one cared either. They made paychecks. 
Paychecks with free parking to boot. If General Dynamics 
didn't take you in, the Avenel kids always had the GM Plant 
out on Rt. One, just a few miles up, in Linden. Thousands 
worked there, and happily too. Just before them, the chemical 
plant at Merck. There were plenty of jobs  -  and bars and 
sandwich places too. Right outside General Dynamics, right 
across from the main entry gate almost  -  perfect for  the 
lunchtimes and the breaks of the workers, was Mike's Subs.
General Dynamics made electronic tracking systems, or 
something, for submarines  -  but 'Mike's' made the subs.
Sandwiches, that is. He'd have a constant stream a line, in
fact  -  a moving, slow squib of people, moving along to 
get their 'No. 1', or 'No 2' or whatever, He never caught up 
to that stupid modern gimmick of 'naming' sandwiches  -  
the 'Avenel', the 'Hiram' or anything stupid like that. It was
just by number. People ate these things voraciously. I think
this Mike guy was just a Woodbridge High visionary who
saw no future anywhere for himself but in slinging salami
and finding the perfect location. He'd gotten it. He must have
made plenty of money when it was all rolling in. Mike was no 
dummy either. He knew how to draw a crowd. He'd hire a lot
 of the nicest looking local high school girls you could find, or
girls who had just recently graduated or were in some local 
college-type schooling. Anything to get the factory workers 
piled up. Pleasant atmosphere and all that.  Besides the
people always in line, he'd get the smokers and coffee guys on
factory break or lunch, out front, eating, smoking, talking. There
was a bar next door  -  the Roxbury, I think it was then  -  and in
there was the more hardened crowd. The after-work boozers.
Different crowd, more sinewy and weathered, maybe battered
and mean and morose too. Shot and a beer punchdrunks. But I
bet they ate Mike's sandwiches too. General Dynamics afforded
Avenel a vibrant center, of whichever nature it may have been. 
Factory towns -  the large ones, like Lowell, Mass, or Paterson, 
NJ, or even Binghamton, NY, when they lose their industrial
base, things go sour. Look at Detroit for the real extreme. 
Disaster looms. Avenel, while it had General Dynamics, was
able to hold onto some quaint mysteriousness of it own lease
on some errant but tangible reality  -  people coming together,
to labor and to make something together -  and get paid for it,
pleasantly, without all that grief and turmoil and labor-strife.
It lasted a good while, and while it lasted it was good.
Soon to be  -  another collision, this one of cultures, 
and that would begin changing everything.

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