Tuesday, November 17, 2015

7457. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 76)

(pt. 76)
I never had a Grandfather. Other kids did. 
My two Grandfathers, believe it or not, were 
both long-term prisoners, Dannemora and 
Sing Sing, where they each died. There's a 
 long story attached, separately, to each of 
them, and I'm not going into any of it now  -  
just say mob stuff, Italian hoodlum bullshit, 
old neighborhoods of NYC, murders, betrayals, 
and all sorts of petty crap that's pretty usual 
for immigrants with little for brains except 
promise and thuggery. It never became my 
burden because I never stared it down. If I 
had ever met either of them, based on what I 
knew, I'd have probably laughed in their faces 
and called them ignorant, stupid goons. My 
father was destroyed by his burden. Probably, 
in her own way, my mother too by hers. Fear 
and repression, to begin with. It's a sad life all 
around us, pity and bloodlust and danger and 
dirt. And then we die, each in our own way, 
and each slowly, over a long period of small, 
slow deaths  -  of feeling, of intensity, of wonder, 
and of awe. They go first. In looking back it's a 
little bit amazing to see how much of all my 
father/grandfather stuff, in a vaguely humorous 
way, has to do really with the vagaries of Robert 
 Moses : grand enforcer and builder of highways, 
bridges and tunnels. My Aunt Mae told me she 
remembered  -  as a younger woman  -  that the 
burial of her father, from prison, (that absent 
'grandfather' of mine at 116th street) - one Giuseppe 
 Entrona  -  was at ground level and next to a busy 
highway. Years now have elapsed (1945 or so) and 
somewhere over that time the Brooklyn-Queens 
Expressway has been rebuilt, enlarged and 
elevated, high over this particular cemetery 
 segment. The roadway once at ground level is 
now high in the sky. The trestles are above now 
the whines of the highway and the groans of the 
junkyards and scrapheaps below. The actual grave 
is now a mere smidge along the cramped, brick 
footing of the overpasses, a sort of center-alley 
walkway of dark, looming brick. It's all a very 
strange place, yet blighted and boring in its way 
too. She also said she was angry that he died the 
day before Mussolini got hung by his own people  -  
she said he'd been a big 'fan' of Mussolini's and it
would have served him right to see his idol killed.
In my mind I go back there, only in memory, 
trying to recall the old scenes gone by  -  perhaps 
when there were trees and shrubbery (there are 
none now, on this flat, treeless, ugly plain). Do 
dreams have memories too, or do memories 
dream? Whatever it is, this vague portion of the 
'Introne' interdict lies here, still and rank, beneath 
a highway and lost in a place once bucolic and 
serene but now ravaged by the tempests of time 
and value and violence and ruin. I went there once 
or twice -  it took three hours to find the damn grave.
 There's millions. Robert Moses be damned. Giuseppe 
Entrona too. Whatever any of it all is, it is for certain
that nothing now exists at ground level 
and  -  yes  -  all things are elevated.
In my 1950's there was pretty much nothing. I was 
not so much held back by my inadequacies as just 
 kept in place to the fullness of the little I had.  
My father went through any number of automobiles, 
swapped engines, did brakes, etc., when he had to  -   
he had rental car replacements for mechanic-repairs
 (I remember well a quaint old '53 Dodge he had 
for a week or two  -  faded green, ram's head in 
metal and chrome, soiled on the hood. It shook 
tremendously as it neared 50 mph, and all that 
was accepted  -  this great little clunk of a tough 
vehicle, hunkering down the slower highways and 
byways of that time. It was fun, and a good memory). 
My father, again,  had erected an engine hoist in the 
rear yard, at the end of the driveway  -  a few times 
entire engines were just switched, as a Saturday and 
a Sunday's task. Wonderment and awe sometimes, 
by me as I watched him at work. I don't know what 
people do now, but I know they don't do that. The 
modern day, by contrast, is a brittle and bright 
mirror  - composed of the reflection it is supposed 
to be reflecting. They call it, perhaps, ethereal,
virtual, unreal. Maybe that's the case, and they 
can have it. If so, I want nothing of it. Quiet has to 
bespeak quiet; it needs a strength and a presence 
of its own. The 'life-as-a-pale-reflection-of-God' 
thing works far better than today's mastiff-mankind, 
king of all matter rap. Anyway, in today's world that's 
the entire white left speaking, and nothing else. No 
one knows; they just blather on. Mostly evil and 
cheesy (though one cannot say that), and mostly 
for money. Lucre is King. God and Mammon  -  
are the same thing. The whole guilt and soft-doubt, 
whole-foods, artisan and craft debauchery are 
where modern anti-culture has amassed its goods. 
We now have to listen to the paradoxical dichotomy 
of a reasoned, half-crazy mind, of whatever 
nationality and color all melded, using patience, 
sentiment and logic to forestall any creative 
progress, make it stop or put it on hold anyway, 
while violence and vulgarity make sport of the 
entire mad, insane nuthouse  -  a governmental, 
medical and military and religious complex 
raring more and more to be on its way. Trying 
to thwart now a thundering global collapse of its 
own house of cards. A House of Panic instead. 
 It seems now that people can only seek 'product', 
as it's now called, and their 'product' is a weird 
combination of waste and war unleashed, speed 
and restlessness, anger, sex, and mayhem. But that 
apparently now satisfies the world. This world is 
but a shadow, come to hide and conceal all other 
things  -  the nervous restlessness has no one settling 
in place, just constantly moving along some 
media-boosted continuum. It's so far unlike the 
'old' days that I'm here writing of as to be insipid 
and sad at the same time, as if the shirt had no 
collar and no sleeves but was still to be called a 
'shirt'. You'd better look up Confucius on that
 one; see his 'Rectification of Names' theory. 
If you call something, in error, that which it 
no longer is, you will, at the least, lose harmony. 
At worse, you will die.
Other cards are being drawn; the hands are held. 
In this moment, the cards and hands are being 
 arranged on a table-top, whence all will see them  
-  before the real fire of their burning begins. 
It cannot be held back. It is harsh and impossible 
to forestall. And if it was anyway, they would have 
that person's head. Whoever it was who was stopping 
it. Anti-Christ, Mammon, or ritualized 'God'; all 
the same. Sometimes Satan comes in the name of 
the Lord. (I never tried out any of this kind of 
preachment on my friends or anyone 
around the street yards).
I had one Grandmother, and I've made mention 
of her here before  -  all those train trips she took, 
she always arrived with a bag of stuff from 'John's 
Bargain Store' in Bayonne. I twas great  -  like today's 
equivalent of the Dollar Store or something : cast-off, 
discontinued, toys and games and things  -  all enough 
to send a kid away to Paradise for a week. She'd come 
stumbling down Inman Avenue, if we hadn't picked 
her up at the Rahway or Avenel station. She never 
mingled much. I don't think I ever rightly introduced 
her to anyone  -  none of my friends. She kept to herself, 
never went to Sunday church with us, stayed home 
cooking the big Sunday meal. She come in on Friday 
nights, and on Saturday she'd be our baby-sitter. 
She'd have the television on   - any of her variety 
show favorites  -  all those crazy singers and crooners 
and Ella Fitzgeralds and Mahalia Jacksons and all 
that. She knew a lot of stuff, but I'm not so sure how 
she could read or anything. Maybe she couldn't; I 
never pried. She always begged off anything social, 
with others  -  like church, which I mentioned. She 
certainly never read to us, read story of books or 
anything. Maybe she was afraid of being caught out  
-  reading a hymnal or church song words. Who knew. 
She was a broad, pleasant and simple lady.
I had other friends along the block  -  they sometimes 
had grandmothers who'd live with them. I remember 
one family, about 5 houses off, for a period of some 
two years, at least, in the upstairs right-side dormer 
window, their grandmother was always, I mean 
always, sitting there, white-haired, un-moving, 
looking down at the street. It was as if she saw or 
was watching everything, but nothing too. It was 
a little spooky, and I never knew what she saw or 
watched or thought. Only in the beginning, when 
she first arrived, I'd see her walking back and forth 
to one or another house nearby  -  but soon enough 
that too stopped and the only other presence she 
ever had was that 'white-haired lady in the upstairs 
window.' In those days, a grandparent was in their 60's. 
Like me now, but it all seemed different  -  they seemed 
old and ancient, grizzled beyond their years. Getting 
old has always spooked me, but now I'm knee-deep 
in it myself and I can't figure out what ratio or 
proportion of me compares now to the way they 
were then. I don't know; it just seems like one 
hundred percent different, to me. Grandparents 
anyway were 'older world'. They still came from the 
places all these people had left in order to get to 
Inman Avenue  -  so their entire worldview and 
being was skewed and they just simply came from, 
and represented, something else. As if they were still 
'stuck' in Newark and Irvington, Roselle and Elizabeth, 
Union City and Brooklyn and all that. The places all 
these other people, my friends' parents, had all 
cast-off. The world was funny and weird like that  -  
all sorts of new stuff, things we kids just took too 
as normal  -  that was all still smarting and distrusted 
by these oldsters  -  TV's, cars, automatic things, a 
million strange little items we'd never think of. Like 
Amos McCoy or something, on 'The Real McCoys', 
they were a perfect portrayal of some old cadger 
out-of-element and left to boil in the middle of 
all this new stuff. Misunderstanding and grumbling, 
sometimes  -  other times just silent. My other 
grandmother, for myself, I never saw her either. 
She was locked away in a nuthouse somewhere  -  
and I only saw her maybe a few times, and then 
she died. Nothing anywhere was too much fun 
-  if I started to be thinking about it too much.

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