Tuesday, December 1, 2015


(pt. 89)
There never were any guideposts along the way.
We all just did what we were supposed to, or so
it seemed. I talked earlier about burning leaves in 
that old guy's yard, and him showing us the 
Depression potato roasting trick. We also used
to grab a snow shovel at the first ending trickle 
of any big snowstorm and go around almost
house-to-house knocking on doors to ask to
shovel walkways and stuff for a quarter or
fifty cents, or whatever. We knew where the 
lonely old ladies lived, we knew who needed 
help, and we knew which houses wouldn't really 
mind us asking. It wasn't like now, when everyone
has snow-blowers, power-plows, leaf-blowers and
just about every type of modern Home-Depot tool.
They probably by now have snow shovels with
apps on them and a viewing screen that runs down 
the block where you're stand and Google-hi-lights
every unshoveled walkway with some stupid voice
that tells you how to get there. Yeah, it's all that crazy.
Frankly, if we had all that crap that people have today
back then, as a kid, I don't know what we'd have ever
gotten done. Kids seem to do nothing these days. I'd
bet any number of our oddball junkyard hide-outs and
gatherings would have never occurred or just turned 
into other things. Except for the ease of pornography
and looking at 'pictures', I can't really think of what
else would have most prevalent while we hid out in
the bowels of some abandoned tanker-truck. But,
anyway, people seemed just genuinely nicer about 
things  -  we get hot chocolate or soda, or sandwiches
and stuff. People were always feeding us  -  in addition
to a snow-shovel quarter or sometimes more. I guess
it was just more of the 'community' idea  -  a more 
wholesome upbringing where people sort of realized
'these' were our boys, or kids, and they needed nurturing
and some caring  -  not to be ignored and scoffed at.
Some of my favorite houses were the houses wherein
I knew some of my 'favorite' girls from school lived.
It was just coy to be seen hanging around, with a task
to do, and maybe catch a glimpse of any Jane or Mary
or swaddled up deep in a Winter coat and hat, snow 
tumbling down around in some accidental destiny.
My own design school was Nature. Period. I'd wander
about just looking at things  -  the bark of the various trees
always fascinated me. The little clusters of saplings and the
way they'd seed themselves and more would grow. It seemed
like really the only 'beauty' that I ever found was in places
where stuff had just been left to grow  -  the way vines and
branches grew high to the sunlight, wrapped around things,
the way birds made nests in the clusters of tight branches,
and I was especially fascinated by the manner in which, on
the little rivulets and streams in the woods at the end of the
street, the way ice formed  -  layers, thin crust, translucent, 
thicker ice, flaky, really thin white ice, visible water still
running beneath it. All that stuff. I never was any Druid or
anything, but I'd set markers for myself, day after day - 
spots where the sun would be setting and which branches 
it would drop down through, where it would 'land' as a
solid, orange, ball on the landscape, setting. I almost had
my own equivalent Stonehenge things as I'd watch Nature
go by. Back then too there were actually, well at least some,
stars in the sky  -  real stars, with clusters. At the top end
of my driveway, looking out and up, I'd know just where
and how the Dippers would be clustered, the North Star, 
and other things  -  using oak tree limbs from out back 
along the tracks as my visual guides. A quirky little form,
for me, of local geophysics on the ground and a local 
astronomy in the sky. It didn't take much of a tune to
ever get my song going.
Every so often my mother would begin pestering me to
take some goofy local job, long about Summer '66 and
then Winter '67. It seemed invalid to her to live a simple
day-to-day existence without some two or three hours
a day at least being labored away at some drudgery so
that another person or company could be making money
off you. My Aunt Millie, in Colonia, she was a local
Democrat Committeewoman or something and she had
all these dumb connections to get kids Parks Dept. jobs
and such  -  teaching little brats how to weave doilies or
punch leather holes into beaded moccasins, or whatever.
All the little parks had Summer programs and they needed
teen-age types to guide the kids along. I stayed away from
that trap like the plague. It just all seemed wrong to me  - 
first off, the kids taking the jobs seemed like weasels, and 
they were all the same. Cookie-cutter ingenues, or lechers.
Take your pick because each side was well-represented. 
There was a certain type of well-rounded, white-pants 
wearing 'Summer' boy characters who were around then -
unknowingly suave, always on the make, pretending at
'wisdom' and on their way to some squid school or another
as soon as September arrived. Boy did I ever wish to pound
those guys with a hammer. And the girls too  -  they were
sort of the same, but at least they were doing cool things, like
growing breast and staying sweet. I didn't know then how far
all that went, but I was taking care of business in my own way.
My aunt never quit though  -  she was always pushing along
to get the 'local' kids involved in these Summer programs. It
all seemed like some Socialist Summer camp crap to me, where
the little Stalinists who kissed ass the best would get to propound 
their rotten theories about life into the heads of others, younger 
kids. Who, of course, didn't know the difference and would fall
for anything as long as ice cream and a sliding board were 
involved. It was like all that 'vacation bible school' stuff they
peddle every year about June 29th  -  Jeez, you just finally get
out of school after a too-long, boring year, and they're throwing 
you right back into it to learn some fantasy crap about angels and
lambs, and calling it Vacation School no less. Who the hell
came up with that one?
There weren't any 'weirdos' on Inman Avenue, but it was
fairly easy to get that tag attached to your name back then. I
don't know, really, what it took, but there came to be a few
around the rest of town. People just walking around all the
time, preoccupied with their own weird things. It was a time
when strangers and oddballs were just considered corrupt or
suspicious, or even dangerous. Again, like some sort of
Twilight Zone episodic pattern  -  the person no one wants
to go near, or have around, the one hoarding some secret that
was too hideous to disclose. It wasn't like now when people
are basically one-dimensional enough and care only to watch
out for the bomb-makers and the bomb-throwers and terrorists
and all that stuff. In fact, suspicion and hatred now have just 
turned into 'business' and you can be sure that, once people
have found a way to make money off something, it never ends,
just grows. This wasn't that. The kid-times I'm talking about, 
even through Avenel, were darker and deeper - 'psychological' 
time, though people would not ever have known that or owned 
up to it. There was guy on our block, Fred Herman  -  a regular, 
nice guy, a father, had a wife, two kids, nothing out of the 
ordinary in any crazy sense  -  had cars, went to work each 
day, came home. But the guy was considered deep and dangerous 
and mysterious. You know why? Because instead of having a
crazy-man, well-maintained and constantly-mowed lawn, this
guy planted about thirty trees inside his fence instead  -  no lawn,
just a veritable forest growing up to shield the house from the 
street. I thought it was great, and it just kept growing up, year 
after year. He had something of a lean-to, car-port extension 
thing built out off one side of the house, covering the 
driveway back, and there were apparently lots of cool things
kept outside there. He and his son would be working on cars
there, seen often. His daughter, she too kept to herself, and had 
some weird and crazy 1950's, early '60's, high, swoopy hair-style
that she somehow kept until it was way past stylish. Like the
sort of thing you sometimes see in old yearbooks, of kids with 
the pasty, 1960 expression of frozen verve and anger under 
frosted hair and too much eye make-up. Girls anyway. At least
then. (Whenever I used to see those kinds of yearbook photos,
I'd just go ahead thinking of this crazy, boiling cauldron of
sexuality that must have been bubbling up within these kids.
Poor repressed bastards. I think the later 60's took care of all
that. By then there was cum flying every which way in the air).
There was a real easy read out in paperback, already, by the 
early 60's  -  not much of a book, certainly not a 'tome;, but a
really nice and generally affirmative adolescent read that took
me nicely along. It had a great back-story, the guy who wrote it
was way-cool, deep and dark and mysterious himself, filled with
secrets of wartime stuff, psychological damage, and all the stormy, 
rich-kid, go see the shrink kind of narrative that I loved. I don't 
know how many people actually 'read' it, but everyone talked
about it  -  what's so weird now is how it was considered salacious 
and deviant at the time. Total crazy shit. People were generally
nuts about anything that wasn't in the envelope and sealed up.
All that A-bomb, Nazi extermination, missile-warfare, space-race
indoctrination and propaganda (propaganda, remember, just comes
from 'propagate', which is what people do when they spread lies
and make evil babies out of things) stuff had everyone totally 
twisted and always on edge. Weird people, like Cameron Swayze, 
and even Walter Cronkite, always spinning tales of danger and war
(and making millions too, doing it). It was called 'Catcher In the
Rye', and has since basically become a cliche, an overly taught,
book-list, reading course type of thing that's just become wasted 
now. It had its precise moment, and that's come and gone. But when
it caught the zeitgeist just right, it gathered everything up rightly,
and strung it in a great and ironic haze of psuedo-enlightenment for 
a kid. I know I loved it. Holden Caulfield, all those little weaves
 and stories, and even each of J. D. Salinger's other small books, 
they were all great. Everything he wrote about was all around me -
the fakery, the cheap-ass religio-political stuff, the girls, the small
desire, the wanderings, the family  -  everything. You could have
bet me a million bucks that I'd never have given that book up, and
you'd have won. But I wouldn't have bet you. Because I still read it
every year, and think of it as my seasonal 'polar-opposite of Avenel'
light read.

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