BELOW THE WATER LINE
One of the mysteries of Avenel, to me, was always
'Mary's Hilltop'. Or maybe it was 'Mary's Hill-Top.'
I don't remember exactly. It was in a section of town
I didn't often get to, and the appearance it had - white,
low, long, monochromatic, was intriguing. From all
appearances it was a small, kitchen-restaurant. I think.
I never went in. I don't know if anyone else did either.
it didn't seem to have any real parking area, and what
was around it could have been anyone's cars, just parked.
No one ever talked about it. The building still stands -
long ago closed-up and vacant as Mary's Hilltop. There
wasn't really any hill around either. The 'hill' for the name
'Demarest On The Hilltop' was off to the other side of
town, which actually was higher and if not 'hill-ier' did
have elevation worthy of the name. Beats me what Mary's
was all about, and who Mary even was.
That was one of Avenel's mysteries. Near to Mary's, at
that spot on St. George Avenue where it intersects with
the end of Remsen Avenue, there was also, in the 1960's
at least a drive-in A&W Root Beer place. Not a 'stand',
because it was larger; and at first had car-hop service and
all of those oddball California car-culture attitudes : trays on
the car windows for the food, young girls coming out to the
car, I mean young like late teens. It lasted until about 1980.
Across the street from it too was a large ice-cream place -
Colonia Dairy-Maid, I think it's called. Still there, same stuff.
I've never gone there, but it sure gets Summertime lines.
There was a lot of light-weight stuff around the commercial
parts of Avenel. I was never much for frivolity. Rhymes too
much with idolatry. For years, just down the street from that
corner was 1001 Auto Parts. That place was like sanctuary
in my house - my father was always 'running to 1001', it
seemed - Saturdays or whatever. It was usually jam-packed,
both inside and out. Inside, take-a-number guys lined up,
waiting to be called, and the staff guys would either go
to the back to get the requested part or seem instead to know
just where to send you on the shelves and stuff on the floor.
It wasn't a big place, and the inventory was mostly behind
the counter, where pickers and cashier-guys would retrieve
what they needed. The sales floor was mostly the more-profitable
oddments of car-culture - waxes and polishes, chrome stuff,
paints and oils and all that. Only a few times were there
girl-cashiers. It was a man-place, and any girls there usually
came in for show, draped dreamily over a boyfriend's arm or
shoulder. From some prestigious, hot-rod clunker out in the
parking lot. Everyone out there, most everyone, worked on
their own cars, right there, with their stuff they'd just bought.
Plugs, points, filters, hoses all the easy stuff. It was always a
beehive of activity, and it had a network of guys hanging around,
as well, who knew where to get you things, where to send you
for the brake job or tune-up you sought. It was a great
reference-point of car-lore and information. The drag-racers
and the wise-guys, Avenel's finest, always showed up. It wasn't
like now, when every Weds. or Friday some town or another
holds yet another open air shut-down-Main Street car-show.
Mostly people who just buy things - no car-builders or real
hot-rodders anymore. For the most part anyway. There's so
much money around in America now - easy money - that if
anyone wants a '57 Chevy Nomad, already all done up and
worry-free, they can just buy it, and cruise the strip of any
of a hundred of these town shows all Summer. Legends in
their own mind, some of them. No, not everyone; I've know
my big-time share of real gear-heads too, guys who build
what they drive. Period. That what was at 1001, the car-craft
guys. Across from it, for years, there used to be this piss-ass
used car lot, mostly filled always with what I always called
'Euro-trash'. 12-year old Simcas and Cortinas, a Lancia or
two. You might find a nice Renault next to a shitty Citroen,
A Humber Super-Snipe sharing dirt with Opels and early
Audis, when they were NSU's, I think it was. I don't who ever
bought this stuff, the guys were surly and the place was rank.
Eventually owning a Renault, and then a Jaguar, I used them
now and then for replacement tires - cheap, used, import-sized
tires and rims. Less hassle, back then, it was - regular auto
places always wanted to know 'what the hell' you were driving,
and then why. It was pretty much anathema to not drive American.
Volkswagen and hippies broke that wide open a few years later.
Try going in to 1001 in those days and ask for a distributor cap
for an Opel Kadett. You'd get laughed out of town.
Another mystery of Avenel to me was 'Miller's Used Lumber'.
Somewhat like Dooley's Toy Store, of which I spoke much
earlier, this Miller place was both domicile and workplace. All
he sold was used lumber - old stuff, taken down from other
houses, barns, and buildings dismantled. I guess he bought
break-down lots or something. But the odd-piece of lumber
you always wound up needing was usually, with a little
persistence, found buried deep under or between something
in Miller's lumber yard. It was right in the midst of houses there
too. It was in the same Remsen neck of the woods, I think, as
the corner where it all emptied out to St. George; along that
roadway someplace anyway. Long gone now - probably a
few houses are built there in its place. My father never went
there, he said it was all junk lumber. He was, on the other, a
prime junkyard man. He'd scour and haunt the 'junkies' for
whatever he needed. He never bought new unless he was
absolutely forced. He never bought a new car in his life, and
would have never thought of it. He had an inventory of 'used'
tires, seemingly all bought for a rainy day that never came. The
idea wasn't 'using' them, the idea was getting to the junkie with a
reason for going, and coming back with, well something, cheap.
Back then, in Leesville and the other places along there, if you
needed something, you'd tell the guy, they'd lead you in, and you'd
just go walking amidst rows and rows of junked car - dismantle
for yourself whatever you needed or wanted, and catch the guy
on the way out to pay. If you needed a helper, or advice, they'd
send you out with a worker; same deal. I tried getting a job there
when I was work-age, but it was no good. They wanted me to
have my own rolling-toolbox of tools, the bring in and leave
there, for the job. that was like a 200 dollar investment back
then, at least. If I had that kind of money, I think they forgot to
realize, I wouldn't be needing the job. Catch 22, or catch 20020022.
One time, on bicycles, my girlfriend and I were riding past that
ice cream place and some guy walked out holding a few ice creams
and he stepped, unbelievably, right into the path of her oncoming
bicycle. This is true : stuff went flying. It was a really hot evening
and this guy's entire lot of ice-cream cone purchases got wasted.
The weird thing was, he was the apologetic one, sorry about having
walked into our oath, making sure she was all right. He got brushed
about too, but was okay and didn't seem to care - nor about the
three maybe ice creams cones he'd just lost. I figured they were
'dessert' for people across the street in the A&W stand. They
either never got it, or he went in and re-bought, I guess.
So, let me recap. I never figured out what Mary's Hilltop was. It a
right up against the street, not much room, and it looked as if - when
it was built, there had been room around it. Or it may have been, for
all I knew, one of those large, stretched out chicken coops that you
see on old farms, now in dis-use. A lot of Avenel was like that, things
having grown up around old things that never moved. Roads had
grown and been widened, curbs and lightposts put in, more houses
built - sometimes around old, little homes, almost shack-like in
proportion - that never got removed. Some still about today. You
can tell them, still along Remsen too, by the big set-back and by
how small they are by today's proportions. Lots of times they're just
re-built or built over. no one wants small today - least alone real
estate people. All they ever want to 'represent' now is super-large
and perfect. Like they're doing you a favor by 'representing'.
When we first arrived to Avenel, the other end of St. George Avenue,
by the railroad bridge towards Rahway, had a huge RCA factory. The
company, Radio Corporation of America, was at one time a big deal
a fairly large American business. This was a large and sprawling red
brick factory, with an office area out front on a big lawn. Any number
of people worked there - it's all gone now and the site is now just
a bunch of junk, a K-Mart, a old, defunct Pathmark grocery place,
a small clutch of the usual tacky and untidy little business and food
places that haunt these spots - next to a small car lot, and, on a slight
rise above it, another restaurant or two and some medical-services
place. Medical and health care are the only growth industries in lame
America today, being pushed along by the Government - which seems
to think everyone is always ailing,m or can be made to be - which takes
money from the common pool of what should be productive funding, and
allows labs and clinics and shyster medical guys to use it instead by
prescribing every which-not of unneccesasry medicine and equipment,
peddling at as 'at possibly no charge to you!', and then having the
Government, incredibly, wind up paying for it all and at inflated
process. People are getting rich of this cheat-scam. Just down the street
a little, where there's a light, on the way back to Avenel Street, across
from the ridiculous closed-up shed of an old go-go bar just left standing,
there are many apartments. That had been, all of that property along
there, at one time a large chicken-farm and an enormous golf driving
range. There were great swaths of black netting, high into the sky, to
keep errant golf balls from hitting cars on the roadway, even though
the actual golf-range itself faced to other direction - down, into the
woods. Everything's changed and everything thereabouts now has
been built upon. The road itself used to just be two lanes, now its like
two and a half (turn) lanes in each direction, the figment of some
madman's brain brought to fruition.