Saturday, December 12, 2015

7577. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 101)

(pt. 101)
Funny as it is for me to call something in Avenel
a 'hillbilly' bar, or anything, it still kind of fits. I
don't know what that conjures up : hayseed, dope, 
moron, fool, dupe, butt-of-joke, unknower,
time-waster, dangerous without knowing danger.
Varmint. Someone lost 'in his cups.' Boozer. I
really don't know, nor do I care. Just up the
street was another place, The Roxbury. It was
a little bit different, but only because a few
of the dads of the neighborhood kids I knew
were seen often enough to go into it. In the
Roxbury, these men (I never saw women 
there) would enter straight up, and leave, 
still straight up. Still with a certain decorum,
they could drive home, park and exit their cars
to walk into the house still with some dignity 
or sense of self. I'd guess that was a plus. For
the wife and the family too. The Hillcrest, on
the other hand, just seemed to welcome and
promote a sense of the wobbly and the horizontal.
'Please don't leave here straight up' may have been,
for all I know, the motto emblazoned over their 
bar. Most places say 'tip the help'. The Hillcrest
would have said, 'tip yourself.' It was the home 
of the original wobblies, Those whose crooked 
gait eventually  -  yes  -  did somehow get them 
to their own car, but only because their key wouldn't
fit any other. If it did, damn-enough then, everyone
would surely have driven home with someone else's
car. And, to make matter worse, the Hillcrest had 
women! Forget the car, hell, go home instead with 
someone else's wife! No one would mind, probably
because everyone was too blotto to notice. And,
anyway, the Roxbury had no parking lot. The 
Hillcrest had half an acre of parking.
One time my demonstrative friend Alex went right up to the
small, front window of the Roxbury, which was most 
always kept open  -  it was small, thin, and high-enough 
up, more like a vent window than anything  -  and just
began screaming into the window 'Repent! Repent!'
After which we ran off, never seeing if the noise had 
caused any reaction . Nothing was ever mentioned.
I started with that God stuff again, before  -  in the last
two pieces, in fact. Religion, as professed by religious
professionals in Avenel, I'd have to clearly admit, had a
heavy influence on me. It wasn't as if Avenel was Ocean 
Grove or one of those crazy Methodist cleansing 
communities which dotted the Jersey Shore in a sequence
past Asbury Park  -  Bible encampments, Methodist meeting
halls, lecture and convention centers, beachfront Baptism
and Redemption campaigns. All very intense and weirdly
confrontational. Avenel was way different there  -  it seemed
to not much care. It just threw some wholesale religion out
at you and expected you to accept, absorb. Whether Catholic,
Presbyterian  -  cheek by jowl those two edifices competed  - 
or Jewish  -  off a'ways, but present  -  it never made too much
noise about itself, or 'bothered' with overt commitment. You
could just do what you wanted. I took it all to heart. I'd guess
my answer to the watered-down factor of Christianity peddled
at St. Andrew's had more to do with internalized ideas like
'Existence is remarkable, actually it's incredible. Profoundly
amazing. Uncanny. So what else do you want me to know?
The amount of fingers on 'God's hands? Absolutely no need
or reason for knowing that, in my life, thanks.' You see? One
is spirituality. The other is 'Religion' and the rules and 
regulations of same. All bunk, and all man-made. The
physics of Life presents itself  -  revels itself  -  only in
incremental and silent ways -  extremely personal ways. No
one has a latch on that  -  just the one person to whom it is
given at a time. I never understood communality, collectivist
ethos stuff, oneness among men. Baloney to that. Each man 
is  -  OK each 'person' is  -  entirely and totally different, 
separate and apart. Gottfried Leibniz it was, about 1715 
or something, who posited the concept  -  each living man 
a Monad unto himself, celebrating one, experiencing the 
world as One, and past that only relegating others to a forward 
position after some sort of transformative grace took place. 
Among the few. It's just not given to everyone. Many are 
called but few are chosen. All that. Too bad. St. Andrew's 
tried to make religion like a Hallmark card  -  some pithy 
little tie-in out of which everyone exits happy! Not so. 
Divine Wisdom can never be perceived. That's why we 
are Men and not Gods, Humans and not deities.
God, Nirvana, Brahman, Tao, must always elude us.
I grant you it's probably hard to build a community around 
ideas like that, but what sort of community did Avenel 
have anyway? Not much  -  pert of something else, a 
weasel's wet spot in a larger municipality around us. 
Subsumed. No one knew us. The only thing we had were 
our stupid neighborhood streets and the two or three roads 
in and out, which essentially got us to other places and back  -  
to work, shop, bank, trade, and, once there finally was a funeral 
joint in Avenel itself, die. People could talk all they wanted
about Avenel's common being, sense of self and place, 
unitary activity. But it didn't work.
The first time I ever held hands with a girl, weirdly enough,
I was about 12, and she was walking home to the trailer court,
and me along with her, up Inman Avenue. It was an odd feeling,
but nothing overwhelming. I don't know what a kid is supposed 
to go through to get to that point, but to me it was all stressless 
and easy. Easier than religion, for sure. If the matters of a 'God' 
are given down to a 'Human' than probably it's in some sort of
form like that  -  innocence, combined with a blind ignorance
just following intuition, reading some twisted map of the soul.
At that moment. That's really so cheap to say because it could
cover crime, theft, murder, anything. Some wise-assed lawyer 
type could weave it all up as a fine defense against anything 
and spew it all back out in front of a judge and jury in summation
  -  ' your honor, my client is an honorable man, one who was 
caught up, blindly following the intuitive drive, the false push, 
of his heart.' Yes, yes, it's been done a million times already. 
Walking home hand-in-hand with a girl, that wasn't much.
Funny thing was, I'd already, as a kid, spent much time in love 
with any number of Mothers. Friends, locals, and the rest -  it
seemed someone's Mother was always catching me up, making
me swoon. How weird was that? I can't say. My mother kept 
having friends who had kids -   the likely reason then for me to
be tagged along. Like, at the top end of Minna Ave., above
the little Schlesinger's Hardware by maybe half a block, there
was a lady in this big house on the corner  -  a large, old-style,
'real' house. Mrs. Messina, I knew her as  -  Kaye Messina, to
my mother. Looking back now, I have no idea how old she 
was, a few years older than my mother, I guess, That would
have made her 40, roundabout.  I was so taken with that lady.
She had a daughter, a bit older than me, named, incongruously,
'Candy'. That too slayed me. A girl named Candy, and a 
mother named Kaye. What other wonders life held for
me, I could only  -  at that point  -  guess.
There's a faulty kind of logic sometimes that runs things :
it's the logic of expectation, and leads only to a lazy-man's
mind. When you are 10 years old, your mind is open and wild,
ready for anything. If someone pointedly explained to you how a
turtle becomes a zebra, with illustrations and a sort of science-logic,
you could easily end up accepting that point, that view as fact, in
fact. That's how the schooling that adult-ism presents gives things to
you, and in your own wide-open agreement with everything you
 have no choice but to accept. Wide-eyed wonder. It's all OK. It's, at
that tender age, pretty harmless anyway -   like when, in later years,
when you laugh at how you 'misunderstood' the words of songs
or prayers as a child. Bathroom on the right. I saw mommy
kissing Santa's paws - stuff like that. Approached in that fashion,
my time in Avenel was all fun and games  -  discovery, wonder,
laughter. But inside I knew it wasn't. There are way too many of
the heavy things out there, lying in wait, to get you. John Calvin, here
we come. I always saw the church, saw religion, as just another
part of the commercial culture it had sided with  -  while inside I
knew I, by contrast, was and would always be a zealot. Striking for
purity, and striking for lightning. It was a problem. It was a
cultural impasse I'd never smooth out, a gulf I could not cross.
Apparently, using words of Marilynne Robinson here, 'self-righteous
Christians can be outrageously forgiving of one another and
themselves, and very cruel in their denunciation of anyone else.'
Maybe so. Maybe trouble is always brewing. The 'opposite' of
itself, preoccupied with 'sins' Jesus never mentioned.
So, anyway, you learn how to walk, and keep on walking.
You wake up on day, it's Inman Avenue, it's ten days to
Christmas again, the street and the housefronts look like a
 carnival, blow-up animals with snowmen and Santas
everywhere, and you almost just want to give it all up.
But you don't. It's home. You keep going.
It's got to be home again.

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