Monday, December 14, 2015

7581. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt 102)

(pt. 102)
There was a time when I was more at home
with my self than with anyone else. Narcissism?
No. I don't think it could have been that, because
I was certainly not 'enamored' of myself. It was
more just a feeling that I had this huge task in
front of me, things that just had to get done, and
anything else ruined my participation in my own
work.  I'd experienced Avenel, knew what that
was about. I'd experienced a few other portions of
my life, to the extent as well that I kind of knew
what they were about, and what little of it I wanted.
My friend Ray Szemborski and I would spend
long Winter evenings driving around. He'd have
his father's car, a '55 Plymouth  - he had a license,
I didn't. I loved that car, as I recall, a dark, dead
green. Nothing special at all, just basic and strong
enough so that, to this day (even though the '56 was
a much more beautiful take, from the rear anyway,
on the same basic design), such a car still carries my
spirit away. We'd drive, back in those Winter days  -
whichever they were  -  with the radio on, darkness
around us, not saying too much, just driving and
noting  -  place to place, town to town, street to
street. Probably more inept guys never could be
found, in that we weren't 'doing' anything, just
instead learning to exist. Other kids, on those
nights, probably had plenty of school stuff :
basketball games, school play try-outs, yearbook
committees, all those things. We didn't. We'd take
Oak Tree Road, when it was still just a really
narrow passage through wooded areas, all the
way out (far, then, for us) to when it met South
Plainfield. Along the way the usual landmarks:
back then at the intersection of Oak Tree Road
and New Dover Road, was the Liquor Locker. An
early 1960's discount booze place. No, we didn't
drink, never even stopped. It was just a light in
the middle of nothing which led us to note where
we were. South Plainfield dead ahead, if we
continued. Or we'd swing around to get to New
Dover, or over to Inman (the other 'Inman' Ave)
which would bring us through the bowels of old
Potters Crossing  -  again these were all small,
one lane roads in each direction, maybe. Potters
Crossing was mysterious  - still had opossums
and raccoons, black people in their rows of secluded
shacks, cinder-block squat homes, old wood-frame
structures leaning. Something horrendous-looking in
each driveway  -  if there was a driveway and if they
had a car. Many didn't. Many of these people, in fact,
seldom budged from their country homes. Which is
what these were  -  an Appalachia all of its own in the
middle of the edge of our town. They never moved about
much because they didn't have to. They probably, most,
got government money somehow  -  relief, welfare. No
one was much ever seen about. No one else ever went there
unless they had to, or were passing by it. It was a different
place  -  a country bereft  -  or so it seemed  -  of some
of the standards by which we had been raised. Simple
things, I guess, like shades on the windows, or curtains.
Some of these square houses, slowly driving by them,
you could see right in  -  people in kitchens, or staring
at TV's. Banked awnings off the sides, cars lying around,
disrepair, a dog or two. Even firepits in some yards. It's
all different now, widened, fully paved, corporate buildings
seniors' housing towers, shopping plazas, supermarkets. Only
a clutch of woods here and there remains. 'Til tomorrow,
probably.  Some of these nights were cold, with snow. We
didn't care  -  the car was warm, some junk was always on
the radio, no one bothered us. Maybe from 6pm to maybe
9, it was ours. I can remember lots of things passing through
my mind on those rides  -  daydream kind of singular things.
Funny, now, in thinking back  -  we never stopped, no coffee,
no donuts or hamburger stops. Nothing. Not that there was much.
None of that roadside culture crap yet really existed. Nothing
in the local sticks but trees. And wintry silence outside. Ray
didn't talk much, nor did I. He was always a quiet guy anyway,
sunny, pleasant, a good pal for a long time.
I realized that, all around us in our 'new' homes, another place
and past had always existed. These people on the slow roads
leading out towards Plainfield, were from another time and
place, and not necessarily that shared by me. If it can be said
that people co-exist, while living differently, by being parts of
something else, this would have proven it. A bare bulb on an
outside socket was, to them, the equivalent of a flood-light
or vapor-street lamp to us. They still lived amid trees and
vines. We lived in concrete and macadam. Just different worlds
that bring much different assumptions. I had learned a lot of 
things just by hanging around, on my own  -  digging through
library material, reading, and the rest. The sort of things
not taught in school -  where I felt they taught nothing much
more than 'instructional ' matter anyway, in the 'how to succeed
and prosper' vein, which I wasn't much interested in. Here, 
by contrast, even on nights like this with Ray, driving around
to different places, just to see what was out there, I was able
to learn more. It's really funny; there's so much stuff. Before 
like the 1500's 'discovery' was not an established concept.
Ecclesiastes tells us 'there is nothing new under the sun,' so
what looks like new knowledge is old knowledge mislaid? 
Columbus, for instance, he had to use the Latin word 
'invenio' (find out), to announce his sighting of the New 
World - (think what all this would be like now) - and
Galileo used the word 'exploro' to refer to his detection
of the moons of Jupiter. Amazingly, a word for 'discover'
or 'discovery' did not exist  -  they had to conscript the
Portuguese word 'desobrir' to express the experience of
successfully seeking something genuinely novel. The
varied uses of that word then quickly spread into French
German, and English, where 'to discover'  first appears
with its new meanings in 1553. This 'linguistic shift' was
adopted 'quietly, casually and carelessly.' Yet it brought a
new way of thinking.  It was 'the discovery of discovery.' 
That's sort of what these nights were like for me  - traveling
out, a precarious, more 'modern' craft on a sometimes cold,
dark, foggy or snowy sea, an evening of 'local' travel to places  
for which my own words and concepts  -  and the overlaying
of maps and locales  -  was just being 'discovered.' I owe a 
lot to Raymond; I owe a lot to friendships and acquaintances.
And because of it all  -  I know, solidly, that my original
point of setting out  -  dumb old Avenel  -  is owed a lot too.
One final point here : After the use of the word 'discovery' 
came to be, scientists began adopting other words from 
jurisprudence and theology, for their 'first, new uses in new 
ways in a newly expanding world.' Some of those words, 
put into use as Mankind's very thought being expanded 
and grew, were 'fact', 'law',  and 'evidence'. New meanings 
opened up new careers. You were able to set out to make 
'discoveries' knowing then what you were actually doing. 
Direct experience began to carry more authority than 
book knowledge. Columbus and his crew, for example, 
could add to knowledge in ways that scholars, immersed
in their massive tomes, could not. The getting out and the
'doing' of things counted more. 'Well-constructed, and 
apparently robust, intellectual edifices are swept away 
with barely a murmur because experience really can be 
demonstrative.' You had to read all those to learn it.
The verbal 'teacher-student' relationship of school 
wouldn't work. Think of the curious difficulties that
come with hearing, not  seeing, a teacher calling 
Columbus' crew on their voyages of discovery,
'half-educated seaman.' I would have thought
something else entire. Half-educated semen?
Maybe now, all that stuff is just
done on screen.

No comments: