Thursday, December 17, 2015

7596. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 105)

(pt. 105)
My first bicycle was a J. C. Higgins. And
maybe my second too. Then, one year, maybe 
9 years old, I remember getting a Columbia that
was really grand. All I ever wanted. That was the
time when bicycles were taking on a lot of the
design attributes of cars  -  believe that or not  -
the section between the bars, between your legs, 
was filled in with swooped metal work, and a horn,
with a little horn button built in. The bike actually
incorporated, as well, a headlamp in this little
outgrowth of metal work that came up from that
other swoop, like a streamlined car or something.
On the rear, the fender had a little added on swoop
as well  -  it was pretty crazy, in that just as cars were
getting glitzier and more bizarre, bicycles too were
being given the same treatment. As a kid, I little
minded, but I did notice. Two tone paint yes, and
a spring-loaded, built-on, carrying rack in place.
There were some larger bikes with taillights.
It was something else. This Columbia was
a tan and white scheme, pretty nice color work,
and the 'Columbia' logo identifier was a really
nice scripted lettering. Nothing I ever minded
at all  -  not ever the whitewall tires. Nutso.
That bike took me places, got lots of use. No one 
ever 'stole' bicycles back then  -  all us kids knew
instantly whose was what, and if there had been any
infraction of that, there would have been trouble. It
wasn't like today  -  where the apartments down the
street have loads of other people you don't know, new
swingers who've just roped in from somewhere else, 
another culture or race even, entirely. Levels of surly
blacks you're never sure of. The incessant talk in a
foreign-language, a chatter of Chinese or Indians or 
Pakistanis. Middle-Eastern people. These days now,
everyone is set up to serve all these other sorts  -  the
towns and politicos, the programs and even the cops.
They all get taken care of, even though, I state here, they
are the problem  -  relegated instigators of much of what
ails us now. Nothing to do about it, I guess. Society's now
pretty much shot to hell anyway, and we're all only fooling
ourselves. Back then, as kids, we wouldn't have had a clue
about what to do or how to go about it. We lived for one 
another and for doing things  -  holding on and even giving
'good-feelings' to others. like all those southern black folk
all over the riverside areas of Rahway (I talked about them 
a lot in earlier chapters); we really cared for those people,
and they cared about us. They could talk, we could share
different cultures. We watched and could wonder about
how they baited a hook, and what they used for bait, and 
the patient way they just sat around all day, a'waitin' 
whatever could or might be coming. Talking. Laughing.
No one does any of that anymore. If somebody had ever
stolen a bicycle, from anybody, they'd have been ostracized.
There was a community. There was a unit you went to, 
you lived off. Places had a soul. Not now -  the nastiest 
creeps around, they get all the breaks, they get the free 
money and the free food. They break into a house or a
car and steal stuff; they get out of lock-up the very next day,
and then everything goes in their favor anyway for being
unfairly arrested, or whatever con-game shit some fat-faced
lawyer will come up with for them at government expense.
Yeah, the government pays these slob lawyers to defend the
criminal. Who then sues, gets $600,000, again of our own 
tax money, and that gets shared with the Heeb con lawyer.
This isn't anything new, it goes on all the time. All I'm saying
is how different and unfair it all is. None of us could have
ever thought like that. Things have changed. Things have
changed, and I'm sorry for all that. I was never a mean person,
nor a cheat or a scoundrel. Maybe I saw things differently some. 
But I still steered clear of trouble. Always wanted to be nice, 
and help others. I had 'regard' for things -  and that's all gone
now, people just act like trash. No one ever sat me down and 
said, 'you gotta' do this, and that, and you gotta' do it the way
I say.' (That's how people would'a talked about things in Avenel,
real straight and simple). They never had to; somehow all that
protocol about things and people was just grown within us all.
Yep, it's all different now  -  people knock over gravestones,
spray nasty shit all over things, deface grave-markers, sheds
and walls and buildings, bridges, billboards. Everything's fair 
game for ape-shits who do that stuff, like they own everything.
We would have never thought of that. Don't get me wrong, we 
erred some, and we made mistakes. But not on such scale and in
such nasty ways. Illiterate ways, for god's sake. Let's just say it.
Unlearned fools with no home-life nor caring. Yet, they get all
the damned defenders they'd ever need -   every time something 
goes wrong it's someone else's fault, or society's. Damn well
if nobody would have ever come to our defense like that, so fast.
One time, this older kid from Clark Place, Mike Tedesco, as I
remember his name, with a younger brother John, came at me
over on that little field below Route One at Randolph, where
we used to sometimes play football. I don't know why he 
chose me exactly to accuse, but he had parked his little hot-rod
car there, by an empty lot on the curve (it's now 'The Loop Inn',
a classed-up hot-sheet services motel, gated and enclosed). When
he got back to his car  -  he said  -  his 'baby moon' hubcaps were
gone, and he accused me of stealing them. Big time, called the 
cops, wouldn't let me leave, all that. What the hell he'd think I'd
want his stupid hub caps for is beyond me, or where he thought
I'd have gotten the balls and stealth to take them either. My 
Columbia bicycle might have just then have had the start of 
looking  like a car, but it sure didn't yet need any 'baby 
moon' hubcaps. Cops came, and I figured I was going to 
Rahway Prison for sure. I'm pretty sure the cop could see I 
was just a goofy kid on a bicycle playing battering-ram football 
out on the field. He took the info, asked a bunch of questions, 
and that was it. Except it all did get official enough to get 
back to my parents too. No one ever came to my defense, to
say 'society' had corrupted me, everything was arrayed against
me, I was being discriminated against, blah, blah. It was more
just like, 'what the hell did you do now?' I never saw that Mike
guy again, nor his stupid. dumb-ass 'baby moon' hubcaps, but
hell I hope he got his girl, and I hope his hot-rod took him to 
some fine places.  What he was thinking, I still don't know. 
A weird thing there too  -  just as an afterthought. There were 
a lot of Italian names in our 'new' houses. A lot  -  but the odd 
thing sometimes was how some of the names were names of 
places, in Italy, or not. Milano (Milano), Napoli (Naples), 
Grenada, (Grenada) Orlando (Orlando?), Taranto (Taranto), 
Ferrera (Ferrara), , Messina (Messina), and  -  lastly  -  this 
Tedesco guy. In Italian, weirdly enough, Tedesco is the word 
used to signify Germans.  Lucky I didn't know a Tony Roma.
There were others too, but that's enough.
So, after a while, it was all just a kid's island and we were 
all just our own Robinson Crusoe out on a stranded mission
with, somewhere, our own 'Friday'  -  advisor, helpmate, pal.
And maybe later, for each of us, that search just naturally 
turned to looking, instead, for each our own 'Girl Friday.'
I got little help, really from anyone. My father, though he
may have tried, never got the inside scoop from me on
anything. I always side-stepped his questions and stuff, mostly
for fear of getting swatted down for something. My mother
was, on the other hand, always sympathetic, but powerless too.
She really didn't understand much, past whatever she was saying;
she'd go on about her own school days, how she loved Math  -  she
called it that but I think all she really meant was the multiplication
tables. And French - which she couldn't really speak a lick of,
even though she claimed she did.  She went around all the time
saying 'ouvre la port', for 'open the window', but she said it
not in the French way, but like any old English phrase, without
that weird French tongue-finesse that they have about that
goofball language of theirs.  When she said it it was more like
being told to 'open that bottle of Port.' Which is a thick,
bummy wine, I think. I mostly kept to myself a lot, always
watching things and a bit wary.  Life was funny. That's
what I was always thinking. One day, my father  -   who was a 
curb-picker; he'd see something and throw it into the van and 
bring it home  -  someone else's throwaway, especially furniture,
of course, being an upholsterer. He'd fix things up, re-do them, and
sell them   -  he came home with this whacko piece of furniture that
I couldn't make sense of. It was like a seat on the one side, spacious, 
and a sort of rounded, connected table on the other. And it had
a big storage space for stuff under that table top section. I'd
never seen one of those before  -  my father, and mother, (who was
usually driven crazy by all these cast-off items arriving to the 
basement)  -  they said it was, and called it, a 'phone-table.' It was
the very gabby late 1950's, people were phone nuts, long cords,
Princess phones, pastel colors, all that crap. This 'chair' thing was
made, as a phone table, for the long gabfests that people had; the
stay-at-home housewives jabbering all day, the teen-agers, and the 
rest. The phone would sit on the table and this comfy-chair connected,
with storage and all, would allow you to comfortably talk for hours.
I don't know  -  nor do I still  -  what people have to talk about so 
much, but they do, I guess. And this was the start of it. He did
it over in some horrible green, and it never left our house again. 
It stayed upstairs, in an almost perfect, corner spot, and was used
by all my sisters as they grew through their teens. As I always
said, in English of course: 'Any PORT in the storm.'

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