Monday, December 21, 2015

7614. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 110)

There was this one time, about 1960 or '61, Winter  -  
one of those Winters with a long, dreary stretch of 
snow and ice and cold, such as we used to get. Any
part of a day's melting, if it wasn't re-covered that 
night again by a new dust or coat of snow, would 
just re-freeze by 5pm anyway, and get all iced and
slippery on everything all over again. It never
troubled us kids none, as we'd always find a
manageable way to keep things going along.
Those two Winters, I remember, the very streets
stayed frozen-coated, with snow/ice and then
melt and snow and ice again, so that for some
three or four weeks we all had but one big slick
surface for sledding on, sliding, or whatever.
Like it was our world then, and it was the cars 
who had the trouble  -  or I guess I ought to say,
'that' had the trouble, coming and going, and
stopping and staying straight. It was good, wintry
fun, and the red-cheeks just stayed on, like a grin.
Things didn't get so salted and cleaned up back
then. What was snow and icy had maybe just a
tendency to stay that way  -  no one complaining or
whining about conditions, like now, trying to hang
some poor local political type for not being up to the
job, whatever the 'job' is supposed to be  -  beating out
the weather, or besting Nature, or whatever. No one 
wants to  -  it seems  -  deal with real life any more.
They'd rather see it, or watch it, on some silly screen
somewhere. So, anyway -   there was a tale here  -  this
one time, my friend Kenny and me, we were up at the
train station overpass. It seemed endless, all the time we
went up there for the good storms, and we'd figured a
way, on the Abbe Lumber ('north' side, I guess) to
time the cars coming beneath the underpass, from 
the other side, the Security Steel side, ('south'), so 
that we'd just perfectly get whatever ice and snow we
could gather, thrown just right over the railings as to hit 
the oncoming car just rightly  -  windshield and hood, etc. 
Like the dumb imps we were portraying, we'd stay 
around long enough to gauge the reaction of the driver.
Brake lights, swerving, whatever. If we needed to take
'evasive' action, we had the places into which to retreat
all marked out. This one time, a rather classy, staid and
serious '55 black Ford was coming. I probably should 
have known, or recognized it, but didn't in the half-dark 
and all else. We did our deed  -  a massive tumble of
both ice and snow, straight down, perfectly timed, a
perfect hit. Then, trouble. The car's brakes lights went
on, the car sidled to the curb, parked, and was turned 
off. The occupant headed out. Oh Jeez, I know that guy!
It was Clark Place's own Mr. Mike Mischka, a starchy,
angry, always perfect, lone gent. Not a nice fellow to
have to deal with. We were sunk, and we knew it. There
wasn't really any place to go, all our ideas of flight, in an
instant, proved useless. He bounded up the steps, in a
quite determined fashion  -  and even if we had fled by
jumping down onto the tracks and high-tailing it, he knew
by then who were were. It was useless. He approached,
to right up on us, eye contact, flared nostrils, anger. Mr.
Mischka right then might as well have been Mt. Mischka, 
a formidable mountain that had just blown its top with
steaming, nasty, hot lava bubbling down on everything.
He called us out  -  'You sons a' bitches, I know who you
are, and I know where you live. You'll be sorry for this.
You can expect seeing me to each of your houses tonight
by 7.' He was good for his word. Only slightly cooled down 
by then, I know he visited my house, and I had to own up to
disaster  -  everything we'd been doing, how and how many 
times, and the rest. This guy was really the only person to 
take a personal affront from this -   there had been no broken
windshields, dented metal, accidents or even broken wipers
for the whole time. He was, truly, the only one seemingly so
incensed. I think his actual mission, true to character, was to
prove what low-life's we were, since (he had two 'fine, 
upstanding' boys just a year or two younger than us) his sons
would obviously never have been caught in such a 
compromising and debased situation. At that point, it was
all morality. We'd gotten bested, the equivalent of dead.
My parents politely heard him out, my mother probably
biting her lip over the thought of Mrs. Mischka in the
church ladies' group again reminding her of this, publicly.
He left, and I got the usual scolding, though I think, in the
back if everyone's doing here, we all knew it was much of
nothing. No one really took to this Mischka guy anyway. The
funniest thing was, two years later, his fine, upstanding son
Mike became (somehow) a seminary inmate, two years
behind, but inmate nonetheless, with me. Today he's some
big-wig psychiatrist in the city. I'd figure Mt. Mishcka's 
dead, and the rest is history. None of it was 
ever mentioned again.
When you dig a personal hole, or find yourself in one anyway,
the key is to find a swell-enough way out of it, so that no one
really notices your problem, and you're not left with any horrible
deficit to nullify. It's nothing you want to have to stand around
discussing or explaining. For me, the effect was for personal
space and privacy. Part of my game was to be unpleasant enough
to keep people away. But once I got mixed into Biker stuff, 
that all fell apart too and I somehow became the most popular
bad-ass with all the right info. Which I wasn't at all, but it did
become my job, and I did it well, for 12 years. Mr. Fixer-Upper.
Biker clubs, and groups, and anyone with a motorcycle problem  - 
legal, cops, insurance, emergency, etc., they got me. A regular
freaking UN for the Biker world  - one-percenters, clubbers, and
all the rest. But....that's for later. Back on Inman Avenue's world 
of kids, things were always churning. Boys were surging towards
Manhood, and the girls were a'growing too. A strange kind of
new atmosphere was slowly taking over. Everyone soon enough
started driving and dating and all that. I lost touch with all of
it. That was part one of the crossed-lines, the hole being dug.
My business was to be no longer 'there'. It was all different.
First, the train accident, which kept me apart for a long-enough
time; then the seminary, which did it all again, much longer. The
times I'd come home from that, for visits, I was like a freak, and
treated that way too  -  everyone else's voices were changing, 
they had girlfriends, and things to do, and I was like one of those,
by contrast, stalled, pathetic, sad characters you see maybe in some
old films, or some foreign or Italian epics. The weak-knee'd thin
kid, loyal to his service to God and Ritual. No one knew what to 
make of me, or how to treat me. And neither did I then. It was sad;
I'd somehow completely divorced myself from all I'd ever been
before. Even I didn't know what to do about myself. So much of
all that Italian stuff is just a very basic, boring piety about all
things religious. I'd bring home these stupid, overly-decorated,
swirly-plastic crucifixes, ten or twelve, and my mother would
treasure them like gold  -  we'd put them together, glue the stuff
into place, position the writhing Christ body into its set-position,
and she'd proudly hang one  - a new one each time, replacing the
very same old one  -  and give others out to neighbors and visitors,
who must have thought, 'Jeez, what a crazy bunch of fools there.'
The tackiest, jim-crackiest, religious garbage you could think of,
for no reason except placating stupid people about their dead-souls,
their dead-salvation, and their equally dead futures. How sad it all
was, just like the rest of church and society too. Was I jaded and
secretly angry and in  turmoil to get out and break away? You bet.
In my own household, it sometimes had gotten hard to 
distinguish 'duty' from 'detail'. As if, in the doing of things, if
it just turned out to be something you 'had' to do, everyone knew,
really, you didn't have to do it. But they did it nonetheless. Like
church on Sunday : what an outrageous mess. Every Sunday, the 
same crap. Here I was, age 8 or 9 or 10, or even 11, trying hard
as all get out to figure myself out   -   what was I, who to be, a
Johnny Appleseed of goodness and love, or a Billy the Kid of 
gaunt defamation, murder and mayhem? Oh so hard to decide  -  
having to traipse off in a unit with a small group of Sunday
nutcases. My father, with his ridiculous 20-year out of date, 3-inch
wide ties, like some Lou Costello, and my mother, somehow with 
her face-netted, shield-bonnet church hat, like she was a freaking
Gloria Vanderbilt or something. And my sister, with a crinoline 
slipped dress, or whatever that was, which was all puffed out and
about 14-feet wide, and then me. Good God, 9-year old me, on 
whom they'd plop some freaking gangster fedora, as if I was to be
Al Capone in training, or some other, yet again, Italian Introne
Mafia hoodlum at play on the streets of wild and crooked Avenel.
I don't know what they were thinking, at all, but they really meant 
this stuff. Another annoying habit of my father's, in this tendency, 
was Easter. When both my sister and I were young, in those
early years  -  when there wasn't much money around, my
father was pridefully trying to show that he could manage, etc.  -
he'd use his tax-refund money, every year, 'for Easter clothes for 
the kids.' It was more than that tough. It was pride and stance
and bravado. They'd take us, or me anyway, to a nearby Robert
Hall shop, or another we had called 'American Shops', and get me
some tacky, fitted-out suit, shoes, shirt, and (yes, yes) little
gangster fedora. You can see this in any photo book of any old
Brooklyn or anywhere Italian, minor-class neighborhood. It was
always the same. But, to compound it all, and to be sure that his
neighbors knew he could make it, get by, and provide, a good
portion of any Easter Sunday  -  before 'company' arrived, or we left
for anywhere, my sister and I would be told, in full dress, to stay 
outside and just keep walking, up and down the block, so others
could see us  -  in a sort of dumb-ass, pompous, full-display;
as if to say, 'Yes! Andy and Mary are making it work!'
If you ever get a choice, don't be Italian.
One last, funny note about my Grandmother, from yesterday, 
and those NYC and Automat trips. (She was really the only
person who was also, like, 'pleasantly funny' to me, even
though she too had that wild streak of Roma-sadness).
One time, she related, she was accosted in an elevator by a 
man who'd exposed himself to her. Her brave stance, she said,  
which de-fused the man, was to get in his face and proclaim,  'Yeah, 
and you'd probably need a derrick to get it up too! Get out of here!'
That little story always stayed with me. Cute stuff. I never
knew, at first, exactly what it meant, but it was funny,
even just for the word 'derrick'.

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