Sunday, December 27, 2015

7635. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 115)

(pt. 115)
'Paradox, NJ' would have been a great place, a
real gravy train of a town. By the way, back when
I had a dog, about 1958, that's when Gravy Train
came out. It was a dry dog food that  -  with the
addition of water  -  was said to have made its own,
doggy-tasteful, gravy. I guess it did  - the dog ate it,
and the water was transformed into a brown something.
There were any number of strangely oddball things
back then that kept mixing me up : One time, walking
along the aisles of the Shop-Rite (my mother was
shopping with the cart, in her orderly, item by item,
and row by row, fashion. I would just wander all about,
gleefully looking at labels and designs, and reading
whatever text I could on the packages), it was 1957.
I came across  the rows of soups or mustards or
something, I forget, and saw the label name 'Heinz '57'.
I later found it it meant, as a company boast of sorts,
that they '57' products which they made and sold. They'd
incorporated that idea into their logo. I, however, simply
thought that  -  because it was 1957  -  they changed their
label each year, to match the year, and this was, therefore,
their most-current and newest line of offerings. I never
did find a 'Heinz 58', the next year or year after. Funny
how that worked. Even graver than that goof-up, to me,
was the time I was trailing these two men, just by accident,
I was sleuthing or anything. I don't know what sort of gents
they may have been, but they were shopping and strolling
along looking at product. At that time, also 1957, I believe,
Kellog's Cereal had just come out with what was called
'Special K'. It was a large, red 'K', basically scripted by
typeface, pretty attractive, and the word 'Special', though
smaller, accompanying it. Suddenly, the one guy stops,
grabs the box, and says to his boyfriend, or whatever, 'Oh
look, something new from Kellog's, 'Big Red K'. Which
is what he called it. That drove me mad, into a frenzy of
distraction, a rant to myself about 'how dumb could
anyone be to so mis-read a package as to even call the
product, clearly stated, by a wrong name.' This guy, I
concluded, was of the idiot variety who takes everything
he sees at face-value, re-evaluating everything through
the dullness of his own flat mind. The cereal was clearly
called 'Special K'. Yes, it had a large, red 'K', but that
wasn't the point  -  nor the damn name of the cereal. Yet
this pompous swish immediately assumed to his partner
that this great new product was called 'Big Red K'
because that's what it had on it. Dullard Express, rolling
into the station. It was like saying 'Piltdown man was an
advanced Human', because he had a nose and a skull. And
not even a nose, because you can't see that on an old skull,
What you see is the 'absence' of nose, a spot where the
nose cartilage may, one would 'assume', have been. Idiot.
Maybe Piltdown had an elephant trunk : how would this
jerk even know except by his mis-reading the evidence.
This all probably sounds like nothing, or the ravings of an
Avenel Madman  -  hey, I've never denied that  -  but it's all
a part and parcel of being raised there, as we were. We were
given half-tales and conjectured stories, and then forced to
conclude in only the prescribed and approved ways. And, of
course, that led to a million Avenel boyhood questions. Like
standing in front of a mirror to see what's growing. If we got
something wrong, the likes of Sister Josephus or some other
twisted dingbat would come down on our heads like her
stupid gold ding-dong bell. By the way, if she was in operation
today, her fat-nun-ass would be in jail for physical abuse. Let
that be so stated into the record. Here. By me.
On TV, too, there was a big confusion for me. Overlapping
products or something. This Ronald Reagan guy, a worn-out
movie actor, used to come on like one a week, and  introduce
some western movie or show or something. He was all smooth
and suave, maybe movie-handsome, I don't know (I should have
asked the two Special K dweebs from before). He'd go on, and
I'd be nothing but confused. It was sponsored by something
called '20-Mule Team Borax.' I had no idea what that was, nor
what the reference to 20-mule-team was about. Strength, power,
and speed. Or slow, plodding deadbeat animals reluctantly
pulling a load that took two moths to go a mile. If they wanted
sleek-strength, why didn't they just get 4 horses or something,
instead. Was it a good reference, or a lame reference, and a
reference to what? And who was this smiling bozo on the screen
anyway? There was also a soap named Boraxo. As I recall, it was
all sandy and gritty, like Lava soap, for really grubby hands, or
mechanics or really dirty jobs. So what was it, Borax? Or Boraxo? 
And what was the stuff anyway? All these westerns had taken
the country by storm  -  it was all my father ever watched.
Cowboy shoot-em-ups, great lines of running horses, crazed
guys firing their guns from a half-crouch off the saddle while
going about 90, Indians -  always mostly portrayed as dullards
and slain from the peaks and high-spots of mountain passes or
rocky buttes  -  being decimated as if they were useless flies
at a picnic. Or ants in the sidewalk swarms when we used
to pour boiling hot water on them and wipe out entire
batallions and colonies in writhing, furied burn-deaths.
This Reagan guy always seemed like their was some sort
of behind the scenes befuddlement going on in his brain, or
in his line of sight even. Something he couldn't quite figure
out, but he knew he had to keep talking, or saying his lines.
A bemused expression, a jollity that bespoke, really, nothing
at all except the general banter of the pleasantry of 'falling for
what I'm saying', OK. Or a conga-line of undressed 20-year
olds passing in front of him while had to keep talking. Oh,
yeah, he later became President, for 8 wooden years. Even
got shot once, like his 30th day on the job or something.
I was old by then, but he popped back up on America's
radar like an old pinprick of acne. On a decaying face.
Most all of my friends were just plain, old white-bread
American boys. I can't say I recall, but I guess we all ate
pizza and ice cream and such, together. The weirdest,
out-of-my-ken food I ever ran into was in Jim Yacullo's
basement  -  the house right across the street from mine.
It was Christmas time. Seasonal junk all around; decorations,
cookies, etc. We were down there one day and his mother
brought us some junk down to nibble on  -  it was this
weird roll of like fleshy, dark-yellow, round things curled
around on a string. You somehow got it started, and pulled
them off one-by-one and ate them. They were OK, a little
sticky and even sweet, but I liked them. They were, she said
'Greek Figs.' I'd never heard of that before, or tasted them
either. And the other thing was a freaking bowl of walnuts.
With the little pick things and the jaws with which to open
them. That was all new to me too  -  we sat around for a
half-hour mining this weird pile of walnuts, still in a shell,
in this big bowl. There was some work involved, so at least
it kept one busy, but they didn't really taste all that hot to me :
they were a bit too meaty and oily, and had these harder pieces
of, like, bone-slivers or shell stuff still in there with the pulpy
stuff. Wasn't worth a dare to me. The figs were passable.
My other friend, Ray Szemborski, he used to just swig
red vinegar from the bottle, like it was water almost, and then
he'd say how good it was for you. He'd say 'drinking vinegar's
like drinking blood, because that's what it turns into anyway
inside you.' That always baffled the hell out of me, more than
once, too. All it did for me was make me instantly sweat.
It was a long time before I realized  -  I was somewhere else
by then  -  that I'd spent way too many late-night efforts at
aloneness, rolling into dawns, trying to make my own path and 
leadership, though it was all but through rubble  -  the rubble 
of others and of places around me. It's all about, at a certain
point, efficiency. Nature usually wastes nothing, gets things 
done with everything having a purpose and a use, and then 
diminishing that use into the fade of something else. The 
next thing, so to speak. Always changing  -  nothing ever 
gets stuck, so you really can't depend on anything ever 
being static. That goes for relationships as well. People just 
make their connection and then die. They remain, from 
that point on, the very same. It's hard not to. People
always want things from other people  -  you end up 
having to do cartwheels just to survive : lawns and patios, 
dumb-ass vacations and picnics and trips to nothing and
 nowhere at all. You go to Paris or Rome, some do, and you 
come back the very same as when you left  -  unable to 
just fit anything new into your basket; never understanding 
anything, never altering one perception at all. Just all the 
same crap in a different language, that you brush up on so
that you can ask the waiter for bread and not sound stupid,
or properly address some jerk concierge somewhere who 
wants to take and polish your shoes for their version of 
fifteen bucks. You can do it yourself, for free, with spit, 
and their rag. But you won't. You'll pay, and say something 
cool in their tongue. Wives and husbands, they just feeze up, 
all the fresh little twigs and branches stay off the tree, and 
all you're left with are the same, old, big  limbs you always 
knew  -  no new growth, nothing fresh or vital. Never 
creating anything vital at all, you never know the joy of 
that refreshment. That's when the troubles begin  -  when 
you start judging others by your own lame standards 
and think it's all right. Thinking it's your world.
Remember, some chapters back, a lot actually, my little
tale about that Mrs. Kuzmiak  -  in her church-lady role  -  
bringing my mother to humiliation and sorrow by asking 
what had 'happened' to me? The offshoot of that, the sub-text,
was as if she'd said to my mother 'your kid's a hideous wreck.
You lost him. What did you do to fail him so much, that he's
become such an awful specimen?' It wasn't that way at all,
but my mother, my parents, they couldn't cope. I'd become 
the atom bomb in their house  -  in their eyes ruining it all for
them, and ruining myself too. I knew what was going on. Mrs.
Kuzmiak was Neanderthal in her penny-pinching way; putting
a church-pride-hurt on my mother, wrongly. My mother was,
actually OK. It was Mrs. Kuzmiak who was the dumbstruck oaf
in this. She had no business except her pissant dollar-for-dollar
hankies and gloves business, like Murray and Martha's penny
candies, but in a different guise. She was all solid and closed 
up, and  -  too bad for her  -  around her calcified body a more
modern world was was a'borning, and sweeping in. She was just
out of her element, they all were  -  my parents too  -  and not
knowing what was happening, nor what to do about it. 
Ice-Station Zebra. Or Paradox, NJ all over again.

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