Tuesday, December 8, 2015

7959. BELOW THE WATER LINE (p. 96)

(pt. 96)
Do you know what the Japanese farmer
said when he stopped farming and decided to
become a fisherman? 'No more Mister Rice guy.'
We used to tell jokes like that all the time, without
regard for whomever we were 'slandering' or whose
'feelings' we were hurting. Those sorts of things
didn't exist back then. Everything was fair game,
and everyone took advantage of whatever chance
they got to ridicule someone. 'Have you ever seen
those small bananas they sell?' And then another
guy would step in, 'Hey, you guys talking about
Bill's dick again?' Whereupon 'Bill' would let fly
with a decent-enough expletive string, or a punch
of sorts. Now, as it is, half the time I have to hold
my tongue in situations such as those. Holding
one's tongue does make it very difficult to talk.
If we were growing up today, as Avenel kids 
always boiling one pot or another, I'd think we'd
be in nothing but trouble  -  for sure in today's
version of 'school'. All that political-correct and
anti-fun-slander stuff would be a killer, especially
with all the different sorts of kids around now. Wads
of clingy parents always hanging around to pick up
or protect their dumb brats, mothers with fourteen 
feet of swirly-wrapped fabric twisted around  
themselves and peering through a slit (I've 
seen that), or  -  on the other hand  -  dressed in
nice weather like a drunk or a hooker. It's enough 
to baffle. Head-wraps and head-scarves, on one hand,
or shorts or see-through tank tops on the other. 
('Now, Ahmed, show me which one's your Mommy
and I'll walk you out.') - Trouble is little Ahmed can't
know because Shafelellah the Mommie didn't tell him
what color shroud she'd be wearing today, and anyway,
if the teacher's so practiced at detection for safety when
she hands off the kids, how does she know who's under
those scarves and rag-wraps? I wonder what it would
have been like if Christiansen's in old Woodbridge
had to sell that stuff. If I was a teacher I'd demand
to see face, eyes, and ID, to avoid a lawsuit in case it
wasn't really Shafelellah the Mommie.
There was an Avenel type justice that we all
knew about. Proper rich kids don't do battle and
don't scrap down with each other, in the dirt and the
mess. We did, no matter what  -  and we never really
saw any rich kids. I don't know for sure, but probably
when I was a grade-school kid the richest kid I ever
knew  -  by externals anyway  -  was Steve Cohorsky.
He lived over behind the original, little Presbyterian
church or chapel, or whatever it is, and his father had
a fairly large contracting business. Rather prosperous.
They lived in a custom-built, really nice ranch home,
and they were the first people I ever saw with an
automatic garage-door opener controlling their two
swanky garage doors. It was pretty cool  -  and the
garage held two really nice cars as well. Steve had
a younger brother too. Steve Cohorsky was one of
those guys whom I'd end up knowing but for three years
or so  -  then they just disappeared, even though they
still lived there. I never knew what happened to some
kids -  I have a hunch it was vocational school that
took them away. For the main mess of us all, we
went through the public school system and stayed
around, always seeing each other grade after grade.
But the Catholic school kids, they too disappeared;
and the vocational school kids. There were I think two
vocational schools around, and each was separated for
boys and girls. You don't hear much of 'vocational'
schools anymore  -  it was an older system, having its
roots on the 1880's idea of industrial schooling for
boys. There were one or two I remember in NYC,
connected to churches and used as mission schools
to help the downtrodden and to drag kids into
some meaningful existence (supposedly) and in
off the dirty streets to learn a worthwhile vocation  -
metal working, carpentry, even ceramics and design,
sometimes. Unions hired out of them, taking apprentices
and that sort of thing. It was a good deal, and people
weren't so freaked over 'college' as a must, and for the
clean, clerical jobs offered today. But the vocational
school kids just got taken from our circulation. Maybe
they had their own cliques. I don't know. Some of them
were the kinds of guys whom you'd later see working at
General Dynamics or 1001 Auto, or even the sort who'd
come with with a basic business idea for something like
a Mike's Sub Shop. It was odd. Don't know what happened
 to a lot of them. All I ended up knowing about Steve
Cohorsky was that people called him 'Butch' or 'Butchie'
Cohorsky later on. There were a few others like that too  -  
along Madison Avenue. There was Jimmy Englert, an 
early friend, with his younger brother John; Tony Aquila, 
who lived on the corner of Madison and Clark Place. 
He later got successful running a big-deal landscaping outfit. 
Phil Poseil, across the street from him. And another guy  -  
but I know he went to a catholic high school, Tom Kunigonis  
-  who also had a landscape business. Once they got mixed in 
with their new places and schools, never saw then again. Funny.
My personal way of doing things has always been to
simplify. Most people, on the other hand, always seemed to
think I was the most difficult, most complicated character 
they'd met. Kind of a conundrum  -  but then again I never
worked at it, how I'd 'come across' to others. I never preened 
on about myself. I've ended up, instead, looking like a bum and
pretty much carrying myself that way now too. No possessions, 
no pretense and nothing to preserve. It's a memory I keep  -  when
I worked at NJ Appellate (see earlier chapters) there used to be a
guy I'd see often  -   small, stumpy guy, dressed in the same gray,
work kind of clothes each day, walking around, moseying along
Main Street Woodbridge, into one place or another, Town Hall,
driving some ratty old local truck around. Nobody gave the poor
guy the time of day because he appeared to represent nothing. 
Turns out (and I knew this after a while) he was probably one 
of the wealthiest old landowners of mid-twentieth century 
Woodbridge around. He owned properties everywhere, raked
in like a thousand rents a month. He used to have this really
well-hidden, hedged and distant brick estate-type old home
on Main Street, heading south, out of town, past the K of C
building and past the old PBA building, which used to be
a really nice older place but has since been rebuilt into one
of those prideful fortress-type places, ugly as a sick gopher
too. Alperti's place, of Alfieri, or whatever his name was, 
is long gone  -  but though it's gone (it's right there now where
each day all those anti-abortion clinic people pace with their
Jesus and Mary save-your-deadly-soul signs and try to annoy 
the entrance of the abortion clinic that's there) it's never been 
built on  -  just a large, empty gravel-spread now. He probably
owned those places I just mentioned ten times over anyway.
I always felt that that guy had it all over everyone else, because
of his 'insouciance', as they say. 'The kind of man who, above
all else, inspires pity,' to quote Jean-Phillippe Blondell, a writer.
One thing I never grew into was 'comfort'. I'm always 
uncomfortable among others, whether it's some silly dinner
or holiday meal with family and friends or any other sort of
social endeavor  -  and I've had to do my share of that. They 
just always freak me out  - I can't meet expectations, can 
never look right, get bored quickly, usually in about 14 seconds, 
and always just wish to head for the nearest typewriter or 
keyboard (typewriter?) and keep working. 'A slavish devotion 
to need.' I think perhaps I'll put that on my tombstone. 
Of course, actually, I won't; someone
else will have to do that for me.

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