Wednesday, December 9, 2015

7967. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 98)

(pt. 98)
Sometimes it seems to me I spent half my life dumb,
and the other half stupefied. And none of it by choice. 
It was the way of things, so to speak -   nothing I could
do one way or the other. School had always seemed 
like an end-game to me. I knew what it was about, but
wasn't really affected by it at all. Sitting in Assembly,
singing all these weird old slave songs and plantation
ditties, with absolutely no explanation as to what in the
world we were singing. Old Black Joe? Swing Low Sweet
Chariot? On Moonlight Bay? Glory, Glory Hallelujah,
His Truth Is Marching On?  Excuse me but, have I missed
something? Was there a reason for the exploitation of
others and the pining of all these people? Instead we
were supposed to go home and get by watching I Love
Lucy and the stupid Three Stooges? I often wondered,
did anyone even think at all? School 4 each Spring
would hold some ersatz Spring Book Fair or something:
rows and rows of trinkets and junk for sale  -  jacks, balls,
yo-yo's, mirrors, pencils, pencil cases, and books. The
problem was, adults kept intruding. I knew a girl that
was not allowed, in Fourth Grade, to purchase a cheap
paperback copy of Huckleberry Finn, because it was
'too old for her.' Lucky they had arithmetic classes at
least  -  so we could learn how 2 plus 2 never adds up to
anything at all. They'd pack the stupid school to the rafters
on Saturday mornings  -  10 cent movies, things like
Black Beauty and Cinderella and Pinocchio and National
Velvet and Bambi. Kid's fodder, Pablum for the brats.
I never really went, or went once or twice but  -  finding 
out there was no possible way I'd ever enjoy myself  -  
I kept the dime and did something else. There were
tough kids everywhere, you know, I could hang with
them. Me and Jeffrey Cecil  hanging out big time on 
the tall stone stairway, sentinel-like, outside the school
instead of inside. I never made much sense out of that
school except for the cool, shiny-painted concrete basement
with those two rooms where we'd get to kill each other with
dodge balls and stuff. Then they'd rise up and try to throw
square-dancing at us. You'd even have to dance now and 
then with boys. I remember dancing with John Masterley 
more than a few times. Sweaty-handed John. Seemed like 
anyway, and he always had this weird perfumy scent to that 
sweat, like he washed and soaped and cleaned real thorough. 
He must have cringed thinking he had to dance with me  - 
sandpaper razor callus hands Gar. It was better anyway 
then dancing with some of those girls. No siree bob, I'd take 
my chances with old John. Much preferred the volleyball.
Which is the same word, 'volley', that's used to designate a
round of combat-fire in battle; which this about was. Odd.
Me and Theresa Knox in fifth or sixth grade, I forget, we 
were somehow given over to cleaning the erasers as our 
detail. At the end of each afternoon, or maybe every other, 
me and Teutonic Theresa would take all the erasers down to 
the basement area, at the end where there was a back door 
leading to the little paved play-area. Right at that doorway 
there was a freshly-installed, new and high-falutin' electric 
eraser-cleaning machine. You'd turn it on, and these two 
furry spin-wheels would churn furiously while you lightly 
pressed the erasers down on them. White chalk powder
flying everywhere -   even though there was like a vacuum 
built in that was supposed to suck it all up. Not so. Almost 
immediately Theresa declared that was the last time we'd 
try that spinning machine, danke, (she said that like at the 
end of every fifth sentence. It meant 'thanks' in her 
German/Teutonic tongue. It kind of really meant, 'shut up, 
thank you, I'm in charge, we'll do it this way from now on.') 
So. because of 'Theresa Edict #1', which I wasn't about to 
buck, we'd (surreptitiously and on the sly almost) take 
the erasers outside, through that little doorway, and  -  in
the finest old fashion  -  furiously pound the erasers on the 
side of the brick building to beat them clean. It worked, 
it really did. But you had to, just as well, almost pray for 
rain that very night because there'd be a million white 
chalk-eraser smoosh marks all over the side of the building 
at, oddly enough, our height. Danke. Theresa was cool.
The school lawn at School 4 used to be a good field for some 
of our little football games  -  neighborhood kids, local boys, 
farm-team  stuff. Nothing to do with the older-boy things we 
did on the other fields with  the killer-Squillace Twins and 
their violent football means of overthrowing any comity or 
good-will between boys. This was easy and soft football. 
The full length of School 4, on Avenel Street. There used 
to be a nice array of big old oak trees  -  but nothing that 
ever got in our way  -  and a flagpole. A steel, solid, 70-ft 
high flagpole, the kind you hear the rope slapping in the
wind on. It was over by the library end towards the school 
building and the playground. Occasionally a menace. One 
time, in fact, my friend Frankie Strohlein (he's dead now 
too  -  seems like way too much of that going down) he 
caught a long pass from the other end of the field and, 
determined to spring towards the deserved goal, turned 
around after making the catch, running full-throttle and 
took about two steps before smashing at about 60 miles
an hour, on the run, with his forehead right into that pole  
-  which he'd evidently forgotten about or took no heed of. 
There was a nasty thud, almost like a tree snapping in a 
storm, and he was down. Out cold. That's C-O-L-D.  
We'd been (supposedly) taught a lot in that school  -  like 
who Old Black Joe was, and whatever Santa Lucia was about, 
(OK, just kidding), but we'd never been taught first aid, nor
especially the kind of first aid that could revive a dying-kid-
football-playing-concussion-case with a bump in the middle of
of his forehead the size of a small loaf of Italian Roll. Short of
burying him under Mr. Roloff's portable, or calling the local
morgue (no cell phones back then, thankfully), we decided to
just shake his ass, I mean rattle and pummel his prone body
until he awoke from his death-stupor. It worked; and fortunately
too, for our own personal rap sheets and criminal histories.
One thing about 12 year olds, at least in 1961 it seemed: We
were always finding ways to sneak a smoke. I mean cigarettes; 
which was all that existed in our world. 'Pot' was something
your Dad's old car went to when it was worn out  - 'this car's
gone to pot.' Everyone was always stealing a cigarette or three
from somewhere  -  the mother's pack, the pack their father
left on the back steps, their aunt's Kents (that was me), when 
she'd leave them around  when visiting. There were these little
clutches of kids -  under outside stairways, behind the school, 
in the woods, always managing to smoke. I mean, we weren't 
like existentialists or anything, fighting over concepts of Dread 
and Fate and Free Will or Malicious Intent. None of that. Nor 
did we discuss Camus or Sartre and the Algerian War. We 
just smoked to pass the time, and see what it was like  -  the 
smoking, not the time. We'd argue about baseball or if Willie 
Mays was any good as a black ballplayer alone, or just better 
than white guys...or something like that. We'd argue about 
girls, and who did it and who didn't, what it looked like, 
how it worked. All kinds of shit. Boyhood rubbish. But 
beautiful rubbish too. Our cigarette-in-hand poses were
perfect. Our cool-headedness about things was perfect. If
a girl actually did walk by, we'd have gagged, but it would
have  -  at the least  -  been a perfectly suave, smoker's gag.
Up and down our block, Inman Avenue, and the others too, 
there was a period of time when it seemed most everyone 
was getting backyard pools. Not the in-ground built-in and
permanent things -  those were for the really well-off, but
the three or four foot high metal and plastic liner type
above-ground pools that came with their own little ladders
to climb in, filter units, a deep section, or deeper anyway, 
in the center, and all that. Some had decks around them, 
others not. It was a real rash of getting for awhile. One thing
about the pools at least, you'd get to see all the girls in their 
bathing suits. Big-time stuff for 11-year old boys. I remember
one time in my backyard  -  one of those afternoon clutches of
kids and mothers, swimming, a few of the mothers remarking
on how sweet and pretty Barbara Fehring looked in her bathing 
suit. Of course, my ears perked right up. Then I heard her 
Aunt Betty say 'she still has a lot of baby fat on her.' I couldn't
quite understand that one, never having looked at her as fat,
or chubby, even. I learned later, of course, it was more about
'girl development stuff,' and shapeliness and curves and all 
that - stuff you learn about only later, I guess. OK by me.
Those who didn't get a pool, most often had memberships 
(and enough money) to go elsewhere  -  places like Holiday
Lake in Edison (now an industrial park) or  -  like the 
Yacullos across the street  -  a season sticker-pass for 
Lavallette. That was ultra-suave  -  they'd have these little
colored-pass tickets, a different color for each year, pasted
on the rear side window, for ID and beach-parking entry.
It was real status  - especially leaving them on year after
year so that, eventually, your car would show your status
and wealth by the amount of stickers. Except, one problem
I always thought about, by the time you showed, say, six or
seven of them in  a window, it just meant that your car was
an aged piece of junk and your crummy status didn't allow
you to buy a new car. Which, of course, became a paradox.
A contradiction in which the effort defeated the effect, or the
other way around. That's how I saw it anyway. I never knew
how they thought about it, or why it wouldn't occur to them 
a really well-off person would just buy a new car each year to
go with the ONE new sticker and be done with it. Life's
a real jag sometimes, a conundrum without end, a song sung
in an assembly without any reason at all.
That basement back in  School #4, it also had like one or
maybe two classrooms down there. I had something in there,
can't recall. A little dingier and more dreary than the rest. If you 
looked out the windows it was like almost half underground  -  or 
not really 'above' ground anyway. It made for a sour atmosphere
with a damp, muggy, sour smell too. There was a rest-room there
too, one for boys and one for girls. Funny when I think of it now, 
but as a fifth-grader or whatever it was, a boy, in the restrooms
we'd just stand in front of the urinals and pee. Funny too, I guess,
how boys just adjust immediately, roll with it, think nothing of
it. Just point to the urinal and have a go. I remember one time, 
one season, the big bathroom joke (I must have heard it five
times, and never knew the origination), which seemed to turn up 
every time five or six boys were down there, was 'What did Hitler
say when his wife told him she was having a baby?' The answer
was 'Hotsi-Totsi, a new born Nazi!' Go figure that one.

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