Saturday, January 2, 2016

7650. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt.122)

(pt. 122)
The differences were legion. Besides place and time.
The very air itself held something different. In
Perth Amboy, for instance, there was still some
serious journalism going on. The Perth Amboy
Evening News had its own little building, shop
and distribution/truck center, right in the middle
of town. It was proud of itself and its place. The
political types who ran the area  -  all those names,
Yelenscis and Yablonsky and Otlowski, Jankowsky, 
Flynn, Patton, Fedor , Fedyak, and Wilson, a hundred
other old-line names, people from Edison and the 
Arsenal, they were still all in place and thy were
raking it in through redevlopment and re-zoning. It 
was a King's game, and a Kingmaker's game too. 
County offices, graft and corruption, shady pay-offs, 
zoning boards, bank boards, mortgage companies  - 
they all shielded each other, dodged each others's 
bullets as the same old names kept popping up.
In order to make money (for them), the downtown 
had to be killed off  -  everyone knew that. The money
was in the fields, where the weeds and trees were and
where the malls and strip-mall stores would soon be.
The little people downtown  -  abandoned. It was turned
over to the blacks and the indigents and then, soon,
the equally poor-but-aspiring Hispanics. 'Let them have
it all  - we've got the environs.' Millions upon millions
of dollars and government largesse went into the 
taking and the stealing  -  the contaminated lands of 
old Raritan Arsenel (one of the nations, later, largest
Superfund sites), became a billion-dollar office spread,
acre upon acre of land-use, turned over to shielded 
corporations into whose purses all these hands went.
That was only the beginning. Pert Amboy City was
left staggeringly dead : a few stories, a few tales left.
The once-vibrant 'Evening News', changing names a
few times, became but a rag  -  crossword puzzles, 
games, high school and sports coverage, crimes, 
births and deaths. No longer did 'journalism' 
challenge anybody. It was a game.
Meanwhile, over in Avenel  -  poised as it were between
both Rahway and Perth Amboy  -  not much was known 
about either operation. Mainly because the Avenel folk
were too settled in maintaining themselves, their new
places, and augmenting their desire for 'place' with what
they called their 'little town', which wasn't. When you
look, even today, on maps  -  new or old  -  which 
represent developments or tracts of housing just put 
in, the false and manufactured place names  -  things
like 'Emilyville' or 'Pleasanton'  -  they're labeled
'unincorporated subdivision', or 'incorported community'.
That sort of just means, 'made-up place that was swamp 
last year.' The Developer puts it all together, drops in 
a few roads, and, sooner or later, this new place gets
absorbed into the growing community around it. Like 
Avenel to Woodbridge, or Sewaren to Woodbridge,
whatever; it's all pretty much the same. Here we had
'Woodbridge, NJ', a place anyway since the 1640's,
slowly growing and absorbing everything around it.
Until it grew huge. Huge, but without much sense or
purpose. In some of the new places, actually at first
owned by corporation  -  you buy in and live under 
their rules. No special landscaping or trees  -  they do
all that. No junk or extra cars in your driveway, no
clutter, etc., etc. it's all controlled. Even to 'no kids' 
and to age limitations and all that. It's OK; you don't 
have to buy there if you don't like it, but what happens 
then is a pure and a total homogenization  -  everyone's
the mopey-same slowpoke, slowly winding down like
a snowman melting. At least Avenel was still raw and
pumping some nasty blood. Anger and hatred could 
be found. There weren't lynchings or hate-rallies, no,
but the sentiment wasn't too far off. What resulted was
the bottom-flow of those others to the now-decaying
parts of Perth Amboy and Rahway. On either side,
real dissent and real un-molding, festering just below.
Those poor immigrant types at least are (and always 
were) vibrant; working their asses off 16 hours a day,
multi-layers of families, together, working and living.
Piled into small apartments, hovels or old, decaying
rentals  -  deeds and mortgages all held by those
rapacious types mentioned who were draining the
inner-cities while they amassed bundles on the 
fringes. In Avenel  -  we kids had no way of knowing,
nor would we would have cared. I guess growth 
was always 'good'  -  a new store, more jobs for
mom and dad, whatever. The newspaper came each
evening  -  ours was delivered promptly  -  and it
was filled with the small-time surreal, the local 
nit-picking or just ordinary wire-services big news :
astronauts, movie-stars, deaths and killings, NY
shows, cowboy stuff, new car ads, and the rest.
On either side of us, people came and went  -  the
Rahway crowd, being a bit stronger and more
industrious, represented the grittier side of hanging
on, while Perth Amboy  -  once having lost its 
waterfront and most of its once-thriving dry-dock
industry and the ferry port which was once so busy,
languished, gave up, and just fell apart. There came a
certain point, after the malls and the rest, that 'normal'
suburban people  -  the Inman Avenue types, for sure  -
just no longer went there for trade, commerce, banking,
dining or dance. Weirdest thing was, by 1967, the
local County Draft Board still kept its Amboy-area
offices there (probably someone raking in a federal
bundle from that), and all these patch-headed sad 
and sorry registrants and inductees had to wade 
through there to get to their final destination, 
oops, I mean Vietnam.
Right on thorugh the 1970's to the 'oughts' as it was
called ('2000's), you couldn't even find a trace of Perth
Amboy's past. At least now there are plaques and
markers about things  -  colonial paths, Proprietary 
House stuff, trials and battles. They've even owned 
up now, with pictures and plaques along the waterfront,
to the fact of Perth Amboy once being the second largest
trade-slaving market on the east-coast, for the New York
Harbor slave trade crowd. Often, before reaching NYC,
the slave ships would come to the auction block and the
auction houses along the water front - now disguised as
a pleasantly shaded, but false, waterfront park  -  (In the 60's
it was called 'Sadowski Park', and we actually swam there,
my family and the neighboring Miranda family too)  -  for
the sorting and distribution of the slaves-for-auction by
body-type, build, brawn or sex and age too; sometimes 
they were bought by brokers, by lot, who then re-sold 
them at the NYCity slave-auction blocks. Families to be
broken up, sent south, or whatever. No one cared. Flesh
back then was 'sold' like land. Amboy prospered. There
are a few story-line plaques there, quickly fading now and
utterly un-read, to attest to this. I now figure how cool it
could have been, in fifth grade or whatever, to have been
given a 1957 bus-trip to neighboring Perth Amboy to see 
all this stuff, real-live History, as it were, the Truths :
the lingering ghosts at the Proprietary House, still a cool
place though it's pretty much sanitized and ruined now by
'Historic Commision' types, putting in ramps and storylines
by guides about quaint things that only really happened like
that in their commission fantasies. How cool would it have
been to be able to stand at seaside, staring out, while the
accounts and facts of the old slave-trading days were read
back to us. Alas, no. All that 'information' was owned by
others, the national keepers of the national myth-lie, and
only until recently brought out. Why is that? Partially
because of US. The same kids who were denied all that
information when young, they grew up, turned everything
at least half topsy-turvy, and, at least some, demanded the 
truth. Even the evasive, run and hide sort of truth given
by some succint waterfornt history plaque. But too bad.
Didn't happen that way. The US in USA just
never really had the power.

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