BELOW THE WATER LINE
Avenel always had its fringe : I can remember a few
drunk fellows who'd be around. Nothing with trouble,
just moving about. These were also the years when
you'd still see the remnants of polio victims, oddly
enough. Kids from school earlier, entering their
twenties, growing broader and older but still
traipsing Avenel Street with their leg equipment
and crutches - the kind that connected at the wrist,
metal - permanent disability crutches. These
people had survived, done their schooling, ridden
their little buses, and were always happy to smile
or wave. It was interesting - and now I don't know
a one of them, where they are or how they ended up.
Things were different. School had rooms for those
with twisted limbs, withered hands and legs, those
victims of thalidomide too : small stumps for arms,
etc. Things like that. Thalidomide had been some
sort of British fertility drug which had somehow
infiltrated the market and ruined and destroyed
any number of lives, These people were still about.
It's pretty easy to say that, when young, you're
just unconscious, unaware. But it's not really true. I
admit that a lot of things happened that I didn't even
know about - woods were gone, old trails finished
and turned to macadam roads with new homes. Things
were moved about, altered. I (we) didn't always know.
Too busy growing up, I guess. The deformed kids,
we'd see them in school, so we knew about all that;
their little school buses, special classes and walks.
But the other things - like all those woods behind
Avenel Park, all that stuff, it all just disappeared and
one by one all our childhood stuff was gone - turned
into rows of apartments filled with Merck chemists
from India. Thar was the very first exposure to real
outsiders, for me anyway. You may remember, in my
early train-wreck chapter, I talked about the Filipino
male nurse I had turning my bed each day and causing
pain. I disliked him. It was easy to dislike him. But I
never took it to the next level, of just hating foreigners.
I figured any one of my Italian forebears could have
been like him - or at least like him in a prison ward.
(That's a personal joke). Anyway, Avenel Park was
trimmed down to a lot of nothing, and it was suddenly
ringed by new things. Once when we used to play
baseball there, at the back baseball field, the possibilities
were endless. A home run really could go forever.
Now it too had limits.
One time stands out in memory - actually, two different
episodes, but I'll start with one. It was a Saturday trek that
a small group of us Inman Avenue kids took. I can pretty
fairly put down the names, I think, as I recall : Donald and
Richard Florio, Ray Szemborski, Barry Wynne, and Fred
Kellish. I remember being armed with like pen knives or
something - it was an 'archeological; trek, on our part,
along the freight tracks into Woodbridge proper - a crazy
trek for us, venturing out. There was just something about
it - a delightful jaunt, on foot, by a crazy bunch of
Avenel kids. We had no idea what we'd find, what was
there, or even if we'd reach Woodbridge. I can't remember
if we did. Somewhere along the way, to our astonishment,
we came across a pile of discarded, soft and hard rubber,
doll forms; cast-offs, maybe, as if from a doll factory
or something. About 8 or 10 inches each, in size. They
were all stuffed in a ditch which ran along the side of
the tracks - dismembered, unfinished, small-sized
dolls-to-be. Some missing arms, others legs, heads,
showing just the sockets for things, Fleshy. Pliable.
Very strange, and very weird. It stopped us dead.
I sort of remember Donald and I, at least, taking a
few specimens home with us. That's really all I
recall - I can't remember a 'reason' specific for
the trip, or an ending to it, or if we just walked,
or ate. Oddball, kid-stuff. But memorable, and
wild and untended. Like Avenel. Like all
things always should be.
Again, like Paradise.