Saturday, January 16, 2016

7686. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt.133)

(pt. 133) section 7
'seminary days'
Avenel has always had its sports things   -  
we'd have basketball courts down by Avenel
Park, baseball most all the time at any number
of possible places, and football for all seasons on
any of a few varied lawns and green-spaces, and 
streets. Back then, soccer was unheard of, rugby
and cricket were foreign languages. Now they're both
fairly common, around these parts anyway. A large
portion of our free days and time was spent in aimless 
sports  - shooting baskets, to no effect, or swatting
baseballs anywhere. I remember, in 1957 (actually
it would have been about a month before I got
creamed by that train) shooting hoops at the back
of the portables, when there used to be a basketball
stanchion section out there in the little woods behind
the church, seeing my father's car riding up Inman 
Avenue, and  -  upon seeing it  -  dropping everything 
and running home. I knew he'd gone to Perth Amboy
Hospital to pick up my mother, and that meant my
new baby sister, Andrea, was in that car and coming 
home too. First looks. Couldn't wait. The local and 
little sports were part of everyday life, like air. 
The seminary, too, had an entire 'sports' subtext. Except
that I didn't know it then. It was meant to keep boys 
busy, out of the idle troubles that free time could bring  
-  mostly too they were fears of a sexual nature. Pubescent 
boys, and their idle ways. We were kept busy, outdoor 
sports, running, crummy baseball games, tennis was 
pretty big too. The stupid showers and locker rooms 
were always busy with after-game showers, groomings, 
all that dumb and preening stuff I never really cared 
about. Some kids had their little satchels of soap and 
colognes and hair gook and even perfumes; they were 
big. 'Canoe', 'English Leather', all these dumb, competing 
brands. Really goofy to figure for guys, but it went that 
way. As I said, I much preferred the coffee-gopher breath 
of the likes of Mike Bartholomew and the other guys 
who actually meant something. Not the fluffcakes.
Right by the gym and the showers  -  and the outdoor 
exits and entrances too all the outside playing fields, 
there was a small outpost, an enclave, of vending 
machines  -  candy, chips, coffee, ice cream. Twenty-five 
cents, or something close. There were always kids hanging 
around there  -  you could tell : the fat kids, like Peter 
Flaherty, always guzzling an ice cream sandwich; 
other guys with the M&M's or potato chips. Black
Crows, Jujubees. A veritable smorgasbord of sugar-junk. 
You had to pass all that in order to get outside. There were 
like three baseball fields, open grass areas, a running track, 
tennis courts, pretty much all in one area. Nice. I was never 
tall, at all, nor agile or terribly swift or strong (yes, there 
were also weightlifting bars and things). Just a regular 
chump kid. But there was one thing I got hooked on, 
quick and early, and it was liberating. I'd never done it 
before  -  pretty much had no contact with it ever. 
Pole-vaulting. They had all the equipment, for use. 
The grass pole-vaulting area was tended to, marked out, 
the landing area was sand and straw, the ground had 
the little indent things in place for the pole. You'd select 
the pole, fiberglass, by the right length and weight for 
you, select the 'pliability and bend' you'd want  -  stiffer 
poles, or not  -  and do your running start  -  maybe 100 
feet, up to speed. Plunk the pole down into the little 
slotted indent thing in the ground while still on the run. 
The extended pole, with you on its end, would flex and 
wobble, take your weight, bend, and then recuperate.
The greatest feeling in the world! The pole would catch 
itself and begin slapping itself back into straight extension, 
with YOU on the end, hanging on dearly, as it came back 
to its straightness, by which time you were high above the 
bar, straight up over. At about 3/4 extension, or so, you 
let go and momentum would fling you up, up and over 
the bar, set below you to whatever height you'd selected. 
12 feet. 20 feet, whatever. I can't exactly recall. In a 
self-propelled free-float over the wild air you'd be flung 
freely skyward  -  the rest of the mad world rushing 
by you, the swish of air, glimpse of trees and sideways 
landscapes. Then, in a fierce, downward trajectory, you
hit for landing; smashing down onto the combination of
sand and hay. A hard hit, but always manageable and 
padded. The greatest feeling in the world. I'd do that 
over and over on the right days, raising the height up 
a few inches each time. Until I'd just keep taking the 
bar down with me, having reached my own limitation. 
Nothing like that in the world -  realizing and knowing 
the limit. Mike Bartholomew was, for instance, a six-footer, 
to my 12-year old 5'8". The key, of course, was in the 
advantage of height, leg length, stride, all that. The 
odds remained against me always, but I never cared.
We'd never had pole-vaulting in Avenel, anywhere. 
High-sport to us was, maybe, dodge ball. This was all 
new. Outdoor and prepared sport. I can remember, at 
the seminary, on the chilliest March days  - still blustery, 
still Wintry, being out there setting up for softball or 
even hardball. The weather never stopped us from using 
the hours given to make sport, make play. The three 
or four tennis courts, at first awkward and effete-seeming, 
soon became old hat as well. We didn't play with the 
fussiness of tennis whites, and sneakers and socks and 
all that  -  just whatever junk clothes we'd find to wear 
for any other sport, they'd do as well on the tennis court. 
In 1962 tennis hadn't reached its large and popular heights 
of favor. That was yet a few years off, a decade maybe. 
Rod Laver and all those guys. For us it was just small-sport. 
And anyway, the world hadn't yet turned everything into 
big business and merchandising, so that, now, if you're 
into  tennis or checkers or whatever, there are all the 
proper things for that sport -  what to wear, how to 
wear it. What brand to buy, and all that dumb status 
stuff. We didn't care, and it didn't exist anyway. It was
all about humility more than anything. When you're 
simple, you're humble, as are all your wants and needs.
The world is much better that way.
Another thing that kept me awkward, and irked, was 
money. Each of us had to keep a 'bank'. It was supposed 
to be a small enough, I guess, operative bank account at the 
little office-window bank thing the seminary kept. The place even
had its own priest present, who was the official seminary 'banker'
for all of us.  The only real use we had for it I guess, were the times
of year when we had to buy coursebooks  -  we'd turn in the old ones
if we wanted, get some money or credit, and but the new. Latin
primers, History, English, Composition, Mathematics and Biology 
stuff, a few texts to read, fiction, and all those ambitiously and
supposedly inspirational things  -  Jude the Obscure, A Man For
All Seasons, Becket, stuff like that. Probably 200 or 300 dollars
yearly, back then. This rest was, I guess pocket change, vending 
machine money, and whatever. It was always nerve-wracking for 
me. Other than the needed books, I almost never, in fact never, 
recall any bank use  -  certainly no deposits. Just never had it, maybe
12 or 20  dollars, just left there. I didn't come from that kind of family.
Other kids  -  we had a lot of rich-types kids from Spring Lake, and
places like that  - I mentioned  -  they'd have active, flush accounts,
numbers to brag about. Oh well. Laundry Service  -  I forgot that  -  yes,
that was a flowing and current expense, I forget, may 7 or 10 dollars 
a week, if you let it be. For a while, as a Freshmen too, I was on the
laundry committee   --   piles of white laundry backs, with stenciled
names on them, going out  -  kids' dirty clothes, like on Monday,
and coming back in cleaned on, say, Thursday. The truck would pull 
up to the back door, we'd load or unload, and it would all get put
into the distribution area by a stairwell. Each kid was responsible,
in all ways, for his own laundry load and needs.  Every so often  
there was a crisis moment when someone would start wailing his
 shirt was missing, or a favorite this or that didn't come back or 
whatever. But mostly it was just routine stuff, and it always 
worked. The one dormitory building was three floors high. 
I can remember the fun, occasionally, when, after doing all 
this lugging and heaving of the laundry bags, full, at the 
very bottom of the stairwell, on the ground floor, one or two 
of us audacious kids would challenge or announce a leap off 
the third floor landing, all the way, straight down the open 
center of the twisting stairways, onto the soft pile below, landing 
with a crash. Like an opposite pole vault  -  already being up there,
all it needed was free-fall. In case of clonking a head, or breaking a 
bone, or some possible serious damage, I guess it would have always 
been good, for  a risk-case like me, to have a big bank account for 
emergencies.  Oh well,  never happened.

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