Saturday, January 23, 2016

7720. BELOW THE WATER LINE, (pt. 140)

(pt. 140)
While still in the seminary, I had another
friend, John Guerassio. He was from Brooklyn.
A perfectly great kid, we two hit it off almost
immediately. Trouble with John was, he was too
cute  -  I mean like in a guy sort of way. Dimples 
and a grimace, wise-cracks all the time, a certain 
'Brooklyn'  Hell-be-damned sarcasm about everything.
Always in funny situations; liked musicals and ballet,
hated home life, and he used to say that the only reason
he was at Blackwood was to get away from home. I
knew, of course, exactly what he meant  -  we were
kindred spirits, in  a way, and he was the only person,
I mean the only, whom I ever saw with no visitors, no
home contact, no family-warmth evidences ever. He
was comical, some. Once there were a few joke-type
photographs taken, for a yearbook, to show how happy
and light and wonderful life at Mother of the Savior 
was. John was photographed, at an ironing board, 
ironing a shirt (something I don't think anyone actually 
did, though maybe), with a can of Right Guard next to 
him on the board, and the caption, underneath his 
engaging and thoughtfully grimacing face, was 'Spray 
starch? Right Guard? What?'  -  meaning he didn't 
realize the difference; deodorant (Right Guard, of 
the time) and spray starch. Funny you think? Once
or twice I thought of asking John to take the ride
home with me, hang a few days, and see what would 
up for a Brooklyn boy in Avenel, but I never did. With
John, most things were spectacle and play  -  other guys 
would be out on the field, me included, doing something;
John (and sometimes with me too) would be in the music
room on the ground floor, right hand side of one of the dorms,
listening to 33's of Broadway cast albums,; 'My Fair Lady'
and all the rest of the nearly current 1960's plays.
John's thing was theater, though he did very little 
with our own drama troupe. I think he had a role in
one or two of the Shakespeare plays we'd done, and I
know, too, that he was Caiphas (the High Priest) in 
my year's Passion Play. He was top tier, but he never
really shined. After I left, I don't know how much
longer John stayed around (everything was falling
apart by that time, or soon after), but he was the one
who told me about 'goils' being there the next year.
John used to make fun of Rudolph Nureyev, the
Soviet ballet star who'd defected to NYC-America.
I think , anyway. He'd call him 'Fruity Rudy'. It was
funny, but he actually did know about the guy, and
appreciated him too. John was the only other guy who
took this acting experience from the seminary and
actually, seriously pursued it. A few years later,
after he was established, I'd visit him on 3rd street,
in Brooklyn, where he had a pretty nice place. He'd 
buy fresh mozzarella, some perfect Italian bakery 
bread, olive oil, olives, and more, and we'd sit around
talking. He'd gotten a small but good off-Broadway
acting career going, at the Lion Theater Group on
W42nd street's Theater Row. His biggest note to 
fame, with a nice write-up in the NYTimes and more,
was 'K', a play about and around the Kafka character
he nicely inhabited. He wrote another piece, and played
in it too, entitled 'Sananda Sez', which I did not view or
attend so, not exactly sure how to summarize it, I'd say
it was about some New Age'y seer stuff. Interesting. John
also had a nice role in a Merchant-Ivory film entitled
'Jane Austen in New York.' I saw it in Soho one time.
It was nicely atmospheric, but a bit confusing for me.
I guess he did that while he lived for a while in Los
Angeles  -  he'd send me postcards during this time,
and he'd regale me with tales of his job as the overnight
attendant in a morgue, or funeral room of some sort.
He was also a yearly favorite, each Summer, in New
Hampshire, of the Peterboro Players, a theater troupe
that perfomed 5 or 6 well-attended and well-regarded
productions a year, for the Summer crowd. He was big. One
time, back in NY, we stopped, along that same street, and 
grabbed a quick coffee and lunch at a table and John
got me in stitches, unwittingly on his part, by making
a big scene over the fact that they had Sweet 'n Low
on the tables and he only used NutraSweet, which
they didn't have. He got pretty upset over that and began
berating a table-service person over it. I was cracking
up over the intensity of a preference for one artificial
sweetener over another. It seemed perfect for a comedy
skit, which in fact it almost was. Especially with this, 
tough, street-side old broad of a guy losing it over that.
I can still laugh at that scene -  all this rumbling going on
inside, while outside our windows, in the hot noon-day
heat, thousands of people were milling and passing around,
all hot and crowded, and the local Lincoln Tunnel streets
of entry were clogged and toasted and noisy and jammed.
It was a perfect (perfectly bad, that is) New York City
street-scene as background for this NYCity actor person
losing his charm over lack of a sweetener.
Some 20 years ago, John moved completely to London, 
and has been there since, making good English money doing
America, and Brooklyn, accented voiceovers for countless
commercials, and maintaining an active theater career as
well. In fact, in England, unknown by face, of course he is
the 'voice' of the Einstein character, dressed up and made up
for 'Einstein Bread' a Wonder-Bread type brand over there.
Funny how things go. The small world turns, we see it as big,
or the big world turns and we see it as small  -  either way,
our own fated characters always do seem to come out.
Whenever I collect myself enough to think over my life,
I always place my locus as Avenel, nowhere else. It's said
you can't go home again, maybe not. It's said you can't
cross the same stream twice, maybe so. But I'd dispute 
all that  -  water churning or not. The fixture of early life
is the lens by which, or through which, or with which, we
view the remainder of our lives. Bayonne, Irvington,
Brielle or Lanky Swallow Island, it's always the same. I
may say one thing, but I envision it as something else, 
something you'd not see unless you too had originated 
it out of my own Bayonne and Avenel filterings. It's 
the same everywhere. And I'd even bet that John's 
London filterings all come out of Brooklyn, no 
matter what. I always wonder, anyway, how much 
of what we become is authentic and how much is
derivative? It's very difficult then, to decide 
I could never talk to anyone about things like this, in
this manner. Philosophy and musings had no place
in this life. Not in Avenel, where I was once more,
nor in the seminary which I'd just left, where everything,
no matter how arcane or foreign, was given no validity
unless it could be brought back and chained into the realm
of Christian pure belief, not even the tainted Presbyterian
versions. It made me crazy to think how people lived
like this, devoid of any real fabric of reasoning or any
consideration for alternate versions of reality. All those
lines of saints and sinners, martyrs and perfect beings,
all that grace and salvation stuff, you didn't really find 
that in Philosophy. Both of the were about their own
Dogma. I found Art and Writing to be the only things
which operated and remained outside of that bad halo  -
I was able to function as freely as I wanted in that realm. 
Not just a survivor, I became a Creator, and that was
all and alone what I could understand.
After this point, the best part of Avenel for me, ever, 
was the Woodbridge Library, on Rahway Avenue  -  
just after the golf driving range, in fact, very close to 
where I'd been creamed by the train  -  there had been
a large hardware store there, called 'Home Center'. It
fell back, and went out of business and the township
took it over for the library. It was marvelous, simple
and without pretense. A new, bureaucratized and formal
library building was built by 1972, in a completely
different location over by the high school, but for the 
8 or so years on that this was in place, it was great. I
used it heavily through all of '66. It became my home
away from home, nearly every night, or five nights at 
least. It was a brisk, 20 minute walk, maybe. I didn't
really use it to take out books or as a lending library, 
more to me it was just a place  -  long tables, quiet, I 
could write, sit there with all sorts of books and things
out in front of me, and be left alone. There were one or 
two pesky lady librarians who'd always bother me about
something, but it was completely manageable. I used to 
think they were ancient old ladies frittering away their
time in a library job, but I realize now they were probably 
in their 40's tops. Mostly Jewish ladies, oddly. Marge Abel.
Lil Gutman. And others. There was one, like the rest, always
ready with advise or pointers about something. Catching
my interest in painting, she'd always come over and begin
talking about something painting-related. It was OK. She was
a hobby-painter of sorts -  flowers and faces and things. The
usual nice kind of library-exhibit art you see, all gentle and
proper. I'll never forget her nugget of advice  -  she said,
'always paint on newspaper, it makes a great background 
for your work and colors, and adds a depth and an interest to
it.' Craziest dumb tip ever, but what she meant was that I 
should NOT, as most painters did, paint on canvas plain;
rather I should first put down with glue or transfer, a piece
or pieces of newspaper  -  printed news sheets. And then,
once that was adhered, paint on that, not bare canvas. That
way there was never any blank or raw canvas showing, and
it gave you a tonal background, an active gray, even if you
didn't paint it.  Well, that was her tip.
I'd sit there for hours, sometimes in gloom, sometimes in
happiness  -  reading plays, writing notes and verses or 
paragraphs of my own, gleaning information, checking 
out newspapers and magazines, learning of all sorts of things :
Mishima and Japanese fiction, etc. (and the he killed himself),
Kafka, Stendahl, French Existential writings, Heidegger,
eastern religions  -  all and every sort of things that caught
my fashion. It was like living in a room filled with books
and information, for free. And all I had to do was walk, 
get there, and stay  -  and amazingly it was open until 
10pm. Right across the street was a tiny little coffee shop;
actually this was before today's ubiquitous coffee shops, 
and it was more just like a fountain service counter, with
coffee, and donuts and all that stuff. 1960's version of what
today would be a lame Starbucks. It's a Chinese Restaurant 
these days, has been for a long time. The coffee was horrid,
and pretty indistinguishable from any other dark liquid.
So anyway, I was really pretty much set. It smelled like 
paper, people actually pretty much read and studied. There
was none of the non-library essentials that libraries have
now taken up  -  videos, study guides, computers, 
terminals, link-ups and the rest. The world was paper, and
only paper was the world. Ideas. Thought. If you were really
in earnest, you could truly get stuff done. And learn too. 
It's about the only good use of taxpayer dollars 
I've ever really seen.

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