BELOW THE WATER LINE
So, you'd never have known it in Avenel, but
a long time ago Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring'
caused a riot. 'Just a piece of music,' you'd think
to say. Yes, I guess, but it represented a new
modernity, it represented upheaval and change
- stuff that people weren't ready for and simply
didn't understand. So they went primal and rioted.
Now, we think, 'over a piece of music?' Well,
whatever it may have been, that was the era of
the lightbulb and the cash register. New things too.
The whole world was changing. 'Artificial light! The
'Subconscious?! Someone has just proved that
we are all monsters!' You listen to it now, and it's
really difficult to fathom the tumult it caused.
Avenel, of course, would have had none of that, and
probably wouldn't even have learned of it until some
great time later. It was like expecting someone out
front of Murray and Martha's to suddenly be sitting
there reading Charles Baudelaire or T. S. Eliot. It was
always funny to me how Americans reacted to things
and got started with them - this entire classical music
thing being a good instance. It took Walt Disney, of
all people, to infuse Stowkowski, classical music and
Mickey Mouse as a unit to bring people to even see
classical music; and, yes, they had to 'see' it, with
cartoon-idiot characters, before they'd accept it.
I remember going to see it in that cinema that used
to be in the shopping plaza of what's now Shop Rite.
The movie house has become some big-deal bar,
undergoing renovations now too, and an auto
parts place. Everything original is now gone. In
1969, when that movie theater first opened, or
whenever it was, we were doing the initial printing
at NJ Appellate Printing, and the movie-house
manager, some guy who'd been transplanted in
from Missouri to run the new cinema, he gave us -
in order to drum up business and fill the place up, -
wads for free tickets to pass around. I handed out
bunches of them all along Inman Avenue, friends and
neighbors. As I recall, the opening feature was Dr.
Zhivago, a big hit at the time. I remember nearly
everyone going to see it, basically on my free ticket.
It was cool. My parents went with Walter and Betty
Fehring, neighbors a few houses away. They all had
a great time, and thought I was great for giving the
tickets to them. Movies back then were still just
one large movie room and screen - only later did
they start putting up walls and smaller screens and
making what were called 'multiplexes' of them. The
movie house lasted there a long-enough time, like
thirty years maybe; and this little, chubby guy from
Missouri eventually got moved on to someplace else.
His specific job was moving around to new theaters
and sitting in for 6 or 8 months while it opened and
got established. Walter Reade Cinemas, I think it was.
Then he would get transferred to wherever the next
newest opening was. Cool job, I guess, but it must
have been hell on a family, if he had one. 'Hi. That's
my dad, Mr. Rootless.'
The only thing I remember about that movie was a few
cool scenes with horses in the Russian snow, jumping
out of rail cars and things with soldiers on their backs.
The same scene pretty much happened twenty years later
too, in a movie called 'Reds', about the Russian Revolution
and stuff. Similar anyway, unless I'm just mixing them up.
It was always hard to figure out 'culture' in Avenel. There
really wasn't any. I have no clue as to how many people
held season memberships or passes to the opera or the
ballet, or memberships to museums and stuff, but I'd bet,
if any, it was only a few. You need to remember, this
really was a place where you could get on a train at the
local station, and be whisked to NYC in about as much
time as it takes to sit in a diner and order and eat. There
was really no excuse, if one cared to, to partake of those
opportunities - but it was far enough afield, as a place,
to be, at the same time, considered distant and rural
enough so that you didn't need to be concerned with
urban stuff and all that citified culture crap. Distant.
Far-off. Maybe they tried teaching that stuff in school,
but it never took. Even the supposed best of the best,
like Mrs. Oettle (pronounced 'Ooot-Lee'), someone who
prided herself on high culture and high 'learning', she
wound up, for cultural experiences, to just take her
fool class-kids to movies in NY, like 'Morgan', and
'Georgie Girl' - which weren't really culture at all.
Just more mainstream class culture pop crap that
was just as soon made and seen and forgotten. No
theoretical discussion or cultural context given; just
the wildly-growing idea of hip-fun. Lightweight
silliness. I never went, nor could I have cared less
for what they were peddling. My 'culture' was
elsewhere, and I had a fine seat at the library to boot.
Made no difference to me what Valerie Andrews or
Bonnie Klein or Jeff Gutman or any of those wedgies
were up to. I was up to me.
The lines and the connections were always sort of
crooked and garbled concerning culture. It was maybe
spoken of but never acted upon. The biggest deal, as I
mentioned way earlier in chapters before this, was the
minstrel show portrayals. What was interesting about
them to me was the connection I was able to make,
actually and real, between, say, them and people like
Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain. The Civil War
and race relations. Whatever it may have meant, and
the vitality that went with it, could still be found between
the pages and the unspoken lines and words of people
I'd pass in the street. No one in Avenel ever said, as it
were, a 'real' word about anything. It was all surface
frosting and fluff; like a light, puffy bedding with which
everyone stayed comfortable. That wasn't good enough
for me, and it wasn't going to be. I sought authenticity;
I sought the branching out and the real sourcing of things
from within, and I somehow knew Avenel wasn't going to
supply that for me. The frame was OK, but the painting
it went around just wasn't up to snuff. There were a million
ways out, and I had to decide which was for me. The poles
of choice were far apart - I considered the suicide of
joining the Army - just throwing all meaning aside and
letting myself do what I was told and get shot-up dead
as if on purpose, without any care or without any meaning.
I might have done it if I didn't so detest the enforced
confinement of being with other people, constantly,
and then of following the foul, chicken-shit orders and
routines of military life. I thought of 'college' by the books,
but I had no money, nor the energy to beg and borrow so
as to just piss it all away in rooms full of lies and
deceit and assumptions. And, again, other people. I
decided to just chuck it all at the first opportunity, follow
my star, and take to the streets of NYC, without even a
real name to go by. By this time, I did have a girlfriend,
was content with all that, had sex whenever she and I
decided - so all that crazy tension and sexual anxiety
was gone. That was left to other people, kids going crazy
on street-corners or jerking off until near-death. I had a
clear head already, at age 17, from that internal tension
being all gone - you'd be surprised what that does.
Half the wars of peacetime, and half the peace of
wartime, have to do with sex.