Monday, February 29, 2016


Willow tree, and birch. Everything together.
The moonlight calls the whippoorwill back;
but I hear neither. I am blind to this life and
deaf to those things. It is midnight before the
four horsemen arrive. I think that I must find
a mate, and get out of here alive.
A cold man is still allowed a warm dream?
Or is that no longer right? I walk the crested
hills of this old, sorry place, just thinking back 
on the things I might have done. Didn't do, 
but would again. I once spent thirty dollars
on a send-away offer for tools. And thought
I was a millionaire by doing so. What a
fool's errand I entered.
So many years later, I'm still here and that
card remains yet in my hand. I trowel on the
grease in the separate hanging of dreams.
Those with whom I've spoken today, they
really didn't hold my interest, but I stayed.
The sales guy from the nursery, always
looking about. The girl with the hardtack
hands who carried bales. The guy who had
just shaved off a very long beard, going on
and on about his skin, and how it felt.
I chose to reply to nothing, just stay instead
and listen. No one knows what I'm about and,
like me in theirs, they're just extras in my play.


Let us eat then, you and I.
But not that, please. They
have a will to live, and
they feel the breeze.


And Oregon too.  That's the simple 
summation the judge-master gave 
just before leaving town. I was
studying books when I heard
him on TV. No picture, just
sound. All Oregon bound.

7868. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 178)

(pt. 178)
Sometimes I get to think that we all
are nothing more than the sum totals
of our experiences, on an almost
'automatic-like' scale. It may very
well be that I'm wrong, but the feeling
I get is that there's a certain 'vaster'
preponderance of our make-ups that
comes up from those moments. All
the learning and reasoning we later
acquire doesn't change it much. When
I was young, my aunt and uncle lived
in Union City. It's a really small, grubby
and crowded hub  -  not a city at all  -  
now mostly Cuban and Hispanic, but 
that's what it calls itself, and whatever. 
It sits up on the ridge of rock ending NJ
eastward. Over the Hudson River, which
runs below. Behind it, to the west, and far
below, is Route One, (Tonnelle Avenue),
usually pronounced Tonnally Ave). That
part of things is a horrible mishmash of old,
wrecked places, car-yards  old foundries
and factories, but all now nothing but
cheap motels (a lot of the 42nd street
whoring business moved out here in the
90's  -  now  they just walk along Route
One showing their wares. Sure makes
traffic jams a little easier to take). Lincoln
Tunnel. Holland Tunnel. There's even
some light-rail stuff now. Anyway, up
above all that, on really steep streets
and twisty curves, is Union City, and
North Bergen, and places like that. My
aunt and uncle, as I said, lived in Union
City. I was probably 4. We'd go visit them
and I remember to this day being stunned
and awed by the view between houses. Thin
openings (the housing was close together and
tight, people living 'cheek by jowl', as I now
say), heralded the eye towards a grand view of
New York City  -  wonderful 1954 Manhattan  -
and all I ever did was find spots but to stare
and gaze out at the equivalent, to me, of Oz
itself. A concrete, steel and glass emporium
of wonder, dreams, light, angles, creativity,
excitement, danger, trouble, possibilities,
movement, highs and lows, heights and
chasms, luck and missed chances, all. And
that was only inside my tiny head at the time!
It spoke to me, I was able to understand and
read the message, feel it in my slimeball bones.
We had not yet moved to Avenel, I'd probably
never even heard of the place and would have
had no concept of where I'd soon be headed.
Swamps, fens, trailers and shacks? Who ever
had heard of that? This, on the other hand, out
before me stretched, was living, was life, was
all the source of my golden waters. I could not
wait. It sometimes seems, in retrospect, that
the experienced 'past', before it was 'present'
simply must have been imagined as 'future' in
order for it to have occurred. Time flips around
audaciously like that, and we miss things at
our peril. As it went, I felt every second of
all this in my bones, before it occurred; like a
dream state, from which you only seldom
awaken. I can't put into words exactly what
I mean. However. The terms of this agreement
are that I will continue speaking, regardless.
Once I arrived in Avenel, it wasn't as if a
rooster was crowing, or that this was farmland.
No, it wasn't at all.  It was just that, admittedly,
there were fields and open spaces around me,
getting quickly sacrificed for the 'good of all'.
Probably mostly for the good of banks, but the
entire process did bring a lot of people out from
their strange situations in paltry surrounding
towns. Summer Street in Elizabeth. Any of
the numbered Newark Streets, slowly being
turned over to 'others.' My aunt, a different,
aunt, used to say (she lived her entire live in
Bayonne, seldom ever leaving its confines,
in a small, old-style tenement/apartment
set-up), that the good thing about Bayonne
was that they had never let the 'element' in.
Never making it clear what the 'element' was,
I only later surmised she meant the blacks or
the Spanish, who now are there anyway. She's
the one who's not any longer there. Death,
then, recovers time, and always wins. Her
coveted town, by those standards, has been
long lost.
I don't know what any of that's supposed to
mean, but Avenel never had any 'element'
either. It was basically one, homogeneous
community made of white American people,
from wherever and however they got there.
Yet, at the same time, no one was ever overly
pronounced over this - maybe a few cracks
now and then, about the usual black people or
Hispanic people, using their slang names. My
father used to call blacks (baffling to me)
'moulinyans' or something I never got, which
I later found out meant eggplants (?) and
referred to the color. However, I also found
out that it was a sometime-slang for Italians as
well, coloring too. Baffling, so I never did get
to the bottom of that one. I had heard of the
Moulin Rouge yes, but that was different. I'd
also heard of the Rue Morgue. In fact, I never
liked name-calling, by whatever means and for
whatever purpose. It was annoying, picking
people out people for something and then
needling them with some crack name. Just
tedious. And anyway, my father could most
probably, by those terms, have been called
a Guinea Papist. He'd have killed on that one.
I was just plopped down into the middle of
this : felled trees, run-down sheds, a dog house,
a driveway, some bicycles. It all bore no real
relation to Bayonne, or the waterfront, but  -
being a kid  -  it didn't matter to me and I was
always ready to pick up from some imaginary 
point zero and just start anew. Which I had to 
do, and did. None of the lines really connected.
It was all unconnected wires, everywhere.
Maybe there were echoes, but that was about it.
Avenel had existed before my arrival, and it 
probably had stories. None of which I'd ever
heard. When you get to someplace where 
everyone is new, or newly arrived, there's 
not much to delve into. We never delved into
the life-stories or the pasts of the older Avenel
people, families who'd bee here a while. I can
remember my wife's family telling about the
people directly across the street from them, in
1947, when all the new houses were just built 
and my wife's family arrived, how those older
people rued all the new housing and activity. 
For twenty years or so, their house had been 
alone, nestled in a tree'd in section of woods,
and they'd been alone  - until one day, they 
said, they awoke and the woods were all 
coming down around them. And then
there was, suddenly, curbs and roadways, 
houses and people. Families and kids. That
had to hurt. They left soon after. Also, 
among the first residents, down some just 
a bit, on Dartmouth, were a group of Scots
people. The story I got anyway  -  they'd
bough 4 or 5 houses in  a row, whoever 
they were, and thereby made a small sort 
of Scotch Village or something right there. 
It did eventually all scatter, and they moved 
away, but the story and the circumstance 
lingered. I always liked to picture it. It's all
pretty funny, because no matter how any of it
looks now, to those living in it at the time, that 
was all the cutting edge of modernity. All those
car fins and TV antennas, and new driveways
and 'super' markets and all the rest; when it
just comes at you, you accept it. It only all
looks funny in retrospect, when people  -  
others, living then in their own onrush of 
'modernity', begin chuckling at and making 
fun of what went before them. As if they knew
any better. I guess that's what nostalgia, and
kitsch, and 'retro', are all about. So, by moving
to Avenel, in essence, my parents were simply
moving into the future  -  having made their 
own decision, whether consciously or through 
some weird unknown urges, to stake out some 
new land for a new continuation of time. Ah yes,
and then there's me : in Scripture, it's said that
'God calls people who are uniquely unsuited for
the task that he sets them to.' I never quite knew
what they meant, but they used it on us all the 
time at the seminary too  -  calling it, quaintly,
'vocation.' A calling, an interior urge, set to by
this quirky 'God' fellow, to which you had to
answer  -  deliberate a little, then, okay, but you
were sort of considered bound to say 'yes'. Or
get out of Dodge, and quickly. For me, it was 
more like fulfilling a duty to the world, whatever 
I may have seen it as, or seen the world as, for 
that matter. The vocation part of it, even here 
in faraway Avenel, pressed hard. I sensed I 
had been plunked there for a reason, and God 
forbid if it became a reason I never found.
Many are called, but few are frozen. That 
was probably more like it.
So I walked around, I played with friends, I
found ways of making things matter. At one 
point, about age 11, I sent to the F.B.I., in far-
off Washington D.C., where I'd actually been 
once. My letter asked for information, career
stuff  -  and I received back this crazy, entire
packet with a cover letter (supposedly) 
addressed to me and signed by J. Edgar Hoover
himself. I was pretty floored -   they actually
took me serious, gave me the time of day, all 
that stuff. It was, what, 1960? Everything was
precious, and filled with possibility and the
expectation of undertaking  -  as in doing, not
the funeral stuff.
That was that then. For a long time I just subsisted
on whatever dreams about place and time I could 
come up with. I'd go to bed at night having these
imaginary cowboy fights and shoot-outs, scenes 
where I somehow always wound up managing to
'best' some other force of bullies or scoundrels, 
thieves or crooks. Far too weird to retell or 
understand, I never knew what or how I'd 
gotten so absorbed in this sort of stuff : TV, 
shoot 'em up westerns, whatever. It was way too  
easy to be 'hero' in your own adventure, and behind  
all that I knew that somewhere in the experience of 
living, there really were punches in the face, failures, 
mistakes, and losses to come. It could never be only 
victorious triumph and rightness. No one could tell  
me different. So I retreated. What does a kid retreat 
too? Toys and trinkets in cereal boxes. That was a really 
big deal to me at about 9 or 10. It was a grand gimmick, 
and I don't think they do that stuff any more, but there 
was a time when you'd get a toy auto, or some sort of 
figurine, or a catapult, mini pull-toy, anything  -  some 
of it really pretty neat  -  at the bottom, or near the 
bottom, of your cereal. Presupposing that it would 
be the incentive to force kids to get their Moms and 
Dads to buy the product, I guess it worked. I ate a lot 
of cereal, and collected a lot of stuff  - usually, to make 
it even neater, the things were single-wrapped in their 
own little paper sleeves, or packets, or holders. I guess 
they were blown in during packaging, settling some, 
and then being found by the kids as they worked 
through the box. I used to love that stuff. I remember 
really loving the collectible little cars the best. That's 
the sum total of my experience on that count, I guess. 
And it's really some total!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

7867. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 177)

(pt. 177)
I've had a great deal of fun reliving things,
and it seems as though the little library I
draw from keeps replenishing itself. The
world I lived in  -  back then, 1956 and
up through 1964, mainly, and then back
again, and the again, it was all a very
different world. One which, by late '67
had me somewhere else completely and,
frankly, inhabiting a different universe
entirely, one which I'll eventually get to
here. But the initial point I make, which
is most important, is that I am beholden,
for better or worse, for the formation of
my character and for the initiation of 
much of my thought, to Avenel. Flat-out, 
straight praise on that count. It was a 
devilish disguise, this place was, and I 
walked through whatever symbolic fire 
it presented. Probably, were I to win a 
lottery today in some big-time fashion, 
I'd remain right here in place. Unlike so 
many, many others, I've got no hardness 
towards Avenel. It is what it is and was,
and that's me too. I had a friend once
-  Bill Turkus  -  who rode to Alaska 
on his motorcycle. The night he left 
we'd thrown him a backyard-barbecue 
send-off party. After getting to Alaska, he 
wanted to continue, towards the Arctic Circle, 
which he did. When he got there, he came 
across a spot where many, many people have 
left mementos of their own visit there  -
streetsigns and sign-posts from the towns 
of their origin. He took a photo of a sign, 
right there, which read  -  'Avenel, NJ'. 
Go figure.
The world is so vastly different today that it
sometimes makes me laugh; Avenel or not. It's
almost 70 years down the line for me, and I get
around it all very well. Yesterday, I passed a
storefront in Rahway all lit with candles and
wreaths and all sorts of memorial things out
front for the guy who'd had just been killed,
the day before, in his sneaker store. Right
next to the Masonic Temple  -  the white
guy's one, not the old, now gone, the black
lodge that I wrote of earlier and which I had
gone into a few times. That was the other side
of Rahway (the Avenel side), on the riverbank.
Long, long gone, near 30 years now, as are
all those black families who lived along the
river.  When I was a kid, just the thought
of any of this, along Irving Street in Rahway,
would have never crossed my mind. A culture,
with black people, thugs and their music, 
where a black guy gets killed in his own 
store, in open view, for some insider 
infraction? Sneakers? Drugs? Clubs? 
Hip Hop alliances? There was a televised 
story, an interview, about this killing, on the 
local news. It was so bad, and weird, to see. 
All these people, friends of the dead guy, 
barely articulate, taking their stances and 
spouting their words in the usual fashion 
of the crowd they were involved with  -  
gaudy clothes, gold and silver, metallic
teeth, aggressively folded arms, and, most
tellingly, as in some stupid video of a rap
music format, guys behind guys, nodding
and assenting with their mumbled 'yeahs' 
to what the big guy (rotund) was saying 
in the foreground. It was as if all staged 
and readied. I could tell, right off, that all
these guys were doing was mimicking the
dumb-jive thug image they'd been exposed 
to. To live by. Nothing more. It was pathetic.
No way I  -  or any of my friends  -  would 
have understood long ago. And, the funniest 
thing, just today, and something which really 
made me think  -  right here in Avenel  -  
seemed to exemplify the danger we created 
when the spreading awareness of everything 
for everybody took hold of the body politic.
There used to be merit, and there used to
be 'achievement', stuff you got through
your own work, intelligence, and gumption.
Reasoned wisdom. Not the school stuff,
again, more just what comes from being
genuinely interested in the life you live
and lead. Now it's all just drivel.
In Avenel today, at the local 'Quick-Chek',
I was waiting. As I waited, I heard someone
from around the corner, approaching, 
speaking loudly and without thought, into 
his cell-phone, going on with someone about 
something. Black guy. These sorts of phone 
people are quite annoying to me, but this 
guy was hilarious, as I overheard him. He'd 
stopped nearby, and was still going on. 
There are, apparently, people who do not 
readily have the mental capacity to get the
idea that, with a telephone, your amplified
voice comes through quite clearly, by 
electronics and amplification, to the other 
party, whether it's down the street or 
California. They somehow think they 
must shout, or talk quite loud anyway.
He was one of those  -  the command of 
his lock and loud verbal posture was 
frightening. And then it happened! He 
actually said this! Speaking of himself, 
and his inability to do something, whatever
it was, he actually (I swear) said 'I can't 
do that, my equiliberty is still off by 50 
percent.' Equiliberty! The phrase of a genius. 
A genius I swear!
I always loved things like that  -  the people 
who mangle the language, get it half right, 
get their idea across but sound so bizarre 
doing it. Like 'let me be pacific, when I 
need my yard done I'll be certain to call a
landscraper.' That's another one I'd heard
long ago  -  the guy's name was Jim; no 
longer with us. He'd say 'pacific' for 'specific', 
always. And he always said 'landscraper' 
instead of 'landscaper'. But I always got 
his drift. It was like that. He'd tell me how 
many beers he had that night. He drank a 
lot, but it never showed, until the end. 
One day, home alone, he just died 
in his armchair. The whole thing was, 
at that point, as sad as it was funny. He 
used to have a guy, John, a kid actually, 
maybe 25 tops, who would stop over, most 
early evenings, just to use his toilet. He
claimed he didn't like to poop at home, 
his mother was always bothering him 
about something. Jim would let him in, have 
a go, while he stayed on the porch having 
his beer. Summertime stuff, I'm meaning. 
Then John would come out and have a 
beer with him too. That was a real Avenel
camaraderie thing, I always thought. Where 
else does that kind of thing happen? 
I never heard.
There used to be a travel agency on St. George
Avenue. Right there, in a house next to where
Frystock Jeep was for years. It's gone now, all
of it. Walgreen's. Condos, a bunch of junk, was 
long ago put into its place. Ghostly idea now.
This travel agency was in an old white house,
and it the windows and display areas, at street
level, it always had travel posters, and photos 
of faraway places. It was pretty exotic to think
about. I think that side of the street was actually
'Colonia', but that hardly mattered. The beaches
of Rio, and the old cathedrals of London and Paris
and Rome were always startling for me to see
in the windows of a small-house travel agency,
right there for Avenel, NJ. Amazing stuff. And
across the street was a bar  - the Blue Bird; just
more very mysterious intent. Topping it all off,
from California no less, in 1978, right next to it,
they built a 'Denny's'. That was really amazing to
me and it felt as if the world was enclosing in on
Avenel. All the proverbial 'doors and windows'
were opening up. I had been in California in 1976,
and we utilized Denny's for lunches and coffee's.
I had thought then it was pure California  -  light,
meaningless, quick, cosmopolitan in flavor, and
very west-coast. And then, there it was, in Avenel.
It was amazing. I know it threw my equiliberty off.


The gestation period for any storyline is
three thousand years. Hello Esther and
hello then Ruth! My countertop try is 
heavily laden with chocolates and stories
to go with them. At my window taps a
bird, irksomely demanding to be let in.
I acquiesce in such a wish. Come in, 
then, where the air is finer.


When I empty them, sometimes, at night,
things fall out. Accumulated hardtack of a
long day's night. I pick up things along the 
way; the seeds of dreams and buttons; the 
old nails of distant sheds and bridges. I have
no currency except for the idle riches of dream.
In that respect, I am the billionaire I think about,
the man with the spacious manor on the banks
of the River Real; servants and carriages and
riches detailed by the retainers and the help
of employ. But, alas, not ideal  -  my property
and life were sealed long, long ago, and this
is not to be. All I have are these tiny crumbs
in all the pocket of my memory.


'Thanks for the mammaries? Is that what 
I heard?' Some guy was singing in the
12th Street park  -  he had a small 
keyboard set-up and was sitting by 
himself. Next to him, on this fairly
warm day at the end of a month at the
tail of a Winter, carrots and cabbage
were set out to buy. The old wooden
tables sagged, yet this guy kept singing.
Others passed by, and that snippet came
from the one in the blue jacket. I love the
misunderstood moment and the mixed up
words of all this passing time. 
Once, in a time long ago, there were locals
here : native in olive skin, casting small
stones out into an oyster-clogged river.


'This calendar says nothing right. It's from
seven years ago and still hanging on this wall.
Four issues, on the table here too, of outdated
'Arizona Highways' magazine. What a place
is this, but this is the way it is.'
And that's exactly how I found this to be,
way back in 1971. A still-life watercolor, of
a now-late afternoon. That was a song, about
the same time that calendar was good. But, then
again, I guess a song remains always a song,
but what does an outdated calendar become?
I had parked by the gully, in an unpaved ditch.
The road all around was just tire tracks, really.
This was going to be my home, so I knew I'd
better get used to it. My own dirt path to nowhere;
a hundred-year old house at the edge of a field, with 
a dump beyond it, long ago closed. All sorts of things
from the 1930's past. Lanterns and fenders, and
clocks that had crashed. I once found - even - 
the fragments of a dulcimer there.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

7862. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 176)

(pt. 176)
I've read that the Book of Esther, in the
Bible, is the only book therein that
doesn't mention, doesn't contain the
word 'God.' To be truthful, I've never
checked that out precisely, but it was
always a curious one. In St. Andrew's,
or even in the seminary, as I've here
mentioned previously, the Old Testament
was pretty much ignored  -  it being
considered old-hat set-up for all the
new stuff. It always appeared as
unseemly and wrong to do that; like
ignoring unwisely any of the tradition
by which the rest of your structure is set
up to respond to. None of that ever really
mattered, but it just seemed strange. So
much else of Avenel went by the wayside
when stacking things up against what you
were told. It sort of just left things up in
the air; without definition.
I always liked to find out little tidbits and
think about them. It gave my otherwise
awkward life some form. We otherwise
lived a kind of rough and ragged life in
Avenel  -  I've already mentioned the 
crazy games, the banging around, the 
little fights here and there. As kids, we 
never cared for much as far as limitations 
went. No one ever got carted off to the 
hospital or anything like that. I never 
remember broken bones or stitches or
anything (I'd already had my own fill 
of all that). And then, later on, I found 
out that, in the 'medical' world it was 
considered better that kids got banged 
around and roughed up.  It all seemed 
so perfect, so Avenel-right. Here's what
I'm talking of : 'Children are anti-fragile. 
Bone is anti-fragile. If you treat it gently, 
it will get brittle and break. Bone actually 
needs to get banged around to toughen up. 
And so do children.' That was pretty 
innocuous stuff, but it so well summed 
up what was going on, unwittingly. 
Avenel was cutting edge!
One of my favorite things used to be the 
Bayway Circle, up past Linden, on Route 
One, entering the area of Elizabeth. My 
father, in doing his basement upholstery 
side-jobs, often had people from up that 
way as customers. I'd often go with
him, drafted, as it were, to lift and haul, 
to pick up or drop off furniture -   the 
usual chairs, couches, etc., using his 
'60 Chevy station wagon, seats down 
in the rear, and the rear flaps left open, 
with some furniture concoction usually 
sticking out and being roped in for the 
ride. It was far-off stuff for me, and 
exotic. Riding up Rt. One was like 
going on a major trek, and then taking 
the Bayway Circle, and using it to get 
halfway around again for whatever that 
other road is heading west, was always 
cool. I used to pretend there was, sticking 
out from my hands, holding it, an 
enormous sword that was just chopping 
everything down, cutting everything 
we passed  -  telephones poles, trees, 
houses  -  into half-height of what it 
was. Very weird now, in retrospect, 
but that's the image I traveled with. If 
I were to get heavy into trying to 
psychoanalyse  that, I'd probably 
just have to stop short, at 'psycho.' 
There was a time after this when I 
used my bicycle, on a Saturday I recall, 
to ride up to the very Bayway Circle 
I'm speaking of here. I made it, barely. 
It was pretty treacherous, in that most 
of the way there wasn't really a place 
for the bicycle on Route One, obviously, 
and the cars and trucks whizzing by 
seemed to just treat me as if I was in 
the way. (And I didn't have my sword 
with me that day). Once I got back home, 
my friend Robert Shipley, upon hearing 
of what I'd done that morning, just shook 
his 2-years-older-than-me head and said, 
'You're brave!' incredulously, as if I'd just 
stuck my head into the mouth of a lion or 
something. Hey, bones are meant to be
broken, or whatever that quote was.
I never thought straight. I never did anything 
too straight. My life was just always an oddly
erratic end run around things. I made things 
up often enough so they'd grant me a better 
solution. Like in Chemistry class or something, 
if you totally controlled the experiment, you'd 
then also have total control over the outcome.
And, in addition, you could come off like a
crazed genius of sorts to others by actually
'predicting' the outcome of the experiment 
and being found right! It was all bogus, but it
seemed no one ever detected that. Baffling!
Of course you can predict the result successfully
if you select craftily, and stack the deck rightly, 
for all the matter along the way. How 
fundamental is all that? It's relatively easy.
All those other people devising formulas,
measuring capacities and times, pondering 
the Periodic Table of the Elements for the 
sake of the rightness. Pshaw! Just do it. 
(Nike owes me money?).
'Which brings me back to Esther. There's no
mention of God in Esther? Why would that be?
Probably a mistake. Probably an omission.
You could never think it was on purpose, or
serving some other agenda. It's just a proper 
place for the same sort of twist on the simple
name of fate or place or being. Like me, here, 
waiting for a train at the Avenel station.'
That's the sort of abstract stuff that twists around
in my mind all day  -  doing the littlest and the 
simplest local tasks. I used to think I was in the
first quarter of my life  -  that was all Avenel.
Then I fled it, for the first half, and then the first
three-quarters, and that had really little to do
with Avenel. Now I find it pleasant, and reachable
to all else  -  that's all I really need now. In
the fourth quarter of my life. Yeah, right,
if I'm gonna live to be a hundred.