Monday, February 1, 2016

7758. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt.150)

(pt. 150)
Once I got set up into that final year
of high school, the one thing I did to 
keep myself busy  -  a task I set out to
complete, maybe even to go small-book-size
with, but I never completed  -  was to write
a large, crazy-style essay investigation
of the works of playwright Eugene O'Neill.
I was really too young to actually even think
of being some sort of learned critic, with all
that essential background knowledge, erudition 
and language-command of much older people 
whose entire careers had been about theater 
and O'Neill. But, that's not how young people 
think. In my silly case, the limitations never
entered into it. It just eventually, and I admit,
became tedious and boring. I did spend a lot
of time on it, that entire Winter, in fact, but
after a while even I could no longer convince 
myself the task had any value. For one thing, I
grew less and less enamored of O'Neill as I went
along. I wondered to how many people such a 
thing happens  -  the writer, setting out to 
construct something and make a valued contribution 
to the critical body or writing around someone's 
work, who then just finds himself written out, disgusted 
with or out-of-tune-to that person's work and outlook. 
Those who come to mind, right off, are Leon Edel
who at about the same time period, the same years, 
was getting ready with Volume 1 of his multi-volumed 
and heavy work on Henry James, a long, authoritative 
biography; and Robert Caro, just then beginning the 
same thing with Robert Moses. These two fellows stayed 
with it and did eventually dedicate their entire writing 
careers to the individuals they'd started out with. Of 
course, that was different. They were intellectual careerists 
who'd set out on a scholastic and academic level to track 
down and make record of many aspects of their people's 
lives. I was already done with this guy. I won't go into it 
here, because I couldn't expect, nor want, anyone to 
be ready to go from Avenel to Eugene O'Neill in the 
same piece. Suffice it to say, I grew tired quickly of the 
staged-for-theater, emotional-family-conflict stuff. It 
seemed wooden and Victorian, self-conscious about 
nothing,  and filled with false values and things just 
not modern. I lived in a different world. Somewhere
 in my own lifetime was a year-zero, where the rest of
the world had crossed a threshold whereupon, really, 
none of this stuff mattered like that any more. People 
and families' lives were different, lives were lived 
differently. This all just seemed stuffy. What was cool 
was how O'Neill had once bulldozed his way through 
New York City, had the playhouse on MacDougal Street, 
Provincetown Theater or whatever it was called, had run 
his own regular posse out of the Golden Swan Garden,
 or Cafe, or whatever that was called. That was all part 
and parcel of another time, in a place I knew no 
longer existed. All I ever could do was roam and wander, 
with the knowledge of what once was. The tales and 
the stories were legion; some of the places yet existed, 
even through the 1970's. You had to know what was once  
up, or it could all slip right by you. But, in my shunted, 
classroom writing, my library research and work, my own 
efforts on all this became blunted. It began making little sense, 
walking along Rahway Avenue or sitting in some dumb, 
blind-ass classroom, for me to be inhabiting a Eugene O'Neill 
fortress when, all around me, the modern world beckoned. 
I'd grown out of theater, disliked stage and entertainment, 
TV and leisure. The angst and the peppery idealism of 
O'Neill's 'perfect' worlds little interested me and I no 
longer strived for them, nor to understand them or read 
endless stage directions and commentaries about any of it. 
He became just an earlier version, to me, of the same twisted 
catechism out of which came Tennessee Williams or Arthur 
Miller. I just left it alone. Chalk up first failure, I'd figure.
That wasn't really Avenel. Not fit for inclusion in the
sort of lives and living that went on there. I tried classing
it up, in my way, but what could one kid do? The open lines
for messages to communicate just weren't there. Oh, I had 
my own hopes and wishes, yeah. I wanted to be that driving
force out of Avenel that had not been seen before; that
'prophet' who's is 'not without honor except in his own country.'
I always loved that quote form the Gospels. I forget which 
and where. It was always, as well, a difficult sentence to figure
out, being, as it is somewhat convoluted, and unclear. (Odd for
a Gospel). It kind of means that everyone else, outsiders and
such, will appreciate the wise man, but those among whom he's
grown up, neighbors, friends and family, they won't get him at all.
He'll have renown, and honor everywhere else, except among 
his own. That's a tough one  -  makes one just want to stay at
home, forget everything else, and just shoot hoops in the
driveway for the rest of your life. Of course, that didn't
happen to me (wasn't tall enough?).
It's kind of difficult, when you've grown up through situations
of no real learning or family money, to put on the airs and
the assumptions of those who've had all that. Walking along
Rahway Avenue, anyway, night after night, with a notebook and 
a couple of pens, you reach another level, in the opposite direction,
like some Ben Franklin walking along the streets of Philadelphia
with nothing, or Abe Lincoln, walking 7 miles to return a book. As
apocryphal as any of those stories may have been, I knew exactly
what was meant : I was part of nothing at all. I had nothing, and was
probably headed towards nothing too. A lifetime of work and of
drudgery, doing the bidding of others and making money for them, 
while drawing down for myself only the simplest consideration
of workman's wages there could be  -  that was my future. It
stared me down, and I already knew it. My head was ringing with
the fortunes and fires of ideas. I had the energies, but I also had
the fears. When you grow up as I had you're always a little afraid
of something. There's always a shadow lurking.
I had a command of language, but it was pretty useless. The 
railroad tracks and the empty, vacant old places along the way  -  
where there used to be little corner stores, old window lettering  
now all peeled back  -  that was all gone. Even the voices and the 
shadowy echos that lurked, they no longer had any meaning. The 
street was for cars, not people, and I really felt, anyway, that 
no one cared. Alienation and a feeling of being disenfranchised
had really, truly, set in. Things lose value, at that point, big time.

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