Tuesday, February 2, 2016

7761. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 151)

(pt. 151)
Along about 1960, my father was the first
person on our block, for some reason odd,
to punch out the back of the house to extend 
it outward with another, added-on room. There
were suddenly 4 kids, and another one still to
come, so I do guess the planning was that 
there'd soon be no room. The attic had already 
been done, a few extra bedrooms and others. 
I was, that year, (it was Summer) I guess, 10, 
soon to be 11. Between the usual Saturday 
bicycle jaunts over to Woodbridge, for Little 
League games, in the mornings, I was free
and I 'pitched in' as it were. My father had
decided, as much as possible, that this 
construction was to be done by him alone.
And it was, with the occasional help of am
uncle or two. This sort of self-initiative with
construction projects seemed to run in my
family. Don't know why, except maybe a
proficiency with hammer and nails, or a good
conceptual and practical idea of what was involved
with construction and everything that went with it.
My one uncle, Walter, as I've mentioned long 
earlier here, had built a Sears project house way up
on some wooded land he'd purchased in Butler.
My father, I guess, must have planned out and
diagrammed what he was doing. I remember the
initial stage  -  he and I, and I'd suppose others
too, though I don't recall, simply dug out the 
foundation line with pick-axe and shovel. The
perimeter of the entire project thus being dug, the
cinder blocks and mortar were brought in. He'd
rented one of those round things that twirl slowly 
about and keep the readied concrete-mix on the pour.
We'd put down cinderblocks and then mortar them, all
the while, with levels and string, my father kept the
needed straightness and proper alignment. It must have
been pretty mad work, all-consuming, and I guess it
took a lot of time, though  -  being a kid  -  I hardly
remember anything more than a few days of work 
(mine). I recall the little metal bars with bolt ends,
sticking up, onto which the large boards were then
secured, the wooden parts of the structure, and then 
the walls, etc. But before all that actually, the best 
memory I have is of the two of us laying down the 
large plywood pieces, leveling and securing what 
was to become the big, flat floor of the one, large 
room.  I can recall all that flat wood, like a big dance
floor, and me going off in each direction with a hammer
and nails, securing the floor-flats into place. It was great 
fun, for me, to just go around, hammering nails into 
place. The floor stretched out behind the house, awaiting 
walls and windows, etc. Over time it all got done; 
I remember the day we bashed through the rear 
kitchen wall to connect the new and the old rooms. 
There was heavy plastic hanging up for a period of time 
after the bashed wall came down and before the 
actual sealing off and closing of the new room 
into the merged part of the bigger house. That
was pretty momentous -   I recall my mother being 
away for that and us scurrying around to get it done, 
or at least sealed up together and weather-fast, as 
her big surprise upon coming home. Maybe it 
was with my little brother, Andrew, the newest 
family member, from the hospital  -  which 
would have made it, I think, March, '62. 
Not sure on that.
It became more and more difficult for me to see
the 'place' of Inman Avenue as a fixed abode. My
father's changing of the house was just the first of
many I saw. Things suddenly began being altered  -  
some people started getting garages, some tweaked 
their driveways and side areas. About twenty homes
immediately got swimming pools  -  a whole rash of
that began happening (those 3 or 4 feet high, 1960's
above-ground plastic pools with round, metal sides). 
Then people woud add pool-decks, or patio-type
areas. There took off, with all this, some easy idea
of informal living, a California-style brash happiness.
I don't know how it all happened. The Kennedy-era,
for what it was worth, seemed suddenly sunnier and
bolder, as if people could smile again, get over some
weird hang-up about whatever it had been that kept
people tied up internally. You'd suddenly see women 
traipsing around in their yards in bathing suits. Modest
bathing suits, don't get me wrong, but still, you're seeing
someone else's Mom in her yard in some weird, skin-tight
snorkel suit of a sort. Yikes! Suits back then had this
little oddbal hangover crotch thing that didn't highlight
so much the 'business area,' as bathings suits today don't
even try to cover. Anyway, daytime mothers (few worked 
then) would sit around all day, in one yard or the other, at
hot Summer poolsides and just schmooze, have lemomade
or something, and watch the idiot kids (like me) bouncing
around from pool to pool. It was a certain bit of craziness 
for sure. By four o'clock, usually, it was all over, and 
everyone went home  -  to make dinner for Dad, returning
home sometime around 5 or so. My own father, I recall,
used to get home by 5:30, on hot days, and just go right
into the pool, one mad splash-bomb into the water, just 
to cool off in his bathing suit. It all sounds so bizarre 
now, and even seems a bit squeamish or awkward or
'icky', just to think of all that water and warmth and 
people using one stupid tub of water. But, whatever. 
As I said, I used to think the entire block was fixed and 
finished and unchanging, but then people just seemed 
suddenly to have begun altering thier homes.
There was a certain level of, say, a Jackie Kennedy 
wannabe quality to some of Inman Avenue's activities.
There'd always be an outdoor radio playing in someone's 
yard  -  all those stupid Bobby Darin and such-like songs,
that almost pathetic 1960's coolness just starting. Dumb
disk-jockeys blabbing on about this or that. It was all so
surface and so facile. Purple People-Eater. Itsy-Bitsy-
Teen-Weenie Yellow-Polka-Dor Bikini junk. The 
Kennedy assassination soon enough put an end to a
lot of that, but for a few years it was really sailing.
It was only, really, a few years later that the Robert
Kennedy assassination topped out that whole mess.
I remember, about that time, there used to be a little
hot-dog place in Woodbridge, on whatever street that
is by the VFW Hall and the train station (Pearl?), and I 
was sitting in there having a hot dog lunch or whatever, 
and this Sirhan Sirhan thing came on the radio  -  the
guy they'd apprehended for killing Robert Kennedy.
A Palestinian guy with a weird double-name. How weird
and bizarre it all was, and the reaction of the others in
the place, and the fat guy behind the counter  -  he was
always in place, seemed a Neanderthal, a big-dumb
no-brainer kind of guy. The venom in the place, towards
this Sirhan guy, was palpable. Everyone could feel it but,
at that time and moment, no one had a clue as to what to
do about it  - there was such a level of fear and mistrust
everywhere, that it seemed the entire country had lost any
 and all of that sunniness of those backyard days of yore;
the just-recent yore, but yore nonetheless, when an 
innocent bunch of Moms could walk about all day
in bathing suits, and think nothing of it.

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