BELOW THE WATER LINE
'I'm from Avenel; I need more of that.' I always
liked the way that word sounded, It had a hard edge,
sounded incongruous, like the letters were clashing.
I guess it was just the use of the 'V' in the word. It
always colored my outlook - as if a person couldn't
just go around like a softy and still have to admit
to being from 'Avenel.' Other places had other
words, and each of those words described something
different. Brielle. Belmar. Rutherford. Freehold.
Wayne. Pompton Plains. Westfield. Every place
was a different embodiment of its own sound. That
anyway was a theory I was working on for a while.
It too went nowhere.
I think I always took things too seriously. Maybe.
It seemed never to fail that I just overdid it and
took everything to heart. Whatever the concept,
I rolled in it. Every word out of someone's mouth
had to be investigated and judged for its truth.
Much of it wasn't true at all, just assumptions.
When I learned, for instance, about Capitalism,
as they called it - in all those little stupid, school
ways - I took it to heart. Wrong. Bad idea.
It seemed about people making money from
and - living off of - product-generated money;
income. The basis of the economy was production,
small corporate structures, all as successors to
Jefferson's yeoman farmers and the rest. It really
didn't hold up. Again 'Avenel' seemingly had
nothing to do with it. A complete divorcement.
There wasn't anything going on in Avenel to make
me see any of the goodness they spoke about - all
that proud and rugged individualism of the person
making his or her own way. The craftsman with his
chisel or hammer. It was mythological. That guy,
Whitey, the one who never talked, and did all those
storm windows along the street (see early chapters),
maybe he came the closest, but he was a war-zombie.
What good was that? Otherwise it was always the
outsiders who came in, swooped in, as it were, with
their corporate and commercial interests, and did
what they wanted - tearing down woods and old
roadways and things. Building crap everywhere.
That was, yes, 'Capitalism', but that was a foreign
term, some old European import. It was not
Jeffersonian Americanism at all. But nobody
talked. There were always two sides to this 'American'
equation, as I saw it, and 'American' had lost a
long time ago. This was something else. All those
fathers and older brothers along the street,
they were all busy working. That was wage-slavery,
nothing at all like it was supposed to be. It was
an earnest intimidation, without much of that
'pursuit of Happiness' stuff. I always figured
that was what we were supposed to be saluting
the flag for, but it never worked like that,
and apparently it wasn't.
If you know, Alexander Hamilton founded Paterson,
NJ at the time of about 1795-1800 and on, as a
dedicated 'City of Industry' - natural water-power
included (all destroyed now and the functioning water
power once forming the 'Great' Paterson Falls a mere
power-valve-controlled yellowish flow of piss,
running through wooded walkways both dangerous
and disgusting - food trash, used condoms,
broken-apart baby strollers and shopping carts).
I've walked that waterway a number of times, and
it really is pretty disgusting to view. A real mess.
I was there too, in the 1960's, 1970's, and right up to
the present day. I've seen all this take place. It was
in so many ways the complete opposite of what
'Avenel' had arisen out of - Paterson was a
concept, a pure, fine, planned 'City' to be built
around high ideals, strong energies, and a sort
of over-riding ethos of good, clean production for
the good and the benefit of everyone. I'm just as
sure that everyone knew it would never work;
that the essential drive of 'Capitalism' was to grind
and rip apart as much as possible, for clear and monetary
gain. No questions asked. Take all your 'civic ideals'
and stuff them. The doom-factor was at work; the
'doom-factor' of America meant that nothing was to be
held sacred in the pursuit of gain, dollar, lucre, profit.
The very waterway and the power of the falls which led
to the selection of the location, had already doomed it from
the start. Everything possible was 'dumped' into the very
water which was supposed to have sustained it : each
by-product of manufacture, each dye, pollutant, acid and
sewage bit produced, no matter what else, went into the
water. It wasn't long before that itself was despoiled and
people's lived began descending into a version of American
Hell. But Hell for Profit. And all that was nearly 300
years ago. Very early on.
The death and grime, has been now somewhat cleaned
up by Government and Parks Service fiat but yet made
worse. Americans, as a group, obviously can't hold
well to their tenets. The only functioning businesses
now in places such as Paterson are worked-over
bodegas, quicki-marts, Hispanic food places, bars,
hospitals and a few Governmental and bureaucratic
infiltrations, broken-down school buildings, traces
of industry, and as many new and 'yuppified', or
whatever it would be called, condos and living units
built with transformed old mills, factories and silk
and embroidery buildings as can be had. People
who are otherwise, for all practical purposes, just
completely useless and unaware of anything past
the end of their noses. A remnant of the past
stupidly exists in the idea of the Railroad Museum
near the Falls, which blindly celebrates a
transportation and power-energy past so long
gone as to be laughable. Speaking of laughable,
there's a larger than life statue of Lou Costello,
of 'Abbot and Costello' fame, who was raised in
Paterson, NJ. What's become of the American
system of 'Capitalism' is a wreck. There's no
longer much capital involved. You were once
supposed to get rich and make your way on
money made by product, yes, and the profits
generated. Made money. Now most of it generated
into - not Made Money - but 'Taken Money'.
The American Dream is now to work for the
government, at any level, state, local, national.
That's where the money resides - wages, benefits,
pensions, an entire afterlife of living, early-retired
and well taken care of. There are hundreds and
plus ways of doing this - living off tax-generated
money, as if there were no end to it. (Powerful
unions crank their strangleholds on all these
endeavors.) One municipal NYC project now
underway, which I have just been reading of,
is going nowhere and is way over-budget, having
lost all semblance of its original and projected
attempt, mainly because of the internal battlings
and machinations of twelve (count 'em, twelve)
different unions within the one huge job, all
operating at cross-purposes to each other,
trying to endlessly pad the payrolls, erecting
barriers to open-hiring and clear-functioning
and efficient installation and completion of
job duties and details. Project management
has about gone mad, the municipal commonweal
suffers, and the project gets waylaid, while
thousands make off to the bank with their
purloined funds and salaries, squeezed from
the municipal fountain, thought to be endless.
Add to this cops, teachers, social workers,
criminal justice attendants, judges, lawyers,
firemen, advocates, functionaries, and
actuaries to the fact. And then add it all
again into itself by a factor of two. That'
what I've learned of Capitalism in Avenel's
fine America. And that was something like
50 years ago. It's much worse now - the
entire Military establishment has come to
be considered a grand job and a wholesome
career. That's evil, man, just evil.
Seen from that perspective, which was the
manner in which I viewed it (I'd always had
a soft spot, a special place for 'Paterson' and
the early-American emphasis on grounding
a Society in ideals. It seemed as if, once, it
could have really been a planned 'Paradise.'
I had aunts and uncles in Rutherford and
Lyndhurst, and cousins in Paterson too.
So it always stayed close. Avenel, in contrast,
was a crazed, wild hinterland), Avenel stood
for solid, plodding regularity and boredom.
I don't think there was ever a dare put out
that Avenel answered to. I know, in my own
house, the big talk was always of my Aunt Millie,
some sort of Democrat committeewoman or
something, who somehow with whatever
connection she had, could swing you a Summer
job with one of those ridiculous parks programs
or other - basically a cushy, do-nothing-much
minimum-wage timekiller job in the local park
around your town. Taking care of kids. Weaving
leather wallets and other pretend Indian-crafts.
My aunt could probably get you a job - Government
paid, again enslavement, but willingly done. It
was a real shame, and it was a real-long-way-
down too. It had absolutely nothing to do with
'America.' It was, in fact, closer in so many ways
to any of those decrepit East Germany type places
where a desultory from of Communism servitude
was slowly dying, while the 'State' propped everything
up. It was no different - and that was the sort of
crap my aunt and all her local Woodbridge and area
political cronies were peddling around. It made
me want to scream aloud. I'd come home from
visiting, and I'd look at Avenel and just say 'what?'