BELOW THE WATER LINE
My mother was always pretty good about using
oddball quotes about things. I don't know where
she ever got them, and they weren't ever much, in
fact were sometimes stupid. Jokingly, she'd say
things to my sisters' boyfriends, as they were in
the house or about to be leaving with my sister
on movies, dates and stuff. Things like that. Stuff
which actually could have been construed as
off-putting and weird. It all used to throw me for
a loop. 'Candy's dandy, but liquor's quicker,' and
'Be good. If you can't be good, be careful.' Not
exactly the kind of stuff Mom is usually expected
to be flippantly saying as you leave through the
doorway. I always figured if I was one of those
boyfriends I'd probably think about high-tailing
it out of there immediately and forget the rest.
'One door closes, another opens.' That was like
her deepest and most philosophical one. There
were probably twenty others, but I can't right
now recall. I remember too how she used to say,
about farts : 'Always understand, if you can
smell it, others can't. If you don't smell it, they
are.' Whatever the hell was going on with
that one, I took it to mean that if you did not
start smelling it you'd better leave from your
your spot right then so that others wouldn't
pin it on you. Right? Mom?
Needless to say, I was so slowly then enamored
of quotations. I'd keep a little notebook of good ones
as I read - not her kind, no, I mean the literary sort
of deep quotations, stuff I really dug, things I'd use
later to implement a piece of writing or something.
I'd stumble over them everywhere, making note
and mostly then just promptly forgetting. That all
still happens - a hundred ideas a month, if I don't
get to them immediately, or find some way to
record as a note or some other way of remembering,
I just lose them two hours later, or even just ten
minutes later. Any old task, or driving, or another
conversation, can just rip it right out of my mind.
Only maybe sometimes do I recover and retrieve.
This whole gambit of local writing, all these pages,
they've brought one back to me, one I always liked.
By Graham Greene, who was a sot of futzy, not too
interesting to me, really, writer (b.1904, 'The Quiet
American', 'The Power and the Glory', 'The Human
Factor'). He's considered a Catholic writer, which
just means too me too much ideology within, not
really writing with an open mind, not willing,
certainly, to take chances; constricted. He was
one of those silly writers the seminary just loved
to have people reading. I can't remember if he
was one of those 'Imprimateur' guys. That's a
designation, on the title page, of 'Catholic'
books that have been 'Approved' by some silly
and obtuse group of Bishops that Rome has
somehow concluded are the right guys to read
these books and then decide if other Catholics
should also read them. On the whole it's a crock
of shit by guys who've never lived a normal,
human day in their lives. Well, anyway, I'm
going overboard on that and it's all forgettable.
Here's the quote : "There is always one
moment in childhood when the door opens
and lets the future in.'
Let me repeat that, OK : 'There is always one
moment in childhood when the door opens
and lets the future in.' Man, that one slayed
me. The day I read that I can still recall it was
like someone had just read a ghost story to me
and it was as vivid as anything else had ever
been. It seemed to immediately settle everything
for me and led me to describe to myself that
'door' that I'd seen open, that room I'd begun
to enter. Nothing ever again was marked 'Avenel'
to me. That was relegated immediately to the
'kid's portion' of my past. Not that I wanted
it that way, but just because it instantly became
that. As after reading some grand new section
of the Bible or something, a part that really grips
you, you look up and find yourself saying 'I can
see with new eyes!' It all eventually settled down
for me, and things went on, but I began noticing
little differences in how I perceived things : I
mean like 12-year old kid things. I remember my
12th birthday, my parents got me a stamp-collecting
album and all the stuff that goes with it - stamp
hinges, to apply the stamps tweezers, so as not to
'handle' the collectible stamps, glassine envelopes
to keep excess stamps in (already like some weird
criminal factor, a drug-dealing or crime-infested
endeavor with 'glassine' envelops), and a big bag
of stamps for collecting, from one of those Littleton
Stamp Company starter-collector sets. Cool stuff.
It kind of flabbergasted me. Maybe that was a
'door moment'. And then, annoyingly actually, I
remember my Father coming at me outside at the
car while we were bringing in groceries after that
shopping night, he looked at me grinningly and
said 'You're a teen-ager now!' I was equally floored.
To begin with, he was clearly off a year. I'd never
heard of being 12-teen; had quite obviously a
year to go. What in the heck was he driving at
with that crack? And, really, didn't he know he
was off by twelve months? What goes on? I forget
what I answered, but I remember mumbling
something to him about it being a year early.
Maybe that was a 'door opening' moment? You
can see what I mean - the quote itself was far
better that any specific item by which it could be
designated. It wasn't about a 'particular'. No, it
was about the great big world turning within us.
What's now called, maybe, a 'paradign shift.'
When everything just gets notched over a
little bit and nothing is ever the same.
My parts of Avenel and Woodbridge were
like fingerprints. Even if they were erased or
burned off, they'd still be there; any opening
door that was going to whisk me away was not
ever going to remove the real scrub of the DNA
and RNA that would make up my changing fabric.
Just like today, at the end of Inman Avenue, after
you pass Hiram's Trailer place and the curved road
runs under Rt. One with that little road that runs up
to the Loop Inn, there's a spot there that, no matter
how many times its filled in or paved over, and
repaved again, three weeks later is always a
crumbly spot again, a recurring hole, and real
pain in the ass bump for any cars that hit it
unwittingly, without knowing about it. The
reason for that? It's an undercurrent of water,
always flowing there, beneath the roadway;
probably some little spit of a stream that they've
never sluiced or channeled and which is always
running and only needs but a little time to
undermine and wash away all of what's on
the surface. That's exactly what the part of my
consciousness was that Avenel always represented.
That 'reprobate' in front of you who can't be
anything but what he is. I couldn't shake it.
Another writer, a New Jersey guy, a contemporary,
he's written this one, about New York City, wherein
I was soon to be absorbed for the next bout of my
'formative years.' Sante writes: 'New York, which
is founded on forward motion and is thus loathe to
acknowledge its dead, merely causes them to walk,
endlessly unsatisfied and unburied, to invade the
precincts of supposed progress, to lay chill hands
on the heedless present, which does not know how
to identify the forces that tug at its rationality.' That
was me, all over. I just didn't know it yet.