Thursday, February 25, 2016

7852. BELOW THE WATER LINE, (pt. 174)

(pt. 174)
I've told you the story of the man from
Missouri  -  the movie guy at the Woodbridge
Theater, with all the free Doctor Zhivago tickets.
That was about 15 chapters ago, at least, but I'll 
use it here as my lead-in to an Avenel story about
movies and the movie industry. (The neat and
rhyming cadence of 'I've told you the story of the
man from Missouri', that was in my head all day.
Just really needed to use it. But now I see it
entered my head for a reason). My wife's family,
both sides, was all from up Closter, Cresskill,
Tenafly, Teaneck, area  -  all that Bergen County
stuff. A few miles north, as it is, from the cliffs
of Fort Lee. That's where the beginnings of the
American movie industry began, the silent era.
Now I'm skipping, and I'll return to this later.
Avenel, curiously, came to be in this saga
because my wife's mother's father was an
itinerant laborer, carpenter, electrician.  He 
would travel, following the jobs around as they
arose. The family, five kids, two adults, would
travel around with him, wagon-train style, or like
Oakie's in some run-down conveyance. In the
mid-1920's one of these jobs took him to Avenel
(Demarest On the Hilltop, was the other name),
a faraway place they'd never heard of before,
for the construction job of erecting some 30 
or 40 houses that were going up. So, they 
traveled, relocating to some set-back, small 
hut of a house, we're told, on Remsen or Prospect
Avenue, down the far end, towards Woodbridge, 
out towards Smith Street, Tappen Street, somewhere. 
We took my wife's uncle there once, an old guy, 
to see if he could remember anything (he was like 
12 at the time when they traveled here in the 
1920's, and actually spent a year or so in School 
4), but he couldn't find anything that reminded
him of where that house could have been. He
later moved to a trailer, very happy to be be out 
in the sticks in the Virginia horse-country, and
died about a month later. Sad story, too bad. So, as
it turns out, and much to her surprise as well, my
wife's mother was actually born in Avenel! Shortly
thereafter, getting hurt on the job and then being let
go because he couldn't keep up with the others, due
to the injury, they went back to their Bergen County
town, where she grew up. It was only by some freak
of circumstance that, 25 years later, upon buying a 
house, that house was situated in Avenel, NJ. Her
father, as I said, worked in the movie industry mostly,
building sets and scenes, and electrification stuff.
In fact, in the family, the story goes too that he
was on the crew that put electricity into Lady Liberty.
He illuminated the Statue of Liberty, as one of his
jobs. I guess when it was put up it didn't at first
have lights. Don't know; that's the family story.
On those cliffs of Fort Lee, and this is factual,
not story, the movie industry was cutting its eye
teeth  -  growing into itself. All those early movies,
things like the Perils Of Pauline, and many others,
they were filmed there, right on those cliffs. There
was no Hollywood, until later when the entire
industry upped and left for California  -  like the
Dodgers or the Giants did later, in baseball. Those
little 'Americana' town series books, if you go into
the Fort Lee Library, or the Barnes & Noble over
in Edgewater, they have local 'Fort Lee' books 
that cover this plenty  -  the whole story, photos 
and everything. There's even one called the 'Fort
Lee Movie Industry'. It was an entire craft-village.
Stage sets and sheds, buildings of all sorts for
equipment and animals, props. They'd build wooden
structures, fake townscapes, etc. all for the filming;
even a fake railway for those damsel in distress
'cliffhanger' scenes. (That's where the got that 
name from, those grand cliffs along the Palisades).
They made hundreds of these films, probably
way more than hundreds, and they invested big
time into the work and labor of back-lots, sets,
fake towns, and all the rest. He was also an
extra, hired for the day, in numerous films.
So, you see then, there's a connection in even
unseen and mysterious ways to being 'from'
Avenel. I often thought about that  -  how in
the world did my parents, or anyone's ever get
wind of this place? So very interesting. You'd 
have to think, I guess, if you were starting out 
now, what names you'd hear, how far you'd be 
willing to relocate, what would you know? Or 
is it all about expense, only? My own family,
my father and mother, were all just a mishmash
of Bayonne and New York City stuff  -  bad dudes,
criminal stuff, prisons, death. No one ever really
got the story straight enough to tell it, and it's still 
mostly all a mystery to me. Every version shoots
a hole (no pun) in the previous version. I've heard
ten different stories about why I had no Grandfathers,
how they got here, what they did, how they died.
Blah, blah, in whatever Italian tongue you use for 
that. That comes from being punk-poor. Rich people
know all their shit  - five generations back they can
tell you exactly who Arthur Gentian Maybelline
Adams married to beget Adeleaide Swarthout who
married Cremenally Stewart IV, and who  had a
child who ended up as your Grandad. Or whatever.
They have holdings, and bank accounts, and titles
to things, and homes. My family, holding onto
Bayonne like it was their own genteel Boston,
had nothing, and knew less. Kids fostered out,
mother in an asylum, fathers dead, Ossining and
Dennemora, fifteen different versions of Nothing.
That's me. How any of that ended up in a place
called 'Avenel', you tell me then. I'm listening.
Some guy I met in  a dog park, and who, over time
I got to know, he told me once, as my appearance
continually deteriorated these last few years, hair,
beard, raggedy clothing, etc. that I looked 'shredded'.
Whatever that meant, he said 'no, no I like it, wish
I could do it.' I'd never heard that expression before,
and didn't know what 'shredded' actually meant to
say. I looked like wheat, perhaps? I told him,
'shredded? Man, you have no idea.' And just the
other day, in a local dumb-ass supermarket, two
kids started laughing at me as I walked by them
in the lame-brain cereal aisle. I knew what they 
were doing, I'd seen them snickering at my 
approach, and as I passed they pretended a
preoccupation reading their freaking cereal
labels, and the they started again as I was past
them. I knew what was up, turned around, walked
back and said in their faces, 'you wish you had
my life, assholes.' They shut right down. Between
them, they may have added up to 30 years old.
It's just an Avenel thing, somehow. It courses 
through my blood. And I admit, yeah, I sort of
gave up on everything else  - I never did much,
don't do much know, except paint and write, 
walk around endlessly taking photographs, ride
the train, use up gasoline. I'm a bum, by all 
outward respects. A really creative bum, but
that's it. My belief-structure's long ago been
fried. I found everything to be bullshit, the 
whole entire world built on a lie. And, you 
know, I don't care. Why would I? This Avenel
is a refuge, a hiding-out pen for me. I can tell
you a lot about a lot, every little crevice, if I
wanted. The vagaries of life are what stun me;
like that whole story of my wife's family, somehow
unknowingly starting here, 85 years ago almost,
and then ending up here too. And, to boot, getting
me hooked up, from my wicked and twisted end, 
with their female offspring. How crazy is all of
that? So I could tell this all to you? My wife's
father, he was from up there too. He was a
butcher's assistant, in Closter, NJ, while he was
in high school. He told me they'd use 'everything
on a pig but the oink', for saleable goods. It meant
that all the parts of pigs are turned into meat or food.
Everything but the oink. I always liked that  -  even 
though I never eat the stuff. Told you about that the
other day. But here's where it gets weird again, and 
has the crazy Avenel connection. My wife's father, 
this butcher kid, was shot down in WWII, while on
a bombing run over Monte Cassino. He survived the
crash, was captured, and as a prisoner of war was 
marched, as part of a prisoner-group, in all weathers
and with little food, all across Europe in advance of 
the Soviet Army, rapidly encroaching on the Germans,
who were marching him. Many died along the way.
The historic abbey of Saint Benedict, the monastery
established there in 529, the Benedictines, this guy
was bombing it to smithereens, because it was part
of the Gustav Line, a German defensive line set up
to keep the Allied armies from advancing any further
into Italy and Rome. Absolutely hallowed, ancient,
sacred ground. he was blasting it to shreds. Twenty
years later, I'm hooking up with his daughter, and
we're all in Avenel no less. I swear to tell you,
you can't figure life out. 

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