BELOW THE WATER LINE
I've had a great deal of fun reliving things,
and it seems as though the little library I
draw from keeps replenishing itself. The
world I lived in - back then, 1956 and
up through 1964, mainly, and then back
again, and the again, it was all a very
different world. One which, by late '67
had me somewhere else completely and,
frankly, inhabiting a different universe
entirely, one which I'll eventually get to
here. But the initial point I make, which
is most important, is that I am beholden,
for better or worse, for the formation of
my character and for the initiation of
much of my thought, to Avenel. Flat-out,
straight praise on that count. It was a
devilish disguise, this place was, and I
walked through whatever symbolic fire
it presented. Probably, were I to win a
lottery today in some big-time fashion,
I'd remain right here in place. Unlike so
many, many others, I've got no hardness
towards Avenel. It is what it is and was,
and that's me too. I had a friend once
- Bill Turkus - who rode to Alaska
on his motorcycle. The night he left
we'd thrown him a backyard-barbecue
send-off party. After getting to Alaska, he
wanted to continue, towards the Arctic Circle,
which he did. When he got there, he came
across a spot where many, many people have
left mementos of their own visit there -
streetsigns and sign-posts from the towns
of their origin. He took a photo of a sign,
right there, which read - 'Avenel, NJ'.
The world is so vastly different today that it
sometimes makes me laugh; Avenel or not. It's
almost 70 years down the line for me, and I get
around it all very well. Yesterday, I passed a
storefront in Rahway all lit with candles and
wreaths and all sorts of memorial things out
front for the guy who'd had just been killed,
the day before, in his sneaker store. Right
next to the Masonic Temple - the white
guy's one, not the old, now gone, the black
lodge that I wrote of earlier and which I had
gone into a few times. That was the other side
of Rahway (the Avenel side), on the riverbank.
Long, long gone, near 30 years now, as are
all those black families who lived along the
river. When I was a kid, just the thought
of any of this, along Irving Street in Rahway,
would have never crossed my mind. A culture,
with black people, thugs and their music,
where a black guy gets killed in his own
store, in open view, for some insider
infraction? Sneakers? Drugs? Clubs?
Hip Hop alliances? There was a televised
story, an interview, about this killing, on the
local news. It was so bad, and weird, to see.
All these people, friends of the dead guy,
barely articulate, taking their stances and
spouting their words in the usual fashion
of the crowd they were involved with -
gaudy clothes, gold and silver, metallic
teeth, aggressively folded arms, and, most
tellingly, as in some stupid video of a rap
music format, guys behind guys, nodding
and assenting with their mumbled 'yeahs'
to what the big guy (rotund) was saying
in the foreground. It was as if all staged
and readied. I could tell, right off, that all
these guys were doing was mimicking the
dumb-jive thug image they'd been exposed
to. To live by. Nothing more. It was pathetic.
No way I - or any of my friends - would
have understood long ago. And, the funniest
thing, just today, and something which really
made me think - right here in Avenel -
seemed to exemplify the danger we created
when the spreading awareness of everything
for everybody took hold of the body politic.
There used to be merit, and there used to
be 'achievement', stuff you got through
your own work, intelligence, and gumption.
Reasoned wisdom. Not the school stuff,
again, more just what comes from being
genuinely interested in the life you live
and lead. Now it's all just drivel.
In Avenel today, at the local 'Quick-Chek',
I was waiting. As I waited, I heard someone
from around the corner, approaching,
speaking loudly and without thought, into
his cell-phone, going on with someone about
something. Black guy. These sorts of phone
people are quite annoying to me, but this
guy was hilarious, as I overheard him. He'd
stopped nearby, and was still going on.
There are, apparently, people who do not
readily have the mental capacity to get the
idea that, with a telephone, your amplified
voice comes through quite clearly, by
electronics and amplification, to the other
party, whether it's down the street or
California. They somehow think they
must shout, or talk quite loud anyway.
He was one of those - the command of
his lock and loud verbal posture was
frightening. And then it happened! He
actually said this! Speaking of himself,
and his inability to do something, whatever
it was, he actually (I swear) said 'I can't
do that, my equiliberty is still off by 50
percent.' Equiliberty! The phrase of a genius.
A genius I swear!
I always loved things like that - the people
who mangle the language, get it half right,
get their idea across but sound so bizarre
doing it. Like 'let me be pacific, when I
need my yard done I'll be certain to call a
landscraper.' That's another one I'd heard
long ago - the guy's name was Jim; no
longer with us. He'd say 'pacific' for 'specific',
always. And he always said 'landscraper'
instead of 'landscaper'. But I always got
his drift. It was like that. He'd tell me how
many beers he had that night. He drank a
lot, but it never showed, until the end.
One day, home alone, he just died
in his armchair. The whole thing was,
at that point, as sad as it was funny. He
used to have a guy, John, a kid actually,
maybe 25 tops, who would stop over, most
early evenings, just to use his toilet. He
claimed he didn't like to poop at home,
his mother was always bothering him
about something. Jim would let him in, have
a go, while he stayed on the porch having
his beer. Summertime stuff, I'm meaning.
Then John would come out and have a
beer with him too. That was a real Avenel
camaraderie thing, I always thought. Where
else does that kind of thing happen?
I never heard.
There used to be a travel agency on St. George
Avenue. Right there, in a house next to where
Frystock Jeep was for years. It's gone now, all
of it. Walgreen's. Condos, a bunch of junk, was
long ago put into its place. Ghostly idea now.
This travel agency was in an old white house,
and it the windows and display areas, at street
level, it always had travel posters, and photos
of faraway places. It was pretty exotic to think
about. I think that side of the street was actually
'Colonia', but that hardly mattered. The beaches
of Rio, and the old cathedrals of London and Paris
and Rome were always startling for me to see
in the windows of a small-house travel agency,
right there for Avenel, NJ. Amazing stuff. And
across the street was a bar - the Blue Bird; just
more very mysterious intent. Topping it all off,
from California no less, in 1978, right next to it,
they built a 'Denny's'. That was really amazing to
me and it felt as if the world was enclosing in on
Avenel. All the proverbial 'doors and windows'
were opening up. I had been in California in 1976,
and we utilized Denny's for lunches and coffee's.
I had thought then it was pure California - light,
meaningless, quick, cosmopolitan in flavor, and
very west-coast. And then, there it was, in Avenel.
It was amazing. I know it threw my equiliberty off.