Wednesday, March 2, 2016

7875. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 180)

(pt. 180)
My father used to always tell me, in the
midst of whatever project we were in  -
and it was funny after a time  -  'go get
me a crescent wrench.' It was always a
'crescent wrench' he needed. As a kid,
it sounded like the weirdest, strangest
thing. Besides wondering why, if he
always seemed to need one, he just
didn't start out with one, I figured it
was, obviously, always annoying, or
must be, to have send a ten year old
downstairs to get the crescent wrench.
I used to figure, after he died, he was
with Saint Peter or someone, asking for
a crescent wrench, first off. Does one have
hands in heaven? Or even, maybe, there's
no need for wrenches, nothing ever breaks
or needs repair? No matter though, he'd
want one anyway. I had heard, of course,
of crescent rolls, the fertile crescent, the
crescent moon  -  and even, in 6th grade  -
been shown that Muslim flag thing with
the Crescent Moon as part of the national
identity, somewhere. Mr. Ziccardi always
used to be sure to tell us it was pronounced
'Muuuslim', not 'Ma-slim'. That always stuck.
Anyway, the crescent wrench thing was a
problematical connection to Dad. He never,
in the early days anyway, had socket wrench
sets, or any of those cool and easy-to-buy
things now available everywhere for cheap
 -  from Sears to Harbor Freight to SK and
the rest. It was always more just haphazard,
catch-all sorts of tools. Vice-Grips perhaps.
Crescent wrenches for sure. My father was
never too communicative about what it was
he was doing. Prying on something or
breaking frozen nuts and bolts. He was also
big on Lock-Ez. I always liked that stuff.
He'd apply it to some old rusted crap, and
two days later it would come loose with
some pressure. He never, ever, had any sort
of air tools or power tools or impact stuff.
That was out of the question - expense, and
the need for a compressor. Any of that stuff,
he never went near. Nowadays, it seems people
have everything, way over the top. Generators
for the house power, back-up systems, etc.
Not like the old days  -  Jeez, I can remember
nearly going ape-crazy with elation when I
first saw Steve Chohorsky's Dad's automatic
garage-door opener at work. It was a very
cool, rather slow and methodical, noisy,
chain and pulley type set-up, powered by
an electric motor. But it was just so cool.
My father, in the ordinary run of everyday
living, called everyone 'Mac' or 'Chief'. it
was also funny. He'd pull into a gas station,
and say 'Fill it up, Chief.' Actually, a fill-up
was rare. He had a penchant, weird again,
to buy gas in one dollar increments. He'd more
likely say 'a buck's worth, Mac.' I grant you,
yes, gasoline then was nineteen point nine
cents a gallon (my first memories) and later
twenty-nine nine, etc. but that's all he mostly
ever bought. A buck a day. Big Plymouths
and Fords too. Back then, probably 10 or 12
miles per gallon was good stuff. We'd go to
a limber yard, same thing, 'Mac' or 'Chief',
unless he knew the guy, then it was instant
first-name basis. I told, in an early chapter,
how he used to break everyone's name down,
my friends and such, into the most-familiar
versions, instantly, even if the kid never used
it. I'd introduce, and, immediately, the diminutive
form :  Jim became Jimmie, Bob became Bobby,
Anthony became Tony. Instantly I always
thought probably that's how I got named Gary,
because it already had that ending, and sounded
As you're growing up, based anyway on my own
experience, a Father is always just sort of on the
fringes of things. Or it was for me, my situation.
One remove. Not really lovey-dovey close stuff.
I don't know about others, but there were never
any hugs and embraces in the father/son deal;
in fact, it was usually a disaster anyway. A few
times, maybe once or twice, I remember things -
and that's probably why I remember them, because
they were so rare. It progressed by starting with a
distance and growing to a void. Huge and impassable.
Like that old Wagon Train stuff on TV, the caravan
somehow got wrecked on the side of some dirt
path. Things all broke and spilled out on the trail,
crazed Injuns hootin' and hollerin' and us there,
on the ground, with arrows in our foreheads and
the wagons flipped over. Lordy, I never really
tried either, so some of that blame is mine.
In New York City today I saw something that
rang all sorts of bells for me. Right away, the
smoke of my mind cleared and I saw this image.
I don't mean to say it was anything substantial,
but damn almighty if it didn't come pouring
out of me. It was a moment, to be sure : I'd sat
on a bench, in a new spot I'd never seen before
-  a new little park sort of thing, adjacent to
two coffee places, and a cafe sit-down too.
It was across the site of the old St. Vincent's
Hospital, of old Greenwich Village fame; where
Irish poet Dylan Thomas died...and many other
notables too, not to put him on any pedestal or
anything. The hospital closed up about 6 years
ago, and condo-conversion and rebuilding is
almost complete. The park thing is part of that.
In the park, a guy was eating breakfast (a take-
out container of fruits and such), sharing things
with his kid, a little boy. The kid was maybe 2, 
or closer to 2 than to 3, years old, for sure. The
guy was about 30. As they left, they went towards
a set of concrete-block steps that led up to a
little lawn the kid wanted to be on. The father
went up first, and the kid, struggling and nearly
stumbling, was unable to get his little foot/leg
up the height of the concrete block. The father
came back down to take the kid's outstretched
hand. Instantly, as an electric current running
through me, I felt the rumor within of that exact
circumstance  -  I remembered precisely the
clumsy feel, how large even the smallest things
seem, to a kid, and  -  more tellingly  - I recalled
the help of 'Dad'. Doing that very same thing.
It all may have been some weird, proverbial
and interior stuff to me, but I re-lived something
vital right then  -  recharging me, striking me,
throwing me off a cliff. I couldn't think for a
moment. Have you ever had such a blur?
A lot of the things of Avenel remain true to
form, not much changed. At the end of my
block, Inman Avenue, out towards the trailer
park, where the street broke down into woods,
on the one side that's still woods was the
Mulligan family. I don't know the incidentals,
and they were younger than me some, but
maybe there there were three or four kids. I
remember, more than the kids, the two
parents. Real nice people, friends with my
own parents  -  which was surprising because
my father sort of kept an attitude up always
about Irish folk. The father, Jim was big, ruddy,
and bear-like. The mother was just pleasant
and always nice. He was, Mr. Mulligan, the
most like my father, I could say, morseo than
anyone else on the block -   maybe that's what
brought them together. Hands-on types, ripping
into things always, stuff around the yard, car
parts, wagons and other oddball things. There
was no church connection in any way that I
ever saw. They lived right at the edge of those
woods, and I always thought how it was such
a good to have bought the last house on the
block, with the woods, since it was like
getting the creek and the woods for yourself
too. Except, across the street, for John and
Joanne Wolchanski, it didn't work out so
well because after the first six or seven
years of our real glory as kids there, the
woods on their side, (same deal as the
Mulligans, except they kept the woods),
with its possums and pond and trails and
secrets, got wiped away in a near-instant one
Summer, maybe 1959, about. The next thing
we knew, there were about 20 houses in place.
But, on the Mulligan's side, things languished.
The woods are still there, all prickly and nasty
and unkempt, but still there  -  holding every
little thing I can remember about them. The
Mulligan house, sad to say, is derelict and nearly
falling in now on itself. I don't know the deal.
I remember, for years, he had a do-it-yourself
project going that seemed to take over ten years.
Some sort of really rough, plywood, front porch
extension with windows and siding and things,
but a real ugly and slow mess for years. I
remember my father's constant laughter about
'Jimmy's porch project', as if it was never to
get done because it was getting done by a fool.
Also, I remember too, my mother used to make
a supper dish she called Mulligan Stew. We got
it at least once a month  -  just a bunch of stuff
in like a thick soup. I always thought it had
something to do with the Mulligans down at the
end of the block. Confused me for a long time;
then I found out it was like slang for some
catch-all stew of junky off-cuts and leftovers,
all seasoned and simmered together, by Irish
poor people. It was, essentially, just another
slander. Same with Scotch Tape. It was a 
brand name, yes, but I learned later that it
too was a slander  -  about how Scottish people
were 'cheap', and always fixing things, trying to
make them last, keep on. The idea with 'Scotch' 
Tape was about how cheap people, following the
Scots custom, would stick things together, with 
tape, to make then last, to squeeze them to stay.
Same with, I often heard, cheesy repairs and
do it yourself Mulligan's porch. Things
like that, unfortunately, used to be called 'all
niggered up.' Meaning a cheap, ad hoc project,
something put together haphazardly. Isn't all 
that stuff just so very weird? The vulnerability
of being a kid is that you only learn about all
this stuff much mater on in life.

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