BELOW THE WATER LINE
What did the kangaroo say when he took
his friends to an Alabama restaurant, and
asked if they wanted more soup? Now,
normally you'd ask why anyone would
be thinking stuff like that, (the answer
was to be a form of southern dialect word
play on 'more soup y'all?' but spoken as
'Marsupial?', sort of). Well the answer was
because at about about age 12, that's the sort
of thing that was always running through my
head. These little wordplay jokes that seemed
more 'oral', needing to be spoken, than read.
Like 'what was it called when Prince Olaf
got his first boner?' - the answer being a
Beatle song, 'Norwegian Wood.' Fair
warning enough, just so you know. ('Hey,
Gar, you put the warning after the fact').
A lot of it was just messing with time.
I had found many ways to keep my mind,
on one plane, leveled, occupied, so that at
other levels I kept open the running access
needed for other thoughts and multifarious
overlaps. These all went into my 'work' as
it were. Piles and piles of notes and
notebooks. 'Juvenalia' it's all sometimes
called, when an artist or someone has early
production-pieces, and youthful attempts.
The kind of stuff mothers and sisters throw
out when you're not looking, or, at the other
extreme, the kind of stuff that rat-bastard
agents and art dealers make millions off of
once you're dead. It's a crazy-ass world, and
Avenel would never seem to be the place
from which any of this 'grand' stuff would
ever come form. I couldn't ever figure any
of it out, and thus just never got hip to all
that old-home stuff. There'd be ringers
coming into town, early-sixties types in
their cowboy Cadillacs, and they'd ply
into the Hillcrest or such places, for their
'swing'; nights or 'country-western music'
nights. It was all stuff that was just so
foreign to a joint like Avenel that you'd
wonder, or I did, what the hell was anyone
here up to, pretending to be like that,
taking ten bucks and booze money from
people who thought they were cowpokes.
Cowpokes in Avenel, where the closest
thing to that ever was, maybe, horseshit.
Speaking of which, there was a place in
Iselin - old Iselin, when Oak Tree Road
was just a slivered-lane and everyone was
regular white people, and the blacks who
were around, back then, were the tenders
of these hoses I'm about to be speaking of.
Iselin was a slimy lane of bars and gas
stations, a thin road leading into the woods
out Edison way. Bars like Jack's, Hank's,
Flip's, and the Pioneer. Places like that.
You could get away with being useless
and drunk there, at the same time. Up the
road there, going out towards Edison,
on the left, into the woods, was a place
called Roosevelt Stables. They would
have, each week, on Wednesday nights,
into the late night actually, from about
7pm on, an actual horse auction, open
for anyone. Of course, there were few
locals there, except for those who worked
it. The black people I mentioned were the
stable-hands, handlers, etc. There was a
tack-shop, where they sold really nice
saddles and reins and blankets and stirrups,
riding gear, boots, and everything else.
And, of course, then there was a 'snack'
bar'. All these non-Iselin cowboy types
would come in for the night's work, in
their horse-trucks, usually each with 3
or 4 of their tired, old, end-of-the-line
work-horses, or just old horses. This was
usually the end of the line for them - either
they got auctioned out to one or another of
the riding stables or kiddie-camps who'd come
in to bid and buy, or they'd go to the glue
factory. Really. The glue factory kept a
tractor-trailer truck there, some 'Adhesives'
company, which used the old horse-bones
rendered and boiled into a glue of some sort,
to truck away the doomed horses. No, not I
nor anyone else ever liked seeing that stuff,
but that's how it went. There were some
really bad horses brought into to those
nights. Tired, old, lame, or just going to
seed already. That was the downside. The
upside was all else : it was the coolest place
around. Besides all the noise, and the
auctioneer's magnificent voicing of all
that auction stuff, the smells, the hay and
straw, the horses were called out for auction,
by number, and then brought out from stalls
into the main ring, with someone, one of
the black guys, usually, walking them
around while some guy rattled of personal
history and statistics, and who it would be
'good' with - kids, elders, farm play, whatever.
Then the bidding would begin, going one for
five minutes maybe. Not all the horses were
sold. Sometimes it was sad. But, no matter,
the real glory came every so often, like a
miraculous lightning strike from somewhere,
when a hale and healthy, hearty and strong
horse would come out (often like every 6th
horse or so) and actually be ridden, vibrantly
and energetically, in circles or small romps
and trots, by any of a few of the, truly, most
exciting, vivacious and beautiful girl riders I'd
ever seen. Ever. I don't know where they got
them from, or why they kept them so hidden.
The place would erupt with cheers, hats a'flying,
and these girls, often with silky, long hair,
cowgirls hats tipped back, or off onto the
back held with the strap, would rip-snort their
way into the bidding-hearts of ever guy there.
Which all was probably the place's intention all
again, to rouse up and awaken this peddling crowd
of horse-buyers into a wicked, cowboy frenzy.
And damn it worked. Some nights we'd not get
out of their until 1:30 or so. It was quite the scene,
yes, of all that old, Iselin, stuff. Made the grade
for sure for me. Last time I was there was maybe
1970. It's all gone now, built up and given over.
Yet it remains within, a vague, never-to-fade
dream/memory of a lost place and a lost situation.
Smaller times, encapsulated and held closer than
anything now : when each street held something,
when houses could still be wood and ramshackle,
not vinyl sided and plain-colored, perfectly-kept
and neat as a pin; when some junk around the
yard wasn't a sin, and the rear didn't have a
deck and a pool and a Weber grill of some
crazy, ridiculous, Home Depot dimension;
when every man was not, by far, the perfect
backyard chef, when one could drink and smoke
and then talk about it as the kids played around
and rode bicycles through the sprinklers and the
flirty wife 'cheerio'd!' everyone she saw. When
sometimes the stories didn't have morals and
lessons, let alone endings. The air was yellow
than it ever was now, and the skies grew dark.
Have you ever seen how things come and go,
dominant stories, but just for a while, about the
societal things? Diet and fitness, all those old
Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons dumb-ass
workout routines. They come and go, style as
style, and people move on to other things. When
I was about 8, I remember my mother's big deal
was Jack La Lanne. He always seemed like a real
jerk to me, like the Billy Graham of exercise
routines. She mail-ordered once, I'll never forget,
some rubber, blue-colored thing, about three
feet long with hoops on each end, or loops maybe.
It was for 'resistance fitness' or something aerobic.
One end went over the closed doorknob, and you
pulled or stretched against the taut stretch of the
thing itself while it was looped into your hands.
It was difficult to understand, for me, and I'm not
so sure my other ever did either. The entire
gimcracky apparatus probably cost the Jack
LaLanne company a dollar fifty. She sent them
like 8 or 10 bucks, way back in 1958, when
dough was dough. I always wondered if the
beatniks, by the way, when they used to talk
about 'bread' when they meant money, had
taken that off from the idea of 'dough', which
is where the 'bread' comes from. So, like I
said when I began this section, I was always
working words and jokes too, as a way of
'remembering' things, as memory aids and
such. There's a book by Umberto Eco, called
'The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci', which is
a story about this - not the jokes part, but the
memory stuff. In the middle ages, in China,
before any other forms of memory-aids existed.
This guy would devise fanciful ways by which
he could place and remember and then recreate
everything in-place in the rooms he saw. Mostly
like that anyway - and that's about the same was
I see old Avenel, sunlight leaking through my
woven fingers across my peering eyes. (That
would be 'S-L-T-M-W-F-A-M-P-E' - each
letter of that sequence then signifying something
else. Before all of today's useless distractions,
people minds and memories were a lot more
acute. 'Hey! That's a cute mind you've got there!'