BELOW THE WATER LINE
You know how when people say, 'this
is a true story' - that used to baffle
me. If it was 'true' then it wasn't a
story, I figured. A story, as I took it,
was always something made up, to
lead you somewhere, to bring you
to a conclusion engineered by the
teller. The meaning had somehow
gotten confused or mixed up, being
used for something else. In the same
way, people would say something like,
'Well, to tell you the truth...', and I'd
want to stop them immediately. 'No,
no, please. Go ahead, lie to me. Is that
what you always do then?' Why would
anyone want to preface a statement
with, 'to tell you the truth'? I never got
to the bottom of that, except for the
usual social nicety, small-talk stuff
again. Crazy and baffling. Especially
to someone like me, adolescent,
searching, and a small bit of a
wise-ass too. I was always looking
for a shortcoming in what someone
was saying or doing - for no reason
but to underscore the fact that I thought
it was so and what a jerk were they. I
think that comes under the fabric of
hubris. Or, as I put it, 'the rubric of hubris.'
Sounded like a cool title for some royal
dude : And please rise, for here comes
his highness, 'The Rubric of Hubris.'
I always also figured, being a kid and just
going with what I heard at home (Weight
Watchers, and all that stupidity), that cars
had calories. They should be posted on the
door or something, like the food packages
had all that stuff. A big, fat, bloated car,
like a Caddy or a Packard or something,
that should show as like 5000 calories.
With a 'Danger!' sign too. A full-size Impala,
or a Buick Electra 225, maybe 700 calories.
Right down the line, just for the fun of it.
A Rambler, back then, or an original
Volkswagen, they could be easy, like
150 calories. In addition, the logos could
be toyed with, and shown - a big, fat,
regal looking Buddha type on the big cars,
right down to some skinny bathing beauty
sort on the small cars. Just something for
fun, and to think about, as I did. Back
then anyway, car brands were falling fast,
by 1959, many were gone : Packard, Edsel,
Studebaker, LaSalle, Nash, Willys, and
more. Again, like just recently, not too long
ago, we lost Plymouth, and then Pontiac,
and Rambler. In 1958, about, Edsel came
and went real fast, in maybe three years.
The family next to the Wynne's, as I recall,
the Bertini's, they had bought one, when
new. I could be wrong, memory plays
tricks. But I distinctly recall sitting on
that porch, with everyone there - the
Bertinis, the Wynnes, and others, and
everyone talking about and looking at,
gawking at, the new Edsel out front. The
big, weird-looking front-grill thing always
looked, to me, like an ox-collar - the kind
the work animals were put into to plow.
But the 'press' and the rest all said it was
sexual looking, suggesting a vagina, etc.
What did I know, a 9-year old, from any
of that? It 'wasn't nothing' I'd yet familiarized
myself with, let alone decide to drive one.
The Edsel brand lingered another two model
years, then the brand was shut down. And
the Bertinis moved away to California.
Goodbye, Celeste. I knew another family,
in 6th grade. They lived on Lehigh, at the
corner - Carol Anne Cupertino. I always
liked the name; had a ring to it. Then she
moved to California, with her family too.
to 'Cupertino', California. How about that!
Come to think of it anyway, everything's
crazy today : crazy like someone who says.
I love watching Home Shopping Network;
it has no comnmercials!' Huh? The whole
mess is one, big, constant commercial,
you fool. Like back in my day, it was those
sort of people who should have immediately
been plucked out, I figure, and sent to
Vietnam, instead of everyone else being
pestered. It would have served them right to
get there by their own shortcomings and
stupidity. In some bizarre Communist Chinese
way, there could have been people walking
around, eavesdropping, listening for stupidity.
That would have been some war; worth fighting.
Back to that 'story' thing - a story being a 'story',
something engineered by the writer or the teller
towards a pre-determined and worked out end -
I always wondered, over at St. Andrew's and
everywhere else too, for that matter, why they
just didn't give up on all their crap, and
paraphernalia and ritual and physical churches
and collection and money and rites and must-do's
and can-not's, and all that stuff, and just admit
that - in fact - the entire 'story' thing I just
mentioned is pretty exact a duplicate of what
they were peddling. There was really no need
to be told more - the 'story', that way could
include God and all of Salvation and History
and Civilization. A 'something' engineered
by the Creator of it, by design and running
towards a selected and pre-determined end.'
Period. Can't be changed, or what's living
for? That's all it was, no matter whether you
opted for it or not. All that 'Free Will' stuff
and 'you have the choice' stuff was a joke.
Being made a Human, we can't exactly
conceptualize Eternity and Hell and Forever
and all that, so how would some 'Perfect' God
expect us to be able to make the 'decision' to
opt for Damnation for all of Eternity. First off,
we wouldn't have the means of understanding
what 'Damnation' exactly meant, just broad
and cheesy descriptions of it. That's not fair.
Nor would we ever have the intellectual means
to envisage what 'time-stopped' forever Hell
was - a long, blank Negativity we'd have to
be stuck in, withstand, for forever? No, that
can't be, because we wouldn't know true
'Negativity' and absence and lack of time
because we couldn't begin to conceptualize
THINGS without Nothing. Or even more
paradoxically, THINGS without NO Things.
In the same way you don't expect a three-year-
old to start driving a car, this was all too vast
and ahead of us to be determined BY us. So,
who was kidding whom? I wanted to know -
Avenel just seemed like a holding-camp for
all these people walking around in their
darkness with some weird fealty to the
church(es) of their choice. Didn't matter
the denomination; they were all doing
the same thing. I'd walk those streets and
just be confused as all get-out : what were
we doing here? I'd get to 7am daily mass,
as an altar boy - I think we got scheduled
a week at a time, as I recall - bright and
early each morning, walking Inman Ave.,
sometimes in the dark, with the little
altar-boy cassock or whatever that stuff
was, in the half-light, thinking about things -
looking for the sky, the changing light, birds,
cars, whatever. I'd get to the rear of the church
and old Charley Price, or later Bill Leahy,
would be there, opening up (sextons or
custodians, or whatever their job was).
We'd talk, mumble about things. It was
close and endearing, pretty neat. Then one
or another of the priests would arrive, etc.
And out in the pews, pretty much the same
every day, there'd be these ladies, 6 or 7,
elderly, maybe widowed, whatever. And
a few old men too, but not as many. Pious
for sure. They'd each and all stumble in
and bang around for their DAILY 7am mass.
Not ever a word being said - just a strange
and a gray-light feeling - their little tongues
sticking out for the host to be placed, after
muttering their endless prayers, after their
long, slow, dissembling walk to the altar rail,
their ancient-looking tweed, thick jackets or
coats, the big old-lady shoes, the small
lapel-flower everything from some other
time, and their endless silence, a habitual
rendering into prayer and submission,
something within just pleading for a
mercy I could never understand, and
probably always underestimated too. Maybe
we all have that at the end, a need, a real,
pressing desire. All those tales and stories,
all of them incomplete and unsettled and
unfinished, they either hold up or crumble
down. We get it, or we don't. And then -
like all those ladies now - we're gone.