Saturday, March 5, 2016

7887. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 183)

(pt. 183)
In Avenel, and elsewhere, I always
marveled at the evidences of how 
people in years far past, had often 
taken plain old homes and houses 
and made their fronts into businesses. 
If you look, you can see the old home
in the rear, still existing, with its glassed
or concrete or whatever, commercial
front having taken over. The most
surprising one, and it's still there, is the
spot where, once, Dr. Chrobot had his
dental office  -  about four doors down 
from Murray and Martha's. The front
area is low and squared, brick and glass,
but if you look to the rear, there's actually, 
up above, a house there that you can see -
it must have once just been a small
Avenel Street house and they decided to
go commercial and make a new front.
There must have been a rash of that
stuff going on, maybe by the 1930's,
because you can see it a lot. Nowadays
not so  -  they just build professional
quarters  -  for those purposes, from the
ground up. It always interested me, and
in many, many other towns, especially 
here in New Jersey, you can see that up 
and down the business streets. Of course,
what probably happened was that, with 
the growth of town and city, the very 
fact of 'parking' became the main 
impediment, so they began building 
these commercial sites everywhere, 
for that express purpose, and with the 
needed parking lot for 10 or 20 cars.
And then zoning and variance boards
all arose too. In the beginning days, 
towns didn't have that stuff, and you 
could pretty much do a lot more if and 
as you wished. I guess.
Avenel never really provided a business
setting anyway  -  no real 'strip' of downtown 
businesses or anything like that. More just
a remote outpost, with a few jangly stores
around in case you needed milk or eggs, 
or chewing gum. The mad highway running 
right through the middle of it, and also with
 St. George Ave./Rt. 35 running along the 
side of it, made the whole aesthetic weird.
Not a place you'd really 'stop' or stay. A
part of me, inside, sort of always answered
to that  -  the placelessness of where I was.
Jean Paul Sartre wrote a book  called 'Being
and Nothingness'. He was born in 1905, and 
this book became the 'seminal' work in the 
whole, dreary, postwar, 1950's 'Existential' 
movement in philosophy, as it were. I tried 
reading it in those library days I spoke of, 
but it was really cold and hard to stay with, 
bleak and brute, and  - as I saw it  -  difficult 
to mesh with unless you'd imbibed a lot of that
World War II experience and consciousness. 
But, in my own manner, I took that and 
internalized it too into the makings of my 
peculiar viewpoint of Avenel : vapid 
meaninglessness, no purpose of being unless 
you actually set out yourself to define for
 the place and for your own presence 
there. It was a challenge. Amidst my
friends, all was always happy-go-lucky; 
no one seemed to wear the doubts and 
darknesses I was always, by contrast, stuck 
with. And, yes, I wondered about that : 
Was it me, perhaps, just doing all this to 
myself? Going way overboard in my 
climbing the ladder to some really stupid
high-dive that was both unnecessary and 
without real purpose? I couldn't tell, 
but it felt real and solid, and right, to 
me too. In one aspect, I was great, in the
way I honored myself. In another aspect, it's
very hard to realize you are the person 
responsible for having ruined you own self.
I'd made myself into a shambles of sorts  - 
unresponsive to others, unable to clearly 
share or even articulate what I was about. 
The only clear shave I ever had was in 
writing. There were things coming down, 
millions of them, and I could hear each 
one telling me its story. Every little 
moment and fragment was fraught with 
expectation and wanted telling. I'd become 
the mad detective on my own case, the 
crazy deducer, looking at everything.
The over-judging judge, self-proclaimed, 
and at a self-erected bench. Try as I 
might, I could not wrangle a way back 
in to normal life. So, what do you do?
You fight yourself, and go crazy and end 
up in some psycho ward somewhere, or 
end up like a crazed killer? Or do you take
it all in, remain settled, realize what's up,
attend to the details which that brings forth,
and live a controllable and productive life
by answering to the urges and messages 
you get? Yep, that's what I did  - and that 
too may sound crazy, but it wasn't. Was
it Avenel acceptable? I never found out.
I may find out now though, in these waning
factory years of my own existence back here.
Madness comes in all forms. My father was 
mad. Lyndon Johnson was mad; all his Gulf 
of Tonkin Resolution stuff, that was madness, 
and Congress was mad. Just like now, They 
all are. On August 1, 1966, a mad man, 
Charles Whitman, climbed to the top of a 
tower at the University of Texas, in
Austin, and opened fire, for 96 minutes, 
just killing people with his rifles and handguns
from way up high, pointing down and shooting.
It was a big, shocking story at the moment it 
happened, and I remember it all very well. 
43 people were shot, and he was killed by 
the cops. He'd also, beforehand, shot his 
mother and wife. Former Boy Scout, model 
student, this Whitman guy. People all have 
their own ways out. Crazy is an endemic 
thing, flowing everywhere. Avenel was 
real quiet about it. New York was loud 
about it. This Whitman guy, he was pretty 
emphatic, I'd guess, and demonstrative too, 
about it. There's nothing you can do. We'd
send  -  as a nation, mind you  -  endless rows
of pilots out, firing down the same nasty and
brutal fire and iron on tiny, helpless poor
people far below us  -  in their own culture,
oblivious to us, what we were. It didn't matter.
Madness has its own reaches, it penetrates 
where it goes, and sometimes it cannot 
be stopped. I didn't want that, any of it, 
for myself. In Avenel, little stirred.
I've known a number of people with 
quirky ways, some with ways that put 
my own to shame. And I'm fairly quirky. 
I dislike change, moving things around. 
I don't like imperfect things  -  stuff with 
chips or chunks out of  them, taped or 
glued with repairs. I like things, whether 
they are old or not (I'm OK with the 'old'),
to be whole and intact and original  -  as 
I said not repaired or taped or glued. I've
known people crazily murderous over the 
spellings of their own names. Al Cumming,
who would go way out of his way to be 
sure you got the message that it was 
Cumming, and not Cummings. No 'S'. 
And Elizabeth Lyon, who would do the 
same about making sure you knew it 
was NOT Lyons. No 'S'. Adamant and 
fist-pounding demanding. Funny stuff.  
Al Cumming, long dead now, into his 
70's would do one thing and one thing
only for his personal leisure time. He
was too old and creaky to really walk 
around all day any more, but he loved 
the city. NYCity. For his days out, 
probably once a week, he'd take his
mint green 1974 Ford LTD and drive 
to New York, put it in a parking garage 
for the day, and board a NYC Transit
bus, any bus, almost at random. With 
one fare, he'd just sit on that bus all day,
doing the complete rounds, the whole
ride, the entire route, wherever around 
the city it went. That was his pleasure 
and that was his sight-seeing. A sort of
custom-made, guided tour all of his own.
I love things like that.

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