BELOW THE WATER LINE
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.