Wednesday, March 9, 2016

7898. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 186)

(pt. 186)
Sometimes I used to think I was
wasting my time thinking about
all the sorts of things I often did
think about. Maybe there's a common
point in life past which you simply
were not expected to go. Like a
challenge to every tenet ever 'learned',
I questioned everything. For just one
instance  -  which got started after I
heard some thumper go on for the
hundredth time about the grand 'public
lands' of America and how each citizen
had a right to access and enjoyment. After
some 9 or 10 years of listening to such
crud -   all those mystifyingly concise
history teachers, say, and how they were
completely enamored of the country they
taught about, proclaiming the right of the
individual and the wisdom of our forefathers,
and all that. It just got really dumb-ass
tiresome as I began to realize that they
were lying. It was so simple to see. They
were 'teaching' me  -  about Freedom and
rights and all that  -  while they themselves
were teaching as slaves, living off the public
dollar, wards in servitude to the state they
served. They were being paid by the coerced
tax dollars of all those 'free-landers' they
boasted of?  That was all crap, and it was
untrue. There are NO public places here
anywhere. The supposedly 'Public' places
are all ceded that way because first the
Government has to own them, take
them over, and staff and manage them.
There's nowhere that I ever knew that I
could just get out of a car or whatever
from, and start rambling around. Free,
open lands, untouched by deed or civil
claim. Just try it. If the Government doesn't
claim ownership  -  and most of the time
ask money from you  for the privilege of
'permitted use', than someone else owns it
by deed and you are in trespass. Teachers
didn't know what they were talking about,
except platitude and trite obfuscation.
In Avenel we treated the whole place as 
if it was our own 'public lands', and mostly 
we got away with it, except on occasions 
like the taunting of the hermit, on his 
property, as usurpers, and we were, I 
suppose, rightfully answered back at by 
means of that pellet gun, (see early chapters). 
The prison farm fields were certainly never
an impediment to our trespass. We'd barge 
in and do whatever we damn-well pleased. 
Pretty much nothing ever stopped us. If 
anyone had taken us aside with the civics 
lesson about ownership and title and all 
that, we'd have probably nodded, realizing
that, yeah, we probably did know all about 
that, but so what. We never had anyone to 
ask about that sort of thing; all those who 
did know were already in line with all that 
usual party-line stuff about a 'great country' 
and 'free-lands', all over again. A brainwashed 
mind is a terrible thing to waste. It used to
seem to me, anyway, that the more boozy
those old guys got, the more they'd go on,
sopping up all that toast with the overflow
dribble of their own alcohol. What's it mean
when the local elders are all just drinkers in
disguise? And then they'd try to tell you about
honor and right and the 'Privilege' of your
own Americanism. All those kids and their
silly, stupid, 'up with America' speeches and
things (the Elks and others used to hold annual
essay contests) made me have nothing but
a rapt disinteredness, even past the point of
caring what any of those nitwits did.  'What
America Means To Me', that's one of the sorts
of 'titles' I recall. Some kids bit, and jumped
all over that stuff, more than happy to be 
adulated and rah-rah'd up rooms full of
drunk Elks and their spouses. What it
means to me? America? Had anyone ever
really asked me, I could have given them
my answers : it means money as the 
low-common denominator, it means graft
and corruption as the defining  influence
in any deal  -  it means land-taking, 
despoliation, over-building, and the rest.
Alas, no one asked.
A lot of the changes that I came to notice in
Avenel, by coincidence, I guess, happened
while I was away : the first period, in the 
seminary all those early years of the 1960's, 
like '61 through '66, parts of each, roughly.
Roads were paved then, my childhood stuff
was changed over a lot, lights were put in
place, gravel lots paved into macadam for
parking; and then the other period, through 
most of the '70's, into the early 80's - a really
rough period when the kids in my next-younger
age group were coming of age. Things were 
wilder, even the firemen had long hair and 
beards, no one looked like a zombie, little
groups of locals began taking up causes, 
Nelson House Printing, for instance, took 
up all that 'Give 'em Hell' stuff, Avenel tee 
shirts, hot rod Avenel 70's cars (a whole 
other thing), pot-smoking, general looseness
setting in. Sex because a casual toe scruncher, 
and that was all. Everyone had somehow 
gotten onto a different wavelength with 
each other. It started becoming a different 
world. By that time, of course, I was so far 
transplanted, mentally, that it all seemed
like a quaint, local, little joke by rubes 
unaware of what was down the road. In
Summer, 1967, when I upped and left 
for NYC, under the guise of grand
expectations, I was immediately 
bludgeoned back into reality : I got
to the far reaches of Second Avenue, by
6th street and  -  lo and behold  -  those 
first very hot afternoons, those lower
east-side people, in droves, had transistor
radios playing on the counters in their stores,
one after the other, playing AM radio!  That
was back when WABC, at 77 on the dial, and
WMCA, at 55 on the dial, I think it was, had
vying, dueling slates of disc jockeys playing
the crummy hits  -  the stuff I'd never touch 
at home. That was a major letdown for me.
I'd figured I was going to a place of an
elevated refinement, like maybe one of the
new FM station, free-form radio, WNEW, 
say, when it was brand-new. But no, this 
was a major step backwards into the 
qualities of bad taste. I remember that 
first afternoon in one of the places I was, 
having to hear 'Love Is Strange' by 
Peaches & Herb, whoever the hell 
they were, and then I think it was 'The
Ballad of the Green Berets', or some 
hokey, war-mongering shit by no less 
an asshole than John Wayne himself.
They used to let people like that onto the
airwaves to direct a public pep-rally
session for what they called 'patriotism'  -
which at the time was basically bombing 
the shit out of some little gook country for
being themselves. I was instantly afraid of
New York City being the same sort of junk
heap as the place I just left  -  where I'd not
listen nor put up with this stuff. Though here
I was, at varied east-side storefronts, being
subjected to it all again, played loudly and 
with jerks singing along. Doesn't sound like
much, does it. But it was hard to take.
I always thought there should have been a 
law, and a punishment, for people ruining 
kids' lives. Like adults, and teachers, and 
priests. But they all always got away 
scot-free. No one ever asked the kids
about any of that stuff, before, or after.
It was always an adult-world, and mostly
one just plain full of crap.
One time, about 1956, we took a driving 
trip  -  myself, my parents, my sister  -  
just the one at the time  -  and my 
grandmother too, to Washington, DC,
to see all that  vacation and sight-seeing
stuff. Once we left New Jersey, I 
remember how farm-full and rural and
open and empty and ordered everything
seemed. All those big farms stretching
out on each side of the highway. No big
interstate yet ruining everything along its
path  -  this was just a regular highway. 
I guess Rt. One, but I don't know, and 
all that Southern hospitality stuff. I can
recall we stopped somewhere, once or 
twice, along the way, and it was cafeteria-
style eating, trays, tables, all that. I 
remember being stunned by how it 
was done. Behind the glassed partitions,
real black people, yes, like servants,
dishing out the ladled food into our
passing trays and plates -  whatever
we'd selected. Juices and water too.
It was some sort of immaculate service,
a culture I'd never before seen. And it was
just all accepted. I remember we stayed at
some roadside motel, of cabins, real near
to Washington, DC, but not in it, and the
way it was all done too startled me. The
chamber-maid people, or the orderlies or
something, coming by and doing their 
duties without a word. We all sat around 
on lawnchairs outside the cabins, on some
nice morning, and I remember mistaking
a figure, coming up the way towards us, 
for being my grandmother, and running 
to greet her, and then realizing as I neared,
that it wasn't her, but one of the black
people who tended to us. They almost 
looked the same. My mistake was honest
and genuine. It mussed up all by categories,
that did. Everyone laughed, but me. I was
undergoing some deep and weird torment
over things which I'd been seeing, and a lot
of it never left me. It was a pretty piss-poor
trip for me, as a really young kid too. Then, 
in Washington itself, it all just got worse.
Having to see, in Mount Vernon, the way the
Washingtons lived  -  slaves and servants and
all among them; and the same at Monticello,
where Jefferson lived and did all those strange
things -  inventing how architecture, and 
mechanical inventions and stuff. And slaves
and servants too. Then we got to the Lincoln
Memorial and some 50-foot high sitting Lincoln
or whatever it is, is there with those holy words 
of his etched all over the walls, about equality and
freedom and unfettered living and endless goals  -
and I was simply, once again, stunned to a silent
confusion. Than, lastly, with my father's insistence
in our ears, my sister and I, with him, (but not with
my mother or my grandmother) walking those
however many landings and flights of stairs it is,
to get to the very top inside of the Washington 
Monument. And then walking back down, 
counting steps, calling out heights, and all that.
A totally bizarre and disembodied occurrence,
it too having lost all meaning by what I'd just
been seeing. A brave, happy vista from a high
window, looking out over a sad and lying land.
Totally bizarre to me. At that time there were
48 states, Alaska and Hawaii not yet, until 1959,
adding to the count. Yet, I felt I had found another
one, even back then, the temporary 49th state,
the State of Prevarication.

No comments: