Thursday, March 10, 2016

7904. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 188)

(pt. 188)
Omar Avenue didn't really exist in 1960.
It was a rutted, dirt, road, maybe a truck
path, municipal vehicles, out to the dump,
swamp, wasteland. Everything there, all
around, ran down to Blair Road anyway.
The center road, from the 'upper' parts of
Avenel, was called Homestead Avenue,
which pretty much describes for you
what it was. That road was a stab in
the dark at something just short of the
swamps, which were so soon overtaken
anyway by tank farms and the storage
tanks of fuel, oils, gasolines and the like.
They're still there, everywhere, and it
now only gets worse as you sink towards
Carteret and pass under the NJ Turnpike.
It's all now a pretty massive undertaking.
12 or 14 lanes of traffic, turnpike stuff
whizzing by at 80mph, noise, trucks, and
the rest  -  access and exit ramps, a few
hotels, cantilevered overpasses and the
usual junk shopping, with some fuel
depots thrown in. Here and there, in
the oily, dump woods, people lived, or
tried living, or set up houses. That's why,
I'd guess, peculiarly, it was called by
its name, 'Homestead' Avenue. In the
old days things used to just be called
what they were  -  Ice-house Road,
Cartage Street, even Warehouse Way.
Stupid, but utilitarian word-use, letting
you know exactly what was up. Not
like that any longer. The houses which
had been put in along the way  -  a few
of which do still exist  - off to the side,
were large and solitary, amidst woods,
dirt paths and car-tracks, fallen trees, and
marsh grasses, with fields. It was all fairly
wild and unexplored. A good place to be.
It was the bottom of Avenel. Now it's all
gone  -  yes, of course  -  and there's even
a traffic light now at the end of Omar, on
Rahway Avenue. The bars and pizza joints
of sleaze that once were there, they too are
all gone. As if civilization, or what Avenel
makes of it, had just caught up with
It was hard to see things disappear back
then, as a kid  - if we even noticed. We
just somehow figured it all to be part of
some plan, some adult thing that was
always underway. Like how the drive-in
movie disappeared, and the ice cream
stand and the board racetrack, all that
stuff taken over by the high school, the
whole other end of Avenel. We figured
we could only be in one place at a time,
and so while we were 'here' they'd maybe
be wrecking 'there'. It was a like-rotational
thing, always underway, and it seemed to
have little to do with, or reference to, us.
Things just disappeared. It's always funny
now to see old pictures of a place, and 
suddenly remember it, 'Hey! yeah, I 
remember that, when it was there. 
Where'd it go, and when? The past then 
exists only in legendary form, and there
are people who make nostalgia-type
careers of all this. To us kids, they 
were 'things just gone.'
Out down towards the middle of Homestead,
woods, swamps, grass, and trees, on the left,
was Dafchik's junkyards. Auto-wreckers.
Salvage. Call them what you will. There
were junkyards up by me too, on Inman
Avenue, and those are the ones I usually
write about. They got plenty of local use
by us all. But these along Homestead
(there were two or three, Dafchik's
being the largest) were far more massive,
less compact, and  -  in fact  -  busier. 
The one that Dafchik ran included a 
large white house, old and rambling, 
in the middle of it. Surrounded by 
woods and the usual muck and
driveways, trees and crap of all sorts.
There were, seen from the road anyway, 
a few lean-to's, large, overhead shelters,
machine shops, a front-end loader, a 
tractor or two, a bunch of work trucks, 
and more. All complete with junked cars, 
everywhere. In varied states  -  
dis-assembled, parted out, half 
dis-assembled, sheds and racks
for fenders, or hoods, or wheels 
and tires. It just went on, and there 
were always people and activity, 
greasy guys hard at work. The flames 
of welding or cutting torches, and 
the odd whir of metal-cutting saws
and things. Because of the visible
activity, we never really caroused 
there, just sort of, instead, watched 
from a distance, or passed by on our 
way into the deeper woods and trails. 
I never knew if, in that big, white 
house, people lived, or if it too was 
storage or office stuff. The Dafchik 
family itself, as far as I knew, lived
in a smaller place up on Rahway
Avenue, next to a crummy lot filled
with old Dodges and other junked 
cars, just sitting there forever. There 
was a girl in school with me, named 
'Constance Dafchik' who was of that 
family, so I knew of their home and 
things. But we never talked much, 
and I never asked questions. She had
a few older brothers, car and junkyard
type guys, so  -  along with the father
  -  I figured they all worked down in
their scrapyard. I always loved names
like 'Constance' (people called her
Connie), and 'Temperance' and 
'Prudence' and 'Chastity'. For no 
reason  -  I mean really, why would 
anyone name their kids such names 
in the modern world, they were such 
old, Calvinist, Puritan names; but, I 
always liked them and thought they 
were cool. It was neat to know a 
'Constance'. I did used to think,
'why would you name your kid a 
noun?'; it opened up all sorts of bad 
possibilities, once you got started : 
Vice-Grip, Shovel, Yard-Sale, Rake,
Sensibility, Stupidity. Much like the 
naming of streets that I mentioned 
here in the opening  -  the names 
describe the utility of use. Perhaps.
So the Dafchik junkyard was always a
confusion to me  -  we never got to the
bottom of anything. I went there, a few
years later, once or twice, actually for car
parts. With a friend, once with my father.
It was just what I thought  -  you trudged
along, after parking in the greasy gravel,
walked into this large, open, noisy space,
where there was a guy or two hanging
around what purported to be a desk area;
asking for or about your part, they'd wince,
maybe spit, think about it, walk around,
ask someone else, to be sure, and then
decide whether or not they 'might' have 
it ('Hmm, yeah, I think we got a few of 
them around. What year didja' say?'). 
Then they'd walk you along, to wherever, 
and you either got your part or you didn't. 
No one ever seemed really energetic 
about taking your money, it wasn't
too important  - they'd make change or
whatever from some crummy metal box,
and you'd be on your way. It was kind of
cool, and unique too, in that it wasn't the
sort of place you'd just drive right up to, 
get out, and walk in. There was none of 
that. Everything involved a bit of a 'junkyard'
saunter. You'd park at what was a little
distance, have to walk through and amongst
things  -  interesting things  -  to get where
you were headed. and then walk back. Only
if your carry-our piece was large or heavy
enough could you be allowed to drive in
any deeper. A real privilege.
There were other junk guys down there, and
I'll be getting to them. Plenty of stories to go
around. A lot of people used the area to learn
to drive  -  as I mentioned in an earlier chapter,
my friend Aleck did, and we went down there
a few times. All that was in the middle of
broken trees, stubble, logs on the ground  -  a
lot of impassable stuff that could wreck your
car, but no one could really get any speed up,
maybe it was good for 10 mph, no more.
Really good to learn at, wear in some clutch
lessons (back then, when people shifted). The 
little paths and clearing were good for stuff, and 
then you'd find something that reminded you 
of other uses. But we were too young for that,
and first you had to learn to drive anyway.

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