Sunday, March 13, 2016

7917. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 191)

(pt. 191)
I've mentioned before the guy at the
guardhouse at Security Steel; the one
who had told me his name was Ben
Gazzara, and to which my mother
laughed, saying 'that's not his name,
Ben Gazzara is an actor.' I really
didn't know what to make of it, and
didn't really care. My girlfriend and I
went to his place a few times  -  he 
lived in one of those small ground
level rentals that were, how to put it,
at the rear of all those closed up
buildings on the tunnel side of the
underpass. Like where the Hillcrest
was, that raggedy old bar I wrote of.
There were perhaps four of these
on either side of the tracks -  he had
one on the Route One side, not the
Rahway Avenue side, as I remember.
I'd go there and he'd supply me with
religious statues, maybe two or three
feet high, just plaster-white, and I'd
paint the robes and the face and all that,
onto them, for a few bucks each. It was
garbage work, and to tell the truth I don't
think he was ever really happy with my
work. But, no matter. Ben was a single
gent, maybe 50 then. at most. He had a
marvelously quizzical face, dark, tight
hair, and he walked just a little funny  -
something about it, hunched over, sad,
almost sideways at times. He always
seemed to be hunkering down. Some
people are like that. Their posture and
their gait give them away  - you know
something more is up than what you're
seeing. I guess it seemed he always looked
wounded, damaged, in feeling or emotion
I mean, not lame or injured. He was just
one of those guys, the kind you knew
would never get past a job at a gatehouse
for trucks and entry. His job involved, as
each truck arrived or left, reviewing the
paperwork, bills of lading, etc., seeing
that the truck rear was locked, everything
stamped and properly time-marked. Same
went for the incoming things : trucks, bills
of lading, sign-off sheets, packing and
contents, and all that. He'd direct people
who were coming in for meetings or 
reviews or appointments where to go, 
how to get there, where to park. All that. 
Often, with little to do, he'd just walk out 
onto Avenel Street, just outside the gated 
entrance  - which is where I'd see him, 
and where I'd met him, actually, after
him seeing me like a million times
passing to or fro from Dartmouth to 
Inman. He had about the same intensity
as a school-crossing guard in passing.
It finally just became a weird little, 
familiar acquaintanceship. In all weathers. 
He asked a few questions, found out 
about my interest in and quest for 'art', 
etc., and in a very nice manner one day 
came up with this idea of the plaster-statue 
painting, out of the blue. I don't know if he 
molded the statues, in plaster, at home, or 
bought them, nor did I ever know where 
they ended up or what he did with them. 
I never cared. They were always all the
usual same-old crap  -  Virgin Mary, St.
Joseph, St. Christopher, some flaming-head
bust of Jesus, or a Sacred-Heart Jesus; any
of the stuff. Real predictable. I was mid-late
teens by this time, getting plenty of the 
usual adolescent sex with my girlfriend, 
but I always had one eye out in case this 
too-much-of-a-friend old guy started 
something. Predatory. We didn't know 
that word back then, but, like the always
ongoing threat of Catholic priests and
their shenanigans, I remained wary. And,
just as much, this whole 'religious-statue'
routine sounded so bogus. The other 
Security Steel guys made fun of him, I
saw that  -  a bit like a retarded guy or
something on the jobsite. Butt of all jokes.
Loser. The predictable fall-guy. I never
cared, and any of them could have gone
straight to Hell for making fun of him,
it wouldn't have ever mattered to me.
I'd get their wives,
(that was my little joke).
Sometimes I just felt that life itself was
so strange, and that it, in its strangeness,
was compounded for me by Avenel. I'd
learn later, of course, that most places are
more alike then different anyway, but in 
1966 and '67, I was still collecting info.
In the seminary, trying to talk to others
who had lived their own young lives in 
their own places, I often tried to imagine 
who among them would understand that
from which I'd come. New homes, all in 
a row? People all mostly alike, intent upon
doing the same things. It wasn't exactly
'Organization Man'  -  a book written for
1956 about a certain level of 'professional'
man. The people I knew were not so much
like that  -  those were the shirt and tie 
strivers. We had more 'service' people, 
the ones who did your jobs. Laborers, 
the ones who made or repaired things;
drivers, haulers; truck warehouse guys. 
Life was very stratified, even in this 
miserable caste-layer. If one of the 
Inman Avenue fathers had come 
across a digger of cemetery ditches, 
you can be sure he'd automatically 
get all superior about that. In like 
fashion, the accountant or the pencil 
and paperwork guy from some insurance
industry office, he'd feel over the top 
better than an Avenel laborer or driver 
or mechanic. That was just the funny way
things were. You had to just shrug it off.
One of the problems my father had was
not ever being able to shrug anything off.
He'd take everything to heart; the way that
guy snickered towards him, or the manner
in which he perceived some slight by the
tax guy doing his papers. I never knew 
why he just couldn't get over any of that 
and be done. Everything and every one
in my family seemed to  hit the red 
'emergency overload' emotion button 
way too often. The essence of 'hip',
as I learned later in beatnik school, 
(joke, there was none) was in that
total sense of 'coolness' whereby 
nothing bothered you or hit you 
direct. There was to be always 
another layer of cool between any 
issue or occurrence, and you. As 
in 'Oh my God! the President's 
been shot!'  -  and the cool, hip 
guy would gently say 'That's cool, 
that's cool, everybody gotta' see their 
own things, and some people see 
differently and they act it out. It's OK, 
no problem, it'll work out, stay cool, 
no problem.' Enviable, but maybe 
dumb as all get-out too. I know in my 
own house, and in most parts of Avenel 
too, it was the opposite. Pandemonium. 
Again, as in, 'Oh my God!! The President's 
been shot!! I can't do a thing! 
Oh my God, what next?!'
William Whyte had written 'Organization 
Man'  -  and C. Wright Mills had written
'White Collar.' Both were 1950 books 
about the corporate culture. The 
'Organization Man' was the guy who 
would subordinate everything to the 
demands of the corporation. 'White 
Collar' was about the corporate elite, 
and the high-suburban culture of 
'success' that then went with it. They 
were each postwar, 'atomic-age' books, 
reeking, each in their way, of the tremors 
and hang-ups and fears that had come 
out of both the 'War' and the arising new
upper-class of technocrats and working
theorists in thrall to the new corporate 
culture. They were both non-fiction, 
sociology type books that first 'defined' 
the subject they then went on to describe 
and dissect. It was a very biased argument, 
whatever it was, because in each case the 
premise had first been made up by the
writer, and then the book filled in, to
agree with the premise. That's the way 
these things work. Then, five or six years 
later, the second tide hits  -  the 'revisionists', 
who begin taking apart that argument, 
showing its faults and shortcomings, and 
then coming up with something new, of 
their own. Then that sells; and then the 
same thing happens again, and again.
That's how the academic and critical-culture 
industries thrive, grow, and go on. People 
and schools of thought (and universities) 
grow rich on all this, and it's a line of work 
that can't be stopped after a while because
it would, quite simply, put people out of 
work. Not the people being written about  
-  no one ends up caring about them anyway  
-  but the people who do the writing and the
staffs or researchers and polltakers and all
that. THEY are the ones who end up with 
careers and academic position based on their
one or two stupidly and quickly dated ideas.
What a racket! I saw all that right off  -  in
fact I actually delved into each of those two
books mentioned. After twenty minutes of 
each, it was really quite hard to keep my 
head up. The cool thing about C. Wright 
Mills, to me anyway, as I later learned from 
reading, was that he was a real bastard to 
others, and to his students, and that he rode 
a BMW motorcycle each day, from somewhere 
upstate a little, into NYC, in  a suit and tie 
and with a briefcase strapped to the bike, 
while he smoked his pipe, to his teaching 
professorship at Columbia University, or 
NYU, or somewhere. Each time I saw 
him or a photo of him or something, 
it always seemed like the entire world, 
instantly, turned to 1950's black and white.
My friend in the seminary, Leo Benjamin, he
came from way up Bangor, Maine. I figured
he'd have no idea of the sort of in-line existence
I'd grown up in. Not that I knew, but I had a
hunch, from the way he talked, that he maybe
lived a farm existence, or some other sort of old
house and old family stuff, on a land that they've
been on since forever. My other friend, Kirk Hallet,
with an 'E.' that was usually used first, for Edward
I guessed. It always sounded so regal.  He lived 
in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania  -  which place I read
up on a little. It was an old place, near to Harrisburg,
and was the northernmost penetration of the Battle of
Gettysburg, in the Civil War. So I figured that too for
being old, and just set up differently. It went like that,
certainly among the wealthier kids there  -  I knew
they'd never get it. My particular status of upbringing
was to be my own, as the story of mine, which went
with it. I was OK with that, but it irked a bit too.
That was all the connection I needed to my own sense 
of place; and Being  -   Ben Gazzara, (who may
very well have been an actor), his painted
statues (which started out blank), and me.

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