Saturday, March 26, 2016


There was a time when, quite near to
me, South Plainfield was still farmland.
And a fairly historical place as well. Late
into the 1970's, early 1980's, as everything
else, it sort of changed irrevocably into
the re-telling of land and place that it is
now : a rank line of subdivisions, with
here and there the usual historical society
types putting up a sign or interjecting
something about the wonderful world
that once was. As if they'd never been
complicit in its demise. It's usually, in
these civic contexts, the ones with the
loudest voices about history and markers
and plaques and reverence, who are the
worst offenders  -  the real estate wives,
maybe the cute, polite ones with their
expensive clothes and faux manners
who show houses on the weekend.
Their second tier of salesmanship is
a dilapidated form of self-sex, whereby
they quietly sell themselves, in their
looks I mean, in addition to the
qualities of the house. The very house
their husband's land and development
company probably put up where now
she wants the historical marker placed
for 'Henderson's Farm', or the 'Battle
of Little Plains', some disappearing
Revolutionary War skirmish between
colonials and Redcoat King's Armies
on the run. I know we have one or two
around here  -  real estate families wherein
the husband has the big hammer and rules
the real estate roost, tearing things down,
calling them later, say, 'Zappia Estates'
and at the same time having the wife
go to bat defending what's being done.
Refuting the damage  - 'Those were old
homes, rank and with mold. In need of
repair...' It's all crap. I used to do printing
for all these guys, and their public relations
needs too. David Annun, Moretti Real
Estate, Alan Pollak , J. J. Elek. Many other
names. I know how it's done and I know
what they do. It's all false-front, and it's
all lies  -  except for the facts, which
they make up and then own. Not
much you can do there.
Long about 1995, in South Plainfield, I
got wind (through my work with the Star
Ledger, writing overnight coverage for
town meetings, zoning and variance
boards, boards of education meetings,
etc., I'd get to cover, and hear about all
these different issues in about 15
different towns) of another old home,
this in South Plainfield, which had been
approved  -  after a rancorous meeting
or two  -  for tear-down and 'redevelopment'
(by any of the usual crooks). First chance
I got, I set out in search of this place. It
turned out to be a wonderfully one-of-
a-kind brick and stone home, built by
some Italian guy, whose name was
inscribed in the bricks and concrete at
the walkway entrance. Quite catching
in appearance  -  low, rambling, perfect
use of window space and wood, along
with the old-world quality of the fine
brick and masonry work. Had to be seen;
as did the yard and little garage/barn and
other outbuildings. My friend and I walked
right in to the open and unattended barn.
The loft and floor were filled with old
things, junked, forgotten, collected. It
was a site. In the loft area my friend
nabbed an old RCA Victrola, old-style,
table-top, crank-handle powered. It was
a sight, and nicely original and decal'd.
All that was damaged was the sound
horn, that big thing that used to come
out of those old RCA Victrolas, sort
of like a megaphone to better amplify
the sound. No problem, he eventually
found a really nice replacement one
for it, from a refurbisher. We threw
all this into my car. The place was
great, and the large, old, three-floor,
wood homes all around it were of the
traditional, old-style American forms,
chicken-coops in the yards, car-barns,
farm sheds. There were about four of
these homes around and, in the middle
too, some horrid-looking, new-brick
Baptist Church. Ugly and out of place,
but that's how they do this  -  beginning
their infiltration of bad taste. I knew there
was a history here  -  all these old homes,
a curious old section of South Plainfield,
and there was even, unbelievably, to the
rear of all this, the remains of an old
race-track! A horse and paddock,
oval-shaped, track, where once, probably
80 years before, people came with their
buggies and horses, and later, cars, and
parked on the grass and the hard-pack for
their race-track trackside entertainments.
It was all still visible : the fences, the
remnants of the stands, the oval of the
track and the worn-out depressions in
the grass and ground. What is it now,
some twenty plus years later? All gone.
Some ten or so new homes take the places.
Before too long, making me think we were
busted for sure, some guy came stumbling
over  -  from a distance he appeared to be in
earnest, but as he came to us it was apparent
he was just a nearby local, and half or more
drunk as he was, to boot. Instead of accosting
us for being there, or scolding us for trespass
or whatever, he began a wild, talkative
monologue. My friend made the mistake
of telling him (as a cover) that I was 'from
the Star Ledger' (I wasn't) and that was all
this guy needed to hear. Immediately, he
somehow assumed I could write the expose
article of a lifetime to tell what went on and
what had happened here : he rambled and raged
at the inequities of the 'thieves and real-estate
bastards' destroying the town and these blocks
in particular; how the neighbors had spent all
their energies fighting this; how the neighborhood
was ruined, what was to come, what a fine, old
house this had been, etc. He was deadly serious
and in full overdrive. And pretty drunk. Offering
for us to come to his own home with him and
continue drinking (we passed on that) he said
we should 'feel free to take whatever we see,
whatever we want, because none of those
bastards are going to want it and we've
already all taken ours. We've been through
here'. And then he walked us to the adjacent
property, through a broken fence and over a
small, wet low-spot, and pointed to the chicken
coops and a stable, all at the rear of this grand,
set-back, old house. 'This too is going'. He said.
The doomed old property was to be the next to
go. Funny thing is, all stripped and barren, it
does still stand, all these years later. It looks
like unkempt crap, but there are always two
or three cars in the long drive, and a few
tenants, or families, still live there.
In other respects, like Morristown, South 
Plainfield did have a lot of history and 
heritage, if they'd only taken care of it. 
The problem, and it's a constant problem, 
everywhere, is a political one  -  how local 
political types only see or justify growth 
and development as positive goals. Much 
like a publicly-traded stock company, 
wherein each quarter (folks, that's every 
three months) the rabid shareholders 
demand growth, not decline. They want 
profits, and perhaps dividends too, which 
grow from profits, as well as a constantly 
rising stock price. It's greed, quite simply, 
greed and stupidity. The simple fact is, it 
cannot happen. It shouldn't even be expected 
to happen. All companies fade and recede 
over time, the growth curve is not constant, 
nor is it exponential, and  -  in economics  -
certain  things are cyclical. Only the dumbest
of investors would not know of that. It's
the same, locally, with scab politicians  -
willing to wreck, plow and pave anything 
over so as to show, and be seen promoting,
growth. 'Growth' in quotes, as it's mostly
shabby, cluttering, rank, foul, and stupid.
And it ruins everyone else's life and habitat.
Try to get that back in your taxes.
And, one last thing for here, now, and back to
Morristown. Years back, about 1985, that same
friend and I, with my wife and son along too, 
visited, on the wooded fringe of Morristown, a 
place called Jockey Hollow. It's a historic
encampment of Revolutionary War times
and soldiers, while Washington himself
headquartered a distance off, in the old Ford
Mansion (and all still standing, as 
'Washington's Headquarters Historic Site'). It was 
a  November 're-enactment' weekend, which meant 
there were all sorts of 'soldiers', modern people 
acting as soldiers anyway, in full, authentic costume,
 period uniforms, bivouacs, tents, open campfires, 
the whole bit. A regular campfest. We tried, he and I,
all we could to break this one guy out of character.
He wouldn't budge. He pretended offense, and interest,
in my wife, the female, on the campgrounds  -  unless
she was, 'perhaps, a camp-follower?'  -  I said,
'Hey, Buddy, you're calling my wife a whore.' My
son, 9 years old, spending his time gleefully rolling
down the hillocks and otherwise just frolicking
about, he called some crazy name, I forget, which 
meant a soldier who'd gone mad, crazy, from the
combat-stress, etc. I said 'Hey buddy, you're calling
my kid crazy'. At that, I told him it was show-time,
and we had to have a go, I was taking offense. I 
grabbed his rifle, and blew his authentic-soldier 
brains out, right there, on the field.
 (OK, just kidding). We couldn't
break this guy, no how, no way. 
Pretty cool.

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