Friday, April 15, 2016


Going back many years, the first time I
took any interest in Princeton was in about
1966, when I used to ride around endlessly,
a lot anyway, with a friend named Ray, who
would get his father's '56 Plymouth for the
evening or day. His father worked at Reynolds
Aluminum, down on Blair Road, right across,
in fact, from Kuhlman Dining Car Company,
of which I've written before. They made 
those grand old regular American diners 
that everyone's so fond of. For all I know  
they used Reynolds Aluminum sheets, from 
right across the road. That Reynolds factory 
had a funny quirk  -  it was large, very square 
and low, and had a drainage ditch cut out all 
around it, which often filled with run-off or 
rain water. It always gave me the impression,  
then, that it had a moat around itself, and
I'd get all dreamy and medieval near there. 
Anyway, it was Ray who first drove me
to Princeton  -  not by any plan or anything,
just the normal roaming around. This was 
a fresh though chilly April day and when we 
got there, at the Princeton High School lawn 
(the old one, in  use then, on Nassau Street  -  
now all since moved to some new and 
mucky-looking  place on the far end of town), 
they were exhibiting an outdoor art show,  
student stuff, on the lawn, and the usual 
rummage and flea market junk. It was 
interesting, and we stopped and looked 
around. But it was, back then, like nothing 
I'd  really ever seen before. A town, a 
university town at that, which honored and 
proclaimed its creative allegiance to things 
other than the usual crud (I then thought anyway). 
I was struck. I was also inquisitive : what kind of 
place is this? What was this university connection 
all about? We really didn't get much deeper into 
town, just stayed about there, but my interest 
was fired up. Some time later, once I did finally 
get a license and a car of my own, I drove there, 
with my girlfriend no less, and we pretty much 
did the same kind of thing, just wandering 
around, in a sort of wonder at what's up. 
She still talks about this to this day  -  crazy, 
wonderful, first trip anywhere. I admit, it had 
some peculiarities. First off, it seemed always 
balmy  -  warmer and more floral and all, than 
anywhere else and, in addition, it seemed deeply 
southern. A different sort of old place, and back 
then I didn't even know a thing about it, as much 
as I do now. We were walking, as it were, on 
corpses everywhere,  it all having been part once 
of a Continental Army circulation and movement, 
with skirmishes and battles all over what later 
became the center of Princeton University's 
campus too. It always used to amaze me that the 
actual first establishment of Princeton University 
(what later became, after it moved to 'Princeton') was 
actually a place (marked to this day on the wall of 
a very old church and meeting house) right in the 
crummy middle of Elizabeth, NJ. It all had to to 
with the Rev. Burr, Aaron Burr, Sr., the father of  
the Aaron Burr we know from American historical 
fame, and dueler of Hamilton, and Vice President and 
provocateur and insurrectionist too.
Anyway, Princeton is where Aaron Burr, Jr. grew 
up and the University was the site of his home, 
and also a field where soldiers on both sides had 
fought and died. The Burrs, each, are buried in the 
Princeton Cemetery nearby. It's now, the field, 
called, Cannon Green, and I know, for one thing,
that  -  in the Department of Lingering Spirits and
Haunted Places, my dog will NOT, in any way 
shape or form, walk across that lawn nor near  
that area. Something completely freezes her up and 
shrivels her nerve, which is usually pretty good.
Well, on that day, my girlfriend and I walked 
around, got something to eat and drink, sat on a 
lawn somewhere, and just took it all in.  After that 
we'd return every so often. It became a regular spot 
for us. Friends of ours from Rutgers took us there 
one night, when females were first being enrolled,
first year, 1968, '69 maybe. One of them was 
transferring student friend of ours, Amy, and 
there was a party of some sort, for the new 
girls' arrivals, in a frat house or someone's
house/apartment. All I remember is being
a tad uncomfortable, and some guy with 
a pipe, smoking and somber, all night. No
damper on the night, just a little annoying
to me, and even a bit ominous seeming. All
that academic crud which I never wanted to
be mine, and  -  for myself  -  all that watching
what I said, for fear of alienating one creep
or the other.
There was, back on the everyday Dinky, this
other guy, Scott somebody. Some curious and
Italian last name, but very short, like 'Cui' or
'Cusi' or something of that sort. He was tall
and thin, and always wore serious black
clothing - real fabrics and materials, no
'leisure' clothes. He always dressed OK,
but his lack of taste was so bad that all
his outfits would be ruined because
whatever he wore he always had a
two-dollar plastic and way-garishly-
colored finish to it. It killed everything
else, and just never matched. Plus, he
always wore a black knit  watchman's
knit hat  -  like the sort that bank-robbers
wear. Nothing ever looked right, and he
wore the hat all the time. I saw him,
really, only two or three times without
that hat. I could see why; he had perhaps
twenty strands of hair left, long, stringy
top-of-the-head hair, and his scalp,
besides, was heavily freckled and
blotchy. Weird. He always, to add
to the bad effect, always, was dragging
around one of those airport-luggage
cart-and-wheels things, a smaller
sized one. He laughed it off when any
one made fun of him or it, and would
just say, 'I like it; there's nothing in it,
just a small lunch my wife prepares
each day.' I was never really sure if he
meant she made it anew each day, or
if it was the same old lunch every day.
He would always come at me with a
joke of the day from his 'Joke Of The
Day' calendar his wife bought him
each Christmas. Lame stuff, and his
delivery sucked too. This went on
and on, almost ad nauseum.
Funny thing was, he was the main
Science Librarian in the Lewis
Science Library, a fancy new building
by Frank Gehry at the time. New, fancy
offices and library rooms. He'd been
doing it for years. That's the Peter
Principle of management, actually, or
Drucker, or someone  -  when you reach
a job point where you've met your match,
reached your talent limit, and they
just leave you there, in place, instead
of advancing you. Be content for small
favors. Be it good or bad, at least if you're
kept right there you won't bother anyone.
Scott was, on the surface, a bit of the kind
of guy you'd think would have had research
papers, books, and a partially-finished
manuscript or something in his wheeled 
cart; but, no, just an everyday lunch.
I used to think how we all are like that,
trailing our little closed compartment
around with us everywhere, even if filled with
nothing but crud  -  the everyday run-down
of an old, ordinary lunch. Assumptions.
Ideas. Attitudes. Memories. Refusals. All
those things we never act upon because
we're just more comfortable right where
we already are. And we know
we won't bother anyone.

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