Saturday, April 16, 2016


25. DAVE
I had a friend, about 1982; we'd bumped
into each other, I really forget, he was down
and I got him a job with St. George Press.
Graphic artist, stuff  -  he was like that,
like me, a wee-bit off, a crazy type, an
artist. His name was Dave McGrath, and
I guess it still is. That job didn't work out,
so  -  believe it or not  -  I got him another
job, in Avenel, at Sanford Werfel Studios,
in the old Stanziola Coat Factory building,
right across the street from the very waning
General Dynamics. There was a bar nearby
as well. Dave liked to drink  -  never much
mattered to me. Werfel Studios was run by
this really cool, very deep and dense Jewish
scholar type of guy, and his wife. His wife
was equally great, but how come I can't
remember her name now? I can recite 30
lines of Rabbinical Torah, but not her
name (Rita). Sandy had come up with 
with a fund-raising sculptural thing for
synagogue lobbies, later expanded to
schools, hospitals, anywhere. They were
really selling, and he was extremely
particular about the representations of
his work in the publicity brochures  -  
which is where I came in  -  that I'd arrange
 and have printed for him. Highest quality, 
4-color process, coated stock. The real 
deal. We'd pore over them endlessly, the 
drawings, the details, etc. The idea of his, 
the 'Tree of Life' lobby walls, has idea  
since been stolen by hundreds of others, but 
it was all his initial idea and operation. They 
made a bundle of money. Each of these was 
maybe 8 or 10 feet high, maybe, sculpted, a
stylized tree-trunk, an inscription, some
verse or saying, brass reliefs, etc., and the
idea was to publicly memorialize your
donors (money), by giving everyone a leaf,
inscribed or whatever,  with their name or
whatever they'd like, and the varied leafs
reflected in size and such the amount of
the support-donation. A sort-of crummy
gimmick now, or at least it appears so, but
back then it was considered cool and lots
of nationwide institutions and organizations
were using it. Dave got a nice job there,
drawing and designing this stuff. Sandy
Werfel was a very strong character, a
biblical scholar, an almost Jewish sage,
from the days in the lower east side of
NYC, where he worked in the religious
articles and Bibles trade. Many years.
He was a regular font of information,
living in Colonia as they were. I was
constantly fascinated and enthralled
by him, in all so many aspects. Jewish
fundraising is a peculiar thing; there are
so many levels involved. This works
as well in other spheres, secular and not,
but from experience the most extreme
intensifications of it I've ever seen have
been there. It has to be 'strong, proud,
glitzy, and bold.' A certain form of very
public proclamation, like jewelry, if
possible. You can see Trees of Life now
in many hospital lobbies, as well as
churches, schools, and other sorts of
halls; I see them often. if you saw a
Werfel, you'd know it. Of late, the
firm's emphasis has changed, as Sandy
has retired, into more secular realms.
No matter. This was the foot-up that
brought Dave McGrath some semblance
of income and normalcy, of which
I was glad.
One time, around 1982, I went on a
car trip with Dave McGrath and two
other people. He had an old Dodge Dart
or something, from the late 60's. The
destination of this trip was to be a place
called Mt. Tabor, which is essentially
a neighboring community to Denville,
NJ. But it's not. It exists, or did then,
in a complete other time and place,
some venturesome Oz of contemplation
that needs to be seen to be understood.
My words can do it no justice. It could
be nowhere at all, or wherever it is that
it inhabits is, perhaps, the only place
that it could be. Paradoxical oxymoron.
Mt. Tabor. A long time back, on that
little, twisty hilltop, there had been a
Methodist community  -  the 'Second
Great Awakening,' as it's called in the
history books, was underway and a 
form of quite peculiar religious fervor 
was sweeping the land. People raced to 
revivals and tent-camp meetings, to
swoon and to listen to preachers for
hours. An almost secular liturgy of
dictate was supplanting the older 
body of Euro-Christian hidebound 
worship enforced and controlled by 
the established churches and lords 
and rulers and bishops and priests.
A prairie-fire of dissent and personal
witness was sweeping the land.
Mt. Tabor, like Ocean Grove to the
southeast  -  the neighboring religious 
community to Asbury Park  -  where
sea-side fervor and huge beachfront
crowds prayed and sing in consort  -  
was the seat of crowded worship  -
halls and auditoriums where crowds
sang and witnessed and proclaimed,
and around that community  -  all still
in place there today  -  the oddest 
groupings of tight, twisted homes 
and roads and streets arose. The
tiny little streets closed back in and
over on themselves, huge trees and
branches, elms and oaks, crowding
each eaves and porch and corner. 
Turrets, lookouts, porches, stairs  -  
everything together. The place
is a wonder.
Dave had neglected to put proper
amounts of oil in the car. Unknown 
to me, who should have known. The 
car was running hard, under stress,
and around some turn of one road 
or another, the engine came to a
rocking halt. No oil! I said, 'Dave,
how could you?' It had momentarily 
seized. He did have some oil in the 
trunk, which oil we added. We then
waited about a half hour, it cooled
enough I guess and loosened up enough
to start. We drove very slowly to a 
station and refilled everything. Finally,
we did get to Mt. Tabor, very slowly, 
with a crippled car. At the time, there
was a Gulf station (gone now), down 
at the bottom of the hill. While they were
all up at the top, visiting, I went back 
down, to the station, to see options.
It was already late afternoon/evening
on a Saturday  -  nothing doing. Now
engine work, no engine swapping, no
nothing. The guys looked at me as if 
I was crazy. I told them I was, and a
religious fanatic from up on the hill,
as well. We wound up just leaving 
the car there. Someone else drove us 
home, a day later  -  more on that soon.
The people who Dave knew here were
friends to him of some sort. They were
from Britain, and very so; actually
a cool scene, unique to me. How or
what they were doing there, or for how 
long, or how and why Dave knew them, 
I forget. (Dave was Irish  -  the last of
about 12 kids. He only had a mother,
I never saw or met the father, who had
died some time back. Dave's mother was
quite sweet, about 60 then, and bedraggled.
They lived in their family home, a large
house, right behind the Barron Arts Center, 
in Woodbridge, NJ. In fact, the Arts
Center, I now realize, is probably 
where we'd met, at an event). It was
probably 95 degrees out, and, after the
usual preliminary meet and greet stuff,
wine, food, snacks, all the fine and dainty
talk, we were taken up to our 'quarters.'
A room each, mine in the corner slant
of an attic roof. If it was 95 degrees out,
it was 125 in there. Blistering hot, stuffy
and filled with dead air. I spent the entire
night gagging, sweating, and trying to
breath. It was a memorably miserable 
night. Two further things occurred : one
of the children of this family, I don't 
mean children, they were each like 20
years old, a guy and a girl, as I recall,
this son, the entire time, clutched a
large book and was intent on trying
continually to be reading it. The book
was (and is) 'Godel, Escher, and Bach'.
I have a copy of it as well, and it is a
dense, miserably complicated book to
get through, let along read along on an
afternoon visit. Look it up sometime, a
massive, masterly tome. It was a striking,
Mt. Tabor development for me, and not 
at all characteristic or in place for Mt. 
Tabor. The other thing of note, and this
was very cool  -  the next morning,
around a breakfast table, of everyone,
with tea, coffee, and the rest, the regular,
almost-but-not-quite-formal breakfast
was stewed tomatoes on toast. I had
never before seen or been exposed to
that, so it as new and a marvel. They had
said, in response to one of us, that it was
a pretty basic, standard British
breakfast fare.
Anyway, time passed, whatever was about
to be done got done, talk droned on, and,
finally, some girl arrived in a big, roomy
car of some kind, and drove us all home.
I can remember feeling drained, tired and
hot. At least the car had air conditioning
(which was also a big-time marvel for me,
back then). She drove us, taking, somehow,
Rt. 287 the entire way. I remember my
surprise at looking up and seeing that
we were passing  'Picatinny Arsenel',
back in those days an active armaments 
center, and her saying she worked there.
All in all, a strange and awkward and 
out of place and scene weekend for me,
in some different part of the Jersey
countryside, with an entirely different
set of people. 

No comments: