Monday, May 2, 2016


There are so many convoluted
ways of me talking about myself
that I sometimes think it must
sound stupid, though it's never
meant to be. I like to find things
out, juggle facts and ideas, and
examine all of them as they're
hanging in the air. In a way, it's
like one of those commercials
you see where the narrator, or
whoever it is, is seen walking
and still animate amid the rest
of the scene that's been
frozen-stopped in mid scene.
I like to think they stole that
simple computer-video trick
idea from me for their measly
up-your-ass commercials. Of
course they did not, but I said
I 'liked' to think it. That's what
it's all about  -  it's what you
think. Or it's not.
In my life, I've faced off a number
of sorry deaths. My jerky brother-
in-law blowing his brains out, at
age 57, in a car in his yard, and
then just staying there until people
found him because his dogs were
barking incessantly. (I meant that
as a joke. He couldn't exactly get
up and let people know. 'Hey, Fred,
I've just killed myself over there.
Want to lend a hand with the
clean-up, and can't you shut these
dogs up?' If you can't laugh at
stupid stuff, why live?)...Another
time, when I worked at St. George
Press, one of the employees got into
my jacket, hanging on the coat rack
in the walkway, stealing my wallet,
money, and other stuff. I pretty
much knew by deduction who
had done it. They called the
police, as regular procedure. The
police went to the kid's house
in Port Reading or Sewaren,
whatever it was, and found all
the stuff, and more. He confessed,
and then two days later drove
himself up to the Adirondacks
and hung himself. From a tree.
Somebody up there found him,
and his empty car, a few days
later. Remorse-suicide, it was
called. Then, to make it all worse,
his family came in and, just as a
regular, commercial printing job,
paid, as if nothing was out of the
ordinary, had us print up his
funeral announcement, and the
funeral cards and all that. When I
say 'us', that means me, the guy
who took the orders. How weird
can any of this be? Pretty weird.
Also, over in Columbia Crossroads,
we had an RD2 route mailman,
named Bob Greenough, whose
teen-age son killed himself
because his girlfriend wouldn't
put out. That was the story that
went around -   that the endless
tease from her, but no delivery,
finally drove him mad enough
to take his own life. Who
knows, and I never asked.
The battering ram of life eventually
wound its way all along those old
country places  -  the stories of
sad-sack disasters, deaths and
accidents. It all made you be
careful to look around yourself,
everywhere, for the ghosts and
images of the past. Country living,
I mean deep country  -  not the
rich-rural horsey crap like they
live in Bedminster and Far Hills  -
is a really brutal taskmaster. It
takes just as much as it gives,
maybe more. Crazy people,
marginal mentalities, even the
inbreeding of weird and close
quarters, they all have a tone
and a mark. You can see it.
Every once in a while, in a
local market, or supermart,
you'd see one walking around
- a strange looking, almost
possessed kid, staring out, in
a stark and dangerous manner.
They were there, in the hills
and hollows, father sons and
daughters and mothers too.
All the strangenesses baked
into a cake of one.
I've known all sorts of deaths,
and really stupid ones too, and
sad. Mostly motorcycle guys,
but not all. And I don't need to
supply names : the guy who
glidingly just went into the
side of a flatbed truck, right
at head level, and lost his own
in the instant. The guy down in
D. C., visiting, hot-dogging around
without a helmet on his motorcycle
in the street somewhere, losing
control and cramming the curb
at a good speed and, airborne then,
hitting the wrong something while
flying through the air. Helmet doesn't
much matter then, except maybe to
hold your brains in while the rest
of you oozes around. Shootings.
Ambushes. All kinds of wrong
shit. Up here, though, in these
Pennsylvania parts, people just
mostly died innocently, sadly and
savage. Quarrels over wives and
stuff. Bam! Guns everywhere  -
not that they need control, just that
they're at the ready, like aspirin.
A lot of hangings too; all those
barn rafters and tree limbs, I guess.
The most appallingly tragic of any
of these was an old guy of my
acquaintance, John Harkness. He
was like 75 or maybe more when
he just gave it up and hung himself
in the barn. It was a modern matter;
after so many years of doing everything
by hand  -  the milking, the crops, the
carrying  -  (he lived, with his wife,
Mary, an almost Amish existence),
the state had notified him, like any
of the other farmers, that he had to
invest (it was a large amount) in the
new, 1972, 'bulk-tank' system for
storing and holding the raw milk.
That included a driveway for the
creamery truck  -  it would come
twice a week now to pick up, in a
chrome tanker truck, everyone's
milk. That milk then had to be held
in these new tanks, at a constant,
cold temperature, and stirred slowly
by the big, stirring arm inside the
tank, at all times. Quite the project,
an entire cooling system, and a real
investment. We did it at Warren's,
though it was no fun and, once
established, it meant no more
daily trips to the creamery for
me, or anyone. John, and Mary,
couldn't bear the thought  -  we
neighboring guys often did things
for them, lots of the haying and
the crops and stuff, they rally
couldn't any longer do, because
of their age and slowness. And,
face it, everything in their place
was old and manual. This guy and
his wife were still living in 1930.
Wagons and horses, big, manual
farm implements, and the rest. Rope
was a modern convenience for him,
by that standard. The modern world
had him beat; it plowed through his
head like an I-beam, just ripping
his sad, old life apart. He was a huge,
sad, quiet bear of a man, and I was
really sorry to see him go. I probably
felt more for that guy than most
anyone. He killed himself quietly.
Mary was left behind, an equally
tragic mess. They had a daughter,
something like 50 years old, who
came around some   -  but I don't
know then what they did or how
Mary finished out her life, or the
farm. The funeral for him had just
about every vehicle for miles around
in it, a long line of sorrowful cars
stretching across the hillside to East
Smithfield, where the cemetery was.
There wasn't anything to do, really,
and everybody knew it; it was the
encroachment of the modern day.
The 'State' was what it came down
to, and all these guys detested what
they had to live, but they did it. There
wasn't much thought or focal-energy
put to the fighting or resisting of it.
Not like those Idaho farm guys or
whatever it is, who resist the
government, lay siege and shoot
back at agents. Not these folks  -
this was a passive countryside,
with flat and gentle people who
still believed in all that junk that
had always been prevalent.
Churches and courthouses,
the meek and the mild. The
smile and the win. All of this,
sad or confusing as it may
have been, I just sort of
watched from the sidelines,
observing. I was still at a
distance, unsure enough of
how to proceed  -  I watched
for the means and the markers
of getting by, but never with
any big, giant step of my own.
having to be careful just gave
me an operative caution that I
lived with. No, I never made
any enemies in Columbia
Crossroads and area, and in
fact I made a few strong and
curious though valuable
friendships  - all gone now,
but whatever. I went back
once and the old abandoned
cemetery at the top of my hill
has now been somehow put
back into use. It now neither
looks old and iron-fenced and
spookily-abandoned, nor is it
vacant and poorly marked.
It's now a well-shaved hilltop
and quite active -  and some
of the people I've been
mentioning herein from those
days, they're in there now  -
all dead and buried with big,
fancy, marble stones. My first,
new sighting of that was a
shocker. Plus, and maybe
moreso, how the land had
been cleared and shaved down
and opened up. Bare, and sunlit,
the hill seemed now almost

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