Wednesday, May 25, 2016


When I finally did take a job in
Elmira, it didn't last for long.
Hurricane Agnes wiped
everything out, for about a
year. The businesses which
had gotten creamed by the
raging floodwaters of the
Chemung  -  which was
most all of downtown
Elmira  -  had to tackle
the project of re-building,
cleaning up, coming back
to business-life, or giving up.
Whitehall Printing, where I
worked, had been a good
and going concern, some 15
or 20 employees, lots of good
and expensive equipment and
inventory. It was all gone.
The name Whitehall  -  even
though it sounds traditional and
important  -  was a combination
of Floyd White and Margaret
(Marge) Hall, his wife. I had
experience, really basic, in
printing, from my short time
at NJ Apellate, Main Street,
Woodbridge, and with some
real exaggeration I ante'd that
up to getting a real job as a
graphic-arts and darkroom
prep-man for the pre-press
operations  -  stripping
negatives and color
separations, burning plates,
etc.  It was all old-school
stuff, done by hand, and I
managed a darkroom there
as part of the job. The guy
whose job I took had  -  when
I arrived  -  two or three days
left, in which he tried to 'teach'
me what I needed to know. It
was January. He got his W-2
form one day, turned to me,
and said 'Good God, was it
even worth it?' That was the
last I ever saw of him.
 My initial letter to Floyd White
was what garnered his interest
in me. He hired me right off,
it all went pretty simple. There
was this man-to-man interview
thing that went on  -  the kind
where you can tell like in a
minute if the deal will work,
if you're the guy for this
interviewer, and if the place
is what you wanted. He and
his wife were in their late
fifties then. He said, some
time later, that one of the
reasons he hired me, besides
the good feeling and the
confidence he felt with and
of me, and his 'innate' sense
of interviews and employee-hires,
was because I'd 'reminded' him
of himself at that age  -  he too
having long before just upped
and left Plainfield, NJ to start
out on his own, somewhere
faraway and new. I thought
that was pretty cool, and kind
of cosmic too. Life is like that
sometimes  -  it has all these
little circles and curlicues that,
like bubbles in the air, seem
to float around, sometimes
bump into each other,
sometimes burst and
sometimes merge, to form
a larger bubble, still afloat,
just heavier. You need to
be watchful for the mergers,
as I see it, and take advantage
of the imagined advantage.
If it's not yours, it won't take.
They say we form our own
reality. Who really knows?
Once the flood shut everything
down, I was back on my own
resources in Columbia Crossroads,
still scrounging around to make
money. School bus driving; farm
help; selling junk; whatever I
could do, and  -  taking care of
that schoolhouse too. Back to
all that. Hard work, rewarded
by work just a little less hard
-   country-time scrounging,
nothing like the fake lemonade
they used to peddle by that name.
Or that other hideous canard
'Pepperidge Farm Remembers...'
Another total crock of advertising
shit. If they really 'remembered'
they slit their throats. The old
days were never very
golden at all.
A few times the local kids would
stop by, carousing around, doing
stupid stuff. They were still in their
high school years, finishing up. It
was all OK until they began
discovering pot. Once it got that
far I had to throw them off my
property; no more nightly bullshit.
God knows what else was going on
up the other end of my road  -  the
abandoned cemetery, the heavy
woods and seclusion. One time,
a kid  -  I've already mentioned him,
Mike, the Texas State Trooper now  -
he got so upset by being turned away
at my door, he got in his Mercury
Comet and peeled out in the dirt,
spinning all this way and that. It
was dark out, and late. Next thing
I knew, he's at my door in a total
state of emotion  -  'You gott'a
help me, Gary, Mr. Introne (they
called me both) my car's in your
pond and I can't back it out.' Sure
enough, he spun the rear end
through some weeds and
dumped it right into the pond.
No traction there whatsoever,
though the car itself was
unharmed. We messed it
around and finally did get it
out - an hour and a ton of
muck later, he drove off. I
can't really remember, but
that might have been the
last time I saw him. I do
remember his last year of
high school; he'd hang
around a lot. I'd have Neil
Young's 'Harvest' on the
turntable, and he grew to
really love it, and requested
it, in fact. And that Spring, in
school, he'd gotten all excited
by having to read Henry
David Thoreau  -  Walden
Pond, Self Reliance, the
Transcendentalists and all
that. I talked him through it.
He always mangled Thoreau's
last name; it was funny. It's
more like 'Thor-ough' than
anything, but he'd somehow
always pronounce it all wrong,
and add an x at the end too,
like 'Thor-e-aux'. Weirdest
thing, that was. Mike had
a neighbor friend, another
kid his age, Denny Welch.
He lived in a ramshackle,
crumbling house over next
to Mike's. In his house there
was no mother, unlike Mike's
absent (in Texas) father. Denny
also had a younger brother, by
five years or so, and the two
of them, each pretty strong, 
got by pretty much on their 
own. Mike and Denny were 
always getting into some 
sort of mischief. I mentioned 
them before  -  in an earlier 
chapter  - about trashing that 
Austin Healy 3000. They 
were both involved in that 
caper. Plus the pot stuff.
There just wasn't that much 
to do, those poor boys. I 
don't know who or what their
peer group was like, nor any
real information about the
make-up of their high-school
chums, male or female. All 
I knew was that they weren't 
even really 'farm boys' either. 
I mean they lived out here, 
but both in little houses out 
on the tarred road, where 
people went by about 65 
mph, like hell-bats, and
where there wasn't anything
else, just nothing. An old, 
boarded-up one time general
store type thing was still 
standing, but I wouldn't have
ever leaned on it. I think all
that was holding it up was 
the stuff that had grown 
all onto and around it, 
all those limbs and foliage
and greenery.
It was kind of funny, 
for those kids belonged 
to nothing at all, anywhere.
They had no  connections, 
and they never took jobs, 
like helping out on any of 
the local or neighboring
farms -  which always 
usually welcomed help and
paid something too. It just
seemed pretty natural, but they
never lifted a finger or ever
got interested, in anything.
Not the barn-construction 
stuff, or mechanics or milking.
None of it. Just plain outsiders
while being on the inside. And
right across from them was the
Guthries  -  just a crazy family
of mechanics and wrench turners
who'd fix or work on anything.
And make income from it too.
They had two sons in that house,
but they were always busy working
on something. Mechanics and
junkyarding were good lines of
work out there. Everybody could
do it, but farmers were usually
too busy farming, so they welcomed
anyone outside who specialized
in the stuff they'd never get to.
And things always broke.
So, anyway, I never could
figure what Mike or Denny 
did for money, gas money even, 
or the Mercury Comet he drove
around in. These boys just
lacked something. In a way,
it was sad, and it stood out
to me. I tried the fathering
input thing, but I didn't really
care and I knew that. It wasn't
my place, they were just a few 
years younger than me anyway,
five or seven most, and I knew 
they had nothing to rely on. 
There was no knowledge 
floating around, nobody went 
to the library or seemed
to care any about school 
and learning. I don't know 
if they had TV's or anything 
that kept them occupied, 
let's call it. Nor girls, for 
that matter. Sure could'a
used a few of them up 
around there, though no 
one either ever mentioned 
it, or the lack thereof.
On a one-to-one basis, you
just try to make or find 
common ground with people, 
so you can get on. Some of it's
real easy, some's not. Really,
I knew nothing about these 
kids so why should I pretend?
Were these the sorts of kids who'd
traded baseball cards when young?
Played stoopball or hung out on
sidewalks and waterways with
all the lanes and housing, kids
and people, around them? No,
they were not. I don't know what
they did when young  -  collect
bugs? Go fishing? Shoot animals?
(Well, yes, I knew they did that).
Theirs was some strange form of
country living, rural stuff, a faraway
land I'd never had a part of. Nor they
me. It was scarce to find common
ground, or a language to make it
with. You have to figure, at least,
learning things, and book learning
and study and all that  -  which 
stuff they never did  -  at least 
builds common ground between 
people. When I say Camus or 
Sartre, Shakespeare or Milton
or Blake, you at least have a 
nodding acquaintance or a 
general idea of the ground I'm 
standing on. Not that here.
Nothing of the sort. A 
complete strange land, a 
supposed paradise, but just 
as well a huge gulf between 
people and souls, of things
unshared and not in common.
It was tough.

No comments: