Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Princeton is about as far away
from 'urban' factualism as can
be, even though the people there
tend to think they are cool :
cosmopolitan, wise in the
ways of, urbane, smart, hip,
cutting edge, super-lefty liberal
(unless it's in Princeton itself),
and all of that. Effete. Good
dressers. Fine eaters. Such a
joke. It's kind of the mythos
that little town has had grow
up around itself. No one ever
stopped it. The only thing,
really, that ever stopped there
was time. It's a tightly-sealed
little envelope of its own
self-addressed air, mailed
back to self. I would use the
modern-day terms 'smug' and
'insufferable' as well; but I
won't. (Ha, just did). As I
opened with in the last
chapter, that Indian fellow
on the bench with me,
during our conversation,
went over numerous little
topics of interest to him  -
all the usual. Where are we?
Directions. How far to....?
Traveler's stuff. He said he
was struck surprisingly by
how hot it gets. Coming
from his home climate,
that probably said a lot.
How fatigued it made him.
'Can anyone go to, then, this
university or is it only the
ruling elite that goes first?
Do you have the entrance
requirements as young
children too?' I wasn't too
sure what he meant, but I
figured Brahmin Class stuff,
colonial birthright, ruling
cliques. Surprisingly, as an
'American' I found I really
did have to think about
that before answering.  I
finally did say, mischeviously,
'Oh, yes, I guess so, anyone
can, but who'd want to, really?
Places like this just drain you.
America's not about that, it's
a dynamic, driving place,
where things get thrown
about.' That seemed to
satisfy him. A funny thing
about Princeton, too, and
about where we were seated.
The Nassau Street benches
don't face the street. In
most other towns they do  -
I'd much rather they did in
Princeton too. As it is, all you
can do is sit there and face
storefronts and the slow,
blistering lines of shoppers
waddling by  -  snippets of
conversation, dogs and
owners, kids eating junk,
loud-talkers, involved people,
stupid stores and goods. It's
kind of awkward to just have
to sit and face all that. I wish
they went the other way, or
at least alternated. But, in a
way too, that's again the
enforced  'faux-snobbery'
of the place. All the streams
run into shopping. Gloating
at others; all those Dockers
and deck shoes and tweedy
clothes or fine Summer
strolling garments. God forbid
the street factor  -  ugh! Real
life, cars and trucks and
motorcycles, delivery people,
workers and laborers. 'We don't
touch that stuff.' I wanted to
tell that Raj guy, 'Hey, Shandar,
your back's to our caste system.'
All it takes is a veneer of some
sort of 'respectability' to make a
place appear as if it is what it 
claims to be. Other places have 
it too, by varying degrees. 
Westfield. Chatham and 
Summit. Perhaps Morristown.
Whatever the 'veneer' is, it's 
really no more than money 
and commerce. Princeton has 
it all over those other places
because of the centrality of
its large and sprawling
university and all of its fame
and renown and reputation.
Yet, that university itself is
no more than a commerce.
Vast sums of money, in and
out, engaged in 'something', 
whatever it is, that lends a
shade of teal-color to a small
town. It actually has  pride
of place, a predominance 
over the town itself. It's an 
industry, one that, for the 
Boro of Princeton, commands 
fashion, style, dining, display,
crowds, atmosphere and
ambience. It's actually very 
funny. The simplest parlay 
of anything  -  a wine store, 
the vegetable mart, an outdoor
cafe with seating, an underwear
and lingerie store, the yoga
and tea shops, everything  -
has to be done in the 'Princeton'
style. Let alone the endless and
overly trite eating places. I'm
surprised they have rest rooms.
I was there a good 7 years  -  
enough time to grow new 
skin. My favorite spot in the 
entire town was the train station. 
A very unique, odd and curious 
place, twisting around on itself 
and ending in this really sloppy 
version of a convenience store,
coated with everything  -  posters,
notices, painted ideas, slogans, 
junk. Bicycles and bike racks
everywhere. Inside, pretty 
much the same.  The old stone 
station itself was pretty
glorious; awkward by 
modern-day standards, but 
it had an identity. You KNEW 
you were in Princeton, entering
or leaving, and by rail. Then 
they tore it all down, ripped it
all apart, built this grotesquerie
of a modern-day version of
Connecticut commuting or
something. The new convenience
store which replaced the old
convenience store is, by contrast,
a massive palace of commerce.
'The way it should be.' The
people who did this, in 
conjunction with the university
and as an adjunct of it, but
admitting to nothing, are the
profiteers at what's called
'McCarter Theater'  - one of
those round-robin entertainment
centers priding themselves in
a supposed 'high art' while
peddling the likes, instead, of
third-tier lost acts like Joan Baez,
James Taylor, etc., Christmas 
pageant drivel, Nutcrackers and
Scrooges in endless, annoying
versions. Pandering. Old people.
Fakers, snooty ass-lickers. They
wanted an 'Arts District', as if
the crummy theater, after 50 
years, wasn't enough. So they 
tore up and tore down a quaint
and forceful section of oldest 
Princeton reference, and 
though still 'trading' on it as
ghost-presences of old-line
grace and style, put up edifices
of tomb-like proportions, but
for the supposed living. That
was about when I left town 
anyway, in disgust. If I want
to read about old Princeton, 
and the train station and 
Nassau Street and old Lahiere's 
and drunken frenzies that are
no more, I can read Saul Bellow:
'Humboldt's Gift,' for starters.
Lahiere's, by the way, is now a
fastidious 'we grown our own
lettuce!' persnickety local-farm
produce restaurant, with $85
seatings. Hope it grinds down
soon like local wheat 
in a grind wheel.
When I first began going there,
I guess 1966, there was a huge 
construction wall around the corner 
of Nassau Street and Vandeventer.
They were digging a huge hole into 
the ground (it had a long time back 
been a stone quarry, from which  
stone a large portion of the university 
buildings had been constructed) and 
constructing in those pits the multi-leveled 
below-ground complex that is the 
Forrestal Library. Records, literary papers, 
research stacks. On that wall were painted 
items  -  long before today's world of gross 
and coarse graffiti, this actually almost 
had some 'elan' to it. I remember, at 
the corner, a really nice 'Leda and the 
Swan', from Yeat's famous poem.
Yes, people once actually made 
some cultural damn sense.
James Forrestal himself was, I
think Secretary of the Navy or such
in the Eisenhower Administration. He 
committed suicide, over one thing or
another. Perhaps he was a Princeton guy,
to get the library named after him and all.
Maybe they just 'dug' suicides. (That
was a quarry-pit joke).
I used to get into town each day about 6:15.
Train ride, and then the little shuttle train,
into town. It was called 'The Dinky'. It left
me at the end of the campus, the other
end sort of, at the train station  -  during its
time there and then all during the various
demolitions and rebuilds. A real mess,
with at one point, for maybe a year, some
rinky-dink woodpile of crap erected as a
'temporary' ('sorry for the inconvenience
train station shed, worthy of goats or
pigs, maybe, but you'll really love next
year's Nutcracker') train station. It had
the 'class' of a beanstalk. So goeth
pride, remember, before the fall. It was
about a 20 minute walk across campus.
I never rushed; I suppose it could have
been less time had I paced. But why
should I have? I grew to appreciate my
time alone; the mornings, the sunrises
and changes, the heavenly darks and
lights of different times of year, phases
of the moon, stars, all that. What cared
I for anything else? It was almost blissful,
each day, rising like a blessing into
whichever section of the campus I chose
to walk up. Winter was, I admit, often
freezing cold. No mind. On the 10 degree
days, which sometimes seemed, at 6
in the morning as if they just kept
happening day after day, there was 
scheduled campus bus I could take. 
On there, in all that blasting heat and 
warmth, at that time of morning, it was 
kitchen staff, workers for the various 
maintenance divisions, stuff like
that. I got to know them, day after
day, as one of them. It was always warm
and touching  -  all their regular and plain
concerns, information shared, events and
places to go. There was even one 'couple',
everyone knew, carrying on  a raging
love affair too  -  each had families of 
their own, and would show phone photos,
etc., of their various trips and such, but the
intense nature, as well, in their pleasure
with each other, was obvious  - as were
the cracked joked about their 'getaways' 
and 'moments' together. Pretty funny.
No shame, all pride.

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