Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Over along the Meadowlands
there used to be a place called
'Snake Hill.' I've mentioned it
before : the trains would glide
along it, out where now is the
Frank Lautenberg, Secaucus
new train station, or anyway
new some fifteen years back,
and the latest rail stop because
now thousands of people live
there. What once was nothing
at all is now a large settlement.
In addition, all the cars and
trucks of the NJ Turnpike,
there too, run right along it,
adjacent. It used to be lined
with a large array of 1940's
style, poorly updated,
billboards for Broadway
plays and theater and such.
I used to ride by all this on
buses or trains, about 1966,
and see all the different titles
for Broadway plays, with all
the curious names and titles
they had. (I was never attracted
to 'Broadway' stuff, and have
not gone but for once or twice
Off-Broadway performances;
not at all big time or showy).
I did, however, enjoy the odd
names : 'Oh Dad, Poor Dad,
Mama's Hung You In the Closet
and I'm Feeling So Sad'; or
'Rosencrantz and Guildernstern
Are Dead'; 'The Pajama Game';
'the Gin Game'; 'the Hot L
Baltimore'. A score of other
like titles could be used here.
It all was once part of the
glittery expanse of the fun
and 'excitement', a 'higher'
life, the New York City then
purported to represent. Forget
the poor and the sickly. As for
myself, not knowing what it
really was, and having only
a sniff of the money around
needed to live that life, I
was clueless; I also
understood nothing of
that lifestyle. I'd occasionally
see the fancy babes, the rich
girls and their mothers, or
fathers, exiting a car or limo
beneath some portico or fancy
entrance, say, of the Waldorf,
and wonder to myself what
they must be like, smell like,
feel like. An entire other world
of coating and education too,
manners and morals dripping
down over things like ceramics
coating base steel. Not mine
at all. Everything of mine was
aspiration. Aspire to, this or
that, but none of it was
worldly stuff. I realized I
just didn't care  -  sad in a
way, but true; and you've
got to own up to that, can't
fake a life. Now, 50 years
and more later, what's left
of Snake Hill is a nubbin
-  they've been blasting
those rocks away steadily,
all this time. Twelve lanes
of traffic now rip and zoom
past, too fast to read even
the vast, lit now, billboards
for flights to Jamaica, or
health insurance plans, or
'Spain for 10 minutes', or
'India', serial TV shows,
(TV?); or hotel chains,
tech schools and online
universities purporting to
be the Harvard or Princeton
of Criminal Justice studies.
Mall cops, maybe. It's all
debased and degraded;
deflowered in fact like
the bride at some
celebratory orgy.
Snake Hill was once a rock
promontory, an eerie
Meadowlands God-site.
A huge, strange rock
outcropping 600 feet high
and shooting up, oddly
enough, right out of the
muck and mire of the
otherwise soggy Jersey
meadows, where you'd
think no rocks existed. I
would stare in wonder as
we passed, with the 'elastic'
of my mind stretched and
bent around the facts -
peeling back the layers
of time. I'd try to return
to 'then', way back  -  before
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,
those two Hamlet heels of
snoopdom -  to when the 
native and pre-historic 
landscape here first 
took shape : tidal grasses
and the movement of marsh
and water. Strange land 
animals crawling around 
on some harsh common 
footing while the web-footed 
and the amphibious tried 
sluicing about. I'd imagine
'Native' Americans, (what 
we call them, still so 
prideful, as we are, of 
the name-claim, seeking
 to own what we've 
destroyed. They were 
neither, natives, nor 
'Americans', they just 
were), on their pathways
and tracks, their plots
for fishing and sorting -
berries and foodstuffs  -  
and all the wandering
and small marsh-side
encampments, scout-guides
and barefoot runners and
messengers and hollow-
bark canoes. What do we 
have to show for it now?
Recreation and theatre, 
and a mens' cologne 
named 'Canoe.'
A city is strife and struggle.
A city is turmoil. This could
best be represented by what
happened, even here, to 
Snake Hill over time: ('My
train chugs past slowly the 
dwindling rocks  -  high atop
them a smokestack for the
crematorium of the dead, 
those from the asylum and
sanitarium on the old hill.
They keep their own fenced
graveyard  -  filled with
empty souls and the empty
of name as well. Few markers.
Rather a sort of Potter's Field
of the dead and infirm, the
destitute and insane. Why not?').
Out along the Meadowlands
now, there is a full range of 
birds - the wild enchantment 
of things having returned 
somewhat  -  terns and egrets,
larks and hawks of the wild
mind. In 1967 there was none
of this, as well, nothing. 
Consider silence. Consider
death. Poison and eradication;
DDT in endless layers, the
chemical soup of runoff and
dumping, and all that nothingness
which had taken over, killed off
life and its spores, despoiled
and polluted everything.
There was silence.
Before that, the previous 60
years, the entire area, or what
was left of it, had been turned
into 'use.' More than 'use', the
word stupification would better
cover it  -  endess pig farms 
then, in fact, these Jersey
 meadows were everywhere,
and famous for, its pig farms.
You'd smell them, coming
through. Stalls, pastures, 
slop heaps, pens, pig-stys,
filth-streams, truck roads
and slaughter-houses and
ramps. And that was only
the farms  -  as they put
Route 7, east/west, through
there, it also became junkyards,
bridges, sidings, cast-offs,
piles of tires and wrecks, old
boats and launches, broken
piers, small track-roads
leading to the filth and debris
of riverside refuse, more trash,
cars, refrigerators, old walls
and roofing. Smoldering
lumber fires  -  the creosote
inferno of trash. People,
daring somehow still to call
themselves farmers, in their
bib overalls, with rack-body
trucks; skinny women in their
high, rubber boots, tall old
houses dotting the drained-out
muck. Kids running about.
Old school-buses flipped onto
their sides. The trains and the
trucks would roar past all this,
until it was all gone too. It was
a silence bespeaking all silence,
and a real education too  -  if
you knew what to take, and
what text to read and how
to read it.
Do you know how things grow?
Silently and without being seen?
The shrub or bush, next to where
you sit, slowly, then suddenly
large and overgrown. That's how
sneakily the modern day comes
upon us. We know no other.
I takes us over, it's always the
latest and the 'new'. Modern.
But only because it's the present,
and nothing else before it, or
maybe 'past' it. Everything else
is, seemingly, behind it. And
like the modern day, grown.
('My train chugs past, electrically,
slowly. People everywhere are
smoking, and wreathed in that
gray smoke-pallor of travel. The
air reeks of exhaled cigarettes.
It pervades all, now, like time,
and like progress. It is 1967.
It is Snake Hill.').

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