Friday, September 16, 2016


A long time back,
I forget, maybe it
was with my father,
when Herb Winick's
father  -  in his
retirement he was
a docent at the Newark
Museum  -  he told
me to study about the
Blood-Eyed Ranger Fish.
He said there was lots
to be gleaned from it,
and he then showed
us how the Newark
Museum had the only
three extant skeletons
of that pre-historic
fish known to be. It
sure sounded odd to
me. This museum,
in the early 1900's,
when small societies
and such did that
sort of thing in the
quest for Natural
History and all the
curious finds of
those days, had
gotten funded  -
by the Ballantine
Family Fund (one of
Newark's old brewers,
whose mansion, in fact
was now the neighbor-site
to the Museum, and to
which they controlled
tours and exhibits).
It was all very nice  - the
three skeletons were in a
display cabinet, next to
each other, on a shelf
labeled 'Lakmar Javiosis,
1913, #L403 - 16.'  That
all meant something, either
to them alone, or to the
piscatological (fish?) world
at large  -  science and all.
I didn't ask, and to be
truthful that sort of thing
didn't much interest me  -
nomenclature, cataloquing,
ordering. It was like counting
tickets stubs in a theater  -
what difference does it
make how many people
entered, just take the money
and get to the damn bank.
People get hung up, never
figuring you can make all
that stuff up later. The
museum itself had like
two thousand little, dumb
trinkets  -  stuff from China
and Tibet, in rooms on the
upper floors  -  and each
item was tagged and
numbered and claimed.
I said to my father, 'Boy,
take the fun out of
everything.' He smiled
back, as if to  say, 'yeah,
but be a good kid.' I guess
that included 'shut-up'.
I didn't say anything,
but I immediately got
to thinking how weird
it was  -  all these paintings
and quiet halls, and frames
and glass cases, even two
knights or whatever in full
armor, with that big, plume
thing on the top  -  they
were both in a very nice
deep crimson or red.
Like blood, but better  -
to see all this fine,
fancy, important, stuff
here in a place sponsored
by beer. Newark beer, no
less. The same kind of
ersatz German beer that
got guys drunk and
brawling, beating on
their wives and kids,
pissing away all their
money, blowing their
paychecks, going to
the bar after work
on Fridays and not
coming home, picking
up bar-floozies and
having their way with
them, all the guys, for
money, putting on hats
backwards, spitting up,
pissing their pants,
feeling some lady's
breasts along the bar
for a stupid smile back,
and long after you're too
drunk to have it matter.
It was pretty weird to me.
Newark once was a big
town; real breweries
everywhere, taverns
and bars too. It was
only later that the
temperance societies
and all those people
like Carrie Nation
began crusading
against booze everywhere,
wrecking the places,
scolding men, praising
families and 'core' values,
as it's all now called.
My favorite story was,
when I read about it,
about 'growlers'. I never
knew what a 'growler' of
beer was, but now it's
back in trendy style
some. It's basically a
transport bucket for a
quantity of beer, maybe
like a six-pack's worth
I'm not sure. Drinker
dads used to send their
kids out with a pail,
to the corner gin mill,
and get it filled up for
whatever it was, say fifty
cents. The kid would
slosh home with the
bucket of beer ('growler')
and Dad would go back
to drinking and then
cursing and then
wringing Mama's and
the kids' necks. That's
what all those crusader
types tried stopping  -
the root base for what
later became Prohibition.
Later they just passed
laws outlawing kids
like that from fetching
beer. You can read
Theodore Dreiser, or
Stephen Crane (in
Sister Carrie) for
references in the
story lines of stuff
like this). There's one
story, sad, where the
5 or 6 year old comes
into the bar, crying and
a little beat up, and he's
crying because Papa just
gave the family's last
bit of money, once
again, to the kid and
beat him around to go
out with it and against
his and Mama's wishes,
spend it on beer to bring back.
The kid's crying, not wanting
to do it, and the bartender's
all bent up too, but he
sells and he doesn't
really care, and the kid's
wailing and it's all a
mess. Dad's not working
again and Dad's spent
spent it all once more,
on booze. But, anyway,
on this visit, museum
visit, as a kid about 11,
I tried thinking about the
good or better points of the
Ballantine family people  -
I mean, you've got a
boatload of money,
constantly coming in,
from booze or not, and
then investments too, in
all those pre-tax days
before Woodrow
Wilson, I guess it was
cool to use it that way.
Funding art trips,
archaeology digs,
building nice mansions,
and libraries too (right
up the street), and
sending people on
'fishing expeditions'
(joke) to find the bones
and fossils of things
like 'Lakmar Javiosis',
that famed 'Blood-Eyed
Ranger Fish'. So who
was I to crank on about
'boozeheisters'. That was
what my father used,
that word, and instilled
in me to use, for 'Germans'
who did nothing but
drink beer. In other words,
drunks. That one I never
got. I guess he meant the
sots who drink in bars.
Like that 'Andy Capp' comic
guy. My father drank beer all
the time, but at home.
They only reason he
never got plastered
was because he drank
some really cheap
watered-down slop
from Two-Guys Liquors
that was probably half
water. It was way-cheap
too. When I got, later,
into the motorcycle
scene and those outlaw
and 1%er clubs, I learned
that one of the very first
clubs like that, a forerunner
even of things like the
'Hells' Angels', was a
rancid bunch of really
brawling guys, who
had banded together 
and named themselves 
'Boozefighters' motorcycle
club. You could look it up.
This museum place was very
silent and reserved, like the
altar part of St. Andrew's at 
home  -  not when the priest
was jiggering around and
being all funny and playful
with the altar boys and such, 
on off hours, but rather I mean
like on Sundays when all that
Mass stuff was underway : 
people shuffling in, blessing
themselves with 'Holy Water'
which water we'd just refilled
them with from the most holy
shrine of the Middlesex Water 
Company tap. High reverence 
for all that. I'm surprised the old
ladies there, like Mrs. Kuzmiak,
didn't go drinking the stuff  -  it
was that holy, yeah. But the same 
kind of 'backstage' reverence  - same
as later when I did theater stuff.
There used to be nothing cooler
than to be in the theater, before the
play-production or the rehearsal or
whatever  -  it was high and dark,
ropes and pulleys for the curtains 
and lights and things everywhere, 
benches and switches, even props 
and tales and buckets and things.
All the stuff, behind the scenes,
that got swiftly moved around for
use as needed in whatever scene
was up at that moment. Busy/still.
Weirdest, strange feeling of
expectation. Quiet. Importance.
When I was a kid, one of my
favorite words was 'portent'  - 
as in 'portentous'  -  like 'heavy
with expectation, ominous 
(from the word 'omen' as well),
dark and serious. You knew
something was about to occur.
That's the feel of this small museum.
There were ladies around, fancier
side of black ladies, with colorful
scarves and things, but still dressed
normally  -  not like today when, in
Newark here, you now see a lot
of more colorful and flamboyant
styles of actual 'African' dress
by those same sorts of personal
and ethnic-pride ladies  - in the 
museum. Everything's so changed. 
We finally got to this fish display,
up on like the third floor. 'Blood
-Eyed Ranger Fish' (I wondered 
actually who had named it that).
It was from some oddball area 
of Turkey, Greece, over that way
somewhere, ('slipped on Greece
and fell in Turkey'  -  that's like 
an old kitchen joke). It was about,
 I suppose, 30-35 inches long, fairly
decent, yellowy-white bone stuff.
I felt you had to take their word for
a little too much of what they said
this or that was  -  it was something,
boney, in the shape of a fish, and 
there were some fossils of it too.
The 'Leap of Faith' fish, I thought
it should have been called. The 
thing about it  -  evolutionary,
revolutionary, all that crap, was
 that it was supposedly 
'middle-hinged', which was a
unique attribute, some sort of
evolutionary dead-end for fish 
and Mankind, some form of watery
ambulation that never took off,
or never went anywhere. (Neither
of those phrases work here, 
because they are now, by meaning, 
misleading). A form of fish before
they crawled up on land and, 
they said, fins began changing 
to feet and all that crazy malarkey.
Nothing I ever figured, or even
featured. This fish, again, it was
said, had a 'hinged' central spine,
so that it was able to flip around,
to immediately change directional
swimming by 'folding' its fish body
and darting off. Weirdest thing I'd
ever heard, and I sort of, again,
didn't believe a word of it. All I
did know, if there was any 
connection, at all, was that I had
a football-friend, across the street,
Frankie, who could do that when
running down the field with the 
ball; sort of, turn on a dime, switch
direction so swiftly that no one
ever chasing him for tackle ever
had a chance. And then, too, just 
along the same street, I had another
friend, Ray, who really did have
webbed toes, skin connected 
between them, really so. I 
guess it all just made me
wonder some more about
this world I was in.

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