Wednesday, October 12, 2016


I'm going to jump a little
now, to the year 2002/3,
at Barnes & Noble. I had
a cheese-ball lower
management position in
what amounted to a huge
chain of book merchandisers.
Not so much a 'bookstore'
in my sense, as a mass-offer
merchandising machine for
'anything' that could even
be connected to books.
Forget literary stuff. But,
let that go; it's not my point
here. In that position, I had
lots of dealings with 'kids.'
Local, Clark, NJ types,
mostly, who picked up
the book job maybe out
of 'interest,' 'coolness,'
or whatever. Maybe
some of them even
dug books and reading
and literature. Sometimes
they surprised me. One
girl, really cool, is the
person (I've told of this
before, somewhere) who
told me about Tycho Brahe
and his fake, metallic
nose. I forget how it
went, but she knew it
all, the entire, old story  -
something I'd never known.
He'd lost it, or most of
it, in a duel from some
dispute at a wedding (they
were all nobility, his circle),
and had new nose, for the
remainder of his days, made
of silver or brass or copper.
They even, since the year
1601, dug up his body once
or twice to determine more
about the metal nose. He
himself was an astronomer/
scientist, of Danish royal
line. Anyway, this girl,
Erica, knew all about this.
At the same time, she was
well-versed in Paul Bowles, 
and the book 'The Sheltering
Sky' which I was urged to
read (re-read, but I didn't 
tell her). I never did get
fully through it that 
second time. But, anyway, 
Erica was a good example 
of the sort of people-surprises 
I'd often run into in this 
otherwise pedestrian job.
The merchandising of
books, at a mass-corporate 
level, is pretty weird. My
new District Manager, 
one time came in, for the
usual introductions. He had
been just hired, from Staples,
where he'd also been a 
manager. Stupid me, I was
fool enough to ask him 
what possible qualifications
being at Staples would have
for a 'Bookstore.' He laughed
at me, and said, 'pens, desks,
notebooks, books, it's all
merchandising  -  and besides,
'book' people are weird.'
Needless to say, that was 
about the last civil moment 
'Howard' and I ever had. 
Dweeb, he was. Erica, on
the other hand, and her friends
and cohorts, offered up, to
me, something fresh and 
interesting. Most of these
kids were interesting in 
their ways : a few hard
cases, with real home 
problems, mothers only,
or not. Struggling. Minimum
wage stuff, to start, but they
normally caught the act
and got with it really quick 
and thoroughly -   moreso
than me. Each one of them 
had a story, I could write a
book. Linden, Roselle, 
Roselle Park, Clark, Rahway,
all those regular, grubby
negative zero kinds of towns,
turning out some vital and
interesting kids. And then,
of course, we also had our 
levels of 'privilege'  - with
kids from Westfield and 
Cranford and such. I was
able to really separate the 
differences. Obvious stuff;
in outlook, action, talk and
distancing. Nothing wrong 
with any of that, it's just
that the 'elan' was so
The reason I'm writing this
is because of something
that still sticks in my craw,
all these years later. I've
never liked the 'Military',
and in these pages I've 
stated pretty steadily and
clearly my own viewpoint.
I won't belabor those
points now. They involve
disgust and deceit and
belief. So be it. In about
2002, not so long after
the WTC destructions, 
we had a kid working, from 
Rahway, living in the 
towers there. His name
was Jermaine Johnson, or
Jermaine Jackson, or 
something, I forget. He
was just really a nice 
individual, personable,
determined, friendly. 
The job, for him, was 
a stopgap measure, a 
way of generating some
money, well-needed, for
the duration of whatever.
I was really disappointed, 
one day, as he came in and
said he'd joined the Military.
The Marines, in fact, I think.
Then he was gone. And it
was, remember, 2002, still 
very early on. He came back
in, one day  -  as everyone 
does, returning to a previous
job, to say hi, from a 
different stature, etc. -  
to tell about his experiences.
In the course of conversation,
all he kept reiterating was 
how he (using 'we'), was 
ready, set, go, for his 
assignment  -  'we're gonna'
get Saddam'. Exact words,
actually pronounced as
'Sodom,' kind of the
'American' way. At this 
point, capturing, killing, or
bringing Saddam Hussein
wasn't yet even on the table,
or in public discussion. It was,
maybe in the halls of power,
already being implemented as
a thoughtful policy, to be put
into play as soon as feasible.
BUT, to the average person
it was still an unformulated
possibility or policy goal. To
me, in complete surprise, all
it represented was the sad and
sorrowful implementation of 
a mindless brainwash of an
otherwise wonderful kid.
He'd stepped right into it.
Mission Control, propaganda
already implanted, successful
acolyte. Willing to die. I
somehow just couldn't share 
his moment.
I don't know whatever did
happen to Jermaine, or where
he ended up. I hope he's fine
and well, wherever. It's 14
years later now. Just today, over
at the towers where he used to
live, as I was passing them, 
walking from the train station
in Rahway, I saw someone 
who, for a moment, I thought 
may have been him, aged and 
matured some. But it wasn't. 
And then I just got sad, walking. 
There's a large, downtrodden and
lower-class black population in 
Rahway. Jermaine had been part
of that, and these project towers 
were a sort of give-back to 
the local residents, subsidized 
places to live, at first. When I
was a youngster, that entire
riverbank where those towers
now are was part of a long
collection of bungalows and
shacks. We fished at those 
banks, and all around us were 
black people, living in their 
shanties. It was the most perfect
boy-world imaginable, I'll have
to admit. These guys were always
out, working on their old heaps,
'52 Chevies and '48 Fords,
on blocks, leaning and listing
in the dirt, tinkering, changing 
things. They'd be sitting on their
porches, a few together, drinking,
playing some cards, laughing;
asking us 'how you boys doin' 
today? How's the fishing?
What you got planned? It
was wondrous, and totally
It's all gone now. Not a
speck left. Just some more
projects, a worship temple, 
which replaced the old Masonic 
Lodge, and those towers in which 
now live probably their kids, many 
of them. All we've got to give them 
in return is 'soldiering'  -  weapons 
and arms and some grubby military 
pension, if they survive. It's the
only reparations they'll get, and it's
the sad and only kind they'll take.
Too bad. Always, too bad. Now?
Well, Saddam's gone, yeah, but
Sodom's here too. Poor Jermaine,
buying into that bill of goods.

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