Thursday, October 13, 2016


One time I fell into a hole, a
chasm. It was part just identity
crisis, and part real life. Her
name was 'Jolly Dolly', and
she ran a strange little cafe,
along 'Bleeker Street' in
downtown Newark - yes,
different in spelling, for
some reason, from the NYC
Bleecker Street (with the 'c')
I was familiar with. The
place was a little walk-down,
three or four steps below in
the sidewalk, in one of those 
types of urban buildings 
that there used to be 
everywhere, but are not 
now  -  urban streets where
the big marble stairs allowed 
access up, from both sides, 
to the two front doors
there, and which, below 
them, there were two other,
basement storefronts or 
places to live. I can't 
remember how I first 
met her, but it was when 
I was bringing printing 
back and forth to Rutgers 
Newark  -  that story I told
about all the stupid 
lawyers-to-be wanting 
me to sell them the
exams beforehand  -  I 
probably stopped in 
there for something
to drink. Anyway, 
picture like a Mama Cass, 
big-girl character, maybe
like the singer Adele, 
before she got all famous 
and slimmed down and fancy. 
Just a big, floppy girl; lady, 
I guess, about 35. She had
one of those little places 
you had to see to believe. 
Set up all dainty, like a 
little doll house  -  gingham 
curtains, little tables, a 
setting on each, flowers, 
candles  -  real hippie vibe. 
I never really saw any but
a few other people, ever,
in there. It never mattered 
to her. Whether she was
losing money or making 
thirty-five cents, it was all
the same to her. She was 
just happy. I guess she'd
named herself 'Jolly Dolly'
but I never knew  -  the
sign out front was like 
crazy-hand-painted and
all it said was Jolly Dolly's.
I just called her Jolly, or 
nothing. She would talk, 
long-time talk. But, funny 
as it was, she was in no way
connected  -  out of the loop,
not involved, not caught up
in any of the day's 'issues'.
Her mind was all frothy and
dumb, actually. Sweet teas,
candies and coffees, in a
doll house setting with 
cupcakes. Like a Little 
Orphan Annie type and 
a Diva in training. I used
to sit there, all caught up
in issues and outrage, 
running from this or 
running from that, and 
she just never got it. I
always tried bringing her 
the dark side, but she was
always happy. What was
also weird to me  -  she 
loved the Jersey Shore,
 she loved the beach, 
and going to beach, and
all those Jersey resort 
towns I never knew 
about. I wanted to get 
lost in the darkness and
the doubt-grinding of 
New York City, and 
Newark, if need
be. All she cared
about was all the fun 
and games of the Jersey
shore  -  and she envied 
me for living, where I 
did then, (Fulton Street,
Woodbridge), 30 miles 
closer to it than she was.
Jolly had a cool place there.
I think back on it now and
just wish I'd have had it  -  I
would have chucked all that
futzy stuff, moved out the
crud, and served coffee amid
the welter of paintings and
creative work  -  typewriters
clacking, people hanging 
around, and jazz-horns
playing. Strung-out dudes,
hanging by a thread. Done
ghosts-carts of tabulated lost
souls. 'I could'a been a
contender!' It would
have been a neat place.
I never found out any more.
One day Jolly was just gone, 
her place closed up. Over the
years, the place just turned to
wreckage. I don't know if it's
still there. One time I brought
my cousin and her boyfriend
there. That was probably a
really heavy business-day for
Jolly  -  the four of us, and her.
My girlfriend, by the way, had
become friends in time with
Jolly. Whenever they saw 
each other, they managed 
to hit it off. As we sat
there, I kind of realized that
for this to make any sense
to anyone, it had to be both
experienced and explained.
I don't know if either my 
cousin or her boyfriend got 
anything from this place. I 
rather feel the interpretation 
of it all was somehow 
unique to me.
Downtown Newark, in '67
and '68, was a place unto its
own. Like Detroit, maybe.
So much of it is gone now 
as to be saddening. Up 
and down Broad Street  
-  all those big plots of 
grassy land and  wild, 
fenced-in areas, were
once tall old vertical 
houses, the city-kind, 
brownstone and granite. 
Each one held maybe
10 or 15 black families, 
mostly listless. They'd 
just hang out on the 
stoops and porches, 
congregate, and talk 
or stare, while drinking
beer. There are still a few
left, one or two good ones
right across from the park.
Buildings, I mean, not people.
That park is right across
the street from the military
induction center. In 1969 I
drove my friend Jack there.
He'd enlisted for Vietnam.
From Upsala College, in East
Orange, I think, when that
was still there  -  it's gone 
now, the college, I mean.
There's still some hole in the
ground called East Orange.
Jack did two tours, as a Medic.
He saw a lot of shit. He had
wanted to be a brain surgeon,
but when he came back, a 
few years later, he'd decided
he'd already seen as many 
splattered brains in his lap
that he'd ever care to see.
So he went into tech work.
His house in Rahway, even
back in the late 80's when it
was all pretty much unheard 
of, at least to me, had two 
spare rooms filled to the
gills, hoarder style workshop
stuff, with metal frames, 
circuit boards and all the rest
of that stuff  -  Jack would 
make computers, on his own.
There were piles of stuff and
at least 20, unfinished or worse,
computers, mainframes, boards,
hookups, connections, screens.
Everything. I don't know what 
he did, or even if there was an 
Internet back then, but it all 
much have had a purpose, 
somewhere. Inside the house
you had to crawl over stuff,
great crates of things, mostly
plastic or metal tech kind
of stuff. Plus he had two very
large Rhodesian Ridgeback 
dogs who ruled the place. His 
wife was placid, docile and
quiet. Very weird scene, but
it all worked. Completely
unique. I think, today, he'd
be laughed out of town  -
maybe a male version of a 
Jolly Dolly type, of his own.
Hard goods, not tea or coffee.

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