Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Back in Avenel, as a kid,
I never saw poverty, and
I never saw history 
either. Neither one of 
those factors played much 
of a part in a new form 
of suburbia into which
 I was entered. Everything 
was leveled out, blandly
 the same. There were 
rich guys, like Harry Halpern, 
who looked like a bum but 
had millions  -  developing 
apartment complexes 
everywhere around. It
was from him, through NJ, 
that I first learned about 
protecting one's 'business' 
identity and personal identity, 
(not that I ever cared about it),
separately, together. He was 
a customer as I worked at
New Jersey Appellate Printing
for a time, and he'd just
talk his business as we sat
around. About made-up 
entities and corporate names 
(Oak Tree Gardens, or 
whatever) and never one's 
own actual name. Protection 
from loss, protection from 
lawsuit and lien, etc. I'd 
never before given that 
sort of thing a thought. He 
had  -  he'd made tons of 
money, had a great old 
place on upper Main Street,
(it's all gone now, just a 
big, empty lot used for 
truck-parking), and he 
too is dead. But those 
business names of his 
live on, and he has 
some 'BestRent NJ' 
thing, all over town, 
with pick-up trucks 
and bunches of workers 
tending to his apartment 
complexes and running 
something called 'BestRent,'
like a caring house for 
those in need of apartments 
or condos. They do relocations, 
maintenance, garden and 
landscape work, repairs, 
etc. It always irked me, that
someone like Halpern  -  
tearing down woods, buying
up properties, building all
this stuff everywhere, and
essentially wrecking the 
place  -  would go on 
living, as he did, in a 
fine, brick and stone, long-
driveway, manor house.
If you tried going after
and wrecking his property
set-up and things, he'd 
probably sue you in a
minute. Yet, it was OK
if he did it, for profit
motives. It just always 
seemed to me, because
of things like that, that
the whole society was
rigged for those who 
made money off things,
and the poor suckers
There became, in the 
mid-sixties, a load 
of money to be made  
- garden apartments 
of that day were 
going up everywhere, 
with stupid names, 
next to highways. No 
one seemed to care 
where they lived. 
Close to a highway 
was fine ('Cloverleaf 
Gardens'). Cars, 
commute, and 
transportation were
all that mattered. I 
don't even know 
what people paid 
for things like this, 
back then; but they 
always got filled up. 
Where before housing
'projects' had been built 
more 'vertical' and 
ghettoized, such as 
the projects in which I 
was born  -  veteran's 
projects, on the edge 
of the water at the edge 
of old Bayonne  -  these 
were supposed to evoke 
better living, a park-like, 
horizontal, atmosphere. 
I had a friend, back 
then, who saw them 
as the best of all worlds  
-  graduate high-school, 
get a job, get a nice car, 
a girlfriend, get married, 
even have a kid, and 
these sorts of garden 
apartment living 
spaces would allow 
you to carry on, with 
ease, as if you were 
still in those high-school 
glory years. Easy living, 
coming and going at 
will, the upkeep and 
all the gardening and 
shoveling and all that, 
taken care of for you, 
a community pool, etc. 
He saw it as ideal and 
relaxing, for a deep, 
languid after-life. 
Sounded boring as 
all practicality to me. 
But I was an urban 
mind-set from the start.
Because of Vietnam, there
was even a undercurrent,
in these garden apartment
places, of situations where 
you'd have some guy who
was just drafted, did basic,
and shipped off to Vietnam.
He'd marry his girlfriend in
a hurry, leave her with
everything, in the garden 
apartment, give his car in
for best/safekeeping, get
her pregnant, and be gone.
She'd have the baby, and
they'd all stay there, 
awaiting 'Daddy's' return. 
Which didn't always 
happen. I saw it a few 
times  -  that situation,
I mean, not the dead 
soldier stuff. But that 
happened too. Fair 
enough amount of
lonely ladies around.
Boyfriend troubles 
often happened too, 
while 'Daddy' was 
away. That was a 
no-no, and police 
would say the domestic 
calls into places like 
this were often pretty
tough to deal with. It 
may have been a 
'garden,' but it
wasn't always a 
Garden of Eden,
no-ways. War can
sure make some
ugly people.
See, that was the Jersey,
suburban side of thing.
I don't know what they
did in Chinatown, nor
how many Chinatown 
soldiers there may have
been in Uncle Sam's Army,
but I never saw any of
that there. First off, the
poverty AND the history 
were both still in place,
almost perfectly. The 
problem was, one never
touched the other. The
rotten poor dude, living
in a family walk-up hovel,
spitting out all over the
sidewalks of Chinatown,
he never cared nor knew
nothing about the 'History'
of what he was living, or
his place and locale. That
was always a problem  -
all you'd get were outsiders,
like all those antsy debaters
and coffee-drinkers at the
Mayflower, coming in and
lording it all over the locals,
or trying to, or thinking
they could, and telling
them about their obligations
and glories as historical
people in historic places.
The sights and sounds of 
the grand old past. The
Chinese people would
just as soon throw a plate
of pork lo mein in your 
face than have to hear 
that stuff. (I remember
when a plate of that 
stuff finally did reach
 $1.25, about 1982, what
an outrage it seemed).
The people in Chinatown
were just hunkered down
for a lifetime, a lifetime
of service and servitude,
if need me  - they cared
neither for improvements,
nor their 'place' in some
scheme. It wasn't like that
there, at all. 
When, walking downtown,
you crossed Houston Street,
you'd begin sensing the
immanence of Chinatown.
First you'd have the portions
of Little Italy to get through.
Back then it was still pretty
strict. Now it's mostly been 
overrun by the steady growth
and encroachment of Chinatown.
There's still a 'Little Italy', to
be sure but it's tacky and
junky; almost a parody of 
itself. Chinatown itself has
now spread into much of
that area  -  Italians have
themselves moved on, 
moved up the 'better' 
places, as they achieved 
a little money  - suburban 
places, churches with lawns
and fancy Babtistry things
They're usually 'glad' to get
away. Not the Chinese. The
cheek-by-jowel aspect of the
Chinatown life draws them,
remains vibrant. The street
commerce thrives, just as it
did then. Shoe-repair stalls,
where the shoemaker, with
all those shoemaker tools 
and foot molds to work on,
will take your shoes in the 
morning and have them done
by evening for you  - new
soles, whatever. On the street,
right there, for less than half
the price. Same with watches.
They were, always busy too
and in most all weathers.
Much business was done on
the street  -  lines of open-air
shops, stalls and curtained,
covered booths. Foodstuffs,
fish, meats, roasted this or
that in the Chinese manner,
to buy and take away. In
good weather, old men,
throwing fortune sticks,
dominoes and mah-jongg,
reading I Ching forecasts.
All very different, and all
very vibrant. A poverty,
AND a history, all in one.

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