Monday, December 26, 2016


279. AVENEL, pt.1
When you have to
be told to 'tolerate'
something, you pretty
much already know
that whatever it is
inhabits some gray
area of objectionable
stuff. One of the first 
times I got a real job, 
in the early 80's
anyway, I got hired
on the premise that, 
as part of my entry 
in, I'd kind of 
(hopefully) have 
to 'earn' my way
into the company 
(printing) by beginning 
a Saturday hours kind 
of thing. It had not 
been done before. 
The four or five hours 
on Saturday represented 
a giveaway by me, a 
sixth day of work, on 
no extra pay, complete 
with inactivity and 
boredom and the 
few straggling 
customers I'd get 
were basic blow-bys 
of the regular work 
week who I could 
see anytime but 
who, almost 
immediately, latched 
onto me as their 
favorite contact. 
Being there on Saturday,
outside of the normal
'work-week' made 
little sense. The 
kind of people 
who shopped 
printing on 
Saturday were 
nut-cases anyway; 
Elks and Legion 
guys wanting raffle 
ticket books, party 
flyers; mother and 
daughter wedding 
teams shopping 
the kid's endless 
wedding invitation 
bullshit sets  -  they'd 
spend two hours 
looking at stupid 
matches and napkins. 
Disagreeing over 
design and color. 
I'd have to, literally 
sit there, or nearby 
anyway, while these 
fools waltzed their 
way through 6 or 7 
different wedding-printing 
catalogues and assumed 
I cared. Then they'd 
phone Aunt Loola to 
come over and give 
her opinion, so I'd 
be stuck waiting 
for another female 
fool to arrive. 
Meanwhile, the 
noon hour had 
come and gone, 
and it would 
sometimes be 
nearing two pm. 
I'd really get steamed. 
I hated that shit  -  
mothers, weddings, 
fussy daughters and 
the rest. I developed 
a theory, and it pretty
 much worked out  - 
 these mothers and 
daughters, the more 
guilt they had about 
Sex, about the 
daughter getting 
banged, etc., the 
larger and more 
flamboyant and 
exaggerated the 
wedding preparations 
were. It never failed. 
I wanted to say, 'Like, 
Jesus, ladies, get it 
over with; it ain't no 
big deal and it's 
probably popped 
already.' Boy, was 
I blessed. 
It was Avenel, NJ  
and there I was at St.
George Press, a 
dump I'd been seeing 
for years up and down 
the street  -   I ended
up back there on a
triple-bypass roundabout 
maneuver that still
has me baffled. The
town hadn't changed 
a darn bit, although I 
had  -  my old character 
was dead and buried,
probably three times, 
and I was reporting 
for duty in, now, some 
other guise. I didn't 
know why, but I did  
it  -  well, why I did 
it was because I had 
found it doable. No 
one would recognize 
me. I had found a 
way of maintaining 
all of my interior life 
and work and struggle
 and reading and 
learning, with no 
one else being the 
wiser for it. I'd 
channeled the 
most normal, stupidly 
up-front, regular 
person face you could 
imagine. Acting all 
the way. Oscar-worthy 
bullshit. I no longer 
cared. As long as I 
was able to work 
and write and paint 
and be, within, what 
I was (still) working 
on being, I didn't much 
care what the outsider,
buffoon-me, came 
across like. The first 
weekend there, that 
first Saturday night, 
I was taken in  - perfect
'Avenel' style, I guess  
-  to a waterside restaurant 
in Morgan Beach or 
somewhere there, on 
the Raritan Bay. A big
 joint called the 'Robert 
E. Lee' restaurant. 
It's gone now, long 
time. What's in its 
place is a big void, 
a sandy platform
on the water, a sandy/dirt 
road, leading to nothing, 
marsh grass and reeds. 
If I didn't tell you, you 
would never know 
there was ever 
anything there. We 
arrived, and inside, 
immediately, there 
were two other 
couples from the 
same workplace. 
A guy name Jim Rief, 
and his wife, Michelle, 
as I recall. She was 
pretty fascinating. 
They moved away 
a long time back, to
to Florida. Jim was 
like the shop foreman, 
then; in charge of work 
and schedule processing, 
pretty much over-riding 
the rest of the show, 
making sure things 
got done. He was 
cool  -  a few quick 
words, comparing 
some notes, me as 
newcomer, he as 
the veteran. There 
was another couple 
along there too, 
but for the life of 
me I can't recall 
who; it was like 
small-town royalty, 
collecting in one 
place. to dine. It's 
funny how the weird, 
small towns and 
enclaves soon 
establish for 
themselves the 
'places' to be seen, 
eating, etc., the 
correct idea of pecking 
order unspoken, all 
those water company 
guys, school principals 
and their wives or 
husbands, department 
heads in the local 
civic structure. Pretty 
funny. Every little 
podunk town, no 
matter how tiny, 
is the same, they 
all develop their 
own  pecking order 
royalty, and 'in the 
know' people. It 
worked the same 
way, at St. George 
Press, (the workplace 
I'm talking about), with 
the Kiwanis Club  - all 
these overweight local 
guys, business owners 
and clerks and bureaucrats, 
detectives and chiefs, 
bankers and loan officers;
bad ties, crummy suits, 
really bad hair, all full 
of themselves, all 
hanging together 
for a once or twice 
a week luncheon 
to talk about 
expansions of 
business with 
the bank guys, 
or the local sports 
coach about the next 
weekend's game. 
Crazy dumb stuff  -  
that trip to Bermuda 
or Aruba, a vacation 
to New Orleans. 
Whatever. People 
with big worlds in
their smaller-sized 
brains, going on.
The Kiwanis Club 
was the pits. Those 
guys were so full 
of themselves it 
was funny  - a little 
fiefdom of Woodbridge 
(in their own heads) 
moguls; business types 
worried about appearances 
and propriety, while 
they glommed whatever 
they could in property 
deals and rake-offs 
along the way in 
selling out the town 
they prospered by. 
Then, once they've 
ruined the town, they 
start complaining 
about how it isn't like 
it used to be, and they 
probably even start a 
historical society or 
something to mull 
over the horrid loss. 
All of a sudden 
right where they 
put the latest 7-11 
is where George 
Washington had an
encampment and 
used to water his 
horse on the old 
trail; and they'll 
put up a plaque, 
with your money, 
to tell you this.
It's all nose-on-
the-face stuff.
I wasn't supposed 
to notice this, 
certainly not 
speak about it. 
I could hardly 
keep from gagging.
In addition, then, 
to those Saturday
hours by which 
I was hired, the 
other part of the 
deal was that all 
the crummy, 
customers would 
be handed over to 
me. To deal with  
-  not to alienate, 
rather to keep them 
going; expand the 
'crummy' customer 
franchise, bring 
them around. I 
did pretty well  -  
since I'm usually 
fairly decent at 
sympathizing with 
people everyone 
else dislikes anyway, 
going that extra mile, 
bringing my own 
happiness quotient 
out and finding real 
likable things. I liked 
schmoozing with 
these folks, learning 
a bit about them and 
their peculiar 
predicaments. It 
worked. I bent some 
rules, shaved some 
Saturday prices, but 
it all came around. 
There was (I'll tell 
about a few) this 
Mr. Hernandez guy, 
from just up along 
Route One, a place 
called 'Esquire Fence 
Company.' It's still 
there, now as 'National 
Fence Company'  -  
(you gotta' love those 
grandiose names). 
Acres of fencing 
samples, chain-link, 
kennel, and other 
installations, barricade 
fencing, metal sheathing, 
wood-slat storm fences, 
gates, gazebos, the 
whole gamut. It's 
huge. This Mr. 
Hernandez guy 
was a bit hard to 
understand, a 
little pushy, in 
your face wordy, 
hung around too 
much, etc., BUT
 he placed nice 
orders for things 
such as envelopes 
and contracts 
and letterheads, 
like 10,000 at 
a time. I just 
kept coaxing 
the orders out 
of him. Then, also 
orders for his 
and specialty 
spin-offs. All you
had to do was listen 
up and cater to 
the guy. Show you 
cared. Not faking 
it, because I kind 
of really did care. 
He was fancy  -  
flashy suits, gold 
pens, expensive 
shoes  -  all this 
from some Puerto 
Rican or Spanish 
fence merchant. 
It was amazing. 
The night of that 
Robert E. Lee thing 
I had just gotten 
an order from him 
for 10,000 each 
of a few items. 
There were 
huzzahs and 
all around  -  but 
I couldn't figure 
a damn thing out 
as to why. Were 
these people nuts? 
I hadn't done a 
thing, not even 
lifted a pen; these 
orders, the way he 
and his company 
ordered things, were 
nearly automatic. 
They just churned 
through this stuff 
and re-ordered. The 
key was to keep 
the ball rolling, 
that was all. No 
ordering magic 
or special skill. 
All my schmoozing, 
for him and for 
the others too, 
was just a way 
of pushing the 
show along, keeping 
it all right, so these 
re-orders would 
just roll in. It was 
too crazy, almost 
too crazy to even 
take the credit. 
Whatever. There 
was another guy 
too, even crazier  -  
again Hispanic, but 
I forget his name. 
He came out of 
Perth Amboy, was 
a big. beefy guy 
with  massive, 
deep-voiced accent, 
real Spain, I think. 
Around the shop 
he was referred 
to Xavier Cougat  
-  nobody I knew, 
but some of 1970's 
singing star or 
something  -  
because of his 
bearing and manner 
and voice. I got along 
fine with this guy, 
but he wasn't my 
at all. He was 
about  or 60; big, 
flashy, with fancy 
bearing. He had 2 
warehouses around 
there somewhere  -  
Raritan Center or 
Perth Amboy  -  
from which he 
wholesaled LLadro 
ceramic statuary. 
LLadro was the 
company name, 
pronounced Yadro, 
and they were big 
enough sellers. Fancy, 
glazed and hand 
painted statues and 
scenes, about 2 
feet high   -  
and shepherds, lambs, 
geese, all that bucolic, 
fantasy-land sort of 
stuff. Collectible, 
sometimes numbered 
and documented. 
Imported. Back then, 
1984 maybe, they 
retailed at about 
1800 bucks. He 
would have 
printed, illustrating 
the product and 
explaining new 
ones, upcoming, 
etc. I imagined it 
was all legit. This 
Cougat guy kept 
me busy, talked a 
lot, engaged, showed 
me stuff. I really 
don't know how 
much he sold, by 
what means, and 
how the things got 
where they were going. 
But, he always paid 
up, and kept returning 
for more. Then there 
was this Italian opera 
singer guy, Robert 
DeGaetano or something  
-  his printing agent, a
lady named Marian Vance, 
from South Plainfield, 
kept a large supply of 
his big posters ready, 
and whenever he had 
a recital or concert 
coming up, we'd 
imprint onto that 
stock the appropriate 
dates and venue, 
times and prices, 
and all that. Pretty 
much nation-wide 
 -  the guy sang 
everywhere, San 
Francisco to St Louis. 
Posters of all sorts. 
Her other big account,
out of NYC, was the
Cutty Sark wine
company; some fancy,
expensive enough, wine.
Marian was a nice 
lady, fussy as hell, 
and she ind of 
annoyed everyone
else. But we latched 
on real good; she 
thought I was gold. 
She used to take 
me aside to say, 
in a low voice, 
'get out of here, 
why are you 
working like this, 
you're wasting your 
talents, there's nothing 
here for you.' Etc. I 
guess it's supposed
to make a person 
'feel good' to be 
told that, and over 
and over, but  -  
really  -  how good 
can it be. It was a 
bummer actually. 
Like, gee thanks. 
Her husband died, 
in a few years (they 
were in their 60's), 
and she brought me 
over to her house 
once, sort of in 
sadness, and just 
gave me a ton of 
things that had 
belonged to her 
husband. Weird stuff : 
briefcases, a camera, 
binoculars, cuff links, 
even playing cards. 
Bizarre. Her kids, 
both about my age, 
one older, one 
younger, were 
adopted, and fairly 
estranged from her 
anyway. The son was 
a loser; he made like 
12 cents a week 
carving scrimshaw 
for some scrimshaw 
stand in Seaside 
Heights, on the 
boardwalk, and her 
daughter, who I always 
thought was stunningly 
beautiful the two or 
three times I met her, 
had a kid with someone, 
unknown, off somewhere 
in Pennsylvania. 
Marian was a trip,  
a nice lady.

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