Thursday, January 5, 2017


289. AVENEL, Pt. 11
It wasn't a hammerlock.
It wasn't a half-Nelson.
Nor was it quite a
full-body slam, but
life had me, and good.
All along the way  -
the few hulking guys
living in the trailer
court on the highway
end of my block  -  
they were 'professional'
wrestlers, circuit guys
mainly, who'd run the
fairs and expos along
the seasonal routes,
and were, as well,
often featured on one
or another dreary, black
and white, TV wrestling
showcase. It wasn't
anything like now,
with the high-breasted
babes and the skin-tight
clothing, showing off
for everyone while
voracious Neanderthals
behind them have to
be held back from
setting off to kill one
another. It was much
different, almost a
task, slowly running
down, a black and
white ho-hum.
These trailer-court
guys had kids,
boys anyway, (I
never saw a
in my day) and
usually not a wife
around either. They
were tough hombres,
and had funny names
-  I can't remember,
but stuff like Haystack
Calhoun and such.
Killer Kowalski.
They grunted. They
drank beer. Their
kids were okay,
rough-hewn and
always ready for
something. But
all a bit slow in
the head too.Then
I went away, to
the seminary,
and when I did
return, those
years later, all
that stuff was
gone. The trailer
court was still
there, and is
now, but it was
all changed
over, as was
its 'quality'
factor. I used
to know a
seminary kid,
actually, who
was a rabid
follower of all
this wrestling
stuff, all those fake
holds and silly
story-lines and
personas, and he
even used to talk
of being at home
and actually going
to these things  -
wrestling matches,
and cheering and
screaming at it
all. I always
figured it was
just staged and
fake stuff, a good
show. What was
even funnier, and
I'm not going to
delve here or go
all religious on
you, was how I
was so easily
able, in the
seminary, to
equate his love
of this wrestling
pomp and gimmick
with so much of
the Catholic doctrine
we were getting
pumped with  -  if
he fell for one I
figured he'd be
the kind of person
who'd easily fall
for the other as
well. Same kind
of mat-game,
just maybe a
different referee.
I'd been around 
the block, more 
than around the 
block already 
by the time I 
had these other 
places  -  the 
printing gigs, 
as it were. 
library, digging 
facts and ideas
 out for myself, 
and then, of 
course, my own 
entry into the 
world of ideas 
by way of my 
own peculiar track 
 -  William Blake, 
Albert Pinkham 
Ryder, Odilon 
Redon, Joseph 
Cornell, and all 
those crazy writers 
and playwrights 
and poets of the 
past (real and 
imagined; whatever)  
-  a real raft load 
of cranks and 
eccentrics. Maybe 
how you live is 
how you learn.
At one point, as cool 
as the old granary 
was at the bottom 
of Main Street (next 
to the theater, next to 
the old Town Hall), 
Appellate Printing 
upped and moved to 
the center of Main 
Street  -  this was 
major and really neat 
 -  into the old, granite, 
heavy and ponderous 
1910 era Woodbridge 
National Bank building. 
Which had been just 
that; a bank. Back when 
banks were huge, 
church-like, serious, 
respectful and almost 
religious. I guess I 
wasn't much around 
for the actual 'moving' 
because I just don't 
recall it. One day it 
was just there, in the 
new location, and I 
never did get back 
to that granary. The 
entire operation 
moved to the old 
bank. Crazy, spacious, 
massive layout, with 
a second level, overlook, 
balcony, for the offices 
and stuff. Like a choir 
loft in some old church.
It was amazing  -  big 
slabs of granite and 
marble around, here 
and there a column. 
A few new plywood 
partitions went up, 
but not much at all, 
and the whole place 
worked great as a 
print-shop, from 
a bank. Pretty cool. 
There was a 
Woolworth's across 
the street, an A&P, 
small-town version, 
hardware stores, a 
diner, clothing stores, 
jewelers. The whole 
mix of Americana, 
hurting big-time 
already, but still 
there. There'd 
actually be people 
along the sidewalk, 
strolling and shopping,
delivery trucks, 
'sections' of the 
business quarter 
that each felt different. 
A gas station at each
end. The real estate
mogul for all these 
holdings, and more, 
was some guy named
Harry Halpern. I 
learned later he was 
anxious to get this old 
bank place inhabited, 
before it began 
crumbling, so he'd 
made us some good 
deal to get us out of 
the granary, which 
he wanted to fix up 
and change over 
(except that it 
stayed vacant for 
years after), and 
into the bank 
building. Harry 
Halpern somehow 
owned a Woodbridge
 real estate empire 
like you wouldn't 
believe. It always 
seems to me that 
very often people 
get to great success 
and riches in spite 
of themselves  -  
the most dull, the 
most insensitive, 
the least reflective 
persons among us 
often get there 
Scrambling over, 
as it were the 
bodies and places 
and feelings of 
what they've 
destroyed along 
the way, without 
even thinking of 
it, I know, through 
my St. George Press 
connections later 
on, one guy of this 
sort, to whom one 
day, after he'd bought 
his perhaps 10th parcel 
of pristine land to 
ruin and build upon 
or refurbish the old 
building upon, I just 
asked 'why?' In asking
him to tell me what 
drove him to do these 
things  -  he already 
had tons of money, 
rents rolling in, 
product everywhere, 
a veritable kingdom 
of work and riches 
all in his favor, 
he looked at me 
and replied, in all 
earnestness evidently, 
'Well you can't build
 pyramids any more  
-  I guess these are 
my pyramids.' Very 
weird response, in 
fact completely
bizarre, preoccupied 
as it seemed to be 
with self and 
attainment and 
nothing more. In 
addition to which 
this was the kind 
of guy who, I don't 
think, had ever 
cracked open a 
book nor had any
 interest in learning 
about stuff, most 
especially about 
Pharoahs, ancient 
Egypt, ancient 
religions and 
traditions, or 
anything. You 
know why? 
Because, he 
would say, it 
doesn't make 
you any money. 
Harry Halpern, much
less self-conscious, 
was otherwise the 
same way. I don't 
think there was a 
self-reflective bone 
in his body. I don't 
think he ever reflected 
on things or thought 
about any of it -   it 
was all figures, 
profit and loss, 
numbers, and 
opportunity. He
 had construction 
projects all over 
town, rows of new 
1960's split levels 
going up, 'garden' 
apartments, and 
all this was before
the days of 'condos'. 
These were just 
rental units and 
houses for sale. 
He had dump 
trucks running 
in every direction 
 -  loads of dirt, 
stone and rubble, 
coming and going. 
One of the guys 
I worked with, 
Bill Konowalow
again, drove for 
him as a side-job 
now and then  -  
just loads of dirt 
and stone, back 
and forth, filled 
and them emptied, 
all day long. He 
(Halpern) used to 
have a big mansion, 
for himself, alone, 
on upper main 
street  -  now it's 
been torn down, 
and is just used 
as a truck lot for 
his remaining 
company's junk. 
Harry's long dead.
 Anyway, Harry 
was a small guy, 
always in work 
khakis; you'd think 
he was a bum or 
a loafer. Honestly. 
No pretension, 
and he just didn't 
care  -  the real 
opposite of that 
Emil guy. But, he 
was OK to talk to, 
distant, a wee 
unfocused, but 
you could talk 
back and forth 
and feel good. He'd 
hang around sometimes, 
just wasting a bit of 
time (actually, he was 
probably, at the same 
time, sizing up the 
building, checking
out our uses of it
and possibilities 
for whatever future 
use he could give it). 
These sorts never 
do anything for 
nothing. No slouch, 
there. He's dead 
now, and he's 
without his
pyramid too, 
far as I can tell.
'Least I ain't 
never seen it.'
You learn things 
after a while  -  
places where NOT 
to leave your traces, 
chalk-lines and 
evidences you 
should not leave 
as markers, what 
to avoid and all that. 
That's the kind of 
stuff boozers and 
crooks start forgetting, 
and it catches up 
to them somewhere  
-  some smart-ass 
cop or detective, 
still hounding 
around two years 
later, will find 
something, and 
it'll snag them. 
One damn little 
piece of something 
you didn't do 
correctly or 
thoroughly. Got 
careless. It's the 
sort of thing that 
these guys never 
seemed to do  -  
developers, builders, 
and all that. They 
always have 
everything covered, 
all plans to fruition, 
and the rest. For 
a while, a long 
while, I never 
knew why or 
how that occurred. 
Then, after exposure, 
in my printing years, 
to these guys, I 
realized it's all 
about complete 
control over each 
deal  -  who you 
buy, who you 
pay off, and 
who's in your pocket. 
Variances get 
switched, zoning 
gets changed, 
parcels get bought 
today at 70 grand, 
because at present 
what appears cheap 
and worthless only 
you know will 
tomorrow be a 
strip mall or a row
 of homes, and you 
sell five months later 
for 580 grand. (I 
just plugged in random 
numbers here), but 
believe me I know 
of it. I was witness 
once of two Woodbridge 
bright and proper 
professional types 
who bought and 
sold and turned 
back over to one 
another a parcel 
of property (now 
a huge dental clinic)  
from which the 
secondary owner, 
in about two hours, 
walked away from 
the  deal 800 thousand 
dollars richer. From
nothing but the stroke 
of a pen and the transfer 
of some plans.The 
entire snaky deal went 
through like a knife 
through butter, in 
fact a warmed knife 
through a bar of butter. 
It was as if one of 
those Inman Avenue 
wrestling guys had 
gotten involved, 
decided what to 
do and how, which 
moves and holds 
to use, and they 
threw the entire 
deal, flat-out 
down to the mat, 
in about 10 minutes. 
A perfect headlock.
Fight over. You win.

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