Sunday, July 9, 2017

9721. RUDIMENTS, pt. 8

Making Cars
I never made too much of anything except
in the ways that it all drove me towards an
end. I just kind of 'noticed' things and would
take it all on from there. One item that always
confused me was the idea of my Grandmother  -
who lived alone, my mother's mother, in
Bayonne, and worked as a seamstress in the
Bayonne Hospital  -  working and living a
separate life like that. By itself, that was
no big deal, in that 'everyone' does it. Yet,
this was my grandmother and somehow I
just sort of thought that she should be no
more than that. Certainly not have a separate
life, and by herself, and working daily. I
never got right with that  -  I'd hear her talking,
on visits, about her 'lady-friends' and others
at work, doing this or that, and I'd get this
weird image that it just wasn't right. In a
utopian society sort of way, in my head I
was thinking that 'old' ladies should be
taken care off, given stipends, allowed
to just be grandmothers and all that. The
idea of her working away, like any other
schmuck, and without much of anything
to show for it, struck me as wrong. Of course,
I never knew her situations  -  of money and
bank accounts and things, but she did seem
to just be getting by in variations of apartments
and living quarters, and then until my aunts
began taking her in, different periods of time
and all. During the times she had her own
place, she'd move, every so often, maybe
three times I recall. They were always
likeable enough places and  -  in that
same vein  -  they always surprised me
by being kept well, and ordered nicely
by her  -  in my mind I somehow thought
that a small urban situation like that should
have thrown he for a loop, instead of being
easy and manageable.
No mistake about it, Bayonne was in no way 
a large 'city,' and I use the term only loosely. 
Back then (it's much worse now, by the way) 
it was a worker community : Navy Yard leftovers, 
guys with machine shops, tool and die makers, 
auto repair bays, and all that usual small-hand 
level of industrial work by which row after row 
of streets and four-story houses, multi-family, 
were stretched out in neat, ethnic rows, each 
nationality sort of having its own little burgh, 
so to speak. Like anywhere, through the 1940's 
anyway. Soon after that, it all began to fall apart. 
In a type of 'Mike of the Planets' way (I used 
to call it) things just began crumbling, and then  
-  making it worse - just being given away. LBJ's 
Great Society stuff really was the icing on the 
cake, and by that time everyone wanted her out 
of there anyway  -  it was getting too dangerous, 
and, as she aged, no one liked that isolation for 
her any more. As one of my other aunts once 
put it to me (also Bayonne-based), to paraphrase, 
the place was nice because the 'element' had always 
been kept out. Once the 'element' got a foothold, 
and was allowed in, the whole place began to fall
apart. Now, I was a mere 12 or 13, and hearing
this at first confused me but in time I realized it 
was really, if and if not fully true, just code for 
racism and exclusion. A person didn't have to 
be a genius to understand what was going on  
-  these rotten sorts of small urban places had 
become their own incendiary flashpoints. Jersey 
City and Bayonne abutted each other, and with 
a completely porous border  -  because they 
looked so exactly the same, there were spots 
where you weren't sure which one you were 
actually in. Jersey City and Newark did
eventually, by the late 60's, catch the fireball
spirit of riots, breakouts and fires. I'm not sure 
how much of that actually hit over into Bayonne. 
I don't think much. Not because of niceness or 
right-thinking, mind you. It was more to do 
with just a complete isolation. Peninsular 
head-in-the-sand stuff, and the very dullness
of its still overwhelming Euro-white ethnic 
enclave pride stuff. I really don't think any 
great thinkers every came out of that town; 
three sides water, one side turnpike exit.
Not that my aunt was alone in her thinking
either. Lots of people spoke those same local
sentiments; but the federally mandated new
housing and assistance codes and the rest
made it imperative that these sorts of changes
be implemented in order for municipalities
to receive their funds, etc. And of course the
local politicians, in-place and ready for their
hand-outs, were only too happy to oblige. Local
populace be damned. Large percentages of these
distributed monies never got to where they were
meant to go, and were distributed instead, under
variations of business names and building-trades
companies, etc., right into the pockets of the very
eager-to-oblige local politicos. All perfectly legal
in that perfectly illegal way of local politics, with
properly dotted i's and crossed t's. It was from this
point that the inner-cities really began to fester.
Angry slum-dwellers, left behind to left in the 
rubble no longer cared for, turned on themselves,
as it were, and destroyed what was left around
them. Turmoil and rot. I never figured it for
anything good; except a a lesson to show how
a government will undertake the destruction
of its very own people.
I had another Bayonne aunt too  -  she was stuffed
into a real project type apartment, first one then
another, for the longest time. These places were
cramped, walk-ups, one or two windows, and
small; but she prospered in her way and survived
for years in that manner. My mother and others 
would speak of 'missing' Bayonne, wishing in
some ways that they'd never left. Walking those
streets, if you needed something you could always
find it  - grocers, hardware stores, thread and 
sewing shops, floor and tiling, pets, pizza
and the rest. Today's equivalent of course is
the same streets, but now with 40 variations of
dollar-stores and donut shops, with agglomerations,
as well, of Hispanic stores an Middle Eastern, Asian
or Islamic dress and food stores. Go figure.

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