Thursday, December 26, 2013
The Early years: 1960's New Jersey
A mostly true retrospective recycled from the shredder.
I haven't always lived in Jerkwater, in fact I spent most of my early childhood in the much-maligned state of New Jersey. I would like to take this time to share some of my early recollections of this wonderful but misunderstood region.
New Jersey is built upon a swamp, teeming with disease and parasitic insects. I grew up on a dead-end street, which was bordered by deep, weed-choked ditches, their bottoms containing stagnant, foul-smelling water where mosquitoes and malaria flourished despite the industrial runoff. At night the sewer rats would emerge, wet and covered in grease to skin their teeth at the unwashed and frightened children.
My first memories were of that dead end street, lined with tiny houses, each one with a front stoop, where the wives of factory workers would gather to smoke cigarettes and gossip, telling lurid tales about the unfaithful whores who lived on the next block, and speaking in hushed tones of birth control and vaginal discomfort through nicotine-stained teeth. It’s where I first learned to ride my bicycle, careening up and down the street, gaining speed and confidence, while the Catholic children would hurl epitaphs and rocks at me as I raced by the front lawn flamingoes and plastic Virgin Marys.
To combat the summertime mosquitoes, the city periodically sprayed DDT from tank trucks, the Negro driver would smile and wave to the children as we ran into the street to play and dance in the misty vapor. Later, while Sinatra serenaded us from the AM radio, our lips would turn blue and our gums would bleed. Mother would rub liniment on our chests against the racking cough and worry over the listless, distant look in little brother‘s eyes. Nikita Khrushchev always glared at us from behind the bushes and newspaper headlines, his face fierce and monochromatic. Uncle Vankey visited from across the ocean, his face gaunt and drawn from stark Collectivism, and the little girl next door died in her sleep from a mysterious illness.
In the evening, the day-shift men would return from the factories in their Fords and Pontiacs, their blank faces empty as their lunch pails. They’d read the newspaper then get quietly drunk while watching the ball game as the purple sun, filtered through a haze of factory smoke, sank low in the western sky. The sewer rats stirred in the ditches and rubbed their whiskers, preparing for the night shift.
After the children were put to bed, husbands would grunt and sweat as they dutifully mounted their reluctant, consecrated wives, engaging in the brief and passionless sex of fenced livestock, then promptly fall asleep, drooling beer-laden saliva on the white sheets. As Ed Sullivan’s muted voice droned on from living room television sets, the sleepless wives would clutch their rosary beads and weep silently.