Jerry Wick and Jenny Mae: place. pt one–kinda


Place.

The shore was pocketed with holes and debris, the tide rolled into the beach in terrible fits, white peaked waves hurtling themselves towards the houses that lined the coast, a competition to see which one would wreck one of the million dollar homes. Heavy gray clouds hung just above the sea, like a water logged ceiling waiting to burst, they mimicked the waves, tumbling and wheeling over one another, almost dipping themselves into the ocean. The storm was most probably the residue from Hurricane Faye, that battered the beaches of East Long Island as if the beach houses were constructed out of Styrofoam We walked the beach, the winds blowing hard against us and the sea wrestling with itself, we happened upon a row of houses that had been eaten by the sea, large bites from the waves had splattered the houses, exposing the skeleton of the houses, some were literally cut in half. It was like giant sized doll houses, with paintings still visible on walls, bedroom sets, and furniture exposed to the world. There was nobody else on the beach, and if there were they would have most likely been Midwestern transplants who had never walked the beach before as the natives knew better than to stroll the beach post Hurricane.

My fondness for the sea was planted there, and I still think about living near the ocean, the mystery and wisdom of the water has held sway in me since that year and a half on Long Island. Memory has a way of making people trip over the cinders in their mind, some things happened and others didn’t but the emotion of the memory is seared into the skull like a branded cow. This summer on the way to Boston to pick up our children we stopped in Rhode Island, taking two hours to fall into the sea, I breathed in the salt and felt the hard pebbles of the craggy sand under my toes, swimming into the calm waves, letting the water ride over me as if I were floating in space, my soul tried to swallow the sea instead of it swallowing me, and I was transformed back into a child, all of six years old gazing and the wonderment of the North Atlantic.

Larry’s smelled of old wood, beer and cigarettes, a pocket of familiarity that was at once calming and inviting, unlike the beer soaked enamel floors of the south campus bars, that someone smelled of both stale beer and bleach, two chemicals that can induce nausea, the heart-worn décor of Larry’s and a few of the other neighborhood (i.e. dive-bars) felt as comfortable as an old blanket. Larry’s was the bar where my father met my mother, it was where I met Jerry Wick and the place that felt safer than almost anywhere else I went, including home. After we split up, Jenny avoided most of the haunts we ventured into together, she kept her distance from me for nearly a year, ex-lovers have the power of dismantling a person with just a shadow or a scent. She asked me several times to warn her when I was going to a show she might be at, although the chances of us running into one another were rare as I didn’t want to see her as much as she didn’t want to see me. She drifted towards Dick’s Den, where the nightly jazz musicians provided a solace to her as she entertained whatever man was trying to uncover her secrets and I stuck to Larry’s, Bernie’s and Staches, all of them now shuttered. And with a sound of a song or the scent of a beer I am transported back there.

The neighborhood of North Linden in Columbus, was eaten from the core outward from the parasitic substance of crack-cocaine, the fall of a once proud neighborhood was swift and like most African-American neighborhoods over the course of history the powers that be left it die from neglect and a careful, deliberate ignorance of the facts. I sat on my grandfather’s Austin’s knee, as the fireplace snapped and popped, small hissing sounds seeping from the wood just a few feet away. On the black and white television, images of Archie Bunker flickered and small chuckles slipped out of the old man’s mouth. Reaching his hand around me, striking a wooden match against the sandpaper-like side of the match-box, he lite his Winston and was careful to blow the smoke away from me and took a sip off his Jim Beam and water, I held his brawny hand. He had fought in the Battle of the Bulge, had a shotgun in the closet of the guest room and spoke very little, whenever we asked about the war he would say it was a long time ago. In those days, as a five-year-old in 1973, the Second World War seemed like another life-time, when in reality it was less time than my first discovery of Larry’s nearly 30 years ago.

Stomachs leaped high into our throats, while our bottoms went the other way, the yellow bus tilted this way and that, rocking to and fro with every pothole, sharp turn and stop. Hills grew steeper when in the bus, it chugged up the steep Appalachian foothills like a retarded Little-Engine that could (n’t) as the shocks had long been shocked out of existence. We lived roughly eight miles into the recesses of Athens County, a forty-five-minute marathon of a bus ride that choked the childhood out of me. It was a mass of sticky tweeners and early teens, and the children on the bus were not really the well to do kids of University professors, we were on the far west side of town heading towards Fox Lake, up and behind the soon to be closed State Mental Hospital, this winding road was dotted with poverty. With pit-stops along the route, that were furnished with dilated trailer parks, barking dogs, massive mud puddles that appeared to have springs of brown polluted water under them, and small bare-legged children screaming every time the bus pulled up. This was a hellish ride, some of the children grew cold at this early age in their lives, the emotional coldness manifesting itself as hardened cruelty towards some of the other children. I sat quietly, I stood out for my nerdiness, I was small kid, liked to draw pictures of rock bands and cartoons in my notebook and cracked wise whenever I good, much of my sarcasm flung at many of the poor Appalachian kids when I was in the safe confines of the school. The rednecks could be brutal, and the bus-driver, a young man who wore a ball cap and smoked a cigarette while driving would play the radio. The only time when the kids all agreed on something was when Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” or Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” came on the small portable radio that hung from the large dashboard of the bus. The bus would erupt with the chorus of children screaming “We don’t need no education!” and for the majority of the kids on Athens County Public School Bus number 24, their scholastic education would end in a few short years.

There was a petite young girl on the bus, a year older than me who had long stringy blonde hair. She always sat quietly, looking forward, not making eye contact and clutching her books tight against her. She wore a Navy Blue coat, with the elbows rubbed thin, her pink sweater poking through and the collar pulled up tight. Suddenly a boy behind me threw a spit-ball at her, it landed in her thick hair. “Ain’t you gonna pick it out!?” he snarled as he spits another one at her, this was also landing into her blond locks. She didn’t move. I looked back at the boy, he was fat-ish, with large teeth that made the rest of his pudgy cheeks smaller, he wore a fishing hat and a jean jacket. “Gimmie another piece of paper,” he motioned to the boy next who him, who snickered away, ripping a corner of paper and quickly chewing it he spit it out on her again. “Hey, you got three now!! Quite a collection going!” Soon, a barrage of spitballs was landing atop of the girl, I sat quietly as boys and girls around me hurtled insults pasted on the end of bits of wet paper at her. Caught up in the moment, I ripped a piece of paper from my notebook, the one with carefully drawn pictures of Cheap Trick and John Lennon and stuck it in my mouth and in a moment, I too, spit it upon her. I looked at her, and saw large bulbous tears running down her cheeks, and I was suddenly flooded with shame, the remorse I felt was unsettling and even though I was just a child, maybe twelve it was one of the worst moments of my life. I climbed across the aisle of the bus, and watched her gallop across her mud-caked yard as a large brown dog, tied up with a hunk of twisted rope barked madly—surely he loved her, and witnessed these boys and girls yelling insults at her as she scampered into her house. “Mom, I don’t want to ride the bus anymore.” She looked over at me, a spoonful of mashed potatoes dangling above my plate. “Why not?” she looked concerned, no doubt her mind wondering just what I would do with myself after school. “Well, it takes forever to get home and sometimes Zoltan has football, why can’t I just hang around up-town until you are done with work?” “Mom, the bus is pretty gross” my brother answered. “Well, I suppose but you can’t bother me at work.” Soon my afternoons would be filled with sitting behind the record counter of Side-One Records (where the fellows had to be the only Herman Brood fans in the midwest) and the basement dwelling of Haffa’s records and books, themselves making emotional imprints on my mind with the smell of cardboard records covers, paperback books and the musty smell of comic books, and while I deeply regretted my act of bullying that fall day in 1980, the feeling of guilt and sadness for that young girl has never left me.

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