Thursday, July 25, 2013
Some people tell me a small tornado touched down in
Bayonne a few days ago,
part of what is supposed to a strange weather pattern.
This coupled with the death of Elvis Tribute Artist Eddie O’Rourke only served to bring me back to that horrible summer in 1977 when I was working in a warehouse in
when a small tornado ripped up a portion of the roof.
For some reason, I was up front in the office rather than where I should have been back near the loading bay when I heard the crunch of metal ripping, and rushed back to find the area where I worked uncovered, and rain dripping off the rip along with sunlight.
Cliff, a one-time linebacker for the University of Pittsburgh (whose injured knee kept from the pros – a fact that allowed me to pick on him with impunity since I could run faster than him) stood with giant hands on his giant hips staring up at the roof, looking at it, then me, as if he expected me not to be there, drawn up into the funnel perhaps to become that fake wizard I more our less pretended to be.
This was a summer full of such disasters, full of fear of some guy in New York that would later be called “Son of Sam” but whom the news reports referred to as the 44 caliber killer, and the great black out that showed us all how terrible humanity can be when there are no rules to keep us in order, and then, the death of Elvis, who most of us didn’t feel much about until his death, although his songs had haunted me my whole life, especially when I served in the army.
It was that summer my family moved south to
and my mother forced to move with them, clinging with all her fingernails to
she loved and leaving scratch marks down the New Jersey Turnpike a blind man
Some years just don’t set right in the universe, ripping up the tarmac of our lives, taking their place in our collective memories not for any good reason.
And yet, there are times when I think back at that summer with fondness, and puzzled by the ironies. Such as my best friend falling in love with a girl from Toms River that summer so that each weekend we both wound up wandering the Sea Side board walk, finding each other, getting drunk in one of the cheap Sea Side bars, both of us trying to pick up the girls who didn’t want hippie types like us, but the macho muscle-bound beach bums who wanted to beat us up for even looking at the girls they wanted.
I remember standing at the mouth of Toms River and the bay and being awed by sunset and the light flickering off the water, and by the old Victorian hotel that sat there like a queen, and by the widows walks where in old days the wives of sailors kept watch for sight of ships returning, although the only sails I saw were those of small sail boats struggling against the wind.
All these years later, I still remember the ducks and geese, who quacked in lowered voices while I strummed guitar and sang, not to them but to the waves and the gusts of wind, feeling as if somehow being there was part of destiny, and that the measure of sadness that year brought, was more than made up for by the powerful images that remain fixed in my mind, images that return when I hear things elsewhere – even this far north in Bayonne.