Monday, March 9, 2015

A walk through the past

Monday, March 09, 2015

This is always the time of  year that hits me hardest – this time when the world melts and reemerges as something new, when warmth finally gets its grip and strips off the chill so that we might run naked again like children (or at least underdressed).
Everything drips from the just over freezing temperatures even at night.
Lately, I’ve gone back to doing my laundry on Sunday’s in Secaucus – not so much out of need but out of nostalgia for that more innocent time when my eyes remained closed to the worst abuses of the world, and I could still pretend to be unstained by the vulgar realities that make up our existence.
Perhaps in some ways, I still haven’t come to grips with all that, even through like a tour guide I wandered around the edges of the dark world, watching but largely untouched with its reality.
Drying the drying cycle I took the ten block walk from the Plaza section of Secaucus to Trolley Park and back, snow melting into oozing pools with each footstep. For the most part, the heart of Secaucus remained unchanged from the day I first stepped foot into it during the early 1980s when I came to work in the Fotomat  booth in the parking lot across from what was then the town library.
Along this route, you have to look hard for the changes – although the most obvious is the new library constructed slightly over a decade ago. The rest is like a stroll through memory lane – with even some of the same faces in cars familiar.
Thomas Wolfe was right when he said you can’t go home. Someone else pointed out that time shifts things so that even a river that looks exactly as it once did is not the same, and when you step onto it, you are sailing on different water. The only things that remain the same are those which you carry with you, and even that is an illusion.
I always think of people and places in time like photographs. If you keep in touch with them, you barely notice the changes. But if you are away for a while, the vision you have is only a mental photograph that doesn’t match up later when you get back.
So that even this stretch of landscape doesn’t quite fit with the place I have kept inside my head. Trolley Park is loaded with playground equipment. Huber Street School has a new face. Even in the heart of the town I remember, the library isn’t the library any more, the Acme is a CVS, the Plaza Diner is a bank, the New Jersey Bank and other banks that previously occupied this town square have different names if not different looks.
But as I walked I searched out for those elements that had not changed, things that cling to our reality, and beckon back to a past we remember, but cannot replicate.
Even the bar across the street from the laundry has changed, losing its rooftop icons such as the full sized fishing boat, for a more modern look – so that I know I will feel less comfortable inside if I chose to pull up to the bar for a beer.
And yet, coming back, walking this route, looking at these things feels right. For some reason, this part of the world will change less quickly than other places such as Jersey City – destined to become for some ungodly reason – the most populated city in the state, filled with phallic towers and smelling of too much testosterone.

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