Saturday, April 11, 2015

Love story on Park Avenue -- Asbury Park

April 11, 2015

It was a love story with an unhappy ending we didn't learn about until the second time we stumbled upon the house just south of Deal Lake.
We fell over it during our trip to the area the weekend after Christmas on a rather chilly stroll along the lake, and then back towards the center of town.
At the time, we were merely puzzled about the house and the front yard so overwhelmed with statuary, we struggled at first to make sense of it.

A corner house, the front yard had three gates, two of which seemed permanently closed, but guarded by matching stone lions at each -- faces worn smooth by weather and strewn over with the wintery remains of vines.
Peering over the gate from the Park Avenue side -- we glimpsed some of the statuary, many of which were various cupid characters, some with wings, some riding on the backs of beasts.
In winter, even the most normally lush yards seemed sad, and overgrown with the shredded remains of dying plants. But for some reason, this yard despite all of its pretensions seemed sad for other reasons we could not know.

By the time we came to the corner and the second gate, we could clearly see the front of the house where a pantheon of Christian saints stood in full glory on pedestals at intervals along the front fence. The corer gate had more lions, but we could see the yard better and that there were statues big and small of all sorts, sizes and shapes, most reflecting some sense of innocence and yet sensuality that seemed contradicted by the religions artifacts.
The front porch had a line of cupid statues, as provocative and innocent as the religious statues were defiant, raising many questions that trip would not answer.

We had, of course, run into similar -- if not quite as overwhelming -- properties in other places, including some in Cape May. But this differed in several important ways, a sense of purpose lay behind this collection, and it seemed to reflect a theme even if we could not desern what it was.

We move on -- driven from the place by the chill and a sense of extreme sadness.
We returned on Easter weekend, and were on the boardwalk along the north side of the Convention Hall when we ran into a couple of women walking their dogs.
We made friends with the dogs, and then moved on, taking the long walk we had taken on Christmas weekend, up to Deal Lake and back to that house on our way back.
The women from the boardwalk were there.

They said the house belonged to a gay man, a long time resident of Asbury Park, who had lived with another man for many years. When the other man died, the gay man started building this tribute to his memory, and even though many years had passed, the tribute continued, new pieces popping on the property from time to time, but always with this odd mixture of faith, innocence and sexuality.

The man never connected with anyone else, and apparently lived in the house along, morning the loss of the lover that had once shared this dream of living in peace.
It's a sad story, reflected on the faces and images of the yard, not one that we would have gotten in detail, but clearly one conveyed by the vast array, as if by sheer volume, the survivor continued to profess the quality and quantity of love.
As I said, it is a sad love story.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Springsteen’s footsteps

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Winter still licks at our heals, despite the date.
I open windows, put new screens up, and then close the windows against the chill.
This isn’t the same bone-cracking cold from a month ago, just a nagging reminder of what had been. We do not get weekdays filled with snow, but a persistent drizzle we must walk and drive through.
I spent most of the last two days rushing from one event to another with almost no time to breathe or think about what I might do next.
Still, I am nostalgic for a time when I had less to do and felt more concerned about the concept of making art.

I miss people like Roland and Michael, partly for their inspiration.
Even though I am mostly inspired by the people I meet everyday.
I went back to Asbury Park last weekend, where upon arrival, ran into a man named Michael, who was hurrying towards the boardwalk.
He had moved into the seaside city two years ago in order to become one of the handful of regular boardwalk performers. He was not going to perform that day – Holy Saturday – but set up shop for Easter when people were out and about after religious services.

Perhaps like many of the women I used to see in Hollywood, he’d come hoping to get discovered, a street performer straight out of a Joni Mitchell song, pure art that did not provide immediate profit.
This differs from the club performers we went to see at The Wonder Bar – for the second annual
Dark City presentation – where more or less local professionals, put on their acts for money, aching to find fame in a place made famous by Bruce Springsteen and others.
We live our lives with the notion that history might repeat itself, and lightning strike the same place twice.

It rarely does. While many famous people came out of this city just as many did Liverpool a decade earlier, they were a product of that time and place, some magic produced by the right combination at the exact right moment.
We spent a good portion of this trip, seeking out the fingerprints Springsteen left (and still leaves on the place.)

Unlike Frank Sinatra who despised his home town of Hoboken and yet could not shed his growing up there, Springsteen retains his love for this place and that time, and like some spirit of the past must keep returning here, even though the place has ceased to be what it once was.
We visited the Asbury Park Press building – which is no longer an institution of my noble profession having fled with white flight to the suburbs – where Springsteen once did a video or book signing. He went to the upstage club that is no longer anything but a wreck, and could not even fine the remains of the beauty parlor whose owner once owned the club.

We did find the apartment where Springsteen inked most of the songs from his “Greetings from Asbury Park,” near where a museum had been set up in his honor. But there is the same sense of great change here as in Hoboken, where the culture each place once maintain no longer exists. Hoboken was a mecca of hardworking dock hands, finding comfort in a bar culture after long hours of labor. Asbury Park was the east coast equivalent of “American Graffiti,” a testimony to a way of life that came and went, and is no longer possible in this or perhaps any other place.

So we walked later the circuit that is no longer Thunder Road, visiting icons to a past that we wish could still exist, and exist because a few people who lived through it had the talent to preserved snapshots of that life in their art.
Ultimately, they define art for me, allowing us to cling to worlds that can no longer exist and generating feelings that are an important part of that culture.

But all of us who take this walk, but avoid making it over into the stations of the cross, turning art into religious obsession. If we take anything away from this place, it must be the inspiration to do what Springsteen did, create our own space, preserve our own history, and make sure that our art conveys the same important feelings of our experience while we walked this mortal coil.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A change in the air

Friday, April 03, 2015

The rain brings warmth instead of cold, a complete reverse of seasons that finally has allowed winter to let loose its grip on my world.
Normally, I would have walked in – the way I did earlier this week when the season still hadn’t completely changed – but Friday (good or bad) is production day for me, and I had to hurry into the office to finish up.
The world, of course, has changed.
Yesterday, Chris from the Bayonne office, retired – thus removing one more tie to the old paper before our chain purchased it.
The old paper started back in 1978 – just about the same time I decided to give up on a possible career as a musician and focus on what I did best – writing. The owner had come over from the daily newspaper that had an even longer history, but had been demolished in the corporate takeover that left only one daily with almost no interest in Bayonne.
His was an advertising vehicle with a ton a press releases and an occasional story.
But it thrived, because somehow it had managed to tap into the community in a way other weeklies I worked for over the years could not.
Chris wasn’t there from the start.  She started in 1988.
When our paper took over that paper in 2004 and I was assigned to cover Bayonne, the paper still had a number of people who had started with the original owner. But over the last decade, they wandered off one by one, leaving Chris as the last of the old timers.
Seeing her leave is like seeing the final end of the old paper – even though when I spoke with her this week she felt that I had become part of that tradition, too, bringing to the paper in the community what it had lacked in its own vestige.
“If you were to move down here and run for office, you could get elected,” she told me. “People respect you here.”
This is the Walter Cronkite syndrome. Do an honest job reporting and people may come to respect you.
I wouldn’t run for office here, there or anywhere. But it was nice to hear.
Since 2004, however, much of my job has been documenting a change in the city. I didn’t understand that the paper itself would change, and thus, so would I.
The move from the old office to the new office down there was traumatic, since it severed an important connection we would never regain.
I left after ten years covering that beat because it was time to move on, although I go back once a week just to work there.
But with Chris leaving, it won’t be the same.