Sunday, November 27, 2016

Vacancy near Deal Lake

November 27, 2016

When we got to the old house on the street between Deal and Sunset lakes, we found it empty -- a shock, if not a complete surprise since everything is changing in Asbury Park, and this was hardly the icon the old arcade is, or the copper round carousel where the merry go round once was, now assigned to bear the beat of music and the rattle of skateboards.
This house was a private house that we stumbled upon late in 2014 during our Christmas trip here, a pleasant surprise amid the routine places that lined those streets, summer cottages or even old mansions to which this place barely compared.

We were drawn to it the way we are drawn to all things that defy the normal, things that stand out as rebellions against the homogenized sameness society breeds people to become.  This was much like the house in Cape May we loved, filled with creative junk, items reused as art.
But the house in Asbury Park, when we found it, was a testimony to something else, filled with statues of saints, cupids, and other fairy creatures in a garden that appeared unkempt, but was clearly of some higher design.
Since seeing it the first time, the house became a regular stop on our unofficial tour of Asbury Park, one of a handful of places that had nothing to do with Bruce Springsteen, even though his finger prints are on nearly everything that remained of this once industrious seaside city.

We missed seeing the house during our first autumn visit this year because we went to Main Street to see the deli where Bruce sometimes goes, not so much in the hope of seeing him there (we didn't even look inside) but with the need to somehow connect, it being a touchstone for us, the way the stars on Hollywood Boulevard are for tourists, something tangible to see and touch at a time when Bruce seems more like a spirit, the ghost of Christmas past (we have never seen, but only heard rumor of) and so we need places such as the Deli and the Stone Pony to remind us of what is real.
When we came two weeks ago, we only realized we had missed the house on that visit when we arrived at Sunset Lake Park and were too weary to make our way back in the direction of Deal Lake, putting it off to this visit.

We don't go to Asbury Park in summer and so we only take stock after many months, during which changes always happen, and as in this case, a somewhat sad change.
Like many events that happen when we go away to places like Asbury Park or Cape May, there is usually a tie-in to our lives, and so seeing the house vacant and its yard stripped of icons was made sadder by the fact that news had reached us that our old house back north in Jersey City was in the midst of being demolished.
Even though we sold the house knowing this would happen, the news did not sit well with me. Places where I have lived become icons of their own, a different sort of touchstone that comes with a bundle of memories I renew each time I go passed them. Nearly every place I've ever lived still exits in much the same condition as I left it, and so have one vanish before my eyes brings a strange sense of loss like a death in the family, carrying to the grave a history I feel cannot be recovered.
We didn't know the history of this house in Asbury Park until our second or third visit, when some woman walking her dog noticed us gawking in front of the place.

Not quite an eyesore in the traditional sense, the place had an exotic air -- situated on corner lot with three wooden gates, two of which were so overgrown with vines as to be inaccessible, with a third leading to a slate path up to the porch and front door. The fence along that side of the house had a line of statutes of saints large enough to seem garish in a grave yard, yet somehow appropriate here.
Two of the gates were guarded by stone lions, more than half buried in ivy and so worn by time and weather as to have lost their growling demeanor.
Each time, we came here we spotted some icon we'd not seen prior, not because anything new got added between trips, but because things became hidden and revealed as nature covered and uncovered things that had been placed there at some time in the past, items meaningful to the person who had installed them, but whose meaning we could not piece together in any cognitive fashion and had to accept the whole and its parts the way we might some piece of art hung in a gallery, seeking from the impression to guess at the artist' intent.

The pantheon of saints and cupids were both provocative and innocent, to which we added guesses with each visit -- though the dog walker filled in the basic background against which we could better guess.
The house belonged to a gay man, a long-time resident of Asbury Park who had lived with another man for many years, and whose passing the gay man could not reconcile, and so began to decorate the house and yard as a tribute to his missing lover, pieces added over many years, each apparently having some personal meaning, but conveyed always this sense of faith, innocence and sexuality.
The gay man never connected with anyone else, living apparently in the house alone, in perpetual mourning for a man that he still missed, and whose essence was somehow reflected in the collection of icons, a tribute to love that was supposed to be immortal, but was not, as all flesh must succumb to time, and precious memories lost.

The windows of the house looked like vacant eyes, absent the coverings that had been there at our last visit, the lace lashes now stripped away, as was the land itself, every icon, even the sad toothless lions, gone so that the yard looked more grave-like than it had before, filled with a vacancy so acute it hurt to witness -- icons sold off no doubt by some relative, who had no memory to preserve or appreciation of what they had meant to the house's occupant, leaving only the now untended garden over grown with weeds and the slightly sagging unguarded wooden gates, the last testament to love we never knew and yet still felt , lingering and sad, a memory that is not ours and yet we somehow shared without substantiation, merely taking it all on faith.

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