Wednesday, February 20, 2008

adventures in America

As most of you know, New York City is not actually part of America, its more like a pirate ship permanently docked just off the coast of America. Like any working ship, there are way too many people packed onboard, eating and working and fighting with each other in extremely cramped quarters. And the buggery and rum are the only things really keeping us sane.

On occasion, we get shore leave or just jump ship and find ourselves in the fine land of the USA, where you people have lawns and enormous shopping centers and endless, paved highways.

And truck stops. We love your truck stops.

Yesterday, Nancy and I bolt and are making good our escape through northern New Jersey. Now, I know a lot of good people who grew up in that very strange place, but, to a man, they all left it at soon as they could.

Jersey gets deeply maligned here on the Pirate Ship, but the truth is, its just the small part of it that Manhattan has infected and poisoned that's awful. Southern Jersey is a different state altogether, that's Springsteen land and the Jersey shore and Atlantic City and all of that. Beautiful. And if you get past Paterson, say, you're in lovely, wooded country, looks just like Pennsylvania. But those thirty or so miles just past the Holland tunnel, Christ.

We need to speak about Paterson, NJ.

We pull off the road yesterday morning looking for gasoline (petrol to you British readers) in Paterson, NJ.

Jesus, Paterson.

First oddity was the town's civic obsession with where jurors should and should not park. I'm riding shotgun as usual, taking care of the music and randomly quipping about the things I see out the window. I see a big sign:

Juror Parking this way

with a big arrow pointing down the road.

The next block:

Juror Parking

We can't find a gas station so we keep going. Nan pulls into a place to pull a U-turn, big sign there:

No Juror Parking

I say, "Clearly the major industry in Paterson is Jury Duty."

And then we see, all over the place, what we can only assume are Jurors.

People on the sidwalk, confused and looking around, holding little slips of paper in their hands. This is about 9 AM, right? They're jaywalking, looking left and right, clearly not from around here, all in kind of a controlled panic/rush. We almost hit a few of them, but the town goes slow, so the Jurors just sort of drift and dance around the cars on Main Street.

Strange. We can't find a gas station so we drive a little bit, trying to find the highway again. The town is very, very small so in a minute we're on the other end of it and we both say, at the same time,

"Oh my god."

Because we see the old factory. The old brick mill off of the river. And its huge and beautiful and old. And then we see the waterfall, the reason the town was built originally, the reason it had jobs for years. It's stunning. It's unexpected and amazing. We pull over just to stare at it.

But we need the road, so we drive back down the main stretch, still not able to find the highway which should be right there, dodging the slow-motion Jurors in the road. We see a gas station, pull in, get out and that's when it starts getting weird.

We're right downtown, right? Like on the main street of this little New Jersey town. The pumps, Nan notices, are circa 1965. I go into the gas station, since in Jersey the law is that you can't pump your own gas, another State Oddity. I open the door to the gas station and I walk into an older Polish woman's living room. There are maps for sale in one corner, so that's the gas station motif, but the rest of it...

Shag carpeting. An old couch facing an older TV set. Pictures of her family on the walls. And Herself, coming at me from out of the gloom, 60 years old or so, wearing slippers and a winter coat over what looks like some kind of housecoat, unsmiling, saying:

"I only got Super."

I say, "What?" just sort of thrown by the whole thing. It's 9 AM on a Tuesday in America, I'm trying to buy gas, you know?

"I only got Super."

She's coming close now, I see behind her the TV set flickering light on the couch and the wall behind the couch, I see the old referigerator next to the TV, I see that she lives here, in a gas station on the main drag, I see some Jurors reflected in the glass door, behind me, moving all slow and weird, I hear Nancy saying something about the old pumps and well, I just kind of panicked.

Got one of those Deep Weird flashes you get sometimes. I back away from the old Polish gas station attendant woman, smiling, mumbling something about coffee or gasoline or something, gesture for Nan to get back in the car and when she does I tell her we got to get out of here now. She says, weird place, right? And I say, let's go, let's go. We still can't find the highway and the whole town is like two blocks. We pull into an alleyway with two huge Dead End signs bolted to the walls, one upside down. Jesus. We gain the highway somehow, its like it just appears and we're driving away.

Jesus Christ, Paterson. It's like the town died in 1952 and no one bothered telling the town. David Lynch land, folks. Deeply, deeply weird and beautiful and sad. Dave Calvitto, our Olivier for years, grew up there and he tells hilarious and sad stories about his family. Now I know they're all true.

Tomorrow more ramblings and keen insights about life, art and politics. Today just glad to be back on the Pirate Ship. Someone pass me that rum.


Ann said...

How much did I just love reading about Paterson, NJ as seen through ClancyVision? So much so that I'm thinking of how we can turn a profit renting you out for short day drives...give me some time, I can make this work.

John said...

I'm ready to go. Costs include my driver, a pack of smokes and unlimited cups of coffee.

Rose said...

Wow. That is totally scary. Sounds like a Stephen King short story or a zombie movie intro. Totally spot on getting out of there. I would've freaked. Glad you weren't killed by zombies.

John said...

It was such a Zombie Vibe. Another great band name. Maybe I'm just broadcasting my own Zombie Frequency. (They broke off from Zombie Vibe, went a different way, very good, but not as rocking as the Original Zombies.) Now that's a band name.

Ladies and gentlemen, The Original Zombies!

(crowd roars)

Wait a minute. There was a band named the Zombies, yes?

Ann said...

Yes. They did "Time of the Season".

Bring on the Monday Music Trivia!


Speaking of music and ruling...interested in going to Philly to see The Eels?

John said...

What? They're a real band? I thought I was just having a really good, exceptionally long flashback these past few weeks.

When? And yes.

showard said...

I see a road trip in road trip in your future

dave said...

my grandfather worked in one of those old buildings you mentioned when they were dye factories. my father drove us to school everyday right past those falls.
i can't account for the polish woman, however.
dave (Larry O) calvitto

John said...

We were thinking of you the whole time. A physically beautiful town, but clearly deranged. Much like yourself.