Thursday, April 28, 2016

Plainfield, NJ

It's been called The Queen City, though I don't know why. In the 19th century, it was THE place to live...probably before the boondocks of the rest of the state developed from farmland. There are still some lovely huge Victorian homes there, though most, regrettably, have been cut into numerous apartments and painted all one color. Usually white with green or black shutters.

But once Plainfield was the place to see and be seen.

When I was very young, we used to go there maybe once a year. My mother always chose the hottest day of the year to go shopping for my winter coats and when it wasn't New Brunswick, it was Plainfield. There were some big stores there--Bambergers and Teppers and lots of other smaller, but nice stores in a long main street. There was a Woolworth's and another five and ten cent store I can't remember the name of now. I would go into Woolworth's and immediately come upon the candy counter. Since it was hot outside, there was no chocolate for sale. If we went there in cooler weather, Mom would buy chocolate covered peanuts for my father and some sort of glass container, shaped like a car or a telephone or something, filled with round candy pellets for me. I don't remember what they tasted like. I may never have gotten around to tasting them because I would save that little glass bottle just for the look of it.

McCrory's. That's the name of the other five and dime.

When my mother had to get a new dress for something important, some dinner dance with my father, she'd go to Bambergers. I guess it was elegant. Back then, dress lengths were set. Fifteen inches from the floor. If you were short, and Mom was, well, she had rather long dresses. Taller women, well, they showed more leg.

What brought on this whole thing was remembering something special. A Chinese restaurant, the Queen's Palace, that we would go to sometimes. Rarely. But I remember having to walk up a steep flight of stairs to get odd that it wasn't on street level. The waiters never spoke a word of English and the men had their black hair slicked back, their maroon cutaway tuxedo jackets contrasted with their starched white shirts. Black ties and black trousers, of course.

We would have chicken chow mein and drink Chinese tea with loads of sugar because they did not have soda or milk for kids.

But the really coolest thing of all was when my brother Jack came with us to celebrate his birthday. He had lots of his own money...from his Newark Star Ledger paper route. We climbed the stairs to the Queen's Palace and went inside. The rows of tables with crisp white tablecloths ranged before us. Maroon or dark red booth seats. Waiter showed us to a table.

Mom orders chicken chow mein of course.
Jack, after carefully perusing the menu, ordered a lobster for himself.

Thought I was going to pass out! Nobody ever ate anything but chicken chow mein there as far as I knew in my relatively short lifetime.
But here, my older by three years and a few months brother was going to have lobster.
He reassured our mother that he would pay for it himself. I'm sure she was greatly relieved because it was probably going over budget as it was to eat Chinese food at a restaurant.

So. We get our bowls of white rice, the tea, and silvery covered servers of CCM.
The waiter leaves, returns with a gigantic plate displaying a magnificently huge reddish dead lobster.

Jack's trophy.
Jack's ambition.
Jack's folly.

He was maybe thirteen or fourteen. He'd never seen a cooked lobster in his life, except perhaps on television, but I doubt it.
I will never forget the look on his face.


Nobody in our family had ever ordered or eaten lobster before this time. Nobody
It was pretty risky for him to attempt to manipulate the claws and what to do with the green stuff and the grey stuff.

I don't remember how or if he managed. I have no idea whether he liked it.
All I remember is seeing that gigantic red monster on the platter being set before him and the range of emotion crossing his face.

Plainfield has gone through far too many ugly changes. It is edging its way out of obscurity and trying desperately to regain its status and respectability. We must credit urban renewal and the desires of the citizens to bring back the Queen City.  The Palace isn't there, hasn't been for decades. The two movie theaters are long gone as are the department stores.

But the Queen City isn't dead yet.
The heart is still beating.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Time for another fake relative

Such a lively bunch of characters I never had in my family!
Take this guy, for example.

We lovingly refer to this twig on a branch of the family tree as "the fog chaser". Born in England in the latter years of 19th century, Nigel was one of seven sons of some distant relative from the other side of the tree. His parents were lower middle class, lived adequately and would have lived better if they hadn't had all those sons.  I understand there were daughters, but much of this history is blurred by...fog, of course.

Anyway, Nigel had a fairly normal childhood and being the baby of the family, managed to have his life made miserable by older brothers who taunted him for his brilliance and lack of athletic ability. Yes, Nige was smart but hopelessly uncoordinated.
His older brothers were robust and handsome and hard working, all contributing to the family income, making sure Mum and Da were comfortable. The sisters, too, evidently. But then, there was Nigel. He didn't contribute much at all to anything.
He was a shy boy, more bookish than seemed natural.
His only talent of note, at first, was his ability to be a teachers' pet because of all the reading and retention he did. Shooting back the answers his teachers wanted to hear was easy.
Understanding the Latin, the geography, the Greek, even, was easy. While his brothers had stumbled through to the third form, Nigel breezed through school, garnering prizes for his one glorious talent.
He would have made it to University had not the family fallen on much harder times.

One brother was run over by a horse carriage.

Another brother left life in the big city to move to the country.
Died while wrestling a pig.

Next brother (they went in order of age it would seem)  apprenticed to a brewer.
Died while sampling the wort, fell into the kettle, at least he died with a smile on his face.

Alfie, the next brother, went into service.
Caught romping with the mistress of the house, shot by the master during a quail hunt. Found with a bird stuffed down his throat. How odd!

Sidney, next in line, also went into service.
He ran off with the vicar to Australia, good as gone forever.

Next to last brother became a copper. Mysteriously went missing third day on the job, whilst chasing Jack the Ripper through Whitechapel in a real pea-souper.

That left Nigel. Poor, scrawny but smart Nigel. He mourned his brothers. While they had been cruel to him his entire life, they were no longer a problem. But this left his sisters and parents bereft. Also rather poor without the income from the brawny bunch.

Nigel thought and thought of how he could help them, as limited as his abilities could be. One day, while strolling through London, careful to avoid particularly foggy streets but failing, it occurred to him that the vapors swirled about him as he moved. He thought about this. The more he thought about this, the more the vaporous vapor swirled until it dissipated. About his person was an area empty of fog.
This was nothing short of miraculous.
He leaned against a lamp post and thought hard about what he was witnessing.
The more he thought, the further away from his person the cloud moved.

Daring to take a deep breath (nobody actually breathed hard in the pea soup as one never really knew what it was made of, even back then) Nigel thought, "wouldn't it be loverly to make all the fog go away?" and, to his amazement, the area around him faded away, leaving him standing in a fifty foot in diameter circle of just air, not fog.

People walking down the street became aware of this empty circle and stepped cautiously within the nothing, only to see Nigel leaning on the lamp.
They smiled, as most Londoners are not chatty, not even back then when there were fewer of them and most spoke some sort of the Queen's language.
But they enjoyed the lack of fog.

"I made it go away, " Nigel boldly spoke out.
"Aw, g'wan. Yeh silly bugger!" echoed through the crowd.

Nigel merely smiled, thought harder and expanded the circle of emptiness even further to the astonishment of the growing crowd.

A scientist happened by at that time and stopped. After observing Nigel's apparent ability for some time, he stepped forward. "I don't know how you are managing to do this, young man, but I believe it requires study by the finest minds in the land. Come with me...I am on my way to a meeting of The Finest Minds in the Land society right now. I'm sure you will be of great interest to all."

So Nigel went. He stood outside the great hall where the scientists met and demonstrated his remarkable ability to them.
Most were awestruck.
Some were dumbstruck.

Nigel went on to be knighted by none other than Victoria Regina herself.
He lived well into the next century where he managed to dissipate the fog all over England where it was wanted. He cleared the skies for those brave young British fliers on their forays into danger. To keep out the German dirigibles that flew over London, Nigel kept the skies overcast where it was needed. 
Unfortunately, Nigel passed away shortly before 1938 so he was unable to help prevent The Blitz. Since he died unmarried and childless, he had no one of his own to pass his ability to.

However, it is believed that one of his sisters produced children and that may be why there is no longer the terrible pea soup fog in England now.
We may never know the how or the why, we just revel in the fact that it was.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The bathroom is bugged

Tiny, 1/16 inch beetle-like bugs appear in our bathroom.
They're little black spots on the wall, but they're still bugs and I dislike bugs inside the house.
I do not know where they come from but a few years ago the husband decided to change the trim on the house, starting with our bathroom. He ripped off some of the baseboards, finished gorgeous new woodwork around the inside door, complete with rosettes that match the trim on the laundry room. He intended to take out the old shower stall and put in a larger one, but that meant taking down a wall and it never got done.
What was left was a gap in some of the baseboards in some places, not all. Bugs this small could easily get through from the floor joists, the inner wall, the empty space above the rooms. I don't know. I do think, however, that these bugs originate somewhere near the floor.
I usually find them making their way slowly up the wall before I squish them in a tissue and give them a burial at sea.
The other day, however, I saw one clinging to the wall over the mirror, approximately a foot over my head.
I don't know what they eat. Dust? Skin flakes? Wallboard? Paint?
Whatever they do eat, they don't do well with it.
Here's the weird thing: those that reach the highest, die.
They do all that climbing, aiming toward the ceiling, and they don't make it.
There's something allegorical, something fabulous, something perhaps even gothic but definitely religious in all this. They aim so high, they struggle, they defy random tissue attacks to reach nearly the top, but they never reach their goal.
They work hard.
They strive for something so difficult.
They never make it.
Now, I wonder if they realize in their tiny bug brains that their goal is unobtainable, or whether they exhaust their strength and desire, or perhaps this is a suicide run.
Their destiny is to almost make it to the top and die trying.
Sounds familiar.