If I happened to be a druid, I suppose I’d be at Stonehenge, dancing and cavorting and chanting and just generally carrying on and making a happy ruckus as the sun set and rose over those magnificent and mysterious stones right at the moment when spring gives way to summer.
But I’m not a druid — and I’m not anywhere near Stonehenge — so I suppose today and tomorrow will be spent somewhere in the swamps of Jersey in hot pursuit of coolness and cold…as temperatures approach 100 degrees for the first time this year, just in time for the solstice and summer.
We’re talking gin-and-tonics (with lime) after dark on the porch. We’re talking not much more exertion than what’s required to turn on the air-conditioner and maybe turn the pages of whatever book we’re reading, which probably should be something like “The Iceman Cometh,” or to turn on the DVD player to watch a movie, which probably should not be something like “In the Heat of the Night.”
Speaking of druids and mysterious stones, I made my way a few days ago to Ringing Rocks State Park in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. There they were– not moved since that last time I was there, about fifteen years ago: an amazing field of large boulders covering at least a couple of acres. The boulders were deposited there, geologists say, by the leading edge of an ancient glacier.
I remember hearing through the years about strange nighttime gatherings at Ringing Rocks, and I have vague memory of a big New Age gathering happening there a few years back when there was a lot of hoo-hah and ballyhoo over some cosmic event called the Harmonic Convergence.
More recently, the boulders were still an impressive sight and a great source of amusing, overheard comments from others who’d come to swing a hammer at the rocks to hear their unusual chime-like ring:
“I’ve never seen so many rocks!”
“Man, this would be a great place to come and get stoned!”
“Yeah. Or to have a ROCK concert!”
“This place ROCKS!”
You get the idea. I guess it’s Stone Age, Stonehenge, stoner humor.
One thing about heat. It’s made for some great music. Here are four of my favorite summertime songs by (in order) Sly Stone, Carole King, the Rascals and Bruce Springsteen:
But the first time I made my way down Route 27, traveling the few miles from Highland Park, N.J., to Edison, N.J. (yes, Edison as in Thomas Edison, as in Wizard of Menlo Park, which is a section of Edison where the inventor had his famous lab), what I noticed at was first was the many businesses with Chinese lettering on their outdoor signs, everything from beauty parlors to auto-repair garages catering to the area’s thriving Asian population.
I was on my way, I confess, to the locally legendary Tastee Sub Shop, where President Obama actually made a stop back in July 2010 to promote a proposed small-business tax break.[
I figured a sub that was good enough for the president was good enough for me. For the record, the tuna sub with onions, tomato and lettuce was really good.
As I left Tastee Sub Shop, I noticed signs designating Route 27 -- which is actually the Main street of the town where I now live -- as the Lincoln Highway. The famous Lincoln Highway! Decades older than Route 66! The first real cross-country road!
It was the brainchild of a man named Carl G. Fisher. It began in Times Square and ended in San Francisco, passing through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. Later, the route was changed to bypass Colorado and include a sliver of West Virginia. It was dedicated in 1913.
Opening of the road led to economic prosperity for the hundreds of cities and towns along the route. In fact, the Lincoln Highway was dubbed the “Main Street of America.” Today, after many roads were assigned numbers in the 1950s, most of the route is designated as Route 30, with sections of it designated as Route 1 in the East and routes 40 and 50 in the West. Much of its runs roughly parallel to Interstate 80. When I traveled through Pennsylvania and Ohio a few months ago, I drove on a long stretch of I-80 and a section of the Lincoln Highway ran through the town I was visiting, Richmond, Indiana. And, of course, with tha advent of the Eisenhower era national system of interstate highways, which transformed this nation, many of those same Lincoln Highway towns encountered economic hard times as time — and hurrying motorists — passed them by.
So it’s a wistful but wonderful thing to watch cars roll through town on the old Lincoln Highway and to imagine that I could get into my car, take my sweet time, and drive on that one road straight across the country, from the New York island to the redwood forest, driving through the here and now right into America’s faded past.
The two of us were driving through the streets of Trenton, New Jersey, traveling back in time. In the state capital’s once-thriving shopping district, what were once busy and popular department stores were now cut-rate dollar stores catering to the city’s poor population. Many of the stores were closed or even boarded-up. Many of the buildings were in disrepair but some retained the fading aura of past glories, which my companion recalled vividly and fondly. The afternoon sun glinted off the state Capitol’s golden dome and reflected on the scene below.
Where you came from is just as important as where you are and where you’re going — maybe more important.
The year I was born, my young father was serving in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Maguire AFB adjacent to Fort Dix. I was born at the base hospital. My father and mother brought me home to their first apartment together, on the third floor of a house on what was then a nice street in a nice neighborhood, West State Street.
I’d never seen the house. My mother still remembered the address. Here’s the house on West State Street:
When I telephoned my mother that day she recalled taking a bus from this house to a downtown department store to buy her young husband a Christmas gift — a rod and reel! She even remembered that the reel was green — for what’s truly important can always be seen, clear as clear can be, even through the foggy ruins of time.
After a few months of hearing my “I’m hungry!” crying and “”Change me!” wailing, the homeowners asked my young parents to find other accomodations. So they moved to the second floor of a four-apartment building on Greenwood Avenue just over the Trenton border in Hamilton:
My mother remembered that two women of questionable morals lived in a downstairs apartment. It was and still is a busy avenue in a not-very glamorous neighborhood. There was a gas station across the street; now there’s a laundromat. But there is where my young mother and father celebrated their first Thanksgiving and first Christmas.
Both places are now in crumbling or already crumbled neighborhoods. The streets are dangerous at night. The people who live there are poor. But I hope and believe that in those homes love and dreams still abide.
Where you came from can determine where you’re going. It’s important to go back there once in a while.
I warmed up for the celebration of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday by attending a great show — Blondes on “Blonde on Blonde” — presented last Saturday as part of the Concerts at the Crossing series held in Titusville, N.J., near Washington Crossing, where, yes indeed, Washington crossed the Delaware and invaded Trenton.
I know…we should have let the British keep Trenton. But I lived there with my parents right after I was born. My young father was serving in the Air Force, stationed at Fort Dix. So if Washington hadn’t crossed the Delaware and routed the Hessians, I’d be speaking with a British accent and…
I know.,.I’m drifting too far from the shore…Here’s a video of one of the “Blondes on Blonde on Blonde performers,” Sloan Wainwright, singing “Meet Me in the Morning” from “Blood on the Tracks” –
On the actual Bobday — Tuesday, May 24 — I sat by the banks of the Raritan River in New Jersey, reading a poem by Allen Ginsberg of Paterson, N.J., .listening to “Things Have Changed” by His Bobness…and watching and listening as an Orthodox Jew with a cantor’s voice stood alone at the riverside, first with his hands on his hips and then with his arms opened wide to the sky. The man chanted and sang a tune I did not recognize and words I did not understand, and he looked out over the holy river, and it was a confluence of Jewish poems and prayers, a meeting of the orthodox and the avant-garde, as the cantor and I sat and watched the river flow on Robert Zimmerman/Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday,
Here’s the song I was listening to, sung by the birthday boy himself:
And here’s Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton watching the river flow…
It feels like you’re buried beneath the rubble of your own ground zero. It feels like you’ll never get out. It feels like if you breathe too deeply or even twitch a muscle, even blink, that the rubble may shift and crush you.
You are aware of heroic rescue attempts. You appreciate the effort. Now you think they should go home to their families and friends, save themselves before they themselves get hurt.
From the rented second-floor apartment in the wilds of New Jersey you can hear the Turnpike’s endless hum and the mournful horns of trains speeding down the NJ Transit tracks….The woeful horns and droning hum are a mocking fanfare trumpeting the arrival of love…the finale is discordant and flat and empty and unbearable…like the pain of remembering great love that suddenly vanished — but not without a trace.
Shall you tell of when hope floated on the horizon, when love whispered “Hey, I’m still possible,” when tenderness and affection and two souls recognizing each other were not a fantasy or wishful thinking and these things were suddenly recognizable again even when they seemed beyond recognition, whenthe universe once again revealed its great secret — that a loving embrace and two hearts beating in close proximity hold all the answers to life’s mystery, that the answer might be revealed in a kiss.
Shall you say whether this was decades ago? Or just months ago? Or just last weekend? Or next weekend? Just months from now? Decades into the future? All of the above?
You are tired of hearing your sad laments filling the airwaves every time a passing car zips by with windows down and music blaring…
Here are the songs you keep hearing:
Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain…Ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes…Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer…It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there…
My love for you is like a sinking ship/My heart is on that ship out in mid-ocean…
Mix in “Girl From the North Country,” Van Morrison’s “Someone Like You” and Andy Williams singing “Moon River” and you’ve got something to listen to when you’re in that late-night mood and there’s a brilliant half moon in the starless sky and a truck horn blares and it’s three in the morning and two riders are approaching and the wind begins to howl and it makes the lights flicker and you hear a door open and footsteps on the stairs and you wonder if it’s someone coming for you and you hope someone’s coming for you but you suspect there’s no one here for you and you finally stop listening and finally stop hoping and finally fall into the sleep of the sleepers, which is a restless farewell but also a great escape.
There’s a glimmer of light through the rubble — perhaps the light from a rescuer’s lamp — but now the light’s gone dim…let the lighted lamp pass…you’re tired of calling for help and saying “Here I am…come back…I’m over here…” Either you’ll dig your own way out of the debris. Either the one you hope will search for you will pull you from the rubble. Or perhaps you’ll abide and reside amid the rubble for the rest of your rubble-strewn days.
Lately I’ve been doing lots of driving. Actually “lots” is an understatement. You wouldn’t believe how much driving I’ve been doing. Let’s just say that if I leased a car I might go over the mileage allotment in a week.
OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But I’m not exaggerating when I describe the two guys I saw driving this morning on Interstate 287 in northern New Jersey. One guy was reading a newspaper as he cruised along in the middle lane at about 60 miles per hour. He had the paper propped up in front of him on the steering wheel. The other guy actually had what appeared to be a financial ledger book opened in front of him, also propped against the steering wheel while he was speeding along at about 70 mph.
I was going to include with this post a video of Jan and Dean singing their 1964 classic “Dead Man’s Curve.” But that would be too creepy.
I’m hitting the road again in about an hour. I don’t need any bad karma. But I do need a car song. . “Little Red Corvette” by Prince? “Drive My Car” by The Beatles? “Drive” by the Cars? “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman? Early Beach Boys?
No, how about something that fits this rainy night? How about Tom Waits singing his song “Ol’ ’55?” It has nothing to do with dangerous drivers. But at least it’s about a car, right? Right? Or is it…could it be…about love…about driving in your car…and you’re not reading a newspaper or a financial ledger book…and you’ve just been with the woman you truly love and you’re wishing you could have stayed longer…yes, I think that’s what Tom Waits is singing about…and I think I’ll think about that as I drive up the highway one more time tonight with melancholy love songs playing in my head as the wipers keep the rhythm as I drive through the darkest darkness in what seems like never-ending rain.
One of the highest-traffic days ever for “Nicholas DiGiovanni’s World of Wonders” was a day during the presidential campaign when I wrote a satirical piece suggesting that Sarah Palin’s presence on the GOP ticket as the vice-presidential candidate was actually the fulfillment of the Book of Revelation’s apocalyptic vision as described in the secret message revealed by the opening of the Seventh Seal.
There were hundreds upon hundreds of page views and visitors (many of whom, I’m certain, thought the piece was factual, not satirical).
What did I learn?
One, that I guess I misread the Book of Revelation’s signs — Sarah didn’t get elected.
Two, I can draw many readers to my Web site (and its thought-provoking and eclectic mix of literary essays, humor pieces, cultural commentaries and original fiction) by once a week posting stuff I make up about Sarah Palin, who’s still out there running for something or other.
So here’s this week’s Sarah Palin report:
I rode out yesterday’s near-blizzard in New Jersey at a hotel located within a few hundred feet of the New Jersey Turnpike. At the height of the storm, I looked out at traffic crawling along that highway, saw a number of vehicles stranded in the breakdown lane — and there was SARAH PALIN, I’m assuming on the way to some Tea Party speaking engagement, and she was helping people dig out their cars and pushing them out of roadside snowbanks. She probably does stuff like this all the time when she’s up there in Alaska, but nevertheless it was really nice of her to take time off from her busy schedule to help people who were stranded by the snowstorm in New Jersey. She may actually have saved a few lives! I’m sure Sarah will be really low-key about her heroine-ism, but I think she deserves recognition.
He might be a character in a movie. Maybe someone who’s sitting in the shadows of a Tom Waits lyric or a Charles Bukowski poem, the lonely middle-aged guy who’s sitting alone at a booth in the back of the bar. And it’s nighttime, and there’s music playing on a jukebox, and the guy’s nursing his drink, pretending like he’s waiting for someone. But then he leaves — alone — and returns to his room at some anonymous hotel, The guy stays on the phone until the wee hours. There’s a snowstorm turning into a blizzard outside. He gazes out the window and watches cars and trucks slipping and sliding slowly along the New Jersey Turnpike. Then he tries to fall asleep, and he does, but a loud conversation in the second-floor hallway at 4 in the morning awakens him, and the guy rolls over in the king-sized bed and there’s no one on the other side, and he’s thinking of the song which asks “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks/ while we’re trying to be so quiet? We’re sitting here stranded/though we’re all doing our best to deny it…” But then dawn breaks and the guy’s thinking it’s all about faith. And so his instructions say please send this bouquet quickly, direct from my heart to her heart, which I could hear beating softly but clearly faraway in the night, her heart which is so warm that it can melt the deepest snow.
I’ve spent a lot of time in New England this winter, but somehow I’ve managed to avoid serious snow.
Lately, though, snow’s been following me around.
I just got back from two weeks in Virginia, at a writers/artists retreat in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and my popularity skyrocketed when a fluke snowstorm hit and my fellow writers/artists learned I’d driven down there in my 4-wheel-drive Ford SUV.
Then I ended up leaving the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts one day early, spooked by weather forecasts of a freakish monster storm — good thing I fled, as the storm dumped upwards of 30 inches on the region.
And now I’m hunkered down in Central New Jersey as a blizzard or near-blizzard is barreling in, expected to leave behind as much as 18 inches of snow, which will be whipped around tomorrow by winds of 40 mph.
But I’ve got a warm place to stay, I’ve got food, I’ve got the two most recent issues of two issues of the New Yorker magazine, I’ve got my laptop, I’ve got my cellphone and I’ve got a view of the N.J. Turnpike.
And I’ve got three perfect songs. They’ve all got that stark, cold, lonely sound of winter.
New England’s own Tom Rush sings Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going”:
Lindisfarne performs the beautiful “Winter Song”:
But let’s not succumb to those Cabin Fever Blues…Albert Collins sings about being “Snowed In”:
Let it snow!