Looking back at Holidays. Old People. Not Being Understood. A cerebral winter trip to Long Beach Island

a blog from monmouth county by calvin schwartz


I remember Christmas; seems a long way off. Sixty Minutes recently documented a condition called ‘Superior Autobiographical Memory’ where a handful of people can remember exactly what happened on every day of their lives going way back. Give a random date like Saturday May 27, 1995 and a particular woman with the condition will tell you it’s the date Christopher Reeve had his accident; positively haunting what the human mind can perform. Marilu Henner, the actress, also has the ‘condition.’ I don’t even know what to call it. It’s a gift. I bring it up, envious but curious why I drift back to random, distant places and events constantly throughout the day (24/7 deal). Sometimes I think its déjà- vu, a side effect of Sedona vortex mountain air intoxication. I could be watching a television commercial for an anti-depressant, explaining that side-effects can kill you 44 different refreshing ways, while a gurgling mountain brook cascades in the background. In the middle of the commercial, suddenly I’m back in Newark, a week after Christmas, hooking up the tracks for my Lionel train set (an equivalent gift today is an ipad). After playing with the trains I got dressed in winter gear (my arms were basically immobile) and I went looking for a discarded Christmas tree for my basement hideaway. I had my pick (I always wanted a tree. I had to hide mine behind the coal storage bin in the cellar. Where’s Ralphie when you need him? Actually he’s(Peter Billingsley) all grown up directing and producing) There’s a company now that rented Christmas trees(small) already planted in a pot. After the holiday, they came to pick it up and eventually plant it.

Back to my time tripping and drifting: sometimes think I’m the fatalist optometrist Billy Pilgrim in “Slaughterhouse Five’ after all I was an optical salesman who sold glasses to the likes of Billy Pilgrim. As I write this, I’m sitting in Maple Avenue School (Michelle Obama spoke there a couple month ago) and the music teacher, Miss Clayman is teaching us the ‘Feast of Stephen’ song while its been snowing a lot lately. Meteorologists are hinting about a potential big snow this Sunday. By the way there’s this whole world of snow Cal Schwartz Vichy Waterlovers out there; a sub-culture. More on that down the snowy brick road. As a teenager I worked in old fashioned drug store in Newark. One of those life momentous days was when the druggist boss took the time to teach me how to Christmas gift wrap a carton of Lucky Strike cigarettes with a red bow scotched taped to the top; twas a better job description than carrying up cases of soda from the basement or using a bowl brush on the employee toilet.

I mentioned an anti-depressant commercial before; recently read an article from Journal of Psychiatry and Neuro Science; new anti-depressants have become a rarity. Are drug companies running out of ideas? One of the problems is a lack of any clear understanding of the etiology of depression. There’s an over the counter drug ‘SamE’ which has fascinating therapeutic potential but is largely ignored by the drug companies because it’s over the counter. “Stop with the soup,” as Dr. Shelly Kornpett said in the movie “The In-Laws.” This blog is a stream of consciousness so I’ll be going forth by rambling around. After all the holidays start in ten months. I do worry about not being understood sometimes. A couple of years ago I auditioned for Donald Trump’s ‘The Apprentice.” Actually I got pretty far in the process(done through Rutgers and Randall Pinkett who won ‘The Apprentice’). I had to write short essays; one was titled, “What is your most impressive work or school achievement?” I answered, “Several months ago my 20 year old son called me from college and asked me what I was doing on Saturday night and if I wasn’t doing anything, I should come over to the fraternity house and hang out with him and the guys.” I continued to write, “I did go and hang out. My most impressive achievement.” I’m sure I was misunderstood.

Jersey Shore Vacations: Cal SchwartzSome blogs ago I wrote about cell phone dangers. No perseveration intended. But I will post this neat pix reminder.

Earlier this snowy month I visited my father-in-law (grandpa) in a rehab-long term care facility. It’s Dr. King’s Birthday Holiday; a time to reflect, remember and be human. When I left the facility, I came home and posted my ‘suburban poetic’ remarks. Here they are:

long term care for old homo sapiens. (our species):
a flat building. no steps anywhere. old tired carpeting. eisenhower was president design. holiday decorations mostly down. a sign in sheet for time and whom. coffee for visitors without cream. a right turn down dim bulb hall way.

women in wheelchairs. sitting in hallway. staring. silent. subdued. i wondered what they were when they were more alive. i felt invisible. i wore a red rutgers sweat shirt. no one noticed. the aides and techs reminded me of an ant colony. that toy you got as a gift so you can watch ants build their home. my mother never let me own one. afraid the ants would escape into her living room. i wondered if any of these women in wheel chairs plotted escape. if they could, would they but they can’t. no containment bars needed here. old age was their bars. infirmed. incontinent. in a lonely world. a patient who roomed with grandpa is here five years; finally was allowed a small refrigerator; rewards of captivity and pacifism. and familial abandonment.

notice i say women in wheelchairs. men are rare here. then i finally saw a man. he had long hair. free flowing. a hippie in his day. he was old. but he looked so much younger. long hair had that fountain of youth effect. i wanted to talk to him about haight ashbury. i was afraid.

i passed a day television room. a pix of frank sinatra. a pix of audrey hepburn. a few videos. mrs. doubtfire. john wayne. there were no michael jackson thriller videos. i stepped into the 50’s. wheelchair traffic whizzed by as i looked for grandpa. it reminded me of the lincoln tunnel helix at morning rush hour. frenetic. the women in wheelchairs were on their way to occupational and physical therapy. words: stiff, listless. bright color hair dye. a lot of Christmas red hair.

i watched grandpa’s room mate eat and masticate slowly one m & m at a time. an hour went by. 10 candies were gone. i counted. all the time in the world to slowly eat candy while arteries inexorably harden. a baseball player’s career last 7 years. an old age patient here lasts i wonder how long. i left to go home.  as i write this poetic summary eating a bag of m & m’s as fast as i can. you all know why.

Christmas Eve was special. Through the magic of social networking I was reunited with several ‘kids’ from my street back in Newark; Goodwin Avenue. We haven’t seen or spoken to each other in a cool 50 years. We had a traditional Christmas dinner together. Sentimentality as the new year begins: I’ll miss a few companies that are disappearing (perhaps they are). A & P( I remember working in their bakery in 1967)Blockbuster(if they don’t get with the times as Scrooge said)Hummer(would I have ever in a depressed, confused un-environmental state of mind purchased one?) Loehmann’s(how many times while my wife shopped, I sat in the dugout with the other manly recruits)Mercury(I have purchased 3 Mercury’s in a row. Makes no difference. There wouldn’t have been a fourth) Newsweek(no wonder why I paid almost nothing for a year subscription) I’ve rambled enough. Gosh I hope I’ve been understood. Donald Trump didn’t understand me.

Jersey Shore Rentals: Cal Schwartz on Long Beach IslandI loved the drive to Long Beach Island in December, picking a cloudy ominous day. Works of art in surreal grey reduce me to black and white memories of growing up, wondering what I was and would become.  Barnegat Light in the distance; was I ship captain once, invading Madagascar, pillaging, pirating and procuring bread fruit trees and dropping them off at Pitcairn Island where my friend Fletcher Christian lived? Grey imagination running wild. Loveladies next stop. I like train conductors calling out stops wearing those art deco hats. The grey sky let me see myself as a conductor; the train slowly made its way up a Rocky Mountain. There are some fine houses in Loveladies. Through the grey filtered light, I saw myself through a large picture window facing the Atlantic, sitting at an old fashioned typewriter, finishing a chapter in my sad, brooding novel. I got up and stared at the ocean, looking across to England, ‘where my heart lies.’ I love Loveladies when I see the old fashioned ‘widow walk;’ imagining my wife standing there every night, watching for my ship, hoping I kept a few bread fruit trees. Adding to the surreal feel of my car (SUV) trip are blinking traffic lights;’ they’re turned off for the winter(no one around on the island; some say deserted).

Calvin Schwartz: The Shining

Suddenly I’m Jack Torraance(Jack Nicholson and he’s from Manasquan, a few miles up the road) in ‘The Shining.’ After all I had a typewriter a few lines ago. I slapped myself gently and kept driving. Next stop, Harvey Cedars. Didn’t I go to school with a Harvey Cedar? His father delivered milk to our back door and left it in an archaic insulated box. I still haven’t seen another car. I am alone on this long island to drift back and forth. Over there on my left near the ocean, the place where our species left the comfort of the salt water, lost our tail, and stood upright, I saw my dream house. Three stories. Large picture windows and situated almost On the Beach(a great novel by Neville Shute. scared the hell out of me) Imagine writing every day, looking out on this Jersey shore seascape, getting motivated and inspired(some people say getting high). The body of work I could produce if I lived in that house here on Harvey Cedars. Lament. Lament. I’ve seen enough. I’ll head home. Leave Beach Haven for another day. Like Scarlett said, “tomorrow is another day.” I wonder if I’ll be understood. Taking this trip down here. Staring at the Jersey shore ocean and deserted houses (all facing the ocean) Dreaming of writing and telling stories. Weaving imagery. Inhaling grey skies and cold air. I love the abandon of Long Beach Island in January. Still white snow piles. Blinking traffic lights. No blinking eyes. A blinking blog. That’s it. This blog is blinking, cooking, percolating. And I’m dreaming of a White Christmas this year.

If you like this blog please share it and spread it around. Means a lot. Please check novel website as well. Click on Book Trailer.

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