Memory Lanes as Highways, Vice-Versa

Whenever the situation arises and a decision is made to go to the beach, Heather shows patience with me and allows me to avoid the most direct routes in favor of local roads down into Central Jersey for our excursion. Along the way, I tend to repeat not-easily-forgotten proponents of my upbringing, which was, by and large, Monmouth and Middlesex County, N.J.

Some of those snippets include:

“That’s the gas station where I bought my first car from a man named Scamp. The ‘82 Datsun.” (Route 35, Middletown)

“There used to be a shortcut to that 7-11 from our house.” (Lloyd Road, Matawan)

That orchard is renowned throughout New Jersey.” (Route 34, Colts Neck)

“One time, we stole pumpkins from that pumpkin patch and collected them on the side of the road, but when I went to get the car and retrieve them, someone else had stolen them.” (Route 34, Holmdel)

“That used to a Boston Market. I don’t know what ‘Kicky’s Restaurant‘ is though.” (Route 34, Matawan)

That clown scared me to death as a child.” (Evil Clown, Route 35, Middletown)

Most of the time, it’s really just small talk, reminisces of a yesteryear when the terrains remained the same, but the signs and shapes of my daily surroundings were different (with exception to the clown, which remains). I realize that it’s the experiences of my past, and that by crossing back over the land in which these experiences happened, that my mind will dig up these past memories and apply my current morality to my past exploits. (IE – Don’t steal and never buy a used car from a guy named Scamp.) But it’s also a way for me to dig up some nostalgia and remember what is was like to be a kid growing up in central New Jersey in the late ’70s, throughout the ’80s and mid ’90s.

Today, on our way back from Spring Lake, N.J., I took Route 35. Along the way, we stopped in Bradley Beach for coffee (former teenage hangout), then in Eatontown at the DMV to get the car inspected (the same place where I successfully passed my driver’s test as a 17-year-old), and then in Middletown at a Whole Foods.

The last destination shouldn’t have meant much, but more than a few times, as young kid, I remember my mother and grandmother, in the same parking lot, counting coupons for Shop Rite’s annual “Can Can celebration.” It was nothing more than a sales event for Shop Rite’s own brand of canned goods, but it was on land that I once traversed as a child, with a family I no longer knew in the same way. (My grandmother passed away in 1994, the rest of us have moved on away from Monmouth County.)

For a moment, I felt sad at the loss of what once during that memory. It wasn’t just the mourning of my past life as a child; it was more just the realization that these very real trigger objects to my earlier life still exist throughout so much of New Jersey, and that soon, I would be too far away to visit them in just an hour’s drive down Route 35.

But then, just as quickly, we turned the car on, exited onto Route 35, and headed North for the lives we currently occupied.

Dashed Dreams of a Garbageman

Every Tuesday morning, around 5 a.m., ominous curbside noises emanating from a Jersey City garbage removal truck remind me of my intended plans to write a novel about the life of a North Jersey garbageman, as his life unfolds on the streets of an under-funded Northeast city.

It would begin: “Joe lived in Kearny. In the early ’90s, he lived in his parent’s backyard in a one of those pop-up VW vans called a Westfalia. The van served more as a bedroom than transportation, and in his spare time, he played the bass guitar in a local college band that mixed hardcore and funk in the vein of 24-7 Spyz. The band lasted two years — the Westfalia van, seven.”

And then I usually fall back asleep, as the noise of the visiting garbage truck decreases into the early morning remainder of Second, and then Third, streets.

Upon waking, I typically rehash the idea over repeats of The Sopranos on A&E, thinking to myself that waste management couldn’t possibly have been (or remains) a typically cut-and-dry “do the job no matter what it takes” type of operation; that there just has to be some element of wise ass employees and nonsensicality attached to the idea of picking up and disposing of another person’s trash, far beyond the little respite offered by Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen in the 1993 film “Men at Work.”

The novel continues: “Joe has never found any dead bodies in oil drums on his route, or been forced to ride with managers that refuse to share french fries and hate rent-a-cops. He just does the job to pay his rent and hopes one day to move from the back of the truck to the driver’s cab, listening to Howard Stern on Sirius, drinking hot coffee from the imitation 7-Eleven on Newark Ave.”

And then I just think that a guy wanting to move from the back of a garbage truck to the front in North Jersey is probably best left for those intermediately dazed thoughts upon waking and drifting back into sleep. He can keep the van, and his dreams of playing bass in a college rock band alive, but his imagined dream of advancement at work will forever die with me around 5:20 a.m. every Tuesday morning.