Photo Essay

Down By The River

Down By the River

Part I. The Initiation

It was an awful ritual. The older boys on our block, at some point in time before I moved to our new community in Denville, NJ, desided that to become a member of the Elm Street brood one had to drink pond water from an old quart-sized, glass milk bottle. I knew my time was coming.

We'd been moved-in for around a month, and I had gotten around to meeting most of the other children on our side of the Route 46, Lake Arrowhead section of town by then. I was 5 and my brother was 4, and we did a good share of roaming around on our own before we moved from Florham Park, so we were ready to venture out. Because we were right on the highway we felt more comfortable making a good 'friend connection' first though. Now, it wasn't because we hadn't seen cars before, but I had already been hit by one playing chicken with Peter on the only paved road though our old wooded community--and of course I lost.

So, in Denville I wanted a pal with street smarts---so we could safely make our way to the rest of the surrounding nature, which was in abundance. However, it was the water spots where were most excited about seeing. (We did the deep, dark, forest things already--even at night). We got lucky, or so we thought at the time, our next store neighbors had 2 boys our ages and a sister the age of our younger sisters (which was even better news for situations that we knew would come later) With our new buddies in hand we ventured out and got introduced to the other boys as the 'new-kids-on-the-block'. School was just around the corner, and it felt good to get to know everyone before that first bus ride. However, for some that good feeling didn't last too long. We were soon to meet the greaser-bullys who oversaw the initiation process for the pond-water drinking ceremony. The leader's name was Mike, and he reminded me of the boy that played the part of the son on the tv show 'My Friend Flika', but the similarities ended there. He was more like Leo Gorscey from the 'Dead End Kids' tv show.

The day came, and everyone met at the pond accross the street from our apartment (the pond behind Mike's house)(which ironically became our house 10 years later). Some little guy, Danny Hesseck, passed the bottle to Mike, and he filled it to the brim-chock filled with seaweed, bugs, dirt, and a few tadpoals. I gagged just looking at it. Mike took my brother into the shed to oversee his drinking, and Danny stayed back to keep me from running away-as well prefill me with past gory stories of others who had died terrible deaths from injesting the water prior.My brother came out and bent behind Mike's Dad's car to puke. I was on the verge of tears, when Mike grabbed me for my share of the bottle. He lead me by way of the back of the shed and said that since I was the oldest that I deserved a full bottle. I watched him dump the old remains and watched him plunge the bottle deep into the murky section near the stopped up drainage grade. I saw chunks....big slimy chunks, and I could feel and hear my stomach gurggling its way to a big air puke. Mike shoved the bottle in my face and said, "Drink the whole thing!: I started to cry, and he said, just take a sip ya big baby....and so I did. At that moment I would have rather had had swallowed liver juice--and I really hated the taste of liver. I kept it down and started to cry again. He laughed, and said that I was the first boy that ever took a real sip. I asked about my brother, and he made a deal with Peter to have him fake the puking to get me to really freak out and run crying home. I didn't.

I passed the test and retained the honour of being the first brave boy to take the challange. However, the next 3 days of puke and screaming-hot, steaming diarrhea was quite real. From that point on I made a decision that water was not going to be my primary source of liquid refreshment in the future, thus was the start of filling myself with sugary sodas and high alcohol content beverages for the next 30 years. Also however, the puking and screaming-hot, streaming diarrhea remained. More water adventures to come!!!

Part II.-The Cootie Swamp

1 Elm Street was right on Route 46 East, and our apartment was above an Auto Parts Store called A-Rods. One of the perks was that it had running water; especially, where it came to having a real bathroom--and not an outhouse, like at Florham Park. However, that factual understanding would eventually be revealed as a skewed-type tradeoff.

At that time in the 60's in our rural area there were no sewers yet, just septic tanks. Funny, ours (which basically was servicing a 2-family type situation) never seemed to need emptying. More later (than sooner) it was revealed that our septic set-up was piping our waste into a depressed land basin that surrounded the store-apartment back woods -beyond the dirt field directly behind the large building structure. (An oversight) Two outstanding sections --towards the extremes of the outer perimeter of the back structure--developed into two full-fledged swamps. In the prior section I mentioned that Mike lived in a house across the street from me , and that he had a huge pond for a backyard (Which again I mentioned previously in the same section that 10 years later that too would end up being our dwelling and backyard pond)

Well, the runoff from that pond and Mike's family's overflow from 'their septic system traveled across the street to merge with our 'swampy mess' as well. There were so many varied water sources an runoffs in Denville at that time that that methane aroma was considered an acceptable part of the country ambiance of the surrounding area---which included 5-10 full-time working farms, where 'all' maintained pigs. The backswamp was entitled the Kootie Swamp simply because to enter it was considered as bad as getting cooties from the girls in school---and boys just could just not stand for that. In actuallity. it was a brilliantly-deceptive plan designed by the 'Boys of Elm Street Gang' to secure a private location for: holding private affairs (like spin-the-bottle-' with the 'slutty girls') for planning attacts and illegal activities, making storage places for stolen goods, and most of all a place to hold girl's/sisters dollys for ransom.

To give the swamp a 'man-swamp', clubhouse feel, we took all the partially filled paint cans from the local Paint and Hardware stores, and we 'Jackson Pollacked' the whole area---especially including the huge rock we used as a throne when we held meetings. If our demands were not met (with these inocent and unsuspecting girls) those poor, little, pretty dolls ended up submerged into the colourfully-vile sludge we called the 'Kootie Swamp'. Few dolls left unscaved, and most that remained acted as trophys. Many lost eyes, and clothing was not permitted-in order that we could fill our sick and lusty minds with the kind of skewed-lewdness that could only come from ignorant little boys using their imaginations with dolls that were anitomically incorrect. The boys were the rulers of the streets; however, we would pay dearly in the later years of our sexual exploits.

Women: If you listen carefully you might overhear an Elm Street King wish he could trade places with any of those Kootie Swamp' dolls--whom are (comparedly) now more anitomically correct than we. Ouch! The final enstallment of this water trilogy will be about the other swamp at the otherside of the building in the back. No dolls this time, just rats!

Part III- Swamp Rats

Now, what happens when you fill in a 30-year-old swamp with new dirt and seal it with asphalt? You permanently displace the 100's of swamp rats living there, and force them to relocate. In our case, it was our apartment where they took up residence!

The car dealership (Gearhart Chevrolet) next to us bought the property/swamp--owned by our landlords--for expansion purposes, and before we knew it we were invaded. I remember one night coming home with my parents and 3 siblings to find about 10 rats scattered throughout the kitchen. My father grabbed the broom, and started beating the rats away from us. Everyone was screaming bloody murder, and he was screaming to me and Peter to grab my sisters and hide in another room. This was the first of many incidents.

One Saturday morning we opened a kitchen cabinet to get our cereal, and there were 3 of those huge monsters eating right through the boxes of our Fruit Loops. For years we couldn't open any door or cabinet without checking for rats first. No matter what the exterminators did, the rats kept returning--like Freddy Kruger. (Which is ironic because we lived on 1 Elm Street and moved to 6)

Nothing was sacred to them; they ate our toys, books, sports gear and balls, and cereal....cereal on a Sat morning! My brother and I slept in a partially renovated attic, and eventually chose to sleep in our sleeping bags, because we'd wake up and they'd be crawling on us. We'd hear their clicking-nails on the cold tiles at night, and we threw our shoes and sneakers towards their direction to scare them off--at least for a while. We moved from that apartment before the rats did. My parents bought the home across the street (The one with the pond as a back yard), which is where this story -sort of- all began. Water itself isn't good or bad. It's life, and life is powerful--all the way from a raindrop to a hurricane. In the end: If it can't be enjoyed, it must be respected. If if seems less than useful, it probably will come in handy for survival at some point-in-time later--if even only for a laugh or two. Water flows with symbols abound, and can quite often trigger a myriad of emotions and memories. However, and most importantly, water is a healer. And if it weren't, would I be writing this?

Healing Water by Mr Mister---Love Reign on Me--The Who--Laughter in the Rain...and so on and so on................................Find one, take a dive..

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5 responses

  • JamesHarmon McQuilkin

    JamesHarmon McQuilkin   gave props (5 Sep 2012):

    This will be an ongoing story of water adventures--I'm too sleepy to continue!

  • Davide Simone

    Davide Simone (Deleted) said (6 Sep 2012):

    Voted yes, for this masterpiece !!!!!!!!!!

  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (6 Sep 2012):

    Wonderful, James! I LOVE NJ! Used to live for 2 idyllic yrs in Clinton :) voted

  • Susan Littlefield

    Susan Littlefield gave props (6 Sep 2012):

    Oh my gosh...what a tale of the adventures of growing up. An absolutely delightful read, and wonderful photos to enhance your narrative! Definitely gets my vote!!

  • Susan Littlefield

    Susan Littlefield gave props (10 Sep 2012):

    What an amazing addition to your saga.......what a childhood you had! Can't wait for the next chapter!!!! Got my vote for story of the week!!

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