Posts tagged ‘Newark New Jersey’

THE NEWARK DRIVE-IN

MEMOIR

THE NEWARK DRIVE IN

On the far eastern edge of Newark, tucked between the Jersey City and New York City bound bridges, stood the Newark Drive In. The drive in was directly under the flight path of nearby Newark Airport, which tended to make listening to the movie something of a challenge. When approaching the drive in, you were greeted by the swampy, musty smell of Newark Bay. A resident of ‘The Dumps’ (what the locals called the area surrounding the theater) added to the odors of its refineries and sewage treatment plants to the ambiance of the area.
The drive in was surrounded by a tall wooden fence marking its boundaries with a total lack of landscaping of any kind, being true to the Newark life style – bare essentials is all that you get.
On warm summer nights my family would pack into the old Chevy with food and pillows and head to the drive in. The smaller kids would already be in their pajamas in anticipation of not making it to the second movie of the double feature. Being the oldest, I was given the opportunity to sit up front and in those days of front seats being bench seats, providing plenty of room.
Arriving at the drive in just before dusk, my dad paid and was given the PIC and off we would go. PIC was an insect repellent product. It was a flat spiral affair. You lit the end and it would give off a pungent aroma daring mosquitoes to venture near. I really don’t know if it worked because we would also douse ourselves with insect repellent to ward off the visitors from the nearby swamps.
During this period, mosquito-borne encephalitis (sleeping sickness) was a constant threat. On summer nights in Newark, trucks would go through the city streets emitting clouds of insect repellent.
On these same summer nights in our flat, ineffective screens would keep all but the largest and dumbest insects out of our house. When all were in bed, my mother would walk the length of our flat spraying insect repellent while telling all of us to close our eyes. As we lay in bed, you could feel the particles of spray falling on your body.
Once in the theater, we’d find our spot and park the car at just the right angle on the mound that ran the length of the theater to get a perfect view of the screen for everyone. The smaller kids, in their pajamas, would head for the playground and run around till they couldn’t see what they were doing which also indicated that it was time for the movie to begin.
One movie I recall seeing was entitled Macabre. The movie was supposed to be so scary that you were issued a life insurance policy when you entered the drive in. It was good for the length of the movie and if you should be unlucky enough to die of a fright-induced heart attack during the movie you collected, or you next of kin anyway. The movie was a real bomb; the cartoon was scarier. I wondered though what would have happened if someone would have dropped dead of your usual run-of-the-mill heart attacks.
There was always an intermission between movies, time to advertise the goodies available at the snack bar. The screen would be full of dancing hot dogs and talking cups of soda all counting down the fifteen minutes till the next show. The audience was your typical Newark crowd, the women in their smocks and the dads in their handlebar tee shirts. They thrived on meat and potatoes, with hot dogs and sodas would be your typical snack. But one snack that was advertised every time I went to the drive in was Flavo Shrimp Rolls. The only place you could buy a Flavo Shrimp Roll was at the drive in, they did not exist outside their gates. I’m sure you could get other shrimp rolls someplace else in Newark, maybe in the small China Town on Mulberry Street, but I don’t think your typical Newark crowd ate many shrimp rolls. But up there on the screen, after the hot dogs had danced off you could see the cartoon characters lining up for their Flavo Shrimp Rolls. I think we actually bought one once, only once. It was a deep-fried affair running in grease. I would wonder who looked at the crowd coming into the drive in and said to himself, “These people will buy up Flavo Shrimp Rolls like there’s no tomorrow.”
The Newark Drive In is gone now, long gone. Last I heard, a movie theater stands where the drive in once existed. And I’m sure with the demise of the drive in went the opportunity for anyone to buy a Flavo Shrimp Roll.

January 6, 2010 at 11:02 pm Leave a comment

GARDENING

MEMOIR

GARDENING

I have always been amazed at the resilience of plants. There are those you can abuse and they come back stronger than ever. My small garden in Newark, New Jersey did not endure the harsh treatment I unknowingly subjected it to. But I enjoyed that patch of green and my small connection to nature.

Have you ever stopped for a red light while driving and gazed over at the concrete median and there, against all odds, growing through a tiny flaw in the concrete is a plant? I am amazed to see how life persists even under the most adverse conditions. As a child in Newark I simulated those exact conditions, although I called it gardening.
The yard we had on Christie Street was actually quite large. Large enough to have kickball and baseball games, but then again, we were quite small. Once I was older, we would have barbecues on our charcoal grill, summer nights spent sitting on beach chairs on the hard-packed soil, enjoying burgers and hot dogs as we listening to the sound of the city as night closed the day.
Next to our house was the landlord’s house, which was a small two story one family dwelling with and alley running between the two houses. Behind the landlord’s house was a garden, fenced in. On the opposite side of this small house was a driveway, which was actually quite long, and when I was old enough to shovel snow, it seemed to become longer still.
Our yard was large enough to hold a couple of cars, with some scraggly patches of grass growing defiantly, despite the conditions. To the rear of the yard was a three-car garage, one of which my father rented, and this was the reason I was given the opportunity to shovel the driveway. Next to the garages, and beyond the area of the yard where we were permitted to play, was another fenced area where the residents were not allowed. An old glider swing back there, but nothing much more. At the edge of this restricted area was another small fenced space, about six feet by six feet, sheltering a small garden belonging to the old woman across the hall. She had mostly zinnias and marigolds and it was a great place to catch whatever butterflies found their way into our yard. I admired her garden. She was always out there tending her flowers, pulling weeds, tying up plants with wooden stake and old stockings, the traditional way of supporting tall plants back then.
One day the fence bordering the back of the yard came down and that area of the yard was no longer restricted. I’m not sure why the fence came down. The glider swing came down about the same time. Now a whole new area of the yard was available, an area perfect for a garden. With our landlady’s permission, my sisters and I started construction
The ground was as hard as concrete; there was a total lack of anything that resembled topsoil. So off we went in the old Chevy for some rich loam. We traveled a short distance to where my grandparents lived in Hillside. There was a little-used park along a stream not far from their house, and that is where we headed for our soil. We parked as close as we could and, armed with a shovel and several large containers, started digging up the bank of the stream.
Once our topsoil was obtained, my sisters and I framed out small areas. We each had an area about twenty to twenty-five square feet backing up to the fence separating our yard from the neighbor’s yard. We made a feeble attempt to turn the soil before adding the topsoil, but the product of our digging was only reddish soil and rock, so we dumped our topsoil on top of our little garden areas and started planting.
I was rather ambitious when I planted my garden. I bought tomato and pepper plants, planted carrot, beet and parsley seeds all in neat little rows. These poor plants and seeds did less than thrive. I grew everything in miniature. My beefsteak tomatoes were more like their cherry cousins, the plants barely needing any support at all. My peppers were the size of plums. And my carrots – I grew those tiny carrots that they feature in seed catalogs, ones as big as your pinky, but I in fact was going for the full-sized edition. Why I attempted to grow root crops in concrete-like soil is a mystery to me now. But I was proud of my little garden. When my sisters lost interest, the size of my garden grew. I watered and weeded the few limp weeds that dare take up residence amongst my crops and generally enjoyed the little area of green I had created out back.
Then one summer it happened, a true sign that I had truly established a growing zone in Newark, I was infested with insects. The leaves on my plants were full of holes. This phenomenon amazes me to this day. How you can grow a plant that is unknown to the area, yet an insect that specifically attacks that plant will find and destroy it. And so it went for my little plot in Newark. I purchased a powder that I thought might remedy the situation, and after a heavy dusting that left my plants white under the strong mid afternoon sun I read the directions. This pesticide was to be applied lightly and only during the cool of the evening, always avoiding exposing the plants to this killer during the heat of the afternoon. By nightfall, my whole garden was withered and dead. I eliminated my insect infestation and in the process eliminated my garden.
The next year I planted again with a new knowledge of pesticide use. I branched out to flowers, planting some morning glories in a corner of the yard near my garden, another small square of the yard taken over for horticulture.
I have my own yard now, much larger than the yard of my youth. I enjoy my vegetable garden and the flowers planted around the property, but there are days when I think back to my little plot in Newark where I teased life from the concrete soil.

December 4, 2009 at 7:02 pm 1 comment

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