Monday, August 22, 2016

You Can't Go Home Again

We parked in the slanted spaces facing away from the church I attended once in a blue moon. Mom slid a dollar into the parking meter. They have parking meters now? I thought as the machine spat Mom's dollar back at her. She reached into her purse for a more acceptable bill, while my two little ragamuffins ran ahead onto the clean green grass. 

A pile of sticks was waiting for us at the first picnic table. The girls had already been gathering materials for a (pretend) campfire. "Here, have your hot dog, Grammie." My four year old said as she pointed the sharp end of the stick to my mother's face. 

My six year old wandered about, looking for whatever treasure the grounds would yield. "Don't pick that up. That's garbage!" We scolded at least twice. The kid in me sympathized with her; I can still remember my ground-hunting days. But after she placed a used band-aid (with dried blood) on the table I knew I couldn't let her touch anything but sticks. 

She wandered away some more, and I followed her closely. A boy and a girl froze around a fountain - was that fountain always there? - heads bowed, faces transfixed on their smart phones. There's no Pokemon here! I shouted to them in my head. And why would Pokemon want to hang round this fountain? It was full of sludge water.

As I led my little one back to our bench she picked up a discarded tube of Burt's Bees Strawberry lip balm. "Don't pick that up. That's garbage!"

My mom was waiting for us at a park bench. She'll be 74 soon, and a lifetime of backbreaking labor has taken its toll. This time next year she'll be in a wheel chair. 

The girls ran around playing hide-and-seek while my wife kept an eye on them from a safe distance. "Ready or not, here I come!"

I noticed something lying on the ground. When the girls weren't looking I showed Mom and D. This is why we don't let the girls pick things up off the ground. 

"What is that?" D asked. 

It was a tiny plastic bag, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. And it contained two long white pills. Like aspirin, only flatter. 

"Drugs." I replied. 

I didn't examine the pills closely. I simply tossed the contraband back to the spot where I found it. 

Don't pick that up. That's garbage!


I spent the first 24 years of my life in this town. Mostly unpleasant memories. I couldn't wait to leave. But it's where I grew up, and I'm the nostalgic sort. I see the town now as a scrapbook - This is where Vicki used to live. And Kenny. This is where we used to climb trees and cover the slide with mud for Super Sloppy Double Dare. This is where my frememy lived. He showed me his porn collection in that garage. This is where I sucker-punched Ed for no apparent reason. This is where my dad and I used to collect cans and bottles. This is where we used to return them. This is where I played little league.This is where I bought a Dodgers hat, and a baseball sticker album, and there used to be a WaWa there and we'd get Peanut Butter ice cream and eat it right out of the carton....

Everything changes. 

My mom has lived in the same two-family house for 35 years. Our first neighbors were a rowdy bunch. I don't really remember the parents but I heard stories about their teenage children. The girl hated my sister. The guy liked my sister. 

Somewhere around 1990 they moved out, and my aunt moved in. We used to sit on the porch and chat - about school, or work, or family life. She always asked about my writing.

The house I grew up in. My aunt lived on the right side.

There's a wooden sliding window in the kitchen connecting both sides of the house. Mom or I would slide open our side, knock on Aunt C's, and she'd come and open her side. Sometimes we'd chat, or leave things for each other, or if we ordered dinner we'd just open the window and say "Food's here!" 

When my aunt died last year, my nephew and his wife moved in. They're expecting their first child in October. Aria will begin her life in that house, but she won't grow up there. My mom and my nephew and his wife and their child will all have to find a new home in the next year or two.

A long time ago my mom started hearing about plans for a new waterfront shopping center which was to be built along the bridge area that borders New Haven. She always sounded so excited about the West River Crossing project, which would be a short walk from her house.
WEST HAVEN >> Two developers with a track record of success are looking to build a $200 million “high-end” shopping center with 100 outlet stores, six restaurants and, in its second phase, a hotel and possibly apartments on the West River Crossing site the city has spent two decades trying to get off the ground.

Sounds great, right? Well, the project was finally green-lit earlier this year - and it was more ambitious than anyone expected. "Phase one" would redevelop the dilapidated shoreline area.
I decided to tour the site Sunday morning.

I stood on the corner of the main road, a block away from my childhood home. I used to work at that Rite-Aid. And over there was a cheese steak place with an arcade in the back room. And this building? Well, no one was sure what was in here. I always thought that it was secret CIA headquarters.

I turned left, towards the bridge. There's a shady looking crap-shack or two... and then a brand new plaza whose parking lot extends onto my mom's street. 

This was all a big dirt field once. I used to play Wiffle Ball here every summer. Home plate was back by the dumpsters, and any ball hit over Larry's fence was a home run.

They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.

Closer to the bridge is a take-out seafood place called The Sandbar, which has only been around for a few years but became an instant favorite.

I did not take this picture

Meanwhile, on the other side of the street...

I took this picture...from another blog.

This area definitely needed to be rebuilt. A lot of the old structures were falling apart but some were still in good shape. My dad used to work at one of those factories. And my mom and I cleaned offices in that building. There was a furniture store at the far end still doing business. D was going to get a job over there. I played hockey in that park. We lost every damn game - to a team of ten year olds. Let's turn back.

The furniture store is way back, at the far left. 

Another block inland, away from the construction site, there stands a long row of houses. All empty. Some of the owners happily sold their property to the city. Some of them reluctantly sold their property to the city. But they all sold. They had no choice. Even the popular luncheonette and the gas station/mini-mart conveniently located right off the highway. 

It didn't matter if the building was an eyesore or a thriving enterprise - the city threatened to use Eminent Domain to take every last lot.

And in phase two, they're going to take more property - on our side of the main road.

The marina next to my (mom's) house will be rebuilt.
The street I grew up on. All of this will be demolished. 

My sister-in-law works for City Hall. She called my mom with the bad news.

That fancy new shopping plaza that Mom was looking forward to is forcing her out of her home. And she doesn't own it so she can't even negotiate a "fair" settlement with the city.

The whole town is sort of sketchy, and it seems to get worse every time I visit. There are million-dollar homes on the opposite end of town, by where my Grandma used to live. (Mom plans to move somewhere in that general area - as far away from the construction as possible.) Other than that, West Haven really isn't anything special at all. If my old neighborhood is "blighted" enough to justify Eminent Domain then they could legit knock down 90% of the city. 

And whatever they build on the seized property will lose its luster before long. Some gang bangers will jump off the highway, rob one of the stores, and drive away. Maybe someone will be assaulted or stabbed. Or maybe the stores will be crime-free but also customer-free as fewer and fewer people shop in brick and mortar stores -- and no one in "Waste Haven" has enough disposable income to shop at an upscale boutique. 


I stood in the wooden pavilion and waited for my family to emerge from the ladies' room. Faded pictures of Old Savin Rock displayed in a cracked frame caught my attention. I could hear my mother's voice narrating stories of each attraction. This is where the roller coaster used to be. And the fun house. And over there was a seafood restaurant. That road was a speedway and we'd watch the races every Saturday. We used to sit on those rocks and boys used to buy us lemonade. 

None of these pictures are mine.

There are plaques engraved on the grounds where the most famous attractions once stood. I noticed one next to the sludge fountain, which read:

The carousel was destroyed be vandals in 1967." (yes, it was misspelled)

Everything changes. 



  1. This was not a happy post for many reasons ! .?

    1. I'm afraid not John. Its not much fun going back there anymore.

  2. Vicariously been there recently M

  3. The last time I went "home" I didn't recognize anything. I'm sorry about your mom. All those years in one house. It will be a difficult move. Stuff tends to pile up.


    1. It will be tough, and I'll do my best to help out. My mom isn't quite the hoarder my aunt was, but she has more things and people to worry about.

      Oh, and thank you for promoting my last post on your Google+ page! I just noticed that +2 next to it, and wanted to see who 'liked' my post. Your kind words made my day!

      I left a comment on your blog this morning but I think Blogger ate it. Will try again tonight :-)

    2. I have comment moderation enabled so sometimes comments don't show up for several hours, or even ten or twelve hours. It depends on when I get around to reading the comments and giving them my seal of approval. Oh, and you're welcome.

  4. It's appalling that people get away with that eminent domain BS. And for another bloody strip mall.

    We used to have loads of little farms here when I was a kid. On Halloween, Van Riper's farm and Tice's farm would join forces for the haunted hayride and haunted house. They went all out, it was amazing. Then Van Riper's became an A&P and a strip of other little stores. Tice's lasted a little longer. We used to go to the Haagen Daz shop there every weekend for ice cream and then wander the farm market. Now it's also strip mall.

    I think there's maybe one farm left in Bergen County, but I'm sure its days are numbered.

    1. I'm certain they could have built a fine plaza/strip mall without tearing down one single home because the town I live in now managed to do just that. Score one for Jersey.

      Then take the points back for destroying all these farms. That's really a shame. Farms are great, for the attractions and the fresh produce. There's one or two in my area and I think they're here to stay. But I dont think they do hayrides or any fun things like that.

  5. I left my home after high school. Shortly thereafter, my dad retired and my parents moved out of state. I just happened to be in the area about a decade later and decided to do a drive by. I barely recognized the place. Where I currently live used to nothing but farmland. Now it's a thriving suburban area. change is not always easy to watch.


    1. It's sad but fascinating how things chance. Sometimes its a good change, but there is always something lost I think. Opens spaces are at a premium I'm afraid.

      p.s. i like your 'tail' ... I used to sign my name with one too. Now I just use the tail to end my posts. :-)


  6. You write with such human perspective on often unseen or ignored aspects of commercial development. Once again - good to read. How come there's a large model of your head in the last picture? You must be The King of West Haven or something but what, pray, are you laughing at?

    1. I'm laughing at all of these suckers that spedn their money in West Haven. Haha...the King of West Haven. I love it! Yeah, if only. I'm not sure what that is, my mom never mentioned a frightening clown mouth and I swiped it off someone's Flickr page. I'll have to ask her about it.

    2. *spend

      And thank you again. I'm glad you enjoyed this post :-D

  7. Chris,

    I enjoyed reading this post. You're a gifted writer and I look forward to more visits here. Take care.


    1. Thank you Stephen! I appreciate that very much. Looking forward to reading more from you as well!

  8. I've been ruminating about the concept of home and places of our past on my own blog of late. The Tennessee town that I consider to be my home town has changed so much over the past 50 years and each time I go back to visit (about yearly) there are so many new changes that have been made. Overall I'd say the changes have been for the better, but sometimes I wish I could just go back in time to get the flavor of the way it used to be.

    Change is inevitable, if not the in the direction of modernization and economic improvement then in the way of entropy. Watching the world change is not always something we embrace, but we get used to it and adapt. What else can we do?

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out