Uncle Bob’s Brief (But Not Brief Enough) History of West Paterson: A Transcription

by on January 13, 2024 :: 0 comments

photo "Hanging Out, Hanging On" by Tyler Malone

There was an ice house down by the riverbank & they delivered blocks of ice door to door, which were chopped from the river in wintertime. Before the (so-called) Great War they were delivered in horse drawn wagons, then in trucks. We’re talking about 50 pounders you held with huge ice tongs that looked like medieval torture devices. You see them in scratchy old black-and-white movies. I guess they were comedies. They got that rinky-dink this-is-a-comedy music anyway. Big bruisers with derbies or those dopey cloth caps, hauling them up wooden stairs, however many flights of stairs it took. You could hear the steps splinter in your head even if the movies were silent.

Anyhow time goes by, they figured out refrigerators, and that was that. Then it was a warehouse for pinball machines, & a couple wars later it was The Blue Moon Grill. Sooner or later everything vanishes or turns into a tiki bar. There was a bath house on McBride Avenue. They had what they called Turkish Baths, though this one I think was run by Russians. Turkish baths are Turkish the same way Turkish Taffy is Turkish. This was before West Paterson seceded from Paterson. My grandpa had a job there when he was a kid. He would pour water over hot coals to make steam. Stuff like that. And they had metal steam boxes where fat men would sweat off ten pounds at a time, like cartoon hippos.

Now they are changing the name of West Paterson to something else, Woodland Park or Woodland West, taking Paterson totally out of the picture so nobody will know where it came from and Paterson can never snatch it back. It’s like cauterizing a severed leg. I know in real life you cauterize the stump and throw away the leg, but you get the point. You ever wonder what happens to the arms and legs they amputate? Most likely we should file that one under don’t ask if you don’t want to know the answer.

West Paterson doesn’t need a new name, it needs a pond that freezes over in the winter so you can go ice skating. You always had to go to Totowa to ice skate, there was a tailings pond behind the brick works, unless the Passaic froze hard enough but it never did, not the part running through West Paterson. That didn’t stop the unstoppable knuckleheads from galumphing out there, never to be seen again. The Great Falls was just a couple miles downstream. Crack, splash, whoosh! Crack, splash, whoosh! Glub glub. See yuh in the Spring, boys! Although as far as I know, that never happened. I don’t know why. They did crack the ice, all the time, falling on their big fat asses. Knuckleheads. I will name names: the Ruffalo Brothers, Mike Inellio, Paul Duffy. They should all be in the West Paterson Knucklehead Hall of Fame. They couldn’t even skate. Theresa Martine, now she could skate. Good God. I close my eyes and I can still see her spinning around the tailings pond. Did you ever notice when somebody is spinning around on ice skates it makes the same noise as a transmission that needs servicing? Fact. Just starting to get dark, and her gliding on the ice, is how I always see her. Good God. I have never understood why the twilight sky in winter has totally different colors than the twilight sky other times of the year. Am I wrong? Purples and silvers that you never see in the summer. Do we burn different crap in the winter? I guess we do, but is that what’s going on? We burn enough to change the whole sky?

The only place in West Paterson you could skate without knuckleheads was off Browertown Road, down the hill from the flower shop. Immediately behind the flower shop, in the backyard — if flower shops can have backyards — there were all these rusted-out cars and car parts. No idea what that was all about. Some of them were like cars from the Laurel and Hardy days. In the winter, they would sell Christmas trees back there. One of the florist’s idiot kids would stand on Browertown Road with a sign, a big chunk of corrugated cardboard that said XMAS TREES $10 in letters that looked like they were scrawled by an idiot, because they were. I’m not 100% sure it was $10 but probably. I used to wonder about why it was called Browertown Road. There was no such place as Brower Town. There was a pro-wrestler, Dick “The Bulldog” Brower, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t named after him. This is before cable TV. He fought Bruno Sammartino all the time. You could make the case that fought is not the right word; not Le Mot Juste. Doesn’t make it any less terrific. Jimmy Cagney didn’t really blow himself up on top of a giant gas tank, but nobody calls bullshit on that, nor should they. But if you told people you watch wrestling, they’d go ‘Doncha know it’s all fake??’ I’d just look at those people and feel sorry for them. I mean it. Pity is the only proper response. Is ballet fake? You think the girl in the tutu is really in love with the guy in leotards? Same thing, basically. And I could tell you a thing or three about those guys in the leotards, but this is not the time or place. One thing I always wondered, are they supposed to be real swans, or just crazy people who think they’re swans? And if so, does that ever come out at the end of the dance, or are we just supposed to know it? Anyway, I never learned the answer to why it’s called Browertown Road. When you get to my age you will find out that when all is said and done, the answer to everything turns out to be: Because that’s what it is.

editors note:

Nostalgia is the end of history, and we experience it every damn day more and more. ~ Tyler Malone

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