Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Richardson's (Reluctant) Travels: A Journey to Newark

Since I had the pleasure of accompanying my friend Mr. Samuel Richardson on his reluctant Saturday airing to New Jersey, I will relate in the following post some notable details from that little excursion for the pleasure and edification of my readers.

It must be announced at the outset that, having never visited New Jersey before, Mr. Richardson had registered many objections against this undertaking. Nevertheless I prevailed upon him to suspend his fulminatings against New Jersey--- which State he had described as having a general atmosphere of Perdition about it--- if only for one Saturday.

"But my dear Mr. Richardson, you have said the same thing of every State in the Union," I protested. "Did not you claim t'other day at Mr. Brockden's dinner that Massachusetts and Connecticut were headed for Perdition? How you mortified Miss Shanka, a native of Massachusetts, and how you upset Miss Farquhar, a native of Connecticut, with your surly words." After some consideration, Mr. Richardson relented, "'Tis true. 'Tis true. If every State is in Perdition what difference can it make where you are? Anyway, was it not Mr. Alexander Pope who declared that universal darkness covers all, and what not?"

So last weekend we hopped aboard the New Jersey Transit at Penn Station and made our way to Newark. The scenery was so completely new for him that he was absorbed by all things around him with an even greater degree of shrewdness than he is known for. Nothing escaped his penetrating gaze. Yet in all one's travels, he would say, 'tis wise to remember that though the scenery may change, the stage personae and the stories remain much the same the world over; that the same hypocrisy, the same fraud; in short, the same follies and vices are to be found dressed in different habits. In Brooklyn they are dressed in camel coats; and in Queens they wear ponchos. In Los Angeles, a knave is dressed like a cholo; and in Oakland, California he wears vintage button-down shirts and scarves. But human nature is everywhere the same, everywhere the object of detestation and scorn.

After we arrived in Newark, we initially did not get far beyond the train station, for Mr. Richardson spent some time observing the taxi drivers as they lolled by their cars outside the building soliciting customers. He expressed to me later that he was much struck by their boorish manner of behaving---for at that moment he dared not express his thoughts out loud in their presence.--- Indeed it must be said that Newark's taxi drivers are the most insolent group of human beings who've ever banded together and formed a labor union. Several times Richardson and I heard, as we conitnued our walk, wild cries of Getta outta ze cab! Getta outta ze cab! Getta outta ze cab!  echoing throughout the city's roads, which I dare say may be the drivers' mating signals, or something of the sort.

Following the scene with the drivers, I saw him walk over to a street cart to buy honey-roasted peanuts. Before he left with his purchase Mr. Richardson exchanged a few pleasantries with the dark-haired street vendor, albeit quite reluctantly. Shortly later I asked my friend as we rambled down Broad Street, "How like you those peanuts, Mr. Richardson?" He tossed some into his mouth and answered, "I can not say they are bad." However, he went on to fret over the fact that the fellow who sold him the peanuts had a pungent smell about his person that was less than pleasant. He also marveled at the same fellow's vigorously hairy set of knuckles. Notwithstanding such grievances his peanuts were but tolerable.

I led him on a walk towards the Passaic River, as I wanted to show him the waterfront. As we continued down Newark's streets, he would sometimes comment upon the extreme narrowness of the sidewalks, especially when we had passed certain restaurants that offered outdoor seating; he complained that the chairs and tables did protrude and occupy too much space on the sidewalk, about two-thirds in fact, he was precise enough to observe, for the comfort and safety of the pedestrians.

Nevertheless when we reached the waterfront we managed a more congenial time of it. We sat upon a bench, from which we commanded an impressive prospect over the Newark skyline, feeding the pigeons and the ducks who were bold enough to come near us. At that moment, I must say I was very pleased with myself. We talked upon various topics which I will omit here as not being worthy of notice. While meditating over the urban blighters who were making a nice feast upon our food crumbs, Mr. Richardson observed that the pigeons and the ducks have a certain advantage over us humans. "When a pigeon's thirst and hunger is satisfied, he is content," he said, "but though I am, like the pigeon, pained with want, I am not, like him, satisfied with fullness." I congratulated him on making such a profound comparison, and I promised I will have recorded it by the end of the day.

Next we proceeded to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart,---which he compared favorably with Canterbury Cathedral, although he said the latter was much bigger lengthwise---and was more charming for not being crowded in by car traffic on all sides. He marveled over the fact that the portal stairs to the Cathedral were rigged with a handicapped-accessible ramp, which, as Richardson noted, is much easier to ascend on one's knee, and so must facilitate the modern pilgrim's holy crawlings. We walked deep inside the nave and took a seat; again, we talked about various topics which I will not relate here as not being worthy of note.

Suddenly, he wanted to know whether my smart phone, or my gew-gaw as he liked to call it, had any reception at that moment. When I checked and answered him affirmatively, he seemed not too pleased with that answer, yet he uttered not a single word of it. I was happy to sit with him like that for a certain period in silence inside the pew. There were no more than six other people in the Cathedral with us. As I glimpsed Richardson's face deep in reflection, I noticed that though his eyes were open, he seem not to be focused on any single object. How I wished that, if only for that moment, I could enter the recesses of that man's mind, to experience what must have been his mind's ballooning of itself to match the proportions of the Cathedral's vast interior space.

By the time we had left the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart the sun was near setting. I said to him that time runs fast when we do enjoy ourselves so much. After we crossed the Passaic River, Richardson decided that we should go inside one of the purveyors of frozen yogurts which looked to be so popular among the local people. We entered one such store; and with very little instruction on my part, he managed to operate successfully the yogurt squirting machine, selecting the Peanut Butter flavored one. 

In the store  there were quite a lot more people than in the Cathedral, mostly children with parents eating frozen yougurt----who, though they were unaware of it, were being instructed an imporant lesson, as the followng scene will make clear. As we were putting on toppings, we noticed alongside us a group of people down the line; he drew my attention to a curious social interaction. 'Twas a mother and her daughter filling up their deserts with toppings; the mother ruled that the girl was permitted only a certain amount of toppings; these limits the girl resented, quite naturally, with banshee-like screechings. Indeed the poor child was being asked to select from among twenty different toppings; to be particular, from four different chocolate toppings, five fruit, five peanut, and a handful of a category of topping for which I have no language to describe. Once the girl reached her maximum allowance,  however, she had a difficult time restraining herself from trying to obtain more. Arguments burst forth between her and her mother, no amount of whose vehemence could restrain the girl's desire for more toppings.--Please, mommy, can I have more?---I want more toppings!---Why can't I have these other ones, Mommy?---were the little girl's words, which she repeated ad nauseum.

We sat down to eat our yogurts when Mr.Richardson spoke to me in the following way, "I hope you paid attention to that pretty conversation piece on the line. The young girl is quite right to feel the injustice of having to suffer twenty different choices of topics but told she could only have four. Is this not the same double pickle our modern society puts us in every day? One hand gives us a cornucopia of the choicest viands, while t'other wags a reprimanding finger in front of our eyes. 'Tis no wonder man is never satisfied with what he owns. Alas, such waste of human energy expended in the name of self-restraint!" And after a pause, Richardson resumed, "Truly, my friend, I would exchange my life with a pigeon, so that I could live among these winged urban blighters, if for one day only, what think you of that?"  

"We know very well too", I said, "how you'd use your gift of flight. Although you'd have the body of a pigeon, you'd have the piercingness of an eagle. You'd use your gift of flight to ascend the skies and with your satiric acumen peep down on us humans from your Olympian heights. Finally, you'd translate knowledge so soaringly obtained into short and pithy ejaculations." He said he was made much obliged for my kind words and offered to pay for my frozen yogurt.

But before we could leave the store he was imposed upon to exchange some pleasantries with the people sitting next to us, who o'erheard him speaking and who quite naturally must have been struck by something in his words or appearance. They asked him something about his manner of dress---no doubt they were curious about his peruke--- and his manner of speaking, which they believed was very antiquated indeed. They said that they had never before heard anyone in Newark declaim in such articulate manner as Richardson did. Though Richardson conversed affably enough in such situations with strangers whenever they occurred, it can not be said he derived much satisfaction from such correspondences, and so avoided them as much as possible.

By the time we left the yogurt shop, the sun had fully set and evening had spread o'er Newark, and our journey having reached its end. Mr. Richardson said something about universal darkness, which I could not hear very well, as we directed our steps to the train station. In less than two hours, we arrived home. We continued talking into the early hours of the morning of the following day, o'er numerous cups of coffee, sorting our impressions of Newark, I carefully transcribing and cataloguing Richardson's various proclamations, which are here provided for my readers in edited form.