24. A Flash of Kingdom
Sometimes it comes in flashes, sometimes in extended musings. The flashes are the most powerful. That fraction of a second seems to deliver the essential flavor of a lifetime lived. From particular to general it goes: the memory of a spot, and from this memory the flashed arrival of other locations - all in a single summer day of countless days. The breath quickens for that speck of instant; the mouth self-moistens; and I realize that recognition of the fullness of life in time and place is rarely present as its reality unfolds.
True Life Sense, though, bunches up unknown inside us; it coils in storage and waits for sprung release: In the above, I wrote, "Essential flavor of a lifetime lived" and I was smacked by a view of the corner of Cookman Avenue and Saint James Place. The silent, painless smack carried a joyful tone of day, a shade of light off Wesley Lake, and within that hue the tone in every place I've ever been to.
Words do bring it out: "Near and Far," "Taste of World," "Elsewhere," "True Life Sense," "Afar." More often it begins with a simple recollection; and from that recollection comes the jolt. Say the words "the spice-laden ships of old Kathay" and I'm likely to get a flash - perhaps of Wesley Lake and he Mayfair theater. All the mental pleasures - the exotic ones especially - include Asbury Park.
The taste: a tiny liberation from the shackles of time.
We've been inside the theaters - those grand pools of magical darkness. They have charged certain blocks, made those spots deep beyond their natural means. Imagine sitting in the Mayfair Theater countless times throughout the complex course of your own life. The whole of the theater and the outside sights are working you. When I say "the whole of the theater" I mean not only the grandeur of the building but the character of many places you have visited on the screen: Paris, Hong Kong, New York, the Alps. You have forgotten some of the places, the lives depicted in them, the shades and angles of a foreign street, the excitement of awaiting your Soviet contact in a Swiss chalet - but they remain. You've lived a travelogue of worlds; and these many lives and places have spilled out into the street - so that Wesley Lake, the Casino, the Ferris Wheel and every unseen corner are breathingly charged with the Felt Essence of Being, touched with the Taste of World. The flashes you get, the smacks, those blink-of-an-eye visitations, carry the depth and richness of a vast and vastly wonderful fact-of-universe that seems more than real.
It is the Kingdom.
How enchanting it was (and is!) to sit in the Mayfair Theater before the movie and gaze at the orange sunset glow behind the upper crest of the proscenium. What was up there, out there? Maybe all the worlds in all the movies in all the world. Perhaps it was something west of there - out on the highways in far Jersey townships I've never been to. Or in Kansas. Or in fabled California. Now as I write I think of the theater's nighttime sky and I am flashed a sun-warm field of flowers in Southern Europe. I consider it again and get a juicy speck of Saint Petersberg, Russia.
It's all there. It's like that.
If I had to choose my personal "Center of the Earth" - the hub around which the rest of the world revolves - I would say it is the Mayfair's corner. Standing under the theater's awning, you could see Wesley Lake, Ocean Grove, the Casino, the Palace Amusements and all of shady Saint James Place. Of course, so much more was present but unseen: the interior of the Funhouse, the mirrors of the Lyric Theater, the Berkley Carteret, the Monte Carlo Pool, the Boardwalk, our house a few blocks west of there, Main Street, the lush old trees in the residential parts and the little bridges between the towns around Deal Lake. Now, on that corner in my mind, the tone of the past wafts through me: all the last days of school, the trip to Europe and California I took at sixteen, the Autumns and Christmases and every carefree summer day I'd amble down the beach with time seemingly endless before me.
This is my sense of place. This is my sense of Heaven. Perhaps the charged flashes are a glimpse of Real Life after all. Perhaps Life in its grandest form has yet to arrive. Whatever it is, it is the essence of my aesthetics, of my art, at its best, when I can get it. If I follow all beauty, all enchantment, all fascinating things back far enough, this is where I am.