Monday, September 13, 2004

Next Stop Linoleum

Linoleum Public Transit-Circa 1955

Sunday was my parent’s anniversary and I went to their home in Linoleum, New Jersey for a little dinner and dysfunction (which is de rigeur at all Romano Family get-togethers).

Linoleum is the blue collar town about eight miles outside of Philadelphia (just across the Walt Whitman Bridge) that my clan moved to in 1972. I was just a kid then, and while I found life in this 50’s-like artifact of suburbia somewhat stifling, it was also a unique place to live. For instance, downtown’s main-street (aptly named, “Main Street”) still has an actual 5 & 10, as well as an independent drug store with a small grille set up in the back of it (coke and a cheeseburger with fires only 4.50).

Up until a few years ago, the Township offices, Police Station and Public Library all filled one old brick building; the offices of this structure had old oaken doors with frosted glass fronts imbedded into them with gold lettered hand stenciled names on each office’s door (“tax collector”, “dog catcher” etc…). At any second one expected Sam Spade to open one of these doors and let some well dressed shady dame out into the dank hallway.

Most of the homes in Linoleum are post war (that’s World War II), one and two story affairs with breezeways and screened in porches. There is also one end of town known as “Linoleum Park” with a section of prefab cookie cutter homes all done in a Levittown style; the selling point of these homes was very Eisenhower / Cold War Paranoia … each one came equipped with a bomb shelter accessible via a shed in the back-yard.

Linoleum is also renowned for it’s collection of bars. At one time it was said that there were more “bars per square foot” here than in any other town in New Jersey. That may been something of an exaggeration, but a well deserved one nonetheless. Main Street alone is home to four tap-rooms and there at least a half a dozen other dives scattered through out the town. Upon entering one of these establishments, a time-warp envelopes the patron. Windows are blacked out so that no natural light ever comes in, while electric lighting is kept dim. Most beers can be had by the glass for only fifty cents, and the jukeboxes seem not have been updated since 1964. While each place has a different name (The Dead Elk, Gerry’s Dew Drop Inn, G.G.’s Kozy Korner, The Lucky Stiff, etc) a similar atmosphere is present -- same bar, different name.

When I go home I have mixed feelings. Part of me is glad to have shaken off the dust of this place, happy to be free of it’s provincial mentality, but then another part seems drawn to the township: familiar faces and places that never seem to change (Stephen King once called this “Small Town Inertia”), homes of former friends and a handful of lovers, streets that I walked when I was younger and unaware – blissfully so – about what time and life would bring. And even though I leave, I always end up coming back…

…be it ever so humble.


MagnoliaThunderpussy said...

"Beer at 50 cents a glass"! Oh my dear, don't tell Florence, that old lush will move right in and drink the town dry!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Romano,

I know of many little towns in Camden and Burlington Counties in New Jersey that sound just like "Linoleum". That picture of the train, looks very familiar. I think I know the real name of Linoleum, but I will not reveal that here. By the way, last time I was there, it looks like someone put a nice coat of wax on Linoleum, or at least cleaned it up better than it's been in a long time.

The Walking Dude