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Excerpt from Blind Guys Break 80 about 60s Freehold, NJ suburbia

April 8, 2011

It was a classic Freehold party in the Map house at 223 Stonehurst Way. The impossibly happy, upbeat melodies of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass pounded out from the Admiral Stereophonic Super-20 phonograph speakers housed in a wood cabinet. Cloudy and Wendy hid in the shadows on the stairs. They pressed their heads against the thin, twisted, white wooden balusters, fascinated at the smoke-filled adult world of Saturday night. They were forbidden to eat food in the living room. But tonight in the living room every table was loaded with food and snacks in trays, chaffing dishes, saucepans, fondue pots, bowls and Tupperware. And the adults who were so serious all week were acting so weird and silly! Mr. Dubonowki was dressed as a pregnant woman, splayed on the couch and going through labor. Mr. Ruhl wore a stethoscope and a toga and acted like he was delivering a baby.
“It’s a boy!” shouted Mr. Ruhl, pulling out a basketball from underneath Mr. Dubonowki’s skirt.

“I wanted a girl,” sighed Mr. Dubonowki, shamefully turning his face away.

Mr. Gallagher wore a turban and a robe, ran out to the front steps and announced the birth by blowing a long plastic horn.

There were cheers and applause from the costumed partiers who were knocking back Whiskey Sours, Old Fashions, Vodka Martinis, Brandy Alexanders, Grasshoppers or a Tom Collins.

Young John and Wendy couldn’t wait to grow up. Man, these people were having fun! They watched their smiling parents bounce a two-step to the thumping beat of ‘Butterball.’ through the cheering drinkers.

“Hey, John,” said Mr. Ruhl, chewing rumaki and pointing out the living room window. “I see your neighbors, the Brunettis, put those nice five-foot marble statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on their front lawn.”

“Yeah,” replied their Dad as he danced. He was shirtless, wore a beaded gold necklace and a frayed sombrero. “And if those statues start to move every Catholic in the world will be parked on my yard.”

In 1964 Stonehurst began as a single-family development with 256 homes in Freehold, New Jersey. The 38 square-mile Monmouth County town was promoted by realtors as the “midpoint between New York City and Philadelphia.” Freehold was divided into two areas: Borough and Township. The Borough side (known as the “boro” to locals), included the downtown area, and was largely populated by blacks, people who wanted to move somewhere else, and old-time locals who once worked for the Karagheusian rug factory until the plant closed and escaped the unions by taking the company’s looms to North Carolina. Stonehurst residents were untouched by the “boro” and its racial issues because the Township was west of Route 9, north of 534, which is where the development was built on 230 acres of farmlands, orchards and forests. All the families moving into the newly constructed homes were in their mid-thirties, white, made close to the same income, and had two or three kids. There was even a New York commuter bus route that wound through the neighborhood and picked up dads at the same corners their kids caught school buses at an hour later. As the development spread block by block, everyone got to know the new people. The men made friends on their way to work, or as they mowed their lawns, which led to arranging Saturday penny-poker nights and weekend golf dates, placing bets for each other at the Freehold “Trotters and Pacers” Raceway, and meeting up with their wives at Moore’s Tavern on Fridays. Moms went to one another’s kitchens, drank coffee, smoked, planned social events, gossiped and laughed. They rotated turns picking up each other’s kids at ball games and school events. If a any kid was walking home, Moms stopped and offered them rides — but, they’d also inform your parents if you were doing something you weren’t supposed to be doing. All the kids cut through everybody’s yards. The only people with fences had pools, were retired seniors, or came from Long Island (they usually staked out their property with ugly, cyclone metal fences and kept to themselves). Parties rotated every Saturday night, as well as on Memorial Day, Labor Day and The Fourth, where horseshoes clanged in sandy pits and beer spilled from paper cups on the grass in backyards. Most families joined the Stonehurst Swim Club, which had a large Y-shaped pool with three diving boards, asphalt tennis and basketball courts, shuffleboard, and a picnic area where adults drank and barbecued in the evenings. And kids were everywhere! Teenagers played basketball in driveways. Girls rode bikes and flirted with guys, practiced cheers on lawns, and listened to records in each other’s rooms. Little kids played kickball, freeze tag and touch football in the street. Large fields throughout the neighborhood became makeshift playgrounds for tackle football and pick-up baseball games, or places to shoot off plastic rockets and fly gas-powered airplane models. The land bordering the expanding development was laid out for future streets and had a network of underground sewage pipes and manholes. It was the ideal battlefield to play army. Boys formed platoons and threw crab apples and dirt bombs at each other, crawled down the pipes and popped out of manhole covers they pretended were machine gun nests. There were woods and fields of knee-high weeds with pheasants, rabbits and woodchucks. The kids explored the creeks, caught frogs, catfish, carp, salamanders, box turtles, and sometimes saw muskrats and water moccasins.

For a happy, isolated place, Stonehurst had a lot of death. The Map family got its first, dark, chalky taste: a crib death. They lost thirty-six day-old Matthew David Map. Cloudy took the only picture of his baby brother with a Polaroid Swinger camera. Little Matthew had a gummed smile, a tiny hand curled at his lower lip, his soft head wrapped in a white blanket. Then there others left the neighborhood, Mr. Weber and Mr. Giselmen dropped dead from heart attacks in their late thirties. The 9-year old McCauley boy was struck by a car and died after his head hit against the curb on Avon Drive. The four-year old Perry kid snuck into the Shiebels’ swimming pool and drowned. After a high-speed chase, seventeen-year old Michael Dicanto got killed in a head-on collision on Shanck Road. Young Tony Lobianco became a doctor, got drafted, went to Vietnam and was killed in a Viet Cong hospital raid. And one of Cloudy’s closest friends, Frank­ — well, his mother, Mrs. Doyle died from stomach cancer. And one suicide, a homely kid named Leon Case. High school kids (including Cloudy) relentlessly taunted and ridiculed his simian-shelf forehead, heavy beard, and pimpled face. So one day, Leon pulled down the garage door, sat in his parents’ running car and died from carbon-monoxide poisoning.

And there were dramas, too. Kids believed Mrs. Hill was an ex-Playboy bunny because she had huge breasts and wore a tiger bikini at the swim club — it was a widely held belief her second husband limped because he was caught in bed with Mrs. Hill by her first husband who shot him. The Bibbs boy got punched for trying to play with Bruce Urban’s dick in a tree house. The Barry girl was prematurely bald, wore a wig and got pregnant at sixteen. Keith Ashworth and Skip Brodnick got arrested trying to “hock” batteries from cars in auto dealership lots. Tim Boyle got in trouble for egging Mark Kaufman’s house and waxing up car windows on Mischief Night. Mr. Denick was removed as a Little League manager because he told the Warner boy not to play too well during team tryouts so he could to pick him for his team. Mr. Cuneo slammed the door on his pimple-faced son who returned from college with long hair and “looked like Jesus Christ!” Roger Corless drove his souped-up, mag-wheeled 1955 Chevy too fast through the neighborhood (The car was “boss” because it had a Hurst shifter and STP stickers on the rear bumpers.). Bob Everett blew off his left hand trying to make a pipe bomb out of matches and gunpowder in his basement. Mr. Louro almost got sucked down into the sewer system during a huge storm, when he used a crowbar to pry up a manhole cover to drain the water flooding Hampton Drive. The neighborhood women shunned Mr. Rooney because when he got off the commuter bus he was greeted at the driveway by his Asian wife holding his slippers (John Map later told his son, “All the wives made fun of her and hated Mr. Rooney. But he was the happiest guy in the neighborhood.”). Then there was Mrs. Black who got plastered at the American Hotel and danced on the bar until she was hit in the back of her head by a ceiling fan and knocked to the floor. Mr. Farley was sent to prison for embezzling (Cloudy played with the Farley kids and was always puzzled by the numerous jars of change in their closets.). Gunner Mariano’s German Shepherd attacked Tommy Fucarino after he opened their garage door. Marty Rowe spray-painted the word “Shit” on the aluminum siding of the Wilhelm house — and Mr. Wilhelm surprised everybody by not pressing charges. When Joe Deblasio stole Bob Verling’s 10-speed bike, Verling’s mother marched over to the Deblasio house to get it back (By the way, the Deblasio’s were from Long Island and had a cyclone fence.). Joe claimed he was “just borrowing the bike.” One winter, Mrs. Williams called the police because she driving with her two-year old and almost got into an accident because kids snowballed her Chrysler New Yorker hardtop station wagon. The Brace boys were banned from open-gym night basketball for smuggling in beers. Teenagers set brush fires in vacant fields, burned down abandoned farmhouses, regularly shot out streetlights with BB guns, blew up frogs with cherry bombs, vandalized construction sites or stole plywood from them to build “make-out” tree houses with dirty, torn mattresses, and once put sugar in the gas tanks of several Freehold Regional High School buses that closed school for the day. The neighbors tolerated the flaws and rebellions in each other’s children and adapted to the needs and losses of families and shared troubles and stuck together because these Stonehurst events happened to everyone­. Life was so full.

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