Of Gardens And States
Morris Plains Murder
Project: Prison Project
Location: Morris Plains, NJ
Cast of Characters:
Bill - Producer
Noah - Associate Producer
Lauren - Associate Producer
Joe - A Camera
Josh - B Camera
Bryanna - Host
May 7, 2002
Freeway Of The Cosmos
It was Saturday, so the rest of the house was still asleep when I pulled out of the driveway and charted a course for the great town of Morris Plains. It was raining and there was a chill in the air that belied the fact that the calendar was but a day away from Mothers Day, usually celebrated in gardens and on lawns under sunny skies. Well, maybe not this year. As I cruised along the Pulaski skyway I wondered for whom was Morris Plains named? Who was Morris? There's a Morristown, a Borough of Morris, and of course the Plains. But who was this titan of yore? As I closed in on our location I saw a sign for Washington's Headquarters and I thought, oh, that guy again. He slept everywhere! Pulaski, Morris, Washington. The holy trinity of the Garden State.
Inside the police station, I admired the trading cards on the wall, one for each officer in the department. Gotta catch them all? Chief Mike was accommodating and even took it upon himself to turn off the breakers when needed for the camera department. Bill let me know about the holding are downstairs, should I want a bottle of water, coffee, or a bread bowl. "A bread bowl?" I asked, imagining a cauldron of bubbling police chili simmering in the break room, the smell of hard-boiled eggs, corned beef and onion soup, and how-do-ya-do biscuits. Apparently, Lauren had also misheard this same offer earlier, but in fact, we both got it horribly wrong. Bill was actually inviting us to drink RED BULL, should we need such a morning kick-start. Bread bowl, Red Bull. Tomato To-mah-to.
Then I wired up Pat who asked if I could both make him sound less "like a sniveling palooka" and also make him "look a lot better on camera." I assured him that this podcast would highlight all his best features. Bryanna and Vanessa then got right into the case with him going over the interviews, the drugs, the sexual components, the whole thing. He's seen "a lot of stuff" in his life. And Bryanna has Italian citizenship.
Lunch was brought in from Tiff's, which Bill has eaten at "many times." I went for a safe bet and ordered the Caesar salad with grilled chicken, as I had looked at the rest of the menu but everything seemed like a potential trap - the kind of food that would put you right to sleep on a rainy day, smothering you in a blanket of suffocating meat and sauce and doughy rolls. Ergo, the chicken caesar - It's what you want to eat when you don't want to die. Anyway, what I got was about as basic as a chicken caesar could be - chopped romaine lettuce, a handful of croutons, some Parmesan cheese, a sliced chicken breast, and a little plastic cup of dressing, all in a cardboard box sealed for my safety. It kind of defies reviewing, but I'll say that the lettuce was fresh, colorful, and crunchy, and the chicken was not bone dry. The croutons were sweet, firm, and crunchy. Okay, it all probably came out of a bag labeled "SALAD" but after consuming it in the front seat of my minivan and not falling into a food coma, I'd say it was a win.
As I considered my good choices, I took stock of my surroundings through the rain-splattered windshield and wondered how many generations from now will remember this time during Covid well into its second year. I saw a post office across the street where a person could rent a PO Box, get a passport, and then cross the street towards us and deposit a used flag into a repainted mailbox placed there by the Watnong Post 3401 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The cycle of life.
Back inside, I went down to the holding area looking for a sweet to cap off my lunch. As I reached for the cookies, Noah strongly suggested I try the Cosmic Brownies. What, I thought, is a "cosmic brownie?" And then I saw - it's a Little Debbie creation of which I've never tasted. But, then again, Little Debbie was always pretty much the basement of my adolescent pantheon of cheap mass-produced snack cakes, beneath Hostess and Drake's. Well, why not, I thought, unwrapping and breaking off the first of two squares dotted with multi-colored sprinkle-things. Upon the first bite, I was presented with notes of saccharine and a mouthfeel not unlike joint compound that's fallen on the floor and forgotten about for an hour. I asked aloud what made it "cosmic?" It was suggested that perhaps the swapping of chocolate for sugar was what made it out of this world, and then I thought yes, and the density was like that of a collapsed star, and the sprinkles like unheard screams in the vacuum of space. And then I started to feel a sensation as if my tongue was being dragged across a beach by Prius-driving unicorns. It really was cosmic; I ate the whole thing.
Once again upstairs, Don Sposa appeared to me like a bootleg Joe Biden but with worse hearing and a restaurant named Clams Casino in Fort Lee. What a story; Don really had it rough. As for Fort Lee, my father grew up there and I have very early memories of visiting my grandparents in that fair town. Their downstairs neighbors had a cuckoo clock.
And then we were done. The rain finally let up some, Bryanna went on her way, and we loaded out. Chief Mike's secretary has a sign on her desk that reads "I literally don’t even care."
May 9, 2022
It was a beautiful spring day to be driving towards our old stomping grounds of Morris Plains. The sun shone brightly in the blue sky, birds chirped and hopped from tree to tree. The air felt warm and breezy, like the finest chocolate you’ve ever eaten. After doing some deep research, I learned that the Morris in question was, in fact, Colonel Lewis Morris, chief justice of New York and British governor of New Jersey, who was also was the first lord of the manor of Morrisania in New York City. Well, then.
Anyway, as I cruised towards the Plains, I passed under a sign for Whippany which made me think of Parsippany which then made me call up "Garden State Stomp" by Dave Van Ronk on Spotify*. Ho-Ho-Kus! Bivalve! Rahway! Swinesburg! By the time he growled the last of the town names, I was sliding past the NJ transit station and taking in the sleepy vibe of the bedroom community, noting the out-of-business video transfer store.
The house on Jaqui was a lovely Craftsman affair, but someone had the idea to gussy up the facade with cobblestones for some kind of Ye Olde Timey Renn Faire look. It gave me mixed emotions. Was this "Castle Cobble?" I dunno, but I was amazed at how completely uncluttered this house was. Noting the leather shoulder pistol holster on the dining room chair, I realized just how often I wonder how one maintains a house like this considering that mine continually teeters on the precipice of comprehensive dishevelment. But then again I have triplet thirteen-year-olds. So, it's not you, it's me. And Is that poison ivy growing all along the driveway? Oh, but here's the castle connection - the owners of the house got married either inside or adjacent to a castle. Or a restaurant that looks like a castle. Maybe I should put some wedding pictures on the wall too; perhaps that's the tidiness ticket.
After my negative driveway Covid test, Noah asked for a chipotle order. As I perused the online menu I noticed something called "lifestyle bowls." I'm no stranger to Chipotle, but is this a new thing? It was all keto, whole30 whatever but are these actually different from the other dishes, or is this some kind of alternative vertical marketing experiment by headquarters? I felt it was too soon for this kind of change. Too soon! Of course, the burrito bowl is always tempting because it’s like the fake healthy version of the actual burrito stomach bomb you know you want, but then again, I also knew that if I did go for it I'd end up feeling like I often do after Chipotle - like I just ate an entire goat.
So I went for the salad, of course, with pollo asado, greens, and two kinds of salsa. I thought I was making the right choice. But then I saw Noah looking at The burrito bowls, and I felt my resolve wavering... Am I really that susceptible? Hi, my name is Avi and I’m a burrito bowl addict. No, not this time. Josh then asked did I want cheese on my salad? Sure why not. This is how the road to ruin begins, with gateway cheese.
Patricia sat down and we got right into the trench with her accent. Bergen county. Ransacking. Casts of sneaker prints. Hog tying. Ruthless killing. An errant pawn ticket. She believes in the death penalty but went for a plea bargain.
After we wrapped out I had the salad on the porch and it hit the spot. I did well for once. Everything blended well together and the chicken was well seasoned. I know it just got scooped from a bin, but still, it tasted good. Perhaps a bit too heavy-handed on the spicy salsa, but I did not immediately feel like crawling upstairs and into the master bedroom for a nap. Upon exiting, I spied the corner of the cosmic brownies in the crafty bag. Not this time, Debbie. Not this time.
And now a poem to close it out.
Castle Cobble Colonel Morris never thought A policeman would build a castle Upon his plains In his borough And let his windchimes make a racket All night, every night And shoot his arrows into the sky. No, he never thought A police officer would launch a boat Every day from Castle Cobble’s dock And cruise around with Staten Island girls. Without Colonel Morris’s permission.
Thanks again for including me on the project! It was great to meet everyone.
Also Of Interest
Bush on Iraq. I mean Ukraine. Yeesh.
There is no free lunch in NYC.
Adventures in Jacked-Up Babysitting.
World Economic Hippie Flip.
* Now Listening To
Garden State Stomp - Dave Von Ronk
See above. Sing along (lyrics below)!
Allamuchy, Hacklebarney, Rockaway, Piscataway
Ho-Ho-Kus, Secaucus, Lower Squankum, Fair Play
Wanamassa, Succasunna, Manumuskin, Plumbsock
BiValve, Buckshutem, Turkey Foot, Macanippock
Jugtown, Feebletown, Nummytown, Rahway...
Wickatunk, Manunka Chunk, Mantua, Mizpah
Manasquan, Raritan, Matawan, Totowa
Whippany, Parsippany, Penny Pot, Hackensack
Batsto, Nesco, Metedeconk, Peapack
Loch Arbour, Egg Harbor, Swinesburg, Caviar...
Cheesequake, Boy Scout Lake, Moonachie, Tenafly
Netcong, Watchung, Pluckemin, Mount Misery
Bardonia, Ironia, Colonia, Weehawken
Manahawkin, Mantoloking, Mahalala, Pennsauken
Dutchtown, Ironbound, Frelinghuysen, and Lodi...
Hardscrabble, Double Trouble, Picatinny, Montague
Muckshaw Pond, Oakanickon, Espanong, Ocean View
Navesink, Shabakunk, Ongs Hat, Jumbo
Wortendyke, Waterwitch Park, Blue Ball, Ringoes
Matchaponix, Delawanna, Wawayanda, Timbuctoo...