September 26th, 2017
Jules lives in Bergenfield, New Jersey. Bergenfield is close to the Hudson River, just a bit north and west of New York City. Jules’ hometown is just one of an seemingly endless parade of suburbs. As Jules mentioned to us, a person is hard-pressed to notice the end of one borough and the beginning of the next. Teaneck flows into Bergenfield which merges into Tenafly which blends into another enclave, ad infinitum.
Jules told us that Bergen County, where he lives, holds over a million people. I asked him if there were still any empty lots in the county. He said that there were a few. If there are empty pieces of land in his part of the world, I didn’t see them. My impression of Bergenfield and its environs was of compactness. Everything there is wedged in tight. True, there are trees and grass and small parks, but all the space is used in some manner. It is the opposite of Texas, where everything is absurdly spread out. In Bergen County many people and their activities are concentrated into a tiny area.
Jules’ house sits on Main Street in Bergenfield. I don’t think that Main Street is actually the main street in that town. Washington Avenue seems much busier. Jules’ house is on a residential street with mature trees and crumbling sidewalks. The homes seem to be mature too. I doubt that anything on that street was built during my lifetime.
I asked Jules what style of house he owned. He shrugged and said that he didn’t know. I am guessing it would be best described as a bungalow. I am not sure what the original structure looked like. Clearly, there have been various additions and renovations over the years. Jules estimates the the building is one hundred years old. He’s probably right.
A home usually reflects the personality of its occupant. This is the case with Jules’ house. When Karin and I first arrived at his address, we went up to his front door. Apparently, nobody ever does that. The front door leads directly into an enclosed porch. We rang the doorbell and Jules invited us in.
The porch was full of books. The living room was full of books. The dining room was full of books. There were stacks of books on the staircase. One bedroom was packed with books. Other rooms had bookcases or shelves overflowing with books. Jules had a bookcase set in front of his fireplace to hold yet more books.
It came as no surprise to learn that Jules had owned a bookstore for twenty years, and the contents of his house were the residue of that enterprise. Jules has thousands of books, in every conceivable style, and containing all types of subject matter. Jules lives in a library. He is selling his books online, a few copies each day. If he lived to be one hundred, he would still have plenty of reading material.
Jules isn’t yet one hundred years old, but he’s well on his way. His father was elderly when Jules was born, and a family legend says that the father was a soldier in the army of the Czar during his youth. Jules is spry for a man of seventy-nine. I would like to be as active and healthy as Jules when I hit that age, but I expect to be horizontal at that point. I met Jules on a peace walk a few years ago. He still moves along at a rapid pace. Jules is sharp in mind and tongue. He is obviously well-read.
Jules’ house is not merely a book depository. It is also a showcase for peace walk memorabilia. Most of Jules’ wall space is covered with posters and pictures. He has been on walks in Scotland, France, Belgium, Holland, Japan, Korea, and all over the U.S. He has a series of small paper peace cranes (origami) hanging from the ceiling. A person can read Jules’ history just by looking at the walls of his house.
In some ways, Jules’ house reminds me of our home. There are scarcely any open horizontal surfaces. His tables hold books. Ours more often hold yarn, or half-finished knitting projects. Jules’ home has the appearance of disorder verging on chaos. So does our house. That just means that somebody lives there. Neat houses are the tombs of boring people.
We are not boring.