What Lurks Beneath in Collingswood

Scandals and town characters keep suburban life interesting

This is how I explain living in Collingswood: It’s like living in a David Lynch movie. Everything placid and pastoral, but as could be expected, a lot is going on under the surface. I’ve heard about the house where there are fisting parties (and then I needed to be told what those are). I’ve heard that a man who frequents the pool has had pedophile charges against him that didn’t stick. I’ve heard that a man on my street has been charged with being a Peeping Tom. I’ve heard about various combinations of affairs, drug addictions being battled, and every six months or so, that our town might finally pass liquor laws—which hardly anyone wants, what with the success of our BYOBs.

On a Saturday in Collingswood, we can wake up and go to the farmers’ market, rated “America’s Favorite Farmers’ Market.” While there, we will buy tomatoes and artisan cheese, but just as importantly we will bump into fellow parents we haven’t seen since my daughter was in second grade, and my next door neighbors who I see all of the time. The nice people at Schober Orchards will offer whole peaches and apples as samples. I will watch as my daughter is flirted with by teenage boys working one of the farm tables. I will ogle strangers’ puppies and babies and colorful eggplant and flowers. Live music will play, and the smell of kettle corn will glue together all of the other smells of fruits and plants and coffee and fresh bread.

So, you can see we need some barb, some spike, a surprise. Otherwise we might all fall asleep like Dorothy and her friends in that beautiful crimson field of poppies.

Thankfully, we’ve got our celebrity-style drama. When an important figure in town was caught cheating, his wife took a baseball bat to his vehicle, a la Elin Nordegren Woods. We had a mom who disappeared, a mom who overdosed, a dad/police officer who rescued a would-be suicide by jumping in Cooper River and pulling the suicide from his car.

We even have an interesting cast of extras. We have a family of little people with the last name of Little. We have a family with 10 children with the last name of Lively. We have a guy who dresses like James Dean, everywhere and anywhere—from the soccer fields to the Wawa—and an old lady who wears three-foot-wide hats.

A local restaurant owner actually plays characters. He gets small roles that are identified on the credits by names like “Tough guy at bar,” “construction worker,” “muscle guy,” and “prison guard.” He is a big bruiser of a guy with a bearded boxer’s face, who serves up mostly ice cream and free pancakes to kids in their pajamas on Saturday morning. His nickname is “Stink.”

On Second Saturdays, with its crafters and street performances, I love overhearing an immaculately dressed woman ask a crafter at a cardboard table, “What is going on here? This is fabulous! Does this happen all the time?”

This past Saturday, I counted eight different live musical performances, and I think I missed one. There was a band of what looked to be high-school freshmen, playing ’80s rock with all their hearts. It was so painful and beautiful we had to stop and watch, and then we noticed Dad, wearing tie-dye, filming them, making their performance suddenly touching.

It’s pretty here. Folks come from all over the country to crew regattas on Cooper River; from the neighboring towns for the farmers’ market and our restaurants; and apparently, from areas where there are no fisting parties to our fisting parties. I’m glad I can take a bottle of wine (hell, I can take two, I’m walking) and go to town, and I’m glad I have no idea who the man is who takes daily walks down the center of my street in tap shoes and a fisherman’s hat.

Kathleen Volk Miller is co-editor of Painted Bride Quarterly and an associate teaching professor at Drexel University. Don’t follow her on Twitter @kvm1303 because she hardly ever tweets. She hopes to have her own website one day, and also, no war.