Friday, September 12, 2008

What I Like About Being a Jersey Girl

Since I’ve been accused of picking on New Jersey, I promised I would write some nice things about my home state. Here are a dozen things I like:

1. Horseshoe crabs. What other place has a crab like this? This is the king daddy of crabs. They look like prehistoric helmets. They might scare you, but unlike regular crabs, they are really very gentle and I’ve never been bit or pinched by one even though I’ve carried hundreds of them to safety, back to the water, by that tail thingamajig they have.

2. Open-mindedness and tolerance. Which one depends on how you really feel about the person and the thing he does or is, but either way, you’re not going to get your ass up about someone who’s different than you. Gays don’t rattle us. Cross-dressers, transsexuals, transsexuals who are gay, racially-mixed families, people with Down syndrome, Parkinson’s disease or muscular dystrophy, turban-wearing Turkish next door neighbors, turkeys (as in idiots), go-go dancers, unwed mothers, fathers with custody, women who are never having children by choice, women bosses, Unitarians, Libertarians, Presbyterians, Wicca worshipers, tattooed freaks with pierced eyebrows and wooden disks in their earlobes, people who are better-looking than us and older women with younger men—none of it makes us blink an eye and any of them would be welcome to come home for dinner. Well, we’d try to avoid inviting the idiot. And maybe the chick who’s better-looking than us.

3. There’s a tavern on every corner. Not a bar. A tavern. The old kind, with a diamond-shaped window in the door, dusty red-and-white floor tiles and a jukebox with songs like, “Make the World Go Away,” “The Summer Wind,” and “Mack the Knife.” Some taverns of note include The Barrel Tavern in Jersey City, The Wagon Wheel in Keansburg, Backstadt’s in East Keansburg, The Cambridge Inn in Union Beach, and any American Legion or VFW hall whose bartender knows what a highball is and that has a shuffleboard machine.

4. The energy. Whenever I go up there, as soon as I get close, like the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I start to feel excited like I had too many cups of 24-hour diner coffee and I better hurry because I’m missing something. I used to feel the same way going over the George Washington Bridge or through the Lincoln Tunnel. Or when finding my seat at an Aerosmith concert. Or a peep show. There’s action up there. (Okay, I’m only kidding about the peep show.)

5. And that’s right. Diners. There are no diners down here. I miss French fries with mozzarella cheese and brown gravy at three in the morning in a diner with Greek decor, miniature jukeboxes attached to the wall over chrome napkin dispensers, and waitresses who call you hon and keep pouring the coffee whether you want it or not. You always want it.

6. Speaking of food, there’s no food like Jersey food but everyone knows that, don’t they? However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it because it’s one of the things I miss the most. Jersey has real Italian food loaded with garlic, fresh parmesan cheese and tomato sauce, sometimes called gravy, that simmers all day with basil and oregano. Forget that slop down here that has too much sugar like watered-down ketchup. It’s almost as bad as jar sauce. In Jersey there’s real pizza and real subs (as opposed to the fake stuff down here), cannolis lightly dusted with powdered sugar hand-cranked out of an aluminum sifter, Napoleons, biscotti and anisette cookies all from the Italian bakery (those Italians again), jelly donuts, zeppolis and French fries with vinegar from the boardwalk, French bread, Italian bread, bagels, hard rolls, pork roll, pork roll-egg-and-cheese on a hard roll, salami with peppercorns in it, Philly cheese-steak, Sabrette hot dogs with red onions, fluke, and White Castle hamburgers. Need I say more?

7. Anything you want, you can get. A job. Drugs. Rolfed. Tickets to see Hannah Montana or Air Supply—whatever floats your boat. A midwife. A reiki instructor. A pizza delivered. A taxi. Flying lessons. Three-hundred dollar ostrich-skin purple boots with a chunky heel and pointy toe. Lemon zest. (Edited to add—skip what I said about the drugs—this is supposed to be good stuff about Jersey. In fact, disregard the Hannah Montana mention too—no offense Kelly.)

8. Garage Sales. It’s garage sale heaven. Not because there are so many antiques up there. The country with its old farmhouses has the corner on that. No, it’s not the quality of the loot you can find but the quantity. It’s a numbers game. On any given weekend, weather permitting, many of the people who live in the one hundred-and-something matching houses in the new development down the road called Evergreen Estates or Three Oaks Manor, whatever, inspired by shows on HGTV, get the same idea—get rid of the junk. I furnished my whole house on modern garage sale when I was living in Jersey due to the invention of closet organizers alone. Check out my 1940s yellow kitchen table with chrome legs that I got for twenty bucks, Kelly’s red cowboy boots and the dual VCR you can use to make illegal copies of rented videos.

9. The people are good-looking. They’re slim, attractive and up-to-date. I don’t know if it’s the expensive haircuts, nail salon appointments, access to malls or what, but they’re slick like the display in a storefront window. Heck, I just found out what a Coach bag was, never mind carrying one. Jen would probably reprimand me for this too; accuse me of caring too much about what’s on the outside of a person. But it’s not true. Because pretentiousness and vanity is also one of the things I hate. It’s a love hate relationship. Here’s my position about our outer packaging—I’m always going to be a platinum blonde but I’m never going to get a face lift. There’s a fine line…Well, unless I run into big bucks, like hit the lottery or something.

10. People are educated about their animals up there. All dogs and cats get fixed. I hadn’t seen testicles for so long that I forgot they existed on the canine variety until I moved down here. When I spotted my first pair, the hound’s junk was swinging to and fro for everyone to see and I thought I was back in the caveman days. I might as well have been looking at two heads and not two balls, that’s how weird it was. And red-necky. But not in a good way red-necky.

11. This is cliché but I have to include the boardwalk. Especially the Keansburg Boardwalk. It doesn’t really have boards but it has seagulls, rock candy, and plastic buckets and shovels and rubber flip-flops for sale in the variety store on the corner. Clicking, ticking wheels lure you to games of chance where you can bet on names like Ike, Hal or Mom and win Sponge Bob Square Pants pillows and pictures of the New York skyline, with or without the twin towers, in shiny brass frames. There is Madam Marie who recently passed away in her nineties, God rest her soul, and who scammed, uh, removed the hex from my friend for a mere two-hundred dollars and who was immortalized by Bruce Springsteen along with a girl named Sandy on his Greetings From Asbury Park album. There are bumper cars with greasy rods that come out of the back and skim the ceiling causing sparks and making nervous children worry about electrocution, the Tilt-A-Whirl, skeeball, water gun games which I always win, and the dreaded spook-house. And when you get hungry, you can go and have a sausage-and-peppers sandwich and freshly squeezed lemonade in a wax cup.

12. The people up there tell it like it is. (Hence, the shameless mention of dog balls.) If you ask me, it’s better than pussyfooting around or being polite to a person’s face and then gossiping all over town about them the minute they turn their back. Or whispering about the unmentionables when what they should be embarrassed about is the fact that the dog even has them in the first place! In Jersey, they’ll tell you. Oh yeah. And if you don’t like it, too bad. Keep it up and you might get the middle finger.


Jeff St Real said...

Mmmmmmm . . . . french fries and gravy. Ask for that around here and they look at you like you have two heads.

Marion said...

Great post, lady! And I've never even been to, strike that, my sister at one time insisted she lived in NYC but when I drove up to visit her, following her directions, HA! She lived in NJ!!

Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

Same difference.

You must be back in town Marion. We all missed you!

Amy Hanek said...

I've been to the Jersey shore and boardwalk. There's nothing like it. Nice hometown homage.

CountryDew said...

I've been a passenger in a car driven through New Jersey. But I was a child then. I haven't been north of the Virginia border since I was 17 years old, unfortunately.

Jamie Ferraioli said...

Good god you said it! When Lou and I drive back into jersey for a sister's birthday or whatnot, I swear, the second we cross the bridge the clouds open up, the birds chirp and we just sigh in relief. We couldn't quite figure it out, let alone try to explain it to other people (namely those not from NJ). I think #4 sums up that. The energy. There really is something about NJ that I just feel it's more alive. And most of the things you mentioned I'm also lacking in delaware. The diners, the great food (they call subs "hoagies"'s really weird. And people think Papa John's is good pizza), and garage sales! I've been aching for a good garage sale extravaganza. I might not be looking very hard and every now and then I'll see one, but they really look terrible. I can't describe how I know it's not going to be good.
This post reminds me of Lou's idea of starting a blog. He wants to write one about Delaware and why it's not like Jersey. Gotta get the fire under his butt.

Marion said...

Yes, I'm back in town and SO happy to be home. One or 2 weeks away are more than enough; this was two MONTHS. Whew!

About NJ: Have you read or listened to any of Janet Evanovich's books? Her Stephanie Plum series? They take place in Newark and are hilarious. She's just published #14. Go to and just read the first paragraph to see what I mean.

The FCL has them all. I've been known to pull over on the side of the road 'cause I'm laughing so hard at Plum's grandmother (who wanted a push-up bra from Victoria's Secret to help attract an elderly boyfriend...then she wanted Plum to help her look for a thong to wear.

Her books are just a hoot.

Sloan said...

That is all so true! Now you got me in the mood for Italian cookies!! Very funny writing Debi.

sweetflutterbys3 said...

Great list- made me laugh! Nothing better than a hometown girl telling what makes home the best place to be. I'd love to hear more sometime!

Audrey said...

I've been following your stories. You have quite a charming style and never fail to give me a chuckle. The only complaint I have is I wish you would write more.


Audrey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Amy Tate said...

I've driven through Jersey on my way to NYC. I totally relate to the diner on every corner - I love their drugstores up there too. Great Post - a real tribute to your hometown!

colleen said...

Sounds a little like my Massachusetts home town. I kept thinking of Bruce Springsteen the whole time I was reading

Tanya said...

The NC State Aquarium has a "petting zoo" that includes horseshoe crabs, and they are surprisingly gentle, as you say. They'll climb right up your arm like an (armor-plated) kitten.

I love your blog, and I love those yellow chairs.

Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

An "armor-plated kitten?" That's exactly what they're like! Tanya, you should write!

paddyboycomputers said...

Wow !!!! What a great story!!
I loved the part about Backstadt
Bar and the Keansburg boardwalk
been there done that and I'm gonna do it again!!!!