It wasn’t until I went away to college that I learned firsthand that New Jersey, and its denizens, were a joke. Like, even my new roommate who hailed from Baltimore — BALTIMORE! — sneered at any mention of the Garden State.
Apparently, it was an embarassing place to live.
Even when we gather now as legit grown ups, there’s always some put down of my home state by my college friends and sometimes the person throwing the insult actually grew up in New Jersey. We went to high school together but after college she moved outside D.C. so I guess there’s a statute of limitations imposed on Jersey. You can disavow yourself of any relation to the state as long as you skeedaddle before you have to start paying taxes.
For a while, I dreamt of getting the hell out of Jersey, too. There’s just so many assumptions made about those of us who live here by those who don’t and for a long time, I really cared what other folks thought. I hated having the taint of Jersey on my skin.
I had a big interview for a PR job at Gucci years ago in Manhattan and the elegant Italian woman conducting the test-a-tete was astounded I grew up in the Garden State. “You don’t sound like you’re from New Jersey,” she observed, and this was long before Snooki and the Housewives gave the rest of the world the impression that we awl tawked liyk dis and ran around drunk pulling each other’s hair. I mean, I gave that shit up after college.
Following my divorce, I dreamt about moving with my youngest child to the city when the older three kids graduated from college. But as time went on, it became clear that my situation was not that cut-and-dry. It turns out, just because your child completes his or her’s higher education does not necessarily mean they’re relocating. Sometimes they’re still living in your basement despite a diploma.
So when I was looking to downsize a bit I realized a 2-bedroom apartment was really not going to work and I quietly wondered how long I would be trapped in the wilds of New Jersey.
But it was a conversation I had this fall with another college pal that helped me see that my thinking was twisted. She and her husband had relocated to Long Island and she said it was hard to make friends because she commutes to work every day and didn’t have kids in the school system to help forge those local connections.
“It’s nice that you’re a part of a community,” she said to me, and I was like, “What is my fucking problem?”
I have everything I need right here. My family. My friends. A lovely town. I’ve also got the beach, pork roll, proper pizza and bagels, Bruce Springsteen and a cool new national park that’s got an Alexander Hamilton bent and I mean, who’s cooler than that fly founding father these days?
This is where I live. It’s where I’ve raised my four children. Practically my whole family is a quick drive away and I’ve come to appreciate the real Jersey part of Jersey. The Goombas. The accents. The Turnpike. That opening sequence of the Sopranos? You better believe you’ve got yourself a gun baby. Bada bing!
It’s all part of the charm of the state. It’s what gives it its color. The same can be said for where you live, too. Whether you hail from Long Island or Boston or Savannah or Minnesota. Or even Baltimore. I don’t want us all to be the same. Shiny and hoity-toity. Let’s celebrate our differences and not make assumptions.
And on Sunday nights in the summer, there’s no place on Earth I’d rather be than dancing to Rosalita and being in love with a Jersey girl surrounded by friends in a crowded bar about a block away from the beach because, it turns out, down the shore everything’s alright.