I’m from New Jersey and Fuck You Too
When I was growing up I had no idea that the rest of the country made fun of New Jersey. How this is possible I’m still not sure, but it was pre-social media and pre-reality TV with the exception of the Real World and some bizarre game show-type programming which involved people starving themselves on camera (think Survivor and America’s Next Top Model). Then I moved to New York City in 2002 and realized that my home state had a reputation for being a little too tan, a little too easy, a little too loud- a little too Jersey. How could others not share our penchant for rhinestones, aerosol hairspray, one-night stands for a place to sleep because the NJ Transit train home stops running after 1:30am, or meatball sandwiches (PS let’s collectively stop pretending that Long Island isn’t just New Jersey with shittier accents).
For a while my perception of anti-Jersey sentiments was observational at the personal level, but before long TV shows like the Jersey Shore, Jerseylicious, and The Real Housewives of New Jersey came out and solidified the stereotype that my state’s fine residents were all loud-mouthed, aggressive, big-haired, big-bicepped, wanna-be-mafia bozos with an affinity for Italian-American cuisine.
Well it’s just not true.
Except it is. Kind of.
Those people on the Jersey Shore (SEASON 1 EXCLUSIVELY), well ok, they could have been anyone of my friends. Yes we like, no LOVE the shore. Why? Because most of us grew-up broke and the only and I mean only vacation you ever took was the hour and a half drive to the beach- and if you got to stay for a week you were fucking lucky. And it was the greatest thing in the world- days spent on some of the most beautiful shore in the country and nights spent on the boardwalk where all classes of society came together in one powdered-sugar, jumbo-lemonade, curly fried, trans-fatted heap of sweat. When I was 10 I distinctly remember being entranced with a t-shirt sold on the boards that said, “When I Grow Up I Wanna be like Barbie, the Bitch- She has Everything.” I could not wait for a day when I would be old enough to wear something so edgy. This year I fell in love with one that said, “Y U Jelly Bra?” Though I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it means.
See, to me when I think of New Jersey, my New Jersey, the New Jersey that I grew up in I think of people who work their hands to the bone at the refinery, friends who siphoned lunch money to put in for the case of Natty Ice on Friday, and people without a lot of money, but with a lot of love. People who enjoy big food, big drinks, and big hair. People who want to have a good time, no matter how hard the world tries to stop them.
This is the New Jersey I know and love, this is the New Jersey I write about, this is the place I continually compare the many pretentious Ivy-Leagued and BMW first-car owning critics of my home state to. Maybe I got a shitty public school education, maybe my friends were all a little too drunk and a little too easy, maybe the best thing to do growing up was loiter at the Wawa and do a jello-shot on a special occasion, but goddamnit, that’s all there was, and I had a good time doing it- as good a time as I could. Because there wasn’t much, but in New Jersey, you make the best of what you got. And that’s what being from New Jersey is all about- and that’s what I try to capture through my writing. New Jersey is a great place to be and an even better place to leave, and then dream about, and then try to capture in a play.