Why do you live where you live?
Recently, a reader asked me, in a very roundabout way, why I live in New Jersey. The implied message was that, as a writer, I could live anywhere I want (apparently he hasn't met many writers and doesn't know about our financial constraints), so why on such a rich and lovely Earth would a sane person (again, not an intimate of many writers) choose to reside in New Jersey?
Or words to that effect.
I am a huge fan of New Jersey (not as huge as our governor, and that's the last fat joke you'll hear from me--there are too many better reasons to make fun of the man). Yes, we have mountains and beaches and rivers and pine barrens and towns and cities and culture and shopping and theater and film and sports. We also have about eight million people packed into a state that was built for as many as live in Alaska, which has room for eight million people and actually houses about 700,000. America: We didn't so much plan it as it happened.
But none of that is the reason I live in New Jersey.
Yes, in the Garden State you can actually pick your own apples, blueberries, and peaches, and buy fresh produce from our many local farms. New Jersey tomatoes are renowned in every place tomatoes can find renown. We have lovely restaurants, towns so adorable you want to take them home and adopt them, and quaint little shops next to tremendous shopping malls. If you want to buy it, we've got it for you.
That's not why I live here, either.
I live in New Jersey, apart from the obvious personal reasons (everybody I know is here, and I've lived here all my life, so I know the place pretty well), because I like New Jerseyans. We are a scrappy, sharp, well-educated bunch who might vote one way in one election and the next way in another just because of the mood we're in. We speak the National Language of New Jersey, which is fluent Sarcasm, because we know there's a joke in there somewhere and we're determined to get it out.
New Jerseyans love fine art well enough, but give us Lucy the Margate Elephant and we'll really embrace the concept. We have cities named Ho-Ho-Kus and Forked (pronounced "fork-ed") River. We know life is rough, but we stick it out. We hear the Jersey jokes (absolutely no one from this state EVER says "Joisey" except ironically, okay?) and we nod our heads; we know our evil overlords in New York and Philadelphia just moved to those towns because they couldn't hack it here. We are famous for being between two cities and for nothing else, and we smile, because we know where the good beaches and the best pizza are and we'll be damned if we're going to tell you.
We hear you talk about us. Yes, we do. We hear you say that the New Jersey Nets are leaving the state for Brooklyn because we didn't support the team. That's right: We won't pay exorbitant prices to see a really lousy basketball team play. Yup, it's on us. Enjoy the Brooklyn Nets, hipsters. We'll be home, waiting for baseball season to start. Or football season. Did you know the Super Bowl champion Giants are from... that's right...
We are aware that you think we're responsible for Snooki, but she's not from here. We'll take credit for Springsteen, Bon Jovi (who, it is rumored, recently bought bagels in my home town) and Sinatra, though. People think we're odd because we comprehend the use of jughandles and traffic circles. We think they're odd because they don't, and are constantly trying to make a left turn on Route 18 South, not only backing up traffic but also endangering countless lives.
People from New Jersey invented attitude. One night on the highway, I saw a guy tailgating the inevitable slow driver in the left lane (who, it should be noted, had Pennsylvania plates). He tried everything he could to get the guy to move (except passing the other car on the right), until he finally put on his hazard lights: "I'm driving this slowly because of you, and now I'm a hazard." It was the only sarcastic use of hazard lights I've ever seen. How can you not love that?
I grew up in a town that was proud of being the most densely populated such municipality in the country. We housed 70,000 people in three square miles, which puts us roughly on a par with Mumbai (then Bombay). If a guy three houses away sneezed, we said "gesundheit." And he said, "thank you."
You learn a lot about living with other people when you're packed in that close.
New Jerseyans are incapable of living without humor. I have met some people who have no sense of humor at all, and not one of them is from my home state. We can do deadpan really well, but we all know where the joke is, and we're working on beating each other to it.
I live in New Jersey because the state was originally inhabited by a tribe of natives whose first name was "Lenni." I live in New Jersey because there's an electronics store on Route 22 in the shape of a ship for no reason. I live in New Jersey because when that store (which has gone through many incarnations) had to be torn down due to structural issues, they built a whole new one that still looked like a ship.
I live in New Jersey because when the state government, after hundreds of thousands of dollars in efforts to write a new slogan for tourism in the state, had come up with nothing, decided to ask New Jerseyans for suggestions. And they even got some that could be printed in a family newspaper, although my contribution ("New Jersey--What are YOU lookin' at?") was not accepted. They chose: "New Jersey--Come See For Yourself," which I consider only a slightly more polite (and therefore less interesting) version of what I'd submitted.
I love it here because every time there's some goofball legislation about adopting a state song, there are two perennial contenders: One little old man with his song "I'm From New Jersey," and "Born to Run," which mentions suicide twice. And we always end up without a state song.
But mostly, I'm from New Jersey because my people are here. All hail, New Jerseyans. Thank goodness for you, and your sarcastic use of hazard lights.
Why do you live where you live?
P.S. You can win a copy of one of the Aaron Tucker books on audio! Click here to see details. The books FOR WHOM THE MINIVAN ROLLS and A FAREWELL TO LEGS have been released by Books in Motion, read by Damon Abdallah (who will be interviewed at this space next week!), and AS DOG IS MY WITNESS is coming on audiobook and download next week. Click here for contest rules (there aren't too many).