I went to pick up a take out order at a local Italian restaurant that was pretty much a scene from the Billy Joel song. There were cute little round tables in a darkened room with votive candles softly flickering from each one. I wanted to order a bottle of red, a bottle of white AND a bottle of rose and just hang around and drink in the romantic atmosphere. I was at least ten minutes early and thought I’d have to wait around a bit, so when I approached the counter manned by a dark, hunky Italian in a tight tee-shirt (Ray, the owner), I was a little surprised to see my order sitting there. “Wow, is that mine already? I asked. “You, Sue?” he questioned. I nodded. “Yeah, this is it,” he said. “That was quick,” I commented. He answered emphatically, “Hey, we don’t screw around here.”
Only in Jersey. Don’t you just love it?! I was born and raised outside of Trenton and this guy Ray is the kind of guy I went to school with – a Catholic school dominated by kids from the Italian section of Trenton. Germani, DeAngelo, Tomasulo, Conti, D’Agostino. These were the guys who propped themselves against their lockers wearing their white shirts, jacket and tie and with greased back hair cocked their heads sideways and murmured a dragged out “hhhheeeeeeyyyy” as you walked by. No ego problems there.
I spent summers going down the shore and not to the beach. We sunned and jumped the waves in Seaside Heights and walked the boards at the Park long before those obnoxious punks from the Jersey Shore show invaded and gave us a bad rep. I can almost smell the cotton candy and caramel corn wafting from the shops as I write this. I am drooling for a slice and a Coke from Maruca’s Pizza. I can hear the wheels spin and the bells ding as the music pumps and blasts the roller coaster into oblivion. Take me back. And who couldn’t love the birthplace of Sinatra, Springsteen and Bon Jovi; Nicholson, Travolta and Streep, not to mention me?!
Way back when I couldn’t wait to get out of Jersey for good. I had a dormant hippie gene within me that just wanted to graduate and escape to California, which I did, but then ended up in Pennsylvania of all places. What was I thinking?! Fate plays cruel jokes… Little did I know how much I’d miss this tiny, expensive, overpopulated state.
Now that I’m back, I’m loving it. I’m loving that all the people around me speak the same language with the same accent. It’s the only state where it’s understood that the plural of “you” is “yous.” So now when I say, “yous guys” nobody asks me where I’m from. The car insurance and taxes are high, not to mention the tolls on the Garden State Parkway. Don’t even get me started on that. But I love driving North and seeing signs for Toms River, Island State Park, Seaside Heights and Asbury Park or South to Barnegat and Atlantic City. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I realize this is where I live again. I love that I’m here, right in the midst of all this familiarity I knew as a kid. Who said you can’t go home?
“Heh,” Ray called out as I left the restaurant. “You have good night, yeah?”
“Yeah, yous, too,” I smiled over my shoulder to him and the waitress.
New Jersey – you either love it or you hate it. One thing’s for sure, we don’t screw around here.
Now I know where you are . . . welcome home!