So, what are you doing for “Be Nice to Jersey Week?” Created by a satirical periodical in San Antonio, Tex., in 1984, it’s one of those made-up holidays that sometimes “catch,” but usually don’t. This one didn’t, of course. Jersey don’t get no respect.
I love made-up holidays and will sometimes look them up in search of a theme or an image to promote events around, like “National Read A Book in the Bathtub Day.” (The ones I don’t like are the ones that are clearly in an attempt to get Americans to buy a particular brand of a particular product, like Pizza Hut Day. I do however, take great glee in letting you know that today is National Slurpee Day and 7-11 is giving away free Slurpees! For reals!)
Living in Jersey is complicated: I have lived here for 29 years and still cringe a little when someone introduces me as being “from” New Jersey. Even though I am proud to live here now and think residing in Collingswood is rather re-donk-u-lous-ly perfect for me and my family, I want people to know that I’m from somewhere else.
That somewhere else is Pittsburgh.
Yeah. I moved from a joke city to a joke state.
When I gave birth to my first child, I hated that she was going to be born in New Jersey — to the degree that I suggested we go to a Philadelphia hospital, so that our child could say she was born in Philly rather than Voorhees. I had many conversations with my husband about it, during which he would calmly nod and listen. I knew he was raised in Cherry Hill, but I didn’t really think about how much my obsession with not having a kid born in New Jersey was bothering him, until one day he snapped and said, “Well, I turned out okay!”
I consoled myself by working really hard on my children’s pronunciation of “water.”
I still don’t think I get the whole joke about “which exit?” I don’t know anyone who uses the turnpike daily, or even often, though the traffic circles have probably done a lot to fan the flames of my driving anxiety and I am glad to see each one be transformed into a nice, normal four-way intersection.
My daughter’s boyfriend, Miles Mueller, was born and raised in Nutley, N.J. He says having to say you’re from Jersey is a little embarrassing; he tells people and winces for a second, and asks himself, “What do I have to be embarrassed about?” He likens it to a false rumor being spread about you in high school: You and the people you care about know it’s not true, but the fact that it’s being said still stings.
It took me a long time to understand the “North” and “South” Jersey thing — how could such a teeny, tiny state have such segregation? I went to school in West Virginia and my not-yet-husband graduated well before me. I remember telling people my boyfriend was from New Jersey, thinking it sufficient, and regularly getting the follow-up question, “North or South?” When I’d say, “South, Cherry Hill,” those who knew where Cherry Hill was would ask: “East or West?” It was very confusing.
Now that I’ve been here long enough, I see how it works, how Jersey is pulled and sectioned off by the major cites that border it. But I have a colleague who is adamant that he is from “Central Jersey.” It kinda makes my eyeballs spin.
Many, many Jersians take issue with being defined by the city they are closest to, and say they are just Jersians, pure and simple, and they root for the Patriots or the Broncos to prove it.
I’m not going to list the reasons Jersey has to be proud, though I could, but I feel like being home to Bruce Springsteen and the first brewery to put beer in cans is quite enough, thank you. We have plenty that is uniquely Jersey: the most diners, the most beaches and the most hair salons per capita. Very Jersey.
Maybe the reason “Be Nice To Jersey Week” hasn’t “stuck” is simple: We don’t care that some bored people in Texas (and, really, who wouldn’t be bored in Texas?) decided to create this tongue-in-cheek week, and more importantly, we don’t need them (or anyone else, for that matter) to be nice to us. We know what we got.
We can hike in the mountains or go to the beach or go to either of our major outlying cites if we want to, but there’s plenty right here. 10,000 farms alone is something to feel good about. I love several Jersey wines enough that I have fought with connoisseurs defending them. I have wept over Jersey tomatoes, sliced when still warm from the sun. Jersey white peaches almost make me believe in God. Sigh.
We also happens to be smack in the middle of National Share a Sunset with Your Lover Month, and guess where the best place is to do that? See you down the shore.