Post-Sandy Thoughts From A Jersey Girl: Finally Proud, Totally Sad

Asbury Park in happier days.

I’ve spent much of my adult life burdened with Jersey Shame. (Back me up here, peeps, because I know you know what I’m tawkin’ about—especially if you now live in NYC, where it’s your absolute duty to despise the “bridge-and-tunnel” crowd.)

When I was 16 years old, growing up in Monmouth County, I would traipse into the city with friends, desperately hoping we’d blend in with the cool kids as we got the napes of our necks shaved at Astor Hair, trolled for vintage clothing at Canal Jean Co. and stocked up on vinyl imports at Sounds on St Marks Place. (Little did I know then that the other kids were all from Jersey, too.) Though I did indeed get chills whenever I heard Bruce croon “I’m in love with a Jersey Girl,” that was private. I was far from ready to truly embrace that identity as my own.

In my 20s and much of my 30s, when some friends started leaving the city for cheaper real estate across the river (and others, who had never left, decided to settle in), I dug in my heels. “No way am I ever moving back to Jersey,” I’d declare, though I never had a clear reason why. What was really so bad?

As a kid, I’d spent my entire summers on the beach, blissfully swimming and body surfing and rock hopping across blue-black jetties. I frequently rode my bike through my quiet suburban neighborhood, and strode along its clean sidewalks to and from school till junior high. I’d spent unending (and, in retrospect, frighteningly content) hours in the mall, both shopping and working, rolling my eyes about it all along.

I consumed countless amounts of frozen custard, saltwater taffy, cheese fries and buttery, overcooked corn at Max’s. I became a Skee-Ball wizard and braved the haunted house in Long Branch.

Lula with Grandpa on the Jersey Shore.

In Asbury Park, I “walked the boards” with my family, rode the kiddie rides, got my fortune told by Madame Marie, watched fireworks explode over the ocean, saw Jaws in Convention Hall (and then, years later, Johnny Rotten in concert). I enjoyed many a sleepover at my grandmother’s, who lived on Ocean Ave, and shopped at Steinbach’s and Stride Rite with my mom. And, in recent years, I’ve had the thrill of watching Asbury come back to life—the pioneering gay homeowners and cool entrepreneurs proving wrong all the naysayers who thought it couldn’t be done.

I realized I loved Dirty Jersey long before this week, of course—my parents still live there, and whenever I go home to visit, especially since my 4-year-old’s come along, I’ve learned to embrace the beaches, the culture, and even the accented, no-nonsense, oft-crass fierceness of my people. I came to appreciate NJ to the point of deciding, ironically, just a couple of weeks ago, that we should actually probably be moving there so we can live in something bigger than a one-bedroom apartment, and so we can find a good school for Lula rather than get entangled in the NYC school-search insanity. No matter how many years I had spent running from home—whether out of a basic act of rebellion, a need to stay far away from what I feel are the downsides of suburban culture, or a simple need to chart a path that was different than that of my own parents—New Jersey, I realized, finally made all kinds of sense. And besides, it was home. I missed it.

And so it was with a sickening sadness that I’ve gazed, this week, upon gut-wrenching images of all the places I now know that I love, fiercely. The boardwalks, the mini-golf courses, the beaches, all swallowed up whole by angry waters. It is an understatement to say that I am no fan of Gov. Christie, but I was seized by his emotional report yesterday, and could relate to him being shell-shocked over all that’s been lost, over all of that nostalgia being swept out to sea.

My father has forever told me stories about how he, as a boy growing up in north Jersey, land of Philip Roth, spent joyous summers Down the Shore, in Bradley Beach, and how he was a teenage lifeguard there for many happy seasons. When he talks about those years, I can tell they were among the best in his life. And now, when I tell my daughter about my own Jersey past, I know I am talking about years that have been among the very best in my own life. I only hope that I will be able to pass some of that Jersey Shore joy on to her. And, knowing the tenacity of Jerseyites—whether tailgating on the Garden State Parkway or perfecting that tan—I’m betting I will.

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27 Responses to Post-Sandy Thoughts From A Jersey Girl: Finally Proud, Totally Sad

  1. Anna says:

    Beth,
    wonderfully said, as always. The devastation is over whelming. There is a local gym that gives away stickers that say “Jersey Proud” and until now I always thought them obnoxious and corny.
    But after Sandy, “Jersey Proud”, doesn’t seem so corny.

  2. Gary Lacinski says:

    Yes DITTO!

    xo
    G

  3. Kelly Nixon Mayr says:

    Hi Beth,
    Great post! It really is so heartbreaking to see all the pictures of the shore. I really think growing up in NJ helped make me who I am….good and bad LOL

    Thanks for writing this!

    Kelly Nixon

  4. Lloyd says:

    Beautifully written, Beth; and so true for many of us.
    (I remember that fortune teller!)

  5. Shyella says:

    Nice to read this. I’ll have to go see for myself if my beach running route is still there.

  6. Tim McQuaide says:

    Always a pleasure to read your eloquent words and heartfelt meditations, Beth. Similar to how you describe it here, I too have found myself missing the state and area which I called home for the first two + decades of my life and which helped me mature and find my own identity in life, ever since I left the area 18 years ago, and ultimately found myself on the other side of the country. It pains me now to see such devastating images of loss by the place and the friends, neighbors, schoolmates, and good people I left behind and to whom I owe so much, for having given me so much. New Jersey will always be my home, and its residents are in my thoughts more than ever. Even from nearly 3500 miles away, I stand with you.

  7. Melissa says:

    Beautiful, Beth. Your ability to capture and express those mixed emotions of embarrassment and pride of being from New Jersey is enviable. Thanks for writing – I hope you realise you write for many of us! xx

  8. Rena says:

    Perfect…

  9. Robin Liebenberg says:

    As a Jersey outsider I was always puzzled by my students’ insistence they “gotta get out of that place,” as Bruce put it. I have loved Beth’s writing since she was one of those teenagers: This says it all. Thanks Beth!

  10. Sarah Amitay says:

    Well done Beth, well done….

  11. beth says:

    I’ve always said that those of us from Jersey spend the first half of our lives denying that we’re from Joisey, and the rest of our lives embracing it. Perhaps now more than ever, Jersey tenacity is essential for those who are there.

  12. Katie says:

    Beth,

    Well said! I think you captured all of our thoughts, whether we had run from it or stayed! I agree completely with Anna, I thought they were ridiculous stickers. The world has finally seen the REAL Jersey Shore that is strength, generosity & endurance. Thank you for writing this to explain it to so many.

    Katie

  13. Shaye Areheart says:

    Beth, you brought tears to my eyes. What a great piece. Growing up in S.C., I had relatives in N.J.–two of my mom’s sisters and one of her brothers–and I visited whenever I could. To me, Jersey was simply beautiful.
    I would go back home and tell people this and they would hoot. All they knew of Jersey was the view from the Turnpike, maybe a quick trip off an exit to get gas or a bite.
    I knew the gorgeous valleys, the stunning forests, the vast, sandy shores. I, too, am no fan of Governor Christie, but I have been very impressed with his strength, his empathy and his honesty–telling everyone how much help and support President Obama has given him and basically saying that again and again.
    The people of New Jersey will rebuild and rebuild again, if they have to. It’s a tough and great state.
    xo,
    Shaye

  14. Melissa F says:

    beautiful…thanks ..

  15. Karyn M. says:

    Thanks Beth,
    You totally captured my feelings about my Jersey past.
    xxxxooo
    Karyn from Monmouth County, NJ

  16. Amy Metzger says:

    I love this, Beth! I can relate and I’m about to forward it to my Dad, in New Jersey.

  17. Beth,

    As a fellow Jersey Shore person – this is beautiful and sad all at once….thanks for covering this – I have not yet been home – I have not even left Manhattan since Sandy…..

    Mike

  18. Matthew says:

    Thank you, Beth. Having moved so much further away, I think I may have had an easier time years ago feeling (and admitting) my pride in growing up in our neck of the woods. But being further away has had its costs. The distance has a voracious appetite for memories, and so many of mine have been swallowed as if by the sea. Thank you for your words, which brought a few of my memories back from the depths. One thing I keep thinking is that the Jersey shore — the actual beach and the ocean — is the place from which the boardwalks, jetties, and body surfing memories sprang (maybe even the malls, though I hope not). The shore will still be there, as will our desire to walk along it, to bring our children to it, and to point out the Verrazano and the city skyline in the distance. The hurricane did not wash that away.

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