by Rebecca Camarda
— “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen
My beloved New Jersey,
Jersey, I love you, but I’m not in love with you, not anymore. I’m too comfortable within your borders, and I have to face the unknown that you made attractive. From the moment we met you’ve been my home. I’m a product of your experience, I thank you for that. Like a guy in an old leather jacket with a bad reputation and a heart of gold, you’ve shown me that you’re more than fake tans, big hair, and oil refineries. You’re so much more than that, from your mountains and beaches to your farm lands and ghettos. You’re beautiful and gritty, elegant and raw. I wish you’d never change.
New Jersey, I love you. During the summer, you guided us along the Turnpike, six stupid teenagers in a rusty Jeep Wrangler headed towards Six Flags. Each of us, even the driver, the rebel of my adolescent fantasies, chugged a can of Coke to see who wouldn’t have to pay full price. And then you’d send us careening down Route 18 to the shore that brought us fame. Long before MTV’s boorish Situation there was Bruce Springsteen, serenading disenchanted youth at the Stone Pony. I’ve never made my offering to the Boss personally, but I’ve memorized his gospel. You gave me religion in the form of music, because it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.
Later, cool summer nights on your shore taught me to drink beer and smoke weed, and to let the waves consume my body. You were hospitable to all that made the pilgrimage to your beaches, even the wayfarers I brought to you from Massachusetts, allowing them to float freely in the darkness while keeping them safe between the jetties. We thought we were on a disk resting on the backs of elephants, perched on a turtle, flying through space. You didn’t care about our intoxicated ramblings; you embraced us with wet sand and caressed us with warm breezes. Days were spent baking in the sun, not caring if your sand clung to my toes and underneath my fingernails. I wouldn’t wash my hair for days at a time to let the smell of your ocean linger. The aroma of your Atlantic is a lover’s sweat shirt; it envelops me and offers me comfort. Your beaches to me were not the herpes infested waters of Seaside Heights, but the abandoned concert halls of Asbury Park, where the wind blew rock and roll through our brains.
New Jersey, I love you, for the decrepit boardwalks of Atlantic City where casino marquees made me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world. Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty and meet me tonight in Atlantic City, Bruce and my rascally first love sang to me, and I took the invitation. In stride with the homeless and more than a few prostitutes, he squeezed my hand and asked, “Can I keep you?” We were naïve children yearning for the night when we’d become adults, unaware of the conditions of the world. We had dreams of making it big no matter what, and although we weren’t old enough to gamble, we thought the atmosphere would somehow bring us luck and good fortune. We developed a hunger for gambling any way we could. You made us crave risk, whether it meant nights filled with the opposite of abstinence or our plans to leave the bosom of suburbia to seize our dreams, we wanted danger.
We’d speed away from Atlantic City, driving much later than the designated curfew on our provisional licenses. Riding in cars with boys along your highways and back roads taught me to be comfortable as I am. When you’re in a car with nothing but open road and a mixed-tape you can’t help but appreciate the company you keep and those that keep you. You taught us to fall in love, not only with each other, but with you.
New Jersey, I love you. North Jersey guys would come down to Rutgers parties from Hoboken or Newark, with their pseudo-Brooklyn accents, and bitch about the absence of a Quick Check on every corner. Veiled by sweatshirts reading JERSEY STRONG on the back they possess a more aggressive, localized pride. They love you of course, but not all of you. They hate South Jersey, where everything seems to slow down, and kids hang out in the Wawa parking lot because they have nothing better to do. South Jersey kids would show up at the same sloppy Rutgers parties with their Phillies caps and Eagles jerseys, and inevitably got into fist fights with Yankees and Giants fans from North Jersey. Where North and South Jersey meet in the middle though, that’s where your spirit is the strongest.
The elusive Central Jersey: the fuckers in the North and South deny it exists. Central Jersey is what I know and love, for the presence of Quick Check, Wawa, and 7-11, for the proud yet open attitude, and the ideal location. With Rutgers in our backyard, equidistant from New York, Philadelphia, the beach and the mountains, the heart of Central Jersey pulsates from the multitude of influences. It seems to never sleep because somebody is always going to or coming from somewhere not so far away.
New Jersey, I love you. You gave me Somerset County, where 4 miles from a 300 year old farm you’ll find public housing in one direction, and Princeton University 10 miles in the other. You cultivated a breed of people that are truly genuine and unashamed, with thick skins and tender hearts, the street smart intellectuals. We’d gratuitously call each other motherfuckers and mean it in the best way possible. “Hey motherfucker, got any smokes?” “Sure thing, motherfucker.” Sons and daughters of beauty parlor owners mingled with children of immigrants, and families that established themselves before the colonies gained independence. Black, white, Latino, or Asian, Muslim or Hindu, Jewish or Jain, you didn’t care as long as we were together.
You gave me an education in race relations, taught me that music was the universal language. Above all, we loved Bruce. Amateur rappers in our high school sampled “Born in the USA,” and we passed those tapes around like they contained the meaning of life. But it was more than just Bruce, our high school choir sang “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and the rhythm of the streets in Newark and Camden brought us Wyclef Jean, Whitney Houston, and Queen Latifah. The plight of suburbia produced Gaslight Anthem, Bon Jovi, Patti Smith, and Pete Yorn. Thursday emerged from the basement shows of New Brunswick, our generation’s pride and joy.
New Jersey, I love you. Your proximity to New York gave us dreams of opportunity, of the great wide open and the people we’d meet. There was bitter contempt though, for the assholes in New York. They were in it, doing whatever they could and actually making it, or not, but being better for having tried. We envied them, and memorized the transit route to make weekend trips to see concerts and plays, and once or twice just to order ribs at Spanky’s on West 43rd Street. We traveled there to feed our illusion, but every night we’d retreat from the chaos of Manhattan to you, New Jersey, our sanctuary, our home.
Midnight trains from Penn Station to New Brunswick always gave us enough time to stop by the Grease Trucks, where we would order Fat Darrells and Fat Sacks for our home town heroes. If for some reason the Grease Trucks were closed, we’d drive off to one of the countless 24 hour diners and gorge ourselves on waffles with ice cream and disco fries. Bloated and drunk on your sweet night air we’d lay down on someone’s lawn to gaze at the stars, and sometimes fall asleep only to be rudely awakened by an angry mother. But more than our own parents, we were faithful to you, Jersey, because your love was far more unconditional.
New Jersey, I love you. I hate what they’ve done to you though. They’ve polluted your atmosphere with oil refineries and chemical plants. I forgave them for that, because North Jersey might as well be New York anyway. I didn’t say anything when The Sopranos made us all out to be mafia pawns, but no, I have to draw the line somewhere. This Dirty Jerseylicious Real Housewives of the Jersey Shore horse shit would break Bruce’s heart: alcoholic, cocaine snorting, bar fighting, fake tanning moronic manure? Rutgers University, the State University of New Jersey, paid $32,000 for Snooki to sit there for thirty minutes. What happened? Why have these plastic bags of trash been allowed to reappropriate your shoreline? For the Boss’ sake, smother them all with your waves and bring back the muscle car driving, bandana wearing, heartbroken yet jubilant kids that made it out alive to spread your spirit. Expect from yourself what you expect from your people. New Jersey, I know you’re still beautiful, still seductively tragic, but you have to end this phase of delusion. Don’t sell yourself short, we’ve all got too much faith.
New Jersey, I love you for so many reasons. And most of all I love you because I know you understand that I need to leave you. Pardon the cliché, but it’s not you, it’s me. The personality you shaped is moving beyond your Turnpike and Parkway into uncharted territory. I’m fulfilling your dreams for all of us dreamers that hail from the Garden State; I’m moving out and on to the great wide open full of ambition. Without you, I wouldn’t have that sense of adventure or desire for more. Our twenty one years together have been fantastic, provocative, even awe-inspiring, but if there’s anything your messiah has taught me, it’s that tramps like us, baby we were born to run.
REBECCA CAMARDA was born and raised in Somerset, NJ, and migrated north to Boston, where she is currently studying Writing and Literature at Emmanuel College. She readily anticipates earning her degree with a minor in Gender Studies in the Spring of 2012. Rebecca is also an editor of Emmanuel’s literary journal, BANG! magazine, and she enjoys sitting in her bath tub with a bottle of wine, even in the company of friends.