Updated: Oct 6
In Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, I had my haunts, mainly the pizza shop, delicatessan, school yards (where I seemed to attract kids who wanted to punch me), diners, Italian bakeries and synagogues. In Manalapan, I actually had the same kinds of haunts, the exodus from Brooklyn (and other boroughs) to the suburbs easily replicating what we left behind.
Being from New York versus New Jersey isn’t the same. As I often tell people about living in Kansas, I moved from the most-made-fun-of state (NJ) to the second most made-fun-of-state (KS). “You’re from Joooosey?” people would ask, which always struck me as ludicrous since that’s the way someone from New York might say Jersey. Those of us from Jersey tend to stress the r rather than the oi, so it’s more like, “I’m from Jerrrsey.”
Being from New York puts in the categories of being cool, stuck-up, mean, fast-moving, or worse (the expression “She’s from back east” usually doesn’t translate to my benefit). Of course, we New Yorkers had our cache rise after 9/11 when people around the world declared, “We are New Yorkers.” I’ve often found New Yorkers pretty down-to-earth and helpful. Maybe it’s because I speak the language, but whenever I land in an airport or train station and find myself confused in the city, it’s easy to find generous help. I love the intimacy among strangers too: how, when I was trying on clothes once in a department store, a woman came up to me and said, “Sweetheart, that’s all wrong for you. Try this.” Or the woman who, as we were walking down the street one summer day, pointed at man ahead and said, “That man has lady legs.”
I claim both states, both places, both peoples. I’m from New Jersey. I’m from New York. I claim Manalapan, Brooklyn and the Nassau-Fulton subway station. “New Jersey people, they will surprise you,” John Gorka sings, which is true, but it’s true about New Yorkers too.