Tag Archives: New Jersey

That’s New Jersey, the state on the Atlantic coast of North America, not the island in the English Channel.

Okay, that was quite a lot of work. My apologies for any errors.

My sister insists I should tell this story. I’m a little hesitant.

My mother has moved to Baltimore. She’s spent her entire life in New Jersey. As far as she’s concerned, Maryland may as well be a foreign country. She’s having regular panic attacks and temper tantrums about how she doesn’t like it here. She doesn’t like the culture. She doesn’t understand how things work here. Why are there so many four-way stops? Why are there so many traffic circles? Why are the bagels so bad? Where can you get a decent slice of pizza? Making matters worse, she has no sense of direction. “I feel like I’m living in a maze,” she says constantly, her little blond head barely above the steering wheel. Yes, she’s getting to the age when people start shrinking. She’s already locked herself out of her apartment once. She said, “I’m worried that I’m developing dementia.” She’s not near dementia yet. I’m not really quite sure how to explain it, but her perception is fuzzy. She’s gotten a little slow on the uptake. She was always a smart, energetic woman, and now her reaction time is not what it used to be.

So, her television was very old and barely worked. When she moved, she decided to not take it with her. Now she needed a television. She hates television. When we were kids, if we watched tv, she would come in and yell at us and tell us we were getting dumber by the second. But it’s the modern world and everyone has to have a television whether you like it or not. But… she’s not going to spend money on one. So, she calls me up. She needs a tv. A big tv, because she’s half blind. And it needs to be cheap. She wants the cheapest big tv I can find for her.

“Your brother-in-law said go to Best Buy. I don’t want to go to Best Buy.”

“Okay. Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t know Baltimore. Isn’t there some sort of little appliance store some place. Sometimes places like that have good deals.”

So, I take to the internet and call her back. “Okay, I have a list of a few places we can get a t.v., but the cheapest place is Best Buy.”

“I don’t want to go to Best Buy. Aren’t there any little stores.”

“Well, I found one called Joe’s Appliances, but they don’t have prices on the internet,” I suggest. “We can go there and see.”

“They’re closed,” my mother informs me.

“How did you know that?”

“I got lost the other day. I saw a big sign, Joe’s Appliances. I thought, ‘Oh, good.’ So I pulled into the parking lot, and they’re closed.”

“Okay, then we have to go to Best Buy whether you like it or not.”

“Oh,” my mother says.

So, we get in the car and we go to the store. We find the very same t.v. I saw on the internet, we pick it up. She’s holding one end and I’m holding the other. The sales clerk asks if we need help getting it to the car. My mother replies that we have to get it from the car to her apartment, so if we can’t get it to the car without help we have a problem. She then tells the clerk her life story. “I was born a poor girl in Patterson, New Jersey.” Fortunately, the store wasn’t too busy and the sales clerk managed to smile through the whole story until she brought him up to the current day. “So, now I’m living in Baltimore.”

“Welcome to Baltimore,” the clerk says. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “Please, Ma, don’t start about the bagels.” She thinks New Jersey is the greatest place on earth, and she’s not entirely aware that the rest of the earth does not agree with her. Happily, she responds politely.

The box is bulky, but not heavy, and we waddle to the door. At the door, there’s another young man who’s about six-foot five. He says, “Ladies, why don’t the leave the television here, go get your car, bring it around to the door, and I’ll help you put it in the trunk.” My mother has decided that we have sufficiently proved our ability to carry the t.v., so now we can let this guy help us.

We bring the car around to the front door. My mother says to me, “Stay in the car.” However, I’m a little concerned about her slightly fuzzy behavior, and I insist on getting out. She’s sitting behind the steering wheel, craning her neck, looking around. “I don’t see the guy with the tv.”

“Don’t worry, ma,” I say. “He’ll be there as soon as he sees us.” With that, I get out of the car. The young man walks out of the door, easily carrying the box that my mother and I had to carry together in his big, long arms.

“Pop open the trunk,” I call to my mother from behind the car. The trunk pops open. The man with the t.v. is at my side and he begins lifting the box to place it in the trunk. At the moment, gaping maw of the trunk stars drifting forward. The car is moving. Why is the car moving?

I run to the driver’s side of the car. “Stop the car, ma,” I’m yelling. As I round the side of the car, I see that the driver’s side door is open and a little blond head is emerging. “Stop, Ma! Stop!” I see a leg emerge. “Ma! What are you doing?” The car is continuing to roll forward. “Ma! MA!” Her body is following. Her foot is touching the ground. I’m standing with my mouth agape, the guy with the t.v. is standing with his mouth agape, and a small crowd has gathered. Her other leg emerges from the car and suddenly, splat! She’s on the ground on her hands and knees. The car is still moving forward and it’s picking up momentum on the sloping parking lot. It looks like the rear wheel is going to roll over my mother’s legs. Suddenly, she seems to be aware of what’s happening and she crawls faster than I’ve ever seen anyone crawl. She’s out of immediate danger, but the car is rolling forward. I’m frozen in place.

Suddenly, someone comes from behind me and runs and jumps in the car. I turn to my mother, “Is the brake broken?”

“I don’t think so,” she says. “I think I just forgot to put it in park.”

The man who jumped into the car pulls the car around and parks it where is should have been in front of the store. He gets out and hands the keys to my mother. My mother starts telling him her life story. When we reach the present, when she has just moved to Baltimore, bought a tv and fallen out of a moving car, she concludes, “It’s a miracle that you were here.”

Those words seemed to come out of her mouth in the same slow motion that I saw her head emerge from the car. I was thinking, “No, Ma! Stop! Don’t say that!”

“Will you ladies wait here,” the man says. I have something in my car I want to give to you. With that, he runs off.

His wife, standing by our side, says, “You two can go now, if you like.”

The man comes back with a small booklet, which I immediately recognize as a religious tract.

“Are you ladies believers?” he asks.

I look over at my mother and see that she has the same frozen, half-smile that I’m pretty sure I have on my face. “Um, well, uh, I, uh.” Sounds are coming from my mother’s mouth, but they’re not making any sense.

“Look at all of this,” he says raising his arms in a broad sweep that takes in, not only the Best Buy parking lot, but the strip mall across the street. “Do you think evolution can account for all of this.” I want to say, “You mean the macadam? I think that was a Scottish fellow.” but I bite my tongue. I stand there saying nothing and, happily, my mother says nothing. Eventually, the man has nothing left to say and insists that my mother will find his booklet inspiring.

We get in the car. “I need a drink,” my mother says.

“There’s a wine bar in Hampden….”

“Let’s go.”

This morning my mother phoned. “You know, I realized. I don’t like tv.”

It’s only 2013, so I don’t yet have anyone I’m supporting for the Democratic nomination, so, Hillary fans, don’t take this too seriously, but…

Now with the mess going on in Congress, people are saying that it’s all but inevitable that Chris Christie will be the Republican nominee. Now, consider that Cory Booker’s name is one of the names that comes up when discussing the Democratic nomination. Oh, the fucking joy! A Jersey/Jersey match up. The f-bombs will fly. The rest of the country will have no fucking clue what they’re saying. Debates will take about twenty minutes because people from New Jersey talk quickly.

Sigh. It’ll never happen.

After over four decades of being told that I’m not a “real” American, unlike those Southerners who fly the treason flag, or those salt of the earth heartlanders, or cowboys out west, I would love to see the rest of the country experience nine solid months of Jerseyana.

(Not to worry. This isn’t my real post. I’m going to go out sketching.)

The day was dragging. The opening of the exhibition at the Acwacca Gallery had been timed to coincide with an open studios tour in this former industrial area of Newark, New Jersey. Most of the buildings had been built for small industries, which still occupied about half of them. The other half had, during the past decade or so, been turned into artist studios and galleries. Our official opening, the one with the munchies and cheap wine, had occurred earlier in the week. Now we were just participating in the open studio weekend, which amounted to sitting along side our work and talking to the occasional person who wandered inside.

The gallery space was large and there were six of us in the show, which was the culmination of a workshop sponsored by the gallery that had run for several months. Many of the paintings that I had done during the workshop were ultimately unsatisfying failures. The woman who had been conducting the workshop finally pointed to a slide of one of my older paintings. She let it be known in no uncertain terms that that painting was the reason I had been accepted into the workshop and she was disappointed that I hadn’t done more like that. In my own defense I said that I was trying to push myself to go beyond what I had done in the past. She politely, or perhaps not so politely, pointed out that I was pushing in the wrong direction. With only a week or two left in the workshop there wasn’t much left to do but kick out a couple of paintings in the style of the one the facilitator had liked. Although I was unsatisfied with not having made more progress during the workshop itself, I was relieved to get a couple of paintings done in time so I could actually be in the show.

An artist who was taking a break from his own open studio wandered in. While we were hanging out chatting his daughter came looking for him. He invited me to go back with him to look at his work. It was only a block away in the basement of another former industrial building. The building seemed to have been turned into several live/work spaces for about four artists and their families who shared the edifice. While I was looking at his work, one of his building mates stopped by. I then went on to his space to view his work. I wish I could remember some of the details of their work so that I could describe it. All I can remember is that I was having a very good time and it was with a bit of regret that I had to excuse myself. I had entirely lost track of how much time had passed, but I knew that the director of the Acwacca Gallery would be irritated if I was gone too long.

The moment I reentered the Acwacca Gallery, my sister accosted me. “We’ve been looking all over for you.”

“I was just next door like I told everyone.”

“Well, I went over to get you and you weren’t there.”

“Oh. I’d gone upstairs to look at his neighbor’s work. I wasn’t gone that long. Why all the fuss?”

It turns out that someone had been waiting around to meet me. A tall, handsome man with an unusually toned physique visible beneath his dark blue knit polo shirt was standing near my paintings. The gallery director was visibly excited. “This is Cory Booker,” she exclaimed. “He’s going to be our first black president!” she predicted, incorrectly as it would turn out. I’m afraid Mr. Booker was born a decade too late. A football player at Stanford, a Rhodes Scholar, Yale Law, he seemed to be the sort of person of whom much has been expected since the day he was born.

Apparently, he had been taken by one of my paintings and was hoping to get a chance to speak to me. It was flattering that he had waited. Of course, he is a politician. A young woman who appeared to be some sort of supporter or assistant spoke up allowing Cory a modicum of modesty. “We’re more concerned about the upcoming election for mayor. I hope you’re all going to be voting for Cory!” Booker’s previous run for mayor became famously nasty. Three of the other six artists in the show were women and they soon joined the group surrounding Booker. With the assistant, the gallery director, my sister and the four artists, he was surrounded by a gaggle of gals. He turned the conversation back to the paintings.

As he and his companion exited the building, we all hung in the doorway like a bunch of starstruck teeny-boppers waving enthusiastically. “Sure, we’ll vote for you Cory!” one of us sang out.

After he was out of view we returned the main room of the gallery. “What party does he belong to?”

“I don’t know.”

“Does anyone know his positions on anything?”

“Gosh, no. I feel really silly now. He was just so charming.”

“Heck. I don’t even live in Newark.”

We had a pretty good laugh at ourselves.

(I remembered this episode after reading about how Cory Booker won the Democratic nomination for Senate.)

Over the past several days, I’ve written ridiculously long comments on someone else’s blog that I feel almost could have been a post in its own right. Yet, without the context I’m not sure how to turn it into one.

It started with me getting my nose out of joint, as usual, over the subject of Americans being a bunch of terrible, uncouth louts. I tried explaining why this was emotionally triggering to me. In response I got something to the effect of, “But you are a bunch of uncouth louts.” I guess. But few people grow up in “The United States.” We grow up in specific environments, particular towns. One of the reasons I started writing is because I feel like my particular point of view is not represented publicly anywhere I look. I feel invisible on several levels. Sexuality is a big one, as is my particular moderate liberal political orientation. One level where I feel invisible is the cultural environment in which I grew up. On the one hand, it was very much part of the mainstream. On another hand, it feels very underrepresented in the media. The more I write about my adolescence, the more I would like to introduce that world to other people. It certainly has its flaws, but all in all it wasn’t so bad.

I grew up in an ethnically diverse, religiously diverse, comparatively tolerant environment that, to my mind, has no less reason to be considered “American” than anyplace else in this country. Will someone tell me who gave the Deep South and Appalachia the trademark on the word American? Where I grew up may not be “typically American,” but, at the same time, it’s very American in so far as it couldn’t have been anything else. I have just as much right to this country as anyone else here, dammit.

I’m not going to excuse myself for getting emotionally involved and perseverating (Yes, WordPress, it’s a word.) over a particular topic. Artistically and intellectually it’s been a surprisingly productive trait, although my friends and family can find it tiresome and it can be emotionally draining sometimes. So rather than avoid the topic, I’ve decided to delve further into it and I’ve picked up a couple of books on the subject of regional differences in North America and the United States.

Many years ago, I read the book Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fischer. Although I think he overstates his case in many ways, it was eye-opening to me. For years, I always wondered why the “America” I see portrayed in the media bore so little resemblance to the world I knew. Fischer describes how the core settlements in different regions of North America, which would eventually become parts of the U.S., were originally settled by people from different areas of the British Isles, primarily England, who brought with them different regional cultures. It was eye-opening because I finally understood not simply that different areas of the country had different subcultures, but why.

As I said, I think he overstates his case in many ways. First of all, I don’t accept this entirely culturally driven model. That’s not a small area of disagreement and that requires a lengthy explanation. Hopefully, I will be able to get to it eventually. Secondly, Fischer insists, repeatedly, that these four English subcultures are the main drivers of American culture and downplays the influence of other groups. As someone from New Jersey, specifically from the region that had previously been the colony of East Jersey, I couldn’t place my own culture within his framework. Reading the book, I mentally went back and forth between his description of the culture of East Anglia (Yankees) and that of the Midlands (The City of Brotherly Love/West Jersey). Both were familiar, especially the culture of the Midlands as described by Fischer, but neither felt right.

Fischer’s book, despite it’s drawbacks, was widely influential and it’ s frequently quote. I find myself citing it frequently too.

Then a few years ago, I came across another book, The Island at the Center of the World. Perhaps it’s because I found the book in a store near Hunter College on Lexington Avenue, but looking at the title I knew immediately what island Shorto meant. Now, if you don’t know where the Center of the World is, allow me to humbly, modestly inform you that it is New York City. Shorto describes the original Dutch colony. One important aspect of the colony of New Netherlands is that, during the Dutch golden age, they had difficulty finding colonists and the original colonists came from a variety of places. New York has been multicultural from the day it was founded. Reading his book, I thought to myself, now this place is familiar.

So now I’m reading a book called American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard. He fills in some of the gaps I felt while reading Fischer’s book. I’m sure I’ll have more to say as I get further into it.

“A Day in My Life” could be interpreted two ways,  a typical day or a particular day. As it happens, this is a holiday weekend and, although I don’t celebrate Easter, I took advantage of the opportunity to visit my mother. So, I had no choice but to interpret the theme as a particular day, one that was not at all typical.

The apartment in the photo is my mother’s. The only thing I can claim credit for is I made the curtains in the dining room where we ate our breakfast. My mother thought it would be fun if we took a drive to Pennsylvania, so we got out some maps. I thought to myself, “What a great opportunity to take some photos.” I snapped a few photos of her apartment and also of the old car that parks next to hers in their garage. Before we got an hour away from her apartment, we got lost. It’s hard to explain how it happened. I looked up and I said to her, “What are we doing in Paterson?” She didn’t really know. The funny thing is that we got lost about a block away from the house where she grew up. We drove past it three times. Finally, I started yelling at her and saying that she was going senile. It wasn’t nice of me. She always had a bad sense of direction. After a couple of hours driving in circles around Paterson, we decided to give up on the idea of going to Pennsylvania and we went to get lunch. Then we went back to her place and watched some movies on tv.

I confess, that I would not have been my first choice for this theme if I had a choice. It doesn’t show me in a good light, it doesn’t show my mother in a good light and the photos are not even especially interesting.

A conical clock.Because time only goes forward, I thought to take the opportunity of this week’s theme to show a photo of a clock I took recently. (The photo, not the clock. The clock’s still there.)

This clock is located at a place known as Lambert’s Castle in Paterson, New Jersey. The large home was built in the late nineteenth century by an English immigrant who had worked in cotton mills in England and came to the U.S. where he worked his way up to owning a silk mill. After making his fortune, he built a large house in New Jersey which he filled with many works of art. He lost his fortune and the house was sold to the city of Paterson, but by then much of the art was gone. The clock in the photo remained. Lambert’s Castle is now the home of the Passaic County Historical Society.

The Cornu Clock at Lambert's Castle in Paterson, New Jersey.The clock is called the “Cornu Clock” and is located on the first floor of the mansion in an impressive double height space surmounted by skylights. The last time I saw this space, the second floor had been closed up. In the intervening decades, the building has undergone renovations and is in much better shape than when I was a child. According to an old postcard  the clock is “Made of Onyx, bronze and embellished with ormolu in the greatest of French tradition, the timepiece stands 13 feet 6 inches. It was exhibited at the Paris Exposition of 1867.” It is a conical clock, meaning that the pendulum moves in circular motion, rather than back and forth, and describes a cone in space. A bronze statue of a woman in a classical costume holds the pendulum. It sits on an impressive marble base in which are embedded a variety of clock faces showing the months, the days of the week, as well as a barometer.

I love mechanical things and truly adore elaborate clocks, especially ones that reveal the movements. With the unusual conical pendulum, lovely sculpture, elaborate mechanics and grand scale, this one is quite obviously very special and unique. Well. . . maybe not that unique.

An ornate nineteenth century barometer embeded on the base of the Cornu Clock.Cornu Clock: Months

Cornu Clock 5 Cornu Clock 6

I didn’t know if E. Cornu was a clock maker, a designer, a sculptor or what, so I did a little search on the internet. Interestingly, there is what appears to be a similar clock with an identical statue and a conical pendulum at Drexel University. However, the Drexel University website says that their clock was made by Eugene Farcot. In the second to last picture, the name Eugene Cornu is clearly visible. I couldn’t find much information on Cornu on the web, but there was a bust of George Washington attributed to him as well as some sculptural decorative objects, including a clock, on the website of the Christie’s auction house. Other than that, the only other reference to a Eugène Cornu that I could find was of an early twentieth century architect and yacht builder. The sculpture on the Drexel clock is attributed to Albert Ernest Carriere-Belleuse.

According to the Drexel website,

The Farcot Conical Clock housed in the Great Court is believed to be one of only three in the United States: one is located at the Clock and Watch Museum in Columbia, Pa., and another at the Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria hotel.

According to the Passaic Historical Society, their clock was produced as the sixteenth in a series of thirty-six, if I’m remembering correctly, and the docent said that it is believed to be the most elaborate of the series. The plate on the Cornu Clock reads:

Eugne Cornu / Boulv des Italiens, 24 / Paris

and then beneath that some script which is hard to make out, but I believe says

E Farcot horloge.

Plate on clock.

So now I’m puzzled about who Cornu was and how he is associated with the clock. It is possible that he commissioned the clock? If anyone knows, please tell me in the comments.

A rusty, old railroad trestle crossing a backroad. It is winter. There are no leaves on the trees. Snow is on the ground, but the road itself it wet. It is probably just above freezing. As sign that reads "Ogdensberg NJ" is affixed to the trestle. An American flag hangs down from it.

The New Republic as revamped its publication and its website. There was a great article about how the GOP, which had once been the stronger party on civil rights, became the “party of white people.”

Matt Taibbi has a new article about banking scandals.

I was looking up information on the microbiome when I came across a criticism of a project by a company called uBiome. I will have to do more reading on this. I may be writing a post on the microbiome in the near future. So many posts, so little time.

If I only had forty or fifty hours in a day, I’d put up one humorous post, one photograph and a thoughtful post every day. Ah, well.

If you came across anything interesting recently, please share it with us in the comments.