Drooling on the Pillow

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


I'm not real Jersey City. I moved here going on twenty years ago. I gave up an apartment in Washington Heights because I thought I was getting a job that would have me out west for a year or two. The job disappeared with the theatre and when I started looking around for a new place to live I could find nothing I could afford. I decided to return to my roots in New Jersey and lived on a nice block up around St. Peters College for five or six years which suddenly started going south. About that time the Goddess joined me. After I was held up at gunpoint the second time on my block we moved downtown and had a great deal for five or six years. Then real estate prices went nutty, the building was sold and I was offered a lease for about twice what we had been paying. So we bought a house in the Heights.

But I'm not real Jersey City. As opposed to the Goddess, I am real Jersey, but, even after more than 15 years, my Jersey City cred is minimal.

I'm always amazed at how interconnected the cultures are here. The people who grew up here in the second largest city in New Jersey all know each other. Across class, race, religious, cultural and political lines everybody knows everybody. If I need to have a word with someone in city hall, or need to find out who I need to have a word with, I talk to our real estate lady, Brigit, who is as Jersey City as it gets. There was an old stoop-sitting Puerto Rican guy next door when we lived downtown who was an encyclopedia of the Frank Hague era. He'd lived in the same building since the '30s and had done his share of numbers running. He knew a lot more about the Irish mob, the Jewish mob or the Italian mob than he did about Spanish gangs.

Here's a little cultural curlicue that had gotten completely past me. I read this morning in The Hudson Reporter (Union City) that for at least the past 20 to 30 years Jersey City has had the nickname "Chilltown." No one really knows why, though it probably has something to do with the early days of Rap. While it lacks the specificity of "Beantown" or "Chi-town" or the casual grandiosity of "The Big Apple" or "The Big Easy", its ambiguity expresses something real about this city. It can be a cold place, a rough place, but its not as hard or neurotic as the jungle across the river.
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