I love New Jersey: Cold State, Warm Hearts, Part 1

17 Feb
There's more to New Jersey than its odiferous Turnpike  Here, my neighbors dress up their snow with pumpkins. (Why? A beautiful mystery)

There’s more to New Jersey than its odiferous Turnpike Here, my neighbors dress up their snow with pumpkins. (Why? A beautiful mystery)

I live in New Jersey. That’s right. New Jersey. I’m a Jersey girl and I’m PROUD of it. Yeah, it’s not easy living here. Driving here is like a treacherous video game. It’s five degrees below too damned cold. The ground is covered with that hideous white nonsense that afflicts it each winter. Weekly threatening storm reports mean shortages of toilet paper, shovels, and Cheetos. It isn’t always easy living in the chilly Northeast.

On top of that, New Jersey doesn’t always have a reputation for being the friendliest of the 50 states. But ever since I moved here in my early 20s, I have been pretty delighted with the kind of people I have met. Yes, I have met my share of loudmouthed jerks. And there is no jerk quite out there like a Jersey jerk. Okay, maybe a New York jerk. I guess the good news is, you know exactly where you stand with your neighbors here in Dirty Jerz. There isn’t any of that tinkling-tea-cup fakery of ladies saying, “Why, bless her heart” that our old Southern baby-sitter used to say before launching into a head-to-toe vivisection of her subject’s looks, character and anything else she could think of. When she left our employ, she gave me one of her famous whiplash compliments—“Why, Alexandra,” she said, “I know you’re a good writer. I’ve been enjoying reading your journals all year.” (Disclaimer: I know many awesome Southerners as well).

No, that’s not Jersey style. More likely it’s an in-your-face “Hey, FATSO, NEXT TIME, LAY OFF THE DONUTS.” I am not a big Chris Christie fan (vaccines, anyone?), but even he makes me laugh sometimes. I remember one speech he gave when he promoted a Muslim lawyer to a higher position that really impressed me. In the interests of bipartisanship, may I share a very impressive moment from the governor:

I find a lot of good-heartedness in the people here.  I certainly found it yesterday. First of all, I went to my printmaking class, where I worked with lovely, smart women, including a very energetic and skilled teacher, all of whom were helpful to me, one of the few beginners in the class. [More on THAT later!] Second, I met a helpful artist. And third (which I will also discuss later), I met some very kind people who helped me when I ran out of gas!

So, after my printmaking class, I needed to go to a special art store called Jerry’s Artists Supply for some special paper (and maybe a few free-lance items I haven’t told the husband about yet). Of course, I immediately forgot my teacher’s directions, so I drove down some long and winding wintry road. I stopped a friendly-looking woman who was taking a brisk walk in the cold. I asked her for directions to the art store and she said, “I love that store! And I have that book—“ she pointed to a book on birds that I had on the front seat of my car, “in my art classroom. It’s easy to get to Jerry’s, but you just took a wrong turn. To get there you just . . . hmmm.” She thought for a minute. “Why dont I just show you the local way?”  l I shoved the nonsense I usually have on my car seat to the floor, she hopped in, and showed me a few twists and turns I would never have found by myself. I admired her bravery for walking in such cold (and for her willingness to hop into a stranger’s car) and we talked about the fun of art. Then, at one corner, I stopped, because before us were about 20 deer, including little ones. They looked at us calmly, and crossed the road in a line. I know—deer are a suburban menace. Rats with hooves. But just then, how beautiful they were, with their black noses and big eyes gazing at us, against the backdrop of snow. We both caught our breath(s?). “It was meant to be,” she laughed. We exchanged information to become Facebook friends when we reached the right corner for her to get out, and her directions the rest of the way were perfect. I don’t know if I’ll hear from her again, but I found myself humming happily all the way to Jerry’s. I love meeting people by chance who COULD be friends. There’s a kind of magic in that potential. I wonder what it is that draws one almost instantly to certain people? It just made me happy that I could meet someone walking down a sftreet who felt like my kind of person. And not only that, someone who was just so gratuitously kind.

In Part 2, I will tell you the story of more gratuitous kindness–thank you, Orlando and Joe!

Writing Prompt: Can you think of a time when someone was surprisingly nice to you?

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