Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Shore meets the City

The “Jersey Shore” has made it to my TV screen exactly one time. 

That was enough.

I knew the types already from growing up in the Garden State and going to the real Jersey Shore of my youth. Some women do deserve the term “broads” I am afraid and I am not talking about their cultural breadths either.  The “guido” types are not necessarily any more charming.  The combination of alcohol and casual sex I never considered a great attraction live so why should I watch it on TV?

I can still smell the boardwalk of Seaside Heights.  It was always a mixture of oil, sausage and peppers, and beer.  There are some great places there but overall the place has its elements of sleaze. As a kid my Dad use to take us to the small amusement park on the boardwalk.  It was always a carnival atmosphere there even in the day time with many games of chance and  barkers. 

My daughter apparently is  a more frequent viewer of the “Jersey Shore”.  On one of my last trips to my Dad’s she requested we take a drive “down the shore” to see the actual house.   I tried to warn her of the olfactory memory which characterized the place, but she was determined.  So we rode the 10 miles or so and located the address of the oiled clapboard house right on the beach.

Like the true billboard it was, the house looked fine.  Turn around  to the west  and you see a dilapidated hotel with street people urinating on the side of the building. “Mom, let’s get out of here!”  she remarked as she saw a person approach our car on one side and the police in pursuit on the other.  Nothing is really what it seems on TV. We took a ride and a chance.  We didn't come back winners that day.

Snooki and Company will be filming new episodes of a TV spin-off of the “Jersey Shore” soon in my hometown city of Jersey City.  Will they be filming that once wonderful city the same way as a giant billboard to the Hudson Riverfront? Or the very unfortunate urban blight just off camera?

Or will they catch the true culture of the place, like the characters that Helene Stapinski wrote so wonderfully about in her book “The Five Finger Discount?”  The underground numbers racket?  The live chicken stores that my grandmother used to take me to? The Mount Carmel Festival which was delightful on a warm June night and outclassed any of the Seaside Height amusements? The neighborhood women who gossiped while hanging clothes on the clotheslines?  Difeo’s Bakery with the best Italian ices (including chocolate) in the world? Tippy’s Charcoal Haven that had the best hamburgers? Stanley’s Meat  Market on Central Avenue which sold ( and still sells)  the best smoked garlic kielbasa and Polish kishka (blood sausage) which I used to buy for my father with the promise that he could only cook it after I crossed the NJ state line?  The Harsimus Cemetery which served the city’s elite in the 1800’s and which continued to serve as a TV burial place for “The Soprano’s?” The best unpolished historical diamond called the Main Library on Varick Street that houses a hidden treasure trove of NJ and Jersey City history? The Observatory house across from the Medical Center which is one of the last remaining houses of the Underground Railroad? How about the Medical Center itself, a proud beacon of the best Art Deco architecture the world has ever seen? The waterfront which withstood the Black Tom explosion which rocked the nation into WWI? Or the waterfront now which boasts some of the world's financial powerhouses? How about the Powerhouse itself, a testament to how a formerly industrial  city can recycle its landmark gems into centers for the arts?  Or the many hard working successive immigrants who came to that city and who still come today looking for opportunity in America? 

I suspect the former. There's no chance of Jwoww or Snooki will be living in that wondrous old but worn Victorian with hidden rooms built by the whiskey bootlegger who lived there during prohibition, coal storage bins converted to a “science lab” by my sister, stables converted to garages, mezuzahs on bedroom doorways from the Jewish family that lived there before us, real Native American arrowheads which we occasionally dug up in the yard and walk-in wall safes (also a vestige of the Prohibition) of my imaginative youth.

I suspect Snooki and J-Woww are not great students of history or culture despite their “broad” nature.  Just please don’t embarrass the place too much, ladies. The endless parade of indicted politicians do that enough. Many people still call it home.

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