By: Rich Partheymuller II
“They say life is so much sweeter, through the telephoto lens of fame, around here you get just as much attention, cheering at the high school football game.”
Miranda Lambert was spot-on in her 2007 heart-strummer, “Famous in a Small Town.” For those who know me, it could probably be assumed that I relate to the lyrics of this song on a spiritual level. When I hear the initial sound of Lambert’s strings, I immediately know that somebody understands me. As I get older, I realize that there are a lot more people than just country singers who get that rural communities are like their own little worlds. Most of the time, the big happenings in big towns and cities rarely get through the bubbles that surround the nation’s nonurban communities. Similarly, it can be very difficult for a person living inside the bubble, to avoid getting lost once they have left it.
Some might try to stretch the framework of the bubble around ourselves, and bring the comfortable world we left behind with us. Ultimately, we become immersed within the next dimension over. It’s kind of like String Theory, only not as dramatic or as scientific. Once you’ve escaped the confines of your hometown, this goes for city folk too, you tend to take a little while before you adjust.
I might be a piece of the New Jersey ecosystem now, but I am wholeheartedly a product of a small town called Carthage, in Upstate New York. Ever since I moved to New Jersey 10 years ago, I’ve grown apart from my roots, but with them at the same time. The two states are separated by a relatively small border and a lot of forest, and some major differences have grown on the two sides of the fence.
I can’t promise I’ll be doing justice for either state, but let’s take look at whose side is really greener! Here are some of the crazy, freakish, and sometimes even interesting things I’ve noticed about New Jersey folks.
So Many Smokers!
Okay, so in Carthage, we had our problems just like any other town. We had our alcoholics, our gamblers, and we had some teens that got into trouble every now and then. Pretty normal, I would suppose. In retrospect though, I was never really exposed to smokers in high dosages. I used to have a friend across the apartment complex I used to live in who had a mother who smoked every day. My aunt smoked as well, but between the two of them, I hardly ever saw people with cigarettes. Flash forward to New Jersey, and suddenly I’d be walking into a gathering at my stepfather’s parents’ house, and the whole living room would be filled with his family smoking up a storm. It seemed like everybody who worked at Six Flags Great Adventure with me had to smoke once we went on break, even a kid who said he ran cross country for his high school. It really does seem like a part of the culture, where smoking becomes either a sign of class, or a sign of personal therapy. I’ve learned that some people only smoke when they drink, and some people will smoke cigars just for fun. I always disliked the smell anyways, but I grew used to it after a while. Now, only if I could do that with vaping.
I Have to Pay How Much for a T-Shirt?
Clothes are typically a big deal to a young person. We always want to look like we have our act together and make our clothing do the talking for us. I noticed after spending some time visiting my home state, that just about everybody dresses the same. The typical look for a male is work boots or sneakers, an old, messed up t-shirt or tank top, and a backwards baseball cap. Typically, you wore your job. That’s why it would be normal to see people wearing clothes with dirt, mud, dust, grease, or cleaning solutions on them. For this reason, I learned to not really care about where I bought my clothes. Then, I experienced the joy of going through a New Jersey mall, and gasping from the shock of seeing t-shirts for $25 at some stores. Generally, if I wanted to get a sweatshirt or anything, I’d be shelling out close to $50. To some people, that’s not a lot, but to a kid who can find the same product for much less at Walmart, it would make me wonder what value a name on a shirt really has, that kids would pay that kind of money.
What in Tarnation is a “WaWa?”
Okay, flashback. So, the first night I spent at my stepfather’s house in New Jersey, I remember laying down on his couch after taking a nap. He woke me up and told me that he and my mother were going to “WaWa” for dinner, and he wanted to know what I wanted. I just looked at him with confusion and said “Walmart?” He then said, “no, WaWa.” I think I replied with “did you say “Walmart?”” I then realized that WaWa is some convenience store that has a deli and a lot of other bells and whistles that New Jersey folks are obsessed with. Rest assured, when I was younger and chunkier, I was in love too. In New York, we had a similar thing called “Stewart’s” where you’d get everything you would want at a WaWa, but with a side of dairy to go along with it. There actually is a dairy store in Southern Jersey called “Heritage’s” but I can never look at it without seeing Stewart’s, honestly.
I Think Pork Roll is Just Glorified Bologna
To piggyback off of that (pun intended), New Jersey folks sometimes get bent out of shape over this deli meat called “pork roll.” There is some sort of weird dystopian dispute over whether the correct term is “pork roll” or “Taylor Ham.” Honestly, it’s like the British fighting over whether you should pour the hot water in before or after you put the tea bag in. You would think somebody committed arson or something. It is typical of the culture to regularly feast on breakfast sandwiches of the pork roll, egg, and cheese variety. I personally think the stuff tastes like rubber, but that’s only because I was exposed to Croghan bologna for so long. You see, Croghan is one of the towns around Carthage, and it was the best place to get great deli meat. Particularly, Croghan bologna, which is like a big, bundled up sausage that looks like a red balloon animal. In reality, it was the all-star meat product of the area, great with white bread and mayonnaise. So, I guess I understand what it’s like to be proud of a deli meat.
Canadians Can’t Rap
The subheading may upset some people, beings that Drake is Canadian. Nonetheless, it was the sounds of a steel guitar and a fiddle that made me the country boy I am. I was raised off of George Strait, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson, and Martina McBride. It was no surprise that when I was learning how to sing, I tried my best to get the most twang into my voice. That’s the kind of country that makes the most sense to me. Anything else just sounds like pop in my opinion. In New Jersey, it might be the proximity to New York City and Philadelphia, but it turns out that rap is pretty huge around the state. People are all into the scene of saggy pants and “snapback” hats. It’s the style inspired by the music. The music itself is fast, bold, and can be very crude. I’ve never liked the messages that circulate in rap music either. Beings that I’m more used to the slow twang of country music, I’ve never been able to really rap (pun intended) my head around performing rap music. I also can’t stand it when I’m sitting in a car and the music just blasts until I feel my heart rattles.
It may come as a surprise, but for a person who lived 137 miles away from Canada, I rarely ever saw a Canadian goose. When I saw a couple in Alexandria Bay in New York one day when I was young, I was fascinated. I get to New Jersey, and I was fascinated again. That wore off pretty quickly. The Canadian geese in New Jersey don’t ever seem to leave. One of my friends from New Jersey told me that a group of geese is called a “guy.” Well, rest assured, there were plenty of guy waddling around my college campuses, leaving behind plenty of presents on the lawns and walkways. I got into a few situations where a goose hissed at me too, because they thought I was after its babies. They have a purpose just like we do, I know that. In retrospect, I guess Guinea hens are even worse.
“So, Does It Get Cold Up There?”
Short answer, yes. I’ve learned that the word “cold” has a different meaning based off of the person who is talking. We all have our thresholds of tolerance, of course, but living in the land of snowfall in October gave me a strong respect for nature. We had days where the snow would be tall enough that my older brother could build tunnels in it, and go all around our apartment complex. We would sit down in front of our furnace and put our hands in front of us to get warm. We would lay our jeans on the furnace as well, and wear pajama-bottoms underneath them when the snow was really bad. The early-morning bus stop for middle school was a nightmare. I think I even heard somewhere that the snow accumulation got to about 7ft once. This is a rumor, of course, but I wouldn’t doubt it. Still, no matter how cold the place you live gets, your body naturally gets used to it. You either adapt or get out. Thus, my skin is more capable of getting badly sunburned than people in warmer climates around the country. I learned that the hard way last year after a beach day. That was tough, so I’m glad I got out for that reason, but the weather is much warmer down in New Jersey. As such, my tolerance for cold seems to have diminished some, unfortunately. You know what they say, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. It’s just funny how people complain and freak out over four inches of snow in the forecast. After all, if you own a good toque, you should be set.
I guess you could say I’ve been in-between two different worlds. Yet, as I’ve grown older, I’ve been able to recognize just how similar they are. They’re both full of good parents, good friends, and good cooks! I can’t change what and who I am, that’s for sure. To be completely honest, I still feel like an alien every now and then.
Then again, that’s why it’s so easy to tell people about my heritage and my past.
So, whether it’s in North, Central, or South Jersey, being an alien is cool by me.