Thursday, April 13, 2017

The New Jersey Attitude


We (New Jersians) are called arrogant, obnoxious, rude, crude, brash . . . and more! But we don't care because we know that unless you're from New Jersey, you know how to not care about that. We just don't care what you say about us. We like the fact that you don't want to live here. What, did you think we didn't put all those oil refineries and dumps and broken down warehouses around Newark Liberty Airport for no reason? That's what most people think New Jersey is ... and we like it that way. Do you think we want you to know about all the great secret places there are in New Jersey so you may actually want to move here? Not on your life! (http://www.njattitude.com/)

It took me a while-- in fact, it bogged down this blog for many months, but I'm finally ready to say it: the New Jersey attitude is real, and it sucks.

You know what I mean when I talk about the New Jersey attitude. If you don't, please check out the link above.

I'm from the South, and most people there (even the transplants) are unfailingly polite. They show consideration for others. They smile and wave when they pass others on the street. They say please and thank you. They will offer to let you go first. They don't honk if someone is a half-second slow in getting away from a traffic light. They don't obstruct doorways. They have manners.

Even before I moved to New Jersey I had heard about the attitude there. I was prepared for the rumors not to be true, but you know, I finally had to admit they were.

My impression of New Jersey is that people here tend to be rude-- or rather, more people here are rude than other places I've lived-- yet I don't think it's something as simply as rudeness.There's an element of blue collar dignity involved, and self protection-- a Ratso Rizzo "I'm walking here!" sort of thing-- and an obliviousness or lack of caring about others.

I am of course speaking in generalities. There are certainly rude people in the South and painstakingly polite people all over New Jersey-- theoretically, anyway.

Here's an example from just one trip into the wilds of New Jersey:

Two days ago, when I approached the doors of the WalMart in Butler, two young women with carts and babies in arms were chatting just outside the double doors, managing to block the entire eight-foot front. As I approached they saw me, but did they move aside? No they didn't. They didn't move, didn't acknowledge me. They just kept right on talking. They didn't get out of the way until I politely asked them to, and they seemed mildly resentful at my having had the gall to ask.

I repeatedly found myself in aisles blocked by other shoppers with buggies stopped not to the left, not to the right, but in the middle of the aisles. They had to know I wished to get by, but they continued to examine their cans of Libby's French Style Green Beans or compare different brands of potato chips, making no effort to move their offending carts until I asked them to.  When I did they moved their buggies immediately, but damn it, why did I have to ask?

In one case a shopper approached as I waiting patiently as a woman blocked a display, putting cans into her cart. When she finished and started to move away the shopper darted in front of me. She knew I was next. Fuck her.

Carts were three and four deep at the checkouts, but I was lucky enough to spot an empty lane. I stopped my cart and was reaching into it to place my goods on the conveyor when a grandmotherly woman bullishly pushed her cart in front of me. And yeah, it was loaded to the frigging brim. I was steaming at her effrontery, but held my peace.

As I left the store, guess what? Yeah. A middle-aged woman in front of me stopped in the doorway and began to examine her cart.  Not five feet in front of the doorway. Not five feet past the doorway. IN the damned doorway! Her husband obligingly blocked the rest of the doorway while she dawdled.

To clinch things, after I backed out of my parking space I was unable to move forward because a woman and her prepubescent son were wandering directly in front of me. And what did the idiot behind me do? Yeah, you guessed it-- blew their damned horn!

If all this happened once or twice, or a dozen times over the two and a quarter years I have lived here, I might have thought it just the nature of a few rude and obnoxious people, but it happens all the time. I didn't want to believe it was a Jersey thing, but yeah, it's a Jersey thing.

Of course people in and from New Jersey are nice to me all the time. They do say hello. They hold entrance doors open so they don't close in your face. They do let you go first. But I have to say, I wish some other people would get a clue.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Springtime

Azaleas in Bloom, Mid-March, Atlanta

The nights in New Jersey are finally getting above freezing and the first annuals are poking their heads up through the soil.

Meanwhile, back in my old home in Atlanta, spring has been running full riot for two months. It seems strange for winter to last past the official first day of spring.

When I left Atlanta on January 27, 2015, I was wearing sandals and the top of my car was down. I arrived in Ringwood, NJ just after sundown on the 28th. The top was up and I had changed to closed-toed shoes in Maryland, but I wasn't prepared for the single-digit temperatures and the howling wind; even though I was wearing what I thought was a heavy coat, I thought I would freeze to death before I got the car unloaded.

It snowed a few days after I arrived. The days were below freezing and the night near zero. The snow wasn't going away and a huge ice dam was threatening to take down the gutters. I was shoveling snow for the first time in my life and for the first time wearing gloves and a scarf and a hat when I left the house. I wondered: what have I signed up for.

Happily, the winter of 2015-2016 was mild. We got only one snow, and it went away quickly. I thought we had gotten through this winter scot-free, but mid-March brought a doozy of a blizzard. Snow was above my knees and was on the ground for weeks.

When spring comes to New Jersey, it's pretty. The warmer weather will bring flowers, and I'm happy about that. I just wish they had arrived in February.

Two Years In

Okay, I bogged down on the blog again. It happened when I tried to write a post about the New Jersey attitude (you know what I mean). Perhaps I will write that soon.

The bigger reason was I wanted to spend some time in my new home state before proceeding. Well, I've been here two years now and I think I'm ready to go.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sunnybank



Albert Payson Terhune and Sunnybank Collies 





To Lad the real world was bounded by The Place. Outside, there were a certain number of miles of land and there were an uncertain number of people. But the miles were uninspiring, except for a cross-country tramp with the Master. And the people were foolish and strange folk who either stared at him which always annoyed Lad—or else tried to pat him; which he hated. But The Place was—The Place. 
Always, he had lived on The Place. He felt he owned it. It was assuredly his to enjoy, to guard, to patrol from high road to lake. It was his world.

The denizens of every world must have at least one deity to worship. Lad had one: the Master. Indeed, he had two: the Master and the Mistress. And because the dog was strong of soul and chivalric, withal, and because the Mistress was altogether lovable, Lad placed her altar even above the Master’s. Which was wholly as it should have been.
There were other people at The Place people to whom a dog must be courteous, as becomes a thoroughbred, and whose caresses he must accept. Very often, there were guests, too. And from puppyhood, Lad had been taught the sacredness of the Guest Law. Civilly, he would endure the pettings of these visiting outlanders. Gravely, he would shake hands with them, on request. He would even permit them to paw him or haul him about, if they were of the obnoxious, dog-mauling breed. But the moment politeness would permit, he always withdrew, very quietly, from their reach and, if possible, from their sight as well.

 -- Albert Payson Terhune, Lad: A Dog, 1919

When I was a child my favorite place was my grandmother's 100+ year-old cabin. Nestled in a hollow in the mountains a few miles from Asheville, North Carolina and surrounded by forest and beautiful countryside, it was a delight for me and my 20+ cousins. We, or at least I, thought it was heaven, even though there was no running water and I was called upon daily to haul heavy buckets of water from a spring several hundred yards away (and what cold, delicious water it was!).

My Grandmother's Ramshackle Cabin

There were many wonderful things to see and do at my grannie's cabin: wander through the woods, pick blackberries or shell black walnuts, swing from the big oak tree or climb the cherry tree, walk to the country store to buy treats, make sandwiches with Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip and just-picked tomatoes from the garden while fireflies flickered, visit the Meadows children at the end of the long driveway, play the many box turtles on the land, collect blackberries, or splash through the small stream, disrupting the crawdads-- but my biggest delight was a bookcase with a long line of books by early twentieth-century author Albert Payson Terhune. Terhune raised collies at an estate called Sunnybank in New Jersey and he wrote books about his wonderful dogs Lad, Lady, Bruce, Wolf, and others. I and many of my cousins devoured them, reading of collies one doing noble and heroic act after another. I loved those books.

LTR: My Brother Rick, Beauregard, A Dog Whose Name I Don't Remember, and Me (1959)

In my early visits Grannie actually had a collie. His name was Beauregard. He was big and shaggy and beautiful and, unlike the collies of today which have had the intelligence and broad snouts of traditional collies bred out of them in pursuit of show trophies, the very personification of Sunnybank Lad. I loved Beaury and he passed too soon. I loved my grannie, too.

My Grandmother in Her Garden. Note the Tomatoes! (1974)

Those days and my grandmother and her cottage are long gone, but I and I'm sure some of my cousins remember vividly the exploits of the Sunnybank collies.

Somehow across the decades I disremembered Sunnybank was in New Jersey-- but when returning home from Wayne one day a year or so ago I saw Terhune Boulevard. Could it be? Yes! Had to be named after the author of the collie books!

As soon as I got home I consulted The Google and discovered Sunnybank Estate had been preserved as a Terhune Memorial Park in Pompton Lakes. Every time I was in or near Terhune Boulevard I looked for the park but never managed to spot it.


Finally I decided to make a concerted effort to locate the park. It turned out to be right on Terhune Boulevard. The entrance was marked with a small blue sign, easy to miss.

Terhune park is a lovely place, wooded and bordering tranquil Pompton Lake. I could see why Terhune found it so special. It would be a perfect place for an afternoon of reading or quiet contemplation or for a picnic or as a spot to visit while boating on Pompton Lake. There are plenty of benches and I have a book already marked out.

The Terhune home place, by the way, is long gone, razed in the 1960s because it had fallen into disrepair. The parking lot marks its location.

I own a couple of Terhune's books. I recently re-read Lad: A Dog and found Terhune's style hyperbolically sentimental-- a trait non uncommon in 1919, when it was written. Terhune's sense of personal superiority, which was invisible to my childhood self, manifests in my adult reading and when describing an attempted burglarly (foiled, of course, by Lad); his fawning adoration of women is of course sexist, and he manifests the racism of his time. Nonetheless I enjoyed my read and plan to re-read more of Terhune's books. A half-dozen or so are available in electronic format and, happily, all seem to be selling for three dollars or so at Advanced Book Exchange. I think I'll build a set.

Here are some images from my visit.



 Lad, the Terhunes' Most Famous Dog, is Buried Close by the Parking Area










The Terhunes' Beloved Lily Pool Long Since Dried Up



Puppy Yard Photo From Sunnybank Collies Website



Thursday, June 16, 2016

Our House Is Now in Its Blue Period


If Picasso can have a blue period, why can't a house? I ask you.

I mean, our house wanted to be blue. I know it did. Just look at it.


Now check it out when it was a nondescript gray.



I rest my case.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pot Van


So-- I'm walking with my friend Rena, in Manhattan, just off Times Square, and we pass this van. This marijuana van. Weed World, it proclaimed.

"Did I just see what I think I saw?" I asked.

"You did," said Rena,and walked over to ask the driver if he was really selling pot.

"What did he say?" I asked upon her return.

"He said "Duh!" she said.

It really is a pot van. Check these flavors of ice cream:


AK-47, Bubble Kush, Sour Diesel, and Girl Scout Cookie. There are also cookies and brownies. All varieties are five dollars.

Newspaper reports say there's no marijuana in the products.
Smoking out a scam, NYPD officers “field-tested” the candy and found it contained no marijuana, officials told The Post. 
“Maybe we can slap them with a charge of lying to the public,” a law-enforcement source said. 
The bogus-buzz traffickers haven’t been busted for drug pushing or consumer fraud, but cops are cracking down on aggressive sales tactics. The outfit recruits “street teams and candy girls” to draw customers. (New York Post, August 11, 2013).
I might just have to give the Bubble Kush a try.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

No Grits for You!

Photo By sashafatcat

Grits are a fact of life in the South. From Virginia to East Texas, they're part of breakfast-- and sometimes the entirety of breakfast. Every home cooking restaurant serves them, and many fast food places and chain restaurants have them on the menu-- for instance, both Cracker Barrel and IHOP do.

Grits are simply ground up maize (corn). They're of Native American origin and related to corn porridges from around the world-- for example, polenta. In the American South they're not made from dried raw corn, but rather from dried ground hominy. Grits, and for that matter corn meal or hominy, can be made from either yellow or white corn.

(See this article by Linda Brandt for a discussion of grits, polenta, porridge, and mush).


Hominy, for those who might not know, is made from dried corn soaked and heated in an alkaline solution in a process called (no kidding!) nixtamalization; this increases the flavor and aroma of the corn and makes it easier to grind. Most grocery stores in the south and most hispanic groceries in the north sell hominy, which is called posole in Spanish.

Grits come in three varieties:



Instant grits, which should be mixed with hot water and then thrown away;


Quick grits, which cook in five minutes and will do in a pinch;


And grits, which cook in twenty or so minutes.



The hardcore like their grits stone ground.

Grits are, or should be a savory dish. They are served on a plate next to bacon or eggs, or in a bowl. They should never be sweetened, unless that's how your poor old mama made them, in which case it's okay if you use sugar or honey, provided they're for your own consumption. Most Southerners add just salt, pepper, and butter to their grits.

Grits should have the consistency of mashed potatoes; just say no to runny grits.

It's okay to add cheese to grits, or crumbled bacon, or country ham, but baked grits are not a breakfast dish. I've never tasted them, so I'll reserve my opinion on them.

Grits are uncommon in the Northeast. Most people who live north of Maryland have heard of grits and may have even tried them, and most have a negative opinion. I shudder to think of the grits they have tried. Many northerners believe they have led totally gritless lives.


That's not quite true. Corn porridge, mush, and polenta, which are widely consumed above the Mason-Dixon line, are pretty much the same thing. But just try convincing Vinnie of that.

(Grits play a significant role in My Cousin Vinnie. Check this out)


It's fairly difficult to find boxes or bags of grits in grocery stores in New Jersey (usually they carry only instant and/or quick grits) and damn near impossible to find them in restaurants. Diners, which have the world's largest menus, don't serve them. Even Cracker Barrel and IHOP don't seem to have them on its NJ menus.

So, paraphrasing the Soup Nazi, if you're from the South and you find yourself in New Jersey--

No Grits For You!

One Year in Jersey

January 28 marked the one year anniversary of my move to New Jersey. I've been mostly silent on this blog because I wanted to log in some time here before I started commenting much about my new home state. I wanted to know more or less what I was talking about and I figured a year would do it.

So, first upin the next post-- grits

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Sears Good, Sears, Better, Sears Best


Sears is known for offering merchandise in a variety of grades-- typically good, better, and best.

The system was Good, Better, Best. Here's how it worked. Let's say that you wanted to buy a circular saw. You would go to the tools section of the catalog and look at the pictures and descriptions of Craftsman circular saws. You might discover, for example, that the Good saw boasted a 7" diameter blade and used a 2 1/2 horsepower motor for $29.99. The Better saw may have used 7" or 8" blades powered by a 3 1/2 horsepower motor - plus it had a spring-loaded safety guard for $39.99. Finally, the Best saw had 7" or 8" interchangeable blades, a 5 hp motor, the spring loaded guard and a built-in leveling system for straighter cuts for $49.99, for example. -- From DigIt Sales Blog

When it came to appliances, good was usually cheap goods-- a washer with a small tub and weak motor, a refrigerator with metal shelves, a stove with no window in the oven door. The better products usually were more robust, sharing mechanical components with products positioned as best, but with fewer bells and whistles. The better stove, for example, might have the same frame and heating elements as the best stove, but lack time delay baking capability and chrome-plated oven racks.

My mentor and friend Floyd Dennis always urged consumers to go with Sears Better. Best, the premium products, have more features and thus more things to go wrong. Better ultimately gave better service than best, and for less money.

I've always heeded Floyd's advice. Consequently, here's the control panel on the washer I left in Georgia when I sold my house.


A knob to the left offered three water levels: low, medium, and high.

Here's the control panel from our new washer:



No, wait, that's one of the control panels from a Boeing 747 jetliner. Here are the controls for our washer:


The dryer panel is similarly complex.

The knob to the left isn't so bad. It has what, nine positions which can be easily selected by turning. I have no idea why I need an allergy or bedding or sanitize setting, or just what they do, but yeah, I can see a use for heavy duty, quick wash, permanent press, and delicates. And normal, which is what I almost always use.



The panel to the right is where I take issue with the washer. Check it out.

I don't really need an Eco Warm setting (whatever that is) or a delayed end. And what do I need steam for? And yeah, there's a sound button, probably because the damn thing plays Mozart. I'm not kidding. This is Jersey. Why not Springsteen? Hmmm... do you think there might be Four Seasons and Springsteen selections as well as for old Wolfgang Amadeus?

It just seems like a lot of stuff that can break and too much to have to bother with when you just want to dry your socks. Thank goodness Heather bought 10 year warranties on both the washer and dryer.

p.s. Can someone explain to me why there's a smiley face with a hat icon?

p.p.s. In all seriousness, Heather lost her washer and dryer when her basement flooded in Hurricane Irene. There was no reason to replace them because she could have easily lost the replacements. Consequently she spent three years taking her dirty laundry to laundromats. So God bless her. When we were shopping for the washer and dryer I urged her to get whatever she wanted. She did, and I'm more than happy to have more settings than I can figure out.

Washer Blues: Part the Third


So yeah, Heather broke the dryer.

Not deliberately, you understand. Or so she says.

It seems she removed the filter and ran a load without it in place.

And so of course her knee-highs got sucked down this hole into the machinery.


The results were predictable.

See the horizontal strip that's halfway visible between the tub and the front of the dryer? It's hinged and, when opened (which can happen when clothes fall into it and perhaps by suction when the machine is running), it leads to this rotor.

The dryer worked afterward, but made a terrible noise.


"Repair division, how may I help you!"

"Dryer 911!"

"Can you be more specific?"

"Not without incriminating the person I love the most in the world."

So, the repair guy came out and pulled nylon knee-highs from the rotor. "Wonder how those got in there?" I said. Two days later the dryer was making noises again. This time he replaced the rotor and left the old (and probably perfectly fine) rotor with us.

So the washer and dryer are fine for now, but I have to schedule another visit because the control panel on the dryer isn't attached properly after the repair and because the idiots who brought the washer and dryer to the house damaged one of the feet on the washer, making it impossible to level it.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Washer Blues: Part the Second


Before Heather and I could figure out what was going on with the washer, her parents Phil and Linda and my sister Tanya respectively drove and flew in for our wedding. We were married and then my sister and I took off to Connecticut, where I was scheduled to deliver a keynote at a conference, and Heather and her mom and dad turned their attention to what was really important-- the washer.

They leveled the beast, and leveled it again, and leveled it again. No dice. It still shook like a rabid dog. Thinking that perhaps the floor needed bracing, they purchased a 3/4" sheet of plywood and screwed it to the floor. No dice. At the end of a fruitless day they retired to lick their wounds.

When I was back at the house I watched Linda and Phil spend another half-day trying to get the washer to work-- with no luck. I was sitting nearby trying to stay out of the action because, darn, they were so serious and I didn't want to be in the line of fire, but finally I thought, "I wonder if the idiots who delivered the appliances took out the restraining bolts?"

I ventured as much, and we immediately looked behind the washer. There were three big bolts, but they had clips on them to hold wires, so maybe they weren't the restraining bolts-- but then again, maybe they were.

Within seconds Linda and I were Goggling Samsung washer restraining bolts. Finally I found an image and yes, those were the restraining bolts. Phil removed them and we started the washer and, happily, it no longer shook.

When Heather got home from work and we told her the washer was working she was delighted, and remained so until she broke the dryer.

No-- she didn't!

Yes, she did.

The New Jersey Attitude

We (New Jersians) are called arrogant, obnoxious, rude, crude, brash . . . and more! But we don't care because we know that unless ...