NEW JERSEY/NEW YORK CITY—If the state of New Jersey were a comedian, it’d have to be Rodney Dangerfield—because it gets no respect. In particular, it gets no respect from its neighbor across the Hudson River. When you work in Manhattan, as I have for each of the past two summers, you get a pretty good idea of just how much New Yorkers love to scorn New Jersey. City-dwellers, it would seem, generally have the utmost contempt for the Garden State—that is, until they get married, have children and decide to move there for bigger houses, better public schools and, oh yeah, grass.
Full disclosure: I live in New Jersey, and have all of my life. And I know the “Hey! We get no respect!” complaint is an old one. I realize that just as you can count on New Yorkers and other out-of-staters to crack Jersey jokes, you can likewise count on New Jerseyans to rise heroically to the defense of their home state whenever someone puts it down. Indeed, we often seem to have our talking points already prepared.
And it’s a good thing, too, since the jokes come fast and furious. “Oh, you’re from New Jersey? What exit?” “You live in New Jersey? Ooh, ooh, pronounce the word ‘dog’!” “Are your parents in the Mafia?” “The Garden State? Shouldn’t it be the Garbage State?” Ha, ha, ha.
The really interesting part, though, is how relatively few of the people who make these wisecracks have ever actually been to New Jersey. Or, if they have, it’s usually just been during a brief trip past the factories on the traffic-jammed Turnpike, or past Newark Airport—not exactly the state’s best face for visitors.
Returning to New York, I’d say that most Harvard students I know from the city—along with those who happen to be working and living in New York for the summer—dismiss New Jersey as only marginally nicer than the seventh concentric circle of Dante’s Inferno. To be sure, often when I hang out in Manhattan with a Harvard friend, he or she gives me a really sad, sympathetic look when I tell them that I should be getting home. (It’s sort of like the look your mom might have given you when you came home from a Little League game and told her you didn’t get to play.) “It’s okay!” I assure them. “New Jersey is great! We all love living there, honestly!”
It’s a larger phenomenon, I guess: New York seems to instinctively look down its proverbial nose at its little brother across the river. The city is the cultural epicenter of the world, and New Jersey is…well, to many people it’s just a series of rest-stops for those traveling up or down I-95. Consequently, New York gets a lot of perks at New Jersey’s expense, especially in the world of sports.
My favorite example of this came a few years ago, when New Jersey was given a Major League Soccer franchise. The MetroStars, as the team was named, would play their home games at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Yet rather than call themselves the New Jersey MetroStars, the team’s torturously contrived name was the “New York/New Jersey” MetroStars. Seriously. To this day, I can’t think of a sillier team name in all of professional athletics. (The rationale given at the time was that the MetroStars represented the entire New York metropolitan area, and not just New Jersey.)
But it could be worse. The New York Giants football team has played their home games exclusively in New Jersey since 1976; the New York Jets also have since 1984. And still, both franchises take the New York name (not “New York/New Jersey”—just “New York”).
Surprisingly, the New Jersey Devils and New Jersey Nets made it to the NHL and NBA finals, respectively, last month. It was the first time that the state’s two professional sports franchises—that is, the two that identify themselves as being from New Jersey—were ever playing for the Stanley Cup and the NBA championship at the same time.
Of course, this meant Christmas had come early for late-night funnymen such as Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien. (As a comedic target, New Jersey has been taking hits for far longer—indeed, since the days of Vaudeville—than Bill Clinton, Viagra and Martha Stewart.) Leno quipped that regardless of the Nets’ and Devils’ success, New Jersey’s most feared outfit was still the Sopranos. “According to a newspaper poll,” he added, “75 percent of New Jersey residents rate their state as a good or excellent place to live. The other 25 percent are reported missing.” After the Devils won the Stanley Cup, O’Brien joked: “There is now a dispute over where to have the victory celebration. Originally it was planned to happen in the arena parking lot, but some people objected, saying it should be held somewhere nicer. But the arena parking lot is the nicest place in New Jersey.”
Oh well (sigh). I guess the jibes are inevitable. I guess us New Jerseyans just have to accept the fact that our state will always be the object of derisive humor, that it will consistently get slighted in deference to New York City—and, most annoyingly, that there will always be ungodly traffic on the Parkway during Fourth of July weekend.
But hey, at least we don’t pretend to be writing our Crimson pieces over the summer from “New Jersey/New York City” when we’re actually just writing from New Jersey. Oh wait…never mind.
Duncan M. Currie ’04, a Crimson editor, is a history concentrator in Leverett House. This summer he is interning at National Review and living in the land of swamps, Sopranos and Springsteen.