Thursday, March 29, 2012

New Jersey: The Land I Love

by guest blogger Jeffrey Cohen

Politically correctPolitical correctness--something with which I actually agree most of the time--dictates that we must no longer mock people based on race, creed, religion, national origin, or in some cases, appearance (apparently it's okay to keep making fun of fat people). But there are still a few commonly accepted targets, or at least some which an unwritten law has determined will not carry a penalty of outrage if you have some fun at their expense.

I belong to at least one of these (probably two, maybe three), and it was brought home to me pointedly recently when the Center for Public Integrity--not a body you'd normally think would be involved in a discussion of minority groups to mock--released a report on the various corruption levels in state governments, and found my home state at the positive end of the list. That is, we have the most transparent government in the country.

New jersey postcardThat's right, I live in New Jersey.

I'll give that a moment to sink in, because the "popular" opinion has always been that my home is a toxic waste dump run by Tonye Soprano. Not so, say the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity. New Jersey has corrupt officials--no state in the union was given an "A" grade, you should know--but we are more efficient at rooting them out and dealing with them than most others, including the lowest-ranked members of the union, all of which were given an "F" grade: North Dakota, Michigan, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia.

New Jersey got a "B+," the highest grade in the 50 states, and the only state to get one. Suck on that, Idaho!

Cape mayOf course, the coverage given this report was condescending. ran a headline that began with "Fuggetaboudit," which I have never heard anyone from my state say (we don't call it "Joisey," either--that was made up by vicious Brooklynites). Even "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," the normally amusing quiz show on NPR, lambasted panel member Mo Rocca for even suggesting that he likes New Jersey. How could such a thing be true? How can you like a place where 8-million people choose to live their lives, which has among the highest levels of education in the country, which includes a shoreline that people (unfortunately, some like Snooki, who isn't from New Jersey) come to vacation every year? Yeah, the place must be a dump.

Jersey shoreIn my short time living here (half a century, after all, is not even a blink compared to, say, eternity), I have experienced the beach--many times--Pine Barrens, theater, film, literature, mountains, lakes, music, art, great food, lousy (but delicious) food, drive-in movies (alas, no more), fine education--chiefly at the state university--amusement parks, quiet parks, Van Dyke Parks, investigative journalism, scenic bike rides, lazy Sunday drives, boardwalks, moonwalks, long walks and bookstores. I could go gambling in Atlantic City, but that's really not my thing. Could go skiing, but that would involve being outside in the winter, and I don't understand people who do such things willingly. I'm sure I could go SCUBA diving, too, but I prefer breathing air without having to take it with me.

All those things are possible in New Jersey. And we have some great mystery writers and mystery writers who use us for background. I'll name none of them in fear of leaving good ones out.

So do we get respect? Hell no. We're the Rodney Dangerfield of states. We come out as the least corrupt state in the union, and get ridiculed for it.

But you know what? We'll chuckle at your little jokes and we'll smile tolerantly when you tell us all you know about where we live (which is generally not much). Go ahead and have your fun; we can take it. We're from New Jersey.

Watch out for those North and South Dakotans, though. We have proof now that they're not as trustworthy as they seem.
Gun Also RisesJeffrey Cohen is the author of the Double Feature and Aaron Tucker mystery series. The Aaron Tucker short story THE GUN ALSO RISES has been nominated for the Derringer Award and the Barry Award. You can read it for free here: