The Jersey state bird is the goldfinch, although I am 100% sure that no one who lives there has ever seen one. I tell you this as an introduction to my recent personal woefulness involving New Jersey, because it helps explain the mentality of the people residing there. And, as with the jughandles that I discovered on Route 17 ( which are plainly designed by jugheads), there is something grievously amiss over there in that place across the river that they call the Garden State. Anyway, I had to go there as an emissary for Ping Pong Parkinson, and I feel so very lucky to have escaped in one piece.
Turns out, I have been to the River Edge ping pong venue twice recently, quite an accomplishment considering I don’t have a GPS and know nothing about New Jersey. In fact, when I was given the address of this place for the first time, I mistakenly thought the town was Edgewater, which I located on a map as being not too far from the George Washington Bridge. Good! Piece of cake, I figured. Even I know how to get there by way of the Palisades Parkway, a reassuring route for someone fearing New Joysey, because at least from that parkway you can practically reach out and touch Westchester and Manhattan, so that you’re not too far from civilization. But then I was corrected. Not Edgewater, River Edge! Oh! And you take the Garden State Parkway.
Uh, oh. The Garden State? Yes. Ooh, a dreaded confirmation. You have to take the Garden State, this Jerseyite Westchester Table Tennis Club member informed me. I was scared to hear this, because I knew the Garden State flowed into the bowels of Jersey – deep within! We’re talking something analogous to where the small intestine hooks up to the large intestine – the ileocecal valve (it prevents colonic reflux). That would be deep. Like going into the heart of the Amazon where they have the Anacondas. It’s not just messin’ ‘round the periphery, sticking your nose out a little to get a sniff but not putting your foot in because it could get bitten off by a 15 foot Caiman alligator. Oh, yeah, Joysey probably has those, but if you don’t get killed by a Mesozoic monster like that, a Jersey driver will do the trick. See, they don’t know how to drive over there. Beware of anyone driving around with the yellow plates.
After going way past the correct exit for River Edge - stupid me - I was looking for a sign with that city’s name on it but, of course, there is no such sign. They got signs for every farsical sounding Joysey town (Hokus Pokus, Elmer - might as well add the Fud; Me-touch-em - are they accusing me? Me no touch nuttin’; Neversink - of course not, it’s inland; Neptune - a Walt Disney city; Mawah - named after baby talk; Netcong and Hopatcong - these two commie-sounding towns were conquered in the Vietnam War and brought back here to Joysey; Nutley - can you imagine anyone bragging that he/she is from there?; Tenafly - sandwiched in between Nineafly and Elevenafly; Parsnipety - is that a vegetable or just some crotchety old man? Well ... whatever. The thing is, you aint gonna find River Edge on any exit! Oh, no! No siree Bob! And so you’re probably gonna keep on goin’ way past exit #163, like I did, and likely to encounter these dreaded toll barriers every few inches. I mean it’s a nice road, but it wasn’t my intention to have to finance the construction by myself, me being an outsider and all. However, after a stop at a gas station (I use these the same way my parents did for directions in the days when there was no GPS), the nice man told me to get back on the Garden State and go back 15 miles to exit #163. Which I did (through the tolls again) and where I stopped at another gas station and asked this new guy if he knew where this town called River Edge was – and not Edgewater.
Well, I hit good fortune - a lucky happenstance (not the name of a Jersey town, in case you were wondering). I found myself at a mall or large shopping center, and a customer I’d accosted coming out of a store pointed diagonally and said the magic words: There it is! Right over there! Jeese, what luck! Only had to stop 3 times and I’d found the joint. Ha, who needs a cell phone or a GPS! I got into my car, went over to the road exiting the mall, and there indeed it was, with very large letters proclaiming a new table tennis center in the window. And it was right there, right across the street, alright. Only one problem, though. There was a sign. Was a large red circle with a black left hand arrow that had a red diagonal line slashing through it telling you unequivocally and unconditionally that you better obey or else. And that sign was screaming No Left Turn!
Okay, okay, no big deal, I’m a law-abiding citizen. I follow the rules. Maybe one ticket every 10 years for going 5 miles over the speed limit in some one horse Palookaville. I’ll just make a left at the next intersection. Nope, can’t do that, because the exact same sign was at that cross street. And at the next one, and the next one after that. Every damn street I passed had the red slashing line over the black left turning arrow. I kept going. Same signs. Everywhere the same signs. Hey, but wait. Up ahead there’s a big intersection with a traffic light. Thank god, I’ll finally be able to make a left, good news because I’m getting quite far from the ping pong venue. So far, in fact, that I’m wondering if I’ll know how to get back to the place. Well, it’s on the same road in the opposite direction, you’ll find it, I said, trying to reassure myself as I approached the light. Lot of traffic, but I’m at the light and should be able to turn on the next green signal. I’ll be able to make the left and I’ll do a U turn.
Uh, oh! There were signs hanging from the wires. I hadn’t seen them from afar, but I recognized one for sure. It’s the same damn sign! No left turn! Oh, and there’s another one: No U Turns. Oh, for god sakes!!! What the hell is goin’ on here? Who the frick did this? Whadda ya mean ya can’t make a left turn! I’m a citizen of the United States of America. Joysey is one of the states, right? I pay my taxes and I got rights. I have a right to make a left. It’s probably in the Constitution. Maybe one of the amendments.
Now I gotta tell ya somethin’. I’ve had a heart attack in the past, and I have atrial fibrillation and sometimes atrial flutter mixed in to make it more interesting these days. And, now, while I was waiting for that damn light to change, I could feel my heart thumping and thudding against my chest. Jeesus, palpitations! And I said to myself: Look, I don’t think this is just atrial fibrillation. This is much more serious than that. This is more like V-tach (which can be a lethal arrhythmia). I think I’m having a heart attack. Change of plans. Foe-get about the table tennis center, you better get yourself to a hospital… and prontito! But then it occurred to me: WHAT IF THE HOSPITAL IS ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD? Oh, my God, I’m a dead man! I’m not gonna survive this. I’m bangin’ away on the steering wheel as the green light ushered me onward. Forward march, mister! Straight! Was like the signs were talking and warning me. I’m sweating and thinking that the only way I’m ever gonna be able to make a left turn is when I get outta Joysey - when I come to another state. Like the state of rigor mortis … which must be near the Pennsylvania border somewhere. Oh, me, I’m a dead man! I knew it. I knew when I crossed the Hudson this morning that something bad was going to happen. I knew I wasn’t gonna survive Joysey.
I really didn’t deserve this fate. I’d been very cooperative on every excursion through the Garden Paradise previously. True, I only used it as a connecting state to get to Delaware or Pennsylvania, but I’d made my contributions to the Joysey economy as directed by the authorities over here. I always came with some old crankcase oil and some used up acid batteries to deposit on the Jersey countryside. Occasionally, if I had them on hand, I would take some creosote, chlordane or DDT that my mother and father kept on hand to make sure our house was purified during the 50’s. And after I took a chemistry course in college, I knew that the toluene, benzene and chemicals beginning with trichloro that I keep in the basement, would be warmly accepted and would make for very satisfactory offerings. Ditto for the grease and sludge that I could scrape off the top of my septic tank. Oh, and don’t forget my glow in the dark watches that I used to wear - as perfectly toxic as the lead paint I used to donate but which I’ve run out of. And, oh no – it’s not what you’re thinking. These contributions … it’s all altruistic. Absolutely! These gifts are made so that Joysey can continue to receive fed money for having hazardous waste sites. They have more than anybody – you can look it up – and that’s how they make their money and keep the Joysey economy going. Hey, these are the Superfund Sites … and we can’t let them down. Except for the tourists with their shovels searching for Jimmy Hoffa, this is the only reliable source of revenue for this land of No Left Turns.
When I finally got back to the parking lot in front of the new ping pong venue, I just stayed in my car and sat there for 10 minutes thinking about the situation. I felt like an alien in a far away universe. Here I was alone with a different colored license plate surrounded by all of these yellow ones. And not a bright yellow, by the way. More like a pale yellow, or a dilute urine color. I wondered who would select this jaundice color for a state plate? Who in his right mind would choose something like this – a urine-colored plate? … unless they deliberately did it to clash with every GM color scheme since 1955.
At long last I gotta outta the car, walked in and introduced myself to the owners and staff of the new joint. I told them I was a citizen of a distant land way across the river where there were goldfinches, and where there were no red slashes on road signs, and where everyone, no matter his gender or ethnicity, can make a left turn. Ah, the head manager muttered in disbelief, sounding like there couldn’t be such a place. But then they gave me some bad news: The Ping Pong Parkinson event was postponed. Wasn’t gonna happen. They said I’d have to return to that Shangri-la I’d described, because the Joysey authorities wouldn’t give them a certificate of occupancy for some reason or another (probably no toilet paper in the bathrooms). Ah, jeese – what a waste, was all I could think about. Then I asked a question having crucial relevance upon which my life was dependent. Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz who wanted to get back to Kansas, I wanted these ping pong proprietors to tell me how the hell I could get back … HOME. But when they answered, I couldn’t make heads or tails out of what they were actually saying because of their decidedly strong Joysey accents. Then one of them eyeing my distress, put his arm on my shoulder empathically, and just shook his head saying I should just use a GPS. Great! Thanks a lot. Well, that’s when this GPS-less person (me!) realized I was never going to see the lush, verdant hills, sparkling lakes and thick-canopied forests from where I’d been residing. I was gonna be stuck in NJ for life.
Oh, man, Joysey! You can get in, but you can’t get out. If you think about it, it’s kinda like a roach motel. Lao Du