Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

December 25, 2003. Seeing New Jersey.

Now that Iím leaving, Iím seeing New Jersey in new ways. Iím seeing it more deeply, feeling the character and personality of New Brunswick, the variety of people who make up the community. The same in Metuchen, and no doubt in every other community in the state, in its own way. They are nothing special or unusual, these towns, they are not New York or Boulder or an Italian hill town of sandy stone houses around an open piazza. And yet each one is unique just as each person turns out to be unique and richly interesting if you know her. So it doesnít matter that every town has its diner, finding the little one on New Street that feels like a luncheonette from 1955 is a delight. Lunching with Shelley and realizing that she knows so many of the key players in the state, and is following what happens in arenas that I donít even know exist. Listening to the owner of the pizza place in Metuchen, a big loud Italian woman with a shock of black hair, tell someone on the phone that she doesnít want to hear another word about rice balls, and bursting out laughing along with everyone else in the joint. Last time I was in that pizza place she got into a discussion with a customer who wanted his slice on wax paper instead of a paper plate Ė and we all smiled in recognition of how it was in New York when we were kids and we understood his frustration that it isnít that way any more.

I donít really know how to put into words the texture of these towns. Itís a visual thing, and something I glean through the individuals, the stores and restaurants, the glimpses I get of the networks of people threading through the different communities within each town and among them. Itís partly because so many people know each other in this community. A friend here is mooning over John, one of the people who helped found my Institute. John put Shelley in touch with me, and through her I met Suzanne. I met Anne at a conference, Suzanne knows her from Highland Park and doesnít like her, though I do. It feels so small, New Jersey. Maybe I was sitting in the middle of it, being at Rutgers in New Brunswick, surrounded by planners and politicians and people who think about how the state should be run.

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