Since I am pulling up stakes from DC, I thought I should probably start a new category for my observations in my new home– New Jersey. I’ll call it “Jersey Journals.”
I am writing this from my new apartment. Boxes are all over the place. (Cardboard recyling isn’t until Thursday.) Black Hefty bags stuffed with paper, styrofoam, etc are blocking my way. (Garbage can be taken to the curb only after six p.m. on Mondays.) These are just two early signs that things here in Jersey are different than in any of the NINE places I have lived since 1991.
One of the most striking things about Jersey City is that it is gentrifying. I wrote a bit about Atlanta’s “urban renewal” in my second novel, The Untelling. Well, I am here to tell you. You haven’t seen urban renewal until you have seen it N.E. style! My friend, Allison, calls it “The Invisible Electric Fence.”
My block is a decent one– a lot of working class folks, mostly Black and Latino. There’s a little grocery across the street. The sign on the door says apologetically, “We Are No Longer Accepting WIC.” Almost every food item contains high fructose corn syrup. You get the idea. (If you have read Leaving Atlanta, think about the store from which Rodney steals all that candy.)
When I walk two blocks to the right– it’s a whole new world over there! Organic tea shoppe! All manner of cheeses! Gorgeous brownstones! A dog park. (And did I mention no Blacks and Latinos?)
Then, there is downtown J.C. which is about three blocks away. The main drag, Newark Avenue, is populated mostly by inexpensive retail outlets. There are two 99 cent stores. (I went in one and there was a tape playing “Why Do You Refuse The Lord’s Blessing?” over and over.) But three doors down is a terrific bar and restuarant. Everything inside is white (I mean the decor.) You can get Italian Sangria on special between 5-7 on Saturdays.
This where the Invisible Electric Fence comes in. None of the folks from my block (and blocks like it) go into the fancy places although this is thier neighborhood. They walk right past without even a curious peek in. I have never seen segregation in quite such an integrated way. The people from different walks of life live in very close quarters but do not mix.
I feel like a double agent. You all know I like myself an elaborate cocktail and I am trying to eat more fresh vegetables and I hate cheap coffee. So I go through the electric fence several times each day. The proof is in my refrigerator.
Maybe it’s too self-congratulating to say I am a “double agent.” Afterall, the word agent implies that I am doing some work when I am belly up at the bar asking to see the wine list. It’s more like I have dual citizenship. Very convenient for me, I suppose. But I don’t feel so good about it.