GO HOME AGAIN, BUT WHERE'S HOME
I was sitting in a restaurant called The Chicken or The Egg
yesterday, which is a beachside dive on Long Beach Island, NJ and thinking about the concept that we call home.
You hear adages about this creature all of the time, such as the age-old home is where the heart is, or the divergent you cant go home again. And its great having polar perspectives such as these to cater to our vacillating moods, whether were carrying a glass half-empty or half-full, isnt it?
Caught in the belly of the paradox of the chicken versus the egg, my gut reaction to the word home has suddenly grown muddier than my feet were at last weekends Beale Street Musicfest. As a transplanted Memphian vacationing in the land of my roots (and no, thats not JOY-ZEE, its JER-ZEE) I find myself wondering where, exactly, my home really is.
To be sure, the line of thought warning that you cant go home again did its best to prove itself ascendant as my sister Becky and I were driving back home from Memphis. Or were we driving from home to New Jersey? Hmm...
On the epic saga that is the Virginian portion of Interstate 81 (and I no longer believe that Virginia is for lovers, regardless of the ubiquitous claim) I smacked into an enormous deer, which appeared out of nowhere as dawn made its way up the asphalt horizon.
We were just outside of Staunton, which is the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson and the site of the first Presbyterian College for women, in case you were wondering.
Oddly enough, I had randomly found myself in Staunton once before, staying a night a few years back, and for no real reason other than collegiate boredom translated into mileage. Another unplanned stay was definitely not a part of my AAA travel plan.
The accident, however, had changed my face to a strange egg-like color, and I was shaking like I had internalized the massage feature from a cheap motel bed. It seemed a wise move to get off of the road.
We commenced to enjoy a lovely and refreshing 6 hours in Armstrongs motel, beginning at the very cost-effective check-in hour of 6 AM. Provided amenities included a shower with a nozzle positioned at about waist level, a lack of any shampoo whatsoever, a window view of my smashed out headlight and freshly crushed and now inoperable hood, and the appreciated opportunity to close my eyes and sleep so as to cease the mental instant-replay of the bout with nature that we had just survived.
The only possible meaning that Ive been able to assign to this event, its being part of an inadvertent habit of visiting Staunton, is that Im actually a distant relative of Woodrow Wilson, and his spirit is trying to draw me back to explore the family roots.
But, more realistically, I think that Virginia just hates me. It is not, regardless of the status of my hypothetical glass, a place that I call home.
Anyhow, we eventually made it to Jersey, and without further incident.
Overall, the state is just how I remember it. Theres the same beautiful cadence of the Jersey Shore accent, which is a bit divergent from New Yorks Nanny-style inflection that those not local to the state assume is the only manner of speaking available in the area.
A Wawa convenience store, bless its heart, can be found on every other corner, which is similar to a Tiger-Mart, only much better in that it offers the most fabulous and inexpensive Hoagies that you could ever eat. Incidentally, while we eat hoagies in South Jersey, youd eat a sub in North Jersey. In case you dont know, theres a bit of a North versus South debate that goes on even in the confines of the Garden State, ranging from topics like who has the better accent to overall lifestyle comparisons. This regional duplicity might be what enabled me to make the transition into Memphis culture with reasonable ease.
Lets see, what else is there? Well, there are Dunkin Donuts instead of Krispy Kreams. Sauerkraut is offered with ALL convenience store hot dogs, the lack of which is one of the major points of contention that I have with the South.
And then theres the beach, of course, on which my friends son Kyle enjoyed his first baby mouthful of sand this afternoon. Theres salt-water taffy...and PIZZA, as in real pizza, and Im very sorry to come off like an uppity Yankee in this regard. Its just different, and so damn good.
Then theres the beauty of the Pine Barrens, a natural preserve abundant with a very colorful element of local lore, and where friends and I used to do much off-roading as teenagers. The most infamous part of the Pine Barrens story involves the numerous tales that surround the mythical Jersey Devil, namesake of the states NHL team.
The most surprising re-discovery that Ive made, though, and one that might forge the middle ground in my inner conflict over home as a concept, is a little restaurant named JRs that offers Memphis-style ribs! Imagine that! It says so right on the sign.
Unfortunately, JRs is a summer restaurant, meaning that it wont be open until Memorial Day weekend, when an influx of summer people from the tri-state area (meaning New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) take over much of the shore area, and especially the island.
Thus, I will not be able to provide a summation of Jersey-style Memphis barbecue at this time. If I could, though, those of you from Memphis would probably be provided with an ample comeback to the snide pizza comments made previously. Um, sorry about that.
The mere existence of a Memphis-style restaurant in my hometown, however, provides me with something that I think Ive been looking for ever since I began this little trip...
Maybe home is where the heart is, but is also a thing that can include more than one place at a time, and even some things from different places that might overlap and create personal meaning. (Except for things from Staunton, against which I currently hold a major grudge.)
But whos to say that I have to choose between one home and another?
I guess Ive just become a Jersey-Memphis half-breed, for lack of a better term, and can now call both places home with a smile on my face!
Memphis will be my proverbial chicken, Jersey my native egg, and my glass will be completely full, this conflict being resolved.
So I guess I will now return to vacation mode. See you when I get back.