Recently there was this little thing called the Super Bowl – maybe you’ve heard of it –with untold amounts of international attention focused on New York, despite the game actually being played in… where was it again? Oh yeah, New Jersey.
Sometimes you just can’t get no respect.
Well, if you’re looking for respect for Jersey, you won’t find it in writer Paul Rudnick’s Jan. 29 “Shouts and Murmurs” column for The New Yorker Magazine, either. Entitled “New Jersey: The Quiz,” it’s a sarcastic collection of invective and insults directed toward the Garden State and its residents.
A hefty amount of snipes take aim at Gov. Chris Christie, whose latest scandals were the likely impetus for the piece. But over the course of 12 multiple choice questions, Rudnick taps into every cliché ever uttered about New Jersey, from Jersey Shore to Springsteen, from Native American town names to The Sopranos.
Rudnick is himself a product of New Jersey. The playwright, screenwriter, and essayist was born and raised in Piscataway before abandoning his home state for the glitz of Manhattan.
While picking on New Jersey has become a common practice, is it funny to pick on people’s weight? Hudson County took a hit in two places with Rudnick’s question number three, “Why has the city of Secaucus been called the Pig Capital of the World?”
New Yorker Magazine takes potshots at New Jersey with satirical quiz.
More prickly was the third answer: “Have you ever been to a Secaucus prom?” This was one of two fat jokes sprinkled throughout the quiz.
“I didn’t find it amusing,” said Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli. “I know he was trying to be amusing. Maybe he succeeded in some people’s minds but I think it’s old hat. It’s been said so many times. Come up with something new.”
Gonnelli has concocted an original response to the interstate slam. “I asked the high school kids to do a letter-writing campaign saying what they love about Secaucus,” he said. “Mention all the good things that Secaucus is about.”
Once drafted, the letter will be sent to Rudnick.
The real story
“One time we were a farming town,” Gonnelli said. “But that’s not what we are anymore. We’re a suburb. A very rich suburb.”
Even in the farming days, Secaucus was far from poor. Originally an agricultural community specializing in flowers, the area became known for pig farms in the first half of the 20th Century (prompting Rudnick’s snide remarks).
In the early 1900s about 55 pig farms could be found in Secaucus and close to 250,000 pigs – outnumbering humans 16 to 1. Supplying the meat demands of Newark and New York made the pig farmers wealthy, and as always, wealth overlapped with politics. Hence many local politicians were first pig farmers. Perhaps the most notable was Secaucus pork peddler Henry B. Krajewski, who ran for New Jersey senator, for governor (three times) and for U.S. president (twice).
In the 1950s the pig farms began to vanish, in part because local construction had commenced on the New Jersey Turnpike and the scent of swine wasn’t seen as an enticement to tourists.
Nonetheless, “We’re proud of the fact that we were a farming town,” said Gonnelli.
Take that, New Yorker.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.