I can see clearly now

Go, go, go shawty
It’s your birthday
We gon’ party like it’s yo birthday
We gon’ sip Bacardi like it’s your birthday

As I do every year on my birthday for no good reason whatsoever, here’s a rare frontal shot of The Daughter and I. This is from a few years ago. We’re at our favorite diner.


Which diner is our favorite? That would be whatever diner we happen to be sitting in. They’re ALL good.

* * *

My posts tend to be somewhat city-centric. I don’t dwell in New Jersey too often. I don’t have the same affinity for the Garden State that I do for Gotham City. I don’t mind living there, but I spent so many years in the city that it got under my skin. Unlike any rational human being, I never tired of the inconveniences and downsides.

But over this past holiday weekend, I saw New Jersey in a different light. We went to an authentic, all-American block party for the 4th of July. Two ends of the street were blocked off with orange cones and kitchen chairs. There were dozens of families there and everyone brought something to eat. (One evil super-villain brought a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, knowing full well that it’s my kryptonite. God bless you, Col. Sanders. God bless you, evil super-villain.)

To be perfectly frank, I don’t have a great chemistry with our lovely neighbors. Mrs. Wife fits right in. Over the years, she has become an integral part of the community. She volunteers at the school and is at the core of a group of people who try to make it a better place to live. But I got nothin’. It’s not from lack of effort, either. I go to these gatherings and can’t seem to insert myself into any conversations. They all peter off into that embarrassing silence. I talk a pretty good game! I don’t get it. It’s as if I was back in high school, sitting at the corner cafeteria table being ignored. I thought I’d seen the last of those days but here I am again.

I was sitting off to the side all alone stuffing my face with fried chicken, cold pasta salad and beer, and I watched the swirl of activity going on all around me. My usual city cynicism was nowhere to be found. What I saw was suddenly very moving to me.

Some manly men were manning three grills and feeding the masses. There were about a half dozen long folding tables overflowing with food. Coolers filled with drinks were everywhere. I have no idea where any of this stuff came from! It just appeared! You simply walked up, filled your plate, opened a cooler, grabbed a beer and enjoyed yourself. I watched my two daughters stand in a long line of kids who were patiently waiting for pink and blue cotton candy. I watched 5-Year Old Daughter wrestle with a wad of cotton candy as big as her head, big smile on her face, a red ribbon tying back her hair, and it moved me to a place I’m too embarrassed to mention.

There were water balloon toss games and Silly String battles for the kids. When darkness fell, thin glow sticks came out and glowing bracelets and necklaces were fashioned. I wore two bracelets; one orange and one yellow. Some guys had their guitars out. A spectacular, city-sponsored, fireworks display was launched from a barge floating on the Shrewsbury River.

I get it.

I get it!

20 thoughts on “I can see clearly now

  1. i remember the times when i knew my parents didn’t really fit in our neighborhood… dad wasn’t the blue-collar, handyman type. and mom? she was a cranky city girl.but they wanted us to grow up there. to be safe. to run wild in the summer. to have a good school and tons of friends near us.i appreciate the hell out of all that.Happy Birthday!

  2. Sounds great, in a vageuly guilty, indulgent, way. Maybe the NJ people have a sense of you as a defector, or someone only provisionally connected to them. It can be the same round here. You have to work quite hard to belong to certain scenes and having lived elsewhere and overseas I’ve developed a slight detachment from everywhere. Only slightly though, it wouldn’t affect me throwing myself into a NJ street party with as much relish as I could muster.And Happy Birthday from Lancaster.

  3. Happy Birthday, UB!I know all about the not fitting in thing too. Because I’ve moved so much, I never developed the history that the long time residents had. It was a weird feeling. Maybe, in my new apartment, that will be different, because it’s brand new and we are all the first residents here.Hut how nice that you finally got the feeling of what your neighbourhood is about!

  4. Happy birthday!Like DaisyFae’s parents, we are in this perfectly manicured hell just for the kids, but on the 4th it really is a nice place to be.

  5. Sounds like you had a nice 4th of July. You gotta enjoy these special moments, they are fleeting. Wishing you a Happy Birthday Mr. Mark!

  6. i remember the sounds of lawn mowers, kids screaming in joy chasing each other, and those mounds of food on the tables you mentioned. didn’t know they still existed. thanks for the rememories.

  7. It’s nice that you finally do “get it” and next time you step in something unpleasant, or gag on diesel fumes at the corner of 42nd, a warm, fuzzy NJ feeling will give you a glow. (Hope to god it’s not from your fluoro bracelets!)

  8. daisy: It finally feels like I’m doing the right thing for once.looby: I have NO IDEA how those people perceive me. I think they think I’m weird. Hope it doesn’t rub off on my girls. It doesn’t seem to have.sav: Yes! The sound of one hand clapping in suburbia.xl: Do you know I’ve NEVER HAD a White Castle burger? I’ve nothing against them! Just haven’t had the opportunity.

  9. anon: aka Nic. Thanks for the cards.Ponita: The fact that your new digs come with all-new people is meaningful. [I just saw a play where a clever quip was, “Stop worrying. In 100 years there’ll be all new people.]Cat: But that’s the point of my post. It’s not perfect but it sure ain’t hell. Far from it!Sharon: Thanks. See you in the cheap seats.gnu: How’ve you been!? Long time, no etc. Was there KFC in your memory? It’ll be in mine for years to come.dinah: New Jersey has its charms. Who knew!? Next time I’ll open my eyes sooner.

  10. A birthday? Why was I not informed?Hope it was a good’un! (You’re catching up!)I live in a little cul-de-sac on the edge of the city (countryside 2 mins away). There are only 49 houses, almost no kids anymore and my nearest neighbours are up their own holes! But we like it! :¬)A good weekend to you and yours sir. :¬)

  11. Happy, belated, birthday! Sorry to be late.Nice you get it, or at least got it for a while, and it sounds like a great day. Do you play any sort of sport, that seems to be the way men make friends in their neighbourhoods as far as I can see?I’ve lived in this town for fifteen years and have only just this year connected with a handful of people.

  12. I’m sure street parties can be fun – makes me think of VE day – end of war in Europe. When Princes Di got married and there were street parties galore we lived in a posh part of Cheshire and MTL insisted on taking a couple of chairsout into the street, waiting for the street party that never happened.Many Happys.

  13. map: I would have thought the day was circled in red on your day planner. It was one of my best weekends ever. One for the record books.nurse: Glad to see your plans are progressing nicely. Forget about sleep until you get back to Oz.Eryl: Well, that’s the rub. I don’t play sports, fix cars, hunt or fish, drink much or participate in any other male bonding exercises. I’m barely a man at all!Pat: You would have thought that the posh part of Cheshire would be celebrating more than just about anyone else. Nice imagery, though.Mitzi: That’s an excellent cultural tidbit you passed on. Stuff like that makes blogging great. But I’ll stick with cotton candy, if you don’t mind. Fairy floss sounds too metaphysical for New Jersey.

  14. I’ve lived in NJ my whole life – including the past 20 years in the hometown of the woman I married – and there are times when I know I’m the odd one out in my neighborhood. It’s like living thru the McMurtry song, “I’m Not From Here, I Just Live Here”. But our place – much like yours – has its charms (especially if yours is on the Shrewsbury River) and occasionally I stumble on or over one. Glad to see you did as well.

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