Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Jersey's trash wasteland

When I moved away from Hawaii, I was worried that I wouldn't have any mediocre neighbors to make me feel geographically superior (you heard me, Maui).

Fortunately, there's New Jersey. I can see New York's neighbor from the street in front of my apartment building, so every time I step outside, I flip it off and chortle with glee. If there's joggers in my line of gloat, things can get a bit awkward, especially if they're pushing strollers.

Being a new New Yorker, I don't know how this cross-state antipathy began, but I do know why it continues. I have friends that live in New Jersey, so I've spent many a weekend there. While the more rural parts are reasonably pretty for somewhere that isn't Hawaii, that first section of Jersey you see right as the train or bus surfaces on the south side of the Hudson River makes me feel like a combination of wet kittens, empty restaurants, and a band playing to an empty room. It's an industrial wasteland in the middle of a swamp and it makes me die a little inside whenever I see it. I have to get at least forty minutes down the train tracks before I start to see parts of Jersey that could classified as remotely liveable.

But this entry is about that post-forty minute part of New Jersey, not the Bruce Springsteen part. It's where I go when I want to tramp about the forest and pick berries like a gentle woodland sprite. Since we're just barely out of winter's icy grip here on the East Coast, last weekend's trip to the Jersey woods yielded not sweet berries, but rather pre-war trash from an unknown source. From left to right: a fancy liqueur bottle, a manischewitz bottle (has the Star of David on it), a brown bourbon bottle, and in the front, a bottle with a bulbous bottom that can't stand up on its own.

Behind a public school and over a couple of tiny streams lined with skunk cabbage, there's a wide swath of forest littered with pre-war bottles and other glass containers. Hundreds of them. Possibly thousands. When was the last time Clorox bleach came in a brown glass jug? They aren't heaped in piles, like one would expect in an illegal dumping ground, but rather scattered pretty evenly over about an acre of land, half-buried in the dirt and vegetation. I even saw bottles embedded in the roots of large trees that were knocked over in one of this past winter's many blizzards. There were also rotting tires, tin pots and kettles, shoe soles, and a few wooden ladders propped against trees, leading to nowhere. It was a seriously weird place: no house foundations, no old roads or trails, no indication that there was ever anything there except forest. So why all the glassware? Why all the bottles?

Here are the theories, ranging from ordinary to Batman:

-A general store that collected empties from its customers. Rather than send the empties back to the manufacturer or donate them to the state fair for the annual glass-eating competition, some lazy stock boy took to just chucking them in the woods. Flaws in theory: no building foundations, no bricks or wood planks, no large flat space where the store would have stood.

-An open-air speakeasy. There were a lot of hard liquor and wine bottles, as well as little cosmetic jars, so one could easily imagine this being the spot where people met to get drunk and have their way with each other. It would explain why the artifacts are scattered so far apart, because who wants to get it on in plain sight of that wino from the train station? Flaws in theory: no fire pits or evidence of fires. Who goes to a pitch-black speakeasy? Remember the wino?

-Rift in time and space through which only bottles, tires, and 8mm film reels can pass. Did I mention the film reel? Toward the back of the site, my friend and I picked up an intact, though badly damaged, reel of 8mm film. Its canister was nowhere to be found, and the first frames we peeled from the reel were too damaged to make out. So we took it back to her place and unwrapped it until we came to a slightly less damaged section revealing--wait for it--a boxing match. It was a black-and-white film of two dudes wearing old-timey boxing gloves, having out in the ring. One dude was way bigger than the other dude and was obviously going to kick his ass, but I speculate that the little guy had moxie and a can-do spirit given to him by his hardscrabble life as a Jersey steelworker, and if he can just win this match and the purse, his old grandmother won't lose her house and Molly will finally see he's a guy worth believing in, someone who's gonna be somebody, not just some schmuck from the neighborhood, so won't you please take him back, Molly? Please? Flaws in theory: Molly deserves better, so she's gonna move to the city, go to college, drop out to become a poet, have a wild, passionate love affair with Frida Kahlo, move to Paris, and finally settle down on a vineyard in Brittany with an older but well-titted patron.

-Secret scientific laboratory for turning ordinary humans into superheroes. And one night, the technicians broke out the bourbon and starting making sweet nerd love, because we all know that nobody parties like the science-minded, but in their haste they forgot to turn off the Bunsen burners or feed the radioactive mongooses or lock the cells of the death row convicts who chose experimentation over the electric chair because they were falsely accused and actually innocent of any wrongdoing. There was an explosion. Bottles flew in every direction. Everyone died. Or did they? Flaws in theory: None.

Sorry I didn't take any pictures of the actual site, but New York women tend to carry at least two purses wherever we go, so I was enjoying the naked feeling of walking around the woods with nothing but shoes and the clothes on my back. Of course, to compensate, I immediately filled a plastic bag with heavy antique bottles to carry around. Wouldn't want to get too used to the Jersey lifestyle.

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