Thursday, March 8, 2012

Moon Over New Jersey

Sure, I’m no Betty Grable (well, okay, maybe I am…), and this certainly isn’t Moon over Miami, but as Spring Breakers embark on their  academic-less trips southward like tanning oil-covered moths to a flame, it was nice, even as a “real” person to get away for a while and see someplace different. And maybe ‘awhile’ was only six hours or so one evening this week, but even in that short period of time it felt like a different planet.

CH, Lady B, BR and I headed out to the house of divine hostess N in a far off land called Metuchen, New Jersey, for dinner and discussion of very exciting events to come (my lips are sealed! But trust me, it’ll be awesome). Leaving CH’s home in Brooklyn, our Zipcar inched through the borough, providing a stop-and-go scenic (is there such a thing?) route westward. We wound our way around the base of Manhattan, which is in and of itself a constellation of lights, the windows of massive buildings turning on and off as employees leave for the day. Curling our way through Staten Island, Lady Libs says hey and bids adieu for the evening.

Then, over the Verrazano Bridge. Driving across it is like driving through a black and white photograph and, even though there was tremendous traffic up to that point, I wondered what it must look like during the daytime. After that, it’s smooth sailing and we enter New Jersey. First, Secaucus, a maze of factory/plant-looking constructions spewing smoke into the air, thick and orange in the blackness. Then, uh, the rest of New Jersey.

Strip malls. A giant Kmart. Dunkin’ Donuts, Target, Sonic, Uno, Houlihans, and the list goes on. Every franchise possible stuffed into a long stretch of drive that reminds me of long road trips from South Florida to Pennsylvania. The sky is black in front of us and the franchises reach out for miles. Eventually, there is darkness and paneled houses and bushes and we make a right and there is N’s house. It has a lawn. I step onto it and laugh, “What is this strange substance? We don’t have this in New York!” All kidding aside, it feels strange under my feet, in a good way. It’s cushy, like walking on a comforter. It occurs to me the last time I walked on grass was months ago, when I was home in Florida. Even when I’m in Central Park I walk on the paved sidewalks.  

And despite my not-so-secret distaste for suburbia, I am delighted to be here, invited into N’s home with the rest of the crew for a real home-cooked meal. Something else I have not had in months. We sit down to dinner and I almost cry—I warmed up some frozen broccoli for dinner the night before—at the sheer spread. Curry chicken, daal, raita, chutneys, rice, potatoes. “I am so happy!” I say, covering my eyes in delight. I cannot ease my cheeks into a neutral facial formation because they are stuck in smile mode. I missed being part of a family, I missed Florida, and I missed driving up A1A with the windows down, letting the salty, warm March air kiss my face and hands. It was, I think, only the third time I’ve been homesick while I’ve lived in New York, but it was a powerful feeling nonetheless.

We all had a lovely evening, planning, laughing, chatting and, of course, eating. (OH AND THE PIE. There was pie. Banoffee pie, made of toffee and bananas and fluffy goodness and chocolate, I think? I believe my exact words were, “It’s like a carnival in my mouth.”) We left and gave kisses and hugs, and went back out to the car.

High overhead was a full moon, a bright silver polka dot in the navy sky. Standing underneath it felt like standing in a spotlight. I stared up at it and wondered when the last time was that I saw the moon; rather, not only saw it, but felt as though I may get a moon burn from standing beneath it. The moon peeked over N’s house from the back, shining light onto the car, onto all of us. I remembered what it felt like to be home. Because, yes, New York is where I live, and I love it here terribly, but home will always be South Florida.