Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Who put the dip in the dip di dip di dip?

I'm in Swedesboro, New Jersey at the moment, in South Jersey, near the Pennsylvania border. Earlier this evening, I was looking for a restaurant other than the mediocre and overpriced one in my hotel, and ended up driving around about 40 minutes getting a look at the immediate area. Even though this place is less than 25 miles from Philadelphia, and even closer to some serious heavy industry, it has an incredibly remote, "country" feel, but in a Northern style, a throwback which was both surprising and pleasant.

During my drive, I found a pizzeria that looked pretty homey. I tried the eggplant parmigiania sandwich, hoping that the Jersey-Italian factor might pay off, but I honestly wasn't surprised (or even troubled) that the eggplant was the standard greasy, thick, breadcrumbed type. As I've lamented so recently, even with Italians at the stove, you can't count on good eggplant at a restaurant. But that wasn't really important. My "side salad" was enormous, more than large enough to fill me beyond the deficit left by my early abandonment of the sandwich. A colorful array of locals filed in and out, and the brassy teenage girl behind the counter amusingly shouted into the phone at a crank caller, giving back all they could have expected and more - "WHAT! Excuse me! What did you say? EXCUSE ME!"

The television on top of the Pizzeria's soda fridge was tuned to "Leave it to Beaver", the episode where Beav lets a tramp take a bath in his parent's bathroom, and the bum ends up stealing one of his dad's suits and skipping out. I left, bringing my half-eaten sandwich with me so as not to hurt their feelings. (I only thought that this establishment's collective feelings might be hurtable when the young man who brought me my salad later poked his head around the corner from the kitchen and inquired "How's that salad?!" in a most enthusiastic and expectant tone, not unlike that of an eight-year-old sidewalk lemonade vendor)

A prominent designer that I once heard at a lecture talked about the difference between nostalgia and romanticism. He said that nostalgia applied to things that we recalled or just missed in our past, and romanticism applied to those things from eras that we never knew. Romanticism, of course, typically carries with it an idealization of its subject. But going too far to avoid it can lead to a pretty bleak outlook. As I left the pizzeria, aware of the bubble-gum 1950's feeling I was getting, and its sources. I drove past the old, but not that old, houses, the WPA-era metal-frame bridges, and turned on the car radio. The first "seek" up on the dial was an oldies station, one of those that apparently hasn't switched to playing songs from the 60's and 70's yet. "Who was that man? I'd like to shake his hand..."


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