maplewood noun, a suburban township in Essex County, NJ
Even with all of the things that are so awful, if you walk into your yard and stay there looking at almost anything for five minutes, you will be stunned by how marvelous life is and how incredibly lucky we are to have it.
– Alice Walker
This year for my office Secret Santa I received a tshirt that said “I Hate New Jersey.” At first I thought it was funny and then I got to thinking about it and changed my mind. It actually bothered me after I thought I about it for a while. I commute everyday on NJ Transit, which is notoriously known for delays and inconveniences. It makes my life depressing most days and lately I haven’t had my heart in it. I do audibly complain about it at work, but people don’t know me very well there and only know what they hear the next cube over. Lately the world misconstrues opinions and preferences for negativity and unhappiness. For an opinionated person like me, that sucks. If you know me, you know that I much more than someone who complains. The truth is, everyday, I miss my son, my house, my husband. I actually love New Jersey – Maplewood to be exact, but I’ve built my entire life in a way that often prevents me from realizing that I do. So the other day, after I came to this realization, I decided to list in my head the things I love the most so that I don’t forget them.
I love Maplewood…
…because of those little kids always playing soccer in the driveway of Cactus Charlies. Every Thursday or Friday I end up picking up beer at the liquor store on Highland Place in Maplewood Village. There is never parking and I end up trolling the block until someone pulls out of a parallel spot or pull over on the non parking side of the street and put my hazards on. It takes 2 minutes to buy beer and there aren’t generally cops looking to ticket. I usually park near Cactus Charlies, and there are always a small group of young boys – 8 or 9 years old, kicking around a soccer ball against the side of the restaurant in the driveway there. Rain or shine, winter or spring, they seem to be there having the best time. There are no overbearing parents coaching or standing around bragging, just these kids playing around. I never wish for them to be playing in the park or even on the grass. In my heart I feel it is the way that soccer is meant to be practiced – where ever it’s convenient and natural. And I love Maplewood for this impromptu game of soccer that I always see in the driveway of the Mexican restaurant. It’s because it feels so natural and un choreagraphed, which can be rare in our affluent suburb.
… for my yoga music playing coffee shop that serves Tiramisu flavored coffee once a week. Whether it’s after a tough Crossfit WOD or a lazy Saturday morning after a restless sick toddler night, I walk into Village Coffee and am greeted by the soothing sounds of dharma chanting and a smile. I find buying coffee much more soothing and happy here instead of the trendy bakery down the block. No fuss or pretension. As a friend once said, it’s just normal, not fancy, and that’s what I prefer. Sometimes I’ll head there early before my train and sit at a table and drink my coffee for a bit before heading into the city. It’s peaceful and calming even when it’s crowded and it feels like home.
Speaking of Crossfit, I love Maplewood for that too – but not just because it’s whipped my ass into shape. For so long after we moved from Brooklyn, I struggled to find a workout that would keep me coming back. Flywheel spinning was great for a while, but what I didn’t realize is that having support from others is what was needed to keep me coming back for more. I’ve always been shy and not the most outgoing person in general, but on my first day at Crossfit, I had teammates that cheered me on when they didn’t even know me…when I wasn’t even in very good shape and couldn’t keep up. It reminded me of track practices from so long ago that were my lifeline during tough times. Crossfit made me open up and meet people – different people that I would have never met had it not been for our common interest in exercising. It’s been nearly a year and I still go at least 2 or 3 times a week at the minimum, mostly at 6 am. I am part of a team. I’ve made great friends. There may come a time when I have to take a hiatus for a while, but I know I will always be back for more.
… for 1978 Arts. Never heard of it? It’s sad that many people don’t know where it is, but I think 2015 will be the year I try to spread the word to more people. I knew a little bit about it from my neighbor from when I first moved. It’s a small artist community that exists on Springfield Ave in a small cinder block building that isn’t open a lot. The building itself was gifted to Maplewood by an artist and it is run by volunteers that live in the town. It is an undiscovered gem. For the past few months I’ve been able to use the space for life drawing and finally found the motivation to take my love for my AS220 drawing nights in Providence and make them a reality in Maplewood. I’ve met talented and wonderful people from Maplewood and neighboring towns. People that were hungry for the same type of interaction and creative outlet as I was – a quiet, safe and beautiful space where for a few hours we can reconnect with that neglected, artistic, creative side that probably spends most days latent and brooding.
…because of my neighbors. Yesterday while my strep inflicted son napped, I went out to check the mail and found a cellophane bag of cookies and a note in my mailbox from our neighbor. The note was an entertaining account of their year and the cookies were delicious. On other occasions, different neighbors have delivered the food share when I had forgotten it was ready that day, or walked our dog while I was in labor with my son in the hospital. They’ve mourned the loss of our dog with us, weathered multiple hurricanes and shared bulk garbage pickups. Each year I look forward to the Memorial Day parade that runs down our block just to see everyone out in front of their houses, the first days of blissful summer upon us. But most beloved of all is the space in our In our yard the shrubs that borders our neighbors yard separate slightly – where our son and the neighbors children sneak through to visit each other. It’s like something out of an old novel or storybook and I think it might just be the best thing about living in Maplewood – the gateway – as I like to think of it. As I sit here writing this on the most gloomy, damp of days, I know in a few months the sun will be shining and there will be children sneaking into each other’s yards looking to play and enjoy the day. Even if you took away everything else, I would still love Maplewood if only for this.
Oh yeah….and Garden State was filmed in Maplewood too 🙂