Due to all the devastation in New Jersey this past week, I wanted to post two things a lot of people might not know about New Jersey…one, a private gay beach, and two, an independent NJ publisher that did very well with a book that was adapted into a highly respected TV series on HBO.
I live in Pennsylvania now, and I love where I live. But I’m only one mile from the NJ border, and I still have trouble thinking of myself as a resident of PA…for twenty years now. It was so hard for me that it took me ten years to actually switch my driver’s license from NJ to PA. I had a business in NJ and used that address all that time. But ten years ago I knew it was time to change and I turned in my NJ license and applied for one in PA. My hand shook and I didn’t sleep for a week.
New Jersey receives a lot of bad press at times, with cheesy TV shows like “Jersey Shore,” and jokes about what metropolitan North Jersey looks like from a plane (the back of a radio). But I was born there, grew up there, and went to college there. I was born in Newark and spent my summers in Lake Hopatcong (the largest lake in the state…48 miles around by car). I grew up in Southern NJ in Salem County, which is more like Texas than anything anyone ever sees on TV or reads about in magazines. They even have a rodeo. I wrote about that in a short story once titled, “Kevin Loves Cowboys.” And I went to college in Madison NJ, at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a college town surrounded by other private universities like Drew University and Saint Elizabeth’s. So the picture of what people get when they see NJ at a glance is far from accurate in most cases.
One of my favorite places in New Jersey has always been Belmar. It’s a small coastal town that’s one hour from New Hope, with a quiet gay beach near 2nd Avenue.
The next most well known gay beach is in Belmar at 2nd Avenue and the boardwalk. This location has been LGBT friendly and frequented by gays for more than 30 years. 2nd Avenue is at the northernmost area of Belmar’s great boardwalk. Make sure you get a beach badge for a day at this beach or you will be fined plenty. There are bars and refreshment stands within a convenient walk from the gay beach.
It was the first gay beach I ever went to and I was scared to death. The moment I got there, and saw the quiet streets and well kept homes in Belmar, I stopped worrying. It’s not the kind of gay beach where you’ll find a lot of cruising or nudity. At least I never did. But it is the kind of beach where gay people can meet other gay people without working too hard at it. I still go whenever I get the chance. And even more interesting is that the gay people blend right in with the straight people and no one seems to notice, or care. It’s always been that way as far as I can remember. Unfortunately, you don’t hear about that part of New Jersey often…not even in gay circles.
I recently discovered this information while I was writing a post about a full frontal nude scene on the TV show, “Boardwalk Empire,” with actor Bobby Cannavale. An independent publisher in New Jersey pubbed the book, “Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City.” The publisher is Plexus Publishing, Inc, and they are based in Medford, NJ, which is considered South Jersey, not far from Philadelphia and New Hope.
I’ve been watching the TV show for years and I never knew this. I had to dig around while writing a blog post to find out by accident. I just always assume, like most people, TV shows like that are either concepts or based on popular books pubbed by larger publishers. For a small publisher to have a small book turned into a hit TV series on HBO isn’t bad, not by any means. Only you never hear about that anywhere unless you look for yourself.
Last week New Jersey was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, and right now they are in the process of putting everything back together. Tomorrow there’s supposed to be another nor’easter coming up the coast that might cause more devastation. And I wanted to post something positive about New Jersey no one ever hears about. Especially the part about the gay beach in Belmar. The gay community tends to be trendy, and the old circuit boys who are now filled with botox, covered with acne from too many steroids, and way too tan flock to Ft. Lauderdale in droves. It’s also cheap to live down there right now. Some wind up in Palm Springs because that’s another trending gay city. And others still gravitate toward cliched Key West where the crowd isn’t quite as filled with botox, but they are still hanging on to their mustaches and old disco music from the 70’s. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I like to visit all those places. Following trends is part of gay culture and probably always will be. And that’s no stereotype that’s a fact.
But there are other aspects to gay culture and New Jersey we don’t hear about often. There are well respected publishers doing excellent things right now. There are excellent colleges and universities like Princeton. And places like the gay beach in Belmar, NJ, offer an alternative to gay people who don’t want to be part of the gay cliche. I have no doubt NJ will come back in full force from what’s happened in the past week. In fact, I think it will come back better than before.