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Jersey girl plural Jersey girls : Noun. A woman, usually from New Jersey, characterized as loud and wearing bright clothing, far too much makeup, big hair and oversized gaudy earrings. We love our families, holiday traditions and sitting on the sand. Watching the waves slip back into the ocean on a late afternoon in July can make us a little misty and remind us how much we love living here.
As soon as I heard about the new Kevin Smith movie, the flashbacks began, part of my very own post-traumatic stress disorder.
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There I was, hiding in my memory banks, circawearing red high-heeled pumps, giant hoop earrings and pedal pushers. And, yes, big hair. BIG hair. No one had called me a Jersey girl in a long, long time, I realized. The term was something I had run from for years. And here it was again, rearing its big-haired head in popular culture, loitering on the marquee at the local movie theater. Would my New York friends start taunting me again?
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Then I started thinking, maybe I still was one. And wondering, where did this whole Jersey girl thing come from, anyhow? Maybe it was just a collective memory we should all try to forget. Or maybe it wasn't real at all. In search of the true meaning, I listened to the record that I thought started it all, the Tom Waits song written for his future wife, Kathleen Brennan, who had grown up in Jersey.
Bruce Springsteen had started performing the song in the summer of at the Meadowlands -- had added his own blue-collar final verse and made Jersey girls famous the world over.
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In his version, Mr. Springsteen sings to a tired single mother who hates her job, promising to take her down the Jersey Shore, ''where everything's all right. No mention of red high-heeled pumps or hoop earrings.
Just talk of putting on your makeup and of the carnival and all the rides. The only other song I knew that mentioned a Jersey girl was by John Gorka, who had grown up in Colonia.
In his song ''I'm from New Jersey,'' Mr. Gorka sings: ''Girls from New Jersey Need a jersey girl have that great big hair. They're found in shopping malls, I will take you there. Inspired by the music, I got into my car and drove. It's what all Bruce Springsteen's characters do when they're seeking something. I drove across the Brooklyn Bridge and into ''the City. I arrived at the Garden State Plaza on a mission. Well, actually two missions: to do some shopping, and to search for Jersey girls.
Like the Jersey Devil, Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, she didn't exist at all, but was some legend kept alive in songs and movies. There are so many different people here. Once upon a time there was a Jersey girl maybe. Probably dreamt up in California. With my stomach grumbling, I headed to the food court for a Blimpie and immediately bumped into Bunnie and Nikki, who proved Mr. Bernaldo very wrong. Bunnie and Nikki who refused to give their last names are both nurses, single moms who met years ago at Passaic County Technical Institute.
They were taking time off, like me, to shop and shoot the breeze. On the mall's upper level, I met Carlos Tangarife, a year-old Jersey boy who says he has dated many a Jersey girl. He agreed with Bunnie and Nikki, mostly. She can't be boring. She definitely gotta be a little tough.
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And she can't be corny. She gotta know what she wants. She gotta be straight up. Downstairs, at the perfume kiosk, I met Fadwa Elmenjra, a Moroccan native who now considers herself a Jersey girl. I asked her what a Jersey girl smelled like, and she answered, matter of factly, ''Gucci No. She works at the mall, but studies all week toward her masters degree in corporate communications at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Going back to the Tom Waits song, it was obvious the Jersey Shore had something to do with being a Jersey girl. But where had the idea started? Was Mr. Waits, a California native, the first to use the term ''Jersey girl''? I asked Prof. Jane Scimeca, a self-described Jersey girl and chairwoman of the history department at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, who teaches both women's history and New Jersey history.
She cited several possible origins for the term, including an article in this newspaper from Under the headline ''Jersey Girl Would Enlist,'' the report told of a plucky blue-eyed Newark girl so in love with her man that she tried dressing as a guy and enlisting to find him. In the end the girl, year-old Annie Eastwood, was found out and turned away by a ''hard-hearted'' recruiting sergeant.
Professor Scimeca then put me in touch with a Burlington County historian named Paul Schopp, who had dug up a poem from by a forgotten Palmyra writer, J. Dunbar Hylton. The name of the poem was ''My Jersey Girl. The poem, said Professor Scimeca, was written around the time that the ideal of the Jersey girl was being formulated. They all emerged at the same time that this poem was written. The businessmen in South Jersey, she added, had begun to market the Shore to people all over the country.
Then, inthe first Miss America ant was held in Atlantic City -- part of the local business owners' attempt to compete with other beach towns. Today the Miss America ant is still held the weekend after Labor Day. One of the draws of the Jersey Shore was ''Come and see the girls. The idea was, ''If you go to the beach here, maybe you'll meet somebody,'' she explained.
The Jersey girl. That night, I got back into my car and headed to Asbury Park. To the Stone Pony, the club Bruce Springsteen made famous.
It was Ladies' Night at the Pony, so I was bound to run into a few true-blue Jersey girls, all bright and beautiful, with ruby lips and teeth of pearl. I had barely gotten the question past my own ruby lips -- what is a Jersey girl? She has to own every Bruce Springsteen record ever made. She throws the biggest parties on the Jersey Shore in the summer.
Elsa, who was born in Toms River 22 years ago, had all her bases covered. This past year, she had seen Bruce twice at Giants Stadium with her boyfriend, Jeff, and had gone crazy when he sang ''Jersey Girl. You have the best of everything around you. Need a jersey girl best friend, Nicole McKenna, said the true litmus test for a Jersey girl was this: ''You always say you can't wait to get the hell out of this place.
But you A never leave, or B leave and then want to come back. Elsa nodded. Nicole herself had moved to Knoxville, Tenn. Most important, Elsa said, Jersey girls have their very own sense of style. And it does not necessarily include hoop earrings and big hair. According to Elsa's outfit, this sense of style would include a cut-off pleated denim miniskirt; a tight black shirt; a Prada bag ''not a knockoff,'' she said ; blue eyeshadow; a toe ring; blond hair tied in two knots on top of her head; chunky-heeled black Steve Maddens; a Marlboro Light between her fingers; and a silver Tiffany-style choker with a heart dangling from it.
I rethought my attitude toward my past. Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing to be called a Jersey girl. I should be proud of it -- as proud as Professor Scimeca, Elsa and the rest of the women I'd met.
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Maybe it wasn't dead and buried in my past. Maybe a Jersey girl was who I was. Living in Jersey was not even a requirement, I thought. Sure, you had to have lived in Jersey for some extended period. It helped to have been born and raised. But you could have gone off and conquered the world.
Once a Jersey girl, I thought, always a Jersey girl.