Author Topic: Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)  (Read 12168 times)

Offline Editor

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Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)
« on: May 07, 2006, 07:21:50 PM »
Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)
By Susan Norton

   Living away from Hackensack for many years has allowed me to reflect on how it may have shaped me and to wonder if it has any unique characteristics.  Or, perhaps more what I wonder is whether it has any endearing characteristics.  Is Hackensack the kind of place that would prompt someone to wax lyrical?  Janet Evanovich manages to romanticize Trenton in the Stephanie Plum novels.  Bruce Springsteen mythologized Asbury Park and all of the Jersey Shore for the whole world, really.  William Carlos Williams made literary history of Paterson.  Hackensack, as we have all probably wearied of hearing by now, gets a mention from Billy Joel, Bob Hope, and Superman, but always as a place away from where-ya-wanna-be, as in "who needs a house out in Hackensack-ack-ack-ack-ack?"  And these fleeting allusions in the popular culture have, either rightly or wrongly, prompted connotations of this small city as nothing more inspiring than an urban-suburban nexus, one of the primary hubs of white-flighters in the nineteen sixties.  It is a place, in the popular imagination (if it makes an appearance there at all), of unremarkable mentality, within commuting distance of New York, and full of, well, houses.  But character or charm?  Hollywood has set TV dramas in Hoboken, but never in Hackensack.  No one would write an "I left my heart in Hackensack" ballad, right?  Dawsons Creek could not just as easily have been Borgs Woods.

   Hackensack is neither small town America always fertile ground for nostalgia nor a proper metropolis, inspiring cinematic homage.  It isnt pristine suburbia, either.  If Desperate Housewives were set in Hackensack, its dark ironic humor would be lost.  And in terms of attractions, Hackensack has the First Dutch Reformed Church and a couple of other historic landmarks, but no natural features to speak of, and so nothing to draw tourists. 

   So if you grew up in Hackensack within the last forty or fifty years, you are unlikely to feel as though you come from a place thats special -- special in the public consciousness, I mean, if not your own.  But the more I ponder the place, the more I begin to sense that it does in fact breed something unique in its inhabitants.  Or if not unique, certainly distinct.  For if you come from Hackensack, chances are you have learned to expect the random.  Not the utterly unpredictable, as you might have had you grown up a few miles away in New York City, but just the random:  any house on your street could contain any sort of family with any sort of history.  Ethnic ancestry varied from door to door, as did family dynamics, family configurations, family expectations.  In other words, the mores in your house could well have been entirely different from the mores in the houses of many of your friends.  In my house, we observed the religious significance of Christmas and Easter in ways that many of our friends found somewhat alien.  Secularism sits side-by-side with churchliness in Hackensack.   In the Hackensack of my childhood, the 60s and 70s, a lawyer and his family could be living next to a postman and his family, a gym teacher and his family, a doctor and his family, an elderly landscape painter and his wife, and that gentle accountant all by his lonesome in the corner property.  These days that same variety of occupation holds true, only now the households are likely to be two-income.  In other words, you cant just blithely ascribe collar-color to any one neighborhood in Hackensack, as you might in other nearby towns. 

   Paramus and Maywood, for example, always seemed more monolithic than Hackensack did.  Teenagers of my generation called Maywood Mayberry for a reason.  And Paramus seemed more evenly affluent than Hackensack, the houses more modern, and the sidewalks poured concrete rather than slate (oh, Hackensack does have charm!  The slate sidewalks in the Fairmount section can take you back a hundred years.)   Paramus and Maywood were also less multi-racial.  Hackensack High School may not have offered true ethnic integration (as -- in my fantasies, anyway -- Montclair High School probably does), but it definitely offered ethnic diversity, and therefore another lesson in randomness. 

   My husband grew up in suburban Dublin where nearly every da on his block was either in middle management or small business ownership, and every mum clucked away the afternoons with every other mum, while the kids ran around in the garden, and the whole neighborhood took tea at 6pm, with the Angelus playing on the radio.  Everyone was white and Catholic.  Now while that scenario may be an extreme example of homogeneity, just think how utterly un-homogenous your block was, if you were a kid who grew up in Hackensack.  Well?  Are you thinking of all the ways your friends families were mind-bogglingly different from your own?  In my house, we shouted at each other mercilessly for the slightest transgressions and forgave those transgressions moments later, no apology required.  In my friend Susies house, they spoke to each other with indoor voices all the time.  Eerie.  My brother John had one friend whose mother was a born-again Christian who held weekly prayer meetings in her living room, and another whose parents tried hard to make light of their kids devil worship.  For a suburb, Hackensack really is an eccentric kind of place, isnt it?  The schools, the parks, the businesses, the churches helped us achieve an interconnectedness, to be sure, but think about it -- in a Cold War world, we were spared a whole lot of conformity, werent we? 

   Hackensack may not have much outward aesthetique, much visible local color, but its people have an inner openness, if thats not too oxymoronic a phrase, an invisible, I dont know, readiness.  We dont know quite what to expect behind any one door, and so we expect the unexpected, we have a certain liberalness of mind, and we feel at home in many vernaculars.  Thats cool, were likely to say, about whatever local customs we may come upon, whether in a nearby backyard or the wider world.  Were not jaded, by any means, but we are admirably unflappable.  The more I go back to visit, the more I see an amiable spirit in my home-town of Hackensack.  Plus, its got the best dive restaurants Ive ever been to.  And dont get me started on the garage bands. 
« Last Edit: April 25, 2007, 02:19:42 PM by Editor »



Offline semafore

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Re: Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)
« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2006, 10:38:19 AM »
Note to Editor,
Thanks for putting Susan Norton's "Ode to Hackensack" into the discussion. I don't know who Susan is but she really captures the essence of my thoughts about growing up in Hackensack, even in the 40s and 50s.

Offline Kaffekat

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Re: Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)
« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2006, 12:06:59 AM »
Many Thanks to Susan for your posted essay.
Bringing back many memories - You've captured Hackensack in a nutshell!

Offline midniteangel

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Re: Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)
« Reply #3 on: August 04, 2007, 04:46:05 AM »
I grew up in Hackensack....birth to age 12 on Moore st...right behind Main st..then we moved to Spring Valley ave, a block from Summit Ave where my parents still are...it was like 2 different worlds from the court house to Sring Valley Ave.. I hung out in Maywood where my grandparents lived. But i also used to sneak to the "other" side of town to hang out in the Union st park...Main st was the place to be when i was a kid. Did anyone see the movie called JERSEY GIRL? It takes place in Hackensack and she lived on top Foschini's Bakery...who had the best canoli's in the world. It's a great movie...i used to go pony riding in Foschini Park...and they had the best fireworks in the world. I loved Hackensack.
Honesty is like a breath of fresh air!

Offline Editor

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Re: Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)
« Reply #4 on: August 04, 2007, 09:12:37 AM »
Another piece that tries to define community:  Community is defined by circles, not lines

Offline nataliemcdonald

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Re: Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)
« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2009, 01:13:54 PM »
I agree.  I lived in Hackensack for 30 years on Prospect Avenue.  I went to Holy Trinity School, Hackensack Middle School, Hackensack High School and Fairleigh Dickinson University.  My little girl's father still lives in Hackensack, but I followed a different path that led me to Massachusetts and now Louisiana.  I am extremely proud to be from Hackensack and I'm often quite homesick.  I'm glad I found this board -- Happy New Year to all!!

Offline prospectgirl

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Re: Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)
« Reply #6 on: January 05, 2009, 06:06:02 AM »
Good Morning...I am hoping you will be interested in sharing memories of your 30 years on Prospect Avenue. If you read my posts you will learn that I lived in one of the "lesser" mansions on the Avenue throughout my childhood years. I attended Fanny Meyers Hillers for kindergarten and then Holy Trinity- well before they built the new school.The building drive, however, was ongoing through my entire elementary attendance. I think we all believed we would never see the new school actually come out of the ground. I am hoping we can share teacher names and experiences from Trinity. You are the age of some of my younger siblings (six children), so I am sure the old school would have been down by the time you started elementary. Am I right? I wonder if you know anything of the Maple Avenue inhabitants of old?

Hope you will engage in conversation with me. I miss Hackensack very much, too. Sadly, I believe "our" Hackensack is quite unlike the experience of its newest denizens. I am very excited about sharing info and memories of that time period.

P.S. Wasn't that essay posted by Susan Norton inspiring. I wish we could learn more about her, or even locate her. I would wager that she is closer to your age than mine. She has a clever breeziness to her writing style, doesn't  she? Tell me what she made you remember. For me, wow, I had forgotten all about the slate sidewalks. Do you remember playing hopscotch on them?
« Last Edit: January 05, 2009, 01:49:46 PM by prospectgirl »

Offline prospectgirl

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Re: Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)
« Reply #7 on: January 05, 2009, 06:58:49 AM »
Editor...
Would you happen to know where to find Susan Norton? How did you first find her ? Have you ever have any other postings from her?
Her posting prompted me to join and yesterday I noticed a new member who had been inspired to join in the same way that I was. Does the "board" have a way to keep contact with Susan Norton???
« Last Edit: January 05, 2009, 01:53:38 PM by prospectgirl »

Offline Editor

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Re: Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)
« Reply #8 on: January 07, 2009, 02:00:59 PM »
Sue is my sister.  She lives in Ireland and monitors this site periodically.  She's 44.



Offline Editor

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Re: Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)
« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2009, 10:48:09 PM »
Here's another article that defines our place in the universe:

The Hidden State of Culture
New Jersey often brings to mind pollution and shopping malls, but it's an epicenter of artistic talent

I like this paragraph in particular:

The glee that New Yorkers take in belittling their neighbors to the west is especially energetic. There are two reasons for this. First, people living in New York City are convinced that without New Jersey blocking their view, they would be able to see the rest of the country. Second, New Jerseyan Aaron Burr killed New Yorker Alexander Hamilton in a duel, the tragic consequence of negative remarks that Hamilton made behind Burr's back at a dinner party (probably something like: "Burr, that moron from New Jersey"). That Hamilton was gunned down on a Weehawken, N.J., cliff overlooking Manhattan's spectacular streets -- and not, say, on Fifth Avenue -- only added insult to injury. New Yorkers have a long memory.

Offline BlkVelvet

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Re: Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)
« Reply #10 on: July 24, 2009, 10:21:56 AM »
Thank You Susan,for such a pleasant stroll down memory lane.Ive lived in Hackensack for 50plus years,i attended Beech Street school during the time change came to allow a broader mix of the races and the school i was sent to was Fanny M Hillers ,i then went on to then State Street school(middle school) then to Hackensack High.
I remember the movies theaters The Fox and The Oritani and Main Street and State Street were 2 way streets.
I also remember the many parades there was in Hackensack.being a brownie and girl scout i had the pleasure of being in a few.I HAVE SO MANY WONDERFUL MEMORIES ,THE GOOD ACTUALLY OUTWEIGHS THE BAD.
Hackensack is unique and special to everyone in there own special way ..i could go on and on and on about my life in Hackensack..but i wont do that...it is very nice sharing memories of a place so many have been a part of ...btw ..i grew up on Second Street
                                                                      BV@~>

Offline johnny g

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Re: Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)
« Reply #11 on: April 20, 2010, 12:36:41 PM »
I lived in Hackensack (before that So Hackensack) on Hudson St from 1978-86..then on New St from 1986-95, when I moved to NYC. I have many great memories of our city, including being ON Lodi St during the filming of Jersey Girl.
I went to Immaculate Conception school on Hudson St by Rt.80, and Bergen Tech high school (class of 85) had a few paper routes as a kid, and sampled some of the best Italian food from various deli's I ever had in my life. My neighborhood was very diverse, and I had a mixed bag of friends growing up, from all backgrounds. It was a simple time, and it was great.

Offline Edwin

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Re: Ode to Hackensack (Seriously)
« Reply #12 on: October 06, 2011, 01:59:00 PM »
Quote
Hackensack may not have much outward aesthetique, much visible local color

Disagreed. While it may not have more modern construction, and that pristine, pretty look, like redevloped, expensive, yuppie areas like in Hoboken or Jersey City, it has that older, historic, Norman-Rockwell-painting look. Older buildings of actual brick construction, with the ornate masonry decorations attached at the tops of the buildings or over the doorways. The former is TOO pretty, and comes across as "fake" and/or cloying somehow. I mean, I like it too, but I kind of prefer the latter look. Westwood and Tenafly also have it (the latter), and Bergen county in general has that look in all the downtown areas. Has more character.

Of course one of the biggest things is livability. You've got the train*. And Costco, and international food warehouse over the hill in Lodi, Anderson Street market and Giant Farmer's market also have some ethnic foods, the restaurants, a few gyms, riverside square mall, at least one furniture store, etc. Half these things are walking distance from one of the train stations*, which is great because you can avoid driving

*the train really is far better than any other public transportation. The buses or NYC's subways are no comparison. They're all on old freight lines, so the tracks and thus the travel path are very smooth, and it isn't rapid-transit so it doesn't stop/start hard. The ride is EXTREMELY smooth. Plus it's roomy since there are so many cars and so many seats, you can sit peacefully and privately. Plus the huge engines provide great climate control inside. Plus the sheer size combined with the gravel-bed track (also the lack of a need to go fast and change tracks since again it's not like the subway, it's not rapid transit), makes it also a really quiet ride. Plus, you're above ground, so you get a great view with the gentle rolling motion of the train. And moreover, it isn't driving. I hate driving.

Driving the is most convenient form of travel, but by far the least fun/most annoying.