Lost In The Pines

  • Sunday / March 24, 2019
Lost In The Pines 1

Lost In The Pines

I walked though the door to run an errand, on this cold blustery March morning. Just another small town post office in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The counter was empty. No signs of life. I cleared my throat. A stout, bearded, beflanneled, younger, man came from behind the wall behind the counter and steped to the register.

Me: Hi. I need a book of stamps.
Clerk: Eleven dollars.

I hand him a twenty.

Clerk: Do you have a dollar?
Me: No.
Clerk: Most people would check their pockets first.
Me: I never carry cash. My Mom asked me to get stamps. She handed me a twenty.

He goes to the cash drawer and hands me nine ones.

Clerk: Now you can go to a strip club.

W H A T   T H E  F U C K ? ? ? ? ?

I was stunned. I was pissed. I walked out.

This incident bothered me the entire day. Part of me wished I would have said something pithy, sarcastic, or ironic. I wish I would have said: “Oh. There are GAY strip clubs in Lacey? Do you dance in one?” But I also knew better than to provoke a young, white, possibly racist, sexist, agist, piney, hick, who thought he was being funny, sarcastic, or just downright mean.

Maybe I’m being too sensitive? Fuck no!

Unfortunately it feeds into my fear of living as an aging gay man in the era of the racist, agist, sexist, homophobic, nationalist, “Gang of 45” currently running the country & emboldening such attitudes across the world.

I don’t usually (read ever) talk about politics in my blog. But the times they are a changing—and not necessarily for the better. Plus I’ve moved from the small more liberal Jersey shore gay mecca—Asbury Park—to what used to be a sleepy small rural Jersey shore town along Route 9—Lanoka Harbor—in Lacey Township, NJ. I lived here on and off from 1974-ish to 1982-ish. My parents bought a “summer home” in Lanoka and eventually moved there permanently when I graduated Linden High School in 1974. Back then the entire area was much more rural & I had a small group of good friends when I did live here. I also wasn’t out yet or identifying as gay—though I had inklings.

Since that time Lacey Township had become inhabited by numerous other “outsiders” and has become overrun and forever scarred by strip malls and big ticket anchor stores like Walmart, Home Depot, Kohl’s and their ilk. What was once protected lands have been stripped to build new residential subdivisions & more strip malls. It’s shocking and sad. There was a certain charm to driving Rt 9 in those earlier times. Now—it’s a mirror of what America has become—corporate and soulless. But I digress …

I’m starting to feel like the characters Christopher and Paulie of the Sopranos when they got lost and stranded in the Jersey Pine Barrens—tired, cold, disconnected, and SO out of their element. I’m not sure I belong here. I don’t know that I feel safe here. It’s 2019 and for all the modern facade it feels like I’m in some redneck backwater, looking over my shoulder, being wary of what I say and to whom. I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to feel like that. But here I am …

I’ve only lived here (full time) since the end of January 2019. Because of health and economics, I’ve retired at age 62, am collecting my Social Security, living in my family home with my 91 year old mother, and trying to help her as much as I can. It’s a HUGE change from living alone in a more liberal, gay friendly town, to a place that’s—not so much so.

It’s funny(?) how one moment at a post office can crystallize a fear and show a place for what it is. Now I know that everyone here is not like this guy. But there are plenty more like him. I see plenty of American-made pickup trucks, SUVs and cars with Trump stickers on their bumpers. I also watched and listened in horror as some scraggly-bearded, wild-eyed, camouflage-floppy-hat wearing, crazy man was franticly talking to a frightened female clerk at her register about America, gun rights, militias, the right to bear arms, and martians—no lie—martians, while standing in line at the Lacey UPS Store just last week. I thought I had walked into an episode of the Twilight Zone.

So my current conundrum is: Do I report the post office rep to the local Postmaster and try to have him reprimanded or fired? He was rude, made an “off-colored” remark to a complete stranger and a customer, and made me uncomfortable. Or do I just put my tail between my legs, let it go, and carry on? Yeah—I do want to burn him … but I also just want to get on with life too. Yeah. Conundrum.

In the meantime I’ll try to focus on the positives in living in the area and in my own skin and see where that goes. But I had to do something. I had to write about it—if only to vent. And by doing so maybe I’ll feel a little less—lost in the pines—maybe.

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Joe Streno

artist . musician . photographer . apple computer consultant . residing on planet earth with his two cats rocky & rose & living to tell tales about it

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