Scott Gutches was awarded First Place in fiction in PEN’s 2012 Prison Writing Contest.
I been goin’ to the Jersey shore since I was a kid and ain’t never seen a condom or syringe wash upon the sand. The only thing hazardous was, on rare occasions, a few jellyfish pieces and the perimeter of my brother’s paper-thin wool blanket he stole from the Army-Navy store. The fuckin’ thing was like the Golan Heights, ‘cept instead of landmines, there was smolderin’, unfiltered Kools buried in the sand. I once stopped on one of ‘em when I walked up to the blanket after gettin’ stung by a jellyfish that felt like the size of a Kaiser Roll, and when I jerked my foot back, ended up kickin’ sand over half the blanket. You’d a thought my brother caught me unhookin’ his girlfriends bra or somethin’ the way he wailed on me, ‘cos I almost forgot I got stung. When I told him about it, he told me to quit blubberin’ ‘cos the welt was only about the size of a dime, but he was still nice enough to wash it off with the melted ice in his soda cup. I asked him why we never got a whole jellyfish, just the pieces. And he told me it was prob’ly ‘cos maybe the sight of the Jersey shore scared the shit out of them so bad they just fell apart right then and there. So if the Jersey shore was as bad as everyone makes it out to be, that day I’d a had a lot bigger problems than a cigarette burn on my foot, a jellyfish sting on my back and a couple a black and blues on my right arm. So I think the whole bullshit about medical waste was started by the locals who were sick of all the bennies comin’ down from “north Jersey” and Philadelphia, and all that crap about body parts and hypodermics was meant to make people lose interest. One syringe from some out-of-town smacky or a condom by—take your pick of all the couples screwin’ in the sand the night before—and it gets blown out and carried away.
That’s the thing about Jersey—if you’re from the metropolitan areas, you call the entire state, “Jersey.” If you’re below that, you say you’re from “South Jersey” and you call everything north of ya, “North Jersey,” as though we had a civil war or something. But no rnatter if you’re Jersey or South Jersey; no one ever says, “New Jersey.” And even though, believe it or not, the majority of the state lives up to its nickname with its plush farms and the greenest grass you ever knew, nobody ever says, “The Garden State” unless they’re talkin’ about the Parkway. Turnpike’s just The Turnpike and every other highway’s just called by its number—we don’t put the word “route” in front of it.