A Travellerspoint blog

June 2009

Long Branch, NJ: Three Great Literary Figures

What to do at the Jersey Shore: READ

Three great literary figures were born in Long Branch. I actually had the pleasure of meeting two of them.

I met Norman Mailer in Miami in 1972. Although I was a terrified college student, I loved his books Armies of the Night and Miami and the Siege of Chicago, so I gathered up my courage and approached him. He asked me where I was from (Long Branch) and he told me he was born there. We had a lovely chat and I was always glad I’d had the courage to speak to him. Norman Mailer was born in Long Branch, New Jersey in 1923, and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He died in November, 2007. At the age of nine composed a 250-page science fiction story called "Invasion From Mars." An ambitious and competitive student, he graduated from Brooklyn's Boys High School in 1939 and won admission to Harvard at age 16. While still an undergraduate, he won a student fiction contest sponsored by Story magazine.


In 1967, Mailer was arrested at the Pentagon while demonstrating against the Vietnam War, an experience he recounted in his book Armies of the Night (1968), which received the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction. Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968) continued Mailer's coverage of the political conventions. His political involvement culminated in an exuberant, if ultimately unsuccessful, campaign for Mayor of New York City in 1969.

He career languished, but at the end of the seventies, Mailer made a startling comeback with The Executioner's Song (1979). As he had used the techniques of the novel to inform his journalism of the 1960s, he now adopted real life undisguised as the material for a "non-fiction novel," relating the life of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore, whose death by firing squad in Utah was the first execution to take place in America since the 1960s. Although solidly grounded in fact, The Executioner's Song read like a thoroughly imagined work of fiction, and was recognized as such by the Pulitzer Prize Committee.

I never met the journalist, writer, and poet Dorothy Parker., although I'm sure I would have liked her if I had. Born on August 22, 1893, in the West End of Long Branch, New Jersey Dorothy Parker became a legendary literary figure, known for her sarcasm and wit. She worked on such magazines as Vogue and Vanity Fair during the late 1910s. Parker went on to work as a book reviewer for The New Yorker in the 1920s. She remained a contributor to The New Yorker for many years; the magazine also published a number of her short stories. One of her most popular stories, “Big Blonde,” won the O. Henry Award in 1929.

In addition to her writing, Dorothy Parker was a noted member of the New York literary scene in 1920s. She formed a group called the Algonquin Round Table with writer Robert Benchley and playwright Robert Sherwood. This artistic crowd also included such members as The New Yorker founder Harold Ross, comedian Harpo Marx, and playwright Edna Ferber among others. The group took its name from its hangout—the Algonquin Hotel, but also also known as the Vicious Circle for the somewhat mean-spirited remarks made by its members.

An example of her dead-on wit is the quote, “Women and elephants never forget.”

Here is Parker at her bawdy best:

I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I'm under the table,
after four I'm under my host.

I met Robert Pinsky twice and both times was impressed with his charm and graciousness. The first time I spoke with him was at a reading he did at my alma mater and his, Rutgers University. I told him we had much in common, since I had lived in Long Branch and had also attended Rutgers. Pinsky was born on October 20, 1940, in Long Branch. Even as a child, Pinsky was conscious of his love for the arts. His father, Milford Simon, was an optician. Sylvia, his mother, wanted her son to become an optician, too. Instead, Robert became the first person in his family to go to college.

His translation of The Inferno of Dante brought him fame and much acclaim. He received both The Los Angeles Times Book Review Award and the Howard Morton Landon Prize for Translation in 1995. Pinsky’s masterpiece furthered his successful career in writing, and earned him his next job: Poet Laureate of the United States.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington appointed Robert Pinsky to be the ninth Poet Laureate and the country’s 39th Consultant in Poetry in 1997. The position of Poet Laureate requires recipients to complete an annual lecture on their poetry as well as introduce poets in the Library’s annual poetry series (among the oldest in the country). In addition, the Laureate is expected to raise public awareness of poetry through programs and country-wide projects. The energetic Pinsky was elated to receive the title of Poet Laureate for three consecutive terms; an amazing feat. Here are some of my favorite books:

The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation. (translator) New York: Farrar, Strauss, 1994.

The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996. New York: Farrar, Strauss, 1996

Jersey Rain. New York: Farrar, Strauss, 2000.

In 1997, Pinsky started “The Favorite Poem Program.” Now compiled on an internet database, the program initially invited 100 average Americans to read their favorite poetry and have it recorded for the official archives of the Library of Congress. The program was a huge success, receiving over 18,000 submissions and attracting people from all walks of life. He videotaped ordinary people of all ages reading their favorite poem. You can check it out at www.favoritepoem.org .

So not only does Long Branch have amazing places to eat, it has produced some great literary minds, as well. Must be all that sea air.

Posted by teethetrav 11:52 Archived in USA Tagged educational Comments (0)

Long Branch, New Jersey

What to do at the Jersey Shore

Long Branch, New Jersey is an historic seashore city. From the 1860’s through the First World War, it was also the most glamorous town on the Jersey coast. During Long Branch’s early years as a resort town, it was like the Riviera of the east coast. Society names such as the Astors and Fisks, and famous, albeit notorious names such as Diamond Jim Brady and Lily Langtree summered here. First Lady Mary Lincoln visited in 1861, but it was in 1869 that Long Branch NJ had it’s first presidential visit by President Grant. The President continued to visit every summer that he was president.

By 1870, Monmouth Racetrack opened and is still open today. Soon after the track, came casinos. Long Branch was in its glory days. Seven other presidents followed Grant and visited the city. Chester A. Arthur, Rutherford Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson and James Garfield were frequent summer visitors. After an attempt was made on James Garfield’s life, he was brought to Long Branch in the hope of a recovery aided by the sea air. Indeed, a railroad spur from the main line to his house was built to make him more comfortable in his travels. Woodrow Wilson built a spectacular mansion modeled after Versailles which stands now as the centerpiece of Monmouth University.

Sadly, one of the only remaining structures of Long Branch’s former elegance is the St. James Episcopal Church. Built in 1879, it is where all seven presidents worshipped. It has since been renamed Church of the Presidents and is located at 1260 Ocean Avenue.

Long Branch, NJ is now attempting a rebirth. Visitors to Long Branch NJ will enjoy the beach, the new Pier Village, as well as Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park, a 33-acre county park with facilities for swimming, boating and picnicking. Some of the small summer bungalows have been replaced with high-rise condos, which has been a controversy locally because many of the homeowners did not sell willingly.

There is also a large selection of outstanding new restaurants as well as a lively nightlife at places like Le Avenue. But old timers know the best places to go are all the old favorites, such as Max’s. Max’s is not at its original location, which burned along with the boardwalk and amusement park many years ago, but is now one block from the beach and is still owned by the same family. There are signed pictures strewn across the walls of all the celebrities who have dined here; Bruce Springsteen being everyone’s favorite son, of course. For those in the know, there is no other hot dog on the Jersey shore. A crisp, sizzling dog sitting in a steamed bun loaded down with sauer kraut, relish and spicy mustard…mmm, oh my gosh. Max’s closes for the winter months and by March you just start lusting after a hot dog.

Down the street is the original Windmill. Now a chain, it’s famous for its grilled burgers. My favorite is, and has always been, the California burger on a hard roll smothered with ketchup and onion rings on the side. Heaven.

For dessert, a few blocks away, the best treat in town is Strollo’s Italian Ices. Lemon. Perfect. Cool, refreshing and tasting like summer.

Sure, there are other great restaurants where you can sit down and have a cocktail and a quiet, expensive meai. But Max’s, the Windmill, and Strollo’s are classic Jersey shore summer favorites.

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Posted by teethetrav 17:00 Archived in USA Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Four Favorite Things to do in New York City

Eat, Shop, Meander and See a Show (not necessarily in that order)

I was born in New York City. How lucky is that? Now, I live next door in New Jersey, but living so close to New York I take full advantage of everything the city has to offer. Frequent train rides into Manhattan still excite me as much as they ever did. True, every time the train gets to that point where the skyline used to be outlined by the Twin Towers, I still pause to remember and still get sad, but I love New York and go as often as I can.

It's a rare trip in that doesn't find me eating either lunch or dinner at my favorite Dim Sum Palace: Ruby Foo's. Once even featured in the "Sex and the City" series, Ruby's is kitschy, gaudy, and a bit raucous, with food that is oh so delicious! Get a million little plates and share. Usually, you need reservations, but if you didn't make any, there is usually room at the sushi bar and they'll squeeze you in.
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Another fun place right across the street is Bubba Gump's made famous by the movie Forrest Gump.
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Both restaurants are on Broadway around 59th Street.

There have been a million or so words penned about shopping in NYC. The only place I never fail to shop when I'm there is Sephora. My virgin encounter with Sephorawas in Paris on the Champs. I had never heard of it and wandered in unprepared to be in make-up and perfume heaven. The lovely (male and female) attendants were sleek in their black outfits and I have never failed to get that same rush I had that first day any time I visit Sephora. Lipstick, eye shadows, nail polish, endless colors, and scents and it's simply the best. This is not just for women. They have outrageous men's products, too.
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Even if you decide at the last minute to see a Broadway show (which is sometimes better because you can get a great deal) stop at the TKTS on Broadway and pick up last minute seats. I'm seeing the West Side Story revival soon and I'm so excited. "Cool, cool, crazy cool....Got a rocket in my pocket..." Ach! Can't wait!
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South Pacific is another old favorite that's back. So tragic! But still so timely. "You've got to be taught to hate and fear..." and who could ever forget "I'm gonna wash that man right outta my hair..."

But when all is said and sung, meandering through the city streets, taking in the sights and people-watching is by far, the best. And it's free.
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Posted by teethetrav 12:56 Archived in USA Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

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