The descent into Nutley always takes longer than the ride out. You can never leave quickly enough. You make your way down the quaint suburban streets, counting the traffic lights, one after another, driving past houses that all look the same with their American flags and picket fences. Then you turn onto the avenue peppered by nail salons and pizza parlors, past the Shop-Rite—a monstrosity of a building with three parking lots. It dominates an entire block and in town like Nutley, where food is the focus of everyone’s world and half the population is 60 plus, the Shop-Rite is a hot spot. Traffic to get into the place backs up four traffic lights and what should take two minutes to drive the mile stretch, winds up taking ten to fifteen minutes. You pass the Oval, the multi-purpose sports field that is home to the ever-losing football team who are seen as celebrities in the eyes of Nutley’s citizens. You pass the high school and middle school, followed by more nail salons and pizza parlors and then you’re out!
Nutley is a town that is still stuck in the 1950s. “Tradition!” they say. “We pride ourselves on tradition!” But, what they really mean is we pride ourselves on ignorance. There is such a lack of culture. Everyone is okay with the fact that there is no local bookstore, coffee shop, music store, or even a cool ‘hip’ place for the middle school and high school kids to hang out and socialize. They have been driven out of the parks, while the police try to crack down on ‘gang violence’ and graffiti. As if a town like Nutley would have a problem with gangs. If anything, the town itself is driving the youth away, without any type of stimulation or invigoration to go live life, forced to aimlessly walk down the avenue on the weekends, harassing passersby. Inevitably, they all end up at the Nutley Diner, the place to be on a Friday night after 11 o’clock when there’s nothing left to do but stuff your face with disco fries and endless cups of coffee.
Now driving out of Nutley is quick, but actually leaving, coming to the realization that reality cannot exist in a town that is two square miles is the hard part. When you make the decision to leave, everyone will tell you not to. They will say, “Oh my goodness, you are going so far away!” They pout their lips with consideration; cock their head to the side and say, “You’ll come back! I know you’ll come back. You don’t want to go that far away.” Then starts the cycle of self-doubt, imposed upon you by the citizens of Nutley, who consider a vacation a week at the Jersey Shore, only two hours from Nutley, where everyone from Nutley vacations. It’s like Nutley continued, Nutley light, diet-Nutley with a pleasant view.
But you want to break free. See the world, experience life in other places, and live independent from back door politics, housewives, and the pseudo-Mafioso elders who station themselves outside the town’s restaurants for hours, chatting in their leisure suits, greeting each other with kisses on the cheek, rings on their pinky fingers, and Italian good luck charms hanging from their neck and glaring in the sun.
I enjoyed growing up in Nutley. The sense of security and community was overwhelming. But, I had to get out. I could not fathom living in that bubble throughout college, nothing ever changing, life passing me by without a chance in hell to reach out and grab it.