EXCERPT: Tramps Like Us by Kristen Buckley

Monday, June 11th, 2007

By Rachel Kramer Bussel

Like most of my favorite memoirists, Kristen Buckley is nobody too famous, but her extraordinary ordinary life is a story too amazing to keep to herself. She tells it with (too much?) honesty, tons of humor, and piles of pop-culture panache. Here, Buckley talks to Memoirville about rats, the mob, woman writers, honesty, meanness, bookstore love, and Chuck Palahniuk’s space monkeys.

Below, the introduction to Tramps Like Us will make you think about suburbia with renewed appreciation, then buy the book, if only to figure out where Buckley’s unique assertions can possibly be going. (NB: It’ll be worth it.)

There is just something about New Jersey that breeds a certain type of life and by extension, a certain type of person. It’s as if all those murky swamps, water gaps and rivers formed a natural economy that led to the confluence of jug handles, diners and highway stink. This in turn, begat an enormous amount of interstate travel options, which caused a lot of lost travelers to just settle in New Jersey rather than spend another hour on the Turnpike or its better looking sister The Parkway. This would at least explain how New Jersey came to be the most densely populated state (with a whopping twenty percent of the population foreign born). Of course, crowded areas make for strange bedfellows, which is how it is that soccer moms and gangsters can shop at the same stores and how such disparate entities as the World’s Oldest Nudist Camp, the Medieval Times Theme Park/Dinner Theater and the International Castor Oil Association can all co-exist in perfect harmony.

But I would argue that there is a larger factor shaping the people of New Jersey and that is that with the exception of Mall Rats and nail salon owners, just about everyone from the Garden State wants to escape. And because New Jersey is such a difficult state to escape from (mostly because wherever you turn there are tolls and tunnels all requiring cash payment), there is little room for error. You have to be strong, fierce, determined, tenacious and good with maps. In its essence, New Jersey is one giant chrysalis, inside which all us desperate caterpillars spin and rotate until we can become butterflies and fly away.

And much like the way that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas, the escaped people of New Jersey exert tremendous influence over the world as we know it.
Take Bruce Willis as an example.

Walter Bruce Willis grew up in Penns Grove, New Jersey and later went on to become the uber, box-office success that he is today. But let’s suppose for just a moment that Walter Bruce Willis didn’t grow up in the armpit of the nation. Let’s say for argument’s sake, he grew up in Akron, Ohio. What would have happened?

For starters, he would’ve most definitely stuck with his first name, Walter, and Walter would have grown up content with his surroundings, comfortable in his own skin and state. He would have vacationed at Cedar Point, made out with girls to the strains of The Michael Stanley Band and eventually found work in the tire business. After that he would probably have married a local girl, with a name like Elizabeth or Mandy. They would have had two children and passed their leisure hours watching college football or visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And life for Walter and his family would have been just dandy, until 1995 when Russian nuclear missiles would have attacked the Eastern seaboard, killing millions instantly and causing others, including Walter, to die a slow and debilitating death from radiation poisoning.

But, Walter Bruce Willis grew up in New Jersey and due to that intrinsic desire to escape, he pushed himself to the limits and ended up becoming one of the world’s greatest movie stars. Of course, this wasn’t all Bruce did. Let’s pause for a moment and ponder a few of his minor accomplishments:

He coined the phrase, “Yippie Ki Yay, Motherfucker” thus enabling tough guys the world over to replace the outmoded and circumstantially limiting “I’ll be back!”

He named his daughter Scout, which in turn boosted readership of To Kill A Mockingbird.

He divorced his wife Demi, whose name I might add is actually a preposition. The resulting coverage of the divorce and Demi’s subsequent relationship boosted People magazine to record profits. The result was a rise of Time Warner Inc. stock prices, which in turn fueled the bull market.

But all of these pale in comparison to his most major accomplishment which occurred in 1994, when he agreed to star in the Color of Night. The film was instantly green-lit and ultimately made. And though it was panned by critics and is considered to be one of his lesser box office successes, the film was in fact responsible for saving the lives of millions, thus proving the Butterfly Effect once and for all.

Color of Night starred Bruce opposite the very toothy Jane March and was an intricate story involving sex, psychiatry, art and murder. But what most people don’t know is that Color of Night is the favored viewing of the sea-based leg of the United States Strategic Deterrent Forces (a.k.a. the SSBN), who prowl the oceans in sleek, stealthy submarines for one hundred day stints. Their primary mission: Nuclear deterrence. Their mission profile: To avert war while remaining undetected. There isn’t a crew member on the force, who won’t testify to the positive masturbatorial effect that Color Of Night has on the entire SSBN fleet. Something about that Jane March keeps them lucid, clear headed and alert, which is a good thing because on the morning of January 25, 1995, Norwegian scientists launched the largest sounding rocket ever from Andoya Island off the coast of Norway.

Designed to study the northern lights, the rocket followed a trajectory to nearly nine hundred thirty miles altitude. To Russian radar technicians, who were no doubt foggy from the plethora of substandard Eastern European porn, the rocket appeared to mimic the flight of a U.S. Trident missile. From their perspective it seemed obvious that the U.S. was trying to blind Russian radar by detonating a nuclear warhead high in the atmosphere, so it could then launch an attack of some sort on Mother Russia. The response time was nearly instantaneous and Russia was suddenly poised to launch a full-scale, pre-emptive nuclear attack on the United States. President Boris Yeltsin put down his vodka, activated his “nuclear football” and lo and behold, WWIII was on . The United States scrambled to find an answer and thankfully it arrived from a SSBN crewman, who after a recent viewing of Color of Night, was so clear headed, lucid and mentally sharp that he determined that the rocket was no rogue, Neo-Con-guided Trident, but rather an annoying Norwegian rocket. Yeltsin got the message just in time and put away the nuclear football. The Eastern Seaboard was saved and millions were spared the debilitating death by radiation poisoning.

To this very day, whenever statesmen discuss the Norwegian Rocket Incident, they secretly thank Bruce Willis for getting Color of Night made, because even the most inexperienced spy can tell you, that Jane March could never have gotten that movie green-lit alone.

All this, from one tiny escaped butterfly from New Jersey’s polluted chrysalis.

What follows is a list of other people from New Jersey.

Buzz Aldrin, Bud Abbot, Jason Alexander, Charles Addams, Count Basie,Yogi Berra, Robert Blake, Judy Blume, Jon Bon Jovi, Zach Braff , Grover Cleveland, Tom Cruise, James Fenimore Cooper, Lou Costello, Steven Crane, Danny DeVito, Helen Gahagan Douglas, Michael Douglas, Thomas Edison, Connie Francis, Jon Forsythe, Daisy Fuentes, Derek Jeter, Allen Ginsberg, Leslie Gore, William Frederick Halsey Jr., Lauryn Hill, Whitney Houston, Ice T, Alfred C. Kinsey, Ernie Kovacs, Dorothea Lange, Huey Lewis, Jerry Lewis, Norman Mailer, Thomas Mitchell, Jay Mohr, Ricky Nelson, Jack Nicholson, Shaquille O’Neill, Joe Pesci, Zebulon Mongomery Pike, Joe Piscopo, Paul Robeson, Philip Roth, Antonin Scalia, Norman Schwarzkopf, Brooke Shields, Elizabeth and Andrew Shue, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra, Tony Soprano, Kevin Spacey, Steven Spielberg, Bruce Springsteen, Alfred Stieglitz, Meryl Streep, Dave Thomas, John Travolta, Frankie Vallie, Sarah Vaughan, Dionne Warwick, Denzel Washington, William Carlos William.

Consider the Butterfly Effect that each one of them has had on the world, then see if you have something lousy to say about New Jersey after that. Better yet, the next time you meet someone who is originally from New Jersey, thank them, because the odds are, their very existence has no doubt helped maintain the delicate balance that ultimately allows for all life on earth to exist.

3 responses

  1. Leah says:

    This is hilarious. I wish someone would do one for every state… There must be some interesting escapees from like, North Dakota, no?

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