So, I wrote this little end of summer essay right before the Labor Day weekend, and people really liked it. It had some thoughts about the summer, about my kids, about running on the Boardwalk, about memories of my parents, about how the coastline conjures up those memories, about the way people vacation when they come down the shore, and how living down here all the time doesn't always yield the same pleasures. It was a fairly random set of observations, some of which had been explored at various times on this blog. I banged it out in about seven minutes, not including the hours of rewriting the next morning, mostly because the psychic on Ocean City's boardwalk who earlier this summer had told a gay customer he was going to Hell, was unavailable for a season ending interview. (Here's Michael Miller's Press of Atlantic City story on the psychic.) I really wanted to write a story that began: Looking back on the summer, fortune teller blah blah blah. Get it? But as these things often go, the story you dash off at the last minute is often the one that resonates, while the one you work on for weeks lands with an awkward silence.
So it worked out really well. People were literally stopping me on the Boardwalk and emailing me from all over to say how much it they liked it, how it evoked their own feelings about the Jersey shore. Jackpot, yes? Except for one thing. In a valient attempt to draw some coherenence to the essay, which was organized basically as things that happened to me this summer plus things I've been thinking about, the very astute headline writer found an organizing thread: The shoobies had taught this local some lessons this summer. She called the essay: "Thanks Shoobies. A Shore resident looks back on this longest of summers, with gratitude, not contempt, for faithful visitors." Nice.
And so it began. The "what's a shoobie" e-mails and phone calls. Honestly, I was really surprised. For one thing, I assumed the term is as ubiquitous in the Philly area as scrapple. People may have forgotten its origins (originally referring to people who came to the shore for the day on the train carrying their lunch in shoeboxes, though more recently the shoe part seems to refer to day trippers who show up wearing shoes on the beach, and, more generally, to visitors to the Jersey shore who are greeted with derision by people who live here because of their annoying driving habits.) But I was really surprised that so many people seemed to have never heard the term before.
A few years back I wrote about the term because it was being used on the Nickelodean kids show Rocket Power, which had a New Jersey writer on its staff. The cool surfer kids in the show used it to deride goofy looking tourists who wore socks with their flip flops. In North Jersey, the term is bennies (apparently from the train stations visitors come from: (B)ayonne, (E)lizabeth, (N)ewark and (N)ew (Y)ork, and the shoobie vs. bennie (benny?) line is often used to distinguish North versus South Jersey. (For more, see nsjersey.blogspot.com). I guess the lesson is, never assume anything. In the future, I will make sure I carefully define the word and its origins, even though I know people will write in and say, I can't believe you think you have to define shoobie, do you not respect your readers' intelligence? And I do hope for most, the meaning was clear from the story, not to mention the headline, which defines Shoobie nearly as quickly as it elevates it to big-type status _ "faithful visitors" _ and neatly incorporates the idea that the usual attitude toward same is contempt, not gratitude. I'm telling you, Janice Ward is a great copy editor.
In the meantime, I guess I should clarify that scrapple is a traditionally a mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and flour, often buckwheat flour and spices, according to Wikipedia. And, for the still confused shoobies among us, here's the Wikipedia entry for shoobie, plus the somewhat more incendiary urban dictionary entry for same, and the more to the point offering from the world of academia, from the Double-Tongued Dictionary spearheaded by Grant Barrett, the word of the year guru.
The double-tongue people define it as, simply, "a short-term visitor to the beach and shore communities of New Jersey." Of course, being double tongued, they add an editorial note that muddies the issue: "Shoobie has long been said to derive from a description of tourists, day-trippers, weekenders, and others who would bring a meal packed in a shoe box. Though often repeated, this supposed origin has not been verified."
Ok? Does that settle it? No? So what is a shoobie, anyway?