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[ The Armpit of America ]
Danny grew up in Jersey, and yes, thank you very much, he’s heard the “armpit of America” joke quite enough for one lifetime.
He spent many days as a kid at Seaside swimming in what passed for an ocean and never really knew that there was better out there until he was eighteen and went to Pensacola for Spring Break. “There’s no trash,” he’d wondered allowed. “People pick up after themselves? They hire people to pick up?” He preferred his beach anyway, even if he didn’t have to worry about stepping on glass as much in Florida. Jersey had less jellyfish.
As a teenager he walked the boardwalk and shared his cotton candy with Sara Farnbuckle and won stuffed teddy bears for Lisa Harding, bought pizza from the pizza joint and smuggled girls down under the dock and made out with them with his toes curling in the sand and his hand up their shirts.
He broke his fist on Johnny Foster’s jaw at a bar in Tom’s River and got his nose busted when he told Jody Terril to knock it off with the anti-Semitism when they were in Jackson to go to his grandmother’s funeral.
Christmases were a neighborhood kind of thing, his Ma making her sausage and bread stuffing and bringing it over to Ms. Tudeski’s house, and he brought back her homemade French bread and a heaping bowl of lumpy mashed potatos. At nine o’clock on Christmas Eve he’d sit on the couch in front of the tree and drink eggnog watching his family talk to the Smith’s about Danny’s grades and didn’t say anything when his Dad got drunk and knocked over the tree, just laughed and helped Mr. Inara pick him back up.
Danny loves Jersey because Jersey is what he knows, the hole in the wall diners and the ramshackle bars, the torn down bleachers of his highschool, and the neighborhoods you don’t go in to after eight at night. He loves Jersey because Jersey told him that friendship meant that, when the shit went down, the guys that stayed around to get their asses beat just because you were are the ones you keep, and the ones that don’t should get tossed in the Hudson.
He loves Jersey because what other state could boast being home to The Boss, Bon Jovi, Bruce Willis, and Abbot & Costello?
He also loves Jersey because those pansy ass New Yorkers can take their elitist nose-turned-up shit-eating smirks and shove them up their fucking asses, he’ll take the rotten egg smell at the Turnpike over high-heel wearing socialites and too-tight-tie-wearing yuppies any day. (Steve laughs long and loud at this assertion, and Danny grumbles that fine, point, but he's no god damned yuppie either.)
It’s a surreal experience walking down the boardwalk with Steve, stuffing his face with with cotton candy as Steve looks down his nose at the beach and scoffs. “Are you kidding me, they make you pay to go on the beach?”
“Didn’t used to,” Danny says, frowning.
“Eight dollars,” Steve shouted, pointing at the sign. “Danny!”
“I know, I know,” Danny said, holding up his hands and tossing the cone in the trashcan. “You don’t come here for the swimming anyway, you go to Point Pleasant. Come on, pizza.”
“You couldn’t pay me to go swimming here, I’ll wait til we get home, thank you,” Steve says, allowing Danny to grab his wrist and drag him down the rickety wooden planks to open air pizza place. “Okay fine, pizza.”
He grabs two humongous slices of Pepperoni and plops the plate in front of Steve before folding his in half lengthwise and taking a big bite. “Mmm,” he says, closing his eyes and grinning. “That’s pizza.”
Steve rolls his eyes and starts making fun of Danny’s assertion that nobody makes better pizza than New Jersey, and then he takes a bite. He chews, stops, and then chews slower. “Hm,” he says, chewing some more and then swallowing.
Danny grins hugely at him and eats the rest of his slice in three bites.
Steve takes his time, tilting his head and folding his slice like Danny’s, taking a medium sized bite and chewing thoughtfully. “Okay. Why?”
“Why what, babe,” Danny asks, smirking at him.
“Why is this better than any other pizza I’ve ever had,” Steve asks, frowning down at his slice in concentration. “I’ve been all over and had millions of pizza’s. It’s all pretty much the same. It’s bread, and cheese, and marinara sauce, and pepperoni.”
“Something in the water here I guess,” Danny says, and leans back, scratching idly at his belly and thinking about whether or not he’s gonna grab another slice.
“Danno, I’m afraid of what’s in your water here,” Steve says, swallowing his next bite. “You better not mean that literally.”
Danny just grins and stands, pointing at Steve. “Another slice?”
Steve nods and Danny grabs two more, watching as Steve again eats his very slowly. “You’re kind of a priss for a SEAL, man.”
Steve glares at him. “I’m savoring.”
“Uhuh,” Danny says, squinting out at the sun. He unbuttons his sleeves and rolls them up, reaching up to loosen his tie. “Archade, pool, rides, or get drunk on crappy daiquiris?”
Steve thinks for a moment. “Rides, get drunk, then archade.”
Danny laughs. “Excellent sequence, my friend. Hurry up, the kids are about to get out of school, if you don’t want to wait for teenagers to finish making out long enough to board the rides we should get in line.”
They ride some lameass rides that aren’t even interesting for sixteen year olds, drink some truly awful but potent daiquiris, and Danny lets Steve kick his ass at pool.
They drive around some and Danny points out where he got his first erection, where he got into his first fistfight, where he went to the prom, where he made his first bust. “And that,” he said, pulling to a stop at the intersection and pointing at a small little modest home on the corner. “Is where Rachel realized that being married to a cop meant horrible pay and very little mall-shopping time.”
“I think you’re making her out to be far shallower than she really is,” Steve says quietly, looking at the white boarded up home.
“Well,” Danny says, hands gripping the wheel a bit tightly. “I let the multi-million dollar mansion located in Hawaii do the talking for me.”
They eat dinner at one of the five million TGIF’s and make it back to their hotel room in Trenton at around eleven o’clock. As Danny’s taking off his tie Steve’s arms wrap around him from behind and his lips press to Danny’s neck. “Regret following me here?”
“Nope,” Steve says, teeth scraping against Danny’s neck. “I love it here.”
Danny lets out a surprised snort. “Really? I thought you’d want to kill yourself.”
“Oh I would,” Steve says, letting go enough to turn Danny to face him, grinning down at him. “If I lived here I would totally kill myself. Danny it’s a hole. It stinks. You have to pay to swim on a crappy, dirty, filthy beach. It’s awful.” He grins wider. “But you smile more here, and you relax. You even loosened your tie. I love it here.”
Danny smirks and reaches up to yank off his tie. “You are way too obsessed with my tie, babe,” he says, and tosses it to land in a heap by his suitcase.
Steve doesn’t answer, just leans down and presses his mouth to Danny’s and proceeds to give Danny a whole new list of reasons why he loves Jersey.