The Long Tail of Greasy Tony

Greasy Tony's, NJ

Greasy Tony’s in NJ once upon a time

What is it about a short, simple post about a New Jersy food joint that went out of business that keeps it appearing the top 10 posts read here?

Tony's AZBack in 2008,  I posted a story called Greasy Tony’s Reborn in the Desert.  Tony’s was I place I frequented in the early 1970s as an undergrad at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.

It had good, fast, greasy food. Nothing extraordinary. It vanished in 1992, a victim of the university’s expansion. The students who made it popular caused its demise.

Whatever following Tony’s might have had, it doesn’t explain why the post has Legs” (or a “long tail” as it is known online).

Is it the title – reborn in the desert? Was it the mention of James Gandolfini (Rutgers grad) eating a cheesesteak in the resurrected eatery in the Arizona desert?

Mr. Greasy Tony, Tony Giorgianni, died in 2008, so that is not topical news.

If you found that post, or this one, how about a comment here about why you came here. It puzzles me.

The Provinces of East and West Jersey

Seal of the Province of Western New Jersey
Seal of the Province of Western New Jersey

Once upon a time, New Jersey was the Province of New Jersey. In 1686, a man took a long walk through the Province and did the first survey in order to mark the border dividing it into West Jersey and East Jersey.

That man was Surveyor-General George Keith. The line that he drew on the map was a very straight one. The purpose of the survey was to clarify disputes resulting from the earlier 1676 Quintipartite Deed, which created the two territories. On July 1, 1676, William Penn, Gawen Lawrie (who served from 1683 to 1686 as Deputy to Governor Robert Barclay), Nicholas Lucas and Edward Byllinge executed a deed with Sir George Carteret known as the “Quintipartite Deed,” in which the territory was divided into two parts. East Jersey was taken by Carteret, and West Jersey by Byllinge and his trustees.

The newer “Keith Line” runs North-Northwest from the southern part of Little Egg Harbor Township, passing just north of Tuckerton. The line was to continue upward to a point on the Delaware River which is just north of the Delaware Water Gap, but Keith was stopped in his survey. Hewas stopped by the Governor of West Jersey, Daniel Coxe, when he had reached the South Branch of the Raritan River (now Three Bridges in Readington Township).

Other more accurate surveys and maps needed to be made to resolve property disputes. But my own interest in the Keith Line is more cultural. These days, some people use this line as a way to mark the boundary between things like the “spheres of influence” for New York City sports teams and Philadelphia sports teams, such as the New York Giants (who play all their home games in New Jersey!) and the Philadelphia Eagles.

I like that when George took his 70-mile walk he defined some of New Jersey’s history and that history still exists in some ways today. Remember, these disputed boundaries were between two British provinces, and this was happening  about a century before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

It is not that his survey settled all arguments amongst New Jerseyeans about what divides the state, and there are still many opinions on what is North, Central or South Jersey. But Keith’s line and subsequent lines have stuck over the years as the boundary of East and West Jersey.

The original provinces of West and East New Jersey are shown in yellow and green respectively. The Keith Line is shown in red, and the Coxe and Barclay line is shown in orange
The original provinces of West and East New Jersey are shown in yellow and green respectively. The Keith Line is shown in red, and the Coxe and Barclay line is shown in orange


George was the Surveyor General of East Jersey. He walked north from Little Egg Harbor but when he was stopped at the Raritan River (in today’s Warren County) there were some who claimed he was already way off-course.

But the boundary was not surveyed again for another 60 years. According to Robert Barnett’s website there at least 5 boundary lines – 2 before and 2 after Mr. Keith’s.

The ruler-straight Keith Line is still a marker for municipal and county boundaries from Southern Ocean and Burlington counties up to Warren.


A good part of Barnett’s interest in all this is because of the two quite different distinct populations that settled in the two provinces. West Jersey was primarily populated by Quakers (see William Penn) and the East Jersey Province was primarily made up of Calvinists or Reformed Christians.

Religion isn’t the distinction between those two areas of the state today, but differences remain. One example of  the historic distinction can be seen in cemeteries east and west. Some of the western Quaker burial grounds are simple and uniform, while the oldest northeastern ones will have ornate monuments.


Other distinctions are much broader (and more questionable) generalizations, such as West Jersey being more “blue-collar” and more likely to have a simpler Quaker-ish pace as compared to East Jersey being wealthier and faster-paced. Of course, there is some real evidence if you look at things like Census data on taxes, income and home values, which are all significantly higher in the East.

Despite being close to Philadelphia, the west has about a third of the population living in more rural or suburban communities.

As other writers have noted, there is a pretty distinct line dividing the fans of the Phillies vs. Mets or Yankees, Eagles vs. Jets or Giants. In language, there are some food regionalisms like hoagie vs. sub sandwiches, water ice vs. Italian ice, and pork roll vs. Taylor Ham. All topics for barroom arguments in NJ.

And we haven’t even gotten into where South Jersey begins, or the Lenape or Lenni-Lenape (later European-renamed Delaware Indians) who occupied these areas long before the Europeans arrived.


A River Runs Through It

Verona Lake bridge

Verona Park is a small, suburban park near my home. It is 54 acres (219,800 m2). It is a place I often go for a walk around the lake. I think I know it pretty well by now, so I easily can see small changes in it. I notices tress that lose branches, new signs, things in the water that don’t belong. I have watched the seasons change there many times now.

Some of my observation skills came from reading a book by Annie Dillard the year after it was published when I had just graduated college and started teaching. It had a big impact on me.

I have written before about how those stories of an anchorite by a creek changed how I taught my students writing. It also changed my ambition from understanding and exploring the world and the wilderness to wanting to know smaller, more knowable places where I lived.

Some of those places are in the small woods near my home. This is not forest or wilderness. These are places I went to a hundred times with my sons. I felt like if I could really understand a small piece of the world, I could understand myself and the larger world better.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is that book and it’s about a year Dillard spent in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia in close observation of a small wooded area near the creek. The book made her a Thoreau of the suburbs.

In literature, we call it close reading. Close reading is careful, sustained interpretation of a brief passage of text. Such a reading places great emphasis on the single particular over the general. You pay attention to individual words, the way Dillard spent looking very carefully and writing down what she saw in nature and the seasons.

The title of her book suggests a pilgrimage, but like the labyrinth walk, she does not have to journey far from her home near the creek. This pilgrimage is not religious, but the pilgrim does seeks to behold the sacred.

The lake at Verona Park was once a swamp, and the lake was formed in 1814 when someone dammed the Peckman River for a grist mill. The lake with its weeping willow trees and paths was a place to escape to before it became a tamed county park with landscape plans prepared by the famous Olmsted Brothers.

The Peckman River in New Jersey flows northeasterly until its confluence with the Passaic River. The Passaic River itself is the remnant of Glacial Lake Passaic.

I have followed many sections of this troubled river over my lifetime. I have followed the Lenape Trail that follows the river in some sections the way the Lenape Indians followed it long ago.

The section of woods that is my pilgrim land is called Mills Reservation.  It is 157 acres and more than I can ever understand in detail. It was also a minimalist design by the Olmsteds while they worked for Essex County, but most of it has never been developed.

On a clear day, I can see Verrazano Narrows Bridge to the south and the New York City skyline and even the Statue of Liberty to the east. From one lookout point on a cliff of this Watchung Mountain, there is Hawk Lookout atop a 500-foot basalt ledge. Basalt is a common extrusive igneous, volcanic, rock formed from the rapid cooling of lava. People join the Audubon Society birders who gather on that ancient ledge to watch the migration mixture of both coastal and ridge flights every autumn.

If you follow the trail out of the Mills Reservation to the southwest, the yellow trail blazes will lead me to a trail along an old Erie Railroad line and into Verona Park. Everything comes around.

The title of this post is from the novella by Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It, which is collected in his book of short stories and was made into a popular film version.

The August Sturgeon Full Moon

fishing by the full moon

Looking over the possible names for this month’s Full Moon (occurring Sunday, August 10th in 2014), this year I chose the Full Sturgeon Moon. It is not the most Romantic of Full Moon names, but is one that was used by some Native American tribes, particularly the Algonquin, who noted that this fish in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were most readily caught during this Full Moon.

Here in Paradelle, the sturgeon is an endangered species. It is not a fish you will find on menus. The sturgeon family is among the most primitive of the bony fishes.

The shortnose sturgeon has a body that contains five rows of bony plates or “scutes.” Sturgeon are typically large, long-lived fish. Atlantic sturgeon have been aged to 60 years. They inhabit fast-moving freshwater rivers, lakes and, for some species, into the offshore marine environment of the continental shelf.  Atlantic sturgeon are similar in appearance to shortnose sturgeon but are larger in size with a smaller mouth and different snout shape.

In their estuarine and freshwater habitats, Atlantic sturgeon face threats from habitat degradation and loss from various human activities such as dredging, dams, water withdrawals and even ship strikes.

Atlantic Sturgeon

You may know that the delicacy caviar is salted sturgeon eggs which has been long associated with Russia and as a “treat of the tsars.” I have written elsewhere about the surprising history of New Jersey caviar.

In short, the Delaware Bay and Delaware River was one of the most productive sturgeon fisheries in the country in the late 1800s and the United States was the world’s top caviar exporter. A small town in New Jersey was named Caviar (or Caviar Point) because of its processing plant and railroad spur for sending the caviar north through the Pine Barrens to New York City.

In 1895, they were shipping 15 train cars of caviar and smoked sturgeon every day out of NJ. The fish were plentiful, but taking the females for their eggs, increasing demand and the species being one that is slow-maturing meant that this overfishing crashed the population and the business in the early 20th century.

Atlantic sturgeon were placed on the federal endangered species list. But Atlantic sturgeon were not eliminated from the Delaware River. The estimated 300 to 500 adult females that spawn there now is a very “endangered” population when compared to the estimated 180,000 breeding sturgeon believed to be in the bay prior to 1890, New Jersey monitors migration patterns and the slow comeback of the species.

American Indian names for the Full Moons, which was their calendar, always took note of the natural world.  August’s Full Moon was called the Green Corn Moon (being still early for some corn harvests in the north), Grain Moon, the Wheat Cut Moon (San Ildefonso, and San Juan Indians), Moon When All Things Ripen (Dakotah Sioux), the Moon When Cherries Turn Black or the Blueberry Moon (Ojibway).

Europeans and American Colonists took on much of the native information about the seasons but still tended to use names like Red Moon (for the reddish hue it often takes on in the summer haze), Mating Moon, Dog’s Day Moon (constellation), Woodcutter’s Moon, Chokeberry Moon, Summertime Moon, Corn Moon, and the Barley Moon.

Continuing with our Sturgeon Moon theme this month, we might wonder if fishing and fish activity changes when there is a Full Moon. That’s debatable and probably more about Moon Lore than about science. There are entire blogs devoted to Full Moons that I follow and there are plenty of theories.

The moonlight attracts or repels fish, depending on your beliefs and experiences. Of course, the actual fullest moment of the Moon isn’t always at night. It could occur during the day, so any influence would be felt then. This month, the Moon reaches its “full” moment in Paradelle in the afternoon at 02:09:24 pm (EDT) and on the Pacific coast it will be at 11:09:24 am. In Moscow, they can eat caviar, drink vodka and watch the Moon become full at 10:09:24 pm (MSK).

And, while we are thinking about the relativity of lunar events, this very Northern Hemisphere-centric blogger takes note that on the bottom half of this planet it is now time for the Snow Moon, Storm Moon, Hunger Moon, or Wolf Moon.

The Big Bang Theory Comes to New Jersey


My father worked at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, NJ in the late 1950s and into the early 1960s.  Bell Labs was where the photovoltaic cell, the laser, the transistor and many other discoveries were born.

In 1961, my Dad wanted to move us to Holmdel, NJ where a new Bell Labs was located. That is where a 20-foot horn-reflector antenna was built to listen to the Milky Way. What the antenna was hearing was a constant hiss, though it had been built to avoid picking up extraneous interference.

This was in 1964.  Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias were two young astronomers working there and they couldn’t figure out what was hissing in their radio-wave measurements of the sky. Radio noise from New York City? Remnants of nuclear test detonations? Pigeons nesting in the antenna horn.

In 1931, the labs had made a foundation for radio astronomy when Karl Jansky was investigating the origins of static on long-distance shortwave communications and discovered that radio waves were being emitted from the center of the galaxy.

This was a time when there were two competing theories of the origin of the universe. The Steady State theory proposed that the universe was essentially unchanging and would look the same from every vantage point within it. the opposing theory was called the Big Bang theory. Proponents of the Big Bang theorized that the universe had begun with a massive explosion that created immense amounts of radiation, which gradually cooled but continued to expand from the force of the explosion.

The hissing interference persisted and the astronomers decided to ignore it and continue with their measurements.

I only discovered this history via a recent article by Leslie Garisto Pfaff.


Robert Wilson with the horn-reflector antenna in Holmdel – Photo by Christopher Lake


Penzias was told that he should connect with Robert Dicke at Princeton University. He gave him a call and talked to him while he and his fellow physicists were eating lunch.  Dicke realized by the end of the call that the Bell Labs astronomers had found evidence of the Big Bang theory in their microwave radiation. The hiss was radiation left over from the Big Bang (Cosmic Microwave Background). Wilson and Penzias wrote a paper about their discovery for publication.

The 1960s are not so long ago but back then, cosmology—the study of the origin and development of the universe—was quite new.  There was a Nobel Prize for Wilson and Penzias’s discovery which made the Big Bang theory the accepted origin story. The universe had a discrete beginning some 13.8 billion years ago with a an infinitesimally small bundle of immense energy that exploded and has continued to expand ever since.

Holmdel’s Crawford Hill still is home to the horn-reflector antenna which Pfaff describes in her article as looking like “a prop out of a 1950s science-fiction film. It doesn’t turn its ear to the cosmos any more., but it reminds us that the Big Bang was confirmed in new Jersey.

Under Pink Petals

cherry blossom ani

Cherry blossoms are a staple of the haiku poets as a sign of spring.

3 poems by Basho

Leafless cherry,
old as a toothless woman,
blooms – mindful of its youth

A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms

Kannon’s tiled temple roof
floats far away –
clouds of cherry blossoms

(Kannon is the Bodhisattva of Compassion)

3 poems by Issa

cherry blossoms scatter –
snap! the buck’s antlers
come off

cherry blossoms
under every tree
a Buddha on display

on the paper amulet
cherry blossoms

(inmons are paper charms or amulets sold at Buddhist temples)


Branch Brook Park in bloom with the Cathedral in the distance
Branch Brook Park in bloom with the Cathedral in the distance

Washington D.C is famous for the thousands of cherry trees sent there as a gift from Japan more than a hundred years ago. In my home state of New Jersey, we have the cherry trees of Branch Brook Park in Newark which actually has more cherry trees than D.C.  Every spring, residents and visitors can see the largest cherry blossom collection in the United States there.

Branch Brook Park has more than 2,700 Japanese cherry blossom trees that burst into full bloom during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival that features various events for visitors of all ages.

The park itself is historically unique for being the first county park in the United States opened to the public. It was designed by the famed landscape architectural firm of Olmsted Brothers, a successor to Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park in New York City.

The neighborhood on the east side of the park, Forest Hill, is Newark’s most affluent and is the setting for the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Basilica, the fifth-largest cathedral in North America.

From April 5-13, the park hosts its spring festival under pink petals. (see