1. Music: There is Count Basie, Lauryn Hill (download "I Just Want You Around"), Paul Robeson, and Deborah Harry’s best songs; my favorite is the reggae-inspired "The Tide is High." Paul Simon was born in New Jersey, and of course there is sax player Wayne Shorter. Even at age 44, I’m still not into Frank Sinatra. Bruce Springsteen I now find mostly unlistenable (monotonous rhythm sections), but parts of Born to Run still send a thrill through my heart.
2. Author: Philip Roth is the obvious pick, but I prefer Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost, a neglected masterpiece, and the first half of his Executioner’s Song. Stephen Crane is from the state, but somehow he doesn’t count in my eyes as a New Jerseyan. Mencken had the bottom line on James Fenimore Cooper.
3. TV show: Duh. I still don’t get the appeal of The Wire; for obvious biographical reasons, I’d rather watch white New Jerseyans kill each other than black Baltimoreans.
4. Poet: William Carlos Williams, here is a quickie poem.
5. Comic: Jason Alexander, by far the funniest guy on that show. Bud Abbott is another pick. James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) can be funny when they let him.
6. Director: Steven Spielberg, AI is about how morally superficial people can be; Sugarland Express and Close Encounters (director’s cut) are other favorites of many. There is also Brian de Palma, his best film is the Hitchcockean Dressed to Kill.
7. Non-fiction writer. John McPhee has raised the bar for all of us.
9. Sculptor: George Segal I am not so fond of, but otherwise I draw a blank.
10. Economist: Milton Friedman.
11. Movie, set in: Here is a list, plus there is Clerks and other Kevin Smith creations, not to mention Big (Tom Hanks) and Buckeroo Bonzai. I opt for Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. What else am I missing?
12. Mom: Mine.
The bottom line: Too obvious to state.
The second bottom line: Population density is a wonderful thing.