“I truly believe there is a huge gnome community living under the streets of the Ironbound.”
As one of the leading providers of “gnome gnews” on the Internet, you can bet your bottom dollar that I get lots of mail. It arrives here at my office by the truckload, and I’ve had to hire a part-time secretary to help sort it all.
True, a lot of the mail is from crackpots who yell at me for wasting my time and theirs. You know the type, people who say gnomes don’t exist, or can’t get it through their heads that gnomes are a lot more than some silly piece of garden statuary!
But once in awhile I get a letter from a true believer. Like this:
The letter foolishly included a return address, so I was able to track down the sender.
She reluctantly agreed to an interview after I told her I’d publish her real address if she didn’t cooperate. I took some pity on her, however, and agreed to let her continue using an assumed name. The following are excerpts from that interview:
ME: “I understand you’re a little nervous, but don’t worry, I think you’ll feel better once you get this off your chest. I understand that you wish to remain anonymous, and that you’ve agreed to answer questions under the name of Tulip Jane. So okay, let’s start out easy. Please tell us a little about yourself, like your approximate age, marital status and number of children.”
TULIP JANE: “I am 35 years old. I am happily married for 9 years now and we have two daughters ages 3 and 4.”
ME: “Sounds like a nice family you have there! Now I know you don’t want to say anything to give yourself away, but can you at least tell us the state where you’re now living?”
TULIP JANE: “New Jersey.”
ME: “In your letter to me, you mentioned seeing lots of gnomes when you were growing up. Where was that?”
TULIP JANE: “I grew up in the Ironbound section of Newark, N.J.”
ME: “Wow, I used to work not far from there, and I’ve visited that neighborhood several times, but I never saw any gnomes. It’s a little surprising to me because the Ironbound seems pretty densely packed. I always thought gnomes were more out in the country, but these definitely sound like urban gnomes!”
TULIP JANE: “I don’t hear a question there.”
ME: “Ah, right, sorry about that, I just got carried away. I have readers from all over the world, so can you tell us a little about the Ironbound? Why is it called that, and who lives there?”
TULIP JANE: “The Ironbound is a large working-class neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. Growing up, I was told that the name ‘Ironbound’ derived from the network of railroad tracks that surrounded the neighborhood. This was an industrial neighborhood in the 19th and early 20th centuries and was poorer than was the rest of Newark at that time. It is a multi-ethnic community, and it’s seen lots of change over the years. Originally, it was known for for being a German, Italian and Polish neighborhood. It later become a predominately Portuguese neighborhood. It is still known for being a Portuguese neighborhood, however the majority of new immigrants now come from Brazil, Ecuador, and Mexico. The neighborhood still has numerous Portuguese-owned social clubs, bakeries, jewelers, and grocery stores. It also has an annual Portuguese Festival, known as Portugal Day, ‘Dia de Portugal,’ a celebration of Portuguese culture. The Ironbound has many well-known Portuguese, Spanish and Brazilian restaurants.”
ME: “Sounds delicious, but what about the gnomes? Tell us about the first time you saw a gnome in the Ironbound. How old were you? Were you frightened? Did it make any threatening moves? Did it speak?”
TULIP JANE: “I remember that day very well. I was about 10 years old. I was walking my dog when I felt someone push me. I fell, landed on my wrist and my dog took off running. As I lay on the sidewalk in pain, I looked up and saw a little man with a red cap, big nose, and pointy ears leaning against a tree, laughing at me. I remember staring at him through my tears and never being more frightened in my life. He spoke Portuguese to me, and thankfully, before I could answer, my dog finally found his courage, came running back, and began to chase the gnome away.”
ME: “Wait a minute, just back up. You’re telling me the gnome spoke Portuguese? Do you remember what he said?”
TULIP JANE: “Remember it? I’ll never forget it! He said, ‘Abre os olhos burra!’ ”
ME: “Holy crap! I always just assumed they spoke Gnomish! Uh … what exactly does that mean?”
TULIP JANE: “I guess the direct translation is, ‘Open your eyes, jackass!’ Basically he was rudely telling me to watch where I was going.”
ME: “Wow, I had no idea about any of this! However, it really fits with some of the other reports I’ve read on just how nasty and dangerous these little dudes can be! But how do you know it was a gnome and not just a very short, foul-mouthed little person wearing a funky red cap?”
TULIP JANE: “As my dog chased him, it was almost like the gnome disappeared right before my eyes. Looking back, I think the attack was carefully calculated with an easy escape route, which in this case was an open manhole! As I got older and began researching them, I became familiar with their trademark facial features and dialect. They speak Portuguese, but with this almost southern drawl.”
ME: “Portuguese with a southern drawl? So what you’re saying is that you’ve seen a bunch of Portuguese Redneck Gnomes?”
TULIP JANE: “I didn’t say that exactly, but yeah, I guess so.”
ME: “And after that first encounter, you saw other gnomes? Would you say that you saw gnomes once a month? Once a week? More often than that?”
TULIP JANE: “It really varied. They frequently looted my parents back yard, mostly looking for scrap metal to sell. It was especially common to see them drunk on Portugal Day, where they would replace their pointy cap with a trucker hat bearing a Portuguese flag. Since Portuguese people are relatively short by nature, I feel that they thought they could blend in more easily.”
ME: “This is just incredible! In my interview with Dr. Gelding, he said that more and more gnomes are adopting our style of dress, and I think you’ve just confirmed it! Now you grew up in the Ironbound, so you’re an insider. But to an outsider like me, the Ironbound doesn’t look like there would be a lot of places to hide. But what you’re telling me sounds like there must be a rather large community of gnomes that have been living there for many years, and that not very many people have ever seen them … or maybe just don’t realize that they’ve seen them. Do you have any idea where the gnomes could be hiding?”
TULIP JANE: “I truly believe there is a huge gnome community living under the streets of the Ironbound. They take advantage of the ethnic diversity of the area and feel they can blend in when they do come to the surface.”
ME: “Any idea why so few people have seen them while you’ve encountered them so frequently? Do they just like you for some reason?”
TULIP JANE: “Well, first I think it has to do with location. My parents live right in front of a manhole. Secondly, I just know what to look for. The older gnomes still wear the traditional gnome garb. However I have seen some of the younger new-age gnomes adopt a more urban look. I remember my senior year of high school seeing a trend of ‘Hanging with my Gnomies’ t-shirts. And then also, most people don’t know what they look like. Once you learn those characteristic features that I mentioned, then you’ll start spotting them regularly.”
ME: “You fear the gnomes a little, don’t you? Can you tell us why that is?”
TULIP JANE: “All the gnomes I’ve encountered have really bad manners, but I don’t fear all of them. I suppose it’s like any group — there are some bad apples that give the others a bad name. I will say, however, that there are several evil gnome gangs that have been growing and gaining momentum. The Newark Police Department has been significantly reduced thanks to Governor Christie. In order to help balance its budget in the wake of cuts in state aid and the imposition of a budget cap on all towns in the state, the Newark Police was forced to lay off over 200 police officers. Which in turn has led to more gangs of roving gnomes. The cops are already spread thin covering the streets of Newark, and there is no available manpower to patrol this growing underground community. And from what I’ve heard, none of the cops want sewer duty, even when they offer them overtime. I guess it’s hard to blame them for that. Fiscal restraints have impacted on public safety! Despite all my letters to Governor Christie and former Newark Mayor Cory Booker, nobody is taking this gnome issue seriously!”
ME: “Roving gangs of gnomes in the very bowels of the Ironbound! I had no idea, and I think you’re very lucky that you’ve never been seriously injured. I can also certainly understand why you’re concerned and want to remain anonymous! Last question. Do you have any advice for people who are experiencing any kind of gnome problem, but are afraid to say anything?”
TULIP JANE: “Keep writing and contacting the governor and local legislators! This is a serious issue that needs to be brought to the surface! We need to shine a light on this gnome situation that is growing underneath our urban communities!”
ME: “Thank you, Tulip Jane. You’re very brave, and I think one day you’ll be known as the sort of female Paul Revere of the Ironbound. But instead of crying that the British are coming, you’ll be recognized for sounding the alarm that the gnomes are coming!”
Actually, I had a lot more questions for Tulip Jane, but after her rant about the governor, I could tell she was becoming increasingly agitated. While I was sitting there, she took her meds and shortly thereafter began to get very sleepy. She finally nodded off, and while she snored, I showed myself out and closed the door.
On the way to my car I saw a manhole, and even though the lid was firmly closed, I still gave it a wide berth. I drove a couple of blocks but was feeling a little shaky, so I pulled over outside a Portuguese sailor bar, thinking a couple of stiff drinks would calm my frazzled nerves; Tulip Jane’s story had shaken me to the core.
Two drinks turned into three, and three turned into five. I was feeling somewhere beyond calm when a sudden thought turned my liver to ice: Why in the name of all that is holy were gnomes pilfering scrap metal from Tulip Jane’s parents’ back yard? Were they building something down there, deep below the city street?
I ordered another drink and soon realized that I didn’t really care. I made a vow right then and there to come back to the Ironbound for the next Dia de Portugal, if not before. Even if the gnomes and their nefarious activities made me a little nervous, the food is just too good and the people too friendly to avoid the Ironbound on account of a few gnomes with bad manners.
If the gnomes are really building something down in the sewers with all that scrap metal, well hell, maybe it’s a restaurant, and if it is, I bet it’ll be good, atmosphere be damned. If nothing else, the little guys really can cook. Just ask my sister, she’ll tell you (on second thought, don’t ask her, that’s a story for another day).
But when I do return to the Ironbound — if I find some escalator down to a Chez Gnome deep beneath the street — I’ll probably look up Tulip Jane and her family first. At least they’ll be able to help with the translation when a Portuguese-speaking gnome waiter with a southern drawl and a bad attitude arrives at our table. And later, if he doesn’t like the tip I’ll leave, maybe Tulip Jane will be able to distract him long enough for me to escape.
Yes, that sounds like a plan!