Notes on The J*A*P Chronicles from the author:
I have been asked many times what inspired me to write The J*A*P Chronicles.
A few years back, I was invited to a reunion at the wonderful, all-girls summer camp in Maine I attended for seven consecutive summers in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I adored my years there, so it was with great anticipation that I arrived at the campus one Friday morning in mid-August. After the first few hours of elation spent mostly in reacquainting myself with the magnificent grounds, I began the process of catching up with old friends, none of whom I had managed to stay in touch with over the years.
I thought I’d find a fairly homogenous group. After all, we had had pretty similar starts: our parents were all wealthy enough to afford the steep price of the camp’s tuition; we were mostly reformed Jews from the east coast or Los Angeles; we were kids who, for the most part, went to Hebrew school once a week and possibly belonged to NFTY – the National Federation of Temple Youth—and many of us were Bat Mitvahed, but we didn’t come from kosher homes or have fathers or brothers who wore yarmulkes. We did orient ourselves around a Jewish calendar, however: the year began in September with Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippor, moved through fall with Sukkot, arrived with lots of presents at Hannukah, then sped towards Passover… and from there we went to camp! But that didn’t make us particularly religious. We were a secular, privileged, sophisticated, well-educated group of youngsters.
So I figured, that as grown ups, I’d find women who were equally privileged, sophisticated and culturally Jewish. I imagined that some of my former bunkmates kept Shabbat with their own children but probably none of them had become Orthodox or anything radical like that. I assumed we all lived either in Manhattan or else in some other cosmopolitan center with access to good shopping. I assumed I’d find a smattering of career girls but a greater number of full-time moms who used their prodigious talents and energy in creating magnificently decorated homes, organizing their social lives and family-lives, planning fabulous vacations and doing good works.
Well, surprise, surprise. That’s not what I found at all. Of my original bunkmates, only one fulfilled my expectation: she had married at twenty four and already had three children and another on the way, but even she was an anomaly as she lived in Virginia, where her husband’s headquarters were located. The rest of my original bunkmates were far from homogeneous: in fact, two of the women were homosexual—one a TV producer, the other an eye doctor; one of my former bunkmates was “trying to find herself” having spent a few years in Oregon, a few in Seattle, a few in Santa Fe and a year, if I recall correctly, in Alaska; one was an environmental lawyer; another a powerful talent agent in L.A.; and perhaps the greatest surprise: one was a cantor.
Much of the reunion was spent in making new friends with women who had been in other age groups. Now that we were all grown-up, the age differentiations no longer mattered and it was fun to shmooze so freely with once idolized older campers. Again, my assumptions about our homogeneity were disproved. Of course there were a good number of socialites and professional shoppers and lunchers, as I like to call them. But here is a sample of some of the women I befriended: one woman was living with her boyfriend with whom she refused to have children because she didn’t want to be a mother. Another was struggling to come to terms with her recent diagnosis of MS. Yet another was still single and frantically asking everyone to set her up.
The only thing that did seem to be fairly homogenous was our appearance as a group, which, by even the most unbiased judge, could be described as pretty damned fabulous. Many of the curly or unruly brown locks I remembered from camp days had been straightened, layered or colored. But truly, some of the women looked like they had only taken a break from their treadmills long enough to attend the reunion. A scant few had, indeed, “let themselves go” and were whispered about over pizza at the cookout as if they had done something really scandalous like rob a bank or run off with a best friend’s husband. There were also whispered conversations about plastic surgery: who’d had Botox? Liposuction? Rhinoplasty? More rhinoplasty? Who’d had breasts enlarged or reduced? Who’d had a tummy tuck? Who’d had her eyes done? One girl, it was rumored, had even had two ribs removed, like Cher, to create a smaller waistline.
Naturally there was talk of the women who hadn’t returned for the reunion. As chance would have it, I ran into one of these missing campers a few weeks after my return to New York. I was waiting for the light to change on the corner of 76th and 2nd when all of I sudden I heard a voice I recognized call, “Taxi!”
“Cindy Greenberg?!” I said.
The woman turned and, with swift recognition, threw herself into my arms with a warm hello. We stood arms distance apart for several long moments taking each other in. Cindy looked exactly like she had as a camper except back then she had had a Dorothy Hamill hair cut. Now her hair was down to her butt.
“It looks like you haven’t cut your hair since you left camp,” I said.
“Oh, this?” Cindy ran her hand through her hair with a little laugh. “This isn’t mine. I have cancer.”
What do you say to that?
“I’m so sorry,” I began, but she cut me off quickly.
“I’m doing great. Never worked so hard in my life. I mean, the markets been pretty volatile lately but my clients are mostly up. I’m sure you heard about my parents going to jail and everything. It’s been tough but I’m really pulling through.”
And with that, a taxi pulled up, she waved goodbye and off she went, our meeting reduced to a mere encounter with someone I was unlikely to see again.
But I stood on that street corner wondering about life for many long moments. How had my and Cindy’s lives, once so in synch, become so far apart? How could it be that our paths literally had never crossed in the last twenty odd years when as children we had slept beside one another and shared our dearest secrets?
Guess we didn’t all turn out the same way after all.
And so, The J*A*P Chronicles was born, a book which aims to debunk, if you will, the myth of the J.A.P.; to show a group of women who might be labeled as such to be no different that any other culturally lumped group of women struggling to define themselves.
Who is a J.A.P. anyway? In the early 80’s, when I heard the term for the first time, it was clearly a derogatory acronym aimed at Jewish girls and women of wealthy pedigree, particularly that breed from Long Island, New Jersey and the Upper East Side: kids who’s parents threw them sweet sixteen parties at Regines or the Plaza; kids who got Mercedes convertibles once they cleared their drivers permits and then zipped around the Hamptons in them, or drove from one of the five towns into Manhattan for a spree at Bloomingdales. The stereotypical J.A.P. always had wet nails, big hair, and big shopping bags filled with big purchases.
I was filled with rage when I first heard the word. But no more. The term has clearly evolved and, as we Jewish girls have appropriated the expression, the sting has clearly gone out of it. By calling yourself a J.A.P. you disempower those who would like to disempower you by calling you one.
Bear in mind, the term J.A.P. is said by us Jewish gals with a wink and really only refers to that part of oneself which is particularly product-oriented or prone to pampering. You might be a hard working career girl, but if you like your Manolos, you might say, “I must go shopping this Saturday before I get to work on that brief. I’m truly desperate for a little J.A.P. fix.” Or, if someone suggested you pee on a Greyhound bus, you might say, “Oh, I’m way too jappy for that!” It doesn’t necessarily mean you lack all core values; it simply means that you can be spoiled sometimes and you know it.
I would also argue that the term J.A.P. is hardly exclusive to Jews anymore. One of my girlfriends who is Latina often refers to herself as a L.A.P. and another girlfriend who is from Trinidad calls herself a B.A.P.
But let me agree, just for a moment, with those people, who find the term J.A.P. offensive. That doesn’t mean that the book I’ve written is offensive, or even agrees with the connotations most commonly associated with the word. My book wasn’t written in the spirit of satire. It is an examination of a group of women who were campers together in the early 1980’s when the term would have been leveled at them. Whether or not it is an appropriate term for them can only be discovered if you enter the pages of the book.
Male or Female, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Protestant, Episcopalian, Catholic—whatever you are—if you have spent a moment of your life struggling to define yourself in the context of the culture in which you were raised; if you have ever felt confined by that culture; if you have ever left behind that culture; if you have ever sought to drown your woes in the simplicity of a shopping spree or massage—this book is for you. Enjoy.