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Monday, December 27, 2010

'Fruitcake That Ate New Jersey' Has San Francisco Origins

Posted By on Mon, Dec 27, 2010 at 12:25 AM

click to enlarge It's got Trenton! East Orange is next!
  • It's got Trenton! East Orange is next!

We all learned in school that multiplying two negatives together makes a positive. Turns out it can be true in real life, too. You just need one more ingredient: Publicity.

For instance, a recent discussion on NPR radio's Weekend Edition noted that the fruitcake is the most noxious of Christmas foods. And, as an example of how most Christmas tunes fail to catch on, the show trotted out a little-known ditty called "The Fruitcake that Ate New Jersey" as the exemplar of obscurity.

Fruitcake, it turns out, has staying power. The mention on national radio was an unexpected holiday gift for its author and singer, San Mateo's Lauren Mayer -- who now describes herself as "an overnight success after 30 years." Mayer told the NPR radio audience that her now quasi-famous song has its origins in San Francisco piano bars. Its original title: 

"The Fruitcake that Ate Milpitas."

click to enlarge Lauren Mayer
  • Lauren Mayer
Mayer had to explain to NPR's national audience that "Milpitas is known as the armpit of the San Francisco Bay; it's kind of the butt of jokes like New Jersey is nationally."

For what it's worth, Milpitas residents don't come with the reputation of bronzing themselves, sporting blowback haricuts, or speaking in comically broad accents. But, like much of Jersey, it does come with the stigma of being built around a series of strip malls -- and, perhaps most importantly, "Milpitas" is three syllables long with the accent in the middle. Other candidates: San Bruno, Benicia, or Vallejo.

The story Mayer told SF Weekly when we tracked her down will be a bit funnier for locals. She found that the clientele at gay piano bars found the word "Milpitas" to be a cause for hilarity in and of itself, so she incorporated it into her act. "You say 'Milpitas' in the Castro and they laugh," she notes. No disrespect to the city, she continues, but, "to be honest, I needed a three-syllable city at the time. And Milpitas kind of had that same feel from when I lived in New York of ... New Jersey. The three-syllable object of disdain." 

Even though Mayer's name wasn't initially mentioned on NPR, she believes she's enjoyed a ripple of sales and personal messages. After years of stagnation, "The Fruitcake that Ate New Jersey" has moved up to Amazon's No. 65,884 position in paid MP3 songs. It takes a little while to see if iTunes had any movement, so we'll have to wait on that fruitcake.

"They were using it as an example of bad holiday songs -- but getting mentioned on any context on NPR is fabulous," she says. "If nothing else, it impressed my parents."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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