Tuesday, May 27, 2014

In vain?

This piece has been posted on Blog of Ott as well.

Glen texted on Sunday night to tell me that one of the local knuckleheads got shot. It's become a very common occurrence on that block lately. The two most recent shootings involved kids who were, well, kids, when we moved in. I remember their prom and first cars, and when it became clear they chose thuggery. The kid — let's call him Karl — who got shot on Sunday was, by all accounts, the louder, dumber of the duo. But, he just didn't seem soulless. Perhaps I was naive, but I thought redemption was plausible for him.

Karl didn't die from the gunshot wounds on Sunday, so there's still time for redemption. But I'm a lot less hopeful about idiots these days. I lived in that neighborhood, and those idiots ruined the quality of my life, which, in turn, contributed to the demise of my marriage. I hate them. With my whole heart. I understand the problems of life in the city, the cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity; I understand racism and classism. I understand, too, that there are decent people living in those circumstances, sometimes only treading water, but are sometimes able to break free in spite of the generations of social exclusion. It's a good time to be alive. Or at least it CAN be.

The kids who got shot most recently on my old street glorify all of the wrong things; they don't respect themselves or anyone else. The world would not be worse off without them, as much as it bothers me to say that. Once, they were babies, and presumably their parents held them, full of hope and love.

At one point not very long ago, I wanted to be part of the positive change in Trenton. I couldn't be among the silent, apathetic majority. The anti-snitch sentiment, especially when it came to big things like life and death, and our emotional and mental well-being as members of that community, really disturbed me. Besides, we were encouraged by the police and activists to provide info.

So, we called the police. We took pictures. We wrote down license plate numbers. We recorded videos. We went to meetings. I even interrupted drug deals. It would be a little bit of a lie to say that it was for nothing. Sometimes there was a bust, and that feels good. There have been years of misguided leadership of the police force; we rallied against Joe Santiago and Sleeping Captains. Tony Mack gutted the department in 2011; I had already signed the letter of intent to recall him, but seeing the photo of all of those out of work officers, with their boots lined up, filled me with such rage and dread that I was all the more motivated to show Tony the door. I know, too, that in Trenton, society's normal is suspended; "Trenton Standards" come into play, and by "Trenton Standards," there are bigger issues than a couple of bad seeds in the East Ward. But our information was good, and those seeds were malignant, and spread. I'm not so silly to think that just because we were doing all we could to be part of the solution, that things would instantly change. We know there are challenges and complications and limited resources and legal procedures and constitutional rights. But now those bad apples are grown men, with guns, and getting shot at, endangering the entire community.

Including my little son, who spends a decent amount of time with his dad over there. I am fully aware that the problems in Trenton are not all policing issues; I am not blaming the police when the knuckleheads with their saggy pants, in their knuckleheady, hip-hop blaring pieces of shitmobiles are the ones ruining everything. But I can't lie: I feel that our efforts have been largely ignored by the police. And that hurts.

It makes me insane and sick to know my son is in a house repeatedly surrounded by police tape and little markers indicating spent casings. I have risked so much, and lost so much. I have done what I can to keep my child safe, and Glen continues to do the same, despite living in what is becoming a warzone. I'm not sure what else, if anything, we can do to help improve that neighborhood, but I am open to ideas.

Karl's gunshot wounds were not too bad, which means there's a likely chance someone will be by to finish the job. And then there will be retaliation.

So, those ideas. Send them. Anyone? Please?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"No better demonstration of the folly of human conceits"

NOTE: This is cross-posted; it also appears on BlogOfOtt.

Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all of those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.


I started reading Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot on Saturday night; the book is inspired by photo of Earth taken by Voyager 1 in 1990. I took a break from reading a short time later, and I saw my ex-husband's Facebook status update about gunfire not too far from the house. Matthew was with him that night. Sunday morning, the media were ablaze with stories of mayhem on the 1100 block of East State Street, three blocks from Glen and Matty. I've spent way too much time, wasted too much breath trying to defend the city. I've said things like, "I've never felt unsafe," and "It's usually criminal-on-criminal crime," as if that makes it more palatable. And occasionally, the innocent are victims, and Saturday night's insanity seems to have claimed some unintended lives.

It was nearly 10 years ago that I moved back to the city with Glen, full of hope. But over time, that hope was eroded, replaced by rage and annoyance and stress. I had, on one hand, a deep sympathy for the knuckleheads who were ruining their own lives. I understand the dysfunctional cycles that brought them to that point. And on the other hand, all of those negative emotions I experienced were because of them. I hated them. I still hate them. Yep, I understand why their stories unfolded the way they did, and I also cannot fully grasp how so many of the neighborhood kids could allow their lives to become so meaningless. We live in such a wonderful age, at least partially because we can hold the universe in the palm of our hands, in the form of a smart phone. I know that they know that there is more to life. We all know that there are better opportunities out there. They choose to deal drugs anyway. They choose to fight over a filthy, crumbling patch of asphalt. But, they were babies once, full of promise and potential. The stupidity is maddening. The tragedy is gut-wrenching. Or at least it should be.

Maybe I have no right to say anything, from my little apartment in Yardville. But there are people I care about in Trenton, especially my own son, not yet 5 years old, who spends most weekends there. There is no salvation in the leadership, local or state, and the rest of the universe, for the most part, doesn't give a crap. Something has to change, and it has to come from the streets.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Professor of Sucking at Facebook

This is also posted on my new blog, BlogofOtt.

Trenton Mayor Tony Mack and Brian White, the man he picked
to head up Trenton's Learning Centers.

I was going to refrain from offering my opinion on the library mess in Trenton. After all, I moved away from the city, and in a very basic sense, "a building with books" (to quote Mayor Tony Mack) open to the public MUST be better than a building left fallow. Right?

But there's just so much wrong here, which has been well documented in the news and blog reports*. My hackles went up when the Mayor used the term "Learning Centers" to describe the repurposed buildings. That's because I had my doubts that the Mayor — not a stupid man, to be fair, but one with a proven track record of doing the wrong thing at every opportunity — could create an environment where any learning could happen in a place that is in such dire need of all the learning it can get.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm in Hamilton now, and I have a brand new library card for the Township's library, and my son has been going there with me. There is a chance that Glen, who is still in the city, may take Matty to one of the Mayor's Learning Centers, though that's improbable, because I'm fairly certain Glen feels the same way about this as I do. So, I have no real personal interest in this case. 

I also want to say that I don't know anyone on the Trenton Library Board, or any of the employees, including the current director, Kimberly Matthews. I wrote a piece about one of her admirers a few years back, but only because he's an emperor and declared his love for her at the library while on horseback. I've only seen photos of the director, and she is totally photogenic, so my bet is that she is worthy of admiration, including the admiration of emperors, for what it's worth. But this is as close as I've gotten to involved with the employees of the Trenton Library System, and I'm not sure it counts.

So, why am I writing this? The Mayor has appointed Brian White to oversee His Learning Centers, and while I'm sure Mr. White is a very nice person (and that's important), I am fairly certain he's not in a position to oversee the actual learning of any other people. To be fair, I'm basing my assessment solely on what he posts publicly on his Facebook profile (good job with the privacy settings, Mr. White), which may seem overly critical, but hey, a lot of employers are doing it these days, too. I find it distressing that someone unqualified to hold an esteemed position like librarian and/or educator is not only allowed to get the job, but is also allowed to collect a salary that's supported by tax revenue. 

Also in the interest of full disclosure, I am a fan of the comma, mostly for its ability to evoke the cadence of speech. I especially like the Oxford (or serial) comma because it kills any ambiguity in your laundry list and makes each individual item stand gloriously alone.

But holy moly, Mr. White. What the HELL are you doing with those commas? Let's forget the lack of spaces and apostrophes, the random capitalization and the general grammar issues in this train wreck of a status update for a moment. If we can. I can't, but I'm trying. 

So. The commas. Wow. Aren't commas covered in, like, 4th grade?

I wanted to wait before saying, "So, THIS is the guy who's going to be heading up the Learning Centers?" so I gave Mr. White the benefit of the doubt: everybody makes typos every now and then. And, maybe he had some sort of terrible smart phone malfunction and that update posted against his will. So I scrolled through some of his other posts, and sadly, found so much more of the same troubling grammatical issues, including this:

The,people, thank,you?
Putting aside for a moment that THIS is the guy who's going to be heading up the Learning Centers, doesn't he know that in the real world, many companies block Facebook? And the ones that don't, often monitor usage?

Also, doesn't he know that posting music videos all the livelong day to your Facebook page is one of the best ways to annoy everyone else on Facebook? And, he "likes" and comments on his own status updates, too. I thought that was, for the most part, considered gauche?

Yes. This is the guy who's going to be heading up Trenton's Learning Centers. So, why don't you come on down and sign up for the Professor White's Sucking at Facebook 101 class, because at least he's qualified to teach that. Thanks again, Tony, for another Mack-tastic choice.

Again, I'm sure Mr. White is a nice guy, and I'm sure that some people will think this post is just plain mean. But I think he might be a crappy choice to oversee something as important as a library. Or a learning center. Or even a building with books. But maybe he can take some time to convince me that I'm wrong. He can start by laying off the commas.


*check out the always informative:

...and Matt Fair of The Times has done an excellent job on this story:

Friday, January 27, 2012

A new chapter

It's been a long time since I've written, and so much has happened in my life; much of which I didn't want to share, or couldn't share. Maybe now it's time to at least to scratch the surface.

Glen and I didn't make it. We didn't make it as a couple that is. It's probably the same story that's happened to millions of other couples. The common occurrence doesn't make it easier for us, though. It's complicated and it's personal, too. I think a huge part of what went wrong for us is that SO much went wrong for us, more so than for many other couples: we lost our daughter, and we each lost a parent; we lost a really great dog, and a not so great (but loved anyway) cat. I lost most of my work, without warning. All within the span of two years. We were laden with grief, broke, and living in hell.

Life in Trenton did not help our relationship. Trenton is not the reason we failed as a couple, but it certainly didn't help. Do you call the police at least 10 times a week? Kick thugs off your porch and/or stoop? Listen to endless noise? Have the asshole kid from across the street sit on the mailbox under your bedroom window and throw beer bottles in the street — on your wedding night? Take down license plate numbers of drug buyers for hours on end, with no positive results? And then, out of sheer frustration and anger, stand on the curb and stare at the white people who are not related to you, who pull up alongside your house to buy drugs, hoping to shame them into fucking off? Have you had to listen to ATVs ride around, and around, and around, and around, and around your block all day and all night, and know where they are garaged, and call the police with this information, only to have one — to emphasize, that is one; which is less than two, but more than zero — confiscated years later, after you've already moved to Hamilton? Maybe you have a crazy neighbor who stands on his porch and screams horrifically frightening primal, caveman/psychopath screams at all hours of the day or night? And on his good days, he simply parks his car next to your bedroom window and blasts cuss-laden "music" from his really awesome speakers at 1 a.m.? Do you engage in civic activities, only to see the delusional, incompetent, egomaniacal, and/or possibly criminal continue to get elected and appointed? Is your backyard and alley thoroughly overrun by stray and feral cats? Have you spent thousands and thousands of dollars to care for these cats, only to a) have them repay you in copious amounts of urine, feces and beheaded and de-tailed squirrels all over your yard, and b) see no end to the problem, because there's always some asshole who abandons his/her non-sterile cat? Have you given up answering your door because you know it will only be the crackhead from the other side of the alley needing a few bucks for his next hit, or a racist "alarm salesman," or the damned Jehovah Witnesses? Do your local committeepeople even know what is going on? Do you fantasize about putting a hunting perch in your attic?

This was our life in Trenton. Disastrous.

And, it's my fault. It really is. I went to the college formerly known as Trenton State, and lived in Chambersburg for a few years in the 1990s. I spoke so well of the city that when Glen and I were ready to buy a house, Glen looked specifically in Trenton, based on my glowing memories. Glen, I am so sorry for the way things wound up, and I'm specifically sorry about the whole Trenton thing.

I won't write any more about Glen and me, because it's our business, but because this blog has always been Trenton-centric, I wanted to address how leaving Trenton has affected me. In case you missed it, I'm in Hamilton now. Despite all the horrible things I said about Trenton, I've also said some horrible things about Hamilton. Matty and I share a tiny apartment in an old — but not old enough to have character — complex on the south side of town, and that's hard after having a house and yard. Even one that gets hit by occasional, stray gunfire, or a stray beer bottle from the crazy screaming neighbor's friend who thinks it's okay to whip his recyclables into the pregnant lady's backyard. While she's sitting in it. I am convinced that most everyone in Trenton suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder — no joke. We have seen too much we shouldn't have, endured more than what most people think is possible. And we fight for it, anyway. One day, not long ago, I woke up here in Hamilton, edgy and ready to fight, because that's how I greeted every day for the last 7 years. Except I could hear the birds singing, and leaves blowing in the wind. It was so quiet in Hamilton that my ears are still ringing from lack of stimulation.

So. On one hand, HOLY MOLY, I am so glad to be out of Trenton. I am SO glad to have Matthew out of there. Glen agrees. It was SO much work, and without ANY damn reward, at least on the quality of life front. My kid cannot and will not go to school there. And, I wasn't afraid, but I never felt 100% comfortable walking up the street to the playground. While there are no guarantees in life, it is SO nice to be able to walk around with my kid and my dog these days and not worry about random bullets and pit bulls. It is SO nice to not have to step around garbage, or have to look at loud, ignorant idiots wasting their lives.

On the other hand, the silence is deafening. I hate Trenton, and I adore it, broken and all. I have met the most wonderful modern day revolutionaries — passionate, strong, devoted underdogs — and I'm certain those kinds of people do not exist elsewhere.* Politics in a place like Trenton transcend typical republican/democrat idiocy and divisiveness because politics are so complicated in a place like Trenton. I love the challenge of finding balance. It was invigorating, and connecting with the community was stimulating (if ultimately maddening). Getting to know people in Trenton has been life affirming. Potent.

My life is kind messy right now. My heart aches. For the obvious reasons. But it aches, too, for Trenton. Glen and I have significant shared experiences, and a child we adore; we'll be good to each other. But how do I make peace with Trenton? Can I? My dog is buried there. My mom's irises bloom there. Trenton is the place where I withered away and died...and then found myself again. I loved it. I hated it. And, now, I'm gone.


I've missed writing, but couldn't because it was too painful and personal to share. I'm hoping to get back into the habit, though. But I feel like a hypocrite continuing to write here on TrentonKat, as I now live in Hamilton. But Glen is still in Trenton, and Matty is with him several days a week, so like most former Trenton residents, I am still tethered to the city. So who knows? Maybe I'll keep writing here. If you don't see anything, though, check my new blog, Blog of Ott. A warning, though: I hope like hell to be done with politics and bitching incessantly about quality of life issues. I don't know enough about Hamilton politics to like or dislike the folks running the joint, but either way, it runs, and the White Flight Pizza is not so bad. So, I might focus on cooking and art and crafts and just life in general, but I'll be honest: I just got a new couch, and it is SO comfortable, and no one — no one!! — is selling drugs in front of my place! I've got about a year's worth of TV to catch up on, so we'll see if I do any writing any time soon.


* Today, I received my copy of The Hamiltonian, and the cover story was Mercer's 50 Most Interesting People... Granted, there's not enough room in The Hamiltonian to run the bios of ALL 50 people — due to, I'm guessing, Angela's very important full page beauty advice column, and the three full pages of high school sports, and well, all of the ads. So, this month features the more boring of the 50 — 26-50. Not a single one, as in NONE, of the folks mentioned in that article was from Trenton. There were a couple of lawyers and business owners; a politician or two; a politician wannabe or two, you know, some REALLY INTERESTING peop....zzzzzzzzzzz.....

I'll let you know when February's issue — containing the 25 most interesting people in Mercer — arrives. because I'm sure it will be FULL of citizens from Trenton.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Signatures

I thought I'd only have to sign the letter and call it a day.

That's not what happened. I signed the letter of intent to recall the mayor of Trenton and the subsequent effort took over the better part of my life for the next five months. And, to be fair, I contributed a fraction compared to the folks who signed along with me.

Approximately 8,500 Trenton residents signed the petition; more people stopped by to sign and turn in petitions while we were getting ready for our press conference today. Bittersweet. Despite the fact that our cause is supported by the people of Trenton, we didn't meet our goal. I'm incredibly disappointed, and also afraid for what this means for Trenton. I don't believe Tony Mack has the mental wherewithal to comprehend what has happened over the last few months; I don't think he understands that just because he will remain in office (at least he cannot be recalled) does not mean he has won the hearts and minds of the voting public. He does not have our permission to conduct business as he has been.

The Tony Mack Fan Club will say that we were a ragtag band of favor-seeking, sour-grape-eating malcontents, just picking on poor l'il Tony. They'll say we could have spent our time better. The TMFC will probably say we weren't organized enough or didn't work hard enough. But that's not the case, as the picture above shows.

I think some of us at the center of this effort feel we could have done more. Well, I do, anyway. It's only natural. But I also know how many times I heard something like, "I completely support you, but am afraid of retaliation." I have dealt with tyrants and bullies, so on one hand, I understand the fear and confusion. And, on the other, I just look to my fellow signers — such brave individuals!* — and cannot fully understand how people could not take a relatively small risk. I hope Marion Ray doesn't take this the wrong way, but she's not exactly a young woman. Despite her age, she was perhaps the most unstoppable of all of us: she was a signature-gathering machine. Despite the aches, she rubbed her legs down with Ben-Gay and forged on. And on. And on. And on. Aida Wimbush has a full-time job and family (including four kids!), and has the charisma and infectious energy to win over so many of those who held back from signing, and she never slowed down. Craig Shofed and Dave Ponton — both of whom have very recently faced their mortality; both of whom underwent major surgery recently — perhaps have the best understanding of risks in life; they understand priorities. It's because of my affection and admiration for Dave and Craig that I just can't help feeling that the "I'm afraid of retaliation from the Macks," is shit. Pure shit. These two men — one with a new kidney, and the other recuperating from open heart surgery — pushed themselves, often past the point of utter exhaustion. They very literally risked their lives for Trenton. And people were too afraid to sign the petition. Phooey.

I keep looking at my picture of the stacks of signed petitions and feel somewhat better about the efforts so many of us made. Sure, I wish we had more signatures. But I also think it's important to point out that the process to recall an elected official is a difficult one, and in a place like Trenton, where corruption in politics and poverty among the populace is the norm, even holding regular elections is challenging. Attempting a recall is daunting. The committee to recall the mayor was given a list of registered voters in the city by the County Board of Elections; we needed to get 25% of those registered voters to sign the petition. And, in going door-to-door, we learned that so many people have left the city; some of them years ago. I truly believe if the rolls of registered voters were more accurate, our 8,500 signatures would have been more than enough.

So. What's next? I don't know. I suspect Tony's little head will engorge with self-aggrandizement, thinking he has won this battle. He is mistaken. This is just the beginning. And, with his overinflated ego, it's only a matter of time before his next act of stupidity. It's going to catch up with him one way or another.


* I'm turning this into a full-on lovefest. Sorry! I just wanted to point out that in addition to those who signed the letter of intent with me, those who worked closely with the cause are also some of the most wonderful people I've met. Tracey Syphax embodies transformation and personal growth. Darren Freedom Green is just pure decency and compassion, and I might just have to make a Darren Freedom Green Action Figure to keep with me at all times for inspiration. Jo-Carolyn Dent Clark proves that strength and grace belong together. I am so glad I signed that letter of intent. Trenton has some great bones.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Ironically and Somewhat Out of Context

The three people left in the city who support Tony Mack issued a statement this morning discrediting five failed 2010 Trenton mayoral candidates who are supporting the recall effort. In their statement, the Tony Mack Fan Club (TMFC) quoted an afterthought* from my blog where I called one of the former mayoral candidates now supporting my cause "The Idiot Prince." I just wanted to point out that my "Idiot Prince" comment was in small type, after the actual entry, which was, interestingly, a letter to Tony Mack, asking him to withdraw from the election. I still wish he had withdrawn. We'd be in much better shape right now. Even if the Idiot Prince were mayor now.**

I wanted to add that I am flattered that at least some people in the TMFC have read my blog, and I bet they're very happy that I have let my words remain, not only on my blog, but on the various local websites, and Facebook. I leave it all up because I stand by what I write. This is in stark contrast to at least one of Tony's sycophants, who deletes his entries as soon as the tide changes.

Furthermore, it's good news and a boost of inspiration that we've got five public officials officially supporting our cause. Politics does make for strange bedfellows, but let's be realistic here: we are just talking about five people, and it's late in the game. But, by game, I mean still on. These five people DO have loyal support throughout the city. The TMFC may call them sore losers; personally, I don't think they are. But for the sake of argument, let's just say they are; if so, they are just five people joining the a huge community of diverse individuals who believe that Tony Mack must be recalled. By diverse, I mean non-sore loser. And, by huge, I mean thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of Trenton residents strong.


* The Idiot Prince comment used today in the TMFC's statement was an afterthought on a particular blog entry, but it was, admittedly, prevailing sentiment for three years in many of my postings.

** Despite everything I have written above today (and elsewhere on my blog) about Paul Pintella, I am indebted to him. I started this blog as a form of therapy to cope with the death of my daughter, Catherine. The final inspiration was Paul Pintella: he called — if I remember correctly — a young man who is now one of Tony Mack's most delusional cheerleaders, a "Johnny-Come-Lately." This same Johnny-Come-Lately/Tony Mack Bidet in Human Form is the one who deletes everything he writes on the internet twice a day, but way back in 2007, the fact that he attended council meetings and had the council president dismiss him merely for being a JCL, did not sit well with me. So, I'm indebted to him as well. Newcomers do have viable opinions (even if they aren't the same as mine), especially when the status quo is totally kabolluxed.