Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cukey ennui

I went out into the yard today to water the plants, as it's been nearly a week since all that rain, and discovered even more weird yellow cucumbers sprouting up. You may recall my mother's visit over the weekend, when we made cucumber salad out of these particular weird yellow cucumbers:
And there were more since Saturday, many of which I have eaten. I've enjoyed each bite, but by Thursday, I was growing weary of them. It makes me feel petty and unappreciative to get bored of a bizarre, juicy treat that won't be around for very much longer, and I know I'll miss once they're gone. Besides, I don't even know exactly how I wound up with these weird yellow cukes. So, really they are a gift.

Glen does not like cucumbers. Or so he says. Glen does not like to eat much in the way of plant material, unless it's by accident, or deep fried. Last weekend, he recounted a hockey buddy's pre-game regimen: the buddy eats a banana before every game, to get some potassium, which he thinks will help him play better. Glen said he wanted to play better, too, and so he asked me if we had any bananas. I said, "Yes," and he looked at me gravely, and said quietly, "I've never eaten a banana before."

How could this be? And, how could I not know this? October marks our 6th year together, and I suppose I don't recall him ever eating a banana, but I never saw him turn up his nose at one, either. But Glen wanted to play better for this recent tournament, so I made him banana smoothies, using frozen banana chunks, and Stonyfield Farm's organic whole freakin' milk vanilla yogurt. I'm no smelly, hairy hippy, but I do like organic yogurt. Especially Stonyfield Farm's. There is none better. Try the whole milk variety -- it's a bit fattier than regular yogurt, but the taste is worth the fat ass. It really is.


So Glen requested a smoothie before each game in the last couple of weeks, and his team did quite well, until the very end, so maybe the extra potassium made the difference. He'll do just about anything to play hockey as best he can, even if it means eating a banana.

But eating a cucumber is another story entirely. I'm pretty sure cucumbers aren't as nutrient-dense as bananas, and if I recall, they rank reasonably low on the nutrient bang-for-your-buck vegetable scale. So their hockey-improving potential is debatable, at best, and considering hockey season is done for now, I'm sure Glen wouldn't go near a cuke, on his own, unless he had to.

So there's that: Glen's skepticism about any cucumber, much less our weird, round, yellow ones. That, with my cukey ennui, I just was not sure what to do with this glut. But, I couldn't just toss them out into the compost pile.

I am voracious about soup -- hot soup, that is -- and so, it didn't take much for my mind to wander toward cucumber soup. But it felt like I was compromising my values while pondering cucumber soup, as it is typically served chilled. The cold part seems to negate the soup part, in my book, making it more of a...hmmm....dip, maybe. But eating a bowl of dip sounds borderline criminal, so I realize we cannot think of cold soups as such. Plus, I like to keep on my toes and challenge my ideals, and so, I poked around my cookbooks and the internet for a cucumber soup recipe. It was time to give it a try. All of the recipes sounded edible, but were so diverse, so I just kind of thought about the general preparation -- which was relatively similar in all of the recipes -- and came up with my own concoction, based on my specialized ingredient list (e.g. what I had on hand).

I used:
  • two good-sized weird yellow cucumbers, skinned and chopped, with most of the seeds scraped out
  • a half of a jalapeño (also growing in the backyard) -- seeded and chopped
  • a cup of half-and-half (milk would probably suffice; we didn't have any)
  • one bouillon cube
  • a quarter cup of powdered mashed potatoes (a little WT, but whatever)
  • a handful of cilantro
I sautéed the jalapeños, and then the cukes, which was weird, because I've never cooked a cuke before, and didn't know when they would be done. They didn't turn translucent or anything. So I gave it a few minutes, stirring frequently on a solid medium-high heat, and then turned the heat off, and let the cucumber-jalapeño mixture rest for about 10 minutes. I added the powdered potatoes, the bouillon cube (which, because of the heat in the kitchen, was easily smashed into the mixture), and the half-and-half, and stirred it all up, without turning the heat back on. It looked a bit thick, like a greenish cake batter, so I added -- I'm guessing -- about a quarter cup of water, which made the consistency look more like soup. I turned the heat to low and let it heat up for about 5 minutes, mostly to insure the fake potatoes were incorporated. I could sense success!

I put the whole damn mess into our blender (which reminds me, Glen's appliance fixation is worthy of its own post; maybe next week), added the cilantro, and turned the switch to "high." And hoped for the best.

It blended up nicely, and I returned the goo to the pot and set it in the fridge. I went outside to pick a few springs of mint, which I'd use to garnish my soup, but not Glen's, because he says he does not like mint. Which, if you ask me, sounds like fear and/or inexperience talking, but he's a grown man and doesn't have to eat mint if he doesn't want to.

I didn't make tons of cucumber soup, but rather, only enough for a bowl each, and we'd need a little something else to accompany it. Especially if the soup did not fly.

I rooted through the freezer and came up with some frozen appetizers from Trader Joe's*: Coconut Curry Stix and Vegetable Bird's Nests. Both are Asian-y, and even though I'm pretty sure cucumber soup has its roots in Europe, I think the cuke itself was born in Asia, if not the soup. But I read about the cucumber's origins in a novel, so who knows if it's true. But that's how I justified cooking the Asian appetizers to accompany the soup. Just like that. I'm so impulsive.

It didn't take long for the Trader Joe's treats to cook up, and cooking them made the kitchen unbearably hot.

Here are some pictures:

That's the cucumber soup, with a sprig of mint on it, and a little blue cocktail umbrella, which, -- even though he didn't say it -- I know Glen thought was "gay." But he smiled, appreciating the effort, as he removed it from his bowl. The cute little dish to the left side contains chopped jalapeños for Glen; I like the finger dish so much, I wanted it to get it into the picture as well. Glen dumped all of the jalapeños into his soup, for the record.

And above are the Trader Joe's appetizers. Toward the back, are the Coconut Curry Stix, and in the front are the Vegetable Bird's Nests. That's soy sauce, conveniently and graciously supplied in a little plastic pouch, within the Bird's Nest box, in the back left of the shot.

The soup was awesome, and really damn easy! And Glen liked it too! It was the first time, for both of us, for the Coconut Curry Stix...I didn't notice any curry flavor at all, and only a little coconut, but we both really liked them, anyway. They were subtle and light, and kind of refreshing. We always love the Bird's Nests -- they're made up of long strands of potato, onion, leeks (I think), and of these days, I might sit down and figure out how to make my own.

We finished eating, and Glen said, sincerely, "Wow, that was delicious. But what's for dinner?"

Apology Deadline Countdown! Today is the day! I'd call Gonzalez's bluff, but am concerned he'll sue me.

* I love Trader Joe's. We need one in this area.

Ramblings of a Hockey Widow

Glen is off tonight/this morning playing what we know now will be his team's last game in this particular series. Despite a good effort, his team lost, which means that Glen should be getting to bed a lot earlier in the coming weeks.

Around midnight, I went to look out the bedroom window at our new bright yellow patio furniture. Even though I have the infantile tendency of viewing sleep as defeat, the bed and pillows and moderate night air and sounds of the crickets created an enticing respite from my manic need to read or glue things to other things or even write, so I stayed put. Note: I did not put my jammies on, as that would admit I was done for the night. But I started to doze, diagonally, in bed.

A half hour later, three incidents occurred simultaneously, that caused me to sit up, wide awake:
1) Lacey started walking around. As mentioned in previous posts, my good girl is coming up on 15, but still wants so much to do the right thing, but simply does not have as much warning and/or control when bladder or bowel says, "It's time." So when she gets up, we get her out right away, to keep all of us happy.
2) A group of knuckleheads in white t-shirts, and a pit bull gathered around our garage. They loitered, laughed and carried on, and ran the dog around in circles.
3) I could hear the hushed, and yet intensely enthusiastic voice of Richard "Mack" Machowicz, host of the Discovery Channel's Future Weapons coming from the other room.

These incidents flooded me with competing sensations:
1) There was the urgency to get Lacey outside before she dropped a deuce on the floor.
2) There was a feeling of anger and hesitation, thanks to the knuckleheads with the dog, because I did not feel comfortable taking my own dog out, and she desperately needed to go. As open-minded as I am, and given my feelings on sleep, I can say with conviction: a group of knuckleheads with a pit bull hanging out in front of someone else's garage after midnight is never a good thing.
3) There was a quick feeling of euphoria as "Mack" told me about Krakatoa, conspiratorily: "Named after the famous volcano, this REMARKABLE weapon propels a plate-like projectile against targets both underwater and on the ground. Krakatoa can penetrate 2 inches of steel at a distance of 100 yards."

I thought it was too bad I forgot about him when I geeked out last week and wrote about all of my favorite reality TV characters coming to Trenton to help make things right. Because, I mean, LOOK AT THIS GUY:

And how I longed for my very own Krakatoa. Or even just a statue of Mack to put out by the mailbox on the corner. This is a guy who loves his job and I think he'd send a clear message to all the knuckleheads with pit bulls who roam the streets of Trenton with impunity: your days are numbered, boys.

Alas, I do not have a Krakatoa, and it's just as well. I'd probably use it (but never underwater). But I wasn't going to let a bunch of losers make me feel trapped in my own home. So, I turned on the floodlights, and hoped for the best. And all was well: knuckleheads and dog stopped laughing and/or running in circles, and moved along. Lacey did her business, and we came back inside, rejuvenated, and ready to avoid bed for another few hours, while Glen and his teammates had their last tailgate party for at least a few weeks. Or less.

You may be wondering why I did not attend my husband's hockey game, and there are two reasons:
1) The hour at which he plays (after 11 pm).
2) The stench of the arena.

Save for that short spell last week where Lacey's mouth smelled of digesting Mighty Dog and bile, Glen's hockey bag is, hands down, the most nauseating-smelling thing I have ever encountered, largely because so much of the gear, all of which gets drenched in man sweat, is too bulky to wash conventionally. Admittedly, I would get ill, or else I'd check the labels to see if maybe these big, padded items could be cleaned professionally. Glen claims they cannot be cleaned professionally, and so Glen airs these goodies -- the girdle and shoulder pads and helmet and gloves -- on our front porch after his games. He was worried at first that maybe they'd get stolen, but don't worry. The smell wafts over the East Ward and issues a firm discouraging statement to all would-be hockey gear thieves: "Don't come near our house, you don't want what we have."

When we moved to Trenton, I did go to one of his reasonably-timed games at Ice-Land, but was dismayed to find that the entire place smelled like Glen's bag and gear. On one hand, I was relieved to know that the vile stench was not something of Glen's special creation, but rather, an unfortunate byproduct of the sport. On the other hand, I felt faint. To make matters worse, Ice-Land had some sort of fairly common staffing issue that particular evening, and I got roped into keeping time for the game. When I was first asked, I declined immediately, but about 20 bulky guys who seemed to be well over 7 feet tall on skates, circled me, and pleaded their case. I warned them that I had a hard time following that little puck, and numbers had a tendency to confound me. The refs promised me it would be okay. And, ultimately, it was, save for one occasion when the clock didn't stop when I pressed the button, and everyone on the ice became enraged. With me. But it wasn't my fault, and the clock was easily set back.

However, it took about a week for the stink of hockey to get out of my hair, and Glen's games have been later than ever, so I stay put now. But congratulations to the Kings for a fine season; best of luck to you in the future.

It is now well after 2 a.m. and I still cannot sleep. I saw the "Your Apology Here...avoid litigation...reasonable rates" house ad in this month's Downtowner, and now I am antsy because we are officially one day away from Dennis Gonzalez's deadline for Zachary Chester's apology. I cannot wait to see how this plays out...I have some thoughts, and none of them have anything to do with Gonzalez winning a settlement, or winning over the people of Trenton.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

For the Love of Blog

So, in the last few weeks, I've been getting a lot of email from members of my high school class; most notable of the bunch is a former classmate who has assumed the esteemed role of Reunion Coordinator. This is a Very Big Deal, as June of this year marked 20 years since we graduated, and a reunion has been scheduled for October.

Call me antisocial, but it's only been a mere 20 years. Not nearly enough time has passed to entice me to drop $77 to see the very people I tried so hard to avoid once I escaped my teenaged years. But the reunion coordinator -- I remember her to be a very nice girl -- continues to send reminders to everyone on her list, does so in ALL CAPS and without much bothersome punctuation, save for the handy-dandy period.

Here's an example:




Maybe she uses her TV's remote to type?

Now, not everyone with whom I attended high school sucked, but many, many of them did. They may suck a lot less now, but I don't care; I'm not going to that reunion. I might be up for one in another 30 years or so. Hopefully, they'll keep me in the loop.

I'm sharing the email from my Reunion Coordinator, because there have been a lot of comments lately about how Trenton has just discovered the internet. The email above illustrates that perhaps Trenton is ahead of the curve. Woohoo! The September issue of the Trenton Downtowner, (website, ironically, is currently down, or else I'd link 'em) has again reported on some Trenton bloggers, and it's exciting to see that my (anonymous??) blog, along with the crew of the Bald, the Fat, and the Angry are featured. So, thanks, Downtowner! I appreciate it.

But because every print article I've read about the Trenton Blog Movement has a tone of astonished "What took these people so long to find their voice?" about it, I wanted to put my theory out there. I have questionable social skills and no political aspirations, and despite that, hemmed and hawed at great length before finally deciding to revamp my focusless blog from 2004 into this Trenton-centric rantfest. Why the internal debate before my first post? Because it's a small freakin' world, and I want to be relevant, instead of viewed as some nutjob with an ax to grind; though, in my opinion, nutjobs with axes to grind make this world go 'round, too. The other bloggers in this city -- the activists, and newspaper reporters concerned about conflicts of interest, and the concerned citizens who have just had enough, and even those who (gasp!) may even have political aspirations -- do know just what's at stake. And I admire their bravery for blogging anyway. As readers and participants of The Times Forum know, despite its appearance as a monument to free speech, posts over there get deleted ALL THE TIME, at the behest of this city's public officials. We live in a city run by so many who have totally left us in the dust as they network and advance their own careers, and in some instances, are so freakin' petty that they think it's okay to turn on the very decent people who live here. They want us voiceless, and it's just not acceptable. We, as citizens, are entitled to question our leaders about what they've been doing. We, as citizens, are allowed to have political aspirations, or not. We, as citizens, deserve to NOT live in fear of retribution from our elected pack of thugs, OR the garden-variety thugs living down the street.

So, it's my hope that more people here in our fine city will decide tonight to forgo the dishes or the lawn or whatever, and start a blog. We all have a voice. Our lives are important. Spread the word.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What one finds in the bushes of Trenton...

If you're like us, you probably spend a multitude of hours each year cleaning up what's been left behind by your less thoughtful Trenton neighbors. Glen figures that we clean up enough recyclables around our property every month to fill one whole yellow recycling barrel*. We're always pulling bottles, cans, black plastic bags, junk food wrappers, fast food packaging, and half-eaten slices of pizza out of our shrubbery. Less often, but worth mentioning, we find used condoms, cups of urine, Bic pens-cum-crack pipes, and little tiny Ziploc bags with dollar signs imprinted upon them, as well.

And, believe it or not, this is a decent neighborhood, at least by Trenton standards!**

We've heard that there are neighborhoods where folks find guns and drugs in their hedges, and we haven't, luckily, hit that low. But, what we've found is that no matter how socially unacceptable the item tossed into the shrubs is, someone, in some capacity, will take it away, if you pull it out of your bushes.

Unless you are unlucky enough to find one of these:

Well, I should back up. Animal Control will take these if you find them in your hedges, but considering that the Trenton Animal Shelter is already overburdened with furry creatures who might be put down simply because they blink at someone funny, I think it's very bad karma to send them away in that manner. So, I figure I have all of my limbs and most of my faculties, and a fairly large network of friends, acquaintances, and co-workers at my fingertips, and can therefore find someone who will take these away when I find them in the shrubs.

Or so I thought. Despite the fact that this particular creature pictured here, a kitten, who later become known as Platooski (for one of Glen's hockey buddies with a similar surname, but with more consonants and at least another syllable), is about as handsome as any animal could possibly come -- and has rare coloring with a hoity-toity name, "Blue and white," according to my vet -- only one person offered to take him. And that person, ultimately, proved to be somewhat of a lunatic, and we felt it was in Platooski's best interest for him to not wind up as some science experiment somewhere in Pennsylvania.

It took about a year, but he eventually became this:

Yes. He's kind of a prick.

But he's also pretty funny too, and as he gets older, he has become SO lazy that we often wonder -- with fear -- if he is even still alive.

For example, I came up the stairs earlier, and through the railing, discovered this:

I had to poke him to make sure he was okay. He lifted his head and gave me the stink eye, but despite his (temporary, I hope) hatred for me, followed me into the office, where he fell asleep like this on the futon:

So, I just wanted to say "See, it's not THAT bad," when you find a cat in the shrubs. If you find one in your shrubs, or the next time I find one in my shrubs, as long as you're not running a lab in your basement, why not give cat ownership a try?

*I'm not entirely sure of his methodology, because we go through our fair share of bottles and cans, but I do notice that he puts out more than one whole yellow recycling bucket on every recycling opportunity (he usually fills an empty plastic cat litter container with the overflow bottles and cans). Recycling is every other week here in Mercer County, and is not often enough for us -- a family of only two who cleans up for about 1,000 littering neighbors every month. For what we pay in taxes and what we clean-up, we'd like to have more frequent recycling pick-up. We're JCLs, but everywhere else we lived, we had weekly recycling. Hm.

** Don't you hate the phrase, "by Trenton standards?" I do. But I must use it, because if we could suspend reality for a moment and place my neighborhood in any other municipality in the state, save for Camden, Salem, Paterson, or Newark, it would be considered run-down, edgy. However, it is so obviously full of potential, with the beautiful homes, and stately trees, that I know if this neighborhood were in some other municipality, except for the ones listed above, the municipality would do what it takes to help the residents turn it around. It wouldn't take much effort at all.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Real butter

My mother came without warning on Saturday, partially because when she asked how Lacey was doing, I said, "skinny." My mom has a relationship with the dog and wanted to spend some time with her.

My mother came early -- way too early, considering that Glen's hockey team has been involved in a tournament series, and is doing well, but the games start LATE. "No game after 11 p.m." touts the literature from the rink, but Glen's games are consistently scheduled for 10:55 p.m., and often don't officially start until after 11:15. I've already written "p.m." a few times, but just to emphasize, we are talking about recreational hockey games that happen after 11 in the evening. After the team's usual small post-game tailgate party, Glen has been getting home well after 2 a.m. lately. Glen likes his sleep, A LOT, and has not been getting his sleep, so my mother's early arrival could have been VERY problematic.

So my mom spent a bit of time with Lacey, and then we headed to the diner for breakfast. My parents -- for reasons that I will never fully understand -- relocated to Chicken Shit, Maryland (near the Perdue plant, that is) in 2003. Despite having been life-long residents of New Jersey -- many of those years spent in Essex County (we talking some serious New Jersey-ness about them) -- my parents took to Chicken Shit, Maryland as if New Jersey never existed. If they didn't have three daughters, and six grandchildren, and my dad's mother, and one grand-dog, chances are, they'd never come back to this fine state.

It's crushing: I have been detecting a terrible Baltimore-ish dialect when my father speaks now; the Baltimore accent is all-too-similar to the Philadelphia accent for me, which -- no offense to anyone here -- is just not my favorite sound. One would think "Baltimore" might sound southern, but that's just not the case. And my mother rails incessantly against "you insane New Jersey drivers!" I am perplexed because she spent enough years in this state, were I to mention how many, she'd probably beat me to a pulp. She learned to drive here, too, and did most of her driving here. But the ride to the diner was fraught with stress and danger -- she drove, and did so along the center line. I've never been a back-seat driver, or even a lousy passenger, but I asked her to please pick a lane. She said, "I'm making my own lane, right in the center! I have to keep the insane New Jersey drivers away from me!!"

I drove home, by the way.

A quick aside: there are more roadside memorials along the stretch of State Highway 13, which runs through Salisbury, Maryland, near my parents' home, than I have ever -- EVER -- seen in my life. So, wait, who's insane?

When we got to the diner, my mother ordered a muffin, with some butter on the side. She said, accusingly, "I'd like REAL butter please. None of that fake stuff." Glen and I looked at her funny, and the waitress smiled awkwardly -- I saw fear in her eyes. My mother continued, "Everywhere I go, we get margarine or some kind of fake crock stuff anymore. I don't want that."

I said, "Ma, this is New Jersey. You think people here will stand for fake butter?"
The waitress stuck around to see where this was going.
My mother continued, "I don't know about that. Everyone is serving fake butter anymore."
"Not in New Jersey, they don't," I said.
Glen asked the waitress, "Do you serve fake butter?"
She said, "No, not unless someone asks for it."
I said, "See?"
My mother said suspiciously, "We'll see about that."
The waitress promised to bring real butter.

Our food arrived and my mother received her muffin with a little side serving of what looked to me to be real, honest-to-goodness butter. Whipped, but real butter. She cut her blueberry muffin in half and slathered each side of it with abandon, took a bite, and proclaimed angrily, "THIS IS NOT REAL BUTTER."

Glen had ordered pancakes, and also received a small side cup of butter. He tasted it. "Maggie, it's real butter." He said.
I said, "Mom, the waitress told you she'd make sure she would bring real butter."
My mom focused on her muffin, and grumbled that she had never tasted "real butter like this before."
I sighed and said, "Maybe the water in Maryland is affecting your taste buds."

When we got home, my mother asked, as she always does, when we'd be moving out of Trenton, with THAT tone. You know the tone: "We've tolerated your little non-traditional decision to live in Trenton, but now it's time to get the hell out of this place." Truth is, my parents have not come to visit very often, despite often having to travel through this area to get to my grandmother's house in North Jersey, or my sisters' homes in Monmouth County. My sisters don't come that much either, but have been getting out more regularly in the last year. (Although, both of them claimed they would be stopping by on Sunday, and I didn't even hear from them. At all; they didn't even call me to find out how the visit with my mother went. What is UP with that?) There's a list of reasons why we don't get many visitors from my family; only one of which (in my opinion) is legitimate: some of my family members have cat allergies.

The big reason we don't get visitors from my family is because we live in Trenton. Trenton is the small city with a high murder rate. Trenton is the town full of run down, once-beautiful houses. Trenton is the city with so little going on culturally. Trenton is that place from which the gang members come. Trenton is full of drug dealers and prostitutes. Trenton (gasp) is the land of parallel parking.

Except for the parallel parking bit, Glen and I resent this perception of Trenton, but, at the same time, we can't flat out deny the murder, the "architecture abuse," the drug dealers, the gang members, the constant fight to keep our cultural community afloat, and our quality of life at acceptable levels. We point out to my family how the really weird stuff happens in the suburbs of New Jersey, and in Chicken Shit, Maryland, like serial murders and sniper attacks; burglaries; robberies; rape; ATV accidents; bad TV reception; lack of garbage pick-up; no high-speed internet, and unrelentingly uniformly bland people and buildings everywhere you turn. Blech.

This week marks our third anniversary in the house. When we moved in, we told our families that we'd give it 5 years: if it was too much work to live in Trenton, we'd leave. Even though we're stuck in a gray area where we must defend our decision to live here to my family; and as newcomers, we are dismissed by many city officials, we're not planning to leave any time soon. This may disappoint my family and it may disappoint the powers-that-be. But oh well.

My mom, by the way, decided on a whim, to spend the night Saturday night. We ate in. She brought some patty pan squash (I think that's what they were) and some cucumbers from her neighbor's garden, and we have some interesting cucumbers of our own, which are pictured here. I bought the plant this spring, but don't recall it being a strange variety of cucumber. When they first started coming, and I saw they were yellow, I figured I had blossom end rot (a calcium deficiency), but when the ends didn't rot away, I assumed another nutrient deficiency. But, I'm brave, and I tried one of these weird, yellow cukes, and wow! They're crisp, juicy, and sweet, and the skin is tender, too!

So, I made a cucumber salad using my weird yellow cukes, and my mom's neighbor's more traditional cucumbers. I've been reading the blog of Trenton's own Miss Karen and she's mentioned Vietnamese rolls at least twice I can remember. I love Vietnamese food, but my mom would probably not go for that, and we didn't have all the ingredients anyway. But I doctored the cukes up with Vietnamese inspiration: some "sweet seasoning," which, best I can tell is just sugar water with a bit of white wine vinegar in it, and some fresh mint from our garden.

I sautéed some chicken, and served it over angel hair, along with some of the patty-pan squash, broccoli, and tomatoes from our garden, garnished with some basil and chives, also from our garden. We had a loaf of nice bread, with which, we served real, freakin' butter. Not that I even keep the fake stuff around, and thank the heavens for that. I heard ENOUGH about that earlier in the day.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Insufferable suburbanites and self-loathing

My dog, Lacey, will be 15 in September. It's hard to think about that number, as it relates to dog years, because I'm not very good at math, and I know it's means there are more years behind us, than in front of us. But nothing in life is given, not even the bad stuff.

We've had a lot of visitors this summer, some of them were children, and Lacey's always been skeptical of children. They stress her out. And back in July, while some kids were here, Lacey stopped eating. She began to eat upon their departure, but has been having trouble keeping the food down. She'll be seeing the vet this week, and I'm trying so very hard to be strong: she's an old girl, there might not be anything that can be done for her. We've been feeding her small cans of wet food in the last two weeks, but it smells so bad. I live with a man who plays recreational hockey a couple of nights a week, so I have a very high tolerance for unbearable smells. Until Lacey started eating Mighty Dog, Glen's hockey bag was the worst thing I ever smelled in my life; now, it's my dog's mouth. I love my dog, and not my husband's hockey bag, so in order to get close to her again, I needed to figure out how to stop the smell. So, I started reading about what foods are more tolerable to aging viscera.

I visited my sister in Monmouth County on Friday, and on the way home, stopped at the Mega Pet Mart to get Lacey some geriatric chow, and some breath treats, in case the geriatric chow doesn't improve her ungodly halitosis. While in the store, I saw a small, well-dressed skinny guy pushing around a bichon frise in what looked to be a baby carriage. I saw a woman and her daughters pick out a rabbit costume for their spaniel, presumably for Halloween, though I didn't see how that made any sense at all. And while I was reading the ingredients on the back of a can of senior dog food, I watched a woman dial a number on her cell phone, and with perfectly-manicured nails, tap the shelf in front of her, while she waited (not so patiently) for the person on the other end to pick up.

"Hi," she said, in that way that meant she was really asking, "What took you so damn long to pick up the phone?"
"I'm at the pet store, and wanted to know if Mitzy liked the simmered or the roasted stuff, no, no, she does NOT like the GRILLED, it's definitely either simmered or roasted. S I M M E R E D or R O A S T E D. Come ON, Daniel, you feed her every night...Okay, okay, if you can't remember, look on the shelf. I think there's one can left...[sigh] ON THE SHELF. LOOK ON THE SHELF. Is it SIMMERED or ROASTED?...Roasted? Really? I thought it was simmered. Okay. Bye." Click.

And she casually tossed a 12-pack of dog food into her buggy. I thought, "Get me back to the hood." People in the hood piss me off too -- right now, one of my neighbors is riding around and around and around the block on a motorized scooter, and the voices in my head are chanting, "fall, fall, fall," but please don't judge: I haven't had my coffee yet, and at least I didn't SAY those words out loud. I can at least see how riding around the block on a motorized scooter might be fun; how can Mitzy's owner EVER have any fun, with her perfect nails, and her perfect roasted dog food? And what about poor Mitzy? Maybe she likes her food, but can she like anything else about her life?

The episode in the pet store in contrast to the kid riding around on his scooter left me wondering about my own insufferability (or is it insufferableness? Can that word even become a noun?). I spent an hour in that store picking up very specific items for my dog, carefully reading the labels, but in the end, I did it without calling anyone on my phone, or having perfectly manicured fingernails. And I remembered to get a container of catnip for the little monsters, too. But does that make me any better than anyone else? I doubt it, especially since I hated nearly everyone in the pet store, mostly, because it seemed to me, that their priorities are totally out of wack: costumes and baby carriages and ROASTED food for their dog has never had any of those things, but it doesn't mean I don't love her. And when I got home, I took a deep sigh of relief, but just a short time later, I wound up hating the kids riding around on illegal bikes, and hating the city officials for not doing enough to make this place run even a tiny bit better, and hating myself for being such a damn hater.

It's time yet again to release the dove of hate. That should fix things for a few days. And a bit of coffee might help level me out for now, too. I hope!

If you just can't get enough of insufferable people, check out Trenton's very own Mr. Clean's experience, too.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Survivor: Perry Street now on CBS

We've been watching too much TV lately, and yep, I'm embarrassed to admit that a lot of it is reality TV. Sometimes we feel a little bit icky watching reality television; other times, we feel charged up, and Glen and I both will say: "We need that guy in Trenton for just a few days."

I've been wondering if I should divulge my dirty little secret about reality tv, and for the last few weeks I've been keeping this blog, I keep saying, "nah, I can't write about that." But after this week's Trentonian article about Lifetime's interest in filming their new show, Neighbors 911, here in Trenton, I know I've been silent for too long. Glen and I chuckled when we read about Neighbors 911 coming to Trenton; of ALL the reality TV people we need in this city, it's not the makers of this show. Neighbors 911 will focus on feuding families, and if I read the info correctly, participants will find some resolve, and some compensation for their troubles. It looks like the compensation maxes out at $3,000.

This is how I see it going:
The producers will come to town, looking for people to be on the show, and no one will want to risk their lives for (up to) $3,000. Generally, Trenton residents don't have too many pesky, annoying neighbors. Our bad neighbors involve dudes who sell heroin, fight pit bulls, stockpile weapons; you know, the types that don't have any respect for life. The only compensation for your appearance on Neighbors 911 is violence.

But maybe I'm a pessimist.

There are some shows we'd love to come to Trenton, though.

Our latest hero is Canadian Mike Holmes of Holmes on Homes, which is on the Discovery Home channel. The basic premise is if you had your home renovated, and the contractor botched it up, Mike comes in, often shirtless (under his Carhartt overalls), and fixes everything. Not only does he fix things, but he also talks about gettin' the bad guy, which unfortunately, he doesn't do enough on the show, but I get the impression that it happens off air, and often in court, that I'm satisfied. And throughout it all, he commiserates with and consoles the home owners, coos over the kids, and talks about how morals and high standards don't seem to exist anymore, all the while he and his fine crew are gettin' dirty making things right in the house.

Glen and I envision Mike, and Shawn and Benji, coming in, with their tool belts, and their high standards, their shirtlessness (I think a bit more about the shirtless aspect than Glen does, admittedly), and their need to educate. Do you have a house next door in shambles? Well, Mike and crew could certainly bring that mess up to code, and find the guy who butchered the house. They'd teach that guy a lesson, get some new tenants or owners in the house, and yeah, I'm a bit delusional, but with this approach, we could have a whole new city in no time!

What we really like about the show, unlike the many other popular home renovation shows, is that there is no stupid, well-coiffed narrator. Mike and crew just come to the house and the cameras tell the story. Simple, effective.

So that's one show that would help improve the code/architecture/slumlord situation. We have the criminal element to keep an eye on as well, and that's where Dog, the Bounty Hunter might help. Now, I wrote last week about how very cheesy Dog is, but despite that, I would be thrilled if he were to come to Trenton for a special episode. How entertaining would it be to have that guy, with his bad hair flowing behind him, tons of ornamentation jangling all over his body, along with his wife, brother, and sons, running through our streets to bring some knuckleheads to justice? BRO, AWESOME!

Since we're talking criminal apprehension, and we do seem to have a glut of criminals here (don't be so quick to point the finger: if you've asked our city administrators for information, you may just be a criminal yourself)...
...We have a lot of respect for the police in Trenton, and we often wonder if it would be helpful if A&E's The First 48 came here. This show has been around for awhile, and is popular, but in case you've missed it, the show's crew follows a group of detectives around after a homicide: "their chance of solving a case is cut in half if they don't get a lead in The First 48™." It's a dark show, and sometimes gut-wrenching, too. And so frustrating to watch so many people make bad decisions. But what we like about this show is that it shows the detectives as real people; approachable. We're seeing how police departments in Miami, Dallas, Memphis, Cinncinnati, both Kansas Cities, and Philadelphia (coming soon) will protect witnesses; we see their compassion when dealing with families, and even, their respectfulness with the suspects. Maybe if The First 48 were to come to Trenton, people would begin to see that being silent about criminal activity only makes life worse.

Even some mindless entertainment filmed in Trenton might prove beneficial, too. That's why I think maybe the producers of Survivor ought to start thinking outside of the reality TV box (the box they basically defined). I'm sick to death of all of the model-wannabees getting "stuck" some place tropical and sunny, with plentiful food. It's like America's Next Top Model, but on the beach. Blech. What I'm hoping for is Survivor: Hermitage Avenue (I'd settle for Survivor: Perry Street, too). Drop those pretty people off in our inner city, with no supplies, and let's see how they do, and for kicks, let's make it November. Would they panhandle at the train station, or in front of the courthouse? Would they urinate on the side of the firehouse? Would they go to the Soup Kitchen? Not that I'd want to watch anyone suffer on TV, but I think that getting kicked off the boat or helicopter in Trenton would encourage the contestants to look deep within themselves and find new meaning in their lives. Maybe those of us watching the show, too, would look deep within ourselves, and we'd start asking some important questions: are there enough resources for those without options? Do we fully appreciate what we have? Why do we watch so much stupid television, anyway?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Haters, Repent!

JCL Blogger's note: tonight's post is inspired by my brilliant sister-in-law, B, who just spent the week here in The Hood, and headed back to her chilly igloo in Canada on Sunday. Crazy but true: she loves it here. She spends nearly ALL of her vacation time right here in T-Town (and as a Canadian, she gets way more v-time than we do)! She has a message of peace, and it is The Dove of Hate. Read on for details.

  • you're wearing a "Who's Sporty Joe?" shirt...
  • you're saving up to order one of my oh-so-fine JCL t-shirts...
  • you loiter over at The Star Ledger Forum (yeah, yeah, I KNOW it's The Times, but it's not, really)...
  • you write down license plate numbers of drug buyers who come to your area...
  • you complain at your CPAC meetings about slumlords who rent to knuckleheads who are ruining the quality of your life...
  • you even (egads!) have a webcam (or regular cam) recording the goings-on in your neighborhood...
  • you asked for information from the city and then were threatened with a defamation suit...
  • you had the simple misfortune of coming into this life elsewhere...
...and for whatever reason, found yourself here tonight, in Trenton, reading my blog.

Hello, haters.

You're angry because you know, in your heart, your brain, your gut, that things shouldn't be the way they are. This city is the old rug in the corner of this state, the finest state in the nation; a rich, colorful state, with a high standard of living; one that boasts many beautiful, distinct geographic areas in such a small amount of space. A state populated by the well-educated, a state so often represented in popular movies. A state practically bursting at the seams with history and landmarks and cuisine and cultures and people. Yes, people! There are nearly 9 million of us in this state for one reason: we rule. But Trenton is the state's dirty little secret -- Trenton is the rug under which all the state's nasty is swept.

Nasty is a by-product of life; as a JCL, I've lived in and traveled to other places. I know that there are town dumps and county landfills, and the occasional dirty pocket on the other side of the tracks, but it's rare for an entire municipality -- not to mention a freakin' state capital -- to pretty much completely go to hell. There's an entire generation of kids in this city right now without any role models, without any guidance, without any kind of accountability, with NO OPTIONS in their future. Yeah, I know it's not all up to the politicians, or the community; many of the kids in this generation have been abandoned by at least one parent, physically, and the other emotionally. So, Haters, we can sleep because it's not our fault, right? No. Being faultless doesn't mean you'll get any sleep in this city. Faultless doesn't mean dink when you're up all night because there's some girl out of her mind on crack who won't stop banging on your door because she KNOWS you were the one who fed her lasagna two years ago and solved all of her problems and maybe you have some more of that magical lasagna and sage advice for her (I wish it were me, but it wasn't); or there's some knucklehead in an old boxy mercury without registration who thinks it's cool to squeal his tires all night long, and then, oopsy! hits 6 or 7 cars on your block and then reports the car stolen the next day. I digress. It's a complicated problem, and faultless or not, we could all probably do something more. The city could too. But with its current "bring on the nasty, we'll just put it over there in that neighborhood" philosophy, things can't improve any time soon.

So what's a hater to do?

According to B, my Canadian sister-in-law, we need to take a deep breath and stop thinking about the self-serving, egomaniacal, lawsuit-happy politicians as well as the self-centered, short-sighted, self-destructive knuckleheads in this city, and instead think about how our own anger and disillusionment are adversely affecting our lives. We must envision our negative emotions as a small, football-sized object, in our hands, tangible. We must hold that imaginary parcel in our hands and see it as "The Dove of Hate." Hold the Dove of Hate for a moment with respect. Understand what it is, what makes it. Raise it to chest level. And release, palms up to the heavens, eventually allowing your arms to gently fall to your sides. You have released the Dove of Hate; now watch it fly away!

You, in your anti-establishment t-shirt; or you, whilst you wait for that communication from Dennis Gonzalez's lawyer, are probably doing what I did when B first told me about this: you're smiling because "Dove of Hate" is clever, but you're scratching your head, too. You, like I did, will probably ask, "Well, I've released the Dove of Hate. Now what?"

Well, B says we should first try to get a good night sleep. Your over-burdened brain should enjoy the vacation, and your heavy heart should rest easily. And in the morning -- if the knuckleheads in your parts have cooperated -- hopefully, you'll wake up rested, with a clear head and lighter heart, at which time, you should wish with all your might that the Dove of Hate finds your object of dismay. And if there's any order at all in the universe, the Dove of Hate will find that object (or person) and defecate mightily upon it (or him, or her), thus restoring balance, if only for a little while.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But reasonable action and commentary hasn't worked for us haters. So go on, give it a try. Release the Dove of Hate.

B tells me she is fixin' to start blogging herself. I'll be sure to link her up when that happens, as I'm sure she'll have plenty to say about Trenton, her dysfunctional home away from home.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

JCL T-Shirts are available now!

Hey everyone! Get your very own Johnny-Come-Lately T-shirt now!

These shirts are great for JCLs and long-term Trenton residents who want to stand with their JCL neighbors! These shirts make creative birthday gifts, party favors, and stocking stuffers!

Wear yours around the house, at civic functions, and certainly, at City Hall!

Johnny Pride: You know you have it. Now wear it! Order today!

The nitty-gritty:
Price: $12.95 each
Details: Hanes® 100% preshrunk cotton T-Shirt (white only); Available sizes are: S, M, L, XL. Image is approximately 12 x 12; the words
Trenton, New Jersey
are on top of a map of NJ, with Trenton highlighted in gold; a green burst is behind the map and words. If you want, drop me an email to see the image in more detail.
Payment: cash, money order, personal check, PayPal. Drop me an email to order; please specify how you'll be paying, your shirt size, and quantity you want.

This is a community service project for me; I'm not looking to make a profit. It was difficult to find a company who will print a short run, four color job at a reasonable price. There are companies that specialize in this, though (lucky for us!), but I need to submit an order of at least 15 to get that price, which I think is possible (spread the word!). I plan to place the order once I get the requests and payments. It takes about three weeks to process and ship. If you know of a company who can do this for less money and with a quicker turn-around, please let me know.

Welcome to Trenton!

Our population is 83,000+
...and decreasing every year, thanks to gang killings, low birth rates, and natural attrition!

Of that 83,000:
  • Conservatively, thousands of Trenton residents are incarcerated at any given time.
  • Thousands live below the poverty line, and thousands are disenfranchised for one reason or another. They're powerless to improve their lives and have been left to fend for themselves.
  • How many more are part of the criminal element?
  • How many more are just so disgusted they're waiting to save up enough money to move the hell out?
What's left is a small group of people who are committed to this city, many of whom were born here; many are Johnnys-Come-Lately. These people are working to make their neighborhoods better, but instead of getting the support of city officials and administrators, at best, they're ignored. But these days, they're threatened with lawsuits; their favorite community liaison officers are transferred to punish these concerned citizens for having opinions; they're pointed out by police when they call about drug activity.

What is that? Logically, it seems to me that there is -- or should be -- a lot of common ground between city officials and the small group of committed residents. Don't we want the same thing?

I thought so until recently, but it occurs to me that we -- the long-term and JCL-concerned citizens -- are the very people that the city's administration claims it is trying to attract to rejuvenate this city.


However, many politicians in this city are far more concerned with furthering their own political careers than they are interested in doing their jobs: that is, working with us to help improve the quality of life. I'm a concerned citizen of the Johnny-Come-Lately-variety, which means, I have lived in other places. While I can't speak for everyone outside of the city, I can't see how anyone out there, looking at the current state-of-affairs here, could even consider voting for a current Trenton politician who may, for instance, run for a regional or state-level position, when the only thing s/he could say for him/herself is: "Vote for me! While I was in office, Trenton's population decreased, but some violent crime increased. Businesses moved out or closed up shop on my watch! I kept the homeless and crazies in their places, and I didn't listen to any of those pesky concerned citizens!!"

Good luck with that.


Wikipedia's Trenton entry

Read more about incarceration in the USA

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Just my opinion...

I don't know Zachary Chester, but I am heartened to hear that he's not planning to apologize for asking City Council for information on the development projects that Dennis Gonzalez, assistant business administrator, has been involved with, even after Gonzalez sent him a "cease and desist" letter from his home address.

This story has been covered in both city papers, as well as several of the blogs, so I won't rehash the details. If you missed it, check out my Trenton links on the lower right of this page.

I started my career as a newspaper reporter, and I have always been fascinated by media law, even though I have since changed gears. I still do some writing periodically, so I keep a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual around; I'm more inclined to reference it for the finer details of grammar, but every now and then when I hear about a person threatening to sue another person for defamation, I wind up perusing the legal part of the book, too.

Gonzalez hasn't yet taken any official legal action against Zachary Chester, and while I don't know Dennis Gonzalez either, I don't think he will, because, ultimately, Gonzalez does not have a case. However, the detail that nags at me is that Gonzalez sent the "cease and desist" letter from his home address.

The fact that the "cease and desist" came from the Gonzalez residence raises a lot of questions for me; it makes me wonder what kind of legal role -- if any -- the city will take in this. Is Gonzalez alleging that private citizen Zachary Chester defamed private citizen Dennis Gonzalez? A weak allegation, for sure. But it's definitely worth noting: a public official needs to prove malice (which can be difficult) in a defamation lawsuit; a private citizen must show that the defendant was negligent (which is less difficult) in order to collect damages.

It's troubling, isn't it?

Zachary Chester asked for information about Gonzalez's work projects, so I think -- and it's just my opinion -- that Gonzalez won't be able to sue as plain ol' Denny G, because he is a high-ranking member of the city's administration, even when he's home eating dinner.

But we live in a lawsuit-happy world, and Gonzalez's ultimatum stated that Zac must apologize by August 31, so who knows how this will go.

I'm no longer a journalist, and I'm certainly not a lawyer, but for what it's worth, my opinion (and I'm probably not alone) is if any individual -- regardless of position and line of work -- is doing a good job, s/he can easily answer questions about his/her job performance and record. We all go to work every day and have to answer similar questions when our bosses and/or clients ask them. Those who are in over their heads, or sleeping on the job, or just kind of not really engaging in the tasks set out in their job descriptions, are likely to get pretty defensive.

Twice -- in two different work environments -- I have seen people threaten to sue for libel or slander after they've been questioned about their job performances. Instead of saying, "Hey, I took a gamble here, and it didn't work out," or "You know, I'm really embarrassed to admit this, but I was asleep on the job," both employees got irate and threatened to sue...for slander. Both times, those employees were fired and no suits were filed. I suppose that no suits were filed because as greasy as lawyers can be, none is stupid enough to take on a frivolous libel/slander case, when really, those two super-sensitive employees just didn't want people analyzing their work. Two instances over a 10-year span is hardly a barometer for how defamation suits, or threats of them, will go in the universe, or even here in Trenton. But there is plenty of good information on the pages of my AP Stylebook and Libel Manual which predict that Gonzalez won't get too far with his defamation suit:
  • Everyone has the right to comment on matters of public interest and concern, provided they do so fairly and with an honest purpose. Such comments or criticism are not libelous, however severe in their terms, unless they are written maliciously.
  • Courts have held that public officials (an elected/appointed person in the political arena) and public figures (celebrities, athletes, authors, etc.) must prove actual malice when suing for libel or slander.
  • The statements alleged to be defamatory must also be false statements of facts. That which is name-calling or hyperbole cannot be proven true or false, and cannot be the subject of a libel or slander claim. Zac simply asked for more information about Gonzalez's projects, though in doing so, people may surmise that Gonzalez is or was incompetent. Incompetence seems to be a matter of opinion, and not a fact.
In my opinion, Trenton home owners get shoddy services -- and treatment -- for the amount we're paying in taxes. What's happening with Dennis Gonzalez is a shining example of the problems in this city: when we ask questions, why don't we get answers? When we keep asking, why are we met with hostility? When we keep asking, how on earth can public officials threaten to sue us? This is OUR city. We DESERVE answers.

Off-topic note:
I added pictures to my last two posts, if you want to scroll down and take a peek.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Yesterday proved to be a busy and successful day with our Canadian houseguests. We got off to a late start, but it was worth it: Pete's Steakhouse on Hudson St., beckoned us for lunch. It was good to see the place packed with happy lunchers. We ate too much, but we have no regrets. Afterward, we headed over to the Rescue Mission on Carroll St. -- it is full of good stuff, and provides valuable resources to Trenton by offering substance abuse counseling, and work therapy/life skills resources for those in need. They've begun a program that allows people to sell their items on eBay: it's a great way to make a bit of extra cash while helping out the Rescue Mission.

Because there are more thrift stores in the area, and because thrifting was one of the main goals of our visitors, we then combed nearly every street in the city, eventually working toward our goal: the stretch along Broad Street, which is peppered with second-hand stores. Our guests had unstoppable energy to see them all! After that, we made our way south and hit every other thrift store we could find from here to Camden. Crazy, but true!

The thing that gets me after spending 2-3 days thrifting with my in-laws is the sheer volume of stuff we, as a society, cast aside: furniture, housewares, clothing, tools, jewelry, books, photos, diaries, and more. I've certainly donated things to thrift stores, and I'm glad we have that option, but to see so many packed thrift stores in such a small geographic area makes me wonder a bit about our society: we just consume, consume, consume. And when we're done with it, we cast it aside. I do it too; I'm not pointing any fingers. It is shocking at times to consider if there's that much stuff in the thrift stores, how much stuff is just tossed out and is taking up space in the landfills? It's just good to stop for a bit and think about this: what valuable things and/or resources are we tossing aside?

I like to rediscover those things and resources periodically, and personally, I'm drawn to the little handmade works of art, and intimate gifts in thrift stores. I found a lovely hand-sewn shower curtain, a few beautiful handcrafted coffee mugs (not the junky clay rope student projects), a lantern made of hand-punched tin, and a lot of paintings. We found Thai temple rubbings, mounted and framed; a mixed-media/outsider art shadow box thing decorated with a clock, compass, and some wooden fish; a framed photo of a kind of attractive 40-something red-headed woman, with her hair done-up, and dressed to kill, in an outfit that shows off what we assume to be her enhanced breasts, with an issue of TV Guide (Angela Lansbury is on the cover) on the couch beside her, and a dirty ashtray on the table next to her; an inspirational plaque with a note on the back: "To Susie, with much love from Nana, Christmas 1986." I found a young girl's diary, "Property of Lindsey," scrawled on the inside front cover, filled with angst about boys, and betrayal from her friends.

I left some of this stuff, like the diary, and the inspirational plaque from Nana, but I did pick up a lot of the other items. I hate the idea of hand-crafted items languishing, to be picked over with the silverware and vases. These items are bursting at the seams with stories to tell, stories we'll likely never know. The red-headed woman is sitting (in her frame) on our dining room table, awaiting a new home (maybe on our attic wall when we get it refinished). Her eyes are soulful and we couldn't leave her behind. Maybe her relationship soured and her man got rid of the picture, or she became embarrassed by her big 80s-style hair and got rid of it herself, who knows? I also snagged the shower curtain, and imagine that maybe it was sewn by a crafty woman and given as a gift to someone who didn't appreciate it. I couldn't find anything wrong with it; the sewing was impeccable, and I love the colorful stripes. We have an eastern-theme going in our living room, so we were fast with the temple rubbings, and happy for that too -- the frame job is terrific, and the Thai government doesn't allow temple rubbings anymore. The hand-punched lantern will go out on the porch, with a candle. I picked up a gorgeous green coffee mug -- my new favorite. It's smooth, and full, fired and glazed, and waiting to be held close. I plan to do that this morning.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Roadside Gyms and New Adjectives

It's been a busy few days with the Canadians, and I expect, will continue to be busy until their departure on Sunday. They're seriously cutting into my blogging time, but they are also helping me to discover fodder for blogging, so I reckon it will all work out. I met my deadlines yesterday, and so, today, I went shopping with them. Just to remind you: Canadians are born shoppers. It is WACK. So we all piled in the Johnny-Come-Lately mobile and headed out into this capital city, and surrounding suburbs.

We did some thrifting at the Red, White, and Blue in Hamilton, and then the Good Will in Ewing. Successful hauls at both locations. I asked B if she had ever been to the Salvation Army in the city; she hadn't. Granted, we are Johnnies-Come Lately, so we haven't been here that long, but B comes down three to four times a year, often for a week at a time. She knows her way around so well; she's even eyeing up the house next door to us, which is for sale.

So, we went to the Salvation Army, which was unfruitful, and uneventful, except for the mere fact that it was hot in that place, and the Canadians, being from Canada, are quite unaccustomed to the heat. They wither and suffer badly in these 90+ days with 100% humidity, but these particular Canadians didn't complain too much. HALLELUJAH! I can't stand to listen to people complain about the freakin' weather. We are all citizens of this great round planet, and there is weather here. We must cope.

We made a quick run up to Halo, and then got back on to Olden, to head back South to our joint. On our way down the hill, B took note of the sign at the Polish Food Market, Amber: "It's POLICIOUS!" It exclaims. We stopped and took pictures. We will go back this weekend, and I will, at some point, report back on "Polishiousness." Further down the hill, B commented on the first water tower: it changes "ownership" frequently. She noticed that it was in Polish control last summer; a Polish flag had been painted on it. When she was back earlier this year, we had noticed that the Russians had claimed the water tower, and marked it in a manner so the world would know it was now THEIR water tower. Today, B noticed control of the tower had fallen yet again into someone else's hands. "Who owns it now?" she asked, unable to make out that chaos in the spray paint. "I'm not sure, but I think it's possibly fallen into the Bloods' jurisdiction, now." Maybe someone can shed light on this? Or maybe I'll head up there with my spray paint and claim it for myself. It might be fun to possess a water tower, even if only for a short time. To quote our mayor, sorry, haters. God is not through with me yet.

We continued down into East Trenton, and we passed "Sy's Gym," just before East State Street. Glen and I are just thrilled with Sy's Gym, though we are not currently members. Glen passes Sy's each morning on his way to work, and sees Sy lifting weights. If you haven't been past it, the gym is located on a 6' x 4' front lawn of one of the rowhomes on Olden, before East State (heading south; it's just after East State if you're headed north on Olden). He's got a weight bench and some weights, and a few members and dude spotting each other. He has a sign out front, too, which is how we know it's a gym and not just some guy with weights out front. We love the fact that no one messes with Sy's gear. Even if Sy isn't around, the barbell is always perched properly on the rack above the bench. We love to have little gems like this in our neighborhood. I'm sure they're all over this city.

Tomorrow, more shopping, I imagine.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Overheard While Picking Tomatoes

I picked these mofos last night, grown right here on my patch o' Johnny-Come-Lately dirt, and with my own two Johnny-Come-Lately hands.

While admiring the glorious tomatoes, a 20-something man walked by, on his chirp phone, with desperation in his voice. The woman with whom he was speaking said something I couldn't quite make out, but I heard her tone loud and clear: she was done with him.

He pleaded:
I was thinkin'–
I got ta be the only one for you
That's right, Bitch, you the only one for me.
Bitch, you the ONLY one for me.

He was sincere. I believed his cheatin' days were done. But I hope this doesn't make me sound old or prudish: I'm not a big fan of the casual use of the word bitch. I am all about appropriate usage, and there are times when it is the perfect word, and no, I don't just mean when one is describing an unspayed dog. Sometimes "bitch" is the only word to describe a person (man or woman).

If I were the woman on the phone, I would also object to having a private conversation on friggin' speaker phone because I wouldn't want anyone to overhear the details of our personal heartbreak. But mostly, if he cheated on me, and then called me "bitch," instead of "honey" or "sweetie" or "babe" or even "woman," I'd find him and punch him right in the head.

Girls, when did "bitch" become the new "babe"?

I know too, that men at that age can be difficult. They don't have many redeeming qualities, but biology is powerful. Young women are drawn to them anyway. Do not let them call you "bitch," ever, girls. If they're still doing it in their 30s, you only have yourselves to blame.

That said, I AM a Johnny-Come-Lately, and maybe "bitch" is just done here in Trenton. Paul Pintella, please be patient with me. Someday I might get it.

Anyway, I went inside and photographed the tomatoes before we devoured them, because I was hoping to write about some kind of gardening-type thing today. But couldn't get the words of the cheatin' man out of my head. I was able, at least, to use the tomatoes as a spring-board into some linguistic (?) rumination, specific to my bit of Trenton.

I then prepared dinner. It was a simple meal, but celebratory, in honor of our Canadian houseguests: burgers and marinated mushrooms, grilled; tomatoes and pickles were available to garnish said burgers, or to eat on the side. The tomatoes were sweet and juicy. They are so fleeting that it can't get any better than to be able to enjoy them on a balmy August night, especially when the tomatoes are very literally the fruit of your own labor. But it ain't a celebration unless there are Fritos, and so, there were Fritos as well. Glen picked up a couple of cases of Yuengling, which is unavailable in Canada, and the Canadians like it so much that they doberman each other if there's only one bottle left. Luckily, we still have plenty. We don't want the bloodbath.

Sophie, the not-quite feral cat, sat with us, begging for a taste of burger, which she received; and the humans talked and caught up with one another. Our neighborhood was teeming last night, and in a nice way: kids were out and the ice cream man made his way up and down the streets, and adults were chatting with one another. But we were engrossed in our own stories, and so I'm sure there were some strange tidbits overheard from our yard. It's just the way it goes in the city, I guess.

Off-Topic Epilogue:
The Canadians made me go inside to watch the "Dog The Bounty Hunter" special; not something I would have chosen, if left to my own devices. But don't get me wrong, I think it would be fan-friggin-tastic if Dog came to Trenton, with Beth and her, ahem, "Twins." He's an asskicker, and sincerely compassionate. But he gets a bit Hallmark-y at times, you know? Dog, what's with the dreamcatcher earring? And the vest open to your navel? And the weird marriage of the pompadour and 80s metal hair? AND the braids? You cannot combine THAT many bad hair ideas. And seashells all over your body. You're a friggin' bounty hunter; isn't stealth a virtue in your line of work? You are so adorned that you must sound like a windchime; and visually, you and the family STAND OUT. You cannot sneak up on anyone. How do you do your job? I'm not really the sort to judge someone by his looks (that much), but Dog, come on, you're a public figure. Button up the vest even just a bit (you are fit, we know that; be a tease for a change instead of so damn obvious) and for the love of god, pick a new earring. And you gotta lay off the verbal cheese a bit. I mean, I tasted vomit when you told your former bail bonds partner that "If there were a recipe for Dog, it would need a cup of you." {gag}

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Canadians are coming!
The Canadians are coming!

Glen is from Canada, and has a multitude of siblings, many of whom descend upon us throughout the year. Even with their beady little eyes and their flappin' heads full of lies, we usually wind up having a great time when they're in town.

His sister, S, and her family came to visit in early July. My friend Karen asked me how it was going with the Canadians, and I told her they were in Asbury Park at that moment, and Karen laughed and laughed: "They drove all the way down from the tundra to come to Trenton...and Asbury Park?!?"

It is funny, isn't it? Especially because S and her family do live further north than anyone else in Glen's family. They're practically at the Arctic Circle. But their visit proves that we do have some draw, after all. Canadians -- typically -- aren't as opinionated about urban centers as Americans are. They're less likely to flee from their houses just because a dark-skinned person moves in down the street. Glen says, "I don't get that. We like our houses and we like our neighborhoods*. And we make sure our neighbors stay in line, no matter what color** they are." I believe him, too. Canadians like to fight: look at hockey.

Glen's sister, B, and her boyfriend, are due to arrive today. B called to firm up over the weekend. She said she intends to shop, especially at the thrift stores. "We don't have the sheer volume of stuff that you Americans have," she says. "Even the stuff you people toss out for trash is better than what we have." So she can have more time Dumpster-diving and driving around looking for crap on the side of the road, I asked her if there was anything we could pick up at the store beforehand, since there's no way she'll ever be finished accumulating stuff here during the time she has for this trip.

"Dennis [her neighbor] would like a cheesecake. He stopped by last Christmas and had a piece of that Oreo cake, and now he wants one all for himself." We always bring or send Michele Lorie cheesecakes up for the Canadians. The go apey for it. Apey.

I said, "They're gone."

She said, "What?"

"Yeah, they packed up and left. End of story."

"Why?" she asked.

"Well, we followed the stories in the news. It just seemed like they were done with Trenton." After all, they had a good spot, and a huge customer base. Cheesecakes were usually abundant, but were viewed as something as precious and hard-to-get as Springsteen tickets, especially at the holidays, and the shop often had a mob of people camped out in front. They were cash-only, had an armed guard, and were looked after well by the police.

When they announced that they were closing up shop, we thought about going over there and stocking up (a lot of people had that same idea), but we resented their departure; weren't satisfied with their reasons, and for awhile, we referred to them as "those who are not mentioned." They were dead to us. We did our best to erase them from our memories, and we pretended they never existed.

But over the last few months, we've softened our stance a bit. It was their business and they can do what they want with it, however lame and hurtful. After all, Glen and I singlehandedly got an entire province in Canada hooked on Michele Lorie cheesecake, and they decide to close up? They were just about to hit paydirt like they had never seen. Between all of the Canadians coming here, and our own visits to Canada, a lot of cheesecake crossed that border over the last bunch of years. In fact, before we moved here, we stopped in Trenton on our way to Canada, just to bring Glen's family some cheesecakes. At Thanksgiving 2006, Glen's sister C, left with a giant ice chest full of them. Whenever we head north, we call Glen's mom to see if she wants any American goodies, and she plays coy with us.

"No, I'm fine," she says.
Glen will say, "Are you sure you don't even want a cheesecake? Not even one small one?"
She takes the nutritional high-and-mighty, and says, "Oh no. I don't need any more of that fattening stuff."
Glen teases: "Come on, Mom. You know you can't get anything like this in Canada."

It goes like this for a few minutes: the "no, thanks," and the "c'mon, Ma, I know you want some." And she finally breaks down and says, "Okay. Can you pick me up an apple walnut, a raspberry swirl, two oreos, and a pumpkin? And I'm dying to try that peanut butter thunder cake again. That was GOOD."

She kept a Michele Lorie menu in her kitchen cabinet, in ONTARIO.

So it's hard not to be mad at Michele Lorie. I hope they resurface somewhere or are born-again in some capacity. I'm not counting on it though, so I've been keeping an eye out for a good cheesecake recipe. Once it cools down, I'm hoping to try Alton Brown's recipe. We don't have central air, or even a window unit in our kitchen, and without that mulberry tree's full canopy behind the house our kitchen is freakin' hot right now. So I'll report back once the weather cools.

In the meantime, I dug out an old family recipe for an easy "ice box pie" that satisfies the cheesecake craving, just a little bit. It's not cheesecake at all, but rather, cheese pie. But then again, cheesecake is actually pie, too. Whatever. If you have a hankering for some yummy cheese pie, but don't feel like committing to making the full-blown cheesecake, here's my family recipe.

You will need:
  • one graham cracker/cookie crumb crust (store bought, or make your own ahead of time, just be sure to cool it...and be creative, you can use oreo cookie or shortbread crumbs, if you want)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • splash vanilla (I use berry vanilla if topping the pie with berries)
  • topping of your choice: my mom always used canned cherries, and it was awesome. But you can use fresh -- I've done it that way, too, and it is awesome as well. You can use crushed oreos. Also awesome. My friend Karen, who thought it was funny that the Canadians came all the way to NJ and spent time in Asbury and Trenton, made it once with pineapple. Makes me suspicious. But she said it was delicious, and I believe her. I'm planning to try some kind of streusel topping in the fall, which I suspect, will rock. We'll just have to wait for that, though.

Anyway, beat the heck out of the cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, and vanilla. When you think you're done, keep beating. You really have to show it who's boss, or else it won't set-up properly. When you're done abusing the moist ingredients, use a rubber spatula to fold the mixture into your pie crust. Top it with fruit or cookie crumbs or whatever. Stick it in the fridge for a few hours before serving. Everyone will love it. Not as much as they love Michele Lorie's, but they're S.O.L.

B just called to say they're reached Binghampton, NY, and they're going to stop for a while at the zoo. She said "zoo," and I drifted away for a bit, and fantasized about how cool it would be to have a FREAKIN' ZOO in the hood! We need a zoo. I think if we lived under the constant threat of lions escaping, it might keep people in line.

She said, "That pizza place didn't close up, too, did it?" She's talking about DeLorenzo's on Hamilton Avenue.

"No," I said. I hope it doesn't, but at the rate we're going, we're not counting on anything.

"Good, because that's awesome. I'm hungry for it already. Plus we can't get birch beer in Canada."

I hope someone in the city government is reading this. It's long and a bit unfocused (lions and cheesecakes and Dumpster-Diving, oh my!), and I'm not sure if it can keep anyone's attention, but the bottom line is I'm married to a man with a very large family living in Ontario, Canada. They choose -- however insane it may seem to us -- to vacation in Trenton, with some Johnnies-Come-Lately. Please don't dismiss us. We see the potential here. Don't you?

* Canadians may have the Queen of England on their money, but they sound more like us than they do the Brits, but they prefer the British spelling of this word. Glen would have written neighbourhood.
** See above; Glen would have written colour. Thankfully he's not writing this blog; I can't stand that extra "U" in words. It's just so excessive, isn't it?

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Towpath

Glen and I met a guy on a bike on Mulberry Street (we were at the Salvation Army store) who had been following the D&R Canal to there, when it seem to disappear. We knew it wound its way through the city -- likely along the train tracks, we offered -- but we weren't sure which way to tell him to go, only that it would pick back up again just north of the Statehouse. We directed him toward Rt. 29, and said he'd eventually run into it. It bothers me, as a Trenton resident, to not know more about the canal in the city. But I'm a Johnny-Come-Lately, so what can you expect? If you look at the maps of the canal, Trenton is at the center of it. All roads and canals lead here! This city was, at one point, a destination.

I have spent a lot of time along the towpath, in various spots along the canal, but never in Trenton, and never without my dog. Part of it was that, like the bicyclist, I just lost my way, too, and never looked at a map for long enough to find out more. But also, I'm a woman, and I just didn't want to deal with the threat of violence in the city. Real or perceived. Bad stuff happens in the suburbs, I know that; and I think the suburbs see far more creepy, premeditated crimes than what we actually get here in the Hood.

Because of our encounter with the bicyclist, I had been thinking for the last week or so that it was time I try to find my way along the canal in the city. My dog is going to be 15 in a month, and isn't quite the exploring companion she used to be, so I'd have to go it alone. But today I read the article in the Times, about the woman who was accosted at gunpoint, along the towpath, just north of the city. Don't get me wrong, it's somewhat of a relief to hear that this particular crime did not happen in the city, although I'd bet the thug in question lives here. But maybe not. Mostly, though, I'm pissed. Really pissed about this. I feel for that woman. It could have very easily been me! Even if I had no interest in taking in nature and history on a lovely Sunday, I still feel for that woman: no one should have to fear for her (or his) safety, ever.

I'm often a bit of a loner -- so I also resent that now, if I do decide to take my trip along the canal, I'd be more inclined (and encouraged) to go with another person. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I like to walk slow and take pictures, and not everyone else does. But that woman's attack has motivated me to get over to the canal and enjoy it -- here in Trenton, or in one of the other towns. I'm not going to let that thug ruin it. I hope other people feel the same way.

So this attack isn't going to deter me, and it has me thinking too: maybe the city can do a bit more to promote the canal as an attraction? After all, based on that bicyclist's bike and gear, he smelled of Princeton. Go figure: A Princeton guy near the friggin' RoadRunner on Mulberry Street! And we encountered him randomly! Maybe he's not the only person who more or less just wanders into Trenton? There could be others! Maybe if Trenton had some signs for the Delaware and Raritan Canal, we might've been able to get him to stop for lunch? Maybe we'd be able to get him back for a show at the War Memorial? Is the city interested in that kind of thing? My guess: no. The canal is run by the state park service, and the War Memorial also falls within the State's sphere of influence, and I'd bet the City of Trenton doesn't give a pee about anything to do with the State.

Or maybe it does. Yesterday, my husband was working on the car, just outside of our garage, and some dude walked up to him and asked him, "do you mind if I take a piss on the side of your garage?" Nice of him to ask, really. We see people all the time pissing on garages around here, and we know they didn't bother to ask permission. Johnnies-Come-Lately don't pee on garages, we don't even ask to. Maybe eventually, we'll get with the program.

Check out more about the Canal/Towpath:
Delaware and Raritan State Park's website

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Plight of Urban Trees
in Trenton

or, Stuff that happens in Trenton, but no where else, part 2

I've only been back in Trenton for three years (I'm a Johnny-Come-Lately), so it's not as if I've spoken with every single person in this city. But I get a distinct feeling that a lot of residents here are anti-tree. I heard a woman at community meetings say repeatedly that she's worried about gang members lurking behind trees in her neighborhood, and several others just quiver at the thought of all of the bugs living in trees.

I know that there is some truth to what city officials are saying about the crime rates -- they are lower for certain types of crimes, and so, we don't see many thugs lurking behind trees. But violent crime in this city is up. Most knuckleheads, including gang members, are entrenched in the "look at me" culture, and wouldn't be satisfied hiding behind trees -- because then we wouldn't see their fancy shoes, chains, braids, gold "fronts," etc. Also, their loud music and showy tire rims would give away their location behind trees. These guys are such attention-hoes that they commit bigger, more terrible crimes, right out in the open, and they count on the rest of us to keep quiet about it, as a means to their few minutes of fame. Sad, really. But it lets the trees off the hook.

And as far as bugs living in trees, well, there are bugs everywhere: in the grass, under the cement, in the air, we all have native flora and fauna crawling all over and through our bodies, at any given time. Bugs are just a factor of life, with or without trees.

I like trees a lot, so I called the city last year to have a couple of trees planted on my corner -- I had taken the Master Gardener class and was thoroughly convinced that the trees would not only beautify our corner, but they'd also help us with our energy bills. I had an ulterior motive, though: for months, we were plagued by young men selling drugs on our corner, with its clear view down to three major roads and one major landmark, checking for the police. A couple of trees might block their view a bit.

So, I called the city, and I didn't take note of the person's name with whom I spoke, but we had a nice conversation. He said, "Wow, I can't tell you how many calls a week we get from city residents who want us to take down the trees alongside the road. They're worried about thugs, bugs, and debris." He went on to explain how much value a tree adds to a city landscape: trees, he said have been shown to increase property value, prevent erosion, lower our energy bills, improve air quality, and give migratory birds a place to stop on their way south. And block the view a bit for drug dealers, I said, noting that our corner was the only one of the four in this intersection that didn't have a couple of large trees on each side, and we were on the side with the most crime. My new friend in the urban forestry department said that there have been studies that trees actually reduce crime, for a number of reasons. But he felt that part of the reason is that trees make the neighborhood more attractive, and when the neighborhood is more attractive, people come out to play and talk, and get to know one another. Trees in the urban landscape show that the community cares; it's much easier for crime to breed in areas where people don't care and don't talk to one another. I found some literature online to back up that theory.

I asked him if I could pick a species for our corner. He said that I could tell him what I wanted, and it was a possibility. However, the city had just received a grant and had a glut of certain types of trees. I said my main concern was diversity -- it would be nice to get something other than sycamore (which we have in abundance alongside the streets in our neighborhood), just in case they're all hit with a disease, we won't lose them all. I thought a ginkgo might be nice -- I've always loved the leaves, and don't really mind the vomity smell of their nuts (and figure a bit of puke smell might send the knuckleheads elsewhere, too); but mostly, I thought they'd be appropriate because of their relatively straight growth pattern: they don't branch out as much, so they wouldn't get tangled in the power/phone lines, and they wouldn't fall on my roof.

A couple of weeks later, we received two sycamore trees. Oh well. Sycamores look a little ratty in August, but their bark is interesting, and they grow quickly.

This year, we have far less drug traffic on our corner. I know there are a couple of factors at play, but I do believe the trees helped -- I'm outside more to take care of them, and talk more with neighbors because of it. There are other specific factors at play, which helped this neighborhood, and I don't want to make my location THAT obvious to respect the privacy of some folks around here. So, the trees weren't the only factor, but I think they helped, even in a small way.

But with all of their other, non-crime fighting benefits, I find it odd when people slaughter them on their own property. We have a mulberry -- a weed tree, to be sure -- straddling our property. The trunk is in the neighbor's yard, and the canopy is mostly in our yard. We are aggravated for several months while this thing produces purple berries prolifically...everything is purple, even the bird poop, from May until July. But we've been trying to make the most of that, too -- it provides nice shade, so I planted a bunch of shade-loving plants under it; and when it's producing berries, I get ambitious for a couple of days and collect them to make flavored brandies, vinegars, and once, even jam. It makes way too many berries, though, and well, one can only consume so much mulberry-flavored stuff, so I usually burn out quickly.

So we were shocked when we found our neighbors standing in the mulberry tree, chopping down every single limb on their side of the fence. They butchered it. It wasn't an attractive tree before, but now, it's downright ugly; painful, even to look at. What's frustrating is that my carefully-crafted shade garden of hostas, astilbe, ajuga, ferns, and solomon's seal is roasting in the sun. It's not our tree, so I know I have no recourse. I have no right to my view, or shade, or anything, sadly, but it would have been nice to get a bit of warning that the pruning was going to be more of a brutalization. And the other amazing thing about this is that they did absolutely no research about cutting back a mulberry. This is not a delicate ornamental, but a hardy, invasive tough guy. At the site of each amputation are tufts of new growth, and little bursts of green up each injured limb. It's a fighter, and it might take a couple of years (by which time the owner of that property will have sold, to be sure), but that tree will be better than ever, probably producing even more berries. I have cursed that tree, but now I smile at its regenerative abilities in the face of abuse.

Here are some pictures of the quick mulberry regrowth:

Because of the mulberry attack, we were on edge last weekend when we saw not one, but three tree removal trucks pull up alongside our house. But they wound up going nuts on X's property, a property not touching ours. Whew. X cut down every tree in her backyard, and cut off the limbs of her neighbor's spruce trees that dangled into her property. That neighbor, R, had asked her not to, but X said they were damaging her house...funny, we can see from here that they weren't even close to her house. Because of what happened with us and the mulberry, we did some reading on NJ laws surrounding trees, and it seems that there aren't too many laws that would protect someone like R from X's tree butchers, unless R's tree dies. There appear to be case precidents elsewhere in the country that would allow X to sue R for four times the worth of an old, helpful tree. And in this state, the Department of Environmental Protection commissioned a group of economists to come up with a method to put dollar values on the state's natural resources. Its focus is on beaches and bogs and barrens, but I would imagine it's now easier than ever to determine the worth of an old tree in your backyard.

related links: