Glen and my brother-in-law, Rich, finished up the heavy work on the backyard patio on Wednesday night. It's still a little messy out there: things need to be put away and/or returned to their proper spots. We need to do a good sweeping, but we figured we'd see how the dust (literally) settles after the rain, which should come today (right??). A couple of my friends asked to see pictures, so I went outside last night to snap a couple of shots, and discovered this:
Hardscrabble moved to the top of the box immediately after I discovered him lounging around in his little fun house. And he didn't mind posing for me, so I snapped about 20 pictures of him. I don't want to risk alienating the cat-haters from my blog, so I will only post one more picture of him (today):
We don't really need another cat, even though this one is totally awesome. If you need a cat, or know someone who does, let me know.
In other news, on Wednesday (9/27), we received what we thought to be a bill in the mail from Trenton Water Works. Glen asked me not to open it because we can only pay them the old-fashioned way: by putting the check in the mail, using their supplied return envelope; and Glen says that the return envelope tends to get separated from the bill, and well, that's a drag. He was busy making our backyard gorgeous on Wednesday, so he figured he'd open it on Thursday (last night).
Late yesterday afternoon, we noticed the water pressure was gone, and could only get a bit more than a trickle to come out of the tap, and so we promptly thought of the unopened note from the Water Works. In it was a shut-off notice (!!), effective 9/27 (nice to get one day's notice), and — get this — a bill for nearly $4,000. Normally, our bill runs around $100 a quarter. I tend to be an optimist, and know that things do generally work out, so usually, I would find a $4,000 bill for three months worth of water usage to be really damn funny. Funny, because there are just two of us here, and we pay our bills; in fact, Glen dug out all of the evidence; and even if we let all of the taps run nonstop since our last bill (July), we probably wouldn't have used $4,000 worth of water. That's A LOT of water! But wow, it sucks to not be able to flush the toilet, or do the dishes, or shower, and to see on the notice that Water Works is clearly closed for the day, is kind of scary. And so is their disclaimer that maybe they won't be able to turn the water on again right away.
So, we didn't get much sleep last night. Glen kept saying, "Those fuckers better turn our water back on tomorrow morning," and "How the fuck can they send a $4,000 bill to a residence, with a shut off notice, effective the next day?" and "Do you think City Hall did this to us in retaliation for the blog?"
He works for a company with a gym on site, so he showered at work this morning, and then called the Water Department. Around the same time, I noticed a municipal van drive by with a little cartoon-y water droplet on it, and figured we were good to go. And we were. Water is restored. Hallelujah.
Glen called a few minutes later to tell me that he spent about a half hour on the phone with Water Works, with over 10 of those minutes on hold, and spoke to at least two different people, who not only showed no surprise or remorse for the $4,000 error, but told him we wouldn't have water until about 3 today (glad, in addition to their lack of manners, they're wrong about that, too). He said they did acknowledge that there was a mistake, and they'd look into it, and get back to Glen. So, we'll see about that, and we'll be back with an update.
I took a walk yesterday to check on a friend's puppy; it was a nice day for a walk, considering that it's early autumn, but still feels like summer. And it was an ideal day, at that. Warm, but not too hot, with low humidity. Perfection, with one major exception: the streets of Trenton are filthy. In my six block walk, I found quite a bit of broken glass shimmering in the sunlight — from an automobile window, as well as glass bottles; in addition, there were cans, fast food debris, plastic bags, broken toys, pizza crusts, and just random junk. Everywhere.
It is easy to sit back and bitch and complain; I know, because I do it all the time. But I do like to know why things are the way they are, too. So, why do people litter? I think there are a few factors at play here:
Lack of knowledge of the environmental effects of littering.
Litter has already accumulated. The more litter present the more people are inclined to litter.
Lack of social pressure to do the right thing.
Absence of penalties or consistent enforcement.
Number, placement and appearance of disposal containers at or near the site.
People who litter often feel no sense of pride in the areas they are littering.
They don’t view the item as litter. That’s often the case with cigarette butts.
I live between two schools, and I was around the day the teachers took the school kids on an excursion to place little "no dumping" plaques on all of the area sewer drains; we got one right in front of our house.
I was excited to see the little ones march up the street from their school, with their teachers, curious to know what they were up to. I heard the teacher tell her students that the sewer drains are not garbage cans, and I was glad to hear that: the older siblings of these little ones come flying through our neighborhood all the time and whip their garbage at that sewer drain. Maybe these little kids might be able to influence their older family members. Failing that (and I'm pretty sure, now, that the older family members will not be swayed), maybe, MAYBE, these young kids will not grow into litterers. Maybe? But I don't know, because here's what happened next: I know they're just kids, but the little sign was placed with utter lack ceremony, and I think that represents the general sentiment around here about littering: people have no pride, and there's very little social pressure to do the right thing. And people continue to use that drain as their garbage can. There are other big factors contributing to the Trenton trash piles. In my opinion, the next biggest problem is the absence of penalties or consistent enforcement.
Old Mill Hill in his blog yesterday complained about all of the menus and advertisements from local businesses whirling around his neighborhood, and suggested that the City make those establishments take responsibility for their messes. Well, lo and behold, the City of Trenton does in fact have an ordinance on the books that addresses this very problem. The City has very detailed guidelines for all of us — residents (owners and renters) and businesses — in this city when it comes to litter. But here's what the city has to say about Old Mill Hill's specific concerns:
§ 150-12. Handbills and circulars.
No person shall cast or place, or cause to be cast or placed, in any of the streets of the City or on the sidewalks thereof, or into vestibules or yards, or upon porches of any dwelling houses or other buildings, or on private property within the limits of the City or into any vehicle while on the public highways or public places thereof any paper, advertisement, handbill, circular or wastepaper; provided, however, that nothing contained herein shall be held to apply to newspapers and addressed envelopes delivered to subscribers and addressees.
Litter — in every other municipality except ours, and perhaps Camden (that I know of, firsthand) — does give rise to substantial increases in municipal cleaning costs. But other municipalities fine offenders, thus offsetting those costs. It would seem to me that the City of Trenton is sitting on a gold mine here, if only we'd simply send out the officers/officials to start issuing tickets. It turns out, the City of Trenton already has perfectly good legislation which outlines the procedures we should be following to keep our city clean. It's lengthy, but interesting reading. I'll continue to babble, beneath the code.
§ 150-7. Clearing of litter from open private property by City.
A. Notice to remove. The enforcing officer, or his/her duly designated agent or agents, is authorized and empowered to notify the owner of any open or vacant private property, or the lessee or agent of the owner, to properly dispose of litter or remove grass, weeds or other impediments located on the property which is dangerous to public health, safety and welfare.
B. Service of notice. Notice shall be by registered or certified mail, addressed to the lessee, owner or his/her agent at his/her last known address, or served personally upon the lessee, owner or agent.
C. Noncompliance. Upon the failure, neglect or refusal of any lessee, owner or agent so notified to properly dispose of any litter, grass, weeds or other impediments within 10 days after receipt of the written notice specified in Subsection A of this section; or within 10 days after the date of the notice in the event it is returned to the City by the Post Office Department because of inability to make delivery thereof, provided that the notice was properly addressed to the last known address of the lessee, owner or agent. Whenever in the opinion of the Health Officer such nuisance constitutes an actual menace to health, (s)he shall proceed forthwith to cause the nuisance to be abated.
D. Charges added to tax bill. When the City has effected the removal of litter and grass, weeds or other impediments, or has paid for its removal, the actual cost thereof shall, unless paid by the owner prior thereto, be charged to the owner of the property on the next regular tax bill forwarded to the owner by the City. The charge shall be due and payable by the owner at the time set for payment of the tax bill.
E. Recorded statement constitutes lien. Where the full amount due the City is not paid by the owner within 30 days after the disposal of such litter or removal of grass, weeds or other impediments as specified in Subsections A, B and C of this section, then and in that case the Director of Public Works shall cause to be recorded in the City Clerk's office a sworn statement showing the cost and expense incurred for the work, the date the work was done and the location of the property on which the work was done. The recording of this sworn statement shall constitute a lien on the property and shall remain in full force and effect for the amount due in principal and interest, plus costs of court, if any, for collection, until final payment has been made. The costs and expenses shall be collected in the manner fixed by law for the collection of taxes and shall be subject to a delinquent penalty at the same rate of taxes in the event they are not paid in full on or before the date the tax bill upon which the charge appears becomes delinquent. Sworn statements recorded in accordance with the provisions hereof shall be prima facie evidence that all legal formalities have been complied with and that the work has been done properly and satisfactorily, and shall be full notice to every person concerned that the amount of the statement, plus interest, constitutes a charge against the property designated or described in the statement and that the same is due and collectible as provided by law.
§ 150-13. Violations and penalties.
Any person who violates the provisions this chapter with respect to litter shall be subject to a fine of $50 for a first offense and, for subsequent offenses, shall be subject to the penalties provided in Chapter 1, Article III, General Penalty, provided that the court shall have the discretion in all cases to modify any penalties provided herein upon a showing by the defendant that the offense occurred despite reasonable and diligent efforts made to prevent the offense from occurring and/or to maintain the property in compliance with the trash set-out regulations.
How on earth can our council members even PONDER the introduction of new legislation when the city's enforcement track record is so friggin' piss poor? Why do they bother when they must know their well-written proposals, and time spent generating support, and genuine good intentions, prove to be a fruitless exercise?
Two Trenton bloggers, Paul Harris and Greg Forester covered last week's executive council session, and and reported that members of council felt that the city's administration does not respect the council as a legislative body. It's apparent from my point of view that the city's administration doesn't really respect much of anything or anyone. Anyway, I hope council will fight on our behalf, as well as their own. After all, why should they even bother to exist, if they have zero effectiveness?
But back to the litter.
My husband and I keep an extra bin just inside our fence, and we toss litter into it every day. We probably put out at least one extra bag of trash every other week and at least one extra barrel of recyclables every month. So, I hope council will work for us to get this city cleaned up; the revenue from fines will help pay for more police officers and improved city services. And a cleaner city will evoke more pride, and hopefully, less litter in the future, and possibly even less crime.
It's not all on government, though. There are actions, that we, as individuals and groups, can take, to help keep things tidier.
the biggest no-brainer is to not litter ourselves.
encourage others not to litter.
if you know teachers in the schools here, ask them to get involved, and stay involved with litter awareness campaigns.
ask that businesses practice waste reduction; for example, they don't have to pack everything into plastic bags; they don't have to engage in lit drops. If you have a particularly bad littering company in your area, consider talking with your neighbors and petitioning the business to clean up, or to stop engaging in messy practices; you can boycott, as well.
encourage business owners to sponsor street/neighborhood clean-up programs.
implore your council representative to enforce the litter ordinances.
participate in litter clean-ups in your neighborhood; or just pick it up if you see it.
Maybe if we get a handle on physical litter/pollution, we can next turn our attention to another quality-of-life concern that needs addressing in the hood: noise pollution.
Fellow blogger, G Spot, and I decided to take a little tour of Camden, NJ, this morning. G Spot has been wanting to get some pictures for a post for his blog for a while now, and in the process, we got to do a little compare-n-contrast between Camden and Trenton. Note: all pictures herein are from Camden, taken earlier this morning.
I get a lot of slack from my family and out-of-town friends, about living in the hood. But (knock wood) I haven't been caught up in a gang war yet, and so I figured that maybe Camden's bad reputation is exaggerated, too.
While my experience in Trenton allowed me to not feel like a fish out of water in Camden, I will say Camden didn't exactly make me feel comfortable, either. The city, even at 8:30 in the morning, is seething, volatile, unpredictable, and shocking, even. Camden can't really sink any further into the abyss: there's nowhere to go but up at this point. Unless, of course, they opt for stagnancy. Every Trenton politician and city employee should take the 45 minute drive down I-295 to see this wasteland of a city firsthand. They need to take in the graffiti (even on the back of the cemetery's mausoleum); the piles of debris everywhere; the burned-out buildings; the weeds growing out of the gutters of buildings; the outhouse in the cemetery; the bars on all of the buildings; the failed urban renewal; the rich history crumbling into forgotten nothingness. Camden, though languishing for more than a century, inspired Walt Whitman, one of America's finest poets. Camden is New Jersey's festering, open wound. Camden is Trenton's wake-up call.
Let's look at some stats:
Camden's population is just under 80,000, and while Camden is listed as 10.4 square miles, almost 2 of those square miles are water. So, roughly 9,000 people live in each of Camden's 8.8 habitable square miles.
Trenton's population is just over 84,000; and our square mileage is 8.1 square miles; however some of that is water, as well, giving Trenton roughly 11,000 people for each of our livable 7.6 square miles.
So, both cities are roughly the same size, but Camden residents have more room to stretch their legs.
Trenton was incorporated on November 13, 1792, but was settled around 1719.
Camden was settled in 1626, and was incorporated in 1828.
So, Camden is older, but we've had our act together for a bit longer.
Camden boasts a campus of one of New Jersey's (and the country's) finest institutes of higher learning, Rutgers University.
Trenton is home to Thomas Edison State College, one of the nation's leading distance learning institutions. Oh yeah, and we have the James Kerney Campus of Mercer County Community College, on North Broad and West Hanover streets.
No offense, TESC or MCCC, but Camden kicks our ass here, educationally.
Camden was declared America's Most Dangerous City by the Morgan Quitno Corporation in 2004, up from third place in 2003. It took first again in 2006, but dropped to fifth for 2007.
Trenton was named the fourth most dangerous city in 2005; we ranked 14th in 2006, according to the MQC survey.
So, Camden might be able to kick Trenton's ass in a rumble.
But so is Trenton's mayor, Douglas Palmer. He's also the president of the US Conference of Mayors, which keeps him VERY busy. Be sure to check out Doug's video clips on the CoM's website!
Smoke that, Camden!
Camden's mayor, Gwen Faison, has an avenue named for her in her city.
Trenton's mayor, Doug Palmer, does not. He has, though, posed for Esquire, getting him national attention. No one outside Camden (except me and G Spot) has even seen Gwen Faison's avenue in person!
Take that, Camden!
Despite the avenue in her honor, Camden citizens began a drive to recall their mayor, Gwen Faison, in November 2006, arguing that the mayor has ignored the city's Latino neighborhoods and has allowed racial discrimination in the city's fire department.
Most of Trenton's residents, city council members, and newspapers don't have much bad to say about Mayor Doug Palmer.
Camden, why can't you just live and let live? Sheesh.
Camden has an outhouse located in an historic cemetery.
Trenton (as far as I know) does not.
I thought, initially, I could make a joke about the convenience of a restroom at a cemetery, but when I got out of the car to take pictures, and saw the names on the tombstones behind the Johnny-on-the-Spot, amid years of waste and litter, and overgrown weeds, I was impressed (negatively) that someone's wife, daughter, sister, mother, friend, is decomposing very literally among human waste of the worst kind: our own literal bodily waste, as well as plastic bags, fast food containers, and old clothing. I noticed, too, that someone stole most of the short metal fencing around the graves in this cemetery. A nearby mausoleum was covered in graffiti. What separates humans from most of the rest of the animal kingdom is that we bury our dead.* We bury our dead, ultimately, because we respect them. Shame on you, Camden. But Trenton, don't you get all sanctimonious now. If the state capital wasn't here, you know we'd do the same damn thing.
I live in Trenton, so I could be biased (but I'm not wearing rose-colored glasses, I promise) but I do think it's a way better city than Camden, over all. But we have a lot of scary stuff in common. With Camden, I've seen rock-bottom, and I hope we don't hit that.
~~~~~~~~~~~~ * Studies show that chimps and elephants also bury members of their family groups.
Species:Felis silvestris catus (also known as the domestic cat) Variety: Orange mackerel tabby
Hardscrabble is a male, semi-feral orange tabby kitten; born, we think, several months ago in our East Trenton neighborhood, of Liz Jr., an attractive, fluffy gray cat of ill-repute: she likes playing the field, if you know what I mean. She is very smart and savvy; elusive with humans, but we hope to catch the little hussy very soon and end her kitten-bearing days.
Hardscrabble is named for a family member's affinity for that word, and because the little orange guy is in for a rough life, unless we can get him adopted. We've put the cage outside, in plain view, so he gets used to seeing it there; we hope to lure him into it with some yummy food soon, and get him to the vet. I sit with him a few times a week to socialize him (though I've been told my social skills are questionable), and while I have not been able to touch him with my own hands yet, he allows me to touch him with his toys. I'm hoping this makes him feel more comfortable around people -- or at least me -- so if we can find him a home, he won't be too miserable among people.
(Blogger's note: Our lawn is horrible. I know. Hopefully by the end of this weekend, the lawn will be gone, and instead, we will have an awesome patio, suitable for our trendy urban backyard...I mean our kittyland day care centre.
It is thought that tabby cats (that is, those with a distinctive coat that features stripes, dots, and/or swirling patterns -- it isn't a breed) are the original domesticated cats, before we bred them into the fluffy and/or hairless mess they've become. Tabbies are usually gray with black stripes, or orange with tan stripes, and each has a distinctive M in his/her forehead. Legend has it that a tabby cat kept the baby Jesus warm on a chilly night, and Mary, ever-grateful, put her mark upon the cat. Similarly, Islam has its own version of the story: a tabby saved Mohammed's life by warning him that a snake had crawled into his clothing, and it was he who bestowed his mark on tabbies. The word tabby comes from the French tabis, which came from the Latin attabi, by way of the Arabic Attabiyah, a quarter in Baghdad where a type of soft, striped silk is made, a term later used in Arabic to describe tabby cats.
I'm sure there are plenty of cat haters out there wondering why I bother. And then there are folks like "Ed" at the Trentonian's "Back Talk" department, who will question why the hell I don't get more involved with issues relating to people. To be honest, there are some days I don't know why I bother with cats either. It is endless and often emotionally draining; even after cleaning up, adopting out, bringing in upward of 10 cats in a short period of time, on our own, we have learned the hard way that there will always be more stray and/or feral cats. And here in Trenton, cats are tossed aside, because so many people are tossed aside. We, as a species, (I think) have it in our DNA to want to care for these creatures, as we've had a mutually beneficial relationship for ages; because of that, cats are acquired. But the reality is that life is difficult in this city, and people have a hard enough time taking take care of themselves, so cats are summarily abandoned. It's a nasty circle, but it speaks volumes about what's happening to people here, too.
Anyway, we have a perfectly good kitten here who will soon be cleaned up and sterilized and ready for a new home. It won't solve the problem with strays and ferals, and it won't make life easier for marginalized people. But it will improve the life of one being, Hardscrabble, and that, in and of itself, is a noble cause, and I think, ultimately improves society, if only in the tiniest way. It's better than doing nothing at all, and it will mean everything to The Scrab.
Couldn't help but notice the always entertaining, if often prickish, "BackTalk" in the Trentonian yesterday*:
Puppies in peril Hi, Ed, this is for the idiot from Trenton who owns two beagle puppies. He previously owned three before he decided to take them to an open lot on Klockner Road to run. Now one is dead, and this idiot needs to be brought up on animal cruelty charges. Give me his address and I'll run him over. The anti-Michael Vick
Why doesn’t anyone get that worked up about the 18 murders of human beings we’ve had in Trenton this year? — Ed. Note
Why do certain staff members of the Trentonian always freakin' assume that just because people have strong feelings about ANYTHING at all, especially animal cruelty, that we don't care about human beings? Why? I don't get it. It's almost like saying just because you like zucchini you cannot possibly like tomatoes. We are complex beings, able have opinions on a multitude of injustices in our society, at the same time. And there are obvious, disturbing similarities between those who harm companion animals, and those who harm humans; that's documented over and over again.
Furthermore, people have the right to get indignant about crimes—and they are crimes, Ed—against dogs, because dogs and humans share a sacred, tight history that goes back before history was even recorded. We MADE dogs what they are now; our ancestors saw greatness in them: friendship, loyalty, protection, service. Throughout the ages, dogs were bred BY US to have the best of those characteristics. There was a recent article in Discover magazine which further illustrates the connectedness we share with dogs: even those of us who do not like dogs, or ever had one was a pet, can understand a dog's message:
What Humans Know About Dogs When dogs bark, people understand. They don’t need to know the dog or even like dogs in general, says Ádám Miklósi, a research fellow in the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary. They can tell fairly accurately what a dog is trying to communicate.
To test this, Miklósi and his colleagues recorded barks of the mudi, a Hungarian sheepdog, in six scenarios ranging from play to attack. Thirty-six people were asked to match each recorded bark with the emotional state of the dog and the context in which it was delivered. The listeners scored well, correctly matching deep barks with aggression triggered by an intruder and higher-pitched yelps with the despair of an abandoned dog. “Dog barking was a kind of behavior that emerged with domestication,” says Miklósi. Dogs who could convey meaning through sound—a useful trait to warn the cave clan that trouble was on the way—were favored.
When we consider all that dogs do for us as a society, we got the better deal with domestication, to be sure. On a very basic level, we get protection and companionship; at best, we have seeing-eye dogs; dogs trained to sense brain seizures; cadaver-, drug-, and weapons-sniffing dogs; rescue dogs; and farm hands. But most dogs—though 100% dependent on good will from us humans—make out okay, too: they get a warm place to sleep, regular meals, and companionship. It's a decent deal for all parties involved.
At the core of our humanity, there is dog. So when someone abuses a dog, society gets offended because it violates that ancient bond we share, it violates a societal value that we do not harm those who cannot take care of themselves. To not speak up when a crime against a dog is taking place does a grave disservice to US as a species. Dogs are, in their own way, members of our society. Lower-ranking members, to be sure, but members nonetheless. If we sit idly while dogs get abused, it erodes our humanity. We are lesser for it.
*The rest of yesterday's BackTalk was fairly horrifying as well. Check it here.
Glen has a friend from Germany who speaks nearly flawless -- if heavily accented -- English, though, on occasion, he messes up some of our irregular verbs. He doesn't conjugate them improperly, but rather, he simply uses the wrong one. He confuses the verbs "to make" and "to give" fairly consistently, and often with humorous results. For instance, he'll say something like, "She gave me a really good dinner last night: we had sauerbraten and spaetzle and, buddy, it was delicious." He's also just as likely to say something like, "Buddy, I asked her to make me a blow job, and, wow! she made me a blow job!"*
So. On Thursday afternoon, I was doing my typical hatin' and complainin', and even though that takes just about every ounce of energy I can muster, I heard a car pull up alongside our house, though all of that hateful noise in my head. I poked my head out, and didn't recognize the car, and my guard shot up: for a few years, we had a constant flurry of drug activity on our street, and I figured it's just a matter of time before it starts back up. But the driver cut the engine -- drug buyers, I've learned, seldom do -- and so I assumed maybe one of our neighbors had a visitor. I went back to hating and complaining, but I didn't hear the car door slam. No one got out of the car.
So I went outside and saw a man's head in the driver's seat, and what I assume to be a woman's head bobbing up and down on his lap. She was making him a blow job, and she was wearing a trendy hat. It was not quite 5 p.m. There were kids around, and the ice cream truck was around the corner. I stood alongside the car and glared at the driver; I was infuriated -- which is different than my usual hating and complaining, because infuriation, for me, is a not a familiar sensation. It's blinding: it burns away all rational thought. So I stood there -- stupidly, I admit -- watching this lewd act (and later wondering if that makes me a bit pervy), without a real idea of what else to do, since this was a first for me. I waited for someone in the car to notice me, and just as I was about to kick his blue Cadillac, the driver saw me. And when he did, all I saw was fear on his face. I was so blinded by rage that didn't notice any of his features except his fear. The blow job maker and her trendy hat came up, and stayed up; I could see that she was calm and composed; comfortable, even with getting caught. He started the car and tore off.
I stood in the street, hoping the driver could see me in his rear view mirror. I had my phone, and even though my hands were shaking, I actually managed to queue up "Police" on speed dial, but I figured there was no point in calling, since Mr. Blow Job and his Blow Job Maker would be long gone before dispatch could even answer the phone.**
Trenton Makes... ...blow jobs
I have a difficult time maintaining a heightened state of pissed-offedness, so after a bit, I was able to resume my usual, lower-level hating and complaining. And because I cannot banish the nasty thoughts, I considered for a moment that maybe the john was one of our visiting dignitaries. But I quickly dismissed that; after all, the visiting dignitaries have rooms at the Marriott: they wouldn't need to find a quiet side street in East Trenton. And most of them did not drive a souped-up ghetto sled to Trenton. Right?
Now, we do live in Trenton, so we do see some prostitutes from time to time, but we've never had one at our side door before -- that we know. My journalism teacher in college said that Trenton was, at least at one time, the transvestite prostitute capital of North America. And I do recall loads of hookers along the Greenwood stretch when I was in college. So it seems, at least from our perspective, at least until Thursday, prostitution in our neck of the woods isn't as blatant as it used to be. So, we did some reading online on the hookers in Trenton. We googled terms like "Trenton" and "prostitute" and "crack whore" and "transvestite" in different combinations, and found quite a bit mentioned about the industry on alt.sex.prostitution. However, a lot of it is old -- most of it is pre-2000. And none of it mentions trannies at all.
Despite the lack of information on trannies, it's an interesting read: one contributor offered up a very detailed ward-by-ward review of a number of hookers, along with their strengths and weaknesses, and some helpful instructions ("If you get a girl, most likely, she's going to want to score drugs before she has sex with you. Make sure she leaves something of VALUE in your car if she asks to exit the car to buy drugs. Don't fall for the "I'll leave my jacket with you" routine, because those things don't mean much to a drug addict. If she leaves her purse, and it has stuff in it, then you're probably alright.")
The same writer also said, "Incidentally, I moved up north because Trenton is a drug infested city, and I got tired of seeing so much decay. I also got tired of the girls wanting to do drugs in my presence, which can be dangerous if you should happen to get stopped by police and she has drugs or a pipe in her possession. I also started to develop a reputation there, and had to leave to escape the 'girls' knowing me in public."
It baffles me when the mayor, or someone like LA Parker, calls involved citizens "complainers" or "haters" (or, in the case of LA, "racists"), when, in that post on alt.sex.prostitution, there is a perfect example of a former resident -- one who was probably a real racist -- who took and took and took from Trenton, and in doing so, had a direct role in the decay of the city. Prostitution and drugs have always gone together, and for him to feed those women's habits (whether or not he's having sex with them) is, at best, not very helpful. Residents and business owners see this activity, and they want to leave as soon as they can. Visitors see this activity, and it makes them not want to come to our restaurants and other businesses. And the johns, themselves, see that there aren't any places to even grab a coffee after a "half and half," and wind up leaving too.
With so little industry in Trenton, I've thought a lot about whether or not my response to the john and blow job maker outside my house was fair. The very practical part of me thinks that -- while hoochie in Trenton is dirt cheap, as I learned on alt.sex.prostitution -- a bit of commerce in this city can't be a bad thing. After all, if this guy had $5 to spare for some fellatio, maybe he's got a bit more cash for some treats at one of the bakeries? It's an icky thought, I know, but I remember back in the late 80s and early 90s when all of the restaurants were booming, and there were whores galore along Greenwood. I'm not implying a direct relationship; only saying that the economy was pretty good then. So, discovering some oral sex next to my house might a sign that the economy is improving. But, even so, there's no way a john is going to choose MY residential street when there are abandoned homes and factories aplenty in our fine city.
NOTE: Coming tomorrow -- the Sunday Funny.
* I think part of Glen's friend's confusion with the verb "to make," stems from the English term "making love." If we make love in English, maybe, in the mind of a German, we make blow jobs, too? It's just a guess.
Fellow blogger, Old Mill Hill, over on the Front Stoop posed a question yesterday, after hearing about a very successful community function in Freehold Borough, a place once significantly run-down, but now abuzz with pride and things to do. Old Mill Hill asked, "Now why can't we be like that?"
I want to continue to explore that question, because I think we can be like that. What gives me hope is a magazine I borrowed from a friend the other day. She handed over her copy of Cottage Living magazine, a magazine I have never really read. I figured it might be good for garden ideas, but instead I got stuck on a brief, non-cottage article that made me, like Old Mill Hill, ask the question "Now, why can't we be like that?" Inspiration comes from surprising places.
In the August issue of Cottage Living, there was a story about a blighted neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio that made a total turn-around. The first line struck me hard: Just over the Cuyahoga River from downtown Cleveland, this historic urban neighborhood fell into nearly irreversible chaos beginning in the 1960s.
Sound familiar? The phrase nearly irreversible chaos urged me on, and I found out the residents of Ohio City, as it's known, led the comeback. They mobilized to:
renovate crumbling buildings
start their own small businesses
fight for a greater police presence
invest in the schools
maintain affordable housing to not squeeze out low-income folks
Not long ago, historic Ohio City was a crime-ridden, low-value slum. Now, they've got shops and food markets and activities and community networks and garden clubs. Thugs have been with us since the dawn of time, and will always be, but the citizens of Ohio City realized -- even if their city's administration didn't -- that the thugs didn't need to live among them, in great numbers, with impunity. Thanks to their efficient crime-watch networks, including a Yahoo site, where they can post information about crime as soon as it occurs, residents of Ohio City have safer streets than they did in their past.
It's easy to get caught up in the negative stories that abound in Trenton, but to downplay our distinct lack of safe streets isn't helping anyone. Take a look at this map on the local Crime Stoppers website, and you'll see that crimes against people -- in just the last week -- take place in every area of the city. That map tracks only the crimes reported to the police.
For the most part, it's perfectly safe to walk up the street for some tomato pie, or to walk around the corner to grab a paper, but typically, we Trenton residents do not venture out much at night, because we know that if we want to be safe, we shouldn't spend much time on the streets. Especially at night.
It's easy to sit here and complain, I realize that. I know the problems that face Trenton are complicated, and no one's been able to answer them well. But I was inspired by Ohio City's citizen-fueled rebirth, and wanted to learn more about it, so I did some surfing online to find out more.
The story of Ohio City was brief in the magazine, so I surfed online for awhile and found more. The main theme of everything I read about Ohio City was that the residents of the city banded together to develop fund-raising and a business plan that allowed them to reduce their dependence on traditional government.
We see the potential in this city, and we see its current, existing strengths; but the status quo is unacceptable. Trentonian columnist, LA Parker, who makes his home in Ewing, often accuses Trenton residents about not caring enough about the societal problems in this city, and he's wrong. What he fails to see is that those of us involved in the community, those of us working to find our voices, those of us doing just the smallest, personal thing, like fighting a drug addiction, or planting a fruit tree in our yard, ARE making a better Trenton. But we need to pause for a minute and face reality: our current administration wants us to shut up and pay our taxes and just accept the unacceptable status quo. So, maybe it's time to reconsider the city administration's relevancy. I'm not saying that the whole city's administration is irrelevant, because there are some great individuals working on our behalf in city hall. But, ultimately, so much of our own happiness depends on our own actions, so let's continue talking with each other and forging friendships, and focusing on finding our own way through the problems of this city, without counting on government to save the day. We CAN be like that, but it's up to us.
Warning: this post discusses digestion. But also contains a yummy recipe. Sorry to complicate things.
Earlier this summer, I overheard a young boy tell an older relative, "I really like corn." To which, the older relative replied, "I like corn, too. [Pregnant pause] And I can prove it." This exchange is burned forever in my brain, playing over and over again, regardless of whether corn is on the menu or not.
I can't say that I had any feelings in particular about corn, for most of my life, except for summertime corn-on-the-cob, which, like the young boy mentioned above, I really like, too. But my like for the corn-on-the-cob was always offset by terrible memories of grade school cornbread, and horrific bowls of creamed corn which tasted far more like the can from which it came than anything that grows from our verdant earth.
Since then, society as a whole has learned a lot more about corn, a New World native (hooray for the New World!), including the processing, preparation, and long-term storage techniques of the vegetable, so hopefully more young children can say with confidence that they like corn, in all its forms. And older relatives can reply, "I do too, and I can prove it."
Well, Glen came home with what seemed like a freakin' bushel of locally grown ears of corn last weekend, and we had a lot of last minute, unplanned errands and visits which prevented us from eating at home much. And to make it worse, it's September: the days of fresh, local corn are numbered. I can see, too, that some of the food-producing plants in our backyard have seen better days, and I was hating this signal to the end of summer. I gathered everything I could, hoping my harvesting might encourage my own pepper, tomato, cucumber, and herb plants to keep on keepin' on. We'll see.
So, now, I had a glut of corn, tomatoes, cukes, jalapenos, and, oh yeah, squash before me, and no idea of what to do with it all. Glen was at work, and was in a meeting, and I could not disturb him, but I know that Glen, despite his overall nonchalance about eating vegetables, and his immense generosity, is EXTREMELY possessive of our homegrown goodies. If he found out I gave some peppers to a neighbor, for instance, without clearing it with him, there would be hell to pay.
The corn, however, was my biggest concern, since there's no way we could eat it all before it went bad. I watched Alton Brown's Good Eats*, and he roasts or grills his corn on the cob, in the husks, and we tried it a few times this summer. The results are a cornier ear of corn, and while the ears are stinkin' hot, the husks and silk come off so much more easily than if you were to remove it while the corn was raw.
So I knew that much: I would grill the corn in their husks, and then figure out what to make. I always come back to soup, because I'm good at soup; in fact, I make a kick-ass Thai-inspired corn chowder with coconut milk and cilantro and ginger and hot peppers and lemongrass and lime juice, and lots and lots of corn. But I'm so over that (for now). Plus it's something that we enjoy in the cooler months.
I got thinking about my other ingredients. How crunk it would be to be able to combine everything into one pot of righteous soup? But I wanted to use the squash, cukes, and herbs for different dishes, so I restrained my impulse.
Instead, I took the corn, tomatoes, a head of garlic, and two jalapenos (even though Scoville gives the jalapeno a fairly low rating for heat, ours are Ass in Space hot, for some reason), and drizzled 'em all with olive oil and put them on the grill. I cooked them until they were done, brought them in, and let them cool.
Glen called, in the meantime, and when he asked what I was up to, I told him that I had contemplated giving some of our produce away (because, that's what neighbors do, right?), and he became despondent. He bounced back a little bit when I said that it was just a fleeting thought, but he was still worried that the worst could happen, and made me promise -- even though I told him I already grilled most of it -- that I wouldn't give anything away.
So, after the phone call, and the veggies cooled, I took the damn seeds out of our killer jalapenos, shaved the kernels of corn off the cob, squeezed the garlic out of its paper, and simply tossed everything, along with the tomatoes, into the blender.
The result looked like baby food, which gave me hope: there are certainly worse baby-related things in the world.
I used my handy-dandy rubber spatula and scraped every last morsel -- for Glen's sake -- into a pot, and added some bouillon cubes, some milk, some water, and some cilantro, until the concoction started to resemble soup.
We ate it like pigs.
Other than the two jalapenos I used, I'm sorry that I don't remember how many of which vegetables I cooked up, but in the end, the mash filled my entire blender jug. I imagine you could replicate this technique for whatever it is you have on hand, and you could probably roast everything in the oven, too. I expected our results to be good, but this soup was certainly much better than the sum of its parts.
That voice in my head, the one that says, "I like corn, too. And I can prove it" was in overdrive while we ate this creamy, corny soup, and I suppose it should've bothered me or ruined my appetite, or something, but it didn't...that's how desensitized I've become. It made me want to see the little boy and his older relative again, and feed them too (if Glen would allow me to share), and defy that relative to prove it.
* Often, I am embarrased by some of the shows I watch on TV, but I'm never ashamed to say "I saw this on Alton Brown's show" or something like that, because he is just so damn smart. We live in a society that is all about instant gratification -- and I'm not knocking it entirely -- but it has caused us to lose a lot of our collective knowledge as a species. Cooking has suffered enormously because of our instant society -- we heat and eat, and have tons of junk food on hand, or go out to eat. It's not all bad, but it can make a person feel kind of disconnected, no? Cooking, we forget, is as much of an art as it is a science, and Alton has a gift for bringing the art and the science together in a manner that makes me want to run to the kitchen and get cooking.
I've been an occasional reader of nj.com's Trenton forum over the last year, and in the last few days, I've noticed that posts and user names are getting deleted very quickly.
The forum is a lively, opinionated community; for the most part, most members are very critical of those holding the power in this city. I don't agree with everything I read, and yes, it appears that several users are malcontents, but many more are concerned citizens and employees of the city, so I'm sympathetic, overall, to what I'm reading. They are in positions to help improve the quality of life here, but they're marginalized because they have opinions that differ from those of the current administration, and frustratingly, their posts and handles are erased very shortly after something even slightly controversial is posted.
Maybe you're familiar with craigslist.org, another colorful online community, where the users are given a lot of self-rule. There, if a post is considered inappropriate, another user can flag it. If enough users flag the post, the post is deleted. If the same user continues to post inflammatory material, craigslist will remove that user. The bigwigs at craigslist don't take an active policing role; they act only when something gets flagged a lot.
So, knowing that, I figure, maybe the same sort of thing happens on the nj.com forum, but I'm starting to get suspicious, because posts are getting deleted so very quickly these days. nj.com is either working very closely with Trenton's administration, or Trenton's administration has set up an Office of Deleting Posts and User Names on the nj.com Forum. Either way, it's wrong.
Trenton's administration MUST have better ways to spend taxpayer money than to spend any time flagging posts. I realize, too, that nj.com is in no way required to provide this service to the community, but since it does, it should respect the right to free speech; it should side with the people. Just my opinion. If it turns out that there is a city official spending his/her livelong day clicking the "inappropriate post" button over and over again, I encourage nj.com to please take a look into that and change your bulletin board preferences. No one is using vulgar language or posting sexual content; the only thing getting posted to the forum is commentary about life and/or work in this city, and people have the right to comment.
If nj.com cannot provide a community that encourages dialogue, and even criticism, maybe the members of that online community should gather elsewhere. At least two of the regular posters to the group have websites; one user even has a functioning bulletin board service as part of his website. Another -- it appears -- runs www.captsleepy.com; I know many web services will provide bulletin board add-ons, too. So maybe the folks at captainsleepy.com can look into that. There are also discussion forums on craigslist; that might be worth looking into, as well. The nj.com Trenton forum community, if it wants, can also start its own meetup.com group. There are many ways to keep the conversations going.
The people in the city government who are busy deleting posts should know that censoring people has never been a good way to quiet them; and is a surefire way of creating your legacy -- one of of mistrust and abuse of power -- very quickly.
I'm a Johnny-Come-Lately, which means I have the ability to compare and contrast happenings in Trenton with what goes on in other places I have lived. It's handy to have the ability to reference this place against other places, because it gives me confidence when I say that the guy who is squealing around my neighborhood right freakin' now in an old boxy caprice that is -- I'm sure -- not registered or insured, would not be able to get away with that behavior in very many other places in the world, except for maybe Mogadishu. But living here for even a few short years also gives me an innate knowing that said knucklehead burning rubber in my neighborhood right now will probably crash into at least 3 cars tonight, or else very soon, and afterward, will claim to the police that his car was stolen and he is not responsible for the destruction. Knowing this sort of thing gives me street cred with my out-of-town friends and family, and isn't everyone just ga-ga for street cred? We can't bring the Michele Lorie cheesecakes to the family gatherings anymore, but I can wow 'em with my street cred.
Another local phenomenon in Trenton is the sheer number of God's soldiers roaming the streets, knocking on doors, trying to recruit more members. I find this particularly distressing, but my distress, ultimately, my own fault. I've always had the sort of face that society's oddballs -- yes, Jehovah's Witnesses DO fall into the "society's oddballs" category -- find approachable, comforting, even. Damn my genes! I might be thinking "Stay the hell away" (or, probably, worse), but my friendly face beckons. And I have a terrible time making myself say "stay the hell away" aloud. It's just not done in polite society. Because of my inability to say, "sorry, not interested," much less, "beat it," I wind up smiling politely at the religious zealots and often, vacuum peddlers, too. But I do doubt the sincerity of the vacuum peddlers: this ain't the 1950s, you know?
Last fall, two Witnesses came by my house every single day for two weeks straight, simply because I didn't force them off my porch the first time I saw them rounding the corner. A friend told me that I needed to really become familiar with scripture so I could argue on their terms; it was the only way. Another friend, who was besieged by Witnesses, told me he finally invited them in to talk, as long as they'd watch a quick movie with him, afterward. They agreed, and when they finished speaking, he popped in a porno. They left in a hurry. A neighbor told me they were like a cockroach infestation -- that was the only way to view them -- and I must get aggressive to remove them from my life.
I appreciated all of the advice, but none of it really fit my personality. Part of my problem is that I ultimately have too much faith in people, and I wind up hoping they will decide on their own to do the right thing. In the case of the Jehovah's, I believed they'd eventually come to realize the error of their ways, and would just stop bugging me. I was wrong, and I hated it. HATED it. But I did develop my own technique. Perhaps not as satisfying as watching their faces as they "witnessed" some porno, or telling them to beat it, but I think it worked. They'd ring the doorbell, I'd come running, expecting to see my UPS guy, and instead, find two brainwashed zealots on my porch; they knew I was on the other side of the door; and I'd watch them know. This horrible game went on for DAYS, because I can only assume they thought maybe, they were so close to convincing me to join their ranks; me, the woman who flat-out refused to speak with them, after our first encounter; me, the woman who watched them standing on my porch, expecting me to answer the door. Seemed like a stupid sales move, to me. I just did not want to engage with a Jehovah's Witness, ever again, as I found their very reason for existence to be insulting to the rest of humanity, and their tactics 100%, wholly unacceptable.
Right around the same time, we were visited by some very combative newspaper sales twerps, a racist (a term that gets thrown around so much by LA Parker that it's almost meaningless, but LA, this was a real, bonafide bigot) alarm salesman; Elder Jeb and Elder Orrin, the two Mormons living down the street; and the friggin' the vacuum people came back -- at the very moment I was walking out the door with two cats, who were very literally freaking out in their carriers, on the way to the vet; the vacuum duo volunteered to clean my floors -- very tempting considering the amount of fur and feline bodily fluids that had just been strewn about. This onslaught of door-to-door sales left me perplexed: were all of these people targeting me, or did they really think they'd make the sale/conversion in this neighborhood? The lack of peace and quiet was unnerving, and Glen felt badly for me, so the next time the Jehovah's Witnesses came by, he spoke with them. It didn't do much good. As soon as I had a minute, I made this sign for our door. Click on it to enlarge, and feel free to print it out for your own use. Contact me (contact info is on the right) if you need a higher resolution image. I'm glad to help. The sign doesn't always work. Many zealots are not able or willing to read. Others will ring first and run away once they see the sign, which leaves me with mixed feelings: I've usually gotten up to answer the door -- a drag, but am thrilled to not have to talk to the Jehovah.
Glen and I had dinner with a fellow Trenton resident last night and we talked at great length about a potential project, and the business model for said project. With every venture, there ought to be a cost analysis to see if the effort is worthwhile. Talking about the project's merit made me think about the Jehovah's Witnesses marching mindlessly through my ward. Do they have someone in a business office looking at the return for their work? That Watchtower magazine is printed nicely, so maybe there are business people building spreadsheets and giving PowerPoint presentations, somewhere in that organization? But, the return-for-the-effort HAS to hover solidly around zero percent for Jehovah's foot soldiers out to make conversions, so why they don't dream up some other way to get themselves into heaven? Ultimately, the door-to-door annoyance strategy seems like a lost cause to me, since, according to the Jehovah's, only 144,000 people can go heaven, anyway. And if that's the case, I just wish they'd abandon their conversion campaign, and maybe DO something tangible for the community. Imagine if all of those Jehovah's were reprogrammed to pick up litter. Or tutor children. Or keep a watch on the community, to lower crime. Or fix up an old house. Their public image would improve drastically.
I can say for myself that I've reached a point in my life where I am very okay with where I am, and where I'm going after I die; and that's my business anyway. I'm sure that most people around here, like me, have that stuff figured out for themselves, too, so it wouldn't hurt the Jehovah's Witnesses to go in a different direction. Please?
There is not much worse for a tomato garden than a visit from a tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata). Except for, perhaps, a visit from an unsupervised nephew. Even one of these big, green, meaty caterpillars can decimate a tomato plant almost as quickly and thoroughly as a five-year-old boy with a shovel -- a child you assume, oh-so-naively, is under close watch of his parents, while you are inside the house putting on coffee for the very people who are allowing their child to destroy your yard.
Five-year-old nephews eventually go home with their inattentive parents, but the tomato hornworm is very difficult to eradicate, because it blends in with the tomato foliage, and does most of its work at dawn and dusk, while you are inside doing other things. Dammit.
Glen and I found three caterpillars on our plants earlier this summer, one Saturday morning. They caused extensive damage, stripping the leaves from the plant, chewing through the branches, and even biting some of the young, green fruit (they seldom bite reddening tomatoes). We felt violated, angry. We knew we needed to take quick action, so we peeled them off the plant -- and what yucky work that is: they are STRONG, and have nasty horns on their rear ends (hence their name). I hate to kill things, even larvae of rather bland moths. But our garden is important to us, and so measures were taken to ensure those particular worms would not return to our tomato plants.
This is the tomato hornworm: It becomes the Five-Spotted Hawk Moth, if allowed to live:
By August, our damaged tomato plants had bounced back and began producing some wonderful fruit for us. And then, this Saturday, without warning, we found two more hornworms. However, this time, they were covered with white lumps. I had heard about this in my Master Gardener class, and so, I ran for the camera:
The bully of the tomato patch had finally met its match: the Braconid wasp (Apanteles congregatus). The mother wasp finds a juicy tomato hornworm, and injects her eggs under the caterpillar's flesh. Over the next few days, the baby wasps feast on the guts of the caterpillar, and eventually migrate outside, affixing themselves atop the caterpillar, where they pupate. And the pupae eventually emerge as adults to begin the process all over again. Ah, the circle of life!
If you see a hornworm in this sorry state, you may think it's a good idea to just kill it, along with all of the wasp pupae, because, after all, who wants wasps? We do! So don't intervene (except maybe to pull the caterpillar off your tomato plant; even though it will soon be with Elvis, it can do some more damage to your plants). These wasps are not interested in humans, and won't sting us. They have one purpose, and that is to find more hornworms and eat them from the inside out.
During the summer, there are several different types of beneficial wasps that will make you reconsider your relationship with these insects. In addition to the Braconid wasp (a variety of which will also parasitize aphids, another dastardly enemy of your garden), there's also the Cicada Killer (Sphecius speciosus), a frightfully large wasp -- but one who is a gentle giant and not interested in you. At all. In fact, the males don't even have stingers. Their sole mission is to find adult cicadas, a late summer garden pest. The female digs a tunnel in your yard, about the diameter of a pinky finger. Unlike other wasps, who are social, and tend to sting to defend the nest, this is a solitary creature uses her sting only to paralyze cicadas. And once she does, she drags the cicada/s into her den, and lays her eggs all over it/them. The eggs hatch in a couple of days, and the cicada serves as food for the youngsters. Yumm-o!
Gruesome? Totally. Nature can be cruel, but it's not without checks and balances. Many backyard bullies, like real life human bullies, will run roughshod over our plants for awhile, but eventually, they get too big and slow. And then, the army of beneficials descend and turn things around. Natural controls rule!
It's now after midnight, September 1, I'm wondering if Zac Chester is up, sleepless; I'm wondering if he's thinking about what might unfold in the next few weeks. I'm hoping he and his family are not worrying about whether or not he'll be served with legal papers. I imagine that Zac must be sizing up his adversary on East State Street, debating if his adversary will follow through with his threat, or if he'll shrink away. His adversary, Dennis Gonzalez, is, in my opinion, the Dwight Schrute of City Hall.
Dwight Schrute, assistant to the regional manager at Dunder Mifflin on NBC's "The Office," often heads into every situation with his fists up, and by the end of the show, he's been smacked down, and is sitting in the corner, with his tail between his legs.
I can certainly see things going similarly for Dennis Gonzalez, Trenton's Assistant Business Manager, after his threat to sue Zac Chester for defamation, simply because Zac asked for more information on Gonzalez's redevelopment projects. You don't have a case, Mr. Gonzalez. And the people are peeved.
Still, I can't help but wonder what Dennis Gonzalez is up to this weekend. Maybe deep down, he's a sensitive, hopeful guy, and figures Zac's apology is coming, but just a wee bit late? Maybe he's thinking, "Well, it is a long weekend, so I'll give him until Tuesday. But just until Tuesday, that's IT. After that [squinting eyes], lawsuit time." In some ways I feel for him...it has to be like waiting by the phone for that special person to call...and the call never comes. It's agonizing! Will he be drawing up legal papers, just so he's ready? Or has he been talked out of his hardline stance? Maybe he's planning to apologize to Zac -- and all the residents of Trenton -- for his deplorable threat against a concerned citizen? After all, if anyone should apologize here, it should be Dennis Gonzalez, and he should do it soon.
Happy Labor Day!
I have been Michael’s number two guy for about 5 years. And we make a great team. We’re like one of those classic famous teams. He’s like Mozart and I’m like...Mozart's friend. No. I’m like Butch Cassidy and Michael is like...Mozart. You try and hurt Mozart? You’re gonna get a bullet in your head courtesy of Butch Cassidy. -- Dwight Schrute