Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Common ground?

I'm a big fan of the Trenton blogs, all of them. I read the local newspapers every day eagerly, even though there's way too much not getting reported in Trenton (good and bad news). I love the opinion pieces and devour them voraciously, even though I often don't agree with all them. I'm a big fan of the new forum, even though I don't see eye-to-eye with everything I read there. I love a vocal community, I like information, I like different opinions. It challenges my beliefs, but I think it's a good thing; it helps promote diplomacy, understanding.

I read an article this weekend in Utne Reader about what happens to us when we disagree, and here in the US, we have a bad habit to get really angry at one another. So, I have been trying, after reading that this weekend, to remember just because I disagree with an opinion, it doesn't mean that the person uttering that opinion is a complete right-off (well, usually).

So it's in that spirit I've been trying to write this week, but it's HARD. We're so prone to pissy rebuttals, and demonizing each other simply because we disagree. I've been thinking a lot about how I likened Mayor Palmer to my tantrum-prone niece, Emma, and wondering if I should feel badly about that, or at least try not to make such comparisons again in the future, and after some reflection, I've determined that no, I don't feel badly about comparing Mayor Palmer to a toddler, and well, I might do it again. He's a public official, and he is probably not a complete write-off as a human being, but I suspect he is not an excellent listener.

Angry Emma

Earlier today, I did my rounds of blog-reading, and was eager to read Paul Harris's updated blog, and didn't mind one bit that Paul doesn't agree with me that the Mayor is a tantrum-prone toddler; he actually seems to like the Mayor, or at least, he wants to. I respect that.

But the thing that caught my eye and stuck in my head was Paul's comment on the crowd:
I can tell you I wish more common folk or the base was in attendance at the Mayor's Address. What I saw was a professional addressing professionals, elite addressing the elite. Now of course, there were a good many plain people there, but most from what I could see were folks who had formal education, good jobs, and were not representative of the men and women government is set up to serve.
Sure, I think it would be a great if more regular people got out to city events; it would be fantastic if more regular people stood up for what they believed in, found their voices, etc. But the truth is, a lot of people are content retreating into their own homes after a long day of work, and there's nothing wrong with that. And really, if we all lived in any other municipality, we all could retreat into our homes after a long day, reasonably confident things were okay throughout the land. This is not the case in Trenton.

Even though the group of us who is involved — even on the periphery — in community functions/clubs/associations KNOW that things would be better if more people got involved, it seems to me, "the common folk" — regardless of background — in this great, big, diverse country seldom turn out in droves for anything, unless it is a limited issue something or other with a a Disney character on it, or is a cheap TV at Wal*Mart on Black Friday. And that's their right. It doesn't mean that life should march on without them, or the suit-wearing, college-educated professional sort should get all the gravy. Chances are, the suit/college type ain't gettin' the cheap TVs or the Pooh Bear paraphernalia, and that's their loss.*

Maybe I'm reading too much into Paul's statement about the crowd, because of conversations I was involved with last week regarding immigrants (illegal or otherwise), ethnicity, and race; I might still be a bit sensitive. But is government not set up to serve all citizens? Does Paul mean because I'm the minority in Trenton — white, and college-educated, and have steady (if not good) employment — that government should not serve me, too? I hate that race seems to creep in, all the time, from all sides lately. I'm a sympathetic and fair person, and I can only imagine the challenges that face other ethnic groups. But imagination and sympathy are not the same as knowing exactly what those challenges are, what that really feels like. But I do know exclusionary politics don't work; they don't work in the federal government, and they don't work locally, either.
* I also realize that maybe my life would be so much better if I got that big screen TV last year at Wal*Mart, and could sink into my couch, wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket with Mickey Mouse on it. I dunno.

Glen's assumptions about food

I've been checking in on the puppy, Francie, here and there for a few weeks now, and Francie's mistress baked us some brownies recently, as a thanks. I like to cook, but don't really enjoy baking, and even though I'm pretty good at following directions, I have difficulty with brownies. So this was a nice surprise.

I called Glen to tell him, since he is a big fan of sweets. "Big fan" is an understatement, actually: Glen is king of the sweets. He's Canadian, which, at least in the area of sweets (and adoration for Queen Elizabeth II), means he's practically British. The British have rotted mouths for a reason: they, too, like their sweets. I'm not sure why Canadian teeth haven't all collectively rotted out of the heads of their Canadian owners in the same fashion, but that's worth exploring another day. Whenever we visit Canada, or a Canadian visitor stays here, we acquire sweet treats: confections, and chocolate bars, and sugared covered nuts. For awhile, we were even getting home-baked goods: the Canadian Butter Tart (which is also worthy of its own post), which Glen finally started preparing here in our Trenton home, with imported tart shells. Glen could take over the world with his Butter Tarts — he brought them to a party on Saturday night, and they were devoured...DE-FRIGGING-VOURED. You know who you are...and yes, I think you might follow Glen to the ends of the earth, if he were promising Tarts.

Anyway, his response was surprisingly less-than-enthusiastic when I told him about the plate of delicious brownies awaiting him. I could hear it in his tone. Not only did I hear disappointment, I heard angry bitterness.

"What is wrong?!" I asked, probably with an expletive or two thrown in, for emphasis. I was just so gleeful about the brownies, and he was raining on my parade, and I didn't like that.

He answered, "Why do people ruin perfectly good brownies by putting walnuts in them?" he replied, also with an expletive or two.

"There are no nuts in these brownies," I said. "Why would you assume that there were nuts in them?"

This did not calm him down. He said — with an moral imperative, "Oh. I bet they have raisins in them then."

"Raisins?! Are you out of your mind? No one puts RAISINS in brownies!!" I said, again, probably with PG-13 language.

"Yes they do," Glen hissed. "The do ALL THE TIME. And nuts too. I hate it! I hate that people ruin perfectly good treats with nuts and raisins."

For the record, I don't hate nuts or raisins, but I do prefer the brownie (and the chocolate chip cookie) sans nuts (and raisins).

So this led to a debate/conversation about how often bakers use nuts and/or raisins in brownies and cookies, and unless I'm incredibly disconnected, I have NEVER...not once...encountered a raisin in a brownie. So I'm thinking this might be a regional thing. Maybe it happens in Canada. Still, I have NO idea why it makes Glen so mad, especially since brownies ARE abundantly available in a pure state. So, if there are any bakers out there who might be tempted to slip some nuts, or God forbid, some raisins into your baked goods, please reconsider, if only for my sake. Okay, and Glen's too. Your actions are evoking an incredible amount of ill-will from my husband, and frankly, I think he has better things to focus on. And, plus, there are so many things about the universe we do not yet understand, and I just think it's for the best if you don't have Glen's negative vibes headed your way.

Anyway, he was so geared up about all the other people in the world out their ruining perfectly good brownies, that I'm quite sure he did not truly enjoy the ones we received from Francie's owner. But that's okay. More for me. I loved them!

Later that evening, we sat out on our front porch, and noticed quite a few of our Latino neighbors walking to a house up the street, carrying large pots and trays of food. I mention their ethnicity only because I hope to follow up on this, later in the week. I will admit, I looked at those pots and trays longingly, since, after our long day, we had grilled cheese (and brownies) for dinner, which, don't get me wrong, was delicious...sometimes there's nothing like grilled cheese, right? But I knew, instinctively, that grilled cheese could not compare to anything in those vessels that were entering our neighbor's house.

Glen spoke first, in a whisper:
"Do you see all those pots of food?"
"Yes," I said.
"We're going to their party. I want that food," he said.
"But you don't even know what it is," I said.
"I know. But I know it's gotta be good. People bring their best dishes to a party."
"I know," I said.
"I can smell it," he said, "and it smells delicious."
"No you don't," I said. "You can't smell it at all."
"Shhh. I'm imagining it," he said.

Later that week, inspired by our pots-of-food-toting Latino neighbors, I made some pretty damn good burritos, if I do say so myself: chicken burritos, with good Canadian cheddar cheese, made with (purchased) handmade flour tortillas. I whipped up a pot of rice, too, and since we were having guests (Francie and her mistress), I wanted it to be special, so I added some cilantro and lime wedges during the final stages of cooking.

Glen, who was enjoying his burritos— with abandon, I might add — took offense at the "fruit in the rice" (with expletives studding his disgust not unlike the the limes in my rice), and I, of course, do not like having my meals criticized, especially after some effort, so I plotted revenge. Which is — and I think Glen will even admit — outside of my character. It was scary, and thrilling, to fantasize about getting him back. It was just rice with lime and cilantro thrown in; I could have tossed it. But no, the voice in my head said, "freeze it." And before I could debate the voice in my head, my hand was reaching for the storage containers.

A few days later, we had Indian food — more or less homemade, though I did use a (Canadian) store-bought sauce, and added paneer (Indian cheese), spinach, and some spices. It too, was quite yummy. And, bonus — there were leftovers, as there are almost always leftovers when cooking for two. I remembered the lime rice in the freezer. Cilantro and lime go so well with aromatic Indian food, which is really nice on a rice base. I fetched the rice, plucked out all of the obvious bits of citrus, and poured some of our leftover Indian food on it, and packed it back up again for Glen's lunch the next day.

I felt guilt. And giddiness. I am bad at keeping secrets from Glen. Really bad. But I did it. He is a good man: he called me from work to thank me for packing a delicious lunch for him, and I debated: do I tell him now, or later? Now, or later? I opted for later. I heard the voice of my grandfather: "Don't ever mess with another person's food. Ever." I wondered if PopPop was rolling in his grave? Sorry, PopPop. I justified it because Glen likes all of those flavors, in every other way I've ever used them, and there was no reason for his offense at the lime rice. No reason at all, dammit.

I had to level with him, so I told him when he returned from work, and was, again, totally unprepared for his reaction.

He smiled, really big, and said, "It was delicious."

Monday, October 29, 2007

One week later

Lacey, earlier this year.

It'll be one week tonight that I lost my Lacey. It's been hard week. I had lunch with her in the backyard earlier that very same day. She was old, yes, and weaker than she had been, but I didn't know I'd lose her so quickly. Maybe I was in denial, I don't know. She had been such a good friend, through my 20s and well into my 30s, through the good times, and certainly through some abysmal times. She was a constant, and I miss her very much.

On our last afternoon as we came inside from lunch, I offered her a doggie bone, as was part of our rhythm after a trip outside. She didn't take it. I figured she might want it later, so I absentmindedly tossed the biscuit into her bowl. Or, I thought, maybe one of the cats would eat it, which is distinct possibility around here.

A week later, that bone is still in her dish, untouched. I can't bring myself to throw it away.


Just a quick note of thanks to everyone who offered their condolences. I got a lot of nice messages, and a plant arrangement, and a donation in Lacey's memory to an animal rescue organization. Thanks again.

Serving All

Disclaimer: There's a complex relationship between citizens and the people they elect to serve them. It's not unlike parent-child, with flip-flopping roles. On one hand, the citizens look up to the elected official; on the other, they hope to shape and guide that official to do their bidding. An elected official looks to his/her constituency for direction, and also, will direct the people, when appropriate. It seldom works out well, does it?

How does Doug not see the hypocrisy in his words? He's been a critic, or else he wouldn't be mayor; and he's currently a critic of the Bush administration, or else he wouldn't be hoping that Hillary Clinton continues to remember him. And I'm sure there are plenty of us here in Trenton — even if we haven't been happy with Doug's reign — who agree our country is in need of a change in management. It's Doug's right — just as it's our right — to express displeasure of our government. We are Americans. It's the way it goes.

I suspect — though I hope I'm wrong — that there's something else at play. For so many career politicians, their motivation is off: it's not about representing the people, and building communities, because, in fact, many career politicians are often disconnected from the people they serve. Career politicians often to care less about their constituents and far more about their own future in government. We're all human, and thinking about tomorrow and our own comfort and success is only natural, but not at the expense of everyone else around us, especially if you're a politician, a person elected by the people, to serve the people.

Doug thinks that those who openly discuss the problems of Trenton (specifically our administration, which, Doug, would not exist ANYWHERE else), are lowering the property values. Doug thinks his critics and dissenters are "hurting" Trenton. I can understand this, to a degree; and I am sure there are some people who don't care if they're hurting the city, who do have an ax to grind. Those people are unfortunate, but really, they're rare. Most dissenters and critics do what they do for the love of community, the hope for a better future. I agree with Old Mill Hill, over on the front stoop that, no, Trenton is already wounded. We're hurting because the city doesn't enforce jack, at least not with any consistency, and certainly not of its own volition. It's my opinion — and yes, I'm biased, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong — that the bloggers, and the participants in the message boards, and people who organize to speak about the problems in this city with one clear, unified voice, are lifting Trenton; we're motivated by the hope of better days ahead. Our opinions show the outside world that Trenton is not a write-off, full of gang members and thugs, but rather, we are a colorful, vibrant, attractive community. Move here! The government is a bit screwed up, but the people are great! And the election isn't TOO far away! Come on!

The accusations of Mayor Palmer's speech the other night were perplexing, and, I'm sorry, kind of infantile. I hope my sister doesn't get pissed at me for this analogy, but Doug's heartfelt, if misdirected, hostility toward his critics made me think of my young niece, Emma. Emma's a good girl, but she's under 2, so she's at that age where the whole world completely revolves around her. And she's got attentive siblings and aunts and uncles and parents and cousins and grandparents, so she's usually very happy. Who wouldn't be? Like any toddler, as soon as someone scolds her, her mood changes: she gets mad at the people who criticize her, even though her "critics" are actually helping her. It's hard to see her so upset, stinging from a scolding, but there is comfort in knowing that Emma will grow from the feedback of her family members. After the verbal lashing Doug's critics received on Thursday night, it's apparent to me that Doug channeled his "inner toddler," if he's not stuck in his toddler years, outright. Instead of listening and trying to work with his community, he threw a teeny tiny bit of a tantrum. We all care about Trenton, so Doug attacked his family, his friends, and his teammates.

On a very basic, human level, I understand Doug's pain. No one likes to be criticized. But he signed up for a job that puts him in a position to be criticized, and he's been doing it long enough that he should be able to take the heat in a dignified manner. His job is to serve all of us, not just the people who pay their taxes and don't complain about anything. Really, there aren't THAT many of us in Trenton, and even fewer of us with opinions. So how hard is to listen? How hard is it to work with the community? I think it's possible, and I hope Doug takes the pacifier out of his mouth and steps up to the plate.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Lacey, January 1993

Lacey died peacefully last night, at home.
I've had her my whole adult life,
so today, her absence is deafening.
She was a very good girl, and I will miss her.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Targeting Latinos...
and Rednecks

I read LA Parker's story about Juan Martinez the other day, and found myself more or less agreeing with Martinez's sentiments (that the new vehicle registration legislation targets Latinos). It made me crazy a bit, to agree with something that LA Parker wrote, because I'd bet that he agrees with Martinez, too. I haven't been able to stop thinking about LA's article since I read it, and I don't think I'm alone: I know that Martinez's sentiments are getting discussed by at least one local civic association here on the east side.

I am not quite sure that the new vehicle legislation specifically targets Latinos, but given the (sometimes subtle) anti-Latino sentiment by certain non-Latinos in Trenton, I can certainly see why someone of Latino ancestry would be suspicious. I'm suspicious — if not convinced — and I'm not even Latina.

This new "if you live in NJ, get your car inspected and registered in NJ within 60 days or else" law brings up, for me, three specific issues:

First: Pennsylvania is a shitty neighbor to New Jersey.
Second: If you live in NJ, it's a good idea to get your car registered and inspected within two months, and I think that was already a law before Shirley Turner and Stephen Sweeney started talking about it recently, and don't know why we need new laws reiterating old ones, when all we need is simple enforcement.
Third: It DRIVES ME CRAZY to listen to people bitch about immigrants, legal, illegal, Hispanic, southeast Asian or otherwise, because, generally — good try, but — it isn't really about homeland security. It is about racism.

So, first. Pennsylvania sucks, for those of us who are decent citizens living in New Jersey. If PA was located next to Alabama, Pennsylvania would be awesome: they'd sell their guns and fireworks and offer cheap registration to the Alabamans, people who — dare I even think this? — are probably far more responsible with guns and fireworks, and even out-of-state registration than anyone in New Jersey ever could be. Guns and fireworks and illegal registration is just the way in Alabama; there are just too many of us in New Jersey for guns or fireworks or out-of-state registration to be fun here, you know? The bonus would be, every four years, Pennsylvania would still have the numbers to lean toward the democrats; not that it matters THAT much, since we have the electoral college to bungle things up. And not that the dems are a whole lot different than republicans anymore these days anyway. But it always tickles me to see Pennsylvania, so full-up of guns and fireworks and the ability to offer out-of-state residents registration — you know, typically redneck luxuries — turn blue on the maps during key elections. Pennsylvania is an enigma, an enigma that would just be better off located in another part of the country. But since that's not a possibility, maybe we should just erect a giant fence or a wall along our shared border?

Second: I think this speaks for itself. I don't feel like looking it up right now, but I KNOW there was already legislation on the books mandating that new NJ residents get themselves to a NJ Motor Vehicle Agency with haste, or else. It's also worth mentioning that yes, a lot of rednecky people have taken advantage of whatever stupid loopholes there are that allowed them to register their vehicles in PA while living in NJ. Remember, I am a Trenton Johnny-Come-Lately. I do not hail from these parts. I know some rednecks living in NJ who have PA (or sometimes South Carolina) plates, and I'm sure they're all pissed off about the new legislation, too, which is why I have a hard time completely agreeing with Juan Martinez: the new law targets rednecks, too.

Lastly, I am married to an immigrant, an immigrant who is not a US citizen. I know a lot of immigrant-bashing IS motivated by racism, because my immigrant husband speaks English as a first language and is white, and the immigrant-bashers who pass through these parts think nothing about spouting off their anti-immigrant blather to us; they forget that maybe my husband has a lot of the same concerns and motivations and sympathies as other (and sometimes non-anglo) immigrants. Related to this "but if you're white and speak English, and an immigrant, it's okay" sentiment, I knew a Canadian, who was trying a bit of a cultural experiment, and decided to not be legal. And he was extremely successful. He started his own business, and never got bothered by the INS or racists or immigrant-bashers because he was white, spoke English, and well, lived off the grid a bit. It's an oddball case, but I think it's a good illustration of the motivation of the people who claim they're worried about "Homeland Security."

I've always appreciated immigrants, which is probably part of the reason I'm married to one. I respect how extremely difficult the decision is to give up one's home, one's comfort, and come to a new country. It's SCARY. It's even scarier for those newcomers who don't speak English as a first language. We have other immigrants in our lives, and not all of them are pale and speak English as a first language. We know several Germans and Guatemalans and Mexicans and Ecuadorians and Indians (from India) and Vietnamese, and even a Palestinian. My life is so much richer for knowing these brave individuals who gave up everything to come here, some of whom are now US citizens, and some are not.

I'm not saying that all immigrants are wonderful, brave people (some are motivated by the pursuit of social/cultural study, after all). There are some immigrant dirtbags, just like there are plenty of non-immigrant dirtbags. I happen to know more of the "good" kind of immigrant, and I believe that is a true representation of society as a whole: most of us ARE good. I just try to remember that these people are coming here for a reason, one simple reason: they want to make their lives better. That's why my husband came here. Everyone whose US citizenship goes back for more than a generation or two has ancestors who wanted the same exact thing that this new immigration wave wants, and many of those ancestors did not speak English, and lived 15 to a home, and shared their wheels. Their legacy: most of their descendants moved to Hamilton and are bitching about the new immigrants in Trenton.

Anyway, I don't think the new legislation was entirely necessary, given that there is already a law on the book about new residents with vehicles. But I hope the new registration legislation wasn't motivated by racism. And I wouldn't mind seeing the state and the city enforce more of its existing laws, including the vehicle registration one, but I don't think it will be enforced — or at least, it won't be enforced for more than a few weeks. But I could be wrong, and all of this might make it harder on immigrants, who are struggling so hard to make a go of life in this country, and I hate to see that happen. So, I'd be glad to help new residents (affected by the redundant legislation or not), to get to and from work, or the store, or wherever. I welcome Mr. Martinez to contact me and we can set something up.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Who owns the road?

I'm a big believer in unwritten guidelines and common courtesy, and even though most people will say that society — especially Vehicular Society — is headed to hell in a handbasket, I am often amazed at just how freakin' well things work. Merging is one such area that generally works so damn well, especially in New Jersey, perhaps the most maligned and heavily-trafficked state in our country. Some day, when I have a bit more time, I'd love to go stand on an overpass above a busy roadway and look down to watch merging in action. It's a mesmerizing ballet of sorts: a car moves to the left, one moves in, one moves over, one moves in, and, all the while, traffic keeps flowing. Sure, there's the occasional douche who doesn't move to the left, or doesn't scoot in quickly enough; you can spot that douche because he/she usually has a PA plate*. Even so, merging malfunctions — for as much as we complain about traffic — are rare.

The other area of our Vehicular Society that works remarkably well is parking. I live in a busy city in a neighborhood that contains homes that are owner-occupied and others that are are carved up into rental units, with multiple drivers living in the same dwelling. Some homes have off-street parking, but a lot don't. The end result is that there are a load of vehicles on the street at any given time. And yes, some of them are double-parked (which pisses me off, because that not only violates the law, but also my unwritten, common sense, good neighbor guidelines), and some of them have PA plates, but most of them are expertly tucked along the curb, near the home in which the owner resides. I appreciate this, because it means that I generally don't have to walk far, with or without groceries. We have a garage, so parking — except for those few moments it takes us to unload the groceries — is very seldom a bona fide problem.

But, every now and then we have issues, and even when those issues are extremely frustrating while they are occurring, they are rare. There are times when our neighbors have visitors, or the street is getting torn up for the third time in two years, and parking is at a premium. Or some drug addict parks across our garage skirt thinking a dealer is going to service him there. Other than the narcotics issue, generally these parking dilemmas straighten themselves out quickly, and without heart attacks or aneurysms or gunplay or asskickings; and since we have use of the garage, our lives are none the poorer for these dilemmas. Because of the garage, I might not be the best person to weigh-in on parking, but I'm going to anyway; I've lived in enough places — inside and outside of Trenton — without a garage that my opinion has merit. Common courtesy dictates that it's a thoughtful idea to park near one's home, if one can, but common courtesy also asks us to remember that sometimes that isn't possible. The bottom line is, we don't own the street, even the piece of street near our front door, even if we've dug our car out of the snow and marked that spot triumphantly with a chair or some other piece of furniture.

We have a neighbor, let's call her Q, who has a different opinion about How Things Should Be in the Parking Realm. Now Q is an esteemed member of the community. In case she reads this and realizes I am writing about her, I am not going to mention the organizations to which she belongs — as much as I appreciate full disclosure, I know that anonymity (even to protect the guilty) can be a good thing, too — lest she come over here looking to kick my ass, which, as you will see, is a distinct possibility.

Q lives on the corner, and can park to the front or the side of her property. She parks, like I would in her situation, to the side. She, like us, also happens to have a 2-car garage, but unlike us, does not use it much, even though it is a really good idea. As much as I do not believe society is falling apart, there are a few knuckleheads around here who like to squeal and slide all over this neighborhood, without regard to road signs, parked cars, or people. And in recent months, I've seen the demolition of many vehicles, several of them parked nicely alongside the home where their owner lives. Q has a garage. She should use it. It just makes sense. Also, I know (for a fact) that she knows that our neighborhood has its share of rental units, with multiple families living within one structure: it's a nice gesture to get her car off the street so that someone else can park close to home.

She sees things differently than I do, and I suppose it takes all types to make the world go round. She doesn't have to use her garage, even though it's a good idea. And in her Alternate Universe, she can believe that she owns the street alongside her house, but in the Real Universe, she doesn't. Despite this, she makes it clear to anyone parking alongside her house that he or she is absolutely not welcome to do so. It is HER spot, dammit, and that is that. Most of our neighbors have had some kind of run-in with her, and would prefer to not have another, so most of the time, the LONG two-car spot alongside her house is vacant, or filled with her car (parked in a way another vehicle cannot park in front or behind her).

Recently, I was visiting my sister, and got home around 4:30 in the afternoon. Glen got in about 5 minutes before I did, and decided to wait on the porch for me. As I pulled up alongside our house (I had parcels to bring inside), I saw our other neighbors — I'll call them A and R (A is elderly father, R is 30-to-40-something daughter) — were having heated words with Q. Apparently, R had JUST been discharged from the hospital after abdominal surgery (and even had hospital flowers in her arms), and her father, A, had heart surgery a few months ago, and was/is still moving slow. They had no place to park near their house, except near Q's house. Q's house is roughly catercorner to A and R's home. A, the concerned dad, didn't want R to have to walk far. And I cannot imagine that he, in his condition, would want a long walk either, but I'm sure he was thinking of his daughter first on that particular day.

Q also happened to be coming home, not from the hospital, or in an otherwise weakened state due to being elderly and having recently undergone heart surgery, but rather, just from work. She saw their car, and got so pissed off that she parked RIGHT on top of their bumper. She actually hit their car (not hard, but she made contact). She stormed inside her house, and A and R, dumbfounded, followed to find out why the hell she did that. Anyway, Q came back to the door, and didn't even listen to find out that R had just been released from the hospital, and A was weakened from surgery himself. She was on her way out to a Very Important Meeting and did not need someone in her spot. Despite the fact she had use of her own garage, plus a bit of roadside real estate on the side street behind A and R's car, PLUS, plenty of parking on the main street, Q told them to get the car off her corner. Or else — get this, it's pretty awesome — "I'll kick your ass, and the old man's too," she said to R, who had hospital flowers in her arms. A and R refused and walked toward home, shaking their heads. Q came back out of her house, got in her car and shouted at them that the car better be gone when she got home. She saw Glen on the sidewalk, and she said to Glen, "Did you see that? They parked on my corner and won't move." Glen was kind of stunned and looked about ready to acknowledge Q's comments, but Glen, a softy for old and injured people, saw A and R, limping home. Glen chose not to engage in conversation with Q. Over Q's car, Glen said to A, "Hey buddy, I don't own the street. You can park over here any time you want," gesturing to the stretch of road in front of our house. Q, enraged, sped off.

She doesn't seem to hate us yet, but I imagine our day of reckoning will come soon enough.


* PA is the bane of our existence, isn't it?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Instant revenue

I just saw an entourage of vehicles drive out of my alley; all with dark tinted windows. For the last few years, I've heard people say that tint is illegal in NJ, and so I wonder why so many vehicles right here in my neighborhood continue to violate the law. I wanted to know if it was illegal or not, so I looked up NJ's law online, and found that it is indeed illegal in NJ for a vehicle to have a tinted windshield windows, and front side windows, though there are a few exceptions. The general population is not supposed to have this sort of window tint in our vehicles; despite the abundance of tinted pimpmobiles and ghetto sleds, they are not the exempt from this law, either.

So, why isn't this enforced? Illegal window tint can be the reason for failing state safety inspections, but I've noticed that my neighbors with an inclination to tint tend to not keep their vehicles for very long, and are possibly not the sorts of citizens who bother with state inspections. But, if the city enforced this law for just one day — if officers were permitted to go up and down each street and issue a ticket to each offending vehicle — that would mean big money for the city. As of 2005, NJ Motor Vehicle Services annotates a $54 fine for a violation of NJ 39:3-74 (obstruction of windshield for vision). With that money, we could improve road conditions, or hire more police officers, or pay for one of Doug Palmer's Conference of Mayor trips. Just think what we could do if this law were enforced on a continual basis! You may argue that the folks receiving the tint fine are not the sort of citizens to pay their tickets, but that's just great, too. Wouldn't warrants be issued for their arrests? I don't like to generalize, but generalizing is often fair: window-tinters are already breaking the law, so I would bet many of them are breaking other laws, as well. When they are eventually arrested, chances are, officers will find that they're carrying drugs, or guns, or don't have insurance, or are under the influence. I don't mean to go hardcore, but if people like this are arrested, I don't think it's that bad.

Of all of the laws in Trenton that are not getting enforced, this seems like one of the easiest to enforce. It's not like drug dealing or noise violations or even littering, where the offender can ditch the drugs, walk away from the litter, turn the music down, and deny deny deny. Just ticket the vehicles with tinted windows.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Crime Map

I am honored to have been asked by the South Ward's councilman, Jim Coston, to write a guest blog on his website, about Trenton's crime map project. Check it out here. Click on the October Blog icon to read it.

If you would like to receive a copy of the crime map on Monday evenings via email, please send me an email and I'll add your name to my distribution list. It's also available for viewing on the Crime Stoppers website, and I've begun to post it to the TrentonSpeaks forum as well, in the Police Blotter folder.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Secret Life of My Spatula

Warning: Vomit mentioned below. I'm sorry.

I had a brief visit from my midwestern aunt and uncle. It was a very nice visit: we had some great food (namely, east coast pizza and Flying Fish Espresso Porter beer), and caught up with one another. Ours is a large family, strewn about a three-to-four hour radius (Monmouth County, Warren County, Ocean County, Essex County, NJ; plus Chicken Shit, Maryland and nearby Horse Poop, Virginia, as well, which aren't very far away from here at all); and of all the places they could choose to stay in the region, Aunt Vicki and Uncle Jimmy chose to stay here in Mercer County, NJ. Specifically, in Trenton, at our house. This is a big deal for us, since most of my family members won't or don't come to our house, even when they're just moments away, but then again, most everyone "on the outside" doesn't come in to Trenton if they don't have to. Their loss, and Aunt Vicki and Uncle Jimmy can attest to that, I'm sure.

Aunt Vicki and Uncle Jimmy came to visit back in February, too, and back then, Lacey, my then-14-year-old dog, had what the vet called a sebaceous cyst on her neck, below her ear. She had it since puppyhood, and the vet kept saying it was just a bit of a cosmetic yuckiness. I called it "the knob," and as Lacey got older, the knob got bigger, and danglier, and it bothered her more, and it made small children recoil in horror, which pissed me off, because Lacey is a friendly and attractive dog. Well, in February, on the last day of Aunt Vicki and Uncle Jimmy's stay, Lacey scratched her knob and ripped the damn thing open. It was shocking, and gruesome, and bloody and I'll leave it at that. And it required an emergency trip to the vet, at which time, the remaining half of the damn knob was FINALLY removed once and for all. Hallelujah.

So, today, just as Jimmy and Vicki were getting ready to leave, right on cue, Lacey, my now 15-year-old-dog, puked all over the dining room rug. Not so shocking, or gruesome, or luckily, bloody, and it didn't require a trip to the vet, but dog vomit, while relatively common, is quite unpleasant, especially in copious amounts. I ran to get some towels and plastic bags and carpet cleaner, and Vicki said something that sounded like "spatula," but I didn't quite hear her or understand why she'd say that word at that particular time. I was busy running to gather my usual remediation supplies that I didn't think about it for more than a flash. By the time I got back, 45 seconds later, Vicki had the mess cleaned up. I hadn't heard her wrong. She did say "spatula" and she used one to remove the dog vomit from my rug. Intrepid AND horrifying.

It dawns on me I should not be sharing this because I'm sure no one — even people who live in Trenton — will ever want to come to our house now, because who knows to what nefarious purposes our kitchen utensils have been used. But I can't stop myself from confessing. Vicki's spatula trick made SUCH quick work of the pile o' vomit, I just had to share; I know a lot of you have pets. And all pets puke. Aunt Vicki might be on to something. It makes me wonder about the origin of the very first toilet brush. Perhaps the vomit spatula will develop into its own marketable product; every well-appointed, pet-filled home will not be able to function without one.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

My Perfect Trenton
the ball of healing

BBC World News America debuted last night, and I would have not known about it were it not for the fact I am somewhat of a geek, and have been watching a lot of Doctor Who, and its spin-off, Torchwood, lately, which air locally on the BBC channel. But I was glad to see it mentioned in the Trentonian as well. It makes me feel a lot less geeky!

Maybe you think the fact I watch sci-fi on the BBC makes me a geek AND a snob. After all: the accent thing. Need I say more? But I'm not a snob, I swear. In many ways, I am a typical American, in that the British accent — well, not all of them, but some of them — are difficult for me to understand. But I'm getting better. Being married to a Canadian has its advantages, though: he can understand both North American English and British English effortlessly. And the exposure to British programing by way of Canada has improved my understanding. Canadians sound more like Americans than they do the British, with some nuances, like their use of the word "eh" and their distinct pronunciation of the "ou" vowel combination in words like "about," and which come out (oot) like "a-boot." And their pronunciation of the word "again" is very British, which can be mildly alarming, especially if you're listening to a Canadian band, and the singer rhymes "again" with "plane." Which, when I see the word written, I can kind of understand. But I'm not gonna say "a-gane." To me, it's a-gen, and that's that.

And, oh yeah, Canadians apologize incessantly for everything, even stuff that is totally not their fault. I think it may be a pathological defect in the Canadian psyche. Hang with one for long enough, and you'll see what I mean. They apologize for everything, which reminds me, they pronounce the word "sorry" in a distinct manner as well. You'll hear a lot of "Soo-ree aboot that" from Canadians. There's a small park in Glen's hometown, and at the entrance, it says, "NO DOGS ALLOWED. Sorry!" The over-apologizing is strange because Americans (in general) apologize for nothing, and as far as I can tell, the British are not terribly apologetic either, so I'm not sure from where the Canadians get the guilt.

But I don't want to rile 'em up either, since Canadians always like a good fight, and can easily kick my ass. Obviously, they have a lot of great traits. Here's one: they have a town named Bonarlaw. That's pretty awesome.

And there are worse things than apologizing too much. In fact, I think a bit more apologizing might make the world a better place. It certainly would improve things right here in Trenton. Apologies can make a world of difference, and earn the apologizer SO much respect.

In a Perfect Trenton, here are some starter apologies I'd like to see, which will begin to undo some of the polarization in this town:

  1. Assistant business administrator, Dennis Gonzalez should apologize to Zac Chester for threatening to sue him for defamation when Zac simply asked to see Gonzalez's progress record. Dennis Gonzalez should also, in turn, offer an apology to every citizen in Trenton: after all, he has no right to threaten to sue just because people are exercising their right to information.
  2. Mayor Doug Palmer should apologize to the citizens of Trenton for standing behind Dennis Gonzalez after he threatened a baseless lawsuit. Standing behind a guy who threatened a baseless lawsuit is ridiculous, and does not inspire confidence or trust, two qualities people like to have in their leaders.
  3. Police Director Joseph Santiago should apologize to the citizens of Trenton – and the whole police department – for continuing to stand by his man, Captain Paul Messina. If what I'm reading in the papers and online has any merit at all – and in my opinion, it does — Captain Messina is in too deep; he is not cut out for his job. I really do think I'm a fair and diplomatic person, and believe me, even if it doesn't come across in my blog, I always try hard to see all sides of an argument. Ask Glen. It annoys him when he comes home from work with a story about an office mishap, and I try to find ways to show him that the perp probably didn't mean it, or else he's misreading the situation. But, I've given the problems of Trenton a lot of thought, and when I think about Paul Messina in the very important role of police captain in our tough — but hopefully salvageable — city, it simply doesn't make sense. Director Santiago, I appeal to you directly: I implore you to stand back and look at this without any emotion. You have a guy who has fallen asleep twice on the job, that we know of. Our neighbors in Bordentown fire their officers for that. This same man dresses down his subordinates; you can turn to any management book, and you'll see this is a bad thing. And now, he's accused of making sexist comments, to boot. People anywhere else in the country — corporate, public service, whatever — get fired for much less. Please try to see how your continued support of this man is viewed, not only by the people for whom you are working, but by the outside, as well.
[10/5/07 UPDATE: Rumor has it that city officials have apologized to Zac Chester. Can someone confirm or deny? I hope it's true. –blogger's note]

I can easily think of at least five more apologies I'd like to see, in my Perfect Trenton, but I just wanted to suggest a couple no-brainer apologies to get the ball of healing rolling. Just imagine the relief among our population just to hear those three simple apologies. Imagine the weight lifted. Imagine what else we might accomplish once we repair some of the damage. I read an article recently about the abortion debate: instead of fighting each other so ruthlessly, people on both sides of the argument are working together to improve common ground interests, like teen pregnancy prevention. I figure if people on both sides of the abortion issue are able to bridge a bit of the gap, we should be able to do the same here in Trenton. Right?
Anyway, if those apologies aren't forthcoming, our differences will continue to tear us apart, and Trenton will find itself in a unique situation in this country. There are so many things here that you simply do not see elsewhere. The reason why captsleepy.com gets so many hits, as well as the You Tube video of him sleeping, is simply because it doesn't happen often anywhere else, and if it does, the officer is fired. Only in Trenton can we find a city official threatening to sue a citizen for a lame-ass reason, and he doesn't even receive a reprimand from the Mayor. And while residency issues come up in various places in this country, they are debated, discussed, and legislated. Here, we have a mayor who doesn't even live in Trenton, and he quietly slipped away without even mentioning it. Here, we have an administration openly hostile to concerned citizens, even though the real enemies are poverty, crime, and addiction. Oh, and lack of enforcement.

I started out talking about the BBC news because it's comprehensive and well-done. Like my apology scenarios, I know it's pure fantasy to think they'd ever open a Trenton Bureau, but it's still fun to think about. They could set up shop here at least long enough to produce a mini-series on the state of affairs in Trenton. There are so many things in Trenton that simply should not be, and there's no good reason; and those things just don't happen with any kind of frequency anywhere else in the world. I think the world would be interested: the number of hits on the sleeping captain video is evidence of that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Hey Hillary, Look at Me!

I imagine if you caught Doug right as he was getting out of bed, stretching his arms and legs, fixing to head to the bathroom and then downstairs for a cup of coffee, and you asked him, "Where are you the mayor?" he'd have to give it some thought. I envision his brow crinkling in thought, and his index finger rising to his cheek, and he'd say, "Ask me again after I've had my first cup of coffee, okay?"

There are some days, too, I imagine, he's wide awake, and maybe even at his desk in the mayor's office, and he doesn't know where he is (or care). How else can we explain his Trenton Green Initiative?

But I should back up.
I like the environment, and I do think global warming is a real, significant problem. My Canadian husband agrees. Over the weekend — the last couple of days of September, which are clearly autumnal days — I heard him say, "Fuck this global warming shit." Repeatedly. So if there's any way to lower the global temperature, even by just a few tiny degrees, it will make Glen happier, which in turn, will make me happier.

I don't mean to make light of global warming, either. Glen's problem with the heat aside, it's too hot, all the time, anymore, and we're ruining the planet. I know that this is supposedly debatable, and some very intelligent people, even scientists in NASA, don't agree. I just want to establish, for the record, that like Mayor Palmer, I believe global warming is an "issue that confronts us."

So, I think the Initiative MIGHT be a good thing, and I'm heartened to see that the city will be working with a diverse group of people with different areas of expertise. But unlike the mayor, I live in Trenton. I live on a fairly busy corner in the east ward: there is A LOT of traffic on these streets, and people are allowed to double-park, idle in their cars for hours, ride around on off-road vehicles, litter into the sewer drains, spit on the ground, urinate more or less wherever they want, dump their car's garbage all over the streets, toss their ruined tires in our alleys, and allow their used oil to flow wherever it may flow. With impunity.

I know part of the initiative will target businesses, and maybe the schools, and that's all fine and good. But I read in today's Times, that the group plans to expand the energy audits to residential properties (volunarily), and that's where things stop making perfectly clear sense.

I'm not saying every single resident in the city of Trenton double-parks, or idles for hours, or litters, or rides around on dirtbikes, or spits on the ground, or urinates all over the place, or dumps their car's garbage all over the street, or tosses their ruined tires, or dumps their car's oil willy-nilly. But there is obvious evidence all over our city that these practices are far more common here than they are elsewhere. And I am saying that every single person who does any or all of those things knows exactly what he or she is doing. Everyone who does it knows that it should not be done. Again, we have an enforcement issue. Maybe if the city started enforcing its perfectly good environmentally-friendly legislation, we wouldn't need new initiatives. OR, those initiatives could focus primarily on businesses and institutions in the city, which certainly could use the helping hand. And there are a lot of messy, potentially polluted, and outright contaminated sites, abandoned, around this city that could use some attention, too. But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself: maybe these things will be examined in our new Green Initiative?

Enforcement always seems to be a keyword here, and it is easy for me to sit here in front of my computer and complain about the lack of enforcement here, but I'll be honest: no judgment, no criticisms -- why is enforcement so relaxed here? What's the problem? Is it a bad word? Even if I don't understand why our laws are not enforced, and would like to, we need to figure out a way to just friggin' start enforcing the rules, instead of making new ones that won't get enforced either.

I hate the analogy of the people as children and government as parent, but we, as humans, have these sorts of relationships in every area of our lives: leader-citizen, parent-child, teacher-student, doctor-patient, priest-parishioner, boss-employee. We have leaders, parents, parents, doctors, ministers, and bosses to represent us, to look out for us, to offer guidelines. And to enforce society's rules.

In the parent-child model, enforcement often is proof of love, proof of involvement, proof of commitment. The kid may resent some of the rules, but she eventually grows into an adult who functions well in society and knows right from wrong, and chooses to do right. When an elected leader -- someone we believed in, chose to represent us -- stops enforcing the existing rules, it sends a very clear message: "I do not care about you enough to encourage you to do the right thing."

That is at the core of nearly all of the problems that plague us in the city, as a society. At home, kids don't feel care for or loved, so they join gangs. But society as a whole writes off gang members, and doesn't (or can't) work hard enough to offer viable, attractive alternatives. And importantly, certainly people outside the cities don't care at all. These kids, because of their family lives, feel unwanted and worthless; because of the lack of enforcement in the street, that message is reinforced: society doesn't care either. And so they kill each other. Because they don't matter, even to themselves.

That's heartbreaking. But, all of society's ills cannot be blamed on elected officials, though elected officials are in a position to really affect positive change, simply by enforcing the laws on the books. Government enforces the rules, and it sends a clear message to everyone: "We care about this neighborhood, about you." Even if the crack moms and drug dealers and gang members continue to create dysfunctional families, they will learn, at least, they can't be so blatant; the children of these people will see and interact with people who do care about them, and maybe that will make the difference.

So, I'm not saying we need to abandon Doug's Global Warming Educational Campaign here in the hood, especially since I haven't read the fine print. I'm sure (right?) the people behind this are tweaking the initiative to suit the city (right??). PSE&G is working with the city to audit heating and air-conditioning systems, and hopes offer greener services to the city's residents. We have, according to some reports, more than 20% of our population living below the poverty line. According to wikipedia.org, the per capita income here is just above $14,500. So even the people living above the poverty line likely do not have much disposable income. I mention this because while I love the environment, the citizens of Trenton need to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer, even if it means doing so with their inefficient heating and cooling systems. Maybe there will be grant money available, and maybe many people will take advantage of it.

Still, Doug's enthusiasm for this initiative is suspicious, especially with so many other environmental and societal woes affecting this city that could be addressed properly with existing legislation. His enthusiasm does not say (to me), "I'm committed to the people of this city and will do whatever it takes to make the lives of the citizens of Trenton better." It says, "Hey Hillary, look at me!"

Monday, October 1, 2007

Happy Anniversary, Glen

We received tickets to see Random Horrible Thoughts About Love this weekend, four short playlets by David L. White, performed at the Mill Hill Playhouse. Glen and I went Sunday night, in celebration of our first wedding anniversary; Sunday was actually the day after our anniversary. But Saturday we were committed to visit with my parents, who were up from Chicken Shit, Maryland (read more about Chicken Shit, Maryland, in this post), and visiting with my sisters in Farmingdale (since, in general, my folks do not come to Trenton. Hi Mom! Hi Dad!).

Glen was a great sport, considering the family visit, like many family visits (no Mom, not just OUR family), can turn disastrous without much effort. But it was a nice visit, with some great food (chicken, and shrimp, and zucchini, and mushrooms, and really good cake from one of the local bakeries). No one left in a fit, either. Bonus! One niece and one nephew are very interested in my fancy camera, and everyone thinks I'm nuts for letting them use it, but I trust them, I really do. The last few times we've seen each other, they've been curious about long exposures, but they call those sorts of pictures the "on purpose blurry ones with not blurry parts," since their preferred long exposure style is with them sitting perfectly still, with a subject wagging a finger, or a tongue, and just having that one body part out of focus.

My brother-in-law Rich, lit up the chiminea/fire cage and we figured the light from the fire would make for great available light for our long exposures. My nephew, Aaron, 6, was very eager to see his picture, and immediately after hitting the shutter button, he'd quickly turn the camera down to see the image on the screen on the back of the camera; the whole time, the shutter was open. So he took some interesting pictures, anyway, even if he wasn't pleased with the results. In the one below, you can see faint images of Rich, my sister Jenny, and their youngest daughter, Emma.

My niece, Megan, 10, grew unimpressed with the whole nighttime available light business and quickly resorted to using the flash. Her father, Rich, was none too pleased with getting pounded by the flash, which, on that camera, is quite powerful.

After everyone was blinded, we went inside and watched a bit of the Yankees game, and then Glen and I headed home.

Anyway, back to Random Horrible Thoughts About Love. We went on Sunday, and it was very good, if not the most appropriate show for a first wedding anniversary, but then again, none of the weekend's activities were really the most appropriate for a first wedding anniversary. At least we were going out, alone, together. To the theater. Much to my shame, I haven't been to the Mill Hill Theater in a number of years; Glen had never been. If you haven't either, check it out: it's an intimate venue, with some great shows. We hope to attend more performances during this season.

Afterward, we debated where to eat. Ah, choices. We have too many, even in Trenton, with restaurants bailing out on us at record speed. We felt Amici's was appropriate for our anniversary, and started to head that way, but remembered my uncle and aunt will be visiting from the midwest in a few days* and we'll be taking them there very soon.** We really wanted fried chicken and mashed potatoes and biscuits, but knew that was completely unsuitable for a wedding anniversary dinner. So we opted for Chinese food, instead. And while it's nice to support city businesses, we are partial to a yummy Chinese sit-down in Yardville, Sun Lok Garden, so that's where we headed. And it was a nice way to wrap up a not-so-normal wedding anniversary weekend.


* My aunt and uncle spent many, many years in Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska. In honor of their visit, I hope to do another blog comparison between that capital city, and our own. They recently moved to Lawrence, Kansas, to be near my cousin, their only daughter. I went to Lawrence earlier this year, and believe the hype: it is an awesome, awesome city, even though it's not the capital of Kansas. I have no idea how a near-complete write-off of a state like Kansas*** wound up with a place as cool as Lawrence, and I have no idea why a righteous state like New Jersey wound up with places with as much potential as Lawrence, but wind up falling flat.

** It pained us to put off our Amici's visit until later in the week, because at the rate Trenton is going, Amici's could up and leave any minute. Seriously. What if, god forbid, it was our decision to wait to go to Amici's until later in the week that caused them to pull the plug? Please forgive us, in advance, if necessary.

*** I'm sure that it goes against all literary protocol to add a footnote to a footnote, but whatever. This is a blog, and it's my blog, and I can do that, if I want. I want to apologize to Kansas, which really isn't a near-complete write off of a state. But it's not nearly as cool as New Jersey, either.