Thursday, January 31, 2008

Katie

Katie's stepping stone, made by Auntie Brenda

At the end of the summer 2006, I discovered — shockingly — I was pregnant, and when I went in for a check-up, was horrified to discover how far along I was (nearly done with the first trimester). I had no symptoms at all. None. Not to be indiscreet, but I got what I thought was my period for a few months; I mention this because I wouldn't want you to think that I was THAT stupid. My body tricked me.

I'm not proud of this now, but prior to the pregnancy, I often wondered why intelligent people couldn't just be satisfied with leaving legacies with their talents, rather than their biology; the drive to have children made no sense to me.

I was 37 years old, using birth control, and was arrogantly childfree-by-choice. So, I was utterly jarred by the predicament, and spent about a week staring at the wall and weeping. But one day during that phase, Glen came home with a teeny pair of hockey skates and announced that no matter what, his kid was gonna play hockey.

When he did that, my attitude shifted, and I realized that we could — specifically I could — do this. We weren't married at the time, but were in a long-term, loving relationship; we had a decent home, decent cars, and lots of wonderful pets: a perfect environment for a kid. Hormones — much maligned hormones — probably helped a bit too. I suppose some people behave badly under the influence of hormones, and that's too bad: they are merely fuel for human life, just like food, or information, or love, and they helped me bond with my baby, though I think that would have happened anyway, since we were sharing the same space. The fact that everyone we knew was so happy for us really helped, too. We grew pleased to have had the wrench thrown in our "who needs kids?" plans. We were part of something special.

Our home is a fixer-upper and it's a long way from being done, so as we approached my due date in January last year, we decided to make the whole house baby-ready, with cribs, and bassinets, and pack-n-plays in almost every room; blankets and diapers and wipes were tucked into the corners for convenience. We developed opinions on diapers, and breast-feeding, and circumcision, and even though almost every baby shower I have ever been to has left me feeling yucky, I had my own. I even wore the stupid hat made out of bows. Maybe I sold out, maybe I caved in; or maybe I was just getting ready for motherhood. Sometimes the paths we don't choose for ourselves are the most remarkable ones.

I went into labor in the early morning hours of January 31, 2007, and we were giddy with excitement, knowing that this was the day our whole lives would change. But when my midwife arrived, she couldn't find a heartbeat. I figured there was no reason for my midwife to not be able to find a heartbeat, when she was always able to intuitively plunk her fetal steth on exactly the right spot of my belly, so I assumed her steth had just broken, right then. We went to the hospital, where I assumed the more high-tech equipment would hear our little one, and everything would be fine. But, no. It didn't happen that way. There was no segue. No transition. The baby who was so active just the night before, was no longer alive. It made no sense, even to me, and I lived through it.

Catherine was born at 4:21 that afternoon. Since I was in labor when I found out she had died, it was not possible for my brain to process the information. Labor and delivery are tough stuff, and after ALL of that work, I expected to hear her cry, but instead, I heard the wails of my husband and sister, and the weeping of the midwives and nurses. That is the moment, suspended like a photograph, that does not ever go away. Our lives did change that day, but certainly not in the way we expected.

Her umbilical cord was pinched tightly under her arm, and that is the suspected cause of death: her lifeline got cut off. She was beautiful, and perfect, and fit so well in my arms.

It has been a very, very hard year; and I spent nearly half of it in shock, and grappling with tremendous guilt: I felt, because of my attitude prior to getting pregnant, and the resentment I had when I discovered the pregnancy, I was being punished by the universe. I was the only one in direct contact with her, after all. It was something I did. We are pretty sure we know HOW Catherine died, but not WHY, and I was convinced that my personality defects and spiritual deficiencies were ultimately at the core of the WHY. It took a long time, and so much hard work, but I've more or less come to the conclusion that each of us is on our own journey, and no one else can know the details of anyone else's journey, not even the mother of the baby growing so well inside her. Even though we will always wonder WHY this happened to us, we have come to accept (not happily) that there are mysteries in this universe, and why Catherine died is one of them. We humans are just not meant to understand everything, even though it's in our nature to want that understanding.

I emerged from my deep fog around August of 2007. I had been participating in a support group, and listened to a lot stories about how other women had to get back to work, and how some of their coworkers were so compassionate, and others, not so much. I got it in my head that they were somehow getting stronger for having to deal with other people, even the insensitive ones. I was convinced that their work projects must be giving their minds and hearts a rest from grieving. I work from home, and my main client cut more than half my workload in March, two months after Catherine's death (cutbacks, they said; bad karma, I think). I had a little bit of work to keep my mind occupied, but not enough. I started the blog as a way to reconnect with my community in a safe, but meaningful, way, and also, to prove that I could successfully write about issues other than infant death and heartbreak. But today, Catherine would have been one year old. And she is my motivation for this online journal, and she changed my whole life; so, she needs to be acknowledged here.

Glen and I asked our family members and a few close friends to contribute an artistic item for a memorial for our daughter, and were moved by the outpouring of love that came our way. I photographed and/or scanned each item and arranged everything just so, and had it all printed for everyone who participated; the group memorial was mailed out a few days ago in the hopes they would arrive today, or just before. In this last year, I have met a few too many people who feel entitled to behave badly because of their loss, and I suppose, for me, the memorial proves that the beautiful and remarkable can come to be because of tragedy. We are entitled to our dark feelings, but should not exist only in those dark places; we need to remember just how precious and tentative our own lives are. Also, I know there are people who have been through some kind of gut-wrenching loss, like we have — our story is not as uncommon as you might think — and I'm hoping that those people might find Catherine's story here and feel less freakish, less isolated. Finally, I desperately want people to know how one wee being has touched so many lives, especially my own. A broken heart is an open one. So the memorial we printed and mailed is available online, and I would be honored if you would take a bit of quiet time with me today, so we can hold Catherine in the ways that we can.

I made three separate pages, all linking back to one another, so feel free to start anywhere you'd like, but if you would, please check out all the links.

Remembering Katie
More information
The Group Memorial Project

Thank you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Special Breeding

WARNING: a multitude of expletives below. Only some of it is of my own doing. The rest is quoted material.

NOTE: I know there's a lot of juicy stuff going on in Trenton right now, some really mind-boggling idiotic, blog-worthy stuff, stuff that just doesn't happen anywhere else: a Mayor Gone Wild; a number of high-ranking officials blatantly breaking the law; a completely irrelevant school board voting against the will of the people, and for something they ultimately have no say over anyway, since the state has a long history of hosing the Trenton school system; and a terrible crime spree this weekend. But here's a little personal story, for fun.

Glen came home from work on Friday and said, "You know, I was bored at work, so I googled 'liger' and they're real."

"No they're not," I said, thinking about the movie, Napoleon Dynamite, in which the main character, Napoleon, proclaimed that the liger, a cross between a lion and a tiger, was "pretty much" his "favorite animal."

Napoleon Dynamite's "Liger"

"Yeah, they are. I saw it on Wikipedia."

Instant credibility. Glen evoked the name of the great online encyclopedia, and so, I believed him. Though I had to check it out for myself. I won't bore you with all of the details of the liger, except for a couple of quick notes: a Liger, as Napoleon says, is the offspring of a lion and a tiger, specifically a male lion and a female tiger. Napoleon's drawing is supposedly closer to that of a Tigon, the offspring of a male tiger and a female lion. And it turns out there are a number of interspecies hybrids in the animal kingdom — a lot of which are in the cat family. Cheetahs can mate with leopards, and they both can mate with lions and tigers too, although all of this inter-cat sex stuff generally does not occur naturally, but rather, at the hands of meddling humans. Stupid, stupid humans.

But I kept reading, despite the fact that it pisses me off that humans meddle too much with animal breeding, and because the world — particularly my neighborhood — already has way too many cats that were originally bred into being at the hands of humans, and are now fucked. I kept reading because there's something about genetics that appeal to my geeky side, which is pretty much my whole being.

So. Let's back up a bit. Last February, nearly a year ago now, my sister Karen was moving from her house, and staying temporarily with my other sister, Jenny. Karen had a cat, Brodeur, named by her son, Eric, for the New Jersey Devils goal tender, Martin Brodeur, not so much because Brodeur the cat looks like Brodeur the goalie (in fact they have no physical traits in common, except that they are both mammals), but simply because my then 5-year-old nephew just loves the goalie so much, he wanted to name his cat after him. However, Jenny and several of her children have cat allergies. So Glen and I were keeping Brodeur, then maybe about 8 months old, temporarily, until Karen found a new place to live, which, we were assured, would be soon.

"Soon" is a funny measurement of time, though, isn't it? Especially when one is cat-sitting someone else's cat without defined time parameters. A month quickly became three, which quickly became six, which became nearly a year without much effort. And Brodeur is smitten with me, though not as unnaturally as Platooski is with Glen, and enjoys his kitty friends, and has carved out a happy little life for himself here on our little corner in The Hood. And it doesn't look like Brodeur is moving out any time soon, partially because Karen is not permitted to have a cat in her new place, and her son, Eric, may or may not be allergic, but also because it would simply be wrong to pull Brodeur away from what he certainly views as his home and his pals.

Brodeur, the cat

There is a hitch. Glen kind of, well, completely hates Brodeur. Brodeur has been a challenge, to be fair. He is young; now, only about a year-and-a-half old. He is full of energy, and bizarre quirks — more bizarre than average cat quirks. He's got a funny, complaining squeal, rather than a meow. And he is huge. He is simply the hugest domestic cat I have ever seen in my life, without being fat. He is long, and muscular, and I would guess about 20 pounds, though Glen is saying maybe only 15-17 pounds. I don't know really. But he's still young. He plays fetch with us, usually entirely too early in the morning: he'll bring us a rubber band, or a little mouse toy, and deposit it at our feet, much like a dog would. We throw it, he brings it back. We throw it, Brodeur brings it back. If we grow tired of "Six A.M. Fetch," he sits at the end of the bed, and makes that weird complaining squeal sound, like a spoiled, whining kid, until one of us throws the toy down the stairs, hoping that it winds up some place where the damn cat can't find it.

And then there's this whole weird water thing. He will bat the contents of his water bowl out of the dish, and onto the floor. With obsessive-compulsive drive and meticulousness. If there's a food dish near the water bowl, with food it in, he displaces the water from the waterbowl, and adds just enough water to his dry food to make a gravy. Pretty smart, but totally outside the norm. Glen left for work one day last week, and it must have been an uneventful-in-an-animal-sense morning (they aren't always, and we're all in for a world of pain if Glen encounters any animal unpleasantness or shenanigans, particularly in the morning). I got up a short time later, and there was a crime scene in water, strewn about the kitchen. I have never seen anything like it. Splatter, cast off, and puddles; the perp, nowhere to be seen. I cleaned it up, and went on my merry way, not saying peep about the incident to Glen, since we instituted the "need-to-know" policy around here regarding the animals last year.

Brodeur also sits atop the fishtank*, and in the one very small opening in the back of the lid, will get his arm into the tank, up to his shoulder, swatting blindly for fish, but usually hooking one of the plants, and pulling it out of that small hole, victoriously. We chase after visitors to close the toilet lid, and the bathroom door, just in case. And like other cats I've known, he will drink from your water glass if you leave it low enough, and unattended. Except, after awhile, he will try to bury the glass, with, I guess, fake and/or invisible dirt. I don't know.

There's more to the water thing. After he has sufficiently soaked his legs and his underbelly in one of the vessels of water in our home, Brodeur will find his way to the nearest glassy or enamel vertical surface, and frantically — as if being pursued — make an ineffective wacko digging/wiping motion against it. He never extends his claws, so there's never any real damage, but he has smeared the hell out of every window in the house, the laundry machines, the fridge, the fishtank, the framed photo above the fishtank, and occasionally, one particular cabinet in the kitchen that doesn't quite close properly these days.

And there was a time recently, when we had some visitors, and Glen went to work while the visitors were still here; the visitors could not get it through their thick skulls that they had to close the lid on the toilet, so I discovered that Brodeur apparently went for a swim in the toilet, and I found him standing in the sink doing the frantic, wacko, wiping/digging thing against the mirror in the bathroom. It is senseless and insane. I put the toilet lid down, and cleaned the mess in a few minutes, and Glen was none the wiser.

Brodeur is kind of frustrating, but I am a live-and-let live sort of gal, and so, am ultimately amused with Brodeur's antics, particularly when I find him in the window doing the wacko digging/wiping thing, along the street side of the house, where there's a lot of foot traffic. It gives me a perverse thrill to think about what some of our passersby might think when they see Brodeur do his weird wipey/diggy thing in their general direction. We've found there are a lot of people superstitious about black cats, so a black cat doing a weird wipey/diggy thing against the window is great for home security. I wish I could get the other cats to do it, too!

Back to the Wikipedia entry on Ligers. I was fascinated to read that a lionness has something in her DNA that inhibits the growth of her young. The lion does not have the same inhibitor, but it doesn't really matter, because his mate does. The cubs are born at a relatively accommodating size for their mother's birth canal, and I suppose there are other beneficial environmental reasons to keeping the lion species at that particular size for its place in the world.

However, when humans meddle, and a male lion — with no growth inhibitor — mates with a tigress — also with no growth inhibitor — the result is one freakin' — and I do mean FREAKIN' — huge member of the big cat world. Ligers are BIG.

I kept reading, and found that some meddling dumb-ass in South Africa mated a domestic cat with a small(ish) native wild cat, the Serval. The Serval is an attractive, friendly-looking cat with longer-than-normal cat ears, and markings similar to that of a cheetah's, and generally doesn't grow more than 40 pounds at the most: about the size of a medium-sized dog.

The domestic cat/Serval hybrid is called a Savannah cat, and early generations of this hybrid offspring are usually marked similarly to the Serval — that is black spots against tawny. They usually don't weigh as much as one would think: they are tall and long, and give off the impression of being heavier than they actually are. They are fascinated with water, strangers, other animals; they're good at opening doors, have the occasional dog-like trait, are very affectionate and loyal, and have a much wider vocal range than an average domestic cat. Sometimes, depending on the domestic cat parent's looks, the Savannah can be black, though it usually happens in later generations.

"Huh," I said. "Hey Glen, read this. I think Brodeur might be some wacky domestic-wild cat hybrid."

Glen read the Wikipedia entry and then found a page for Savannah breeders and came to the same conclusion: Brodeur might be a Savannah, at least in part.

We went to bed, and Brodeur, as he is inclined to do, jumped up, and plopped down between us, stretching his long body from our heads to about our knees. He rested his little head on Glen's pillow — which is rare — and looked lovingly into Glen's eyes. What a perfect moment in the universe, because Glen had just read the business about the Serval/Savannah cats, and was impressed by Brodeur's potential special background. Glen scratched Brodeur's head tenderly, perhaps for the first time in nearly a year, and then said to me: "You think we could get some money for this fucker? I read that Savannah breeders charge a fortune. He's not that old. You think your sister would mind?"

I ignored him, and we all went to sleep.

The next morning, around 8 a.m. (a bit later than usual) Brodeur appeared at our feet, with a rubber band in his mouth. I shot it into the hallway for him, and he brought it back. I shot it into the hallway, and he brought it back. I shot it into the hallway, and Glen said, "Why does that fucker play fetch? Fuck!" Brodeur brought it back. I shot it into the hallway, and Angus pounced on Brodeur and we had a little bit of peace while they ran around downstairs.

I reminded Glen that Brodeur was a special Savannah cat, and Glen said, "Oh yeah. That's kind cool. It explains everything." Glen likes having a one-of-a-kind item, even when it's a huge, mentally deranged black cat who likes to wipe/dig with his wet paws against our cool vertical surfaces.

Brodeur came back a short time later with some other piece of stringy something he dug out of somewhere, and deposited it near Glen. Glen reached for it, and then went to pet Brodeur and said, "THE ASSHOLE IS ALL WET. GET THE FUCK OF THE BED, ASSHOLE!!" And then: thud.

Glen was wide awake at this point, and said, "I'll go put the coffee on," and I stayed under the covers, wondering why Brodeur was wet, and what Glen would discover downstairs. I hoped it would be minor. As I was thinking of all of the probable scenarios, my pondering was interrupted by the very angry, booming voice of Glen:

"THAT FUCKING COCKSUCKER PRACTICALLY EMPTIED THE FUCKING WATER BOWL! FUCK THAT STUPID FUCKER, WHY THE FUCK DOES HE DO IT?! WHERE IS THAT DICKWEED? I AM GOING TO KILL HIM!!!! YOU GOTTA COME DOWN TO SEE THIS, IT'S WORSE THAN EVER."

It's wrong to find your spouse's anger amusing, but sometimes, there's no other choice. It's just water, for crying out loud, and the cat is "special," and I see it several times a week, anyway, after Glen leaves for work. But the "WORSE THAN EVER" caught my ears, so I got right up. Glen was right, it was really bad. Maybe not quite as bad as the crime scene mess I found earlier in the week, which Glen didn't know about, but Saturday's mess was certainly a different kind of bad. The water bowl was in its usual spot, only mostly empty. A good part of the floor was dry, perfectly dry, in fact, but about 3 feet away from the bowl, was a massive puddle of water. I thought at first maybe it was a bodily fluid, but that wasn't the case. It was water from the water bowl. Glen raged against Brodeur, while we both wondered how on earth he did it. We still don't know.

I went to clean it up, but Glen stopped me: "NO, NO, NO!! I'LL CLEAN IT UP. BUT IF I FIND THAT FUCKNUT, I'M GONNA KILL HIM."

"But he's a special Savannah cat, remember?" I said.

"I DON'T CARE. HE'S A FUCKFACE!"

We ate breakfast and then retired to the living room to finish our coffee. And while we were in there, Brodeur went to work on the water bowl again, and other than the location and shape of the puddle, the rest of the events were an exact repeat of the expletive-ridden freak-out that had taken place not an hour earlier.

After that, Glen went to the basement, to inspect his new, giant funnel, and after awhile, he came back up, and found the water all over the floor again. Glen lost his mind like never before, but there is no way to properly convey that level of anger, except to say, just reread the stuff in ALL CAPS above, but imagine it louder, Glen's face more red, a man closer to the edge of insanity. He decided, hastily (and temporarily) that we would no longer provide water for the cats, ever, and how wrong it was to punish the others for the actions of one, but it had to be done, and now was the time. To make matters worse after the third water bowl freak-fest, Brodeur tracked wet little cat prints ALL over the floor in the kitchen, dining room, hallway, living room, and even on the bathroom door, while he (obviously) played with the door handle a bit. I even saw paw prints over by the fishtank, and on the wall facing the street, but I just stopped tracking him at that point, because as much as he can be a pain in the ass, I don't want him dead at Glen's hands. All of the Glen's Savannah cat love is gone, to say the least. He's not interested in selling Brodeur for quick cash anymore, or, god forbid, even holding him in that special place because of his unique breeding. He wants Brodeur dead.

If stupid Brodeur would just learn to wait until Glen isn't around, I won't snitch on him, but he doesn't get it. Oi.

Brodeur is a fine example of why we humans should leave well enough alone. And as much as I do love him, I have no idea why anyone would deliberately buy and/or breed a cat like this on purpose. I mean, duh.
______________
* That damn fishtank. Glen and I bought most of the fish on Glen's birthday in 2002. Since then, I have struggled somewhat with the ethics involved with fish hobby, but since we had the tank, with a thriving pack of fish, it was an ethical dilemma for another time, namely, after all of our fish found their ways to fish heaven. We bought this house in 2004, and in the summer before the move, we had a bit of natural attrition in the tank, and I found myself kinda-sorta hoping that we wouldn't have to move the tank. If you know what I mean. The passing of the couple of fish that summer was a fluke, and was the last die-off we've had in awhile; the fishtank, obviously, came with us. We had a problem with my very over-the-top, high-end filter, which I refused to replace, on principle, and so, we just went filterless for awhile. I struggled with that, because I knew that we were no longer providing an optimal environment for the fish. Fellow blogger, Miss Karen came by for dinner one night during this filterless spell last fall, and the fish were their usual, happy selves, and Miss Karen dubbed the fish the "Magical Fish" because they just don't die, even despite living in a house with cats, and people who would choose not to have a tank, if they could, and in fact, didn't do much to create a good happy home. I felt badly, and the next day, Glen fixed the filter. It still gets wonky sometimes, but it's chuggin' along, and the fish, now six damn years old, are doing better than ever.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Letter to the Trenton Board of Education

I sent this via email last night:

Dear Members of Trenton's Board of Education, Superintendent Lofton, and Members of City Council,

I am an East Ward resident, living on the corner of [deleted for blog post] and
[deleted for blog post] avenues, about a block from the Hedgepeth-Williams School, and three blocks from Trenton Central High. I'm not an official member of any civic group here in Trenton, but in my four years on this corner, I have seen (and heard) thousands of Trenton school children pass my house. From here, I can see the decay in our school buildings – as clearly as I can see the heartbreaking stories on the faces of our city's children.

There's been a tendency in recent weeks to assume that those who would like to see the schools renovated can't possibly care about the school kids, but that isn't the case. The high school should have never been allowed to fall into that kind of disrepair; it has sent an inhospitable message to our already troubled children that there will be no refuge for even a few precious hours a day while at school, and that's just tragic.

So, there's some overlap, certainly, but we have two distinct problems: we have a crumbling building, and a very troubled society. Fixing one problem (the school) by either renovating or building new may have some positive effects on the other (the kids), but a building alone cannot remedy our society's ills.

Since, as far as I'm aware, Trenton does not have a site for a new building, the funding, priority on the SDA's list, or the ability to maintain a new building, and since we have an historic, handsome building, standing as a proud icon in my neighborhood, we need, as a community, to figure out a way to fix that building, and maintain it, so it can continue to serve our children. Any modern building will not be built with the same magnificence, or careful attention to detail, and certainly will be not standing in 75 years. We – all of us in Trenton – have needed the use of band-aids and short-term remedies because of our wounds are so many, so deep. But there comes a time when we need to take a further look down the road; we need to be responsible to future generations of schoolchildren, as well as their families, and we can do that by fixing the existing school.

And while we're working on fixing the existing high school, we can work together to help try to fix, or at least sooth, some of our society's ills. Poverty, crime, and neglect will not go away with a new structure, and they won't go away with a renovated school. They won't go away just because we're "blameless" (we're not the parents). Helping our local kids – many of whom are children of poverty and neglect – will take a lot of research, maybe some new philosophies, a bit of time, and a lot more work – more work than it will take to renovate the existing school, or build a new one. But we can make a difference, as a community. I'm sure of it. I personally, would like to take some steps to help reach that goal, and in the next few days will look for different ways to get more involved with the kids in this city. If you have ideas for specific areas where I can be of service, please let me know; my contact information is below.

We have learned, as humans, that when we lose our iconic buildings – think of Sarajevo in the 1990s, and the World Trade Center in 2001 – we mourn the loss of the buildings, not as much as we mourn for the people who died in those places, certainly. But those buildings represent so much of humanity's greatness, of what we can accomplish, and the empty footprints left behind are a throbbing, aching reminder of what was, and what could have been. In the case of TCHS, we run the risk of losing it to neglect or demolition, rather than to war or terrorism, but the effects on this community here in the East Ward, will be devastating, nonetheless.

But all is not lost. We have some complicated problems on our hands, but just as we are able to erect splendid buildings, we have the same ability to promote healing. We need to fix that handsome building – an attainable goal – while we continue working on the deeper, more troublesome issues of our wounded city to give these kids a better chance in life.

Respectfully yours,
Christine Ott
[address and phone number deleted for blog post]
Trenton, NJ 08629

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

School Board Schmozzle

Glen and I went to the Board of Education meeting last night, just to listen to the discussion. Now, even after an evening and a morning to digest what happened, I'm still kind of confused. On one hand, it seems as if the board and the district have been hosed repeatedly by the state — in that a good deal of funding for our projects has dried up, and Trenton has been moved WAY down on the state's list of priority school districts — and I didn't get the impression the hosings would end any time soon. After hearing about all of that, it's hard to just point the finger at them and call them stupid.

On the other hand, the crowd — of nearly 100! Sweet! and all sorts of press! — was told several times at the beginning of the meeting that "nobody ever said we were going to demolish the existing high school," and I'm sorry, but that just sounded like bullshit to me. Even if the existing school doesn't get demolished, what the heck is going to happen to it if it's abandoned? Certainly, it will be allowed to fall further into disrepair until it crumbles -- like so much else in this city. And then, it will probably be razed once and for all.

I also got the distinct impression that the superintendent and several board members were either pissed, or at least uncomfortable, with the number of warm bodies in the room. And when Board Member Lisa Kasenbach suggested that members of the community be invited to participate in discussions, in a formal committee setting, she got the smack-down rather severely. To be fair, this was my first meeting, and maybe Ms. Kasabach is the thorn in the board's collective side, and maybe her colleagues had had enough. But, she seemed reasonable to me, though I did understand Board President Joyce Kersey's point, too: there are (supposedly) committees and rules and structure in place, and there's no need at this point to start from scratch.

But the fact that Ms. Kasabach was shut down so sternly and the meeting promptly adjourned — without public comment — shows that this particular body does not feel in any way obligated to serve the community. They were appointed by the mayor, not elected by the public, so their "so screw the public" message was loud and clear. And the stunning display of disrespect of the board members toward one another was uncomfortable and embarrassing. What a shame. The public gets screwed repeatedly by the powers-that-be in this city (what timing with the KHov/Champale story, huh?).

Anyway, the board — I think?? — will vote on a course of action next week as to whether to renovate or build new. Either way, I'm left wondering about the quality of the education. Will it suddenly improve with new or renovated facilities?

_________________
Note: I was talking to Glen about the size of the crowd after the meeting, and he suggested that there's some kind of inverse relationship between politics and sports and the size of the crowd. When your team is winning, the crowd grows, and everyone buys the hats and jerseys and so forth. When your team is sucking, no one wants anything to do with it. When your political group is doing okay, citizens tend to back off and just allow the group to do its job. Once too much shit begins to happen, citizens start showing up. Right or wrong, it's the way it is, and the politicians don't have to like it. But they ARE supposed to serve us, to work with us, and not hold us in contempt, no matter what.

The Wednesday Make-Good
for the Sunday Funny 1/23/08

Monday, January 21, 2008

I'm a packrat
and am probably going to hell, too

I swear I was paying attention in my college classes, but I also spent a good portion of each lecture each week doodling loads pictures of one classmate per class, per semester. A character study, of sorts. Now, I have no formal fine art training; most of the stuff I do is either computerized or involves a pile of junk and some adhesives and a lot of luck. I do think despite this lack of artistic education, I have a knack for capturing a person's essence, or, I suppose, annoying qualities. So, in one particular class in college, I filled my notebook with doodles of a guy I'll call Ken, who drove not just me, but everyfuckingone else out of their minds. He asked tons of questions — stupid, annoying questions that took too damn long to answer, when he should have stayed after class to get some extra guidance — and brought in presents for the teachers, and had a stupid annoying grin. He completely dominated the conversation, the teacher's time, and we were often late getting out of class because of him. I enjoyed the class, and very much admired the teacher, so Ken made me so insane that I drew more pictures of him than anyone else during my years in school. And they were such awesome pictures that several of my classmates often asked to see my notebook.

That semester, Ken had some sort of surgery and missed about five classes. Now, I'm not lying, I WAS paying attention in class, to my teachers, but I was not a great student, by any stretch, and for all the worst reasons: I didn't exert much effort. I got by, but could have done MUCH better. Anyway, stupid annoying Ken got back from whatever medical procedure he had, and could have asked anyone else for his or her notes. I thought it was clear to everyone in the class I was maybe a C+ student, since I spent a large amount of time trying to capture Ken's most irritating poses and gestures. So, I nearly vomited when Ken asked to see my notes, since I had been particularly brutal that semester and filled that damn notebook with unflattering doodles of him. At first I thought someone put him up to it, but unless he was a very good actor, that wasn't the case.

I stammered, "Uh, well, uh, I have a class right after this one, and use the same notebook, so, uh, how about I photocopy all of my notes for you and I'll meet you tomorrow in the student center. Unless you want to check with someone else to see if you can borrow theirs?"

"Oh no!" he said, chipperly. "I'll wait for yours. See you tomorrow, okay?!" said Ken, with that stupid annoying grin.

I didn't have a class immediately following that one, and instead spent the next several hours using Wite-Out to cover up all of my glorious sketches, so Ken could catch up with the class. I was bitter. Bitter. Bitter. But I gave him my notes and he never suspected any ill-will on my part, even though I hated him more for making me undo some of my best work ever.

Glen's been spending a lot of time in the attic this weekend, sorting and tossing and cleaning. He brought down for me a box of stuff which contained a hodge-podge of all sorts of things, including several Star Trek Deep Space 9 action figures (dressed in Original Series garb, for that special episode when they went back in time and encountered the Tribbles), a whole mess of keys to forgotten and lost and changed locks; some hair ties, and a half bag of catnip, which the cats found and promptly ripped apart. Also amid all this stuff were a lot of my doodles, and other scraps of paper I have collected, and saved, and schlepped around with me for years. Not all of them are my doodles -- I have some more organization to do -- but rather, come from a variety of sources, and most of them show just what a rotten human being I am. But maybe I blog to repent. To cleanse my soul. I'm not sure.

This first image is of a boss of mine from a few years back. She was a wretched troll of a human, and I promise you, I would not mention her trolliness if her insides were not as ugly as her outsides. She was hideous, through and through. I was telling Glen about her, mostly about her character, and the wretched, wretched things she said to other people, and then it dawned on me that I had to draw her, to just help him visualize this mess. She was squat and fat, but what was most striking about her appearance is that she obviously wore a wig. It looked like Planet of the Apes meets Steel Wool after Scrubbing an Old Floor. For the love of God, if I wore a wig, I'd try to find something better; failing that, I'd wear a damn hat.



In September of 2001, I had purchased some items (okay, if you must know, some Star Trek stuff) on eBay from a dude out in America's west. I won't give the state, in the off chance he stumbles across this, but just so you know, it wasn't a coastal state, but it was pretty damn far west. Due to the anthrax scare in September 2001, or maybe just because of some ineptitude on the part of my mailman (who was a stark raving lunatic where I used to live), I never got my Star Trek stuff from the west. I contacted the seller, and he was understanding — I did live in New Jersey after all, and a lot of that anthrax stuff happened here. He resent the package, and we drummed up a friendship, and it turns out he ran a small publishing company. He printed tour guides for trails in the west, and needed a designer to put together a few books for him.

Just to establish a timeline here, Glen and I started to see each other around the time I received my Star Trek stuff. The tour book work wasn't particularly lucrative, but it was a change of pace, and not too difficult, and it was even kind of exciting to learn about the terrain out there. I didn't want to focus on it, since it seemed so egotistical, but suspected the eBay seller/tour book client may have developed a crush on me. Glen was sure of it, and developed a few nicknames for him, which I'd share, because they were funny, but unfortunately, involve the name of the guy's home state, and I just want to be a bit vague here, lest he ever track me down, so I'll call him Tour Book Guy, or TBG. TBG knew I had a boyfriend, and so, he spent a lot of time telling me his sad, sad story of how difficult it was to meet a good woman. He eventually used an online dating service, and met a hot, Russian woman. Glen and I were floored, and even though Glen disliked the guy, Glen did some research on TBG's Russian Beauty and found her on several "Watch out for these Russian women who will swindle you" sites. TBG was forever grateful to Glen, or so he said. And on his way east that spring to visit some relatives in Kentucky, he was going to "drop by" on us in New Jersey.

His casual use of "drop by" was questionable, since New Jersey is about 12 hours out of the way from Kentucky, from where TBG was coming. But we figured we were safe, since he was dumb enough to believe what the hot Russian girl wrote to him and professed her undying love, and also, because we did have a decent working relationship, and he was paying me in a timely fashion. He seemed okay, if a bit dopey.

He had never been all the way to the east coast before, so we took him into New York City, and Philadelphia, and got him some great local pizza. He was ho-hum on everything, except in one area: he was VERY critical of Glen. Glen picked out the pizza joint for dinner, one of the best pizza places near to where we lived at the time; not as good as Trenton tomato pie, but VERY good. TBG told Glen, "I've had better pizza. In fact, I've MADE better pizza."

The story of our time with TBG could go on and on, with many, many classic moments, which I do believe made my relationship with Glen stronger. It was tough getting through our weekend with TBG, but it brought us closer together.

TBG woke up early on his last day (yes, we were crazy enough to let him crash at our place), and I put the coffee on, and he said that he'd write down his pizza recipe for me. He wrote while I made breakfast, and a short time later, he was gone. The pizza recipe is awesome in that it is absolutely riddled with so many grammatical problems, but what I liked better was the utter nerve the guy had to leave it. We took him for some of the very best pizza in the world – I've been west, and pizza sucks out there (for the most part, though it's getting better) – and he had the balls to leave this joke?? If it were a recipe for, hmm, Fry Bread, or Jackalope Stew, or even Burritos, I could respect his need to leave me a recipe, but pizza? He can go scratch. You may want to print this one out and keep it with your other favorite recipes. I might bring it up to DeLorenzo's soon and see if they can make it instead of their usual pie:

Please click on this to enlarge. It is SO worth it.


Through the late 1990s and until 2002, I worked for a major food distributor in South Jersey, in the art department, where we designed not only food labels and packaging, but also an industry magazine, catalogs, flyers, ads, and other printed pieces that had to do with food. It was a family-run company, so we often created birthday cards for the owner, and fake covers showing the boss's son reeling in the big one, on the fishing magazines. Around the turn of the century, we were lucky to get a bonafide HR guy, with real background, since our company really didn't have anything like that. The company did need to modernize a bit, and the new HR guy asked our department to create some new forms for him to use with his new co-workers. They were disciplinary forms he requested, which we, in the art department, thought was hilarious, as a first project for the HR guy. I created the form, and my immediate supervisor wanted to make sure it worked properly, so she filled one out for me. It's all true:

The art department was small, but filled with very talented people, and great direction from the art director. The company was a bit of a Good Ole Boy's Club and we were expected to stay late and work on Saturdays, which kind of pissed everyone off, though sometimes we complied (or someone in the department would), but mostly we just complained about it. After all, we worked on a number of monthly deadline-oriented projects, and when needed, we pulled late- or all-nighters, so the Saturday thing seemed totally arbitrary to us (and me in particular). We were working more than our 40+ hours a week anyway, because we were a very busy department.

But every now and then, usually in the days after a series of late-nighters, and we released a job to the printer, we'd have just a few precious days of down time. Usually, we'd just clean up the pizza boxes and papers from our desks, and get organized for the next big project, but every so often, my boss, the art director, Chris, would still be filled with buzzing, creative energy. She liked to Photoshop the corporate material so that, say, a VP had long eyelashes and lusty eyes, and looked longingly at another (usually same-sex) member of upper management. She'd put the sales manager's head on everything. She'd take Dena's mouth and put it on my face, take my nose, and put it on Dena's face, and could always —ALWAYS — make it look convincing. Once, she took my face, and mapped it to some green peas in a pot pie that was the cover shot for our magazine. I found this picture in my box of goodies as well:

Click to enlarge to see the peas with my face on them, in greater detail.

While I found a ton of other stuff, I wanted to spend some time categorizing that stuff before I put my confessionals on my blog. But just one last item struck me for today: it was a little, stained, crinkly envelope flap, and on it is a quote from Charles Bukowski. As a woman, I feel I must defend my love for Charles Bukowski; as a woman, I am not supposed to even tolerate him, much less LOVE him. Somehow, I managed to encounter some of his more sensitive, tender poems before I got to stuff reflecting on the drunken, disorderly part of his life, which was, as I learned, most of his life. I still love him, especially because I ramble, and am verbose, and take forever to get to my point. His writing is so honest, so intimate, and his words are careful and beautiful and visual and economical, in that he can say so damn much in just a few words. His poems and thoughts are like photographs, capturing a moment with perfect clarity, even if that moment involves too much booze, and horse races, and casual sex.

I encountered the Bukowski quote in an unlikely place — it was in a large photo book, at the public library, in one of the non-circulating books. His words resonated with me, and so, I rooted through my bag, and ripped the flap off of an envelope that I had with me, to write down the quote. And I have been carrying around that flap since at least 1992. Crazy! I can't say that I agree with it 100% any longer, since I have learned firsthand that we can all lose way more than the universe should ever permit, but in terms of every day living, the spirit of his message is spot-on, in that we get caught up in stupid schemes and our material possessions and ridiculous routines and priorities.

Stupidity in Trenton

If you're reading this blog, there's a good chance you are at least fairly well-informed about the debate/conversation happening regarding the future of Trenton Central High School, which is THE landmark of my neighborhood here in the East Ward, and is one of the most elegant (if neglected) buildings in this city.

My blogging buddy, Old Mill Hill, also addressed this today, and I don't want to duplicate efforts, so please read his great, informational post here, about the high school. His entry today is full of contact information, and ideas on how to help, and I just want to echo his sentiment: the more of us who bitch and complain about this, the more likely we will see results in our favor.

This city cannot afford the loss of this historic 75-year-old building, in so many ways: the district will never be able to build a building as well-made as the existing one; new construction is short-sighted, and will crumble well inside 75 years, especially if the district does not find a way to get money for building maintenance. And the demolition of the existing, handsome school will leave a empty spot in the collective heart of our community for years to come; we will not be able to stand as tall; our neighborhood will be smaller in spirit.

A very large part of our problem, I think, is that the school board is simply not accountable to the community it serves. Trenton is an anomaly in that regard: most school boards are elected by the community; ours was appointed by Mayor Doug Palmer. And if he says, "do this," the board will be inclined to, whether or not his order is beneficial to the community, because the school board members owe him their jobs. I'm hoping Trenton residents will begin talking about the possibility of wrestling back control of the school board. I'm not implying that the current board members are not doing a good job, but I am certain they would do a better job if they had to answer to us, rather than the mayor.*

There is a meeting late tomorrow afternoon, at 5:30 p.m. at school board headquarters on Clinton Avenue, about the future of the high school. I'm planning to attend, and hope you will too. While it may sound infantile to keep calling the plan to demolish the school "stupid," I am going to say it again, it is a stupid plan. So, so much of what happens here in Trenton is stupid, and there is no reason for it, especially since, if any of it happened outside of Trenton, well, it wouldn't. Or it would have happened once, and then, never again. None of the townships surrounding Trenton would have tolerated Captain Sleepy's behavior — he'd be long gone. None of the townships would have permitted Police Director Santiago's blatant disregard for the ordinance governing his job description. None of the townships would allow the dumping and open-air drug dealing, and loud music we endure. And none of the townships would let a cherished landmark to be neglected — regardless of the type of state funding and limitations of the program the school district is in — and fall into disrepair, and ultimately, run the risk of getting demolished, for a new building which would not stand the test of time, would cost far more, and would not offer its community the same sense of pride. I am embarrassed by all of the stupidity in Trenton, because perpetual stupidity is just so stupid, and inexcusable. The stupid, wishy-washy, impulsive decisions happening in Trenton have to stop.

Anyway, check out Old Mill Hill's post for the nitty gritty, and go to the meeting tomorrow, and/or write to the school board, your council representative, your legislator, and, better yet, start your own blog so that more of the powers-that-be here in Trenton start to feel the pressure of their stupidity. Enough is enough.

* He too, would do a better job if he answered to us, which he is supposed to do, but apparently, has grown too big for his fancy suits. He is so cooler than us now.



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Completely unrelated to the above, except for the location (Trenton, NJ), we've been having great fun with our webcam over the last couple of days. Glen's sister, Brenda, watched us watching Glen's hockey game on Saturday night: all that buffalo sauce, and screaming, and then the eventual hard crash we both took on the couch must have been very exciting for her.

Glen, after our food fest, watching Hockey Night in Canada,
on Saturday, 1/19, before we both fell asleep on the couch.


We gave the URL to my dad, too, but he is having trouble with his browser at work, but hopefully, he'll get it going soon, and will be able look in on our world and see us, and a pile of cats, crammed into our small office today.

Allowing even just these two people — family members — access, has given me so much to think about. Maybe I should do my hair nicer, get dressed nicely? Maybe I should stop swearing so much, and clean the house more? Maybe Glen and I should talk more often about art, and philosophy, and ideas, rather than stupid annoying people who piss us off? Maybe we should eat more organic foods, rather than junk food and beer? Maybe Glen should be more inclined to wear all of his clothing at once (right now, he is shirtless, and it's live, streaming video on the web, folks!). I'm not sure if having the webcam turned on us at all times would cause us to live disingenuously, or if it would help us to evolve into better people. Right now, it seems like a good idea to have a reason to behave/dress/clean/speak/eat better, but I'm sure that will get old fast. Really fast. That damn camera is gonna point out any day now, once we know it's working properly from remote locations.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Live Webcam: WiFi in my home

Speaking of WiFi yesterday, Glen recently purchased a WiFi webcam, and he set it up tonight. While it's kinda cool, I now feel like a prisoner in my own home, and if Glen had any shame, he would too. Right now, I'm watching him open the mail. In his underwear. Oh now, Platooski, the cat, who is wild about Glen, is trying to get his attention (the amount Platooski adores Glen is unnatural and kind of creepy). This is LIVE on the WEB, folks!! I'd love to give the web address for our webcam to at least our family members, but I'm not gonna. Not until Glen and I can agree that the thing needs to point outside the house, or only comes on when we're not home.

Haters, beware! Our camera is working better than most of the copcams are reported to work (at least last we heard).



Quick update, later the same evening: Glen sat at his computer in the office, watching the kitchen (which pretty much looked like the picture above, with the cat, Platooski, periodically turning to look curiously at the camera as it panned around the room), while I wrote and posted the above. Glen bellowed while I was writing that he wanted to watch me making dinner, because he was hungry. He needed some reassurance it was coming, and not some "stupid blog post where you write bad things about me." He claims he's going to get a bunch more webcams so he can keep an eye on me from work during the week, to make sure I'm not bloggin' the day away. Oi.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

WiFi = NoGo in Lawrence

I just read in the Lawrence Ledger that Lawrence Township has put the kibosh on their dreams for town-wide wireless internet. While the article is lacking some critical details, by not delving into the reasons why the township won't be providing the service, the officials involved in Lawrence's six-month feasibility study have made their conclusions clear: WiFi is not for Lawrence.

Even though the article had me asking more questions than it answered, I noted that Lawrence studied FOR SIX MONTHS whether or not it was possible to provide WiFi to Lawrence residents. Compare that approach to what happened here in Trenton: Mayor Doug Palmer liked the idea of WiFi (but does he even know how to operate a computer?), asked for council approval, and got it. I know I'm oversimplifying a bit (except for the part about the mayor not even knowing how to use a computer), but that's basically how things work here. So, the city gave the WiFi a contract to a firm called E-Path Communications, who has an unproven track record. I'm not trying to be overly negative, but it seems that city-wide wireless access may be unattainable for years and years and years, and even when (and if) WiFi is up and running here, we gotta hope that the atmosphere in this city has changed significantly, so that:
A) average residents can afford a computer, and

B) our restaurants and coffee shops have real world hours, which might attract out-of-town guests with laptops.
To me, the possible unattainability of WiFi in Trenton isn't so much about cost, which may not even apply to our WiFi efforts at this time, it's about pride. Every few weeks the Mayor gets in the spotlight and announces some other grand dream for Trenton, which always sounds good in theory — who doesn't like the idea of a greener city, for crying out loud? — but winds up being either entirely impractical in our city because of the current state of finances, or the grand dream is just hot air streaming meaninglessly out of the mouth of Doug, whose REAL dreams are only for himself and his close buddies who might be able to help him down the road.

This sort of approach: "WiFi for Trenton!" or "We're gonna have a green city!" or whatever the catch phrase of the week is, is just demoralizing when the plans are so obviously discarded or impossible to achieve. Doug is blabbing on and on about WiFi and all the great environmentally-minded things we're gonna do in Trenton, after, of course, we raze a perfectly good high school building, and build a new one (probably for too much money, and without a care for the environment, and certainly without WiFi capabilities), even though every single person in the whole world — except Doug and the folks getting the contract to build the new high school — know that demolition the stupidest course of action ever, especially for a supposed green city, and one as financially strapped as Trenton, to boot.

There's a new deli across the street from DeLorenzo's on Hamilton Avenue, in the same neighborhood as the high school. While I try to be supportive of businesses in the city, that place flat-out scares me too much to even look at it for more than a few seconds, because there's always several thuggy looking dudes hanging out in front, and the back alley behind the place is a rat's nest waiting to happen that I just can't stand to see that kind of mess. If we're so green, why isn't this new shop forced to keep tidier? I hope the store owner takes a bit more responsibility, or the city encourages him to do so, before DeLorenzo customers decide the best pizza in the world isn't worth parking on that side of Hamilton Avenue, or on the first block of Ardmore, which ultimately causes DeLorenzo's to bail, too. This part of the East Ward can't afford another loss of an established business, especially after Michele Lorie's pulled out recently.

It just seems to me that Trenton — under the leadership of Mayor Douglas Palmer — is all about blather, mindless, pointless, embarrassing prattle, without any results. There are real, tangible, fixable things that need addressing right this very second, but we spend way too much energy and time Gettin' Dreamy with Doug. I am sick, too, of the shitty hours at the local restaurants, but even sicker, still, that the crap going on around them may drive them away once and for all. I'm tired of, and embarrassed by, the empty promises of a green city and WiFi and nearly everything else that comes out of city hall. I want some pride. I want my neighbors to have pride. And sure, that comes from within. But it also trickles down. We need more cops patrolling the streets — here's an idea, how about ON FOOT, so we stop experiencing so many muggings, and which would curtail loitering around neighborhood shops; we need Inspections to help keep lazy residents and shop owners on their toes and fastidiously tidy; we need a mayor who will listen to our concerns, not force us to file suit against him. We never asked for WiFi or a green city*, and we absolutely should not have to ask for the various departments in this city to simply do their jobs to the best of their abilities (where's their pride?). But if that's how it has to be, then I'm asking: city officials and employees, you need to get back to work. On your listening skills. On real projects. On quality of life issues. Please.

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* Again, for the record, I like green a lot, and the idea of WiFi is kind of cool. I'm not against it. But I'm not gung-ho for it, if the time invested in those things sacrifices what we need fixed — and can fix — now, before this city reaches the point of no return. A green, wireless enabled city won't mean shit if Trenton becomes a ghost town.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lewd photos from a fishing trip?

Usually, when Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer talks about the residents of Trenton, in a general sense, he does so with relative respect. He will not jeopardize our safety, our well-being, our interests, when he's giving his big grandiose speeches. But when he's pushed up against the wall, his actions clearly show, among other things, a complete disinterest and lack of concern for the hallowed residents of Trenton.

Doug claims he's concerned for our safety, which, in his opinion, is why we need Police Director Joseph Santiago at police headquarters, even more than we need reasonable taxes, or ownership of our city's resources. And Joseph Santiago is a dude who has made it clear — in action and deed — that his first priorities are definitely not inside Trenton, and definitely have nothing to do with the safety of the residents. Recall his, "My family is first, second, and third" comment late last year?

Many of the revered residents of Trenton, along with most of their elected representatives on council (save for self-serving, egomaniacal, poorly behaved, blowhard Paul Pintella) are in disagreement with Mayor Palmer about the awesomeness of Joseph Santiago; there are others who don't doubt Santiago's awesomeness, but feel he needs to live in the city of Trenton, per the ordinance that applies to his job description.

Doug Palmer, despite the tender place in which he holds the residents of this city (when it suits him), has been absolutely unwilling to serve his people well in this Santiago matter, and instead, has allowed a lawsuit to filed by the residents, citizens of Trenton who just want the Mayor to enforce the residency ordinance which applies to Santiago's position. And after last night's city council vote in which the majority of members made it clear that they believe there should be no exceptions to the residency ordinance, Palmer became defiant and impetuous, insisting that the city needs Santiago — regardless of where he lives — and he is willing to fight council, and his beloved residents of Trenton on this.

Doug, blindly defending Police Director Joseph Santiago, in a recent TV interview.


The whole thing smells funny, and makes me wonder why Doug is fighting so hard for Santiago, a dude who does not have mutual feelings for Doug or Trenton. After all, why would Doug need Santiago more than he needs the support and respect from the very people he represents, who number in the tens of thousands? It's simple math: Doug's got one little guy on one side, and tens of thousands of people on the other, so it's baffling he'd side with the one little guy, when there are no logical or moral reasons to do so. I don't mean to be crude, or so damn obvious, but does Joe have lewd photos of Doug from some "fishing trip"?

Maybe Doug is fighting his hallowed residents so hard because he knows it will take a couple of years — at best — to settle Santiago's residency issue in the courts, at which time, he'll be gone from Trenton? Or maybe he's using Santiago like a shield: he figure if he fights this battle, the citizens won't focus on Palmer's own lack of residency?

Palmer has made it abundantly obvious that he really doesn't care about the residents, but rather, only cares about his own agenda and desires*, which are quite possibly incompatible with the needs of the city. The mayor has proved himself to be irrelevant and hypocritical** and we need to keep talking about this so our needs get met at some point in the near future.

By the way, city council members (except for Paul Pintella), thanks for doing the right thing.
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* His own agenda and desires likely include, but are not limited to, maintaining his sweet crib in Hunterdon County, riding Hillary's coattails, and jet-setting around the country so he can schmooze with a bunch of other mayors who have probably left their citizenry in the lurch, too, while they schmooze it up.

** Didn't Doug recently get all sanctimonious on us about how he was going to make Trenton greener? If so, why is he pushing his hand-picked school board to approve the demolition a perfectly good high school building, which has served students for 75 years, instead of repairing it? The city will probably be replacing it with a building we will likely pay too much for, which will make our taxes skyrocket, and it certainly won't last 75 years. Good one, Doug. You have a real eye for the future.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Cabin and Hamfists

When my father was a very young man, he and some of his friends — German immigrants — pooled some money and built a little cabin in the Adirondacks in Upstate New York. The area reminded the Germans of their homeland in the Alps, and they had hoped they could make the spot their little hunting lodge. In fact, they named their little group the Jagers, which means the Hunters auf Deutsch.

Luckily for the fauna in the region, the Jagers scouted the property during the very short window of warmth. The region is simply too cold for many critters to call home, and so not many animals got killed over the years. Instead, the men would go up and play their loud, earth-shattering German instruments, drink whiskey and copious amounts of J├Ągermeister, play cards, sled, snowshoe, and hike. Our families would take turns visiting the cabin during the cool months, to get away from the crazy pace in New Jersey. My parents weren't much for typical outdoor winter sports, so they had a tradition of tying a sled (with rope) to the back of a car and placing us kids out on the sled, and we'd drive around the perimeter of the property that way. I do not recall ever being in the car during these jaunts around the property, only hanging on to the sled for dear life, as I was dragged through the snow, at what felt like 80 or 90 miles per hour (but probably was only 40 or 50; maybe my dad can confirm; I know he reads this). I'm not sure why I didn't let go of the sled once I fell off, which would have been much safer than getting dragged down a bumpy, unpaved road covered with snow and ice and sticks and rocks. Fear of abandonment? Stupidity? I don't know, but how my sisters and I survived the 1970s is incomprehensible, but we did — along with most of our friends, so we humans must be more resilient than we think. The safety features that come standard with EVERYTHING these days are probably wholly unnecessary. Right?

There was an old generator, and an oven that never worked, so the food we cooked had to be prepared on the stovetop, which meant lots of stews and soups and tacos (my favorite). There was no phone, no TV, and questionable indoor plumbing, but I always loved going up to the cabin. I still love the smell of the moss there, this poofy, spongy stuff that must have an official name (that I don't know), and it smells fresh and clean and alive. The stars are brighter and more seemingly more abundant, the leaves more colorful, the air cleaner, the water colder, and it's just plain quieter than it is here. It was nice to have to deal with one another, to talk, and play board games, or to have the space and calm to get in touch with our own thoughts.

Lacey walking around the property a few years ago, in autumn

The property was an old farm, of sorts, so there is evidence of old buildings: foundations and fences, and I used to love rooting around those places. We'd find horseshoes and old, rusty tools, and it was good to think about the people who came before us.

My dad was (and is) considerably younger than all but one German with whom he built the cabin, and so the other Germans sold their shares, and my dad (and family) and his other German pal (and family) now take turns using the property. But now there's electricity, and spotty cell phone service, and the plumbing is better, and this new generation of cabin-goers enjoys snowmobiling, and riding around on quads, and so forth, and well, I have all that here in Trenton (in fact, several of my moronic/drug-dealing neighbors are taking turns riding a quad all over Villa Park, Wilbur II, and more as I type [I can see them from my window, and I saw them while I was out on errands crossing Hamilton Avenue, near DeLorenzo's], although I have seen the police circling too, so I hope they catch the punks...maybe the cops will employ weighted nets to catch them...I'd love to watch that! ).

My dad and Lacey about 10 years ago at the cabin, under the rustic German plaque that says something (in German) about special blessings for all of those people who kill animals for sport, which I was able to translate as a kid, if never comprehend, since I think it would be better for the blessings to be bestowed upon the prey, don't you? After all, the jagers and the fischers were already blessed with opposable thumbs and instruments with which to kill. The critters are at a serious disadvantage.

After Lacey died this past fall, I spent hours scanning old pictures. I do have photos — though none of them digital, yet — of the cabin itself, I'll try to get one or more up soon. It's a small, cute Bavarian dwelling on the outside, with pretty, Sound-of-Music style windows. And inside, it's a cross between a monument to solid German economy/resourcefulness/heritage, and the everyone's first apartment: leftover tiles from my PopPop's basement, old central European style furniture, well-made bunks, a pool table which doubles as a dining room table, late 1960s/early 1970s-style draperies, a 1950s-era fridge, and a cuckoo clock.

*****UPDATE*****
My dad read the post and sent along this picture of the cabin:


Glen was invited to go up to the cabin this weekend, for a Man's Retreat. My dad, brother-in-law Rich, Rich's brother, Bob, and my two oldest nephews, Richie and Michael, made the 8-hour trek to bay at the moon, ride snowmobiles, and for the adults, drink loads of beer, and do whatever else men left to their own devices do for three days without women around will do, which probably means they didn't shower much, ate a lot of chips and hot dogs, and farted a lot.

There is evidence of farting, actually: Glen called me Friday afternoon, about three hours into their journey, and proclaimed, "Michael has already had two sodas and isn't wearing a shirt!" Michael is not supposed to drink soda, except when he's away from home, and when he's away from home, he's able to down 'em with breakneck speed.

And then I heard everyone in the vehicle shout angrily, "Come on, Bob! What the...?"
And then a young voice said, "It wasn't Bobby, it was me."
The occupants of the vehicle groaned and I heard Glen say, "I have never smelled anything so rancid in my life!"
More groans.
Then, I heard Rich say, "Michael, did you poop your pants?"
"I don't know," said Michael.
"CHECK YOUR PANTS!!" ordered his father, Rich.

Later that night, well, technically, the next morning, Glen called me around 1 a.m., possibly drunk, but claiming otherwise.
"Hi, Babe, how's it going?" he said.
"Fine. How are you?" I asked, more or less awake, but not entirely. "Are you having fun?"
"Yeah," he said. "Wanna talk to your dad?"
It was 1 in the morning, and right or wrong, my dad and I are neither much for the phone and don't talk on the phone to one another much, but I didn't have the wits about me to verbalize that at the time.
So I just said, "No. Not really."
Apparently my father was right next to Glen, and Glen, I am guessing, felt awkward and he said, "No? Really? You don't wanna talk to your dad?"
"No." I said, "But tell him I said hi."
[to my father] "Chrissy says hi," Glen said. "Wanna talk to her?"
[to Glen, but I could hear] "No, that's okay. But tell her I said hi," my dad said.
"Your dad says hi," Glen said.
"How are things there?" I ask, in an attempt to change the topic.
"Fine. We're having fun. Why don't you want to talk to your dad?"
I wish I wasn't as sleepy/on the spot as I was, because it's not that I didn't WANT to talk to my father, it's that I really just wanted to hear how they were all doing, and then go back to bed. Or go back to nodding in front of my 30 Rock DVD, which what was really happening.
"I'll talk to him some other time when I'm more awake," I said. "Did Michael crap his pants earlier? Everyone wants to know."
"No," Glen said. "It was just a really smelly fart."

When Glen and I were first getting to know each other, Glen had a habit of calling me at odd hours of the day and night and then proceeded to offer the phone to anyone else within a few feet. He still does it, actually. But, in the early days, I never knew the people at the other end, or when the conversations would begin or end. Suddenly I would be talking to people in bars in Canada and New York City; or some dude named Rob who was digging fence posts for his girlfriend in Ontario; or Glen's friend, Adolf, while he was in the hot tub; and plenty of random coworkers, former coworkers, and far-flung family members.

I'm just bad on the phone, so I always felt dopey when the "pass the phone" thing happened. The phone is scary to me, a necessary evil, and not a toy. I asked Brenda why Glen calls me and then passes the phone around, and she suggested that it's because he likes to show off his "dialing prowess with his big hamfists against those little bitty cell phone buttons." Sounds good to me.

Anyway, it turns out, the men got in plenty of snowmobiling, and beer and soda and chips, BUT Michael's fart on the way up was a premonition of sorts. Apparently Bob had a nasty stomach virus and spent much of the weekend in the bathroom. Thank goodness the plumbing is better than what it used to be. Glen said, on the way home, the other guys were starting to feel queasy too. Hopefully they're able to fight it off. Cuz I don't want it, not to be callous. Hopefully Bob feels better, too.

I'm not a hippy, but...

(not that there's anything wrong with hippies)

I read an article recently about a group of people who are refusing to pay a portion of their federal income tax, in response to the war in Iraq, right around the time I read that homeowners in Trenton are looking at a 5+% tax increase.

No one likes a tax hike, but I think many of us will agree, that from time to time, tax hikes are necessary. But is the one in Trenton totally necessary? All 5+% of it? How much of our tax money really goes to services? And how much of it goes to paying for Mayor Palmer's plane fare for his Conference of Mayors activities? Or his long-distance phone calls? How much of it goes to putting gas in Police Director Santiago's city-issue car, which makes a 100-mile round trip every time he reports to work? How much of it goes to putting gas in "gang expert" Barry Colicelli's car? Irv Bradley's car? What about other members of Palmer's inner posse who get free cars, but don't live in the city — how much of our money pays for their gas? How much of our tax money goes to the security outside of Palmer's house in Trenton, where he doesn't even live full-time? What about all the bullshit contracts our city enters? How much are we wasting on legal fees, accountants, and other professionals for programs that never, ever come to fruition? What about all those consultants we don't need when we have perfectly good people here who would work for less money and provide better services? What about all of those lawsuits we see on each and every City Council docket? What the hell are our taxes paying for? Our damn street didn't even get officially plowed the last time it snowed in 2006: a plow came through on the warmest day, when nearly all of the snow was melted.

Good citizens here spend their waking hours cleaning up the litter, running off prostitutes and their johns, and devising ways of making their corners inhospitable to the drug trade. Good citizens do not get the services we should be getting; our taxes are very high for the amount of bullshit we endure in this city.

So, I'm wondering what would happen if a large group of us in Trenton withheld a percentage of our taxes — let's say 3% of that 5% increase, paying enough to cover the new police officers? But in good faith, instead of just keeping that 3%, what if we donated that money to, say, the Boys and Girls Club in Trenton, or a literacy group, or an organization dedicated to getting reformed gang members back into the mainstream? Or a garden club who will beautify our streets? What if we wrote letters to the city, with proof our our donations, to make our point clear?

I know this sounds like 60s-style hippy-druggy-feel good stuff, and while I don't want to dismiss the efforts of that generation out of hand, because a lot of it was motivated by good intentions, please keep in mind that some of the most upstanding, influential people in relatively modern history also withheld taxes: Henry David Thoreau, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas Gandhi. Plenty of influential, creative sorts have also resisted: Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, Betty Friedan. Even though it seems to me that ultimately, it is nearly impossible to beat "the man," I am impressed with the mark the above people have left on humanity. If a large group of us protests this tax increase by a refusal to pay it in the full, we may all get fined, but we'll also raise awareness as to what's happening in this city, and I believe that kind of press coverage outside the city that might force real change within it. It's been my contention from the minute we moved to Trenton, that the shit we endure — the open-air drug dealing; the wackos who cut their hedges with machetes and sing Stevie Wonder songs while doing so; the mounds of litter; the constant robberies and assaults; the plethora of boarded-up and crumbling buildings houses; Council President Paul Pintella's utter disdain for the outspoken members of our community; the mayor's temper tantrums — would never (ever) be permitted to happen anywhere else in the country.

I really don't know about this. I'm just putting it out there. We have major problems here, and change cannot happen overnight, but we are getting no cooperation from the very people we elected to look out for us. These people need to receive a message they understand what we're saying, and a wallop in the wallet sends a clear message like no other.

Think about it.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Plane Pull

It's been a crazy few weeks for us here in da hood, with another awesome visit just wrapping up with Glen's sister Brenda, and her beau, Jeff, who are now on their way back into the tundra of Canada, as I type.

Brenda and Jeff arrived New Year's Eve, with a small freezer's worth of Canadian appetizers, which we ate until we nearly exploded. The appetizers are not specific to Canada, and are, in fact, pretty prolific here in the US as well, but these were produced by a Canadian company, President's Choice, which may or may not be related to the store brand at Acme; I'll have to look into that. Anyway, I love anything with puff pastry and/or phyllo dough no matter where it's manufactured. Brenda brought little meatballs too, which we both thought would come with some sort of Swedish meatball-style gravy, but we were both sadly mistaken. We ate them with steak sauce though, since it was as near as we could come, on such short notice, to Swedish gravy, and they were well received anyway. In fact, I had to cook a second tray of them just before midnight because they were that good. But I liked the puff pastry things better, especially the ones jammed with goat cheese and fig mash. Glen even ate his fair share of those, and he did so without questioning his sexuality, so there's a good chance he wasn't aware of the specific ingredients.

Earlier in the day, I had read the Bald Fat & Angry post about Dick Clark, and we just had to see the post-stroke Dick, since BF&A made it sound that an end of an era was approaching (or may have come to pass). Now, we've all known that Dick has outlived his usefulness by about two decades, and I personally lost any nostalgic goodwill for him after watching him in Bowling for Columbine, but seeing him on New Year's Eve was rough. How mean we all were for joking these last bunch of years that he was just a corpse propped up for New Year's Eve; this past NYE he was very nearly a corpse. No offense, but I kinda wished we watched some other network celebration, because seeing Dick in such rough shape (though he did hungrily kiss his wife, which was both gross and inspirational) simply made me feel bad. Dick's been a shell of a human for many many years, but I guess I would prefer to remember him as a more healthy shell.

The next day, we watched Glen's Buffalo Sabres lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the outdoor hockey game in Buffalo. Lots of snow in Buffalo. Glen almost went to that game with his brother, and while I'm sure he would have enjoyed himself, he was glad to be warm and dry in our TV room. We all hung out in our jammies all day, and ate buffalo wings and buffalo chicken strips, and Canadian au Caramels, and a lot of Tums. By the way, does anyone know why God Bless America is being sung at sporting events these days, rather than the American anthem? The Canadian anthem is always sung at hockey games, too, and it is unwaveringly, always the Canadian anthem that is sung. Maybe they don't have other patriotic songs? Is the God Bless America thing just a hockey thing, or is it happening in other sports, too? I'm not sure what this says about me, but I almost always well up with tears when I hear the anthem. Politically, I lean solidly to the left, and most non-democrats would likely think (erroneously) that fact alone makes me a traitor, but how can I be a traitor if I cry when I hear the anthem? I've done this every time I hear the anthem, as far back as I can remember. I don't know if this happens to other people, but I bet it does, or at least other people have similar reactions: I think I cry because I'm picking up on all of that love for country and community that's filling every single other person hearing the anthem at that moment. We may all have different political beliefs, but for that fleeting moment, we are united, we are the same, we are one big, loving, mass of America, together, full-up, and that is just so freakin' tingly and special, that frankly, it bugs me to hear God Bless America, because that song, while okay (I guess) simply does not evoke the emotion that the Star Spangled Banner does. It cheapens the experience for me, and I want a complete, genuine experience. Anyway, if this is happening with other sports, let me know, and let me know what you think of it. I'm curious. Other than the occasional Sabres game, I am blissfully disconnected from the sports world, except, on occasion, I cannot help myself: I like to watch the Strong Man competitions. Sometimes. What's not to love about men who can lift cars and refrigerators and run with huge logs through the forest? I always got picked last in gym class and still fall down and walk into walls a lot, so I've never been able to develop a proper appreciation for team sports. But once, out of deep anger, sheer frustration, and plain old determination, I lifted a heavy club chair up a spiral staircase, by myself, without damaging the chair, the wall, or the staircase. My back ached for weeks, and I had bruises all over my body, but it was exhilarating nonetheless. So I do appreciate brute, individual strength (and luck) since it seems, well, so useful. Had I had more of it, I would move furniture all the time. I may have brought up the other club chair, but I quit while the house was unbroken, and my body not too battered. I suspect most women, if they possessed the strength of a Strong Man, would also move furniture all the time as well. In a perfect world, girls, we'd have the furniture rearranging vision AND the brawn. Alas, it's just not the way this world is. So when a new, young strong guy unseats the champ on the Strong Men shows, it's just so damn cool, because the young usurper is usually Icelandic or Danish or some other crazy Viking-type and usually bellows in heavily accented English something like, "THE. KING. HAS. LOST. HIS. CROWN!!!!!!!" after winning the Plane Pull. I wish I could pull a plane.



The marathon thrift store shopping began the next day, January 2, and my greatest, unpurchased discovery was a Michael Vick bobblehead. He was in his football costume, and his face was grinning, innocent, and so sportsmanlike, and in his hand, there was a football. I considered buying it, but couldn't justify it: it was five bucks and his hand was broken and re-glued, and his face was scratched up pretty badly. It is my sincere hope that any damage caused to the Michael Vick bobblehead was inflicted by a dog, and I hope, too, the bobblehead served as a functioning voodoo doll, and the actual Vick felt everything done unto the bobble.

Glen has had great luck in the last month finding Mayor Palmer Golf Classic shirts, including on the January 2 Thrift Tour. They're high quality polo shirts, in various colors. We have quite a few now, even though we were never invited to any of the Mayor's golfing parties. We have been dreaming of fun things to do with these shirts: maybe show up meetings in them, or turn them into pillows or pot holders. Who knows, we may do all of those things, especially if we continue to find more each time we visit the thrift stores. But what's funnier is the mere fact that we, the uninvited, now have a small collection of those shirts in our basement, hanging near our washer and dryer, and so many of those fortunate enough to be invited to the Mayor's shindig dropped their party favors off at the thrift stores. Sad, isn't it, Doug? You never really knew who your friends were, did you?

The thrift store shopping part of the trip also involved a lot of food at several of Trenton's eateries, including Pete's Steak House on Hudson (we love you!), and DeLo's on Hamilton Avenue (we love you too!). We also made a trip to the White Castle in Howell, on the way to my sister's place the other night, which caused the Canadians to apologize to our plumbing, which, if you recall from my earlier post, has been in sorry shape. In fact, even after I photographed and blogged about the mess, our plumbing problems continued to escalate. Apparently, after the cracked pipe was removed, bits of brick and pieces of old pipe must have fallen into the plumbing joints below. The new pipe was installed, and things were fantastic for several days. Hell did not manifest until several days later, when the double soapstone basins next to our washer and dryer in the basement backed up, and spilled over with what I can only assume (but will not dwell on for your sake and mine) toilet flushings and dirty sink water. The resulting fury to move things to safety in the basement seriously made me rethink some of the packrat tendencies happening here; and, made me relive the glory days of renting that garden apartment with a little balcony on the sunny side of the complex, with a management company who fixed all of those problems without cost or much headache to me. But Glen and my awesome brother-in-law, Rich, were able to get to the bottom of the muck (literally and figuratively) in short order, and I commend them. Their awesomeness is one of only two positives to come out of this whole debacle. The other positive (if you could call it that) is that at least the mess in the basement was more-or-less our own filth.

Speaking of DeLorenzo's, we walked up, as we're only a few blocks, and met Mr. Clean for lunch, and on the way, in front of the rental unit at 308 of my street, it would appear as if knuckleheads had some fun writing in the wet cement in front of the property. Because that particular section of my street has a history of knucklehead infestations, the writing was enthusiastic and unapologetic, reflecting the personalities of the authors. Brenda had her camera and took lots of pictures, along with plenty of photos of the stellar wiring job done by our local Comcast techs. I would love to elaborate more on this, but will leave it for Brenda to blog about, on her site, doveofhate.blogspot.com, because I suspect there's a better chance the city's officials will listen (or feel embarrassed) by an out-of-towners comments on the state-of-affairs here. It doesn't seem to mean as much to this administration when it's coming from a resident. I'm not sure why: at least I never dropped off a nice Palmer Golf Classic shirt at the thrift store. I'll leave you with this: Jeff looked up at the cabling job, and then down, to read some of the stuff on the sidewalk, and said, "Wow, this kind of thing NEVER happens in Canada." It doesn't really happen anywhere else except New Jersey's cities, to be fair to the rest of our country, though. I'll put up some links when Brenda has her pictures ready.

Somehow, between all the running around and eating, we managed to watch the entire first season of NBC's 30Rock. I enjoy change in my personal life, but am always hesitant to watch new shows, mostly, I think, because I'm afraid I'm getting dumber and more disconnected from humanity as each year goes by, and TV exacerbates that feeling for me, but 30 Rock makes me feel smart and hip! Hooray for Tina Fey! And hooray for Brenda for bringing down the whole season on DVD!

Hope the Canadians are enjoying their trip home — I suspect they're not even out of Pennsylvania yet — and don't hit any weather. The cats miss them already; they liked the option of other human bodies on which to plop themselves.

Oh yeah, one last thing: Downtowner Editor Joe Emanski wrote a column critical of Trenton residents who feel strongly about police director Joseph Santiago's violation of the city's residency ordinance. I think Mr. Emanski is missing the point, and that's too bad, but it's also his prerogative to miss the point (or have a different opinion, if that's what it is). The Downtowner has been a great supporter of the Trenton blogs, and I appreciate that, personally. It's always a thrill to see if we get any ink in Diccon Hyatt's regular BlogWatch, so, many people were perplexed when the column didn't run in the December issue. After seeing Mr. Emanski's column, I assumed — incorrectly — that the Downtowner had decided to stop the BlogWatch because of politics: most of the Trenton bloggers understand the significance of Santiago's (and Palmer's) disregard for the law, and lack of residency. I even posted a comment to the Downtowner website, criticizing Mr. Emanski's article, and I wondered (aloud) if the BlogWatch was pulled because the bloggers have an opinion different from Mr. Emanski's. Anyway, I was happy to see the column return again in January, and I apologize to the Downtowner for intimating they'd kill the BlogWatch for political reasons, which is just kind of icky. The Downtowner doesn't even have to run the BlogWatch; they'd publish either way, right? But they do run that column because they know how cool we bloggers are (if I do say so myself), and I appreciate that. I don't apologize for not understanding from where Mr. Emanski is coming on the residency issue, though.