Monday, March 31, 2008

Everyone loves a parade...


...except for me and Mayor Palmer. The difference: I'm coming around. And at least I attended the St. Patrick's Day parade, which was my second parade in a few months (the first was the Thanksgiving parade which, admittedly, Miss Karen [of the KillerLouise blog] and I, stumbled into serendipitously), and Mayor Palmer didn't.

I've never been big on crowds, or a parade, but all this parade-going of late is making me rethink my attitude about them. It's been fun to watch all the floats and the excited kids, and try to figure out which politician is which. Plus, it's just kind of lazy to not attend, especially when the parade is traveling two blocks from your home. Or, if you're the mayor.

Sure, not every politician or regular citizen can attend every function in town, but it's odd to never see Mayor Palmer at very much of anything. The prevailing rumor is that the Mayor didn't show because the people who attended the St. Patrick's Day parade were not his voting block. But it's doubtful that many of the attendees were Ewing Mayor Jack Ball's people, or Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo's people. It's doubtful that many of the attendees knew the members of the mummers or the pipe and drum bands who came up from Philadelphia to entertain a Trenton crowd; it's doubtful that many of us knew the members of the Monmouth County Police Pipes and Drums, or the FDNY's Emerald Society Pipes and Drums, or any of the other groups who came from outside Trenton, and outside Mercer County to walk down our Hamilton Avenue. It's also rumored that this may be the last St. Pat's parade in Trenton, so it's a shame that Mayor Palmer didn't make it. We were happy to see East Ward Councilman Gino Melone, and At-Large Rep Manny Segura, though, and the crowd appreciated it too.

Attendance, overall, was pretty good, and I'm glad that those who participated in the parade made an effort to come to my town, my neighbhorhood. I took a lot of pictures, some of which I've peppered through this entry. If you're interested to see more, click here. I'm not thrilled with the automated software I used to create the photogallery, but it functions. It made very little thumbnails, but just click on the first picture and use the navigational arrows to run through it, that way, you'll get to see the larger images.

Also, if you're interested to see larger versions of any of these shots, take note of the "IMG_xxxx.jpg" number below the image. Send me an email (my address is on the parade link pages), and I'll send you a large, high-res picture suitable for printing, cropping, etc. Also, I took a bunch of pictures of each parade segment, but only chose one or a few representational shots for this web gallery. If you know, for instance, your fireman buddy was riding his motorcycle in the parade, but don't see him in my pics, let me know.


My only complaints, which were very minor: there were a number of local dance troupes, but they did very little dancing. The parade route was sizable, so I certainly wouldn't expect all the kids to be dancing every step of the way. But it would have been nice to see a bit of what they did. We heard some of the parents of the dancers say there was going to be more of a proper dance show down at the park, at the end of the parade, so I'm sure that was good. The kids looked great, and really happy to be there.


Also, I'm not proud of this, but I could have really used a hot dog. Haven't had one in ages, and there's something about watching a parade on a city street that calls for a hot dog. Alas, there were only soft pretzel vendors where we stood.

I hope this isn't the last St. Patrick's Day Parade in the city. It is a fun, spirited event that brings a lot of people together. We need more of that.



Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Of, by, and for

It was important to me when I started keeping this blog to provide a mix of topical social/political commentary on life in Trenton, and share some stories from my personal life, in the hopes of fostering the feeling that there is a real person here typing away. In sharing the "real person" angle in this space, it shows there are plenty of vibrant, creative people in Trenton, even if most of the news coming out of the city is about our thugs: most of us are not criminals, and in fact, some of us are pretty normal here. That I love politics, and the city of Trenton is, well, very nearly a write-off politically, makes life here, at times, fascinating, and at other times, maddening, and these fascinating/maddening times make for good stories, and it's cathartic to write about them. But I am more than politics: I may not celebrate Easter in the same manner you do, but I hope you don't mind (for more on my family's, uh, traditions, read this); like a lot of other people, I keep a garden, I pay my bills, I cook, I read, I listen to music (sometimes coming from a neighbor's house, or a passing car), and I shop. Unlike many other people, I tend too many cats, mostly Trenton's ferals/strays; I spend more time than my college buddies or family members trying to keep my little patch of the world as knucklehead-free as possible; I go through artsy spurts/delusions, and the results often yield a bunch of little items to glued to my walls (which my husband lovingly tolerates); I like to watch science fiction; and I write.

The point of this disclosure is that as much as my details may be distinct from another person's, we're just not all that different. We all want the same large things in life (comfort and contentedness, namely), and we reside in a society that values our right to explore ways to make our lives complete and full. This brings me back to politics. Politics are imperfect, because there is a tendency to cater to the group, rather than the individual, but usually, that's not so bad, since our guiding principles value the individual, even while protecting the whole. Democracy and capitalism are flawed, but perhaps less so than other forms of government. I wouldn't want to imply that there should never be certain occasional individual considerations, if the circumstances are extraordinary, and/or devastating. But once our politicians start providing dispensation to certain individuals under banal circumstances, we no longer live in a democratic society. Waivers and loopholes and provisions stink of Middle Eastern monarchies and theocracies, and the caste system in South Asia.

Trenton's mayor Douglas Palmer may (illegally) live in Hunterdon County now (which must be addressed soon), but when he was elected, he was of Trenton, elected by the people of Trenton, to provide a service for the citizens of Trenton, a municipality in the United States. He is not, perhaps to his dismay, a king, or in the opinions of others, a dictator, or an autocrat. He may be wearing an Armani suit right now, while I sit here in my jammy bottoms and sweat shirt, but regardless, he serves all of us, because he is (even if he thinks he isn't) one of us. Same goes for the council members. Politicians ARE us — though they often need some remindin'. For any politician in this city to provide a special waiver for any individual — particularly one not interested in being a member of our community — does a grave disservice to us all, and diminishes our democracy.

We are individuals, and we are special. And we are the faceless masses. Yet, there is ample evidence that individuals can thrive in an environment that caters to the will of the collective, because we live in a country that values government of the people, by the people, for the people. This should be happening in Trenton, and I believe it will happen in Trenton, too. I just hope it doesn't involve too much more strife, though I'm sure the people are ready to fight to restore a proper order and balance in this city, if need be.

There must be no waiver for ousted police director Joseph Santiago. No matter what he says, his circumstances for not living in this city are not extraordinary and/or devastating; they're petty, commonplace, and, most of all, selfish. He is not of us, he was not put in power by us, and he certainly isn't acting for us. He is of Morris County, put in office by the some incredibly unfair act of cronyism, and his actions are for his ego and his salary (and pension). Period.

I want to really drive the extraordinary and/or devastating point home. Santiago has said, on various occasions, that he tried to buy a house here, but couldn't afford it. We can afford a house here, and we don't make nearly as much money as he does, though we don't have any other residence, especially one in expensive North Jersey, which helps us pay our mortgage here (and our rising taxes, thank you Mr. Mayor [I know taxes go up; it's part of life; I have a beef with HOW that happened, but the other bloggers have addressed this, so I won't]). There has been talk of medical reasons for his failure to move, but how many sick people are forced to move all the time, especially in a city full of poverty? But one of the biggest alleged reasons Santiago was granted favor by Mayor Palmer is that supposedly Santiago's wife received pornography in the mail, and there were threats made against them — and Santiago's own department was implicated for this. Like many other Trenton residents, I find this maddening. I watch dirtbags pee against a neighbors garage on a weekly basis; I find condoms behind my garage; drug dealers have used my corner as their "office;" there was an armed robbery two blocks from my home the other night (though I suspect, in that case, it was dirtbag-on-dirtbag crime; I'm not really as much implying that "dirtbags deserve it" as much as I'm saying most crime takes place among friends and acquaintances, and since I don't do much socializing with criminals, I don't feel THAT vulnerable here). No one wants to have to confront dirtbags, thugs, perverts, and/or bullies in our lives, but it comes with the territory. It's a challenge to live in Trenton, and I'm up for it. If Santiago, a tough guy, who oversees a squad of strong people with firearms, isn't, then please, SHOW HIM THE DAMN DOOR ALREADY.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Discomfort

Circa 1978. Cute, but not so sweet.


Easter is the definitive Christian holiday; the belief in the resurrection of Jesus is what makes a Christian a Christian, after all. I came from a family that started out as what I'd call "Mildly Catholic," and when my sisters and I were young, we never — and I do mean never — went to church, unless our maternal grandfather took us. As we got older, the "Mildly Catholic" atmosphere transformed into a "Feel Good Catholic" environment, which meant that we joined some of the fun groups, and sang in the choir, and participated in different activities that involved a lot of running around, socializing, and food. My mother became friendly with the clergy, and they often showed up at our home. As time wore on, though, the moment there were personality differences, or other discord, we bailed. If it didn't feel good any longer, we didn't do it.

Sure, this is all wrong, from a spiritual point of view, and in a really basic sense. The "if it doesn't feel good, don't do it" philosophy doesn't instill proper values in children, but my sisters and I were, like most other people, living in some serious dysfunction, and it's the way it was. It wasn't the religious stuff, though, that caused me to dislike Easter. I mean, when there's a Mildly and/or Feel Good Catholic at the helm of the ship, you can hardly expect the focus to be very holy during this time of the year. It was the secular stuff that caused the bile to bubble, and the disquiet to prevail. I mention all of this because I do not mean to offend the devout, and particularly my sister, Jenny, who hosted a fairly calm, lovely Easter dinner yesterday, filled with good food and conversation. It was my first official Easter dinner in at least a decade, and I wouldn't mind — depending on the circumstances — an invitation next year.

People with a long shared history tend to reminisce about the old days, and this was the case for my sisters and me yesterday: we talked about Easter in our childhood home, and even after Glen and I headed back here to Trenton, I kept thinking about it, and my overall sourness for the holiday. Blogging can be therapy, and therefore, I write.

Reasons why Easter was so distressing to me:

1) The Food
This particular area of the holiday just went so very wrong, especially from my point of view. I grew into a reasonably adventurous eater, but I didn't begin that way, and oddly, a lot of the stuff that were holiday staples in my childhood home are the very things I avoid as an adult.
a) I'm the oldest child in my family, and can remember back when proper meals were served for Easter in my childhood home, and it was almost always some large, bloody hunk of meat. Ham and lamb were my least favorite meats to eat, and these prevailed, even though we didn't sacrifice much during lent, usually, we didn't eat meat on Fridays during that time. You have to be a pretty dedicated carnivore to eat ham and lamb, and I suspect that my folks were just hungry for some serious blood by the time Easter rolled around, and would not be satisfied with a fairly typical roast beef. My mother smoked heavily while we were growing up, and I was a bit sensitive to the smell of the cooking flesh combined with her Merit Ultra Lights: the result of that malodorous mess, to me, was worse than the sum of its parts. And, I didn't have the life experience or vocabulary at that tender age to articulate my emotions, but I had a pet dog, Socks, and out of respect for him, I didn't want to eat other animals. The fact my mother casually smoked cigarettes while cooking Socks' brethren — a very somber task — seemed particularly disrespectful, to boot.

b) As my sisters and I got older, and the three of us somehow managed to wrestle control of most of the authority in the house (it took very little effort, looking back), holiday meals were seen as quaint, old-fashioned activities for dumb people. We each received — after a scavenger hunt, but more on that later — an Easter basket, full of hard boiled eggs, Cadbury Creme Eggs, candy coated chocolate eggs, Zitners Butter Krak (my favorite), Peeps, jelly beans, and more. The contents of the basket represented all of our three meals for the day, and it was up to us to budget and trade accordingly. Bad idea, for instance, to eat everything before 10 a.m., because THAT WAS IT, for the day. Worse idea, to trade Karen all my hard boiled eggs for her Butter Krak, because as we learned, the protein and other nutrients in the real eggs staved off the jitters, night sweats, and impending sugar coma.

c) It is unimaginable, but believe me, the food situation got worse as the years wore on. Sometimes, we'd take a post-Easter vacation to my father's cabin near Lake Placid, NY, and while we should have been enjoying the quiet and solitude, we always spent at least one day grocery store-hopping throughout Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, with a periodic venture into Plattsburgh, where my mother bought up all of the clearance Easter candy. As far as I know, this sort of shopping spree did not happen back in NJ, but only while we were on vacation in New York State. I'm sure I sound like a spoiled brat, but my sisters and I generally tired of these shopping marathons, and opted to sit in the family station wagon instead, where we often whiled away the hours beating the shit out of one another. I was no angel, but as the oldest, I usually opted to stay out of the beatings, and watched with a confusing, but delightful, combination of horror and glee as my sisters pulled each others' hair out of each others' heads. How my parents were not arrested for neglect is somewhat amazing, but times were different then, even if most children did not brutalize each other in those days. I think my sisters and I became unhinged so quickly during these shopping sprees, is because we knew — but would not speak it aloud — that this candy would be saved for our baskets next year: we were getting hopped up and year-old treats every Easter. I know it sounds terrible, but old candy isn't that much worse than fresh candy anyway.

d) Somewhat related to the food: my father got a video camera at some point in the late 1980s, but we never understood why he'd want to document any activities of his severely screwed up family, as it could never be shown to anyone outside the family. But he always turned the camera on during meal time during the holidays to "capture the moment." The "moment" usually involved a visual of three surly teenager/young adult girls wearing too much make-up, too much hairspray, skirts too short, and with an amazing ability to swear; the "moment" also included a martyr-mother who always expected a Norman Rockwell-esque holiday meal, despite all of her own un-Norman Rockwell-like actions leading up to the moment. One of the last family Easters I recall involved each of us receiving Victoria Secret pyjamas in our basket (mixed messages from our mom, to be sure, though they weren't pervy jammies, but rather cute jammies, but STILL), and a proper, if not particularly festive meal, of all things. A meal of Sloppy Joe burgers, caught on my father's videotape, but a meal at the dinner table, nonetheless. With it came the requisite inappropriately short skirts, too much eyeliner and hairspray, and loads of attitude. The family dog, Tramp, sat unaware of the seething rage, ever-so-hopeful, in between me and Jenny. Karen was having dinner with a friend's family, my father was behind the camera, my mother, even with just two horrible daughters at the table, looked worried and fatigued. Jenny and I decided to play "How Many Bites?" with Tramp and our Sloppy Joes, with bonus points awarded if he caught the burger in his mouth, instead of picking it up off the floor. My mother left the table in disgust, and Tramp was able to eat — to our delight, if not our surprise — two Sloppy Joes in one bite each, and on the first catch. I found that video some years later, after sweet Tramp had died, wanting to just spent a bit more time with him, and never noticed until the viewing of the tape that my father chuckled through the whole event.

Tramp, 1980-1989, painted (in oil) by my mother.


2) The Egg Hunt
There's not much to say here except that I was never very good at the Egg Hunt. I liked hard boiled eggs well enough, maybe even more than the average kid. But really, they didn't motivate me to look for them, especially since my father hid them in some pretty convoluted places (it was my father's responsibility to hide the eggs). I recall eggs hiding in the toilet tank, the pool filter, on top of the fridge, in the locked family safe, and I just didn't like eggs enough to think that hard, or upon discovering them in their screwed-up hiding places, exert too much effort to get them into my basket. This transitioned into a hunt for the Easter baskets in later years, the baskets which contained all of our food for the day, and my parents, perhaps disappointed in my lackluster efforts to find my basket, teased me for being slower than my younger sisters in hunting for my basket. I didn't like their mockery, but was a pretty stoic kid; what I completely resented was that the egg and/or basket hunt went on every Easter, well into our 20s. And I continued to suck at the hunt, and I make no apologies for it.

3) Discomfort
My sisters and I weren't particularly fearful kids, since we were often left unsupervised for long stretches, which encouraged, among other things, what some people might call bravery, and a very high threshold for physical discomfort (which included, but was not limited to bleeding; broken, bruised, and/or sprained bones and joints; and sometimes light and/or oxygen deprivation. We were, despite being absolute monsters, very honest, literal kids, especially when we were very young. We were incredibly curious about the world and were very physical, and so a lot of the fables, tall tales, and white lies that get told in our culture, and sometimes, in our family, totally escaped us, and when forced upon us, made us uncomfortable. It seemed that a lot of non-logical stuff occurred around Easter, as both the Easter Bunny and Jesus's resurrection relied on blind faith, and while the Easter Bunny got more attention in our home, all of it was confusing and uncomfortable, for a couple of reasons.

a) Part of our unique brand of Catholicism is due to the fact my father was really a non-practicing person who had a generic Christian upbringing; my mother came from a long line of very strict Irish Catholics, and perhaps when she started her own life with a generic Christianish fellow, she decided to leave the piety behind. However, my grandfather, my mother's father, lived in nearby Point Pleasant Beach, and every few holidays — usually on Easter — would make an appearance at our home. Unbeknownst to PopPop, his daughter and son-in-law were not only housing three young terrorists ("raising" isn't the right word), but rather, they were housing three GODLESS terrorists. PopPop was intelligent and passionate, and upright and proper. He loved little children; I remember his affection as a small kid, and remember watching him dote on my sisters and younger cousins, as I got older. He lived until he was 78, and I was not quite 20, and while I loved PopPop, what I remember most about him was his seriousness; he was good-natured and inquisitive, but not particularly good-humored. And he was about as pious as they come. Usually, we'd find out about a week or two prior to Easter that PopPop was coming by that day, and when that was the case, my mother would take us into the living room for an earnest discussion, and some artful mothering: "If you love me, you will not tell PopPop that we didn't go to church, okay?" and "Please don't bring it up, okay? Don't outright lie and say you went to church, but just say 'yes' if he asks about it." We'd suggest that maybe we should just go to church, thus avoiding the whole uncomfortable situation, but apparently, "Easter mass is too damn long" so that was just not an option. We loved our mommy, so we never let on we stayed home and fished eggs out of the toilet tank on Easter Sunday. And we loved PopPop, too, so we put on our pretty Easter dresses and hats and — channelling Little House on the Prairie — had a lot of fun pretending to be what we thought were normal children for a few hours.

b) I couldn't have been more than 6 or so, and the night before Easter, my parents went out to dinner, and left us with a babysitter. We got up in the morning and were told to dress for the egg hunt and report to the front stoop, which never happened before, or again: we were definitely a backyard family. When we all got outside, we kids were dismayed to see our storm door was bent and broken, apparently kicked in. We didn't live in "that sort of neighborhood" so we were confused and upset, and wondered how on earth we could have slept through that ruckus. My father told us that the Easter Bunny did it. He was angry that we didn't leave him carrots, and he was a pretty explosive character, anyway. My father continued that the Easter Bunny was untrustworthy and kind of crazy, and for whatever reason, The Bunny got mad, and demolished our door. My father told a lot of ridiculous stories, like about the little invisible, running man who was the one responsible for all of the farting in the house; and the howling Woofer Monster who lived under the Garden State Parkway bridge in Irvington; and his childhood minister who had given my father a medal and dispensation for going to church so much, that he never had to go again. We weren't stupid kids, just very young, and unaware of just how "creative" my father's storytelling ability was, and so, for at least a short period, we believed his tales about the little farting man, and the Woofer Monster, and his childhood minister, as well as the ill-tempered Easter Bunny. We were clever kids, and over time, we caught on, and knew the Woofer Monster was fake, but he was part of the story of our childhood, and we loved when my father howled, so we urged him on. It also didn't take long to figure out there was no little man. "Oh Daddy!" we laughed, "that smelly fart came from YOUR butt!!"

The real story about the kicked-in door: the details are fuzzy, but the babysitter had a very bad boyfriend, who showed up at our house after my sisters and I went to bed, but before my parents got home. Apparently the babysitter asked him to leave, and he was mad, and kicked the door. Sure, the stories both my parents told about church didn't help anything. But it was perhaps this event with the kicked-in door and the tall tale told about it — my earliest memory of Easter — that set the tone for all of the Easters to follow: surreal, and never to be taken seriously.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pervy goodness and more

Warning: people are screwed, and there is nothing I can do about it, except bring it to your attention, so you're aware of what might be lurking...

Okay, this is a little self-involved, but this is my blog, and I can do what I want.

I have a love-hate relationship with humanity. I like individuals, but tend to hate groups and committees. I think people are mostly good, but that all of us have some level of twistedness inside, too. I suppose there are varying degrees of goodness to inside-y twistedness, depending on the situation, who is around, and probably stuff like upbringing, too.

Anyway, as much as I prefer individuals to groups, it's apparent that individuals will do all sorts of weird things when they assume no one is watching. But hooray for Sitemeter! We can, in some ways, watch these people! Here are some of the most interesting search terms that have brought people to my blog in recent weeks (you may have to click on the image to see the search details, which are in the lower part of the picture):



Okay, so this one is no biggie, but it's still interesting that people are concerned enough about the idea of losing the handsome high school building that they'd google that phrase.



Oh dear. Now we're getting a little wacky. Notice, too, the country of the searcher: not an American; well, at least not one living here.




I went off on a little tirade against WXPN (88.5) in Philadelphia about a week ago, and noticed a HUGE amount of traffic for the stuff I said, a lot of it coming from a Grateful Dead fan site (I didn't know those people could use the internet, go figure), and I was afraid that they'd come after me for taking WXPN to task for their weekly Grateful Dead show. My major complaints were that no band — especially a has-been band — deserves that kind of attention, and besides, the DeadHeads were probably all too stoned to remember when the show was on, and that they all had their own grimy bootleg tapes anyway. The rest of us should not be punished. Oddly, for all that traffic from that fan site, I didn't get any hate mail or death threats (yet), probably because DeadHeads would rather smoke pot than fight me. BUT: it was incredibly validating to get a few hits from people who agreed with me about the Grateful Dead. Yes, friend, they are stupid.

By the way, I just want to reiterate, in case I didn't make it clear, that for as much as I complained about WXPN, I really do appreciate that station. Often, we're most critical of the things we love, which was the case in my post about WXPN. But sometimes, we're most critical of the things we hate, like the Grateful Dead. I just want to make that distinction. Love XPN, hate The Dead.




Oh good! Some more freaky stuff! I get a lot of hits for people looking for cheese curls. This person had something very specific in mind, and while I aim to please, it's a shame the pervs are probably not finding what they're looking for on my blog. You'll find cheese curls here on TrentonKat, but no bathing in them. Sorry!





Yay! Another demented foreigner! I dedicated a recent post entirely to urine, and mentioned how a guy went pee-pee against my fence, and Lacey charged him — from the other side of the fence; he wasn't in peril, not that I would have minded if she got a hold of him, under the circumstances, even though I'm sure that's a major faux pas to admit, especially in light of the Congo saga in Princeton (in case you're not local, Congo is a German Shepherd — unneutered [rich people are stupid too!] — who attacked a landscaper, and the dog was subsequently sentenced to death, but there's been a stay, and a lot of legal wrangling, because people in Princeton can do that for their dogs. Not that you asked, but urban pit bull or estates-ville purebreed dog, it's ALWAYS the owner's fault, dammit). Lacey was just not that sort of dog, though: she preferred to scare people silly THROUGH the fence...and wow, she was good at it! She knew just who to charge, and who not to. People loitering by my fence always got it. Anyway, if you recall, the pisser soaked his own leg (it was glorious) before running back to his car, and I hope he soaked his car seat too. Jerk. Anyway, this whole urination episode took place "in broad daylight" but other than that, I'm not sure how this intrepid French Canadian found me. Hope s/he enjoyed reading that post!




This might be my favorite search term that brought someone to my blog, of all time. Note, again, where it's coming from. Foreigners. Sheesh. The post discovered by this curious Croatian was the same one found by the French Canadian, above. In that post, I waxed poetic about urination, but the whole point of it was to discuss whether or not pet pee would ruin your lawn and plants. Bottom line: not really, depending on whether or not the companion critter squats or sprays. You may want to "flush" any puddling pee away with your garden hose, because in concentrated doses, it will burn, just like any good fertilizer.

Anyway, a sick aside: I believe this particular Croatian spends a lot of time looking for "extra long female piss" because s/he has wound up visiting my blog on two separate occasions, on two separate days courtesy of that particular phrase. Poor fellow. Oh, I know I don't know it's a fellow for sure, but come on, we KNOW it is.



Anyway, thanks for indulging me. By the way, I get A LOT of hits for Barry Colicelli, and Captain Sleepy (with the whole word "Captain" spelled out). I'll be revising my links on the right over the next few days to make sure I'm able to properly direct TrentonKat visitors interested in those terms.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Haters

It's STILL befuddling to me that Trenton mayor Doug Palmer would write off someone as a "hater" just because the "hater" has a different opinion on things than the mayor. I would have said, at least maybe until a year or so ago, that even though I don't agree with all of the mayor's policies and actions and opinions, that he, like me, at least cares about Trenton, and is doing what he feels is best to improve things here. But over the last year or so, it seems apparent that maybe — just maybe — he doesn't really care THAT much about Trenton, but rather, far more about his own agenda and future in politics. We're a stepping stone...a very loooooong stepping stone, and it's my hope the rest of the state and/or anyone else in government outside of Trenton sees the mess that has happened in Trenton under his watch. I know that not every single thing is the mayor's fault, but this is a very different city than it was 15 years ago, and I think it's safe to say that a huge factor in the quick decline is because of bad politics and stupid decisions, made by the mayor and his closest allies.

Now that I have that off my chest, I've also noticed a lot of comments under the stories of the breaking news area on nj.com; there were SCADS of comments under the breaking story about the court-ordered vacancy of the police directorship, here in Trenton, effectively kicking (former) Police Director Joseph Santiago to the curb. Many of the comments were from people thrilled with the judge's decision, and a few weren't. Several others, though, were completely beside the point, and commented on the rattiness of the city, the crime rate, the lack of safety.

I just want Mayor Palmer to consider, for a minute, anyway, his concept of "hater." Even though it's obvious to me, as someone who has lived in Trenton twice, and elsewhere for a number of years, that Trenton has some SERIOUS problems; even though I wholeheartedly agree with fellow blogger, Greg Forester, on his post today about how badly political business is conducted here, when we're surrounded by really fine examples around the county and state, and certainly have the technology and ability to do what they do (I was a reporter at one time too, and know, for a fact, that things that happen in Trenton do not and simply cannot happen elsewhere), I do think Trenton is okay, by and large, depending on who your friends are. We don't associate with criminals and knuckleheads and live in a decent neighborhood.

Some of the nj.com posters laughed about how stupid Santiago was for not buying in a house in Trenton, because "after all, where else could you buy a home for $20,000," and others complained about how they wouldn't feel safe walking the Trenton streets, and the whole thing just kinda pisses me off. Our house has gone up in value in the four years we've been here, as have the other houses in my neighborhood, even the rentals. I know this is the case around the city, despite a housing slump elsewhere in the state, and around the county. Also, I know there are neighborhoods in this city with homes with prestigious price tags, just like in the suburbs.

And as far as safety is concerned, it's a complicated issue. I wouldn't walk around alone at night here, but then again, I wouldn't walk alone in the suburbs at night either. But I have comfortably walked with Glen and our families back and forth to DeLorenzo's after dark, and have never been mugged or harassed. We've walked from Broad Street to the Mill Hill Playhouse after dark, with no ill effects, either. I used to do a lot more walking when Lacey was around, but there is less of a need now, but if I had to walk to the post office or library or bakery or neighbor's place over here, I'm fairly confident I could do it, night or day, and come away unscathed...though I probably wouldn't do it at night. Plus, wasn't there an article in a national magazine in the last month about Trenton being in the top ten walking cities in the nation? Sure, it seems weird, even to me, and maybe outright outrageous to the haters in the suburbs, but I believe the reality here is different (not as bad) as what the suburbanites think. The reality is also different (worse) than what our former "crime is down" chanting police director claimed, but hopefully, now, that's beside the point.

Someone else in the same Santiago thread complained about the litter in Trenton, and believe me, this gets me, too. It's a class thing, bottom line, and there's a certain class that believes the world is their garbage can. I do often see a lot of it, right between two schools, with some of the worst offenders — kids — walking past my house all the time. But today, miraculously, I'm looking toward the east, out my window, and there is not a speck of litter in the public areas within my view. I went into Hamilton yesterday to drop off a stray cat to get spayed, and went back, later in the day to pick the cat up, and watched not one, but two separate white people, in two separate vehicles — an older man (60s) and a woman (maybe in her 40s) — both throw trash out of their car windows. The woman tossed it out into the road; the man into the supermarket parking lot.

So anyway, I just wanted to say to all the haters in the suburbs, "shut up." Your property values are most likely going down, and your starter mansions in Hopewell and Robbinsville are killing our trees, and your SUVs are depleting our resources, and your wife and father are litterbugs, and statistical you are just as likely as I am to have an arsonist or robber living next door. And, chances are, those of you with the biggest hatred for Trenton grew up here, but your racist parents moved you out just as soon as a darker-skinned person moved to your street, so thank you and your parents for feeding ignorance AND putting the ball in motion to set this city back.

I'd also encourage Doug Palmer to stop being so critical of us in Trenton who simply may not agree with him. I'd like to extend that encouragement to a few other select people (who hopefully know who they are, but, I imagine, are not reading this blog because of their own ego and self-importance, though I don't know for sure), who feel compelled to complain about others who don't agree with them. There's a pervasive narrow-mindedness in Trenton among a select few who happen to have access to large numbers of people, about what makes a person a hater, or a productive member of society, or part of the problem and not the solution. It's this narrow-mindedness about each other and our abilities — more than the haters in the suburbs, or our bad reputation, or the criminals in our midst, or even some of the less-than-successful programs in the city — that poses a far greater problem to us as we proceed into what I hope to be a more productive period in our history. I think the lesson of the week is that the citizens really do run this city; it is OUR city, not the politicians, who were put in office to serve us, and politicians and political wannabees need to remember that.

____
I was also going to comment on the abundant crime in the suburbs, like the vehicle arsons yesterday in sweet, safe Lawrence. There are plenty of criminals outside this city — homegrown in your towns — but I am done ranting for now. I can't sustain the pissed-offedness for that long.

Monday, March 17, 2008

FalafelQuest

Trenton Police Director Joseph Santiago is to vacate his position immediately, and I could blog about that, but I'll wait to see how the rest of the day and week pans out. It's exciting stuff though, and evidence that a small group of people can affect change. Thank you to the strong Trenton residents who stood up against the machine; your efforts have made a difference.

And today is St. Patrick's Day, but I'm not cooking corned beef (heavens, no), and I am not going to write about the holiday either, since my cartoon yesterday featured Mayor Palmer as a festive little leprechaun, and I don't think I can top that (thanks to Glen for so much of that inspiration). Plus, every day, my blog page is green. I'm doing my part. My ancestry is primarily Irish (and some German), and I wish you all a happy, happy day, but today, I want to write about falafel.

Maybe you've tried falafel, and maybe you haven't. If you haven't, I hope you do. If you have, and were disappointed, I just wanted to say I sympathize: I tried it for the first time in 1994, in a falafel shop in Atlanta, Georgia, and it was dry and bitter, and conjured up the feeling that I was eating dirt. Friends and curiosity urged me on, though, and I have found — and will say this is my experience only — that if you want to find great falafel, you have to visit a middle eastern restaurant, not a Greek one. Just keep seeking, even if your first falafel was a dirt burger, like mine. Once you find the holy grail of Falafeldom, you will realize it was all worth it. A great falafel, I think, should be kinda crispy on the outside, and moist and flavorful on the inside; it should never be bitter. If that's what you've had, the falafel-chef has added too much tahini and not enough bean. Keep searching.

So, yes, we love falafels, even if admitting it means the feds will start eavesdropping on our phone calls. I worked for a number of years at a food distributing company in South Jersey, and thanks to our vendors and the businesses who advertised in our magazine, I was exposed to a huge assortment of the world's cuisine. As long as it doesn't involve primates, endangered animals, too much carnage on one plate, internal organs*, or, perhaps most importantly, mayonnaise, I'll try anything, at least once. During those years with the food company, I was able to try many boxed falafel mixes, and most of them yielded a dry, yucky falafel, not much better than my dirt falafel in Atlanta all those years ago. It just didn't seem worth trying to make them — at least from a box — at home.

For whatever reason, at the time, it never dawned on me that I'd be capable of making my own falafel from scratch; falafels are kind of exotic, but the ingredients aren't (primarily ground chick peas, a bit of flour, onion, garlic, and other spices), and the preparation isn't terribly complicated either: grind everything into a paste, form it into a small ball or patty, and then, bake or fry. Of course, frying is better. I wouldn't steer you wrong. But I stayed away from making my own, because I figured that since the blood running through my body was not of Arabic stock, and with no family recipe, no birthright, how could I DARE attempt making falafel from scratch? So I didn't.

And then, serendipity. Glen and I met Rami, a warm, funny Palestinian man with whom we developed a quick friendship. Rami ran a Middle Eastern restaurant, Boustaan (which means "Garden" in Arabic), in Cherry Hill, and damn, that man could make a mean batch of falafels. The idea of making falafels at home — especially from a box — suddenly became very, very stupid. Sadly, Rami's business did not succeed, and Rami moved back to North Jersey, and by 2004, Glen and I again found ourselves falafel-less.

Oh, Rami, why have you forsaken us?

Glen and I moved to Trenton later that same year, and chatted with Rami on the phone from time to time, and he told us about his cousin, Alyan, who runs Alyan's Restaurant in the South Street district in Philadelphia, and who uses the same family falafel recipe that Rami used. Glen was working in Philadelphia at the time, so that gave us reason to visit Rami's cousin periodically, and I will say, his cousin's food is just as good as Rami's, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you visit Alyan's (602 S. 4th St., just off South Street). Get yourself a falafel sandwich, with a side of Alyan's fries (homemade, and topped with onions and jalapenos), and a glass of mint iced tea to wash it down: fabulous. Oh, and ask to sit in the back, which has the feel of a cozy kitchen, with a big sunny window on the roof and lots of plants. You won't want to leave; it feels like home.

Alyan's shop is very busy, and as such, we weren't able to develop a rapport with him. We missed Rami.

Just a quick aside, I think a lot of folks in this country who do not hail from the Arabic realm, often (not always) make quick assumptions about Arabs: that they're terrorists and fanatical, and worse. I'm not saying there aren't some — obviously, there are; but we have some fanatical, fundamentalist Christians here with, as far as I'm concerned, the very same mindset — but the thing of it is, most people are not the sort to resort to violence to get their points across. The Arab culture is steeped in a remarkable, outgoing, generous hospitality, absolutely unrivaled by most other cultures. Rami explained it to us that Arabs are traditionally nomadic, and with all that moving around, often run into rough weather, or some trouble with thugs along the way. It's part of their heritage to invite in a distressed stranger; s/he can stay for three days, no personal or political questions asked, and the stranger is treated like family. To me, this trait makes many Arabs fantastic restauranteurs and caterers.

Glen switched jobs in 2006, which made it less practical to get to Alyan's on a regular basis. So we scoured this area for decent middle eastern cuisine, but came up, for the most part, empty handed. There was a place called Aladdin's at the intersection of Hamilton and Nottingham avenues in Hamilton, but I think it's gone now. The woman who ran it was Egyptian, and she was very nice: she made her own pita fresh daily, so the smell of the fresh bread was alluring, for sure — I still think about it. The rest of the food, we thought, was just okay.

We found another place up in Somerset County north of Princeton on Rt. 206. The meal was okay, but we liked the dessert better; we ordered a piece of pistachio baklava, and a treat the waitress recommended to us, that her mother made herself. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of it, but mom used kataifi (shredded phyllo dough), and it contained the familiar mix of honey and walnuts, and was very, very good.

I like dessert, but I'm more of an appetizer gal. This further disappointment made us miss Rami even more. But he wasn't going back into the food business.

It's so much easier when you're in the market for the perfect burger or pizza: there are so many wonderful places around here from which to choose. Falafel is a bit more scarce. There's a halal butcher near Five Points in Hamilton, and he sells frozen, cook-at-home falafels, which were pretty damn good. And, Glen found a joint across the Cluck-U on Broad Street, and convinced the owner to show Glen how to make falafel at home. He wouldn't give Glen the recipe, but offered pointers on just how to form the ball in his hands, and what sort of consistency it should be, and so forth, and told him that great falafel always contains fava beans in addition to garbanzos — the favas keep the patties moist.

Recently, I was flipping channels and came across Sara's Secret's on the Food Network. I don't watch her often enough to have a strong opinion on her, but I feel like I want to like her, because whenever I stumble across her, she's making something that sounds so appealing to me. But I do pick up a slight bit of snobbery from her, as well: she is, after all, the executive chef of Gourmet magazine (ooh la laaaaaaa). She has a sly way of looking into the camera just as she, for instance, tosses a wee bit of rough sea salt onto her cutting board with her garlic before chopping it, as if to say, "you foodies know why I've done that, but I will not to explain it to the ignorant masses who may have stumbled across my show." I am the ignorant masses, but happened to read last year that tossing a bit of coarse sea salt in with your garlic helps keep it on the board and less slippery/sticky, and therefore, easier to chop. But the sly look pisses me off, even though she did — last time I watched her — make three super yummy-looking sandwiches, one of which was falafel. I paused the show (yep, we pay for that, and I will not apologize for it) and ran for a pad and pen and wrote down the words that appeared to the left of my TV screen. I figured if Sara — even though she is an executive chef at a very famous magazine, and I am, well, not — could do it, so could I, since by the look of things, with her blue eyes and blond hair, she may have even less Arabic heritage than I do (and I have none).

The following weekend, Glen and I were so excited to try it; I just felt good about Sara's recipe. I acknowledged that I, with my primarily Irish and German blood coursing through my cardiovascular system, am a pretty decent cook, and I excel at food items that do not hail from the same parts of the world as my (haggis- and schnitzel-loving) ancestors. She talked about the middle eastern women who actually peel the garbanzos, and getting the oil at the right temperature, and using the right amount of this and that, which yields a moist, delicious falafel. I felt that if I thought about those middle eastern women peeling all of those garbanzos, and the history of the falafel, and respected the traditions that surround this beloved food, I, too, would find success.

Glen's got a kitchen appliance addiction, and was happy to whip out the deep fryer for this, our first attempt at cooking falafels from scratch. We were confident and very hungry.

But disaster struck: I had written "one pound garbanzos" and used a can plus of beans; I have since learned that Sara started with a pound of DRY beans, which she soaked overnight, which created possibly 80 or 90 pounds of rehydrated beans the following day. But we didn't know that, and we had no idea the incredible lack of beanage would mean that our falafels would meet with dismal failure. While we were chopping and grinding, we were completely unaware of what was in our immediate future. The aroma was smelled delicious, and Glen merrily channeled the Egyptian on Broad Street, to recall the lesson he learned about forming the falafel in his hand. We had a plate piled with little falafels, prepared for frying, and Glen plopped them into the appliance, where they promptly disintegrated, one after another. Our merriment was short-lived. I was dumbfounded, and Glen was furious. I will say that if copying directions from the TV isn't my strong suit, I do handle emergencies very well. I had an irate husband, whose good nature will disappear faster than our falafels in oil, if he does not get fed in a timely manner. So, I figured "quick food first, and we'll sort out this mess later." We had a mostly full can of chick peas left, and I dumped them in the food processor with some tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt, and made a very delicious impromptu bowl of hummus, which we ate with pita and tomatoes and cheese. And it was really spectacular hummus — my first attempt at home, for the record — and it, most importantly, curbed Glen's hunger, but we were kind of devastated by the mess in the deep fryer, the mess in the food processor: all that effort for nothing.

We did our reading, and found out that we needed to start with the pound of DRY beans. I'm repeating this so hopefully it sinks in, just in case you stumble across this post in the hopes of making your own falafel. So, I soaked them on Friday night, and we began preparation again on Saturday night. As I ground up the beans, I found the overall consistency to be rougher, the flavor nuttier, but read that was a good thing. We were far more guarded with our hope this time, but we know, with Rami out of the food business, that we have to make falafels, if we want them. It's on us.

Anyway, I prepared all of the ingredients, but only formed two patties, reserving the rest of the mix, in case things went awry. And sadly, those two quickly disintegrated, like their predecessors from last week, which infuriated Glen even more than ever...we started later on Saturday night than we had last time, and the DVR thingy didn't pause his hockey game correctly, which means he missed a Don Cherry's Hockey Night in Canada, and believe you me, you were better off wherever you were on Saturday night.

I had again put some beans to the side, in the event of disaster, to make hummus again. Hummus from dried, soaked beans is a bit different, at least it was for me: it was coarser, and took forever to even come close to smooth in the food processor, and my beginners luck (at least for the hummus) was no more, and I may — after all that gloating about not having any allergies in my recent post about Glen's hatred for Kleenex — have some kind of sensitivity to sesame, so I didn't add too much tahini (ground sesame paste) to the hummus this time, which made it harder to achieve the proper smoothness. So the results weren't as good as the hummus that sprung to life after the last falafel failure in our kitchen. But it wasn't bad, either. I added a small handful of fresh cilantro and a good splash of lemon juice, and so, the final product, served with dill, cilantro, cucumbers, pita, and tomatoes, was tasty.

After our early failure, I put the remaining "dough" in the fridge, and Glen and I spent a bit of time yesterday scouring the internet, not wanting to waste enough fixings for nearly 40 precious falafels. We found that disintegrating falafels is a relatively common problem, which some people remedy by adding more flour, or more water, depending on what intuition dictates as one forms the patty. Some people add egg, but I knew Rami didn't use eggs for his falafel, and so, I didn't want to, either. Rami's level of falafel greatness is what we're trying to achieve, after all, and egg was a step in the wrong direction, to be sure. Since my mix was kind of rough, I ran the mixture through the food processor again, in batches, and wound up adding some water...and — I know this is probably not done, but instinct told me we needed just a small hit of flour to make it work, so — I dropped each small patty into some flour before dropping them in VERY hot oil. And this time, we decided to cook them in a frying pan, so the bulk of the falafel patty would be out of the oil — like a pancake. It seems like all of this worked, and we were, well, relieved. And also really happy. They weren't as good as Rami's: I think he, like Glen's Egyptian buddy on Broad Street, used a mix of garbanzos and fava beans, and he definitely had some parsley in there too, because his are a perfect golden brown on the outside, but have some fresh green goodness on the inside. Also, I think I made the mixture just a bit too smooth; a perfect falafel, in my mind, is a bit more rustic. But we're on the right track.

We ate up all of the cucumber Saturday night, a bummer for our meal Sunday night, but we made out okay: we had a bit of leftover green, rough quasi-hummus; and Glen made himself a tahini-lemon dip, and I made a tzatziki-style sauce with some fresh Greek yogurt, lemon juice, herbs, and chili powder.

Don't those falafels look delicious?! They're topped with dill and cilantro, and accompanied by pita, some really flavorful cherry tomatoes, and (front to back) tzatziki (Greek herbal yogurt dip), tahini (sesame paste), and some messed-up but tasty nonetheless cilantro hummus.

We have not quite reached Falafel-Greatness, but we are close. I think the next time we make them, we might just achieve that. And when we do, we can track down Rami**, and invite him, and everyone else over for a Falafel-Fest, and we can talk, and drink mint tea (or whatever) and enjoy each others' company.

________________________________________

* I am not a vegetarian, but have a hard time cooking large hunks of meat, especially mammal. I will eat mammal, but it is always with an awareness of what I'm doing. It started because as a teenager, someone I know was defrosting a roast on the counter, which is just not done anymore — and should have never been done in any era — and the blood was running toward the edge of the counter. The faceless block of meat leaking life on that counter suddenly seemed like it could be anyone I know and love: a family member, a friend, my dog. There was no way of knowing what was bleeding on the counter, and that distressed me a lot. So anyway, I'll eat it occasionally (depending on what it is, exactly, and who's cookin'), but won't prepare it myself. Similarly, even though chicken meat doesn't resemble human or beloved family pet (at least none of my pets), I've cooked a whole chicken and/or turkey fewer times than I have fingers on one hand, though I will prepare parts, and chicken breast, etc. Also, I am just not keen on mixing-and-matching death on my plate. So, bacon-wrapped filet mignon or bacon-topped clams, etc., is just overkill. I don't mean to "disrespek" vegetarians, because I admire their resolve, and will often, happily cook to accommodate them (without sacrifice on my part), but I firmly believe they can really bring down a dinner party with their fussiness. I suppose this is one of my greatest character flaws: it is more important to me to not draw attention to my eating habits at a dinner engagement than it is for me to stand up for my animal friends. I do hate myself for that sometimes. And yet, the fact that we have some sharp teeth and thumbs and tool- and fire-making abilities indicates to me that we, as a species, do have a tendency to eat meat. But we, unlike, say, sharks, have higher brain function and can make really thoughtful decisions about the creatures who inhabit the earth with us. Damn, I'm a mess. A total mess. And I'm so sorry. I'll shut up now.

**Oh, but wait. There's more. Rami also made an Arabic specialty called Kibbi. Or Kibbeh. There are probably as many different spellings as there are preparations for this yumminess. After we reach a higher level of success with falafel, we may move on to Kibbi. Again, Rami's were the best. Hands-down. If you're not familiar, I would put kibbi in the glorious family of "meat pie." Inside is a mixture of ground meat (Rami used beef, but some use lamb...ick), and pine nuts, and herbs and spices, and it's enveloped in a pastry sort of pocket. Maybe Rami can just bring us some kibbi to share with you when we have our falafel fest.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The world is watching,
if just a bit

I was bummed to hear Trenton School Board member, Lisa Kasabach, resigned recently. Ms. Kasabach appeared to me to be the lonely little angel on the shoulder of a group of misdirected, uncooperative, and egomaniacal people. I imagine like other shoulder angels, she found it unsatisfying to constantly witness her companions rushing impulsively into everything. And in her case, specifically, her companions were so unappreciative and outright combative with her, that it must have just been exhausting, so I can see why she bailed. She will be missed though, and by more than just the sensible people in this city. I am sure the school board without that voice of reason, that thorn in the side reminding them to be more courteous and thoughtful, will grow even more contentious and irrelevant, and they'll wish they never let her go, especially after the citizens of this city vote to kick them to the curb. The kids in the school who are not graduating in record numbers may not know it now, but will someday, possibly, wish she stuck around, too, because I'd bet she has better ideas than the other school board members to improve the education of Trenton kids.

The Trenton Board of Education provides material which is often better than television, and I don't know about the other bloggers and writers in the area, but I happen to be getting a decent amount of traffic courtesy of Google searches for the Trenton, NJ Board of Education. In the last two weeks, I've had hits from all over the country, and I'd wager that it's probably the same or better for my fellow bloggers, who are extremely admirable and far more focused on Trenton than I am.

So wake up, Joyce. Wake up, Doug. Your brand of crap doesn't happen elsewhere, and people on the outside are watching it. You're leaving your marks on Trenton: and they're the marks of blight and decay; YOUR names will be associated with that. And time is running out for you. Someday, soon, I hope, we'll go back to an elected school board, which will bring about another set of issues, but ones, at least, with which the community can cope. We are not irrelevant.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Kleenex Proclamation

Glorious Haloumi. Or as the Canadians call it, Haloom.
Which is fine by me, because it's delicious, either way.





Note: quite a bit of foul language below.


A few months ago, I blogged about Glen's assumptions about food, which are abundant, passionate, sometimes hilarious, and usually, spot-on. The bulk of Glen's hardcore opinions revolve around food, and that which can be used to prepare food (have I mentioned his small appliance collection?), but he will, on occasion, branch out into the world of general retail, as well.

Glen is a maven in the shopping world, actually. He can quickly discern the value of something, whether or not the shop you're in happens to be the best place to buy it, whether it's made well, will perform properly, will taste good, etc. He's usually right, too, even though he often sounds like a complete madman, especially on the occasions he offers his very quick, visceral opinions on something. Madman or no, Glen knows his stuff: he has a gift, and what didn't arrive with his birth, has been acquired by an incredible amount of reading. Reading reviews, in particular.

It can be difficult to take Glen's opinions seriously, though, since they usually seem hasty, and completely over-the-top. But if you prod him for answers, you'll find that he's usually done his research, and failing that, you'll learn that he just has a really good instinct about shopping. I struggle with the trust factor because his opinions are plentiful, and colorful. But take it from me: he is usually right (except for about Kleenex, but we'll get to that).

We went shopping twice last week (trips which stocked our freezer, the stock which we fretted we'd lose in the ridiculous power outage over the weekend), once to a local supermarket, and once to a large warehouse store. I struggle philosophically with the big warehouse shopping sprees, in that I'm aware these stores are ruining the livelihoods of smaller shops, but since Glen is such a smart shopper, we tend to purchase only very specific items there, usually items related to tending a multitude of cats (which is costly), and we saved a bundle in litter and chow last week. I respect the fact that the smaller shops should have a livelihood, but also that we work hard for our money, and need a lot of freaking cat chow and litter.

Anyway, at the grocery store, we walked up the produce aisle, and noticed some specialty cheeses tossed in — rather willy-nilly, if you ask me — with the veggies. One was called Haloumi; we're familiar with this cheese, because it's relatively popular in Canada, and when Glen's family visits, they bring it to us, only they call it Haloom. Either way, it's a Turkish/Cypriot cheese. I would liken it to mozzarella in several ways: it's a white cow cheese, it's mild, and it's a bit rubbery. But it's tougher than mozzarella: the joy of Haloom/Haloumi is that you can grill, fry, and saute it, as-is; you can hit it with some brandy and light it on fire, and use lemon juice to douse the flames, and it will hold up. As long as you don't stick it on the grill with the chicken and let it cook for the same length of time, you can abuse this cheese a bit. The heat can be intense, but you should keep it brief.

I discovered it, among the radishes and bean sprouts and said, "Hey, look! We don't need to import the Haloom anymore." Glen was instantly skeptical: this Haloumi in our local grocery was longer, and kind of freeform (think fresh mozzarella), kind of like a braided rope. And, unfortunately (for Glen), covered in herbs. Looked to be parsley to me. Glen looked at the package quickly and immediately proclaimed, "This is shit. The Canadian stuff is better." And he put it down, and forged on, in search of the perfect onion.

"Wait!" I said, "How do you know it's shit?" I am, of course, skeptical of many of Glen's proclamations, even though he usually winds up being correct, and figured this one was due to a fierce national pride. I'm an American, AND I'm a realist: I know that Canada kicks our ass in a lot of areas, but I'm not going to let him get away with deeming a Canadian product better than an American one, just because he's Canadian. Especially when the items in question are both imported from Turkey.

He said, "That crap is covered with green shit."

"So what?" I said, "It probably imparts a nice flavor on the cheese, and besides, I might serve it with herbs, anyway."

"Well," he said, "they should have left that up to us. I don't want their green shit."

I was expecting an argument on how the Canadians have higher food standards, but it came down to "green shit."

A short time later, we found ourselves in the freezer section, and Glen wanted to see if his favorite frozen pizza, Tombstone, was on sale: frozen pizzas are handy in a pinch, though I am loathe to admit we eat them. He'll agree to purchase Tombstone when it gets around the 3 for $9, or 3 for $10 range, never more. That evening, Tombstone was in the $4.50 each range, and Glen was displeased. The middle finger of his right hand sprung forth, and he said, loudly, "FUCK YOU, TOMBSTONE!!! Hey, babe, let's get some pita, and we can make some hummus."

The "FUCK YOU, TOMBSTONE!!!" was ringing in my ears, and because a slightly shocked mother with two young children were standing near us, I almost didn't hear the bit about the pita and hummus. I put my head down and just followed Glen, but, as I skulked away, I decided then that I had no reason to feel the burn of shame. "FUCK YOU, TOMBSTONE!!!" in front of the family, were not my words, after all, and I have no control over what Glen says. So, it was that moment, I decided to detach while in the store with Glen. He's a grown man, and we've been together long enough that I know I will never be able to retrain him for better behavior in the store.

It's hard, though, and will take some effort, and I'll probably fail, a lot. But at least I now realize it's easier to detach and observe Glen than to remind him every, hmmm, 8 minutes or so, that we're in public and he needs to be on best behavior. Later in the week last week, we made our trip to the warehouse store, and as we rode through the parking lot, Glen's right arm extended in front of my face, and again, his middle finger rose up, pointing at, I thought, the passenger side window, which he rolled down with his ultimate power from the driver's side console. "FUCK YOU, DICK!!!" He yelled out the window.

I chanted to myself, "detach and observe, detach and observe, detach and observe," but my heart was racing and I was really thinking, "holy shit, holy shit, holy shit." Glen can be crazy, but he's usually not combative. I had no idea whom he was verbally assaulting, or how long before the fight would begin.

"WHO the HELL are you yelling at?" I asked, incredulously, and terrified.

"Dick's," he said, "I needed to buy new hockey gloves a few months ago, and those cocksuckers had them tied too closely together, and I couldn't try them on to see if they'd work for me, and when I asked the guy if we could cut the plastic cord so I could try them, he said no." He offered a visual of what it would have been like to try on those gloves, and it looked, roughly, like a set of hands praying. "Hockey gloves are expensive," he continued, "that asshole could have retied the gloves if they didn't fit me right. They lost my business. Fuck him, and fuck them."

I said, "I think that's a Sports Authority."

"Same thing," he said. "Fuck them too." His finger went back up toward the sporting goods store. I decided, impulsively, to give the building my middle finger as well. "Fuck you, Sports Authority," I said, but not with the same gusto or volume which Glen used. It felt good to stand by my man, instead of correcting him for his questionable behavior.

Once inside the warehouse, we went to the pet care aisle and loaded up with food and litter, so happy that they were well-stocked. Glen's a good shopper and we don't normally rely on coupons, but last week, we got lucky — cat litter was $2 off the already low warehouse price, and we were permitted to buy 5 buckets at $2 off, each. After procuring that which we came for, we meandered up and down the aisles, just to see what else they had, and came upon the household paper product section. We needed toilet paper, and with guests on the way, we figured it made sense to get the one-gross pack, or whatever it was. It was a lot of toilet paper. While in that section, Glen noticed the tissues, a case of Kleenex, specifically. "Who are the ASSHOLES who buy Kleenex?" he said. "Why can't people use toilet paper to blow their fuckin' noses? They're blowing SNOT out of their heads. SNOT. Why should SNOT get fancy paper?"

I noticed an elderly couple rounding the corner and heading toward the Kleenex, and I felt the urge to clench up, and then correct Glen, but I felt liberated by our experience in front of the Sports Authority, so instead, I leaned into Glen and said (quietly, for the record), "I bet THEY use Kleenex," gesturing discreetly in the direction of the old couple. "I bet THEY have a box right now in the back window of their car."

"ASSHOLES," Glen said, with less volume than usual. Even though he has no understanding of why anyone would use Kleenex, he does respect the elderly, possibly — no offense to the elderly — more than they deserve.

In an overall sense, I would describe myself as a reasonably lucky person (knock wood): I've been healthy, and have never broken a bone. Aunt Flo doesn't bring me down, and I don't have allergies or many sensitivities. I can eat what I want and come in contact with any number of noxious chemicals with no ill effects. In fact, when it comes to verbal irritants, I'm largely unaffected as well. That quality alone has made Glen wonder if I'm really a chick, but I think the truth of it is that dudes are way more sensitive than women, but have been projecting all that baggage on us women for generations, and since we live in an honest age of reality TV and fantastic, revealing memoirs, dudes are beginning to see the truth: they're the sensitive ones, not us. But I suppose, also, women are slightly less idiotic than men (overall). Okay maybe A LOT less idiotic than men. For instance, I don't eat the thermonuclear-level chicken wings just to show my friends how much stupid pain I can endure, and, I guess, how well I sweat. I live in New Jersey, dammit, and while I love the smell of gas, have no need to pump my own, and I don't spend my free time putzing around with cars. So, these days, my exposure to the noxious is limited to, for the most part, do-it-yourself epoxy-resin kits and cat poopies. In the same vein, I try not to spend time around people who are likely to irritate me.

The point of all of that is that I've never really been dependent on any item to clear my nose, though I did mention to Glen that I purchased a box of Kleenex-brand tissues about ten years because the box was "really pretty." Glen, possibly enjoying the fact that I had, instead of suggesting better behavior, taken his side on his assault against Kleenex and the people who use it, said thoughtfully, "I can understand that. Some of the boxes are kinda pretty."

Brenda, Glen's sister, arrived the next night. We met my sister, Jenny, and her kids on Saturday, and went to the thrift stores, and visited the seƱora who sells the tamales. My family headed home, and Glen, Brenda, and I continued shopping: Glen and his family are truly phenomenal shoppers, and the loot pulled from these expeditions is remarkable. Over the course of this visit, we acquired several Chuck Norris, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and More Cowbell t-shirts, a pasta maker that will make a flat noodle for lasagne and/or ravioli (I mentioned once or twice to Glen it might be nice to make our own ravioli), a ton of Zitner's Easter Chocolates (to send back to Canada — Philadelphia-based Zitner's, by the way, is much better than the Canadian traitor Laura Secord's chocolates, BOO-YEAH!! Butter Krak rules!! If you haven't tried Zitner's, get thee to a store which sells them; read this article in the Philadelphia City Paper for more info. And here's another loving testimonial.)


Picture courtesy of The Bridge and Tunnel Club

Brenda also purchased a couple of wacky plastic chirping birds for her boyfriend, whom we lovingly call Jolene (it's a story for another time), though I hope I haven't given away the surprise (of the birds...not the nickname). She unpacked her loot, and she also produced one box of — gasp — Kleenex. I started to chuckle, and Glen scowled. "Only assholes buy Kleenex."

How fortunate for Glen that Brenda gets him. She laughed and said, "I know I'm an asshole, but I have really sensitive skin around my upper lip and nose." I told her the story of the Kleenex Proclamation and Costco, and she had already heard the "FUCK YOU, TOMBSTONE!!!" tale, and since she is Glen's sister, she knows of Glen's opinions, and agrees with me: they're often hilarious, but more often, correct.

Okay, he's usually correct, except for maybe his Kleenex Proclamation, which is just kind of harsh and judgmental, even though I don't use the product myself (like I could get away with it in this house). We've had a number of visitors in recent weeks with either mild cat allergies or were recovering from colds, and well, it's just gauche to hand them a roll of toilet paper. But I do. Because I'm not an asshole. At least I hope not.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

F*ck PSE&G

Okay, so it's not THAT bad to go without power for 24 hours over the course of a weekend, when not having power means no light, no stove, no heat, no hot water. It's not even that bad with an international houseguest, a tank of fish (with thermometer's mercury dipping lower and lower), and a newly jam-packed freezer full of food just purchased earlier in the week. It's not so bad when you're caught in the middle of a pretty remarkable windstorm, even when your husband is hollering "Get the F inside, it's a TORNADO!!" and tree branches and telephone poles are falling pretty much all over the place.

It was freakin' cold this morning, and not being able to have a hot shower or the ability to make coffee or make/post my Sunday Funny, is a total freakin' drag, but really, not the end of the world. It's WEIRD to not be able to check my email, or watch TV, or listen to music. And I noticed the lack of ambient sounds: no fridge, no computer fans, no fishtank filter, etc. But it certainly wasn't a horrific ordeal for us, even if it was a fairly big pain in the ass. After all, it was a sunny day, and we had good company, cell phones, blankets, socks, and a car with a radio, and the ability to use the toilets, and the means to buy coffee and breakfast sandwiches at a nearby shop, along with some newspapers, etc. etc. etc.

What sucks about this particular tale is that we called PSE&G last night, after several hours with no power, to find out what was going on, and the recording said we'd be back up at (exactly) 11:21 p.m. Saturday night. Which came and went. We woke up this morning, and we still had no power, and Glen called again, and first, got a recording, which informed him that we had lost power, but it had been restored. So he pressed some buttons, and was connected to the not-so-helpful Mr. Nixon, who told Glen that our neighborhood was getting "energized;" Glen asked what that meant, and Mr. Nixon says, "Just what that means." Whatever.

A few hours later, around 10:30 a.m., we still had no power, and it was getting colder, and we were growing more worried about the tropical fish (who have lived through some particularly lousy conditions, but never this sort of persistent cold), and the food in the freezer, so Glen called back, and again reached Mr. Nixon, who said, "Now sir, listen to me. Have you seen Ohio?" And Glen pretty much lost his mind: "NO, YOU LISTEN TO ME," Glen began. "No, I haven't seen Ohio. WE DON'T HAVE POWER, and it's cold. Can you tell me when we'll have power?" And Mr. Nixon couldn't answer. So, after that exchange, Glen and Brenda (his sister, the international visitor), decided to do some shopping, and I figured I'd wait to be "energized", and read, except I was too cold to concentrate, even with two cats sitting on me. I decided to call PSE&G myself, and got an automated message (apparently Mr. Nixon packed it in after Glen's second phone call), which said our power would be restored at "11:59 p.m. on Monday. Thank you for calling PSE&G. Goodbye!!" I was disconnected, and immediately called back, to make sure I heard the recording properly. I did. Since there was no option to speak to a human, unless I had an emergency to report (and who knows, maybe we were getting close to that?) I decided to call their automated, non-emergency number another 100 times, hoping to run up their phone bill, since they obviously weren't paying their crews to work on our area (because it's Trenton, maybe?). Then Glen and Brenda came back, and made me put the phone down. I needed to get changed out of my jammies, which was terrible — because it was about 55 degrees in here; it's terrible to change in that sort of temperature — because we were going shopping, and then to lunch, and then possibly a movie, if the power was still out when were done.

Even though we were promised power by 11:21 p.m. LAST NIGHT (Saturday), and then we were promised that we were getting "energized" in the early morning on Sunday, we could tell by the two downed poles on Olden, and broken tree in the street, and smashed vehicle, that "energizing" was a way off. We understood there was a storm, and shit happens in a storm, but it would be nice to just know what the hell the real problem was: the poles and lines were down, and everything was a mess.

Anyway, screw Mr. Nixon, and people who told him AND the automated messages what to say. We just got home around 7 p.m. to find a massive fleet of PSE&G trucks and Trenton Police officers working to clean up the mess. Hallelujah! We drove down our street, and saw porch lights, hoping we'd see our porch lit up too. And we did. Power is restored (though it's amazing to contemplate, given the mess currently all over Olden Avenue). Fish are okay. Food is okay. Glen is in the shower, and I still haven't made my Sunday Funny. Sorry about that. I'm working on it, and hopefully, it should be up by Wednesday.

Several people called us to check on us; thanks for that, and offering us warmth, food, libations. We're glad to be home. Maybe we can get together when we're all cleaner!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

I hate the Grateful Dead

I shouldn't bitch about public radio, especially about a station as rare as 88.5 WXPN, but I definitely have had a love/hate relationship with this station for the last couple of years. Sure, there's more to love, I will acknowledge that (and will address the good stuff after my rant), because all of the annoying crap combined that happens on WXPN just isn't as bad as commercial radio (and radio advertising, compared to advertising in other media, is just unforgivably bad), the radio hosts on WXPN are really, overall, pretty damn good: I cannot stand shock jocks, or even less-than-shocking DJs on other radio stations. And even with all of my problems and concerns with WXPN, the music — in general — is far better than what a lot of other radio stations, certainly the commercial stations, are playing

I was gonna let it all slide, but two things — well, actually three — happened in short order. First, last Friday, George Stamford was the WXPN Free At Noon Concert guest, and I did manage to live through the show, though his last, and most popular song makes my hair stand on end and always makes me turn the radio off immediately: nothing, to date, makes me move faster than hearing, "My Own Worst Enemy" by Stamford. It is self-loathing, cheese-whiz twaddle with music that was lifted from a circa-1974 super-simple 3-chord piece of tragic composition, that makes me want to put a knife in my head. I'm ridiculous, I know, but I just hate the song. A lot. The music industry and radio is complicated and formulaic, so I usually admire XPN for giving newcomers a break. But sometimes, songs don't get played on other stations for one simple reason: some songs truly do suck. The reason why no one else is playing "My Own Worst Enemy" is because it's the pits, and everyone else, except someone at WXPN, knows this.

Then, late Saturday night/early Sunday morning, we went to bed and put on Chuck van Zyl's Star's End program, which, I thought was supposed to be peaceful ambient music to provide a soundtrack to my dreams. Not last weekend. I swear that dude played a "song" that consisted of one unsettling chord — B flat minor diminished, I believe — played in perpetuity (it's probably still playing right now). This is an anguish-inducing chord that kept me up for hours, gnashing my teeth. The cats would not be calmed, either, but as soon as I turned off the radio, we all hunkered down and fell asleep.

I needed to sleep in on Sunday morning, due to the disturbing chord/song that caused me to toss and turn for hours (thanks, Chuck), and when we woke up, we caught the tail end of Sleepy Hollow. I will admit, there are times Glen and I will nearly blow our hot coffee out of our noses in fits of laughter at some of the over-the-top cover songs played on this show, but ultimately — and I speak more for myself than for Glen, because he does think Sleepy Hollow is a bit "gay" — I like the show, save for the hosts' penchant for Judy Collins (they play TOO much Send In the Clowns, for crying out loud). I enjoy the catchy French and Spanish tunes because they lend an air of sophistication to our weekend breakfast in Trenton, NJ. The accordion seems so hilarious on its own, to many Americans (including me), but man, those Europeans know how to use those things! I also appreciate the very odd, clever, soothing adaptations of songs like Black Sabbath's Iron Man. Again, for the record, my imagination is not good enough to make this stuff up: there is a quiet, comforting version of Iron Man, and it's getting airtime on WXPN. In Ozzy's version of Iron Man, we're convinced that the end of the world is here, and it's a bad, bad scene for us; in the Sleepy Hollow Version, Iron Man's leaden boots and delusions and vengeance are about as harmless as a yellow lab puppy.

Then, without warning on Sunday, suddenly there was a repeat of Friday's Free At Noon Concert, which I was vaguely aware would happen, but I wasn't actually hearing the music in the background until the "My Own Worst Enemy" song was on again, and I just couldn't get to the radio in time, and I nearly died. I hate music that makes me want to engage in self-mutilation.

So these three things made me spend a bit of time coming up with a list of all the other things I hate about WXPN. So here goes:

  • I hate that when they find a cool, new artist, they play only one song from the album. Okay, sometimes they play two songs from the album, but it's usually only one, and NEVER more than two.
  • I hate the Geator with the Heater (or would it be the Heator, and why does he have that stupid nickname anyway?), Jerry Blavat. I admit, this particular hatred is morally wrong and showcases many of my character defects. I acknowledge that, and hate him anyway. I hate silly nicknames, unless I dole them out, in which case, they're very smart and appropriate. If I were to give a nickname to Jerry, it would probably be something like "The Insufferable Jackass Who Plays the Old Annoying Shit." I don't know what a Geator is, and I suppose what makes that statement particularly disdainful is that, for a normally otherwise inquisitive person, I JUST DON'T CARE. I know he's done so much for the region in a musical sense, since 1954, but whatever. I'm not a huge fan of music from the 1950s*, but I don't outright hate it either. I just feel a whole lot better when it's not on. If I wanted to hear it, I'd raid my parent's collection of 33s. I suppose ultimately what gets me about this particular show is that I'd like to think of WXPN as the station that plays NEW music, the station that helps the up-and-coming artists, the underdogs. This dude and his "music from the heart" have all had their days. ENOUGH. Thankfully, the show is just an hour, during a time when most people would not be around to listen to it, so I thank WXPN for that small gift of scheduling.
  • I'm really sick of all the over-sensitive "singer-songwriters," who are so full of themselves and their stupid annoying affectations, like irritating, overdone regional accidents, greasy hair pressed to their faces, and a tendency to hide behind the amps during live performances. I don't dislike singer-songwriters or folk music, or "yuppy lite" outright; and I enjoy "unplugged" stuff well enough, but for THE LOVE OF GOD, I would not mind AT ALL, if some of these whiners plugged in their freakin' guitars and hired a REAL drummer (for crying out loud). Also, I wouldn't mind a little screaming, moaning, grunting and/or gyrating, just a little bit. I never thought I'd ever miss the days of spit-flying, unintelligible lyrics, and instrument-smashing, but I guess I'd like to hear a bit more anger, from time to time. I'm not much of an angry person, and I have worked hard to achieve calm in my home, but every so often, a quick, contained dose of rage is pretty cathartic. And, a bit of it can be kinda sexy too. Certainly sexier than so many unplugged gender-ambiguous hermaphrodite-wannabees.
  • I detest all of the end-of-the-year countdowns on WXPN, and it is the whole reason we got satellite radio. Each year, yes, there's a different spin, but always producing the same inane tribute to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, the Beatles, and occasionally, U2, and Joni Mitchell. I am by no means intimating that any of these artists are irrelevant, though I will say I don't need to hear a whole lot of them, since they got/get plenty of play on other stations, and in some cases, had their day in the sun. ENOUGH (see comments on the Geator, above).
  • My biggest gripe with WXPN — and I have let them know — is the Grateful Dead show, on Mondays from 10-11 p.m. Again, I appreciate the fact that the show, over the years, has been moved to a far less popular time slot, but I just hate the Grateful Dead more than I hate the Year-End Countdown, or the Geator, or even that George Stamford song (but only a little bit). I hate the Grateful Dead pretty much more than I hate anything else in the world. I hate that any one band should get a regular slot on a public radio show, especially a band — like others mentioned above — that has already enjoyed copious success, especially when said band panders to a bunch of non-productive, unshowered, drug addicts, and since the average Dead Head has his/her own extensive bootleg collections on sticky, pot-residue encrusted cassette tapes. PLUS, anyone who might want to listen to the stupid Grateful Dead hour is probably too freakin' stoned to even remember when the damn show is on — or that it even exists, anyway. Ugh, I hate the Grateful Dead.

I am full of contradictions and exceptions, though: I wouldn't mind hearing fewer singer-songwriters, and more bands, but I do like Sunday Night's Mountain Stage — most of the time. I'm thinking that Chuck van Zyl's show on the Saturday-Sunday overnight is to deliberately induce disturbing nightmares, but I often really like the similar ambient show, Echoes, hosted by John Diliberto, which is airs on weeknights, from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. I like it, even though Glen is convinced that Diliberto is broadcasting the show from his mother's basement; Glen spends several nights a week concocting silly scenarios where John is conducting an interview, but his mother interrupts and asks him to put the wash in the dryer, or when Mrs. Diliberto is feeling more social, Glen thinks she offers cookies to John and his guests.

Also, I would rather not listen to Kathy O'Connell's Kids' Corner (Monday through Thursday, 7-8 p.m.), but it doesn't make me see red, or run to turn it off. Sometimes I find myself caught up in the little stories and the science stuff. I just hate when she does her bizarre drumroll: "Da da da da da da daaaaaaaaaaaah." That REALLY grates on Glen, and I don't blame him for that at all.

Often, too, I find myself listening to the fund drives, and will usually pledge (unless it comes too soon after a dismissive response from station manager, Bruce Warren; Warren has, historically, laughed off my complaints about the Grateful Dead show with "thanks for the chuckle" messages). What I like about the fund drives is that they really demonstrate staff's exuberance, and dedication to the station. They clearly believe in commercial-free public radio, and I appreciate their earnestness and loyalty. It's impressive to see people who can clearly stand behind their employer; there's not enough of that in this world. And I listen to those fund drives in the hopes that they reach their goals — though they seldom do — but the disappointment never affects their commitment.

I focused more on the hate, and I will reiterate that the station goes off as soon as I hear George Stamford, or the Geator, or the Grateful Dead, or Kathy O'Connell's irritating drumroll; and it goes off for the better part of the holiday season thanks to the Countdown. But right now it's on. And I'm glad to have it.


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FYI: XPN's website. Again, they're located at 88.5 in the Philadelphia area.

and

* I want to make it clear that the Geator's show consists of what I'll call 1950s sappy pop music. I like the jazz, big band, and martini lounge-style music from that era.