Monday, April 28, 2008

My truck, my singing, and the hosejob we're getting from the mayor

I have a truck. It's not something I would have pictured myself in, prior to getting it back in 1998, but it's been a reliable, comfortable vehicle, and has made me one of the more popular people among my circle of peers, because of its full-size bed. I'll admit, it does get tiring after awhile, being the one to help out folks in a pinch, but really, I'm really glad to be able to help people move and/or haul stuff, because that's what trucks are for. Because I very literally live where I work, and do so without the "do as I say not as I do" encouragement from our mayor, and am not commuting, the truck is spending a lot of time in the garage lately, especially since Glen's car is much better on gas, and gas, as everyone (except for Mayor Palmer and a few of his cronies) knows, is scary-expensive right now, especially for an 8-cylinder vehicle.


On Saturday, Glen and I got up earlier than usual, with the plan of going out for breakfast, and hitting a few thrift stores. Glen keeps a little radio in the bathroom, and likes to listen to music when he showers; I can take it or leave it, but since it was Saturday, only one of two days each week we get to hear WXPN's Sleepy Hollow program, I turned the radio on as I hopped into the shower. You may recall, I blogged about my love-hate (mostly love) relationship with WXPN back in March, and mentioned the complicated friendship we have with Sleepy Hollow. We listen, faithfully, every weekend, because often, we get to hear some wonderful, transporting songs while we drink our coffee. But sometimes Sleepy Hollow is so over-the-top bizarre, or — no offense to my gay friends — so damn gay with the "Send in the Clowns" covers and/or Judy Garland stuff, that we are just enthralled, in only a way Sleepy Hollow can enthrall us.

And the song that played during my shower did not disappoint, and, inexplicably, inspired me, to my shame now, to loudly sing along, despite the fact I almost never sing out loud, especially while someone can hear me, and also, because I had never heard that particular song before. But here's a little-known secret about me: I can sing. Really. I can sing pretty well, too. I have a good range. But you know, there's something a bit wrong with our society, and even more so with the family I grew up in. Sincerity and earnestness can be — and was, in my family — seen as a weakness. And there's something about singing that makes the singer so vulnerable, so open, so sincere, so earnest, so — well, open to mockery, especially by the pack of wolves who raised me — that I have learned that I am better off not ever singing in front of anyone. And you are too. Believe me.

But Sleepy Hollow beckoned, and there was yodeling and accordion playing, and maudlin crowing, and so much drama in that song, that I could not help myself to this perfect opportunity to sing, and to really let my talent soar, matching the emotional value of that song with my own yodeling and dramatic crescendos; knowing that no one could make fun of me, because I was already mocking the song.

I have worked on this area of my life: the sincerity/vulnerability/earnestness thing, having found that I feel most alive when I'm my most open. It's scary, but thrilling, to be vulnerable. So, I've made sincerity strides in my interpersonal relationships, and in my writing, but I will never, ever, sing for real — well, never solo, anyway — in front of anyone.

I finished up my shower, and wrapped myself in a towel, left the radio on, because the Sleepy Hollow host, Chuck Elliot treated us to another theatrical piece, and I walked out of the bathroom, throwing an extra towel dramatically over my shoulders like an opera singer might do*, bellowing in my lovely but sarcastic voice, down the stairs in Glen's general direction.

Glen did not respond. Instead, I heard the sweet southern drawl of my elderly neighbor, M, call back up to me: "Child, get your clothes on now, we're taking a ride around the corner."

"I'll pull the truck out of the garage now," Glen said.

I. Was. Mortified.


I bounce back quickly, another survival skill of mine, and so, dutifully, I got into the truck, even though my hair was still dripping and was not given the time to put on make-up. M's niece lives around the corner on Hamilton Avenue, and for reasons I didn't quite understand, the niece had to move. I'll leave those details out, partially because, even several days later, I don't comprehend, and also because I'd like to offer some anonymity to M's niece. Suffice it to say, it was a rushed move. But it's worth mentioning that the house on Hamilton Avenue is one of those grand old dames, in the historic neighborhood. It was probably the second largest house in Trenton I've been in, and architecturally speaking, one of the most well-appointed: the built in bookcases, the servant staircases, the plumbing, the moldings, the glorious, glorious details that, even now, still sing (sincerely, if weakly) Trenton's praises. The house had, however, fallen into complete — I'm repeating for emphasis, complete — disrepair. Broken stairs (both regular and servant), broken windows, broken doors, evidence of vermin (including a Ghostbuster's size tank of exterminator poison), broken pipes, mold, and most criminal of all, a leak which had blown through all three stories of the house, culminating the the parlor. The ceiling, at the site of the leak on the first floor, looked like a broken rib cage, plaster and lath discolored and ruined, dangling, huge and gaping. A HUGE, full, rancid bucket of water beneath it.

M is in her mid-70s. Her niece, I'm guessing, in her early 40s, and is battling a health issue. There is no other family, and the niece's friend was supposed to come by with a truck to help her move her stuff, but never showed. M had called Glen while I was in the shower, and had told him that, simply, the niece was getting rid of a lot of stuff, and maybe he'd like to have some of the furniture and tools. But when we got there, we found a woman broken, let down by life, living in a house that needs to be condemned and renovated at once, with her most important possessions out back, under heavy, threatening clouds, with no one to help her move her stuff. Turns out, all week, M had been helping her niece pack and sort, and had been taking things back to her house in our neighborhood, to store in her garage, until her niece gets settled in a new place. M doesn't drive, and had been getting anyone with a car to help her all week. It can be a total drag to help someone move, especially when it's the contents of an entire house, but under the circumstances, it is far worse to be the person moving, with no help. I wish we had known sooner. We loaded up the truck until it was precariously full, with some of the niece's most important and/or sentimental stuff: papers, photos, art supplies, clothing, shoes, tools, and stashed it into our garage until the niece gets settled.

We dropped the exhausted M off at home, and Glen and I decided to grab some breakfast, even though it was much closer to lunchtime, and tried to figure out if and how we'd get back on track for our day. It's Glen's birthday weekend, so we were trying to do some fun, leisurely things; we hadn't been out to breakfast in months, and hadn't done the full thrift circuit in ages, either, and that was what Glen wanted to do. So, of course, there was some disappointment, and exhaustion, but really, how could we feel THAT bad: we haven't been living in a house that should be condemned — or razed (as sad as that would be) — and all of our stuff wasn't sitting in two garages in East Trenton, with the rest of it strewed about the soon-to-be-condemned (we hope) property. Our day was going differently than planned, but certainly, our lives were okay at the moment.


While I waited for my egg and cheese on a sesame bagel to arrive, I picked up the Trentonian, and started to read LA Parker's latest printed tongue bathing of Mayor Palmer, and felt extremely uncomfortable and voyeuristic, like I was watching a deeply intimate, personal event. This made me start to lose my appetite. And I was too damn hungry, and looking too damn forward to my egg and cheese to lose my appetite over Parker's enduring, effusive, and incoherent love for the mayor.

I will not provide a link to LA's column, but instead will direct you to Mr. Clean's post on the topic, which is a) written better than LA's column, and b) more objective than LA's column, and c) offers many more details to the story behind the inspiration for LA's most recent Doug Fest. And for the record, unlike LA Parker, Mr. Clean ain't getting paid to write, which shows unbiased dedication.

Here are the basic details, though: the Trenton Train Station on Clinton and Raoul Wallenberg Avenue is in the process of a LONG OVERDUE overhaul. The project is funded by the state and the feds, to the tune of $76 million, and the station is owned and operated by NJ Transit, and also sees some action from Amtrak and SEPTA. In addition to glorifying the Roy Rogers Fixin's Bar which made its home in the station, LA Parker's column on Saturday gave credit to this wonderful transformation to the forward thinking of Trenton mayor Douglas Palmer. It isn't: this renovation is happening with absolutely no regard to Palmer. Parker wrote of Palmer's hope that a new (potentially crack-whore and john-free) transit center may attract new buildings and businesses in the area, despite a solid 18-year track record of business anti-development under Palmer's watch. LA Parker ignores the 18 years of decay and rot, and instead gives credit to Palmer for something Palmer had nothing to do with it, and calls it "Palmer's Legacy."

I know this makes me sound like a hater, but it's not that cut and dry. I love Trenton, but am not blind to the problems here; and I'm not fan of Palmer's. Regardless of where the ideas, funding, hard work came from, I am glad for any improvements in the city, and would love to see businesses make their homes here, even if those businesses and/or improvements come from Mayor Palmer's work (which obviously has not and will not happen). According to the New Jersey Transit website, the Trenton station serves approximately 5,500 riders a day. The station will now include a mezzanine level to provide additional office space, as well as dozens of other improvements. These improvements, in addition to the volume of people coming through, and Trenton's key location between NYC and Philadelphia, may be draw alone for businesses to come set up shop here, and will have — I'm sure — nothing to do with Palmer or his legacy.

Trenton is, despite its reputation, full of artists, including M's niece mentioned earlier in this post. M's niece has shown her work at Artworks as well as Trenton's museum, Ellarslie**. Palmer was so NOT involved with the renovations at the Trenton Train Station that he didn't even push to have a Trenton artist's sculpture installed in front of the station. Instead, he hand-picked a few city representatives, who were also possibly unaware of the artistic talent that resides in Trenton as well, to sit on Amtrak's Committee To Pick A Sculpture For The Trenton Station. And last week, "Zenith," a 30-foot, 9-ton, multicolored swirl of steel went up, commissioned by Amtrak by Rochester, NY artist, Albert Paley. Paley sports an impressive résumé, and is obviously talented: check him out here; but I just cannot understand how our own mayor, someone with so much supposed love for Trenton, continues to let us down, to sell us out. He must be laughing at us from his home in Hunterdon County.

Palmer's real legacy, by the way LA, is in the 300 block of Hamilton Avenue. A building there was home to a woman crushed by life here in Trenton, forced to leave a once-luxurious home in the historic district, thanks to unimaginable living conditions, poverty, illness (and no health care), vermin, crime, and a steady stream of broken promises from the Palmer administration. Palmer spouts off about his Green City, his Live Where You Work Campaign, his Crime is Down mantra, his Look at the Great Icons I've Had Installed Around the City, all the while lives of good, decent, hardworking people continue to fall apart and through the cracks. That's Palmer's real and shameful legacy: a legacy of disparity, a legacy of discrepancies, a legacy of letdowns, a legacy of lies.


* Is it wrong to make the occasional dig at your own mother in your blog? She has told me -- and my sisters -- that she doesn't read my blog, because there are too many words, which is a terrible thing for a mother to say, but I know I am verbose. Also, even though Trenton politics consume me, my mother could not be more disinterested. Besides, she is just too busy, anyway, to read her eldest daughter's blog, even though it might take all of 35 minutes to get through a week's worth of my posts. So here's my dig, a little challenge to see if this news travels, and if it does, if I can guess which little birdie mentioned it to her. My mother, as you may recall from my Birthdays Gone Wild post, is an artist; she insulted my sister's boyfriend, whose mother paints in a medium different than the one my mother has chosen. My mother also wears a cape, and has done so for as long as I can remember, and whenever she puts it on, it's usually with tragic drama. Most of our family gatherings end this way: she gets her cape half-on, and then orders: "Come ON, Mike. We are LEAVING." The other half of the cape gets thrown with anger over her left shoulder. "Your daughters," she continues, "are denigrating me." Her head is thrust to the left, and up, in utter disdain. I guarantee there is no denigration happening; my mother is just incredibly sensitive, and loves to play the role of the victimized artist, which as always been hard to take — harder to take after our weekend moving the art supplies and personal effects of a REAL victimized artist here in Trenton. We used to try to convince my mother that we were on her side, but now we let her go, with the cape-drama, hoping for some fantastic art to spring from her perceived denigration. I've never owned a cape, since I much prefer to blend into the background, but find that I often — even though I am quickly approaching 40 and should know better – wear a pretend cape, always thrown over my left shoulder in a huff, after I get out of the shower. I've got some big towels, approximating a sweet cape, but I just don't have the personality for a cape, real or otherwise, so I always wind up drying my long hair with it instead. Practical.

** For an absolutely unbelievable story about Palmer's short-sightedness, read Greg Forester's blog post from Saturday. He was promoting, for free, the Ellarslie Museum, on his blog. His blog, like others in Trenton, is critical of the Palmer administration and policies; Ellarslie is the city museum, and the head honchos are, of course, closely aligned with Palmer; and for the record, Greg's blog gets scads of traffic. I'm only guessing, but I'd bet he gets more hits than the rest of the Trenton bloggers put together. Our city has almost no appeal to the outside world anymore (much of that is due to ignorance, plain and simple), and Greg offered free advertising for one of the city's gems. So now that's done. SMOOTH MOVE.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Despite the loads of cartoon fodder this week, I'm taking the weekend off. Mayor Palmer doesn't deserve the respite, but I do! The cartoon will be back very shortly!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Knucklehead Deterrent

Just a cute little honey bee.

Glen and I moved here around Labor Day 2004, and save for a few loud, rambunctious weeks after school began that year, we had a quiet first few months.

All was quiet through the fall and winter, and even most of the spring of 2005. Then, around Independence Day, 2005, all hell broke loose. Suddenly, our neighborhood became an open air drug market, and I was shocked to watch white suburban soccer moms and construction workers shooting up heroin in their cars outside our house. We became friendly with the police, and our neighbors, but nothing seemed to help. By Labor Day 2005, we were wondering what the hell did we get ourselves into. We had a couple of friends over for a barbecue that day, and I hoped against hope the local dealers would not be using our corner as their HQ, but unfortunately, they did. Our guests were mesmerized and appalled, all at once. It just made me miserable to have to think twice about inviting people to visit, or worse, having my sister's kids stay with us for an overnight. That autumn became a total free-for-all, with drug dealer conventions right out in the street. And it seemed the very second we picked up the phone to call the police, the knuckleheads would disperse. After the police did their drive-through, and the look-outs deemed the area all clear, the dealers came back out.

Winter came, and things again quieted down, which was nice, but it would have been nicer if I could begin to enjoy my porch and work on my little tiny front yard in the warm months, like the rest of the world is able to do. The spring of 2006 rolled around, and we were hellbent to make a difference. At this time, I had been taking the Rutgers/Mercer County Master Gardener class, and thought about the benefits of manure for our new, small yard. We picked up a load, and spread it around our garden beds, and had a bit left over. We thought it would be a good idea to toss it on the corner, where the dealers liked to work. While the dealers were off to a slow start that spring, our manure plan seemed to have the desired effects: a lot of the local punks complained loudly as they walked by. Sure, a lot of things smell better than manure, but it isn't the worst smell in the world. Odd how knuckleheads are willing to risk jail time, but don't like to get their feet dirty or be around smelly stuff. Inspired, I planted a few bulbs and a small shrub on the corner too, and took a risk and added a wee bit of decorative edging. The edging does get trampled a bit — likely on purpose — but for the most part, the kids and knuckleheads have left the plants alone.

The drug deals started to pick-up, but were less concentrated on our corner. But we saw a lot of new dealers, new buyers, and were again frustrated. In April, 2006, there was a major take-down on our street, and a problem house improved: a father had left his kids without any supervision, to work out of the area, and decided to come home. That really helped, since that house was the nerve center for all of the bad stuff.

It's not perfect here, but it has been better. Instead of watching a drug deal every 15 minutes, I watch maybe one or two a week; I see a lot of our regular dealers milling about, but they tend to not do business right in front of me anymore, which I appreciate. A few years ago, I had hoped to get them all rounded up and arrested, and there's still part of me that would love to see that because they are so obvious and just should not be allowed to operate with impunity, but for now, I have to be content the bulk of the activity is off my corner. In the meantime, I know that everything can change in minutes...that's life, right?

That cool house bursting with plant life on Hamilton Avenue. Click here for some other great and some not-so-great pictures of Trenton. Mostly, though, they're great homes.

We're now entering our fourth gardening season here in Trenton, and I often look at other houses, especially the wonderfully kooky house on Hamilton Avenue, just past Clinton, but before Broad, with plants and vines and flowers just bursting from every nook, I wonder what the hell am I doing wrong? I've reflected back on some of my lame-brained ideas, and taken notice of the stuff that has been working out, and tried to remember some of the things I wanted to do but didn't get around to yet. I've thought about my Master Gardener class which I took in 2005-2006, with its participants hailing primarily from the much snootier parts of the county. While everyone was very warm and friendly (despite their snooty zip codes), it was hard for me to listen to them gripe about their deer problems, and one week, about the rogue bear that was milling about the region. Boo hoo hoo, I thought. The former owner of this house left a pile of rotting wood out back, which was riddled with so many varieties of wood-eating bugs; he hadn't done a single thing to help the yard along in the 20 years he was here, so not only did we have piles of brambles and errant weed trees (like sumac) fiercely fighting for domination, but we had dusty, sandy soil, to boot; plus we had stray cats pissing all over everything; AND we had knuckleheads on the corner, and they would not relent.

Set free the bear right here in East Trenton, I thought. Just let it roam around for awhile on my corner. I thought A LOT about that bear, and save for a mauling, could not dream up a single negative thing about having it hang around my neighborhood. And a mauling, depending on the maul-ee, might not be that bad, if you know what I mean. And if I could not have my bear fantasy, I'd be amenable to receiving some of Hopewell's deer; having them trot around Olden and Hamilton and Greenwood might be quite the distraction. Maybe some bucks could fight in broad daylight, or even rub their antlers on some of the trees around here, and maybe, I dunno, it would make the dealers think about getting real jobs during the day, instead of operating right out in the open.

I thought a lot about beneficial insects, too, because of my time with the Master Gardener program. Not only could we smite some of our problematic bugs if I picked up a carton or two of lady beetles or praying mantids, but having them fly about my house might make the punks and knuckleheads think twice about walking past and/or hanging around my house. One fellow student managed beehives up in Hopewell, and sold her own honey. She spoke of the plight of the honey bee and talked about how a different species would help fill the void, if only she could find some more people to tend them. The die-off of our honey bees is a bigger problem than you might think: honey bees are prolific pollinators, and when their colonies collapse, so can our crops and farms. She almost had me convinced that maybe I could manage a small hive here; she made it seem so easy. She was also part of the Helping Hands Monkey Foster Program, in which people can foster monkeys for a year or so before the monkeys are sent off to live with people with motor skill disabilities. The program is similar to the seeing eye dog program, where the dog is fostered for a year in a loving home before he or she is sent off for training.

Anyway, each week as I came home from class enthusiastic to start our own bee colony, or foster a capuchin monkey, or babysit a lamb for a just few days — all the while we found ourselves juggling cats here at home — Glen discouraged me from pursuing a friendship with that woman. It was hard, because she was really cool, and I really like honey. And monkeys are awesome.

Monkeys ARE awesome, Glen. See? This is Whiplash, and he can ride a dog! Read more here.

So in the last few weeks, as I survey our small city yard, I've thought a lot about the bees. I'm not afraid of them. I think I have it in me to tend a hive. I think. Plus, I keep coming back to the whole knucklehead situation in my neighborhood, and nothing says "stay the hell away" like a big ole hive, right?

The bees are just a thought bouncing around my head as I walk around the yard, moving this here and that there, and making plans for this bald spot or that empty corner. I have such mixed feelings this spring, feeling kind of bummed that things just didn't work out the way I thought they would in the yard (and in life), but also really optimistic because other things have taken off so well, and life does have a way of being wondrous, despite the hardships. Just a small little example: I planted wisteria the first autumn we were here — which is risky, because it grows so quickly, and has a reputation of pulling down trellises. But it's fragrant and lovely and an early bloomer, and I need color early in the season, in the city so full of pavement and close homes and leafless trees. So I've tended and trimmed and trained my wisteria, and it's been a strong grower, but hasn't rewarded me with flowers. Until this week. And wow, it's been fantastic. It's not like we got just a couple of lovely purple cascading flowers, but rather, an armada of them. It was really exciting to watch them get ready to bloom, and yesterday, nearly all of them opened up, all the way. Today, the blossoms are in their glory.

Some of our wisteria.

I went out with the camera to capture some of this, since spring flowers are so fleeting. I was at first discouraged because right now that particular arbor is heading off into the toxic waste dump part of the yard, and telephone lines run directly overhead, and the backs of a couple of the houses behind us are far from picturesque. But I did my best. And while I was turning and focusing and clicking and framing, I was dive-bombed by a bee. It didn't sting me, but it was a big honking bee, and it was clearly sending a message: "stay the hell away."

I heeded the message of the bee, but looked back: the bees have discovered the wisteria blossoms. ALL of the bees in the world, I think. We have a couple of small holly shrubs near the wisteria, and there are small, almost insignificant flowers emerging from the holly, too. And the bees were all over it as well. I stayed the hell away, and have decided that perhaps bee keeping isn't my thing, even if it could keep the knuckleheads further away from my home. Oh well. Might be time for another load of manure, just to be safe.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Can Trenton Go Green?

Olden Avenue near Taylor Street and Lawrence Avenue, facing north. Soooooo Green!
(click to enlarge)

More than 600 Earth Day volunteers got together over the weekend and pulled about 5 tons of garbage from the nearby Raritan River. Once a relaxing recreational site in Central New Jersey, the Raritan is currently the 14th most polluted waterway in the nation, with 11 federal Superfund and 200 state-registered toxic sites along its banks, and the banks of its tributaries.

The clean-up efforts are proof that with a bit of organization and elbow grease, so much can be accomplished. Of course, much more needs to be done, especially in New Jersey, the most polluted state in the nation. New Jersey didn't get dirty overnight, but one day of hard work can make a dent. And if we keep up the good work, and strive to change behaviors, we'll continue to see improvements.

This is, of course, the reality for plenty of places all over our country, but unfortunately for us, they're just words. At least for now.

Five months prior to Earth Day 2008, our mayor Douglas Palmer gave his annual State of the City address in which he promised to bring a number of green initiatives to Trenton. The following week, in early November 2007, Palmer attended one of the biggest gatherings of US mayors ever. The draw: the Global Climate Protection Summit; mayors of a large number of US cities got together in Seattle to specifically announce plans to ask congressional leaders for more national work on environmental measures. Palmer is, by the way, the president of the National Conference of Mayors, and based on the video of the Summit (link provided below), does indeed have a keen understanding of the work that needs to be done, and acts, at least in front of his fellow mayors and the federal-level officials present, as if he is committed to the cause.

Since then, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has vowed a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. San Francisco proposed a subsidy program to encourage solar panel installation. Seattle retrofitted nearly all of that city's fleet of heavy-duty diesel trucks with emission control devices, cutting toxic emissions and particulates by approximately 50%. Minneapolis reached a settlement agreement with their airports, creating the largest program in the country addressing airport noise impacts beyond the level approved by the Federal Aviation Administration; this should decrease noise levels for 9,500 homes in the Minneapolis area. Austin, Texas boasts an impressive resume of sustainable locations, locations using solar panels, local materials, reuse of old buildings, the use of trees and light pavers to reduce heat gain, and so forth. And it's not just the big, "blue" metropolises that are pushing for change: Jackson Hole, Wyoming residents and politicians, concerned about how their melting snow-covered mountains are changing their ecosystem and their tourism have instituted carpooling, bicycling, and education initiatives.

Sure, some of the measures around the country may be too little too late, or may not ever work, or may even be attacked by critics as hot air. But they might really make a difference; and I only skimmed the surface. I mention the above to show that at least in some municipalities, there are real initiatives, real dialog, real changes. Palmer should have returned home from that environmental summit inspired and ready to inspire, full of ideas and plans to help Trenton become greener. However, around that time, former mayoral candidate, civic activist, and businessman Frank Weeden, officially questioned city's administration as to the location of (now ousted) Police Director Joe Santiago's residence. Santiago, per city ordinance, must live in the city of Trenton, but has been living in Stirling, Morris County, about 50 miles away. A few days later, Trentonian reporter Jack Knarr wrote a story about the possibility of withheld/downgraded/sanitized crime statistics, providing more bad publicity for Palmer crony, Santiago.

Palmer had a choice of throwing himself whole hog into a short-sighted, egotistical battle for one man's job — a man who said that he'd leave before moving to Trenton — or he could have done the right thing by the environment and the citizens of Trenton and fired the guy or allowed him to quit. Failing that, Palmer still could have focused on some long-term, high-minded goals of reshaping Trenton's future, like his Conference of Mayor colleagues were doing in their hometowns, but instead vowed to protect his buddy, and drag the residency issue out in the courts, if need be. Palmer could have helped reduce Trenton's carbon footprint by insisting Santiago's chum Irv Bradley (Director of Communications), move to the city, per our law and as part of our Green Initiative. Palmer, himself, could have done the right thing and moved his family back into his Hiltonia home, since mayors are supposed to live where they serve (it's the whole point). While his Conference of Mayors colleagues rose to the challenge of making sweeping reforms on the municipal level, our mayor posted a short list of helpful consumer-grade environmental hints on the city's website. I'm not implying that we residents shouldn't try to make a difference; but our government is far more wasteful than we can ever be, and politicians need to start setting an example. Plus, I wonder what percentage of city residents even own computers anyway?

Federal and state grant money exists to help cities who may otherwise have a tough time getting green programs running. There are a number of inner city politicians and activists along the east coast who are working diligently to make environmental issues relevant to underprivileged people, often using grant money in the process for green training programs; many of those activists are willing to travel to other urban centers to impart their wisdom.

Instead of making even the smallest of environmental changes, or looking toward other nearby cities for help, Palmer continues to play his petty game of short-sighted politics, and boasts about our Annual Litter March, the same-old same-old one day where Trenton school kids are forced to clean up litter. Litter is a total drag, and is one of those small, quality of life issues that does indeed irk me, and does need to be addressed, but is far from the worst of our concerns. We need the Litter March, in addition to broader educational programs for kids; enforcement of dumping/littering ordinances; enforcement of noise ordinances; remediation; training programs; politicians who lead by example; we need volunteers to clean the years of refuse out of our waterways — the Assunpink might be a good place to start.

There is forward-thinking in government, but not in Trenton: there are too many roadblocks thrown in the way by Palmer. Instead of tapping into council members' and residents' experience and knowledge to get the ball rolling for a greener Trenton, Palmer does everything he can to keep us down, disgusted, disenfranchised, and bickering. For instance, here are just some of the latest items on our table getting in the way of bonafide work: the Palmer administration has requested City Council hear a redundant proposal from E-Path, the folks unable to deliver wireless internet anywhere. Instead of giving us any details about Trenton's "Green Initiatives," the mayor was scheduled to appear on NBC last night to discuss the mortgage crisis, which is important, but how on earth is Palmer an expert on that, and more importantly, why isn't it clear to everyone in the world that Palmer doesn't really care about what's going on in his community anyway? Further delaying progress is the fact that we're all at a stalemate in the residency lawsuit, the lawsuit Palmer vowed — ever so thoughtfully — to drag on "for a long, long time."

Thanks to Mayor Palmer, Trenton continues to fall behind the rest of the nation.

But wait, there's more!
The Raritan Clean up
LOTS of video of Palmer from the US Conference of Mayors Summit on Climate Protection, back in November
A list of New Jersey's Superfund sites
A list of toxic waste sites in Trenton City

Friday, April 18, 2008

Being Green...for realsies

Some landscape design experts would frown on the combination of purple and orange flowers serving side by side, but I don't care. I don't care partially because I have better things to worry about, and I'm just happy to see my tulips opening up, and because I didn't really actively cause the orange thing to happen. It just did, despite my plan for a purple field of tulips, which, in the field sense of the plan, didn't happen, either. Maybe that's because there are squirrels, and that tulips aren't really that thrilled about being in this part of the world. Regardless, to me, purple and orange are both just lovely, explosive tones, both carrying about an equal weight, colorwise, and I like 'em just fine together. Maybe that makes me "eclectic" or "stupid," but it's my yard, and the flowers are far less densely populated than I hoped, and are behind a privacy fence, anyway, so really, everyone wins. Woohoo!

I'm a tulip girl, though daffodils are growing on me. Daffodils are more reliable, and I like reliable. They're up and out early in the season, and are still bright and cheery, all over the front and sides of my yard, some weeks later. Even though we live on the beaten path for the kids to get to school, we've only lost a few. Two weeks ago, I found two long-stemmed buds plucked out, and left unceremoniously near the far end of our property, which was hurtful, but, I admit, I just get too attached. Plus, I was the dope who planted them on the corner, in a city with some serious street cred, which isn't necessarily good for flora, AND on the kids' path to school. The two flowers were a little beaten up, but intact, so I brought them in, and they bloomed, so I am happy to report their defiant and triumphant victory over the punk who left them for dead near my garage. Also, last week, I watched a teenage girl pick one near the corner, and put it behind her ear, which bothers me less, since she obviously saw the worth of the flower, and used it in the way we humans have often used pretty things: she adorned herself with it. Still, the sense of entitlement irks me, and makes me long for the days of the mean old Italian ladies with their brooms, and the scary guys in their wife-beater shirts who had no problem dropping what they were doing to chase you down the street. Kids need fear, and unfortunately, the only kind they're getting here is the fear of death, thanks to their gun-toting (but non-NRA member) pals. And that's just the wrong kind of fear, and maybe as a culture, we've given up on administering the other sorts of fear, because those other types of fear seem so pointless, compared to the big one these kids face every day? Or maybe most kids anymore are unaffected by the fear of discomfort and the old lady's wrath? I don't know. Unfortunately, I'm not that old, nor am I Italian, and I should be embarrassed to say this, but right now all I can find is the little dust broom, and the big janitorial push broom, but I'm not going out with either: they just can't provide the same sense of justice as the big, full-bodied straw brooms with a proper handle, as used by the angry Italian ladies who came before me. Sigh.

All of this talk of flowers and brooms and bad behavior on the part of today's youth, and our own non-committed attitude about it all leads me to Earth Day, which is on Tuesday, April 22. Just around the corner. The city sponsors an Annual Litter March on that day, where the local school kids are forced outside to clean up the messes they and their older siblings and in some cases, their parents have made throughout the week, the stuff that some of the non-littering neighbors haven't gotten a chance to clean up yet. Fellow East Ward blogger, Miss Karen, tried to build a brigade of East Side Haters to help the efforts next week, but sadly, it would seem, she only heard from me, though I did offer Glen's help, too. My inner tree-hugger is really kind of peeved at the underwhelming show of support, but my ever-growing inner Trenton cynic is not surprised. Truth is — and I will argue this up and down — not every Palmer-Hater/Johnny-Come-Lately is the most fastidious person in the world (I know I'm not), but we are not contributing the litter problem here in Trenton. Just because we're not making a mess certainly doesn't absolve us from civic responsibility, but, often, because we've lived elsewhere, in places run far more effectively than Trenton, we know it might be time to start talking about putting our efforts into some other environmental plan, with real benefits, instead of Trenton's Litter March Earth Day campaign, where the kids, for a change, clean up their own mess, and just go right back to their old habits every other day of the year.

I'm certainly sympathetic to the day-to-day struggles that many families must live with to just get by, and I know, too, that litter is just so damn wrong and annoying. I know too, a mayor who talks "green this" and "green that" but doesn't mean any of it, is a far bigger threat to our green-ness than any underprivileged kid who dumps his empty cheese curl bag on my steps. Mayor Palmer is perfectly willing to allow his hand-picked school board to set the stage to demolish/abandon a viable, repairable, beautiful, historic high school building, which shows a complete lack of regard for the environment, since demolition + new (lame) construction is about the least environmentally-sound thing that can happen. I know there are other issues: maybe the existing school is too large for the current population, maybe it's not in the best location, and, yep, the kids are more important than the building anyway. But take a drive a few blocks further from the high school, and take a gander at, say, the PJ Hill school, on East State Street. On the way, you'll likely pass the handsome shell of an abandoned school, on Cuyler Avenue which really makes me wonder about progressive thinking on the part of this city's officials. After all, that Cuyler school still stands, and is still attractive, even after years of neglect. PJ Hill is not so attractive, and likely, will not stand for as many decades as the Cuyler school. The Cuyler school, by the way, is just a few blocks from the high school, and is smaller, and it makes me wonder if the school board has considered using it in their plans for the future? This is just one example, right in my part of town, so I can't help but wonder how many other well-built abandoned institutions are peppered throughout our city that could be reclaimed for something else, but are just going to waste?

We have a mayor who talks green, and yet has no problem fighting to keep out-of-towner, ousted police director, Joseph Santiago, on board. Because Trenton is financially strapped and our taxes just went up, we often look at this from a fiscal point of view. But what is Santiago's commute (on our dime, in a car that may — if we're lucky — get 12 miles to the gallon) doing to the environment? And because Santiago is an image-conscious dude, his car is manicured and detailed and well-groomed, regularly, which is not only financially unnecessary, but also threatens the environment, thanks to all the crap that's used to make it look pretty. Read this and this for more.

We heard Mayor Palmer's big green speech last fall during his State of the City address, and yet there is talk that city hall currently is not recycling. In an effort to screw over former friend and mayoral candidate, Tony Mack, Palmer axed Mack's whole department: the recycling department. I'm hoping there's someone within City Hall who can shed some light on whether or not recycling is happening or not at this point.

Politicians like Mayor Palmer, who say one thing and do another, make the challenges of bringing environmental awareness to cities even more difficult. He has, though, ever-so-helpfully, posted a few ideas for you (the word "you" was underlined, perhaps to make it clear he was talking only to us, the residents; I'm sure he's above all of this environmental stuff) to make a difference on climate protection. Click here for more on that. The ideas are helpful, certainly, but focus on efficiency in the home, when really, governments like the city of Trenton, really need to make some changes as well, as they are far more culpable, and politicians should lead by example. He can tell us to keep our heat or AC at the proper place, and check our cars' tire pressure, and try to walk, or at least commute by bus or carpool, but maybe he should be working harder to create job opportunities in the city, so that people wouldn't have to commute out of the city. Maybe he should be working more diligently to fight crime so that more people can walk to school, church, the corner market, without fear of getting robbed. Maybe he should make Santiago — and all of the other gas-guzzling, out-of-city contractors who get cars, and even those who don't — take the bus, or a Segway, or an electric golf cart, if he won't do the right thing and hire from within. Maybe he should think about living full-time in the city, so he's not using our resources driving to and from Hunterdon County every day, and placing the security posse in front of his Hiltonia home here in Trenton in a lame attempt to make us think he might actually live here. Sheesh.

I read a series of articles recently on the topic of race and environmental activism, from an urban angle, in the March-April issue of Utne Reader magazine. The main article, Environmental Justice for All is long, but engaging, and from that link, you can click onto the two other articles written that month on the topic. In summary, the stories addressed the complex and often uncomfortable issues that surround environmentalism from a poor, urban perspective. People of color are the ones most often living in the most blighted places on the planet; it's hard for them to care about these issues, because of the struggle to survive. And yet, poor people in cities have shouldered nearly all the burden of polluting industries, while getting none of the benefits of the shift to a greener society, especially when politicians like Mayor Palmer make empty promises. People here are exposed to more toxins, more pollutants, more exhaust, and are therefore more likely to become sick, than folks living outside the city where clean-ups have happened far more regularly, and people are more aware, able to organize, and in a better position to understand the ramifications of taking care of our planet. They're better able to fight off the expansion of this, or the building of that, and so, the cities (in general) are the places where the freeways are expanded, and the landfills are built, putting our residents even more at risk.

Also mentioned in the article was that most environmental groups have traditionally been filled up with white people, primarily; people who are able to give the time to the broad issues, like global warming, or drilling in the Arctic. People of color, many of them who are underprivileged in the city, are too busy figuring out how to put food on the table, and paying the bills, and can't be bothered with a lot of the loftier environmental ideals. One of the articles in the magazine talks about a number of ways people in cities can begin to reap the benefits of a green economy, but it's more involved than an mayor's annual photo opportunity with the Litter March. The Green Jobs Act of 2007 authorizes $125 million annually for "green-collar" job training that could prepare tens of thousands of people for jobs like installing solar panels, weatherizing buildings, and maintaining wind farms; people here in Trenton could take advantage of this training, giving them viable job skills, in what will hopefully be a greener future. Priority is given to veterans, displaced workers, and at-risk youth: perfect for Trenton's population. Trenton is poised — with so many buildings in need of an upgrade — to utilize this hypothetical highly skilled workforce.

Also, around the country, organizations have been able to receive government grant money to help young people who've come in contact with the criminal justice system get a chance for paid internships so they can become highly specialized professionals in green construction/rehabilitation.

In the Bronx, a citizen-led organization offers a 10-week program to residents, giving them hands-on training in brownfield remediation and ecological restoration. The organization, Sustainable South Bronx, has also raised $30 million for a bicycle and pedestrian greenway along the South Bronx waterfront that will provide both open space and economic development opportunities. This example is not only close to home, but also fantastic to see, since it seems here in Trenton, our administration continues to grow more distant and irrelevant by the day; that we might be able to take some matters into our own hands is very inspiring.

So, it's now just after 4 on Friday afternoon; the kids have poured out of the schools to head home for the weekend, littering my yard with candy wrappers and chip bags and drink containers. We'll certainly have it all cleaned up before Tuesday, the day of Trenton's 21st Litter March. I feel badly for criticizing something as well-intentioned as the Annual Litter March, but as much as it's cute to see the kids walk around the city and listen to their teachers, it just seems that maybe Trenton kids, after all these years, are not getting the lesson with this particular activity. After all, they are the ones who put the little crab plaque with the dire warning on the sewer drain on my corner; warning everyone that it drains right to our waterways, and yet, they are the same kids who push their litter/spent oil/broken glass down there. To be fair, if the Litter March inspires one kid to commit to a lifetime of not littering, especially if s/he comes from a family of litterers, that's not a bad thing. But we need more. And it needs to come from the top. Mayor Palmer has got to stop talking and start acting. We need to start finding ways to improve our living conditions here; and I'd bet we citizens can do it without the help of this city's administration, though it would be far more appropriate for our leaders to, ahem, lead the way. We need to find the grant money, and take advantage of these training programs. The mayor can tell us to keep our homes at an appropriate temperature for the time of the year, but I'd like assurances that City Hall is recycling, and maybe even considering installing solar technology. He ought to pull the plug, once and for all, on all of the out-of-city contracts, including the contracts for his own lawyers in his lawsuit against the people. He should encourage the committees and boards in this city to look at sustainable, progressive, sensible ways to meet our changing needs. And, he should, as our mayor, and supposed neighbor, live here, instead of requiring two sets of vehicles and security teams — one for fake and one for realsies — each and every day.

Majora Carter, who runs Sustainable South Bronx, says that it's crucial to frame the environmental debate in terms of opportunities that will engage the people who need the most help. She said it hasn't been easy, but there have been huge accomplishments. "It's about sacrifice for something better and bigger than you could have possibly imagined." I'm not sure if our mayor is up for that kind of challenge, but I think many of us in Trenton are.

Happy Earth Day.

For more on the Green Jobs Act, click here.

For more on Sustainable South Bronx, click here.

Trenton, in springtime. Route 1 needs The Litter March more than anywhere else in the city, maybe. It is nice to see the forsythia and crab apple (I think) blooming on the other side of the bridge, though.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

E Pluribus Unum?

Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer must be grinning nonstop since the appellate court granted his pal, ousted Police Director Joe Santiago, a stay. After all, he promised to drag this out in the courts for years. That the hearing is scheduled for June 3, rather than any time later, is a nice sign from the courts that maybe they aren't interested in this case going on and on, even if the mayor is.

Palmer's promise to drag this out in the courts is what offends me the most, I think. Next comes what seems to be his blind loyalty to one guy, Joe Santiago. Ultimately, it shows a complete lack of regard for Trenton, for its people, its laws, its future. Putting aside all of Santiago's weaknesses, and even his strengths, for one moment, and just looking at this for what it is — Palmer defending Santiago like a pit bull defends its owner — it's just totally senseless and unfair.

I read the editorial in today's Times about the residency issue, and while it hints at some decent points, like maybe city council ought to be discussing this more (like [in my opinion] maybe they should be discussing what the heck to do in a post-Santiago, post-Palmer Trenton), it just seems that the editor who penned today's piece, as well as other area newspaper editors on different occasions, are missing the point. I have no right speaking for anyone else, but I am pretty sure that most residents of this city who are opposed to the idea of giving any Mayor (but particularly one with dictator-like tendencies) the legal ability to grant favors, do indeed realize there are big problems in this city, problems bigger than residency, even though a few newpaper editors have suggested otherwise. Santiago's lack of residency, and Palmer's improper waiver — giving Santiago the right to live in Morris County (as well as a car, free gas and a cell phone) — is that it symbolizes the complete randomness of the law here, the complete lack of regard for priorities, for tax money, for the citizens. Politics here in Trenton — and possibly all over the state — have become about favors and getting ahead; many politicians, including many of Trenton's top municipal politicians, have totally lost sight of civic duty, and bettering the community. To them, ruling has become just a job, a big powerful, money-making job.

This city is made up of individuals, and so many of them are remarkable, talented, wonderful people; and all of whom live here without a residency ordinance forcing them to stay. Sure, some of them are stuck here, tucked into the squalorous corners of the city; and some others are here by choice. Regardless of what's said about the condition of Trenton, outside of Trenton, there are many glorious homes, many maintained properties, in every neighborhood of this city (even some of the scary neighborhoods), and that's thanks to the individuals who live here. Thrown into this mix, there are the drug dealers, the robbers, the hunters who prey on others — these people exist everywhere, and not just in Trenton. We have more than our fair share here. But I'm convinced — even though we witness several criminal acts a week from our back windows — that most people ARE good. I believe this.

Santiago is just one person, a well-off guy with a hefty salary, with a lot of perks, and a decent pension from his stint with the State Police. He's got a big, expensive house in Morris County, surrounded mostly by trees, and probably has no neighbors who play their music too loudly, or sell drugs in front of his house. Probably none of his neighbors tighten their belts around the middle of their thighs, like some of my neighbors do (which I think is funny, especially when their pants fall down). Heck, I'd go out on a limb and bet most of his neighbors don't even toss their McDonald's trash into his hedges. He'll be okay without us. He'll be okay, ultimately, without the help of Mayor Palmer, even if it means he's gonna have to say goodbye to us a bit sooner. Santiago works in a city of approximately 80,000 residents, and to be fair, probably two-thirds of them are decent, quality people. Many of them protect their little patches of the city, even though they are demoralized that their fight goes unnoticed by the city's administration; many stay, despite the lack of help from Trenton's politicians, because they know their own efforts are the only reason their neighborhoods haven't completely collapsed; they know it's the right thing to do. Many other individuals are fighting for basic survival; they're living day-to-day, struggling, and yet, not turning to a life of crime. I just don't know why Mayor Palmer doesn't spend some time focusing on, or even (dare I write it?) calling in favors for these people — his own Trenton neighbors! — right here in the city. I don't know how he can call the concerned, but pissed-off resident "a hater;" I don't know how on earth he can possibly think it's a good thing that "the haters" move out of the city. I don't know how he can go to work, knowing there are people starving right here, people without shelter right here, people living in warzones right here, and not do something more for them. The people of Trenton — the people who elected Palmer — need his help far more than Santiago does.

It's a mystery as to how Palmer can even sleep at night while his city loses its hold on modern, first world amenities, but obviously, he is sleeping at night, because he's got lots of energy to fight for Santiago. It's disgraceful.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Magical Fish and The Night Hag

I'm not in the mood to write about politics in Trenton, which is probably great news to the Palmer administration: they do need a blog-pummel, and I'm hoping my blogging pals will keep up the heat. This business with the Santiago Stay stinks of more cronyism and bad politics, and I'm just too disillusioned right now to comment much, but I'll be back on board later in the week when I've had a chance to synthesize these recent events. This is probably good news to my family as well, since I'm sure they prefer the posts about the dysfunctional holidays and parties gone bad, or even the stuff about the cats. I'm glad I can provide a little bit of bloggy goodness for everyone in my life.

So, over the weekend, there was some serious cooking that happened here in East Trenton: Glen had several of his kitchen appliances out, which taxed our wiring, and at one point, even though the electric wok I was using was still getting juice, his popcorn popper ceased to blow hot air. His popper was — for reasons I don't quite understand — on the same circuit as the 30 gallon fish tank's gear. That tank is in the next room, plugged into a bank of outlets on the other side of the room. The damn fish tank has some issues with its filter – it's very expensive filter, which I refuse, on principle, to replace — and so when Glen flipped the switch in the basement to make the power come back to his popcorn popper and the fish tank, the damn filter sputted and spurted and sounded like it was finally going to give out once and for all.

Glen thought I was irritated with him because his popcorn would not be ready along with the other food, but I wasn't. I was irritated though, and I was so irritated that words escaped me. I was mad about that damn fish tank filter and all the noise it was making, and the fact that something so freakin' expensive could give me such a damn headache simply because the power went off for all of 1 minute. And that the damn filter is decades newer than Glen's air popper, and works for shit just really pissed me off. And the ethics of keeping fish bothers me now, too, but what can I do, now that I'm enlightened, but have a tank of healthy fish? The irritation had everything to do with my unpleasant feelings about the fish tank and its stupid, expensive filter and had nothing to do with Glen's delay in producing a bowl of popcorn.

I got the fish tank in the summer 2001, at a time in my life when I was down and out, and felt — though I'm not sure why now — that some tropical fish would bring me some peace. I got some plants for it (live, at the time), and some cool statuary, and thought it would make a nice addition to my small garden apartment, AND might just keep my young, evil cat, Monkey, occupied with something other than making me bleed while I slept. I'm not sure why I didn't just get a damn goldfish, or even a colorful little betta, you know, something small, who would live in a simple bowl, and would probably die in short order. Not that I would ever actively wish for the hypothetical demise of a hypothetical pet fish, but we all know that pet fish, in general, don't live as long as other pets. My point is that for some damn reason, I didn't start small, and get a cute little bowl: I dove in, and got a damn 30 gallon fish tank, which requires serious commitment, and so much more, to maintain it.

Glen and I got together later that year, and we eventually moved to a rental house in Merchantville. The fish tank was still reasonably new to me, and Glen seemed to like it, and even though it sucked to move, we did it without much complaint. And a couple of months later, for Glen's birthday, we bought a handful of fish — some silver dollars and zebra danios, and a couple of bottom-feeding cories — to round out the tank.


In the meantime, Glen had trouble sleeping. Unrelated to the fish tank, I'm quite sure.

One evening, at the height of his insomnia, we had some of my friends from college, B & L, over for dinner. It was a humid, mosquito-filled night, bordering on miserable. But Glen picked out some enormous potatoes, which we threw on the grill, along with some chicken, and the food just tasted so damn good that night. And the conversation was entertaining. B & L are sort of like Adam and Jamie of Mythbusters, except B & L's expertise is in the area of the supernatural. They're clinical, and so meticulous about their area of interest, which includes, but is not limited to, tarot cards, ghosts, aliens, and psychic abilities. And they're so down-to-earth, that it's hard to listen to one of their arguments about this phenomenon or that alien abduction, and not come away with the sense that it's at least plausible. That's the thing with B & L: they'll go on and on about something that I, personally, think borders on the preposterous, and at the end of it, I can see that big Mythbusters "Plausible" stamp.

For more about Mythbusters, click here.

And it's not that I flat out don't believe in aliens or tarot cards or ghosts or general psychic stuff. I do know there's a lot about our own brains we have yet to discover, so much in this universe that is mysterious to us. It's just that I am a very literal person and have had no personal experience with any of the phantasmagoria mentioned above. But knowing people like B & L, very credible kooks, makes me think, well, okay, maybe that stuff exists. For THEM.

So Glen mentioned his inability to sleep to B & L that humid, bug-filled night, and they excitedly asked him questions. "What's on your mind when you can't sleep?" and "Do you feel like someone is watching you?" and "Does it feel like someone is kneeling on your chest?" Based on Glen's answers, L gasped, and said, "I know what it is!!" B, her husband, nodded; he knew too. And together, they solemnly proclaimed, "It's the NIGHT HAG."

My reaction to this news was, initially, complex. I turned my head away from them, as to not offend, as I choked back the wine that almost came out through my nose, from laughing. But I was also angry, because just a few minutes prior, my husband had some insomnia — heck, I'd even give him sleep paralysis (which admittedly is frightening) — and, one second later, he was getting smothered each night by the The Night Hag, whoever that was, and we didn't need that thought bouncing around his head each night as he struggled to sleep.

Read more about sleep paralysis and the folklore that surrounds it here.

I was definitely irked: it's not so much that I need to be right, but without a context of demons and monsters, there aren't demons and monsters. Plain and simple. Plus, I've found that a few real life people are just far more frightening and damaging to me than any imagined creature under the bed, or hovering over me, etc. So it seemed to me that Glen was having trouble sleeping because he worked, at the time, for four honest-to-goodness, living, breathing hags, and the stress was eating him alive. They were dark days indeed. Apparently, though, according to B & L, the Night Hag is SERIOUS, and that moment was not the time for my anger, or my logical dismissal. It was the time for action, and B & L went into action, writing down what Glen needed to do before bed, to ward off the Night Hag, and recommended some herbs that might help him sleep. Since the Night Hag didn't even cause me to stir in the slightest, even though she was sucking the breath out of my husband, right next to me, maybe we should switch sides of the bed, to throw her off, too. The discussion was important, and went on for some hours.

Eventually, B & L left, and Glen and I looked at each other, and shook our heads. Of COURSE we didn't believe in the Night Hag, but it was now 1 a.m., we had a few drinks with dinner, and bed was calling. Even the most logical people have some weird dreams, and disconcerting thoughts in those gray moments between consciousness and sleep.

We didn't sleep much that night, and in the morning, there was a pounding on the door. It was B; he too, had been up most of the night, thinking about Glen's Night Hag. We needed to go over to some metaphysical shop in Collingswood, RIGHT AWAY, to get some magical stones.

Looking back, I have no idea why Glen and I allowed this to happen. We're both intelligent and strong-willed, and as much as we both like stones well enough — after all, what's not to like about stones? — the idea of magical stones was just completely out of our world view. But B is big and strong, and his demeanor commands obedience, and I suppose, too, we were touched by his commitment to Glen that he'd rush over in the morning to offer more help. So, we brushed our teeth and headed to Collingswood, where B explained Glen's Night Hag Situation to the Magic Stone Store Proprietor, and he knew exactly what we needed. Glen was handed three pretty stones, and a little velvety bag in which to keep them. They needed to be placed under Glen's pillow, immediately.

B deposited us and the bag of stones back at home, and Glen and I, again, looked at each other with that "how did this just happen?" look, and shook our heads. Certainly, a few rocks would not help Glen sleep, when the unstable hags at his place of employment continued their mission of Glen's annihilation. And if there was an entity as malevolent as the Night Hag, certainly, she wouldn't be put off by some pretty rocks, right? Conversely, we figured, the little bag of stones wouldn't hurt anything either, and B was the sort of guy who would good-naturedly barge into our bedroom to check the bag of stones under the pillow, at any time, so we figured we'd better comply.


So, a couple of years went by, and we bought this house in Trenton. Over the summer of 2004, we worked on the necessary renovations here in Trenton, to bring the house up to code, and we packed up the Merchantville house. I found that I was secretly hoping that maybe...maybe...we wouldn't have to move the fishtank, and yet, I had come to the conclusion that no one else could properly care for the fish, so I wasn't willing to give away the tank, either. Most of the fish in the tank were at least two years old, and I figured they'd be dying off any day. Any day. But in the end, we wound up moving the fish tank to Trenton. All 30 gallons and 100,000 pounds of it.

In the nearly 4 years we've been here, we still have the same basic population of fish. We lost a hatchet fish in 2006, though I don't have a very clear memory of its death, though I remember the beginning of the end for that fish. I recall grabbing my bag to walk a couple blocks over to the school to vote in Trenton's run-off election, which, if memory serves, was in June of that year. And it was a hot day, and as I walked past the tank, that stupid hatchet fish leapt out of the tank, and onto the floor, where a hairy, shedding cat had just been resting. The hatchet fish floundered, and got covered in cat hair. Crabcake, our saved-from-death-row gray tabby was sitting on the piano bench near the fish tank, as she almost always does, watching, ever-so-hopefully. She watched the fish flip and flop, and for all of her violent fish-killing fantasies, she just sat there, alert, but totally paralyzed by her dream-come-true.

This is essentially how Crabcake spends all of her waking moments, though sometimes she beats on the tank, or sits on it, with her arm in the opening in the back.

I picked up the hair-covered fish, kind of panicked, and figured the best thing to do would be to just dump it back in the tank. As I expected, the hair floated to the top of the tank, and I fished that out. The fish seemed fine for a few days, and then, it was gone. I never found a body.

Since then, the filter's been on the fritz, and there is an opening in the back of the tank that is large enough for a filter tube, or a heater, and we have both already, so this opening is, in our home, despite our best efforts, a cat arm hole. I have come down the stairs and discovered several cats, on separate occasions, on their sides, with their arms entirely immersed in the tank, through that little opening, swatting methodically, but blindly, at anything and everything in the tank. Despite the less-than-ideal living arrangements for these fish, they continue to thrive. All of them are older than all but one of our cats: the evil, aforementioned Monkey. You may recall I mentioned that we had dinner with Miss Karen of the Killer Louise blog last fall, and because of the living conditions for the fish, she wondered if maybe our fish were "magical."

I've thought about that word choice since Miss Karen used it, but things didn't really click until last night, and they clicked because of Glen, not for anything free association thinking on my part, all these months. Glen and I had gotten into bed, and we talked about the overloaded circuit that caused the fish tank filter to go off, and then sputter when it came back on.

"When did we get those fish?" Glen asked.
"2002, for your birthday, remember?" I said.
"Oh yeah." He was quiet for a minute.
"What ever happened to those magical stones that B forced me to keep under my pillow?" Glen asked.
"I was making the bed one day, and noticed the bag had fallen out from under your pillow and it got stuck in between the headboard and the bed. You weren't having trouble sleeping anymore, so I dumped the stones into the fish tank."
"Maybe those stones WERE magic. Maybe that's why those fish don't die," Glen said.

Maybe that explains the longevity of those fish, the protection from the cats? I don't know. But it's plausible, I guess.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


I'd like to believe that we elect our peers to represent us at the different levels of government, since we all can't run things, or even attend every single civic event. I'd like to believe our elected neighbors will act in our best interest, will represent us appropriately, will provide a voice for the masses, knowing full well the masses may not always agree. Still, I'd like to believe our elected peers will speak well for the majority, and/or be able to find a really good common ground compromise. I'd like to believe that those peers are motivated by a desire to better our neighborhoods, our community, our cities, our states, and our nation, depending on the level of government to which we elected that particular peer.

Things don't always happen this way: a lot of politicians are self-serving egomaniacs, only concerned with their own shallow desire to get ahead, and maintaining shallow friendships in order to make it easier to get ahead. In the corporate world, the desire to move up the ladder isn't necessarily shallow, but I firmly believe that elected officials are held to a higher standard: civic responsibility among our elected peers is the priority.

We have a little bit of an embarrassing mess in this city, because our mayor, Douglas Palmer — elected among us — is looking out for one particular man: ousted police director, Joseph Santiago. Personally, I have a hard time supporting Santiago because his interpretation of what's happening in this city — where he does not reside, but is required to by local ordinance — is very different from my reality. But truly, my dismay of the whole situation is solely because the Palmer administration is selectively enforcing the law, and making an exception for one person who refuses to play by our rules; the rules we, the people, of Trenton, agreed upon, and expect our representatives, including our mayor, to uphold. It is how government is supposed to work, and with a singular focus — that is, a relatively small geographic location — our representatives SHOULD be able to uphold our laws without too much turmoil. Right?

Because of Doug Palmer's insistence that Joe Santiago is the only person for this job — an absolutely asinine statement, no matter how awesome Santiago may or may not be — this city has become embroiled in a lawsuit. A small group of citizens filed suit against Palmer and Santiago; and our elected representatives on city council followed the citizens' lead, and filed a suit of their own, insisting that there be no whimsical interpretation of Trenton's residency ordinance.

A Mercer County Judge sided with the people and their elected counterparts on council, and said that Palmer's waiver for Santiago is not legal, and Santiago's position is now vacant because he is in violation of the residency ordinance. How much money had been spent by that point, the time of the judge's decision? Since then, Palmer has asked for a stay, and has filed an appeal, costing Trenton taxpayers — already taxed too much for what we get in return — even more.

With the people of Trenton, their elected council peers, and a superior court judge all in agreement about the interpretation of the law, common sense would dictate that the council members would continue to stand behind their original suit; that they would not cave to Doug Palmer, who is pressuring them to legislate a new ordinance which would give more power to the mayor to randomly enforce our laws. It's crazy, right? Enough is enough.

Common sense would dictate, too, that since council and the citizens fought on the same side of this particular battle, and collectively want the same outcome, and because council members do, ultimately work for the citizens, that it's not such a far-fetched idea for council members to share non-personal correspondence from the mayor concerning this particular issue.

We all can't run the show, even if we all wanted to (which I don't; which is why I respect a politician who looks out for my interests). And because we can't all run our government, we rely on our elected neighbors to take care of business for us. We expect a certain transparency in government. We demand disclosure, because it is our city, our tax dollars, our quality of life at stake. And our elected representatives should — in a perfect world — be more than happy to produce the information we require, because, again, ultimately, our elected representatives are us. We are the same.

So, I want to thank South Ward Councilman Reverend Jim Coston for putting Palmer's letter to council concerning this ongoing residency mess, as well as Palmer's inexcusable, dead-freakin'-horse appeal on the matter, on his website. I am so grateful that an elected official — Jim Coston — keeps a blog and believes in keeping his neighbors informed and involved. He may not be my ward's councilman, but he rocks anyway: he is responsive to all the citizens in this city, and believes in the people, and well, I wish there was more of that among our elected peers on council. I realize that change takes time, but it is happening. It's just too bad that some members of council are not only opposed to change, but also, it would seem, opposed to serving the people, a job they swore to do. I'm talking specifically about At-Large Representative Cordelia Staton today — who, despite the fact that council as a body sided with the citizens of Trenton AND a superior court judge about the residency issue, has voted against the people, against the judge's decision; she continues to criticize Councilman Coston for his fantastic efforts to keep the citizens of Trenton in the loop. I certainly think people are allowed to disagree; I expect and want that among council members. It's not a bad thing when there are voices of dissent on council, because it generates needed discussion, and it makes sure that council, as a body, acts in the best interest of the people, in a transparent manner, so the citizens can see what's happening. Staton's dissention is, in a sense, transparent as well: her allegiance to the mayor — a man who no longer resides in the city, and may, in fact, no longer be useful to Trenton (actions speak louder than words, Doug) — is clear*. And completely inappropriate**.

* Ditto for At-Large representative and council president Paul Pintella. For shame.

** I know Councilwoman Staton, and perhaps others, will make the argument that certainly not all citizens of Trenton feel the same way about a particular issue. However, the fact that a law's been broken, and a judge has agreed, is powerful stuff; maybe it's time to move on, you know? Plus, this may sound arrogant, but I swear it isn't, I really do believe that many of the dissenting voices on this particular issue — the residency issue — are simply not informed voices. They are people who have been unwittingly betrayed by Doug Palmer and politicians like him. Palmer, and others like him, keep large blocks of people down, and unable to care about details of politics, nuances of interpretation, but only down enough that he (and others like him) can still get elected because of his supposedly common roots and his handsome smile. It is deplorable.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Monday recap without a single segue

I don't have a cohesive focus today, but there are plenty of little things about which to write.

First, some shameless self-promotion: thanks to everyone who participated in my silly survey about Mayor Palmer's job performance. Due to limitation of the size of the column to the right, and the verbosity of some of selections, it was a visual mess. A lesson for my next poll: all selections should have the roughly the same amount of text. I've recreated the poll here for posterity.

Yep, I have nothing better to do with my time than recreate a(n automatically-generated) poll (by Blogger) in which a whopping 47 people, of the region's millions, participated. It's hateful, but it's my life and I can do more or less what I want. I copied the numbers right out of my original poll, but since I don't really do math, have no idea if it's accurate or not. I trust someone will let me know if it isn't. I do make a nice graph, though, if I do say so myself.

Of local interest (relatively speaking): on Friday, April 4, I witnessed a third car accident in the residential intersection outside my home in about 8 months*. No one was injured, but that doesn't mean it can't happen: there was a nasty accident just one block away back in September, which you may have read about in the papers at the time: a motorcyclist split his head open, and he was held up and together by a selfless off-duty officer until help arrived. We live approximately two blocks between the high school and a local middle school, and while no one deserves to get creamed in these intersections, there's a very good chance it could, someday, be someone's kid. I've written to my councilman several times, but have never heard back, though it would appear someone showed up in the fall with perhaps some sidewalk chalk to thicken the stop line on the road beneath the stop sign. It has now mostly washed away, and was never terribly effective, anyway.

My thought is that some people are ignoring — or only slowing at — the stop sign on the one street, and driving at ridiculous speeds on the side street — the street without the stop sign. I get that it's fun to drive fast; most of us have done it, but it just seems stupid in a residential neighborhood, especially since one can only go a whopping two blocks before encountering another stop sign. The whole thing just irks me, but to be fair, I really don't know what the answer to this problem is. I thought maybe speed bumps might be a good solution, but they seem to be very unpopular around here, though that doesn't really mean anything. I have a wacko neighbor who hates the street sweeper, too, so I think that perhaps some folks just hate anything new and different. These are two-way streets here, by the way; maybe making them one-way like Villa Park or Mill Hill, might help? In the meantime, I have a radar gun and am not afraid to use it. I read about the cosine effect, though, which means if I'm not totally in the line of oncoming traffic, I won't get a perfectly accurate read. Anyway, when I document the results, I'll note my angle off of head-on. Of course, it seems any time I've even played with the radar gun, everyone drives more carefully. My guess is that a lot of people have radar detectors around here.

This accident occurred in late August 2007, outside my house.

In more personal news, last week, I purchased Glen a couple of climbing yellow rose bushes for his birthday; his mother kept yellow roses back in Canada, and I thought that a few bushes here might make our own place more lovely, more homey, or at least more reminiscent of his home and family in Canada. As I loaded them into the car, I punctured my thumb on a thorn, even though I thought I was handling them gingerly. It was a big, honking, dirty rose thorn. I mention this not for pity or ridicule, but just because maybe the information might be helpful to someone else. Roses are beautiful, but attract every single damn pathogen and bug in the freakin' universe. They can be crawling with nasties, or may have been just sprayed with some equally nasty stuff to fight the other nasties. So within a few hours, my thumb turned purple and doubled in size. I'm kind of clumsy, and injure myself unintentionally on a fairly regular basis, and have a few sharp-clawed furry pals who have accidentally scratched me, and never have I had any kind of reaction to such a minor inconvenience. Anyway, some advice: try not to puncture yourself while handling roses, because who knows what's crawling on them, and if you do, don't reopen the wound on your own and dig around for thorn debris, and then and make it bleed "to clean it out," and then soak it in alcohol, especially if the injury is in your dominant hand. It's just stupid, and in my case, ultimately spoiled the birthday surprise. Enough said.

Yesterday, Glen and I drove up to Plainsboro to shop at an Asian supermarket; yes, we live in a city, and common sense would dictate that an Asian market might be something one would find in a city, but alas, that's not the case in Trenton. So we made the drive up Rt. 1, and once inside the store, we wished we had camera phones to take a few pictures of some of the wacky foods (to us...and we dabble in wacky foods). There were oddball fruits and veggies as well as stuff more well-known here in the western hemisphere. And then there was stuff like canned silkworm pupae. Apparently young silkworms are jam-packed with protein. If you're on the Atkins diet, it might be worth giving them a shot.

Yummy! Canned silkworm pupae...not fishin' bait...
picture courtesy of Silkworm Spit
Who needs a camera phone when one has Google Images to prove that this stuff is real?

We're normally not impulse buyers, but on the way out, we saw and purchased this:

We had no idea what the heck it was; there were three other caucasian women huddled around the display, and we all conferred, and decided the green stuff was wasabi. There was no English (or any characters/letters from any western language) on the packaging except for the name. Glen and I splurged; for the record, this item was $2.50 for two fingers of Kit Kat. And the green stuff was not wasabi; it was a special green tea, called Matcha. This may sound surprising, but it was really very rich and smooth. Matcha tea is shaded before it is harvested, which produces more amino acids in the plant, which makes it very sweet. The Matcha is then dried, ground, and most often used in fancy Japanese tea ceremonies. I think both Glen and I would recommend this item, but not super-enthusiastically. It was VERY good, but it was still only a Kit Kat bar. Well, technically a HALF a Kit Kat bar, but one that cost more than twice the price of a full-sized one.

Oh, and it took us awhile to acquire the information about what it was we were eating. I'm generalizing, but it seems that a lot of Asian marketing is very literal, meaning we felt fairly confident we weren't eating insects or vomit, because those things were not pictured on the packaging. While we knew instantly we weren't eating wasabi, we weren't quite sure what it was. Thanks to an informative site called The Candy Blog, we were able to figure it out. An interesting note, the Candy Blog owner reviewed the Matcha Kit Kat awhile ago, but back then, it was green. I'm guessing the green chocolate, at least here in the US, didn't fly. Our chocolate bars were normal brown, with blond-colored wafers, with a green filling.

On the way home, a fire truck pulled out in front of us; we had slowed to let it go. Ahead of the fire truck, though, the person driving did not pull over. Glen said to me about that driver, "Must be nice to be a fucking moron." I have a tendency to give other people — at least initially — the benefit of the doubt, and so I was thinking of all the reasons why someone wouldn't pull over for a screaming fire truck, and remembered the relationship-building that took place when I forced myself to agree with Glen when he verbally assaulted the Sports Authority and the Tombstone Pizza display, AND, perhaps more importantly, I just couldn't come up with too many good reasons to not pull over for a fire truck, except for deafness. And moronitude. If that's even a word. It's just my opinion, but I don't think I'm a moron, so I thought about what it might be like to be a moron, and right then, in the car, driving back to Trenton, I came to my own conclusion that it must be nice to be a fucking moron. Even though Glen so eloquently said it first.

Lastly, and on a more serious note, I just wanted to express my condolences to the family of Renee, who lived just a few houses down from us. She died rather unexpectedly last week; she was in her mid-40s, and her death is due to what we think are complications from a gall bladder gone bad. I blogged about her back in October: Renee was the object of an jerk neighbor's attack, over who parks where on the street last year. Renee had a bright, expressive face, and always had a big smile for us, and a tendency to tease in a good-natured way. She was a life force, and she leaves behind a large, broken-hearted family, including a twin brother.

I don't outright dislike any of my neighbors, except for the house full of young knuckleheads a few doors down, and all of their stupid, knuckleheaded friends. This may seem particularly harsh, and I don't mean to go all cliche and unevolved on you, all at the same time, but when bad stuff happens to good people, hearing things like "Well, there's a reason for everything" just makes my blood boil. There are no reasons for perfectly good people to die and/or suffer, especially when there are plenty of knuckleheads around here who live life so close to the edge anyway, AND diminish all of our lives. Not that I'd start chanting "death to knuckleheads," because knuckleheads are an unfortunate side effect of bad politics and bad choices, but still, none of it makes sense. And I don't mean to turn everything around as an opportunity to trash the Palmer administration, but I'm going to. If he really had any sense, maybe he'd be embarrassed for not trying harder to keep this place cleaned up and less conducive to knucklehead activity. It's wrong for any decent citizen to have to tolerate the crap that so often occurs on our city streets, but it's so much harder for those raw from grief. Life and death are intertwined and loss is a part of life, but it would be a great day if we had a more functional government here in Trenton, run by real people with real feelings — instead of a self-serving egomaniac, hell-bent on saving the job of one dude who doesn't even deserve his job here — which would improve the overall quality of life for so many people, especially those too emotionally drained to deal with the illegal dirtbikes and open-air drug deals, and ridiculously loud music.

Anyway, I'll quit daydreaming for now.

Renee will be missed.

* In the four years we've been here, there have been other accidents in this small vicinity : Glen's car was totaled the first month we lived here; he was parked just off the intersection on the side street at the time. There have been at least two other accidents at the intersection near the elementary school, one in which a car actually flipped. It's not like we spend our days looking out the window, so we may have missed others.