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.
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?
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.