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.

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