Monday, June 30, 2008

Elective Residency

I've been thinking a lot about the 2010 elections, and running different scenarios in my head about who's likely to run, who's likely to run again, and for what positions. I think so much about the election because the stuff that happens in Trenton, pretty much only happens in Trenton. Trenton politics is just an open, festering sore, and things just cannot be allowed to continue, without risk of sending this city too damn far into the abyss. And I don't want that to happen.

Earlier this month, I wrote about how those of us interested in politics — the ones who want to run, as well as the ones who want to support — need to think of this election as a group effort, and leave our egos behind. We can't have 6 people running for the same position, or else we'll split the vote. We don't even need to challenge every seat. I may sound like a broken record, but just in case you're new to this, my thought is that the current slate of representatives who either "represent" (if you can call it that) or hail from the West Ward, need to move along. Specifically, I'm talking about the Mayor, Douglas Palmer; West Ward Councilwoman, Annette Lartigue; At-Large Rep and Council President, Paul Pintella; and At-Large Rep, Cordelia Staton. The West Ward is full of intelligent, diverse people, and I am stunned that these clowns have been in office for so damn long, especially since they're so self-serving and short-sighted, and because it would seem there's a zillion other more qualified people for the jobs. So, we have our work to do in the West.

Yep, we've got progress concerns, and some great debate happening on the other blogs and boards about the proposed Transit Village, and I do think new business and new opportunities will help our city, but we need to simply clean house first. It's not super smart, for instance, to build an addition onto your home, when the rest of your home is in shambles. Priorities, you know? We need to fix things here in Trenton first. Make it desirable, as is, and then get talking about shiny new buildings.

Our biggest, most offensive issues are crime and quality of life concerns. We need to get that stuff under control. There are things, we as regular people, can do to help improve our neighborhoods, and simply getting outside and talking to one another is a great way to help quell some of the activities we hate so much. But we need more. Specifically, we need police help. We've personally been pleased, overall, with the police response in our neighborhood, but things could just be so different, so much more productive, with, I think, some simple logical changes. And that's not happening right now, under the current leadership of former police director, Joseph Santiago. An aside: I'm confused and disgusted that man whose job is under review by the high court has any ability to make massive, sweeping changes in the department. I mean, the future of his job is on hold, so how on earth can he disband our extremely productive and needed Vice and K9 units? Under his leadership, with Mayor Doug Palmer's blessing, the Trenton Police Department has descended into near chaos, and we, the citizens, will pay for that. It's unacceptable. Read more about the death of Vice and K9 on Councilman Jim Coston's blog post on Saturday; he's been looking at the numbers, and it seems the citizens of Trenton, again, are getting a hose job from Santiago, and by extension, Palmer.

And I'm sorry, so sorry that I have to say this, but I believe it to be true: as soon as the city's police officers moved outside the city, they gave up nearly all of their real power. Unions can only do so much. True influence over your future comes from having the ability to vote. Personally, I don't think rank-and-file police officers should have to live in the city; folks who were hired to fill directorships, and other political positions fall into a different category, and this is where the distinction between "job" and "civil service" comes into play. That said, living where you work is a great idea, especially for police officers right now. Life is short, and because of that, I think it's important to find satisfaction in your point of doing something you hate, right? I'm sure you'd be far more satisfied with your jobs, far more happy in your lives if you, like me, had the ability to vote for someone other than Doug Palmer in 2010. So, are there any Trenton officers out there who would be interested in moving back to the city? I know that there would be difficulties, especially in a city so full of crime and distrustful people, so my proposal is primarily directed at the officers who are single, or don't have children living with them. You'd be doing a great service to the community: becoming neighbors with the folks who live here will give you an advantage of knowing who's just a bit of a punk and who's a full-on knucklehead, right? And over time, residents will be more likely to confide in you, and provide much-needed information to help solve difficult crimes. And, eventually, more officers, even ones with young families, would want to move to Trenton. But best yet, you'd have the right to vote in the 2010 election, giving you far more control over your own future, your own happiness, your own job satisfaction than what you have now. With a Trenton address, you'd have the direct ability to remove Santiago from your future. Elective residency. And in choosing Trenton, you're also sending a message to Santiago (and Palmer): they're big, stinking babies for being too scared to live here. By the way, there's a house on my block for sale, and another one for rent. You'd like being neighbors with me and Glen. You would.

Anyway, there's not that much time left, really, so let's keep talking about this, and hopefully get some officers living in the city. It would be beneficial to so many.

The drawbridge over the moat

I'm not apologizing for my slightly acidic post from last Thursday. But I just want to offer just a bit of clarification: I know that it takes all types, and well, not everyone who lives in the suburbs — even if they moved out of Trenton to live in the suburbs — sucks. A lot of them do suck, of course; just as a lot of people who live in Trenton suck bad, too. Obviously. Sucking is unfortunately a major personality trait among humans.

But sucking isn't the only major personality trait among humans. Humans, too, are known for their decency and compassion and their overall coolness. So just as there are plenty decent, compassionate, cool people in this very city, the same traits exist outside the city as well. So, even though I was kinda hard on the suburbs on Thursday, and the "Ville" formerly known as Washington Township, there are plenty of nice people who live in the suburbs (and even Robbinsville. Maybe). By extension, I know that not everyone who lives in Chicken Shit, Maryland is a cannibal or torturer or sexual predator, even though it seems like there are an inordinate amount of weird scary small people who have beady red eyes and very little melanin who creep out of the swamps and walk along the roads late at night down there, and well, that just gives me the willies.

I know that many people outside this city do care about what's happening here, and I'm glad for that, because as self-serving and non-newsy as this may sound, that's part of the whole reason I started this blog: I wanted the outside world to see that real humans — decent, intelligent, vibrant, compassionate people — live here. People like me, you know? And maybe, even though bad stuff happens sometimes, and that I have more than my fair share of idiotic neighbors by Trenton standards or otherwise, the fact that the decent, intelligent, vibrant, compassionate people stay, might just possibly bring in more like-minded, like-hearted people. We have an awesome bunch of people here, and it is so worth your while to not only hang with us, but to maybe even become our neighbors. I kid you not.

Part of my motivation for posting on Thursday is that after awhile, even after something as traumatic and tragic as a murder outside your home, one can only take so much of the questioning about why we live here. We do ask ourselves that question, of course. I mean, shit, we might be crazy, but we're not stupid: a murder took place outside our home, for crying out loud! It's just we have weighed the options — not always, but often, crime is just not nearly as random as we like to believe, the fact we have an election in under two years, that many of our neighborhood ills have improved, that maybe we are cut out for this particular battle, and, like your days, many of ours are also uneventful and comfortable, and ultimately, we just love our home — and have come to the conclusion that, yep, as crazy and as stubborn as it sounds, it IS worth it to stay here. And, after awhile, one can read just enough commentary on the Breaking News area, about how Trenton is only full of animals, and should just be burned to the ground, or, maybe a large moat should be dug around the city, and all of us left to rot. I sometimes get a chuckle out of that kind of stuff, especially the stuff about moats, because I always liked the idea of having to lower a big, heavy crank bridge to allow my guests entry (you KNOW you've made it if you need a moat, right?); but at the core, it pisses me off, because the perception of Trenton is just far, far worse than the reality, and it is just never acceptable to write off an entire city's worth of people. And while I'm all for free speech, it's kind of yucky to read the comments to my fellow bloggers' entries about how stupid we all are for living here, when we're fighting a losing battle, and that we're just using the local pizza as justification for staying, when one can get "real" Trenton pizza in Robbinsville. And to know many of Glen's coworkers are too afraid to come into Trenton is just pathetic, because — no offense, Jenny, I swear — my sister Jenny, is pretty much convinced that there's murder and mayhem lurking behind every corner, and even she's not afraid to come in to Trenton. Plus, I'm on the short side of average, and am philosophically opposed to deliberate exercise, so, I have very little muscle tone; I can take Glen in a physical fight, but have no idea how I'd do against someone with a) a gun, or b) better reflexes than Glen. But I'm holding my own. I am. My point: if little ol' flabby me can make it in Trenton, well, then, so can you.

But I know, I know, I know. For some, city life isn't an option. I grew up in a town with lots of woods and farms, and I do sometimes yearn for that, so I understand the appeal. I can understand too, that maybe some people don't even like the perceived threat of violence (even though who knows what's really going on in YOUR neighbor's home). And I can't even get away with saying "urban life is awesome," because life in Trenton, in many ways, is so very suburban, since we are, at best, struggling to find our footing as a real city. There has been progress, but it's slow going, and truth be told, for as many cool things there are in Trenton, we often have to make our way to the suburbs for this or that, anyway, because the hours here are lame, or sometimes we just need to have Indian or Japanese or Middle Eastern or Vietnamese food, and you just can't get that in this city (someone needs to get working on that).

But Trenton is full of good people. And it's a struggle. But we are up for it. I don't see Trenton as a lost cause, or a lost battle, though. Real people live here, and our lives matter.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Tyranny of Dullness

My family members have often questioned our reasons and motivations for moving to Trenton, but it's been coming heavy since Anthony Dunbar was murdered next door, especially after my family found out the oft-misguided local thuggery intimidated our very nice neighbors into moving out of this neighborhood, simply because our nice neighbors lived in the house that was the scene of the violence, yet were not involved with it at all.

Friends have made comments too: one said he wouldn't allow his wife (my girlfriend from college) to visit on her own, not even during the day, because of "the neighborhood" (which he had only seen once—the day he helped us move; and it was a fine day in the neighborhood that day; totally knucklehead-free; they've subsequently divorced). Also, there have been a few borderline disparaging comments about "the neighborhood," by some of our friends, to the effect of, "your house is so nice and has so much potential, but what about the neighborhood?" or "be sure you don't invest too much money into that project because you'll never recoup in this neighborhood." And frankly, it always pissed me off, because almost any time we've had guests, save for one Labor Day party in 2005, the neighborhood has been as quiet as anyone else's neighborhood, in the rest of the region. Plus, the neighborhood simply does not look run-down. There are some houses that need some work (including ours), but by-and-large, our neighborhood is an attractive-enough East Ward neighborhood, filled with tree-lined streets, and single family homes, and little front lawns with pretty flowering shrubs along the foundations.

It could be that possibly we're stupid: we didn't buy our house as an investment, solely. We wanted a home. And this place spoke to us.

I work from home, so don't have that much direct interaction with coworkers, but Glen runs into the same sort of attitude at work. He'd like to have a group of his coworkers over for a barbecue or something like that, and when he mentions it to them, he will invariably get, "Oh. Sorry. I don't go into Trenton. Ever. The gangs. You know?" or "How on earth can you live there? It's SO bad." And it's frustrating to hear this because, yeah, even though there was a murder right outside our windows over the weekend, it's NOT THAT BAD here. Okay, other than the mentally ill Julian, who is sitting in his car right now, with the music blaring, head bobbing, looking for a reason to lose his mind, I'm sure. Oh, and there's, Buffy, the mentally ill kid across the street who likes to holler from his porch, who is currently competing with Julian for, I dunno, The Crazy Fucker of the Year award? Buffy will get his own post soon, I promise. Anyway, it's these two guys, with their tendency to go berzerk, that are more problematic to us than the occasional, and very targeted criminal acts that occur here. I have lived in the suburbs, and my father lives down on "the crick" in Chicken Shit, Maryland, and I know, from experience, there are just as many screwballs in the suburbs, and probably even more out in the country — and ALL of those screwballs have guns, and, along with them, gun "accidents," and those screwballs outside the city are far more prone to cannibalism, sexual predation, and torture than any of the run-of-the-mill urban knuckleheads who may lash out because of simple, stupid "disrespek."

I certainly do not understand how and why our local kids have a complete disregard for life, including their own; how they can be so prone to violence over the simplest things, but as time goes on, I may understand that more than the truly deranged crime that happens outside of urban centers. Plus, violence aside, outside our urban home, we're more likely to encounter the insufferable suburbanites, who bicker with their spouses on their cell phones, inside PetSmart about whether Fluffy likes the broiled or roasted version of his gourmet canned dog food; and, as Bald, Fat, and Angry's Mr. Clean has pointed out, they abuse the wait staff at the local chain restaurants over their annoying idiosyncratic preferences over how their sandwiches must be cut prior to serving, or what type of fruit slice must accompany their beverage, "or else." They live in big, new, architecturally-shit McMansions; and on occasion, they order Dominoes Pizza, or if they're lucky enough to live in Robbinsville (formerly known as Washington Township), they can get a "Taste of Trenton" at the Fake DeLorenzo's at their Fake Town Center. All their schools suck, too, though, admittedly not nearly as bad as Trenton's, but it's just a matter of time, I'm sure, as all of the non-city kids think it's so damn cool to emulate the city's knuckleheads, and just like the morons up my street, the suburban boys are getting their hair cut stupidly, and wear the same dumb jewelry and sneakers, and their pants are baggy, and their t-shirts are too long, and just like the idiots here, they, too, think it's cool to be losers, which will not help them at all in life. The adults work too many hours so they can afford their too large and cheaply constructed homes, and just like everyone else in New Jersey, they're paying too much for taxes, except they're paying MORE; and, the thing that gets me is that — in general — they never let their kids explore their neighborhoods (if you can call them neighborhoods) ANYWAY because of the danger — real or perceived — lurking behind every tree.

Blech. What kind of life is THAT? Plus, so many of the insufferable suburbanites who live in the towns surrounding Trenton were either born here, or their parents were, and they all bailed out the second they saw someone brown move into their block. They made ignorant, racist assumptions, and just left. And that's despicable. Had they stayed, there's a very good chance that Mayor Douglas Palmer and his rubber stamp cronies on council would not have been elected again and again; the once-proud people of Trenton would not have allowed bad decision after bad decision to affect their neighborhoods, their businesses, their schools. If they had just stayed, and showed some pride in their homes, their roots, their neighborhoods, there's a very good chance that the good people that remain today would not have inherited the crap that's happening here.

Even though I just trashed the suburbs, Trenton is obviously, just like the suburbs, loaded with crap, just a different variety. Our biggest, crappy problem is our city government. The suburbs lack culture and soul and quality architecture and real humanity, but most of them are run pretty well. That's not the case here in Trenton. And when you marry a crappy government with an above average amount of crappy residents* that the crappy city government continues to welcome with open arms — ala, "We'll trade you, Marlboro: we'll take all your crappy, substandard housing, so you don't have to deal with crappy poor people, if you give Trenton that money you received to build that crappy, substandard housing" — you get one big freakin' mess.

There are a bunch of us who do not HAVE to live here, even though it is awesome to be able to afford our homes without working our asses off to the point we have no lives, and no money, too. We may have fewer cultural options than the generations in Trenton before us, but we can still walk to the bakery, a few, real pizza parlors, three Chinese restaurants, the dry cleaners, the post office. We see plenty of decay along the way, but amid that there are glorious treasures like old, decorative fencing, real brownstone, luxurious balconies, almost-hidden ponds, peppered with beautiful plants, so many well-loved homes, and plenty of friendly characters, including the dude who plays the steel drums (I think) on his lawn, and very well, too; and Sy, the great guy who runs the sidewalk gym on Olden Avenue. We are a short drive to the museum, the planetarium, the downtown shops, and no more than two hours away from just about everything cool in the northeastern United States. We CHOOSE this. But some days, like these last few days, I know all of us are scratching our heads, asking the same question: "Why? Why do we stay?" We could have meaningful lives elsewhere, with pretty gardens, and room for our animals, and (hopefully) our new baby on the way; and we'd have slightly better educational opportunities for said child; and still be close to NYC and Philly and the beaches, and okay chain restaurants and stores. And there would be fewer crappy politicians, and fewer crappy neighbors, to boot.

So why do we stay? Maybe we're crazy. Or maybe we're stubborn. But I think it boils down to one concept: HOME. This is our home. I may be new to Trenton, which gives me less credibility with the likes of city council president and automaton/Palmer Puppet, Paul Pintella; and I may be lighter skinned than many other people on my block, which makes me a total freak to them. But I don't care. This is my home. And I love it. I loved it the minute we saw it (and it was practically in shambles then), and I love all of the work we put into it, and all of the work we're yet to put into it. I love my little messy, but vibrant yellow and blue kitchen, and I love my small but lush backyard. I love the vaulted ceilings in my way-too-hot-right-now attic, and love the dreams we have for that space. I love the little stray kitties who have passed through these parts, even though I worry about them because of the knuckleheads with pit bulls, and also, the occasional, extreme weather, and especially when I see the city's animal control deathmobile; but I love we've been able to help a few of them. Maybe I could have a meaningful life in the suburbs, but that's a huge risk for me: the risk of nothingness and meaninglessness and fake-shittedness; and ultimately, the tyranny of dullness**. Those things would kill me. So, I'll take my risks in here — different sort of risks, to be sure — where I plan to have a meaningful life, on my little patch of Trenton, and I will weather the occasional storms, and will fight for what's mine.

I hope that doesn't sound too very pompous, though it probably does. I'm sorry for that. Really. But I know others feel the same way about their Trenton homes as I feel about mine. Even after a particularly jarring week.


* I want to acknowledge that some people are just poor, and are not crappy for being poor; and they have received the shaft because of the immoral wheeling and dealing of RCAs (Regional Contribution Agreements), which concentrates the poor in terrible pockets of already burdened cities, like Trenton, and denies these poor people educational and work opportunities, since Trenton doesn't have any educational or work opportunities to speak of. Because of this, some poor people do indeed become crappy and rotten and immoral, just like the legislative loophole and politicians who brought them here.

** The tyranny of dullness, to me, is worse than shitty politicians and shitty neighbors. We can take action to change that sort of stuff, but once the dull mind takes hold, it's over.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What's your Greenprint, Doug?

Sorry, this is just a screen shot, not embedded video. You can click it, and it will open in a new window, but it will just be a still shot. Sorry. See links below to watch the video, or to read the transcript from said video.

Glen is a really good sleuth, and I have a lot of time on my hands, and today, Glen came across a transcript and video of Trenton mayor Douglas Palmer, along with York, PA mayor John Brenner (left), and Seattle mayor Greg Nichols (right), explaining what these three cities are doing to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions. The discussion took place at the 19th Annual United States Energy Association's Energy Efficiency Forum on June 11 in Washington, DC.

I'm posting only Palmer's comments, as they are germane to us here in Trenton, but you can read the full transcript here or watch the video here, if you'd like to know what the other mayors and the moderator are saying. The whole program runs about 30 minutes.

I'm focusing only on Palmer's comments because it is clear he's a complete egomaniac, talking about the things he's done for the city. I can't come right out and call him a liar, but let's just say that he is probably talking out of his ass for most of this discussion.

After all, these are comments coming from a man who has cut the police presence in my ward, but has Trenton officers on round-the-clock security dispatch in front of his West Ward home; the same man who has two different police officers serve as his personal drivers, and is driven, by the way, not in his own vehicle, but rather, a city-owned and funded car. This is the same man who enforces our ordinances for some, but lets his buddies slide (and often gives them city-owned and funded vehicles, to boot). This man didn't say peep about his very liberal take-home auto policy, but talks about mandating the taxi companies in this city start to use hybrid vehicles, since the former police vehicles (the same Crown Vics Palmer often provides to his friends, but his friends get the new, pimped-out models) favored by the taxi companies, are supposedly not efficient over the life of the vehicle. This guy talks about retrofitting old buildings, but is far more likely to push for their abandonment. This is the same man who has done away with the recycling program in City Freakin' Hall, for crying out loud, because of a grudge against an old pal and guy who ran against him for office. He's leading by example, for certain.

Sorry. I'll let you make your own decisions. But to the USEA, and the US Conference of Mayors, your credibility will to plummet if you continue to let this guy blather on and on at your functions.

The text below is lengthy, but believe it or not, I edited out some of Doug's extraneous conversational hot air, and the sanctimonious ass-kissing. Again, see the links above if you'd like to read the full text or watch the video.

DOUGLAS PALMER: ...[W]e can't afford to wait for the federal government....One of the things that I'm doing in Trenton is I created the Trenton Green Initiative and it's a task force made up of the governor, of course; our county executive; Public Service Electric and Gas, which is a major supplier of energy in our region; the Department of environmental protection workforce development; and some community-based organization called Isles. And we've created a partnership and we're working on how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, how we can change behavior, which is the most important and probably one of the most challenging things to do. And also to come up with ways in which we can provide green collar, not just jobs, but green collar careers as we try to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.... I love this term now, we're coming up with our green print and we will be putting that forward in our areas, whether it's planting trees, whether it's in energy-efficient buildings, whether it's changing our traffic signals, whether it's creating career paths. So that's one of the major initiatives that we're working on in the city of Trenton.

... I was very disappointed and the U.S. Council of Mayors were very disappointed about the inaction and, again, as mayors, we can't afford to sit around and wait for the federal government. And we also believe that you can be patriotic about more than just war and, certainly, reducing the dependence on foreign oil and reducing our energy consumption is something that we can all do as Americans. A little over a year ago the U.S. Council of Mayors put forth an initiative called an Energy Environment Block Grant, because we recognize that if you want to talk about reducing your carbon footprint and creating green collar jobs and doing the kinds of retrofitting in, first of all, our public buildings first, to lead by example, we're going to need help. We're going to need partnership with the federal government that can help supply some of the financial resources to help us go green... We modeled an Energy Environment Block Grant, which will be $2 billion a year for five years that would go to cities, towns, and counties to help give us the resources based on like a CDBG community development block grant model, how to disperse those funds so that we can use those funds to help our cities go green. The president, in the energy bill, signed it, the Congress passed it, but they didn't appropriate any money. And so we're pushing very hard that it be appropriated. A city like Trenton would receive, based on our formula, a little over $400,000 a year for five years, so that's four times five is $2 million. Even in these inflationary times its $2 million and we will use that to help, whether it's to give grants or help us retrofit.

I know we've been holding the energy forum for like, what, I think 19 years. And in the beginning probably people are saying, "Oh, what are they talking about?" But now, we have the perfect storm, high energy prices, what's happening with our economy and the loss of jobs, and a change in what's going to be happening federally in terms of leadership. So now is the time. I mean we're talking about things that aren't as abstract anymore, about what we can really do with resources. And so this is a perfect storm, where all of us, whether you're educators in the school systems, whether you're in business, we can all work together and push what has to be done....[W]e can't hide and we have influence and that's why we have to lead by example, because I'll tell you a story. You know, I go to the supermarket.

I go to the supermarket and people look at what I buy. I mean I've got to be careful. You know, you can't eat that! I'm going in the checkout line, and I don't know if you've noticed, but I don't have hair, so I use these razor blades, certain razor blades. And a bald-headed guy behind me says, "Are those any good?" And I said, "Yeah, I like them." So he went back and bought the razor blades that I'd bought and so I figure, certainly, if we can influence what a guy puts on his head, we certainly can influence what goes in people's heads and this is one of the issues.

[W]e've worked with President Clinton and signed a Clinton Climate Protection Agreement and we're looking at ways in which, because ... we have to get our city buildings first equipped, in terms of energy efficiency so that we can then go after the private sector and even residents. And working with the Clinton initiative, we're going to look at ways in which we can flood the market and reduce the price of what we need to do to retrofit our buildings. And plus, with the U.S. Council of Mayors we have our energy climate protection center. ...[W]e have over 850... little laboratories where we have best practices so that we can steal each other's ideas and put our face on them and name on them at home and say, "This is what we're going to do." But we're not going to wait. We can't wait, especially when you look at in our cities whether it's congestion because of traffic or whether it's buildings which create most of the carbon. It's not the cars. The buildings are going 24 hours a day...

...Johnson Controls [one of the forum's sponsors] [is] helping us too as it relates to creating jobs, because that's another issue that's critically important where you get segments of your community to buy in that may not buy in. I know I'm talking too much, but it's just like when we were in Seattle in November with our Climate Protection Summit. And we talked about the polar bears and ice caps and where are polar bears going to go? And you're there three days, like that's all you think about. Now, if I went back to Trenton, back to the hood and told people, you know, we've got to worry about the polar bears, and we've got to worry about climate change, they'd look at me like I was crazy and say, "Well, yeah, but we want our climate to change right here in these neighborhoods." So, what I did was some people get it, like they know about changing their light bulbs or reducing energy or walking more. But some people, especially in some of the lower income neighborhoods that aren't as involved because of a whole lot of issues, but they know about creating jobs and what can happen if you reduce your energy and how much money you'll have for prescriptions if you're a senior citizen or creating real jobs for their sons or daughters or just people in the community. So you have to utilize this issue on many fronts so that more and more people can understand what you're talking about. And that's also a part of what we're doing as mayors that go out in our own communities and speak to what they see and what they can understand and then have them take action.

[O]ne of the biggest problems, as in anything, is to change human behavior ... where you start to walk more, where you start to plant more trees and where you start to turn your lights out. I mean I'm following my wife around the house when she leaves, because she leaves the lights on. It's driving me crazy! Not to mention my light bill. I got the CFLs, but if you're burning them all day... I've got a task force of like third-graders now that are involved and we're going to have high schools, because young people are the ones that can help their parents, like we did with recycling, to change behavior. And another barrier also is funds. You need funds to be able to do some things. I'll give you an example. ...[W]e had like 3000 traffic signals and they said, "You know, if you go to LED, like with the Christmas trees, we can save," they said, "Mayor, we could save $110,000 a year on out." Now, it costs about 250,000 to retrofit and we did get a grant from BPU, which is great, for about 50,000. But even if we have to spend that money, that investment, on our own, in a year and a half we will make that back and then you will continue to see those savings. So the more help we get from the federal government we can jumpstart and do those things even quicker.

We have a filtration plant that we're upgrading now, $70 million upgrade, and we're looking at the ways we can do that to conserve energy as well as water. And the great thing is, and what I've found, you have citizens in our city that were farther ahead than I was even on this whole green issue. I've sort of caught up a little bit, but you'd be surprised, people in City Hall that are looking at things or coming up with ideas. And then with my cabinet, you know, I've challenged them to show how they can get involved in the green movement. How do you feel you can conserve? What can you do? And they're thinking of all kinds of things and people that work for them are coming up with ways in which, whether it's the screensaver or turn off the computer at lunch or doing those kinds of things. And it's just getting everybody involved and recognizing that we all can make a difference and what you do ... matters. And certainly our public works folks looked at that when we talked about energy efficiency and even from recreation and human resources, everyone is looking at ways in which they can get involved and help in the way they can to reduce our carbon footprint and be more efficient.

I've proposed to our city council that we require all taxis in the city to get at least 30 miles per gallon by 2013. Taxis put out an inordinate amount of carbon because they're running essentially 24 hours a day. And in our city the taxi drivers have been buying be used police vehicles, great classic Crown Vics and running those around. Now, it turns out that if you do a lifecycle cost it's cheaper for them to run the hybrid vehicle. But the key is the financing of that initial purchase. So we're working with them and with banks to make sure that our taxi drivers and owners who are, by and large, immigrants to the country and don't have a huge amount of capital, that they're going to not be pushed out of the industry. So that's one of the keys from our perspective.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The baby shower gone bad

The scene of Saturday night's joyous baby shower, and later, the behind-the-scenes scene of a melee which claimed the life of Anthony Dunbar, and severely injured another man. One of the kittens — or gatitos — I photographed last Friday in the mulberry tree, for my blog, is seen in the background, near the back door, left behind after all the chaos. There is blood, too, near the pillar with the streamers tied low. Click to enlarge.

We have choices in life, regardless of where we live, or how we're raised. Sometimes, we screw up: it's part of life, part of learning. We are complex beings with complex needs, and the ability to react in a million different ways, depending on the minute details of our circumstances.

Black kids harassing Spanish-speaking people is common here. These kids know that the language barrier and different customs often discourage Spanish speakers from calling the police. These kids know that Latinos often carry cash, and all of this makes them — it would seem — easy targets. Even without cash gain as a motive, Hispanics are victimized again and again here in Trenton.

These kids know what they're doing is wrong; this sort of morality is programmed into our DNA. DNA is ultimately the reason why I blame the criminal for the criminal act. But there are always complicated, mitigating factors, aren't there? Many people in our society — rural, suburban, and urban — grew up in some sort of less-than-Leave it to Beaver environment; so many of us grew up in homes steeped in neglect or abuse, or drug addiction, or absentee parents. But we grow up, maybe scarred from childhood, and most of us turn out okay, despite what we went through. We turn out okay because of our surrounding environment: most of us had some decent friends, and lived in communities with a high standard of law and order, and our schools functioned very well.

In this city, Mayor Douglas Palmer has been at the wheel for nearly two decades, and while not at fault for every last horrible detail in the city, we have seen an incredible amount of decomposition occur under his leadership: the restaurants have bailed, the schools are very nearly a complete write-off, and the neighborhoods have crumbled. The city is packed with low-income residents, with no opportunities for work or a decent education, and, to make matters worse, officials often turn their backs to so much that's wrong with our city, which allows a criminal atmosphere to blossom.

This, I think, is the critical difference between most of us who came to Trenton from some place else (or came of age at a different time), and the kids who have come of age under the Palmer administration, here in the Hood. It's an example – maybe even a surprising one — about our environment playing far more of a leading role in shaping us far more than our parents ever could.

In Trenton, with our lack of enforcement, and our lack of educational and business opportunities, kids must decide to dig deep within themselves and try — despite all of the damn obstacles around them — to become functioning members of society; or they must decide to just sell drugs on the corner, like their friends are doing, and ride around ATVs in their spare time, and rob the Spanish people periodically for some extra cash. These kids know what's right and what's wrong. They also know what's easy and what's hard; they know what they can get away with, and for how much risk and effort. The life of crime is obviously alluring, or else more Trenton kids would be involved in sports or music or art, or off working real jobs.

Anthony Dunbar chose to hang out with some of his friends on Saturday night; and while we'll never know the details of what was said between friends that night, they, as a group, seemed to decide to harass a small group of Latino men, who were having a smoke after a celebratory baby shower. One of the boys slapped one of the Spanish guys in the back of the head; another kid smashed a bottle over the head of one of the Spanish men, which spattered blood all over the sidewalk in front of, and to the side of our property. I don't believe this was motivated by any sort of gang animosity, but that's not to say that the people involved weren't affiliated with any local gangs. I think the attack was motivated by racism — black on hispanic, specifically — and opportunity. We're told the Spanish guy was taken to the hospital, and we believe, is still there, recovering from his head wound. Finally, one of the Spanish guys put a knife into Anthony Dunbar's abdomen, which ended the melee, and eventually Anthony's life.


Late last summer, a small family of Latinos moved in next door to us. They were friendly: they always said hello; but mostly kept to themselves. I'd be hard pressed to say that bad tenants lived there previously, but the previous residents brought about some challenges for the neighborhood, and I'll just leave it at that. So it was clear, very early on after the Latino family moved in, that a new era was possibly afoot, and we were glad for it.

Many nights over the last 10 months or so, Glen and I would sit on the porch or out in the back yard and smell the aromas coming from the Latino kitchen next door, fantasizing (and drooling) about how we might attempt to get ourselves invited for dinner. Our envy was excruciating on the days we saw family members of our Latino neighbors show up with large pots and platters of food. We had no idea what was under the lids, but we knew it would be good. It HAD to be.

Over time, we got to know our neighbors just a wee bit better, which wasn't hard, especially since the husband was an outgoing, friendly, and friendly-faced guy. He is a hard worker, and asked us a lot about the neighborhood, hoping that things were good here, since they had come to the United States to make better lives for themselves, and because they had a baby on the way. We were honest: it is work to live in Trenton, especially in these parts, but we had seen drastic improvements in the four years we've been here. Yep, there were some jerks up the street, but most of them had been hanging on the next block up, instead of ours lately, which didn't exactly bring us complete satisfaction, but it was a huge relief to have them off our corner. And a couple of locals are obviously mentally ill and prone to semi-frequent psychotic episodes. But these conditions could occur anywhere in the whole world, no? So, ultimately, things have been good here; better, certainly, than they had been.

The couple next door also took an interest in helping out with the stray cat problem — which earns them bonus points in my book: it's been a lot of fun watching their two little kittens hang out in the mulberry tree between our property. They kept their place neat; and they, in no way, contributed to any of our neighborhood's issues.

Last week, the husband told us that their baby was due in August; right around the same time ours is due, and they wanted to let us know they were going to have a baby shower over the weekend, and we were invited to stop by, if we wanted. We loaned them a table and chairs, and gave them a punch bowl; and watched their giddy excitement as they trimmed the hedges and cut the grass and hung balloons and banners, to welcome in their new life. It made me so happy to have nice neighbors; since nice neighbors are not a given anywhere, but definitely not in Trenton. My neighbor's pregnancy helped me to think positively about my own, which hasn't been easy. Her pregnancy made me envision our babies playing together; and how cool it would be if my child could become bilingual from birth, because of this budding friendship. After losing our first child, Catherine, on her birthday last year, because of a cord accident, it is HARD to hope, and every little positive scenario I can conjure is so comforting, so helpful right now, so I am really grateful that my pregnancy is similarly timed to my neighbor's. It gives me a bit of strength.

So the preparations for the shower were underway, and the smells from their kitchen were better than ever. I heard them chopping, and scraping bowls on Friday, all day, and I could only imagine what they were creating. We heard laughter and music, and their mood was contagious.

Saturday rolled around, and their guests arrived in waves. The music was festive, and there were party games and gifts and TONS of food. The kids were all dressed up, and everyone doted on our neighbor's big round belly, full of baby. Around 8, Glen went out back to wish them well, and the husband gave him a huge plate of food for the two of us to share. Glen came in the house, and found me upstairs in the office (working on my most recent Sunday Funny for my blog); he was in a state of shock and awe, filled with quiet respect. "Babe," he said, "It's like a dream come true." He held the styrofoam plate like precious cargo, and we simply looked at it for a while, inhaling the aroma; and in silence, we walked back down to the dining room.

The meal may not sound all that special: it was carne asada, a thinly cut grilled steak, served with a chimichurri sauce (a mix of herbs, onions, tomatoes, and garlic, in this case); a salad made from green beans and carrots; some cilantro-infused rice; and some refried black beans. It was, however, some of the best food I have ever eaten in my life. We could feel the love and celebration and happy work that went into the preparation, and I believe those were the secret ingredients that made this meal taste so delicious. Glen and I talked about the meal for the rest of the evening: how it was like the best Christmas ever, after so much anticipation, and how lucky we were that we had such fantastic neighbors. We planned to give them some of Glen's Canadian treats the next day, because food is one of the best building blocks for friendship.

We went upstairs to watch some TV, and I dozed on the couch, in the air conditioning. Glen wandered off to the bedroom, after noticing the party wound down around 11:30 or so. A bit after 1, Glen came back in to get me, and said our house was surrounded by crime scene tape, and the corner was crawling with police officers. The tape very literally went right through the neighbor's backyard, mingling with the baby shower banners and crepe paper, to the tree in front of our house, to the street sign at our corner, around every tree on our side street, back around our garage, and into the neighbor's yard again.

What the heck happened?? They were having a baby shower for crying out loud. Glen took Steve, the dog, outside, and heard the officers talking: one of the party guests was hit over the head with a bottle, and someone was stabbed as a result.

At daybreak, the forensics team showed up, and marked the blood droplets all over the place, and took pictures, and we again overheard the officers discussing the situation, and are certain that at least someone in this story was in stable condition at the hospital. We assumed — incorrectly, it would seem — they were talking about the stabbing victim. We didn't know until Monday morning that Anthony Dunbar had collapsed right outside our windows, and later died at the hospital.

So much of life doesn't really make sense. Life doesn't offer proper transitions and segues, like we get in books and movies. How one minute a group of men could be cleaning up after a baby shower, and the next, a kid lies dying in the street from a stab wound, just defies logic. These things do not happen after baby showers. We don't want them to, anyway, and that desire alone should be enough to prevent them from happening. But it isn't. Apparently these things do happen in Trenton, all the damn time.


Last night, our wonderful new friends packed up their belongings and all of the glorious baby loot they received at their baby shower, and moved away, under the watchful eye of several police officers. This came about because a number of local black kids drove to our neighbor's house yesterday, slowing down in front, as well as on the alley side, and made gestures: "we're watching you" gestures. I have no idea about the affiliations or personal beliefs of every guest in attendance at that party, but our neighbors are nice, generous, decent, hopeful people, with a baby on the way, and what happened was not their fault.

Plus, these intimidating black kids are very likely the same kids who started everything on Saturday night, sending the Latino guy to the hospital. They were not just playing around; they were out for blood. And they got it, just not in the way they expected. We're told that Anthony Dunbar was left wounded outside, on our street, and a short time later, his friends came back and decided to drive him to St. Francis, where they dumped him anonymously, to die a few hours later. If they had called 9-1-1, or at least drove him to the hospital sooner, or, better yet, if they had decided to just leave the group of party-goers alone on Saturday night, maybe Anthony would still be alive right now. Instead of accepting any kind of responsibility for their own bad decisions, they drove by, intimidating a young couple who had nothing to do with Anthony's death, except, unfortunately, that the fight occurred outside their house.

It was devastating to watch our neighbors pack up; we have no idea what this means to our neighborhood, knowing that good neighbors are not a given. We can't imagine how worried they must be: they just wanted a new life here in the United States, and they have a baby on the way, and now they're going to live in fear of retaliation for something they didn't even start.

They didn't have enough room in their vehicles for all of their belongings, especially with the new, bulky baby gear, and they didn't want to make multiple trips, since the thugs and bullies were driving around watching them pack.

Glen and I had a very quick discussion and decided with no debate to pull the truck around, and to help our neighbors pack up. We know the local thuggery, as well as our (for once) silent neighbors, and a number of police officers, witnessed this, and we know the risks involved. We are tired. Tired of the wrong people walking around with the power. Tired of rolling over and just accepting the bullshit that happens here in Trenton as par for the course. Tired of knowing that good people suffer needlessly because of fucked-up priorities and bad politics; and because of that, two neighborhoods — ours, and the one our neighbors are moving to — may get worse, because of someone's misguided notion of respect and revenge. This may have very bad consequences for us, and for our former neighbors. Or it may not. We don't know yet. But Glen and I hit that "enough's enough" point, and we know that things will never improve if we just sit back, in silence, and watch events unfold.


Anthony Dunbar and his friends appeared to have made some very bad decisions the other night, but it doesn't mean that Anthony deserved to die, or got what was coming. It's maddening to me, this old white chick, to try to understand how these kids don't comprehend — or care about — the nature of violence, the permanence of death. So, even though Anthony didn't deserve to die, he and his friends ARE responsible for their actions; but Anthony, too, is a victim. Maybe, like so many other people in this world, he came from a screwed-up home. Maybe not. Either way, what makes his case so tragic is that he had the misfortune of growing up in Trenton, under the Palmer administration, where it is far more lucrative to join a gang, than it is to apply for a college scholarship. Bad politics are at least partially to blame for Anthony's death.

Greg Forester blogged yesterday about actual number of cops on the streets in the given wards, and the amount of crimes taking place in each ward. And here, in the East Ward, crime IS up, and yet, the number of officers patrolling this district is down. Dunbar's murder, and the attack of the Hispanic man probably could not have been prevented if there were more cops on our streets, but I don't really know for sure. More cops on the streets means more crime suppression. I do think groups of young thugs, who currently walk around with impunity at any given time in our neighborhoods, would be, overall, slightly less inclined to do so, if we had more officers on the streets. Crime would truly be down. I can't help but wonder if because our councilman, Gino Melone, has been voting against the wasteful and self-serving interests of the Palmer administration, is our ward is being punished? According to Greg's post yesterday, crime is down in the west ward (but it usually is, save for a few scary pockets), and there are more cops patrolling the streets there. The mayor, incidentally, has a home (which he may not live in full-time) in the West Ward, as do members of his rubber stamp block on council, West Ward Councilwoman Annette Lartigue; at-large automaton Paul Pintella; and at-large puppet, Cordelia Staton. The added police presence in their neighborhoods is a perk, perhaps, of allegiance?

We are just so very tired, but we know that Trenton is worth fighting for. We just wish the politicians who seem to so desperately want new people to move in to the converted banks and factories, and the possible new transit center, would do a bit more for the good people already here — many of whom, like us, are relatively new to Trenton. Mayor Palmer may as well dream his grandiose dreams for a colony in outer space, since a space community is far more likely to happen than any renaissance in Trenton at this point, with his screwed-up priorities. Doug, we, the current residents of Trenton, in the decent, but edgy neighborhoods, need your support and energy and focus now, before our communities crumble apart, just like so much else in this city. Can you help us for a change, instead of putting so much time, effort and energy into plans destined to fail? Please?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Berries, Gatos, and the West Ward Council Idiots

Oi. I read the paper this morning about how city council, without the presence of East Ward councilman, Gino Melone, and South Ward councilman, Jim Coston, approved some some significant expenditures introduced by the administration to council at the last minute. Annette Lartigue, the West Ward councilwoman, protested the timing at last night's meeting, but nonetheless voted "aye" for not only Mayor Palmer's 11th hour request to triple the number of Trenton's full-time municipal court judges, but she (along with her other West Ward, at-large automatons, Paul Pintella, and Cordelia Staton) also voted to approve $10,000 in payments to the legal firm that is FIGHTING council and the citizens in former police director Joseph Santiago's residency lawsuit. She also, by the way (again, along with Pintella and Staton), voted to approve $30,000 in legal fees to the firm representing (if you can call it that) the city in this case. The lawyer representing the citizens in this lawsuit, George Dougherty, is working pro bono (thank you for your commitment to the city, sir). The taxpayers are the ones ultimately paying the price for Mayor Palmer's and former Police Director Joe Santiago's folly, and it is abundantly clear that Annette Lartigue and her vacuous at-large cohorts from the West Ward are completely cool with that.


It was very early when I read this, and it made me very angry. And also, very hungry.

Glen is home today, so I made egg-and-cheese sandwiches (which were delicious, by the way), and then went outside to what's become a damn thicket of blackberries in the back corner of my yard. Last year, I got about 10 ripe ones a day, and made the mistake of thinking I'd get ambitious and make ice cream or something with them, so I froze them, 10 at a time, for the whole time they were in season. And then, I wound up not doing anything with them, which is criminal. So this year, I vowed to eat whatever I picked each day. My blackberry bushes went nutso this year, sending up tons of new growth all over that back area, but I didn't expect much in the way of fruit. I am happily mistaken, though I cannot reach all the berries without slicing my skin (the bushes have thorns).

I hope Glen will eat some of these with me; I am planning, despite the abundance, to eat them all, and not freeze any.

Maybe life is a bowl of blackberries?
The Christmas Cactus belonged to my mother; my father gave it to us last weekend, and as much as I enjoy gardening, I have a hard time with houseplants, so I hope
I can keep it alive.

We have some new neighbors next door. It's a rental, but home to a very nice Spanish family. The landlady is a bit insane, though; I blogged about her last year when she got up in the mulberry tree — which straddles our property — barefoot, with a machete, and hacked away her side of the canopy. I do hate that tree, but felt bad after her violent assault. But mulberries are tough, native trees, and are so resilient. Now, my neighbors don't have the constant dribble of purple mash all over their yard, like we do, for nearly one whole month, but there is new growth all over this tree: nature's little way of saying "Screw you, Machete Lady!" I tried for awhile to embrace the mulberry; to harvest its abundant, but fairly bland berries and turn them into liquors, salad dressings, jams, etc., but there's no keeping up with it, and try as I might, I am no Martha Stewart, besides. The one decent thing about this tree, though, even if it has stained the shit out of our new slate patio, is that it draws the birds away from my tastier, and more precious blackberries.

I mention my new neighbors because one of our local stray cats, the adorable, but whorish, Liz (mother of Hardscrabble, whom I've mentioned a few times on this blog), decided to have her latest litter of kittens next door; at least that's what we think; we're not 100% sure. We have tried a few times to capture her, to bring her to the vet to get spayed, but we always wind up with another cat in the trap instead. Liz is a whore, and elusive! Anyway, the new neighbors love their two little gatos (or, technically gatitos, I suppose), and have set up a little KittyLand (GatitoLand??) Play Center for them out back. It's nice to not have all the responsibility on our shoulders anymore. Despite the toys, the two little kittens, who are quickly becoming quite tame, enjoy sitting in the mulberry tree, so they can watch Steve, our new young puppy, run around our yard like a complete imbecile (at least Steve has an excuse, Annette: his brain is only the size of a walnut, if that). While I was picking my blackberries, I heard rustling in the tree above me, and at first assumed it was birds, who also try their best to eat up all the mulberries, but it's just never enough. Never. Anyway, it wasn't the birds, but rather, the gatitos, trying to get a better look at me.

Glen was watching from the window, and brought me my camera, so I was not only able to document this morning's berry harvest, but also the two little Mulberry Tree Monsters.


Mulberry Tree Monsters

Anyway, despite the yummy breakfast sandwich, and the bowl of berries, and finding two cute kittens watching me from the high branches above, and watching Steve prance around the yard with a cat toy in his mouth, my mood is still sour. How do our representatives get away with NOT representing the people? How can they not be offended that the administration thinks so little of them to not give them any warning about needing major financial approvals? How can this happen? Ask around: it doesn't happen anywhere else but Trenton, and we need to put an end to it. We need an overhaul in the West Ward, and we need a new mayor.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I woke up early this morning, rested and comfortable, and was pleased my neighbors were able to behave like polite members of society last night. I know that nothing is given, particularly here in the hood, so it's not like I've had a change of heart about most of my neighbors. I'm just glad for the small favors in life. Tomorrow is another day, and well, every day is the weekend for a lot of people around here, so my good mood can change pretty quickly.

And speaking of some of the lousier neighbors, I took a risk — a risk I currently regret — with my irises, the irises my mother gave me, by planting them out for public viewing, which basically means "public consumption" here, with the sense of entitlement that is so prevalent in Trenton. The time to move and divide irises is July, so I'll be moving most of them to the backyard, because they're just too lovely, and hold too much sentiment for me to allow them to be stolen. I hate to be that way, though, so I'll probably keep a few out along the front and the sides: I'll just move them a bit closer to the house, and perhaps add a border of poison ivy along the sidewalk, as a deterrent to the little pricks who think the world owes them my flowers.

I'm glad I didn't take the same risk with my lilies: I did plant some along our side entrance, but much further back, which does not necessarily guarantee they'll stay put: I have seen wretched little jerks standing in my side yard (such as it is), and once watched a couple of teenage knuckleheads wrestle right there, without regard to my plants, or the little shin-high decorative edging, which I installed as a friendly reminder to people with boundary issues to stay the hell on the sidewalk. It does usually deter the wrestlers and those with general confusion over where to walk, but just not always. This, I've learned, is my own damn fault, since no one here in Trenton is to blame for anything, and I was the mongo for trying to make my yard look nice, and nice, after all, provides way too much of a temptation for some people. Anyway, it's really not that often I'm hit by flower thieves, or side yard wrestlers, and since I woke up so refreshed and happy, I'll stop focusing on them, if only for a few more minutes.

Anyway, most of my lilies are in my backyard, which is fenced in; and even though I know there are plenty of native lilies, I love the big showy Asian varieties. What I love about them is that, in my opinion, they're some of the prettiest bulbs that are hardy for our region: many attractive summer-blooming bulbs in this part of the world are not tolerant of our winters, though with global warming, our ideas of summer and winter are shifting, and apparently, some bulbs feel the same way (for instance, I've had a few gladiolas make it through two winters here, which should not happen). I know that it's still technically spring, though really, the weather has not reflected that the last couple of years, and besides, a few of the varieties of lilies I have (Stargazer comes to mind) bloom in summer proper, and I hope to post a few pictures of them when the time is right, because the ones that come up in the summer — I think — are so spectacular that I almost don't feel worthy of having them grow on my property, here in Trenton. But they do grow well here: Trenton soil, if not all of its politicians and many of its inhabitants, is great stuff.

These here today are some of my early bloomers. The bright, deep pink ones are up first this year — and they're as tall as I am, and some have even bowed all the way over that I had to cut a few and bring them inside. They're far more beautiful than they were last year, or at least it seems: each petal is splashed with tone-on-tone pinks, and I just love it. I'm also starting to get some yellow ones bud up, which, I think came into my care as a different color; I think they reverted to yellow, which yesterday, sort of vexed me (as I prefer red/pink/orange/purple to anything yellowish). But, the first yellow lily opened today, and maybe it was my good mood, or maybe it was just the power of the flower: it was so cheery, and freckled, with such lush stamens and prominent anthers, loaded with a heavy, sweet pollen, that I have had a change of heart about these yellow lilies. They're okay in my book.

So, no venom today. We'll see how things go with council and my neighbors tonight, and maybe I'll be back to my normal, critical self tomorrow.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Not Sunday, and Not Funny

Horses are cool and everything, but this city certainly doesn't need a mounted division, not when we're so strapped and the resources could be better spent elsewhere. Of all of former police director Joseph Santiago's recent cuts, this is the only one that makes any sense, but it's just a diversionary tactic to turn the public's attention away from his other follies. It's not going to work.

"In a (police) budget of $40 million, is $40,000 gonna make you or break you? No," said former police director Joseph Santiago about Trenton's former mounted police unit. "But in a lot of cases, it's the public perception of what we're spending our money on."

$40,000 won't break most municipalities, but it supposedly represents what had been budgeted for the horses. And with the shell games going on in the city's administration with regard to full disclosure of information (especially the financial variety), I can't accept that number at face value. I'd love to know what the actual expense was for the horses, and not just stabling and food and general maintenance. What about the vet bills, the cost to bring them back and forth between Trenton and Hopewell every day, the cost of their transport trailer, and what that added weight did to the gas mileage of the vehicle hauling it twice a day?

No, $40,000 won't break most municipalities, but if Santiago looked around, he'd see the duress Trenton is experiencing. But he doesn't really care about public perception, and may not, in fact, even have a conscience. If he did:

  1. He would have moved here years ago, as required by law
  2. and, related to that, would never have engaged in a money-sucking lawsuit to fight the citizens of Trenton about our own laws
  3. He wouldn't have created havoc within the police department
  4. He wouldn't have disbanded the Vice squad
  5. He would have turned in his blinged-out, city-issued vehicle ages ago, especially when gas prices started to soar

Public perception, Joe, is that you are draining us financially, and you don't care. Watching your tail lights head back to Stirling, NJ one last time — and soon — will not save this city. But it certainly will not break us, either.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lovin' Thy Neighbor, Trenton-style

Note: I've got some offensive language in this post, but almost all of it can be attributed to my neighbor. I am merely quoting him.

When humanity was instructed to love thy neighbor, there's a good chance our higher power did not know about MY neighbors. Sure, plenty of my neighbors are just like you and me, going about life, trying to get by, doing what we can to make our spot of Trenton more beautiful. But that's not the case for all of them; we have our fair share of knobs in these parts. I have refrained from saying too much about these people partially out of fear, but mostly out of respect for their privacy, but recently, the line was drawn, and since most of their shenanigans happen right out in the street, at full volume, they're idiots for expecting any kind of privacy.

So, today, I turn my attention to Julian, which is not his real name; I have no idea why I'm protecting his identity, when he obviously does not care about his own well-being, let alone mine. But I'll grant him this privacy, this time. Julian is part of the nice family right across the street; but he didn't live in the house when Glen and I moved to Trenton. He came later, which was fantastic, because we were dealing with other sorts of problems up the street in those early days...if Julian were around during that time, we would have moved for sure. So after the problems up the street more or less worked themselves out, Julian moved in across the street, with Julian's sweet grandmother. And suddenly, there was a lot of screaming. And when I say screaming, I do mean screaming: high-pitched primeval wail freak-outs several times a week that usually culminated in some sort of collapse in the middle of the street, and a visit from Uncle Fancy Car to help restore the peace, and a lot of sobbing for a few hours. All of the noise came from Julian. Screaming and sobbing in the middle of the road does not necessarily define a man, but in this case, believe me, it does: Julian is mentally unwell. I'm not saying that I don't care. I do. Or at least I did, at one time. Obviously, he has not received proper treatment, but my sympathy has just run out: he's a crazy, freakin' pain in the ass.

Like attracts like, right? Because this is true, Julian, of course, has unstable friends as well. There's one guy who likes to walk over to Julian, while Julian is sitting in his car (sitting in the car is what Julian does most of the time), with the volume cranked all the way, under our windows. The friend often has a beer, and predictably, he will always throw his empty bottles wherever he wants; the unpredictable part of this is WHERE the bottles will be thrown. A few weeks ago, it happened to be our backyard, while we were sitting in the backyard, which could not have been a worse place for Julian's friend to throw his empty. Glen tends to be more forgiving than I am about bad behaviors, but that was until Julian's halfwitted asshole friend threw a beer bottle into our yard, and suffice it to say, Glen's rage made me very proud. I'm certainly not into caveman antics, but in that case, it was totally appropriate, and totally cool with me. Julian apologized for his friend (which was the right thing to do, but whatever), since his friend couldn't, or wouldn't, and got into Glen's face instead. I hauled my pregnant self outside the fence, and when the friend saw me, I think began to feel badly, and he said, "I'm sorry ma'am," but I gave him the whatever wave-off, because there is no excuse for what he did, and I can't stand to be called "ma'am," besides. Glen attempted to hand the empty bottle — which miraculously didn't break against our new patio — back to the Julian's friend, but Julian grabbed it instead, still apologizing. Screw Julian, too, though, because he's never once stopped his asshole friend from throwing empty beer bottles willy-nilly, and there's no excuse for that, either.

Julian's got another stellar friend who pulls up in his pimped-out ghetto sled, with the volume at 11, and in doing so, we learn more than we ever wanted to know about edgy rap lyrics. Last weekend, we heard Nas's new song, Be a Nigger, in which the chorus is sung, cleverly, to the old Dr. Pepper jingle, and goes like this:

I'm a nigger, he's a nigger, she's a nigger, we some niggers
Wouldn't you like to be a nigger, too?
To all my kike niggers, spic niggers, guinea niggers, chink niggers
That's right, y'all my niggaz, too
I'm a nigger, he's a nigger, she's a nigger, we some niggers
Wouldn't you like to be a nigger, too
They like to strangle niggers, blamin niggers, shootin niggers, hangin niggers
Still you wanna be a nigger, too?

(See the whole video here, if you want.)

We were in the yard while this was going on. And it left us, well, speechless. I know that Nas is critically-acclaimed, and is the son of talented jazz musician Olu Dara so I'm not judging him or even Julian's friend for playing the song at top volume; but I have, too, lost count of how many times I have heard the casual use of the word "nigger" from the mouths of African Americans here in Trenton, and have not grown comfortable with it. I suppose I understand the concept of taking the word back, and in doing so, taking the power away; but I also believe in self-fulfilling prophecies, and when you call yourself disparaging terms, you come to believe those disparaging things about yourself. But perhaps I'm a fuddy-duddy?

I heard Julian screaming in the street again just recently, and I thought he was assaulting one of his family members, but it turns out, he was mad about something outside our quiet little hamlet, and needed some family back-up, so he called for Uncle Fancy Car. Uncle Fancy Car has always seemed like a good guy: church-going, looks in after his mom and siblings, is cool-headed, etc. But on that particular day, he pulled up in his fancy car, and Julian got into the back seat, screaming "Cleveland! Cleveland!" which I took to mean the avenue not too far from here, rather than the city in Ohio, and the car sped away. A short time later, Julian returned, covered in blood, which I saw because — in case it isn't clear — I spend a lot of time in my backyard, where the view of Julian and his antics is always great. Apparently things did not go so well over on Cleveland. We're not sure what happened with Uncle Fancy Car, but he returned a short time later, intact, and unbloodied.

Julian sat out in his car, under our window, for the better part of that evening, listening to music loudly, and, I think, drinking, which made me see red: it's been hot, and we're all uncomfortable, but I am nearly 7 months pregnant, and it just isn't easy for me. I have no fucking patience for Julian — none. Luckily (I guess, for some people) I'm moving kinda slow these days, or else I would have gone out there that night and just starting punching him, but Glen was able to stop me before I could command my fat, achy legs to get out of the bed. (Dammit.) I'll be honest, Glen and I do not see eye to eye on how to deal with the neighborhood's assholery: most of the time, I lean more toward some sort of direct, "oh, hi, how you doing? I just want you to know that I'm watching you and your stupid antics" approach, and Glen prefers to observe quietly. I do respect that, but am not sure how much longer the hormones will allow me to help him do that (thanks, Miss Karen, for offering to contribute to my defense fund; if anyone else is interested, I'll set up an account).

But, for the record, I'm glad Glen was able to roll me back into bed, because we got to hear Julian's whole story about what happened on Cleveland Avenue. I'll spare you the details, even though it does involve a rather bizarre traffic accident, in which Julian was hit from behind, which pushed Julian's car into the car in front of him, and he didn't find out until some time later that the man in the car behind him was the son of the woman in front of him. It boiled down to your typical "talkin' shit," and "disrespeck" which needed to be addressed over on Cleveland Avenue, and resulted in Julian's busted up face.*

I wish I had no more to say about Julian, that's not the case. I guess, really, it's for the best, because it really is some fantastic stuff, even if it is a bit scary. We've witnessed Julian completely fall apart, screaming and thrashing, on several occasions, and usually, his uncle swoops in, and is able to regain control. A few times, though, that hasn't happened. Once, I saw the police and an ambulance show up, and talk with Julian for some time; he eventually calmed down, but for the life of me, I have no idea why he wasn't taken into custody — he was out of his mind that day, and in my opinion, likely to hurt someone. After the officials left, he strutted around, outside, as if to show off. I guess you develop street cred if you're almost crazy enough to be taken to the psych ward?

On another similar occasion, Julian was causing some sort of damage inside his house; only his grandmother was home at the time. He came outside, to the corner, and posed like the Incredible Hulk, except, he looks more like a 20-something guy who hasn't quite lost his youthful tone, but is going to pork out ANY DAY.

And he SCREAMED, and he SCREAMED, and he SCREAMED.
No words.

A neighbor (both helpful and comical) yelled out of a second story window, "Hey, pal, SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

And Julian let out one more scream, and then bellowed, "WHO SAID THAT? WHO THE FUCK SAID THAT?"

A little, but confident, voice from somewhere down the block said, "I did."

And another voice chimed in, "Yeah, buddy, SHUT THE FUCK UP."

Julian screamed some more, and offered to kill the people who told him to be quiet. He started hollering, "I don't know if I'm a Bloods foot soldier, or the president of the United States, but I'm going to KILL SOMEONE," and then ranted that he wished he had gone to Iraq and gotten killed, instead of off to college. I know it's wrong to admit this, but oh, if only...

I heard the pleading voice of his beleaguered grandmother urging Julian to come back into the house, to which he flippantly replied, "No, I'm not fuckin' coming in, yo." Which I didn't think was a very nice thing to say to his grandmother. He stayed out on the corner, and looked toward the second floor windows where he heard the voices, and saw the large groups of people assembled on their porches, and said, "What the FUCK are you looking at? You can ALL suck MY DICK. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart."

You can all suck my dick, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. My god, that was awesome! That was the most fantastic thing I have ever heard in my entire life! That is, until the police arrived. When the police arrived, they escorted Julian to the front porch of his grandmother's house, and sat him down, and immediately tried to calm him: he was breathing heavy, and his eyes were wild. One of the officers said, "We all go through tough times, pal, it will be okay." And Julian replied, "Oh, NO, not like THIS. You have NO idea what THIS is like. I was FINE until YOU BITCHES showed up."

The officers stood him up, cuffed him, and loaded him into the car.

I was FINE until YOU BITCHES showed up is now my all-time favorite line, and so, I thank Julian for that, even though he is a total douche.

Unfortunately — or fortunately, I'm not sure; after all, this stuff is better than television — Julian was back a few hours later, calmer, more centered. And speaking of loving thy neighbors earlier, he was talking theology with some of his boyz. I was letting Steve out to pee, and only heard the very conclusion of the conversation, but what I heard was intriguing.

"The crackers," said Julian conspiratorily, "invented Christianity to make us — [pointing to himself and gesturing to his friends] the niggers — into the devil."

"What?!" said his friend, and I'm so glad he did, because the repeat allowed me to commit the quote to memory.

"The crackers," said Julian, "invented Christianity to make us — the niggers — into the devil."

I, with my lily white cracker legs kicked up in my patio chair, just on the other side of the fence — watching my new, little black and white dog run around the yard with my gardening glove in his mouth, shaking it ferociously — felt like protesting. Protesting the casual use of the word "nigger," mostly. Reminding them that a cracker or two resides just feet away from their discussion, and perhaps common courtesy should prevail more regularly than it has been lately, and perhaps they shouldn't throw around racist terms — and just plain bullshit — so freely. I'm not religious, so I had no idea of how to argue with him about crackers inventing Christianity to turn black people into the devil, but I knew I wasn't up for the task, even though it might be one of the most preposterous claims I've heard in a good long while. However, I could see how Julian may have — in his particular, tortured mind — come to that conclusion: black people have received the short end of the stick throughout time, and there have been a lot of deaths in the name of religion; despite that, I know that Christianity wasn't "invented" to keep black people down, and several of Julian's friends agreed with me after bickering for a few moments.

"No, man," said one, "The WORD is THE WORD. Okay?"
"Yeah," said the other, "The WORD is THE WORD, yo."
Julian inhaled, and looked thoughtful for a moment. "Okay," he said, "The word IS the word," and the group dispersed.

I hope whatever knowledge Julian gained from his friends on the street will keep him under control for even one week. I'd be happy with that. I don't need to love my neighbor — particularly Julian — but I would like to stop hating him for just a little while.

*While the car accident/fight story is not particularly gripping, I mentioned it because Julian is so ridiculous that perhaps his fight on Cleveland Avenue will bring about a retaliatory hard rain in these quieter parts, and if that happens, I might completely unravel. Also, I think it's pretty awesome that the po-po was able to solve the May 1 murder of Trenton resident Arrel Bell, because the murderers — oh so intelligently — wrote about it on My Space. So I'm documenting Julian's activities because, really, there's a far better chance of him losing his mind before I do, and with violent consequences, and I hope to provide a historical record of that, when the time comes.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Whoever smelt* it, dealt it
and the 2010 municipal elections

Disagreement and dissension can be helpful in politics, when used to guarantee that all avenues have been explored, and all groups of people have been represented.

This isn't happening in Trenton, and hasn't been. For years, council served only as a rubber stamp for the Douglas Palmer Administration; the rubber stamp council would have been more palatable if Palmer were a visionary, and improved the city. But after nearly 20 years in power — most of that time has been with a cooperative council — it's apparent by our dwindling population, our suffering businesses, our decaying architecture, and our rising crime, that the Palmer reign has been a wholesale failure.

Again, it's healthy for a legislative body to argue and have different opinions, but it's obvious to everyone in this city, we're left with a group of three council representatives who pledge allegiance to Palmer, instead of the people they were elected to serve. In recent months, the Palmer administration has introduced several controversial items for a council vote; items loaded with short-sightedness and cronyism, and nearly every time, the West Ward block on city council — West Ward rep Annette Lartigue, and at-large reps Paul Pintella (who is also our rude council president), and Cordelia Staton — defy logic and the will of the people, and vote for the Palmer initiatives; initiatives, which, at best, do nothing for the citizens of this city, and at worse, will continue to raise taxes. And I'm not one of those people who bitch about taxes; they are a necessary evil; but there's no reason why homeowners here in Trenton pay as much as we do, especially considering the services we get in return. Palmer, too, comes from the West Ward, though he most likely does not live there full-time these days.

Not only do Lartigue, Pintella, and Staton, support short-sighted Palmershit, but they do so blindly; South Ward rep Jim Coston asked the administration for more information about a number of items up for vote last week, and his request for information was ignored. He, and East Ward rep, Gino Melone, North Ward rep, Milford Bethea, and at-large rep, Manny Segura did THE ONLY THING thinking people could do: they tabled the items until they had the information necessary for a vote. In doing so, Lartigue accused the four of collusion, which makes me think about psychological transference; after all, she and her colleagues from the west were ready to vote on those items, seemingly without any background information, which is incredibly stupid, and indicates that perhaps the three council reps from the West were actually the ones colluding with the mayor. Transference, Annette, is just another way of saying, "whoever smelt it, dealt it," and it just seems to me, and a lot of other people, that you've be dealin' it. A LOT of it. You can't get away with blaming the new guy anymore.

The municipal election is two years away, and all of us haters are, of course, talking about it. But we need to do more than talk. We need a plan of action so we don't have a repeat of the 2006 election, which was one of the most disappointing elections in which I've ever participated (save for South Ward rep Jim Coston's victory; the mailman had to go). And we need to start planning our strategy now.

I have a lot of thoughts on strategy, including marketing and winning the hearts of voters, but for now, we have one very important task; we haters need to find fantastic, dedicated candidates. Here are my thoughts on that:

Elected office is about civic responsibility and service, plain and simple. It's not about ego or career or personal goals. So we need a few good candidates, who just want to serve the people properly, and have the ability to do so. And I do mean a few. In my mind, we have several smart, functioning, accessible representatives on city council, and while I personally may not agree with every single decision they make, or everything they do, they are doing their jobs, serving the people who elected them. Maybe they collectively only grew a spine in recent months, or maybe they didn't have a majority before. Either way, better late than never. We need to focus on the detritus hailing from West Ward; and so we need four solid, electable candidates: one for mayor, one for West Ward rep, and two for at-large.

I think it would be a wise idea if everyone interested in running for these positions make it known now; and let's all get together to talk. We can hold a Hater's Primary, so that way, we can pool resources, money, talent, and put our best candidates forward, so we don't have a gaggle of people running for the three at-large positions (as we saw in 2006), and a small army running against itself for mayor (again, as we saw in 2006). Seriously, time to put the egos aside; we need to work as a team. We need FOUR — just FOUR — people to run for these positions. Of course, the two at-large positions I'd like to see targeted need not be filled by people from the West Ward. Ideally, it would be sweet to see at least one person from the North or the South fill one of those positions, since those areas are underrepresented on council (Manny, I believe, lives in the East [though feel free to correct me if I'm wrong; he lives close enough, though, to see what happens here]). Balance and equity among the wards and people of this city is critical now.

I realize that the West Ward, in many ways, is this city's anomaly, but is currently a tad bit over-represented, if you can call what Palmer, Pintella, Lartigue, and Staton do "representation." (I can't.) On the West side, there are much tighter civic associations, higher real estate prices, better schools, and at least in certain communities, almost a downright suburban feel. Still, Doug Palmer, and his slate of West Side puppets do not have their constituents' best interests at heart; it's about ladder-climbing for them. That has to change: some of this city's most horrific crime takes place in war-torn pockets of the West Ward; the more affluent West Ward communities have not quite been able to completely shield themselves against that. And it will get worse if the elected West Side Vacuum of Free Thought gets reelected: the disparity between neighborhoods in the West is incredible. The West is worth fighting for by all of us in the city; we are one city, and if the tight-knit civic groups in the west can put forth two electable at-large candidates who see the writing on the wall, the tenuous situation they're in, and will act on behalf of all of our best interests, well, then, that's cool with me.

So that's my morsel of wisdom for the day: we need to get rid of the current slate that crawled out of the West Ward, including the mayor. And all of us who want change need to band together and put forth just four awesome candidates to make that happen. My fellow haters, don't populate our 2010 ballot with names, please. If the vote gets split and Palmer, Pintella, Lartigue, and Staton get re-elected, oh, I'm gonna be pissed.

For the record, while it's been funny read comments here, and over on The Front Stoop that I should run for office, I can tell you, that ain't gonna happen. It ain't gonna happen, because if all goes well, we're in for complete lifestyle change in mid-August. Plus, I can't think of anything less appealing than campaigning: I have a love-hate relationship with society, and if I get too up-close-and-personal with my neighbors, the hate would handily win the war within me. I make no apologies for that, or that I'd get caught too many times rolling my eyes at people, or sighing, or cussing; qualities I certainly admire in others, but I know not everyone feels the same way. Plus, I don't have the wardrobe.


* When I worked for a food distributor/manufacturer several years ago, I learned smelts are fishes that are sold in cans, like sardines or anchovies. I also know that smelting is a process to remove iron from ore. And it's a very antiquated word for the past tense of the verb "to smell." Normally, I prefer modern vocabulary, but smelled, while grammatically correct, doesn't provide the same cadence or written visual appeal to the old fart adage.