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.

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* 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.

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