Thursday, July 31, 2008

Quick goodbyes

The mulberry tree on its way down.


Steve, soon to be neutered, defends our property from the mulberry tree killers.


I just wanted to take a minute today to officially say goodbye (I think) to the mulberry tree that straddles the property line we share with our neighbor; the canopy of which was mostly on our side, and as such, littered our yard horrifically with purple mash. I wrote about this tree last summer, and again earlier this season, mostly in disparaging terms. Man, that tree sucked.

Glen and I never liked the tree, because of the two straight months of purple berries it dumped in our yard, and we liked it even less after we installed a slate patio last year. I swept and hosed off the berries several times a week, but we still had a mess of flies. The homeowner next door gave it somewhat of a butcher job last year, and, a couple of weeks ago, after looking at the purple sludge all over our slate patio, generously offered to chop it down entirely, and this time, Glen and I didn't hesitate, even though city trees endure so much hardship; even though it is a living thing, something that was thriving, providing shade, and food for the birds, food for the damn flies, and a hang-out, at least for a short time, for some cute little kittens.

Yesterday, a small crew showed up, and cut most of the tree away. They left a 5 foot stump on the neighbor's property, which, I'm sure, will spout new growth, since the mulberry is one tough bastard. But I'll keep the branches out of our yard, that's for sure. We now have a completely unencumbered view of the imbecile who lives behind us; and the sun is way brighter in the morning than I ever thought. I planted Hostas, Solomon Seal, Sweet Woodruff — plants that need shade — under that tree a few years ago, and they are now getting scorched, and it's not even 11 a.m. So, they may move. Or we may get a new, more desirable tree for that spot, and see how it goes.

On the topic of goodbyes, I also wanted to take a minute to say goodbye to Steve's testicles. He is at the doctor's office right now getting neutered. I have such mixed feelings about this, as much as I am so pro-pet sterilization. There's been way too much loss for us in the last couple of years, and I worry now — when I probably never would have before — that something will happen while he's under anesthesia. I thought I had toughened up, and wasn't going to allow myself to love any animals (too much) any more. But little Stevie has completely wormed his way into my heart, and so, I hope things go well for him, and us, today. It was so hard to hand him over this morning, and to hear him whine as I left...just heartbreaking. Also, Glen will probably get mad at me for mentioning this, but he's actually proud of little Stevie's balls. That dog has/had a unit on him! I don't understand the mentality that seems to prevail here in the hood among the thugs who just can't bring themselves to remove their pets' "junk," out of some misguided sense of machismo, or worse, the desire to breed. And at the same time, once it's done, it's done. Steve's ability to spread his genes is done. And that is kinda sad, especially since he's such a nice dog. But there are zillions of other nice dogs out there too, and so many of them need homes. We don't need Steve to pass his genes along, as much as the world would be a far better place with a whole load of Steves.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Council? A plan?

The city of Trenton's police department released well over 70 pages of bad news to the press last night*, and well, I'm just dumbfounded. On one hand, it can be said that it's great to see the cops rounding up a lot of bad guys (including a few drunk drivers in my neighborhood), and on the other hand, there have been an inordinate amount of assaults and robberies and other attacks against people that make me wonder how much further we have to go before we hit total rock bottom.

What's going on here? WHAT the HELL is going on? We have a mayor off galavanting in Africa this week with the Clintons, and if we all lived in East Windsor, it wouldn't be a big deal; it might even be a great gesture. But for a mayor of a ravaged city, filled with crime, corruption, pestilence, poverty, and disease, to be visiting — like a special dignitary — an entire continent with the same characteristics as our city, seems unfocused. A mistake. Or a very, very bad joke. Doug, look what you've done to Trenton. What lessons from Africa will you bring back to Trenton to help improve our lives? What wisdom have you gained from Trenton that you can impart in Africa to help alleviate some of the suffering there? Did anyone ask Doug these questions? And WHY are the Clintons chumming around with such a TOOL?

We've got an ousted police director, Joe Santiago, who continues to use Trenton's resources to travel back and forth between here and Morris County, a man who has been bragging about the changes he instituted in the police department, a man who boasts, "Crime is Down!" at every opportunity, and the Trenton PD released over 70 pages of brutality last night? I didn't read every other municipality's police report last night, but in a quick scan, I saw NOTHING that came close to the shocking conditions in which we, the citizens of Trenton, live (and die). And, this man has been given by the courts 75 days to vacate his position, and while there's been a lot of speculation about the next chapter of this saga for Trenton, WHY has there been no official discussion about Santiago's exit? WHY is there no discussion about what's next for the city? We, the citizens of Trenton, have the right to know. We have the right to a plan.

We have a few leaders, like Mayor Palmer, who point the finger at the active and vocal citizens, and call them "haters," and insinuate they're part of the Trenton's problem. But these same leaders, Palmer included, have NOTHING to say about the criminals who fill up the 70+ pages of horror that make up the police department's press release? WTF?

Not everything that rots in this city is Doug's fault. It's not all Joe's fault. There are definite shifts in society that have made this mess so much more likely to happen. But Doug and Joe and their cronies have — through their ineffectiveness, lack of care, focus on ego, and wrong priorities — allowed the wounds of this city to fester and grow and spread. We have a full-on disaster; I know that council doesn't meet much in the summer, but I hope, given the circumstances, that perhaps they'll call some emergency sessions, and set about getting to work to try to solve some of our problems. It's obvious that two of our leaders have abandoned their posts: not officially, but certainly through their actions. We need some direction, we need some changes. We cannot go on like this and expect to emerge with any sense of humanity.


___________

* You can download the bad news in two parts here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Random Thoughts About Food

Apples have been saving my life!

I like food a lot. But because I'm hugely pregnant, and it's a zillion degrees in my kitchen, AND because I spent a good deal of time this summer in Maryland, the food situation has been, overall, kind of depressing. Sure, there have been highlights: my sisters and I stopped at a Taco Bell on Rt. 13 in northern Delaware for chalupas and cheesy potatoes nearly every time we drove to Maryland. And speaking of Mexican, there's a fantastic authentic Mexican restaurant not too far from my dad's place in Salisbury, Maryland. And there have been quite a few very decent cheeseburgers and hot dogs parked in my gut this summer as well. I do like a wide array of cuisines, and I enjoy cooking elaborate meals, but with all of the above-mentioned factors, it hasn't been possible. But I'm a fairly easy going gal, and the simple things in life, like Taco Bell and burgers, are some of the best.


Oh, my beloved Chalupa...

Since we got back from Maryland last weekend, we realize that a) we haven't had a decent home-cooked meal since sometime in May, and b) this kid could come at any time. One day earlier in the week, Glen sent me a sweet email from work, expressing that he was glad to have me back home now, and that he's missed taking home-cooked leftover lunches to work. He hates the cafeteria. This made me yearn even more to get creative in the kitchen this week, but unfortunately, I had a load of deadlines (which also interfered with blogging, dammit), I'm struggling with swollen ankles and general discomfort, and it's just so damn hot that cooking seems torturous.

Plus, I have had WICKED acid reflux in the last couple of weeks, most likely due, at least in part, to my steady diet of hot dogs, hamburgers, and chalupas over the last few weeks. The acid reflux wakes me up in the middle of the night, and my esophagus very literally feels as if it's aflame, and I just want to cry: in sheer pain, but also because of a broken heart, because my beloved food and reliable body have betrayed me. I eat Tums by the fistful, and I am quite sure they stopped working about two weeks ago. I thought about asking for something more substantial, but I know that the indigestion is hugely my own damn fault, for eating such terrible foods, and, well, getting myself pregnant in the first place. Plus, this kid is due any time and I'd like to think I'm strong enough to just get through. So, I made a bit of an effort to eat better — which is always a good idea — and, in the last week, I've had yogurt, cereal, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and I still woke up in the middle of the night, in utter digestive agony. Waking up in the middle of the night because Honey Nut Cheerios and rice milk have set my guts on fire is wrong, and I might as well eat hot dogs and chocolate cake, dammit.

So, I read some more about acid reflux and indigestion, and was surprised to find that apples are supposed to help: not only do they neutralize acid, but they are supposed to be relatively gentle. I was highly skeptical, but I'm not a huge apple fan: they are one of my least favorite fruits. I also read that red licorice and gum are great for indigestion because they stimulate the salivary glands, and spittle, apparently, is the first line of defense against vile acid. I was spewing fire after lunch, late in the week last week, and Glen called, and I mentioned the apples, and licorice, and gum to him, and he picked some up for me on his way home. It wasn't hard to jam a bunch of licorice into my pie hole, even though it wouldn't have been my first choice of sweets; and gum is non-offensive, so I had some of that after eating the Twizzlers. But apples? I just don't really like them much. I love them cooked, in pie or cakes; and I love apple cider. But I find eating apples as-is to be relatively unpleasant. But, since last week, I've been doing it. Every day since Glen brought them home, and I have not had a single Tums. I have not woken up in the middle of the night writhing in pain from the reflux. I'd like to attribute it to the Twizzlers, but since I devoured nearly all of them within the first day, I'm thinking my overall better feeling is due to the apples, which I have been eating consistently, but at a much slower pace.

I want to mention this, because I feel like a new woman. I know that pregnancy poses specific problems: the baby grows and the stomach gets pushed around, and there's less room to park cheeseburgers (or cheerios), and food and stomach acid has a tendency to ride back up the esophagus. But the fact that apples have helped SO WELL would make me bet even if you're not a pregnant chick, and you suffer from indigestion or heartburn or acid reflux, that apples would work. I am starting to love them.

I am starting to love apples because I spent a week eating relatively bland "safe" foods, and still experienced hell in the middle of the night, and now I'm not. I'm loving them because even though my ankles are swollen, and I am uncomfortable, and it is stinking hot, I really want to get cooking. Glen — in case I haven't mentioned this — has a kitchen appliance addiction: we have a wok, and ice crushers, and toasters and blenders galore. We have a rice cooker, and a juicer, a Kitchen Aid mixer, and a fancy panini press. And yes, we also have a rotisserie. I've been daydreaming about that rotisserie. And Indian food. And good bread. And dipping sauce.

This is why I love apples: not only have they (oh, I hope) cured my reflux, but they've given me confidence to not only tackle a good, homecooked meal, but an intense one at that. On one of the nights in the last couple of weeks I was up burping fire, I watched a few cooking shows, with envy and longing. One of the cooks used a mortar and pestle and mashed up a fantastic-looking blend of garlic and herbs, and then — kind of horrifyingly — took a whole chicken, and wriggled her jewelry clad hands in between the skin and the flesh, and smeared around her seasonings. She didn't want them to burn on the outside of the skin; she wanted the flavor to infuse the flesh. Watching her dig around that chicken carcass the way she did made me uncomfortable, but I have not been able to get the image of the final product out of my head: it looked to be one, perfect, succulent chicken.

So, I got thinking about this woman's technique, but don't quite have the fortitude for the grizzly work of separating skin from flesh with my own hands. Glen does, though. Also, we have some awesome Indian sauces from Canada, and, so, on Saturday night, he rubbed some Tikka Masala in between skin and flesh of the chicken, and impaled the poor creature, and closed the rotisserie door.

The poor fella didn't stand a chance.

I put on some basmati rice, and was pleased to find we had some frozen garlic naan (an Indian flat bread — you would love it, and if you haven't tried it, you must). I also figured we'd need a more elaborate sauce to pour over the chicken and rice, so I found inspiration from the list of ingredients on the jar of Tikki Masala, and made some more, using tomatoes and scallions and lemon juice and garlic and coconut milk. After the sauce simmered for a bit, I added some Indian cheese, called Paneer, which is a hard, white, cow's cheese, with very high heat tolerance (like Haloom [which I wrote about here, back in March], you can abuse this cheese a bit on the grill or frying pan, or even just toss it into a sauce, and it won't melt). This is some VERY good stuff, and if you've been too afraid to try Indian, for fear of curry or spice, Paneer Tikka Masala is dish for you: it is generally a mild, savory, creamy tomato dish, though you can kick it up with some peppers (I added a few to the sauce, but kept the bulk of them to the side for Glen to garnish his plate; I like spice, and have been emboldened by my new friend, the apple, but I'm just not THAT much of a risk-taker).

Here's a picture of the sauce as I was preparing it; and the cheese, as I was cutting it up; just before I dumped it in.

Homemade Tikka Masala Sauce: mostly it's tomatoes, coconut milk, garlic and onions.


Yummy, yummy paneer about to get cut smaller, and then tossed in the pot o' sauce.

The chicken finished up, and wow, it smelled so good, and at the bottom of the rotisserie were some pretty fantastic juices, which we dumped into the simmering sauce on the stove, and as much as that's oh-so-wrong from a fat perspective, I'm about 9 months pregnant, and am not terribly worried about fat right now. Plus, it really, really made the sauce so much better. The skin got a wee bit more brown than we anticipated, but we were not disappointed at all.


Rotisserie Chicken. Good stuff.

I popped the naan into the oven for a few minutes while we assembled our plates, and here's the finished meal. This is Glen's: his plate looked more attractive because he added both fresh green hot peppers, and fresh tomatoes.


Glen's dinner.

It was wonderful to eat a really good home-cooked meal, and one with some serious indigestion-giving properties. But, afterward, I ate my apple, and had no problems at all. We packed up 6 meals for Glen's lunches, and have some chicken left over for sandwiches, to boot, and we're happy about that. Glen even more so: he won't have to eat at the cafeteria at work. We plan on doing some more cooking and eating and freezing tonight, and if our meal makes me as happy as Saturday night's Tikka Masala does, I'll be sure to let you know.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mom's Memorial Weekend Recap

Warning (primarily to my family members): This entry may contain pictures of you.


My mom, Maggie Ott, in 1988 or so. Photo by my friend, Matt, who modified his vacation plans (without complaint) to make it to my mother's memorial.

My mom's memorial was this past weekend, and several people have written or called to see how things went; most everyone was surprised I haven't blogged about it yet. I am sorry about that: it's been an exhausting, but cathartic, whirlwind these last couple of months, and especially in the couple of weeks leading up to the big day. Since we got back, I've had deadlines, and a prenatal visit, and a strong need to just take it easy for a few days, to give myself a break, and to also process everything.

Event planning is often challenging, but it's intensified when the party is an end-of-life celebration, a contradiction in our society. It is possible to plan a party that contains both joy and grief, but it is virtually uncharted territory; compounding our complicated feelings and thoughts is that in the last week and a half, a pipe burst in my parents' house. My dad is slightly less deaf than we thought he was — as he's been able to overhear us on several occasions (oopsie!!) — but still deaf enough that he didn't hear the gushing of water on that fateful Thursday morning. He awoke to a flood in the back part of the house, which wrecked the carpets, warped the floors, and finished off an already old and taxed air conditioning unit. What a mess. Plus, the brakes in his car are completely shot, and the timing sucked.

Despite the warped floorboards, everything more or less came together: we had a lot of help from Chris and Maddy (whom we lovingly call Fake Brother and Sister-in-Law; they are roughly the age of my sisters and me, and they and my parents bonded after my parents moved to Maryland; Chris and Maddy and their young daughter, Solange, live across the street from my parents). An aunt and two uncles came in from the midwest a few days early, and they, too, took care of so much. A generous cousin bought with her a large pile of Xanax, which was distributed to the more anxious members of the family (you know who you are), and Saturday, the day of the party, was not terribly stressful for the people most likely to feel (and dish out) anxiety.

We had a minor hang-up, though: Glen and I forgot to pack the veggie burgers for the two — count 'em: TWO — vegetarians in attendance. Glen did not take any Xanax (I'm not sure if that was a choice, or if someone forgot to slip him some), but he did take what he felt to be a bit of shit from one of the cooks about the lack of veggie burgers; Glen came to find me to complain about the episode, and even though he was mad at the cook, Glen wound up taking out his angst on the vegetarians: "Fuck them," he said. "They can eat grass."

This unfortunate explosion happened right in front of one of the vegetarians. She took it with a sense of humor, though I don't think she ate any grass. Personally, I sympathize with the vegetarians — though there's nothing quite like a burger and/or hot dog at a backyard party — and I know Glen does too, which is why we purchased the case of the veggie burgers to begin with: my father told us the weekend before that was more than happy to allow the vegetarians to eat grass. In his world, vegetarianism does not exist.


My dad, Mike, addresses the crowd on Saturday.

We wanted to keep the service itself short and sweet, because my mom would have preferred it that way. My dad had a surprise for everyone: he hired a bagpiper, which was a really nice touch: nothing says "shutty" quite like the bagpipes. So the bagpiper got the ball rolling, and I felt myself welling up — this was IT. My father spoke for awhile; about how my mom loved the house and property, and so he invited everyone to walk around and take it all in. Her art, and our old family photos were hung all over for people to look at, too. He also explained that there had been a recent plumbing disaster, which convinced him he needed portable potties on the property. He did say that the bathrooms in the house were working, but the party tent was directly over the septic, so he encouraged people to use the outside johns. This seemed to make everyone laugh, even though a party/memorial service muddied by human waste is no laughing matter. Sheesh, people.

Some crowd shots.

Uncle Jimmy took over: my father had asked him to infuse a Catholic component into the service, since my mother was Catholic (though more-or-less lapsed), and my parents were married in the church. He read some prayers, and called my niece, Megan, up to sing. She performed the Irish song, Too Rah Loo Rah Loo Ral since my mom liked to sing it to us, and her grandchildren when we were all little. We knew this would be THE moment that got everyone, and it did. She sang beautifully and left most everyone in tears. Jimmy finished up with another prayer, and Randy the bagpiper played some more Irish tunes, and then the serious eating and drinking and general insanity began.

Megan sings Too Rah Loo Rah Loo Ral beautifully. She is flanked by my dad and Uncle Jimmy.

We had some hand-outs to accompany the service, including this card (above, saved as two files) with the baby pictures of my mom on one side, and the story behind the Irish lullaby on the other. Click on these, or any image here, to enlarge.


We made up a bookmark as a take-home item for our guests; front is an image of Old Barney (the lighthouse at Barnegat Light, NJ), painted by my mom; and on the back is a photo of my mom, and a small piece of her story.

Jimmy also brought water grenades, which were a huge hit with the little ones, and cousin Christopher had a blast launching kids into the pool: most of the kids enjoyed that as well, though some more than others. In the end, I'd say more than 120 people showed, and it was just REALLY good to finally spend time with the people who knew and loved my mother. I think she would have been happy...she liked a good shindig, and that it was.

Some other random thoughts about the day:

1) My father, in addition to not being nearly as deaf as he's been claiming all these years, also has a bit of blabber mouth. We always thought it was my mom who lacked the filter from brain to mouth, but apparently, Mike has some of that too. You may recall my vitriol a couple of weeks ago about about the utterly selfish and inane excuses we were getting from close friends who claimed they couldn't make it to the memorial. After writing that post, I thought long and hard about the future of some of those relationships, and decided that I should try, in a slightly less acidic way, to let the people closest to me know that if they didn't come, how very hurtful it would be. And in the case of one very good friend, it ultimately worked. There's a bit of a story involved; an incredible annoying story that ALMOST had me saying "fuck it" to the whole friendship, but in the end, she came through, and when I saw her come into the backyard of my parents' place on Saturday, all that anger and frustration melted away; I was happy and relieved and moved she would be there to say goodbye to my mom with me. On her way out, my father apologized because he felt she was "bullied" into coming by his daughter. Why, Mike, why?

2) Related to this topic of friends who almost — but not quite — let us down, one of my relatives (who shall remain anonymous) did some drunk dialing in the week before the party, and gave living hell to my mother's supposed oldest and dearest friend who was too broken up to make it. The friend, you see, had a spiritual crisis recently, and had not snapped out of it, and was just ruined by the news of my mother's death. The friend went on to say that since she had known my mother longer than we had, she was grieving more deeply than we were. My nameless relative called this what it was — bullshit — and told her that this event was not about her, but rather, about my mother, and for us all, and the friend needed to step outside her incredibly small and selfish world and participate. And if she didn't, the friend had to know, deep down, that my mother was not a forgiving sort, and would — we all hoped — haunt this friend to the end of her days. The friend — after some similar stories and problems and challenges as the friend mentioned above — agreed to come. What made this more problematic is that my father dislikes this particular person, and when he found out this particular friend would be coming, my father became quite distressed. He had found out from another, mutual friend, which sucked: we were hoping there would be enough people at my mom's party that my dad wouldn't even notice my mom's annoying friend. And when he found out that this annoying friend had been prodded someone much closer, Mike BLEW a gasket. You see, this friend may have known my mother longer than anyone, but she also drove my mother crazy, though her friend never knew. And my father never liked her...or her "wussy" husband. It turns out that this friend got lost on the way down, and I — dammit — had to spent an inordinate amount of time with her on the phone, bringing her in; at least my dad didn't have to see her much.


Steve

3) Steve — as in the dog — was the hit of the whole trip. He spent a decent amount of time in his cage* during the party, but was out for the occasional romp on Saturday, and spent both Friday and Sunday running around without any limitations on his freedom. Miss Pauline, sister of Miss Doris, who lives next door to my folks, asked me to bring him back down, so her dog could play with him. Uncle Dennis pulled me aside and said if we found another dog like Steve chewing chicken bones across the street, he would be happy to take that dog. Fake brother, Chris, actually tried to walk off with Steve, as we were leaving. Steve does rock. But as soon as we got home, he started attacking my feet and toes, bloated and puffy with late-pregnancy and heat-related edema, and has been taunting Platooski the cat, to the point where Steve may actually lose an eye. He also spends a good deal of time attempting to mount and/or hump Simon the cat. And in the time I've been typing, he's taken off with my to do list, even though I have a pile of brand new toys for him, and he's yet again gleefully dodging Platooski's fully
clawed and violently swatting arm. Steve spent the weekend giving kisses and dancing with toddlers and allowing kids to cover him with grass, and impressing Miss Pauline and Uncle Dennis and Fake Brother Chris, and has saved all of his imbecility for us. We love him, imbecile tendencies and all. I just wish my relatives and friends would be willing to take a cat instead, since there are so many of them floating around this neighborhood, and not too many dogs like Steve.


Aunt Vicki


4) Aunt Vicki is a machine. I know I'm grateful for mine. Everyone should have one. I am not sharing.

5) Jenny's friend, Ann, who made the cakes, is awesome. In addition to some slight edema, I am dealing with some monstrous acid reflux in the last couple of weeks — apparently, as the baby grows, there's less room in my stomach for important stuff like chocolate cake, and it gets pushed back up into my throat a short while after I consume it. Or, usually at 2 a.m. or thereabouts. Which sucks, but this cake was so f'in good, that it's been worth the hell I catch for eating it.

6) Way more of my relatives read my blog than I ever thought, dammit. They're not terribly interested at all in the political stuff here, but rather only the family stuff. Unfortunately, with more of them reading the blog, it will dry my family fodder up, since I am far less inclined to openly pick on family (but I am not totally opposed to it), than the far more deserving politicians here in Trenton.

7) Glen had some fun with the hosts of the neighborhood Ice Cream Social. You may recall in that same angry post a few weeks ago, one woman actually said she couldn't attend my mother's memorial — which was right around the corner from the church holding the Ice Cream Social — because she was in charge of the Ice Cream Social. Glen just wanted to verify that the Social was indeed taking place, and here's an exchange we all liked, that he had with one of the organizers:

From: Glen
To: Ice Cream Social VP
Subject: Ice Cream Social

Hi,

I am looking forward to the Ice Cream Social on July 19th. I have lost the time for it. Can you tell me what time it starts and goes to?

Thanks,
Glen

------

From: Ice Cream Social VP
To: Glen
Subject: Ice Cream Social

Good morning - The Annual Ice Cream Social is scheduled for Sat July 19th from 2:30-7 p.m. at the Rockawalkin Community Hall. [The Ice Cream Social CEO] is looking for volunteers on Wed from 5-9 pm and Thursday morn from 9-12 if you are available to help out. Have a blessed day!!

----

From: Glen
To: Ice Cream Social VP
Subject: Ice Cream Social

Morning [Ice Cream Social VP],

Thanks for the quick response. I will be in the area attending a friend's memorial and I heard about your social. As a lover of all things ice cream, and a bit of a socialite, I figured I might drop by for a sample of good food and friendly chatter.

You have yourself a very blessed day also!

Glen




Gleefully dwelling on the negative: my sisters going over the RSVP list on Sunday to see who responded in the affirmative, but never showed. Uncle Dennis, my mom's youngest brother, is in the background, either listening in horror, or more likely, not listening at all.


8) In this last week, some of us in the family have been able to convince a few people with lame-ass excuses about not attending, to attend. I know there are people who may feel differently than I do about this issue, but the bottom line is that you only die once, and the end-of-life process is about the closest family, and it's about community. It's important to put aside any stupid, run-of-the-mill issues that plague us all, and no matter how emotionally challenging, we should attend. It is important to step up, to step outside ourselves and just do the right thing. I don't feel any guilt about putting a bit of pressure on people to encourage them to attend, especially since — I'm sorry — the future of our friendships was at stake.
Despite some successes in this area, there were some dismal failures: notably, a very good friend of my sister Jenny did not attend, and did not offer ANY excuses, lame or otherwise. The thing about this, is that my sister's friend's absence will ALWAYS be remembered. She'll be The Friend Who Didn't Attend Mommy's Memorial. The Friend Who Wasn't There for Jenny. And that just sucks. Along the same lines, there are several people who fall into the even more problematic category of Those Who Responded In the Affirmative, and Ultimately Did Not Show, Without Calling To Let Us Know. The only legitimate reason I can think of for this is that, sadly, they died either right before Saturday, or on their way down. Which is just too bad. My sister Karen brought the list of the RSVPs out to the pool on Sunday to assess Those Who Responded In the Affirmative, and Ultimately Did Not Show, Without Calling To Let Us Know, to figure out if we should send flowers and mass cards to their families, or if Glen needs to send them an email. Mostly, I am just amazed at how selfish and disconnected society has become. One friend called ours "a culture of apathy" and I think that's spot on. There is little loyalty left, for country or family, or anything that doesn't directly revolve around us.


My sisters, some of my cousins, and bloated, enormous me, late in the day on Saturday. It was HOT.
[I think this is a pretty unflattering picture of myself, and I posted it so that the rest of you pictured here will keep yer traps closed about your photographs on my blog. At least you don't look like a Sherman Tank.]

9) But there are always exceptions, aren't there? And that dedication and loyalty, and unwavering "do the right thing without debate" stuff indicates that we do not have a complete breakdown of social graces in our culture. I came away from my mom's memorial weekend very physically drained, and a bit all over the place emotionally, but ultimately, pretty peaceful. I have been saying that maybe it would have been healthier to have had a traditional wake/funeral, but the time my family spent putting this party together was extremely therapeutic, too. I feel we did a good job of giving my mom the party she would have liked; I feel proud of that. I am so pleased that so many people just came, so I don't want to dwell too much on the negative. We figure about 120 people showed up to express their deep condolences, and love for our family. So many people came to Maryland from far-flung places, like Kansas, and New Jersey, and Florida, and Georgia, and California, and Canada. They came, able-bodied, in some cases; and in others, they made it, despite sickness, and pet obligations back home on such an oppressively hot weekend; they came despite the lack of food for special diets; they came even though they don't like large crowds, or despite plans for vacations or ice cream socials; they came despite their own spiritual crises, and unimaginable grief. Some even came with significant addiction issues which caused them to pass out in their cars before ultimately heading home on Sunday. And most of them did it without any song and dance, without any bitching and moaning. I am really pleased about their efforts; it means a lot to me to finally have some closure, with so many people standing by.

10) My mother was often cantankerous and difficult and kinda self-absorbed. But she cared. She really did. My mom often complained that we didn't know her, and forgive me, Mom, but I think it was the other way around: she didn't really know us. I did know her. We all did. I say that without anger now; it's fallen away. While she was alive, I often resented that she didn't know this or that about me, but now, I have a better
understanding of the mother-child relationship, and love. I know now that even if she didn't know what I did for a living, she loved me anyway. Even if she didn't know that Karen wasn't partial to mushrooms, after all this time, she would do anything for Karen. She may not have ever tried to understand Jenny's reasoning for homeschooling her children, but my mom was so fiercely devoted to Jenny and her family, nonetheless. It's in our DNA, that love bond. The details often get in the way, but they are irrelevant to love.

It's taking some time, but I've been able to see my relations
hip with my mother as a whole entity; I haven't been dwelling as much on the last year or so with her, although I will always carry that with me. Maggie was challenging, but most of the time, things were good between us; and they were good between my sisters and my mom; my dad and my mom; and they were good for all of those people who attended her memorial on Saturday; and possibly even those who didn't attend. And I think that most people got that about her: a relationship with her required effort, AND they loved her. The effort was worth it.

_________________

* I'm not going to sugar coat the term "cage," and call it a "crate." It's the same sort of thing that the poor animals in the shelters must live in, and therefore, it's a cage. I never had one for Lacey, because she just wasn't the sort of creature who needed one. Steve is on the edge of that need: he is very smart, and pretty reliable, as long as he has constant supervision. But, unfortunately, he just can't have constant supervision all of the time, and he's incredibly impulsive, and young, and just doesn't need to deal with all of the choices in his life yet. So, he gets the cage periodically — and while he'd prefer to be biting my feet, or playing "Dodge Claw" with one of the cats, or even sleeping on his back — no one here feels too badly about his very short stints in the cage, from time to time.

Unrelated to Steve and cages: I heard more of the "how can you live in Trenton?" stuff from my relatives, and it made me think about how critical I've been of Chicken Shit, Maryland. So, I want to say for the record that CS, Maryland is really not nearly as bad as I've been portraying it, in most ways. My dad's place is far enough removed from the chicken (and pig) farms, and doesn't really smell, like some of the surrounding areas. The pictures above don't really do his property justice, but it is quite lovely there, and it's easy to get comfortable and forget about the chaos, say, back in Trenton, especially on the Fourth of July weekend, when the jackasses in my neighborhood go from idiotic to full-on Très Mong. It might even be less buggy in CS, Maryland than it is in our backyard, and I have no idea why that would be. But it is also quite a distance from EVERYTHING, including cell phone service, high speed internet, and decent grocery stores (my dad even calls the local grocery "The Roach Mart"). Nonetheless, I'm content to be home, glad to have at least a couple of weeks before the baby arrives, so we can clean up and get ready for our new person, even if we must contend with some jackassery in the Hood. I certainly wouldn't mind if my father moved a bit closer to home — that is New Jersey, Dad — but at the same time, it is nice to have a quiet place to retreat to periodically.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Undocumented

We all know there are illegal and undocumented immigrants in the city, but I'm wondering about the specific evidence Larry Parker has about the status of the particular group of Latinos on Centre St. I mean, when someone says "Latino" or "Hispanic" or "Spanish," within a beat or two is the word "Illegal" or "Undocumented." Again, I'm not disputing that this happens, and Parker isn't the only person in the world who is guilty of this, but I just can't help but wonder about the real stats. And for a journalist ("award-winning"* or otherwise) to blatantly suggest in print, without any supporting references or background, that a large group of people on Centre Street is not legal is a) completely irresponsible, and b) racist.

This bit about the legal status of the Hispanic residents on Centre Street was mentioned in the second sentence of Parker's most recent anti-Trenton diatribe in the Trentonian. Parker was writing about the litter on Centre Street, and may not have been flat-out wrong about the litter there — at least while he was visiting. But, it could have been any street in this city; we all know this. Right now, my street looks good, but it's just a matter of time before some pig (to borrow LA's terminology) uses my corner to unload his/her McDonald's trash, or the knuckleheads up the street decide to order some pizza and strew what's left — food, paper, etc. — all over the place. There are WAY too many people in our supposed "Green City" who don't care about litter, for a variety of reasons, and it does drive me crazy, because littering just doesn't make sense, and it is UNENDING. I certainly would prefer if more residents cared more. But I've written about this quite a bit, and it's not my point today.

So, to get back on track, that Parker chose Centre Street is significant, though, and it's for the reason that's many people have already mentioned: he did it as a way to dig at South Ward Councilman Jim Coston, who lives on Centre Street. Parker does get his own space to write his opinions a couple times a week, and because we live in a society that values free speech, I can't expect to agree with him all the time (or maybe ever). He is completely up Mayor Palmer's ass, and that's his right as an opinion writer, as sickening as that is. But, he is also a reporter, and when he writes a basic news story, he does okay. I just wonder where the hell his integrity goes when he goes into columnist mode? News people (including columnists and editors), historically (though maybe theoretically in recent years???), have been the voice of the people, not the politicians: the story of how the printing press brought news and books and religious text to the masses for the first time proves this: information is empowering, and allows us equal footing with our leaders, who are not appointed by God, or elected for life, at least not in the First World. But, somehow, despite this glorious, empowering history, Parker is the voice of Palmer, a politician of the worst kind: a mayor for life, or at least until some bigger career opportunity comes along. And we all know Mayor Palmer most likely dislikes Coston, based on Coston's voting record, and the fact that until Coston joined Council, Palmer enjoyed complete, autocratic rule because council was just his rubber stamp. This political brown-nosedness, and the unsubstantiated, undocumented remarks about the legal status of an entire group of people on Centre Street, is what makes Parker's piece so despicable.

That Larry Parker can continue to get away with writing a shit column week after week also showcases the overall lack of decent newspaper writing anymore. Trenton is one of the few cities in this entire country with TWO competing dailies, and for its size, that is remarkable (most cities in the US may have more than one paper, but all of the papers are owned by the same company. Read more about this phenomenon here). Save for a precious few reporters, this city is covered by a cadre of lame-ass writers who just don't give a crap about what's really happening in the city, and Parker is one of them. The newspaper industry is in a tough spot right now, but these individuals are in such a pivotal place to prove themselves...there is SO much interesting stuff here, and the stories do not wind up in print. There's no legitimate excuse, either: both Trenton papers are full of fluff and wire stories, and, in the case of the Trentonian, it's also full of Larry Parker's race-baiting, Coston-hating bullshit. Both papers have the space to cover EVERYTHING that happens here. Plus, I find it slightly incomprehensible that anyone would choose to be a reporter and then not want to be the best...for his/her own sake, even if they do work for a shit company. I hope that more reporters step up to the plate before their papers fold, or have more lay-offs, or they, as individuals, otherwise descend into irrelevancy.

--------
*I have deleted most of my postscripted bile about the award/s that LA Parker has won, because I do want to keep it factual, and really, I don't know much about the awards LA has won, except that one of them was possibly for his contribution to a piece which had other contributors. Maybe he has won other awards? If so, good for him: maybe he has plaques and trophies and certificates; you know, something to look at which may give him pride, since his column archives are so damn shameful.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Quick apologies

Just a quick post to say I've got a crazy few weeks and might not be able to consistently post a cartoon (Sunday or otherwise). I'll be back on board as soon as possible. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Happy Trails

Maybe this time, he'll dig deep, find some dignity, and leave quietly, rather than dragging this on another 75 days. If he can't find that dignity, maybe City Council can find some for him?

Another quick note to Gino

Emailed, this morning. If you agree, contact your council reps, too!


Hi Mr. Melone,

It is my hope, in the light of this city's budget crisis, that you will vote NO on 5 lr, the resolution authorizing the award of a contract...to Joseph Alacqua, Esquire, 112 Johnson Road, Turnersville, NJ 08012 to provide professional legal services regarding municipal law (in an amount not to exceed $95,000).

It is my understanding that in addition to the contract fee, the city of Trenton also provides Mr. Alacqua with other amenities; and since Trenton already has an attorney, Denise Lyles, Mr. Alacqua's services are unneeded, and downright extravagant in these tight fiscal times.

By eliminating his superfluous contract, it would save the city at least $95,000: money that could be applied to hiring more police officers for our under-patrolled ward; money that could be used to keep the pools free (or cheaper) for our city's children; money that could be used for nearly anything that provides a direct benefit to the citizens of this city.

I hope you will consider this.

Regards,
Christine Ott
Trenton, NJ 08629

Monday, July 7, 2008

What Trenton says to us...

I read an opinion piece on nj.com recently, about the writer's thoughts on her hometown of Collingswood, NJ. The writer, Jen Miller, too, had recently read an essay called Cities and Ambition by Paul Graham, which made her think about what Collingswood is saying to her. According to Graham, cities talk to us; for instance, New York City encourages its residents to earn more money. Cambridge tells its denizens that they need to be smarter. Collingswood, according to Miller, says, "You should be a part of us," because it strives so diligently to get people to come out of their houses and participate in the community. Collingswood has seen a great renaissance in a short time: in fact, Glen and I were living not too far from Collingswood before we moved to Trenton, and we saw quite a bit of that town's transformation. Collingswood's change made us think that the same might happen in Trenton, with a bit of work and time.

I read this piece at the end of June, as we approach our 4th anniversary in our Trenton home, and I've been thinking about it a lot over the last week and a half or so, trying to figure out what, if anything, Trenton is saying to us, and me, in particular. I am, in many ways, proud of Trenton, its history, and our house and the work we've done. There's so much good potential. And I'm also feeling demoralized that with our current administration, any revitalization is a L-O-N-G way off. Compounding the problem of the administration is that the administration more or less hand-picked a huge amount of people who are down-and-out, and so we're saddled with more than our fair share of residents and neighbors who have completely different expectations than we do, and well, that doesn't help anything at all.

So what is Trenton trying to say to me? I think the message is garbled, and even wishy-washy. I hear a desperate plea of "Help me!" and an aggressive, "Screw you, do-gooder!" I envision a trapped animal; a creature in distress who very badly needs help, but is also afraid of change, afraid to trust.

Why have I come to this conclusion? The city OBVIOUSLY needs help: it's not nearly as bad as those in the suburbs would think, or nearly as doomed as the administration at St. Francis Hospital or the management at Amici's must feel, since they're compelled to lie about the their locations. There are rumblings — loud rumblings — of change; there are new voices emerging. We're seeing a shift on City Council; we're seeing citizens question the administration more freely and openly. And we're getting bitten in return.

Take, for instance, the fact that a group of citizens is sick and tired of Mayor Doug Palmer's special treatment for certain city employees, but not for others. Former Police Director, Joseph Santiago, a Palmer crony, has been in blatant defiance of Trenton's residency ordinance, and the citizens are demanding that he either move to the city, or vacate his position; the matter is now under discussion in the courts. Palmer and Santiago have cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight this lawsuit, and inexplicably, Santiago, whose position is on the line, has been allowed to make broad departmental changes in the face of our budget crunch. Not only has he been allowed to make huge sweeping changes in the police department, but he's also made some highly illogical changes: he's disbanded the effective K-9 unit, and the Vice Squad. I haven't really looked into this, but I would wager that there aren't many municipalities larger than say, Cranbury, NJ, who don't have a vice unit.

In the meantime, according to police sources over at Trenton Speaks, Santiago has sent the latest rookies, who just graduated from the academy very recently, out on patrol, without veteran officers by their sides. According to the forum, Santiago has them focusing on writing traffic tickets, in the hopes of generating some extra revenue. While it befuddles me that Santiago has the new crew out writing tickets for traffic violations, instead of sending the much more needed Vice Squad out on patrol to round up far more dangerous criminals, I'm not going to let bring me down too badly. Personally, I'm a complete square on the road and find it extremely difficult to commit traffic offenses. I follow my neighborhood's signage for the street sweeper. I stop at stop signs. I yield, probably way more than I should, because I'm not interested in getting T-boned by anyone (which is very likely here). Glen keeps the vehicles in good running order. I drive slowly through the streets in the city, and I keep my music turned down low, as to a) not be a nuisance, and b) so I can hear what's going on around me when I drive. I park where I should, facing the correct direction, and I always wear my seat beat. I don't find any of this behavior particularly difficult, though I suspect some people might, because I had heard complaints at my CPAC a few years ago about the police not wanting to be too tough on the residents regarding the traffic laws, because when they get tickets, it pisses them off, and then they call their council people to complain, who must, I assume, complain to the cops in return. I'd rather have Vice and K9, but as far as I'm concerned, bring on the traffic enforcement. Anyone who complains is probably doing something wrong anyway. And maybe the rookies will get lucky and happen to catch some drug dealers without seatbeats playing their squealy tire game before they mow into someone else's car; or they'll get some idiot before s/he T-bones a little kid in the street, or they'll get someone who has just shot up heroin on the corner; or some damn waster on an ATV etc. etc. etc. I may be a dreamer, but if this city started enforcing some of its lesser laws (like the traffic variety), we might see an overall improvement in quality of life. Still, I recognize this for what it is: a wounded Santiago spitting back some ha ha in our faces. Hopefully, chump, you'll be gone soon, and we can get K9 and Vice back, AND maybe the city can enforce some of its traffic laws, too.

Here's a good one about the screwed-up priorities here in Trenton. Newark, NJ, the largest city in New Jersey, and located about 5 miles from Manhattan, had just under 4,000 employees in 2005. There are approximately 276,000 residents in Newark's approximate 24 square miles (land). If we break this down, Newark offers approximately 1 city employee for every 69 people. In 2005, the much smaller Trenton had 1,750 employees, and we can assume that number hasn't changed much, since there have been no layoffs during our fiscal crisis. We have just under 84,000 residents in our less-than-8 square mile (land) city, which means there is 1 city employee for every 48 residents. One would think the higher employee-to-resident ratio would mean greater personalized attention in our city, but, at least in my experience, that ain't happening. And it's not that I'm a big fan of layoffs, not at all, it's just it seems that our population continues to decrease every year, due to natural attrition, white/ish flight, and homicide, but our number of city employees has remained constant. Furthermore, for every decent city employee, there are probably four who are just there collecting a paycheck. Frustrating. The large size of our government for our small population — and its overall lack of effectiveness — really shows the delusional nature of the Palmer administration.

Related to this is this city's very liberal take-home car policy. We sit here in Trenton and read about how municipalities all over the country aren't allowing as many employees to take home cars, due to the financial burden it puts on the taxpayers. How many take-home cars are in our fleet, I wonder? Hamilton, NJ, home of so many former Trenton residents, has changed its policy. Buffalo, NY is only allowing 50 people to take home cars, down from 85. And, get this, there are some employees in Buffalo who VOLUNTARILY turned in their take-home car, including their public works commissioner (read the story here). Buffalo, by the way, is the second largest city in New York, with a land area of 40+ square miles, and a population of approximately 292,000. I digress. Trenton, in addition to sucking its taxpayers dry, was also deemed to be a "Green City," by the mayor, and as such, we should be finding ways to be more gentle with the environment, and more inclined to repurpose old buildings, and find ways to cut fuel costs. This is not happening at all.


Adding to Trenton's confusing and sad "Help me" and "Screw you, do-gooder" message is the dysfunctional attitude of our mayor. He claims to be in touch with the citizens here, when he's not off posing for Esquire magazine; when he's not off participating in this summit or that round-table; when he's not turning a blind eye to an already screwed up police department that assigns extra officers to his posse. He defended our residency ordinance for years, until he felt the need to move to Hunterdon County, and until his pal, Joe Santiago, needed some special treatment. He says he's working hard for people here to be able to afford their homes, and yet, he continues to accept money and obligation from the richer surrounding municipalities who don't want their fair share of low-income residents; in accepting this money, and the people, he is screwing over not only those who already live here, but the ones who will live here: there are not many jobs in the area; and the schools are currently alarming, as well, which just perpetuates the cycle of poverty. He claims to care about the environment and taxes, but his actions clearly show opposite, as stated above. All of this has been address before here, and by the other area bloggers, so I'll let it go at that, for now. However, one little bit of proof that Palmer might be making a screwy impression outside of this region is this. In case you don't feel like clicking the link, I'll sum up: Palmer has been bestowed with one Seattle-area blogger's "WTF Award" after he defended former presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's, hmmm, uncomfortable comments to a reporter at USA Today, about her support thanks to "hard working, white Americans." Palmer came to her defense and said, "It's not like she was saying something behind closed doors. She said it to the media."

Huh? One never knows what truly goes on behind closed doors, and really, that might not be such a bad thing, when you think about it. After all, we DO have doors, right? So, I dunno, Doug, maybe it would have been okay if Hillary made her comment privately? Better yet, she's been in the public spotlight for long enough that it would have been so much more appropriate if she hadn't made those comments at all.

Trenton's message is confusing, and that is due, hugely, to our mayor, who talks out of both sides of his mouth; but not all of Trenton's problems are entirely his fault. Most northeastern US cities have declined in the last 40 years, for a host of reasons. However, many are making a comeback; many smaller, run-down towns have also made a transformation. I think this has been possible because those municipal leaders do not have an adversarial relationship with their residents; those municipalities were run by people, unlike Doug Palmer, who are very focused on their home town, instead of the advance of their own political careers. Despite the state of affairs in Trenton, I think a renaissance is possible here, but it will take a bit more time and a lot more work than we previously thought. Sending Doug to Hunterdon County permanently in 2010 will be a BIG step in the right direction.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Not in the City?

Okay, the picture below is not up to my usual standards, and I apologize. But I'm in a bit of a rush today, and don't want to let this wait. I used my computer's built-in camera: it's blurry, but legible (I blotted out the contact info deliberately). I found this flyer in a location outside the city, and took a bit of offense to the "Not in the City" comment regarding the location of these weekly dancing lessons.



I am a Johnny-Come-Lately and all, but I do know that St. Francis Hospital is in the city, because I live rather close to it, and am familiar enough with the city's municipal borders. But because I am a JCL, I don't know right off the top of my head about the names of the particular buildings and wings within the local hospitals, or the whereabouts of every single place in the city, which led me to wonder if perhaps Crean Hall was an auxiliary building, which was possibly "Not in the City." But most dopes, even JCLs, can use the interwebs, so it was no challenge for me to determine that Crean Hall is not only very clearly part of the St. Francis campus, but it is also nestled between St. Francis and Bert Avenues, which are two avenues very much "in the city." See below.

I'm not sure what to make of it. On one hand, I am offended by the constant Trenton bashing, especially when the location in question is in my neighborhood, and to think that these dance organizers must use the phrase "Not in the City" to get suburbanites to sign up for their lessons really rubs me wrong. Plus, it's a lie: the dance lessons will be taking place in the city, and all of the students will have to drive through the streets of Trenton to attend class. And once one Lawrenceville-based Hibernio-phile makes the trip to Crean Hall, word is gonna spread like wildfire that these dance lessons are indeed in the city.

Then, two things will happen: the fans of Irish dance will either say, "You know, it's not so bad," or "It's not as bad as I remember," or they'll say, "Screw you guys, I'm going home."

The whole thing leaves me with more questions than answers. I'm wondering if we, the residents of Trenton, can do anything to help with the public relations nightmare we face, since our government is doing very little for us in that way, and because I truly believe there's so much we can do for ourselves anyway (and we HAVE to, since we suffer under an irrelevant and uncaring administration). It's just so frustrating that there are so many decent people in Trenton and we must constantly defend our decisions to live here; it's so frustrating that the prevailing thought outside the city is that the city is complete write-off. It isn't. It absolutely is not.

So, do we tell the organizers of these lessons that it's bullcrap that they have to lie to their potential students to get them into the city? Do we tell them that it's bullcrap, in the first place, that anyone is afraid to come into the city, and they're a bunch of wussies? The "I'm so afraid of Trenton" mentality has to stop.

But on the other hand, I'm thinking we should all sign up for lessons. But, I'll level with you: despite my Irish heritage, signing up for Irish dance lessons is gonna be a tough one for me, and it's not because I lack coordination and grace (well, maybe that factors in a bit; I'm a total klutz). Mostly, it's because I have a certain respect for Irish dance, but it also makes me laugh, and not in a good way. But maybe I should challenge my ideas, and just go? I want people from the outside to get to know us, so they'll be less inclined to assume we're all thugs and gang members and wasters. I welcome the opportunity to be able to sell the city a bit, and maybe get even just one suburbanite to buy a house on my street, and/or eat our local DeLorenzo's pizza, instead of the White Flight variety out in Robbinsville.

If you want to sign up for lessons, drop me a line, and I'll give you the contact info. Maybe we can let 'em know that Crean Hall is in the city, the city in which we live, and we'll be on best behavior, and we're looking forward to the great exercise and music and the fun and the snacks and soda, too.

Happy Independence Day.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Excuses, excuses, excuses

Mountain Mailboxes, by my mom, Maggie Ott.
View more of her work here.
We plan to revamp and update her site this fall.


I don't even really have time to write today, but I'm tired and cranky and I need an outlet, and can't really focus on work right now anyway, and the work always gets done, so no biggie. It's a personal entry today, just to warn you. Anyway, I don't mean to be so angry, but I promise, by the end, I've got it under control.

My mother passed away unexpectedly at her home in Maryland, back in May, and she was opposed to having any sort of traditional end-of-life ceremony. I am not terribly traditional myself, but I will say I didn't, and still don't agree with her choice. The wake and funeral are for us, the living, and allow us a chance to stand together with family and friends and say goodbye. These traditional things can be scary, and heavy, and emotional, but I believe, ultimately cathartic. They provide a bit of closure and, in knowing that there are those who share your pain, lend some strength to help us through.

Instead, my mother wanted a party to celebrate her life: this is open, by the way, if you feel like making the trip to Maryland on July 19th. Let me know, and I'll send you the info. And working on elements for this party, like, what music to play during the service; and what sorts of images to display around the house during that weekend (we're leaning toward a combo of her huge collection of paintings, as well as some photos); and discussing what sort of disposable plates to buy; and whether or not to hire lifeguards for the pool so the adults can catch up without worry of drowning children; and talking with tent and table and chair vendors; and following up with people who have not responded; and figuring out what sort of meal, booze, and desserts to offer; and declining phone calls from relatives who feel the need to call me every few hours for an update; has not been therapeutic at all. It hasn't really allowed the idea of life without mom to really sink in. But we do want to honor her wishes, and can deal with the delayed grief processing. It's the least we can do.

But, this, coupled with the fact that I'm in the last weeks of what could/should be an incredibly stressful pregnancy, if I weren't kinda numb and/or overloaded from everything else that's happened, leaves me — and I'm guessing my sisters too — in a state of emotional suspension. It's weird to have so many huge life events hanging...hanging...hanging...

I think the Jews have it right: the dead must be buried as soon as possible, and the living spend the next seven days in mourning. It's just sensible, and honors the dead and cares for the living, all at the same time. The first few days after a death, as disorienting and painful and shocking as they can be, are also kind of sacred, as well. You don't get that time back, and to take that week, after a death, to mourn, to process, to put everything else aside, and to gather, is healthy, respectful. Alas, we're not Jewish, and I suppose, even if we were, my mom, Maggie, still would have wanted the big party. She was a big party sort of gal, she was. I think, for her, she didn't want people to be sad about her death, and again, this is another area where I don't completely agree: people need to mourn, to grieve, to feel despair, and must figure out how the hell to go on. It puts things in perspective. It helps us, I think, to ultimately live better, and love more, and try harder, for having known and loved the person lost. I'm not mad or upset with my mom about this lack of agreement on her end-of-life preferences; I do understand that she wanted to focus on the beauty of life, and fellowship, and community, and family. She wanted us to have fun, and maybe she figured with a bit of time between death and party, that would happen; maybe with that time between the two events, it would be more convenient for people to make it to her party. And that's what I want, more than anything: I want people there, for her. And, as selfish as it is, I want people there for me, and my family, because we didn't have that gathering when we were hurting the most, and we have done our best to put our emotions on hold to get this party planned. We could use the support.

And so, in these last few weeks, as we get everything together, I find I am stunned and intolerant and annoyed beyond comprehension about the excuses we've received. I'm not happy about that, and wish I could be more understanding. But it's hard, because I think there are an inordinate amount of lame-ass people out there who are only focusing on themselves, their dis/comfort, their in/convenience. They forget — or at least it seems — that my family just had the freakin' rug pulled out from under us, and we don't really need to hear their pathetic excuses. It's not about trumping anyone, or playing the "whose grief is worse" game, but don't we all attend these end-of-life things, ultimately, to support the ones closest to the deceased, who got left behind?

So, here are some of the most noteworthy excuses we've received to date (and I am not kidding, either, sadly):

"I'm afraid of bridges."

In order to get out of New Jersey, one pretty much needs to cross a body of water; and from most places in Jersey, to get to Maryland, one would take the Delaware Memorial Bridge, which is a glorious feat of humanity's ability to overcome obstacles...it's not a rinky-dink little bridge, I get it. But bridges are part of our history and humanity, and it's just kind of pathetic to limit oneself geographically, especially after all the ingenuity and passion and sweat and blood of the people who built that bridge; they built it for us so we could travel and gather. What a gift, and it's stupid to squander that gift.

"My toddler is nuts and it will be too much to keep an eye on it."
Whatever. This isn't about me, but it sure isn't about the people who come up with lame-ass excuses either, so I won't hold back: Glen and I should have a toddler now to chase after, but we don't, and it's not like we're bitter that some people can't appreciate what they have, but it's certainly annoying to hear about how hard parenthood is from those people. My sister, Jenny, has a toddler, Emma, who is not even human, but rather, Terminator, complete with exoskeleton. Endless energy. Emma does not sleep, either: life is just too interesting to her. So, Jenny's got a toddler on the go, AND Jenny will know more people than the person who offered the "insane toddler" excuse, thus making it a difficult balance to watch Emma, and catch up with other people. But Jenny's gonna do it, because what f'ing choice does she have?

"It will be too emotional for me."
Are you for real? WTF? My father has known my mother since Junior High. My sisters and I have known our mother our whole lives, and by the way, it's been a tough year for my family, even before we lost our mother. I'm not playing that grief card, but if you're too much of a wussy to stand with us at this difficult time, I really don't want to hear about how this is oh-so-difficult for you. Just stay home and leave us alone.

"I will be teaching a workshop at that time."
Guess what, waster? We can't help our nature: we are a curious, tenacious, and kinda distrustful group of people, and you're stupid enough to keep your schedule of events on your website. So we know you're not teaching a workshop until July 24. Even so, my mother canceled her classes and workshops (she taught, too, after all) for events lesser than end-of-life stuff, but she certainly would have canceled her classes for this particular liar, which just pisses me off, because he doesn't deserve it. She understood priorities, at least.

"I am in charge of my church's ice cream social, which is the same day as your mother's memorial, so, sorry, I won't be able to make it."
Hm. See above. Interesting that a) it's not listed on your church's schedule of events on your church's website, and I'd think most ice cream socials would be; and b) your church is around the corner from my parents' place. Ever think that maybe you can stock the church's freezers with the butter pecan, and put another person in charge for an hour or two while your run over to pay your respects? You can't? You're too important to relinquish control of the ice cream scooper? Sheesh. Now we're all talking, by the way, of stopping by your church for some ice cream, after the party. See you then, knob.

"I can't make it that day, but if you reschedule it for the following week, I'll try to be there."
Wuh? That excuse came from a priest friend of my mother's; my mother was the only one in the family who liked the guy: we all saw him for what he was: a douche in a priest's costume. Before you gasp and pray for my soul (considering I trashed the Ice Cream Social's CEO, above, too), I just want to say that I don't feel that way about all priests; I don't feel that way about all clergy. It's just this guy is a colossal, egotistical, self-righteous douche, and there's no getting around it. Ask my sisters. Ask my dad. Where the HELL does he get off with THAT sense of entitlement that he can actually suggest to us a new date for my mother's memorial, and mean it? Lay off the crack, Fr. Massengill.

There have been a bunch of other excuses, and while it's always a disappointment to find out that someone won't/can't make it, the ones I mention above are the ones who have earned my deep scorn, and a grudge that will not subside any time soon. Sure, some people booked their vacations before my mom died; and some people are old and rickety or in some other way, mostly dead themselves; and some people don't drive; and some people have debilitating diseases; and some people might have weddings or showers or whatever, which were likely planned before, or at least around the same time as we picked our July 19th date. I may not like it, but I get it — not everyone can make it. I am reasonable, most of the time, as long as I don't have to face too much unreasonable crap. Like this: Another excuse-giver, J, told my sister that my mother was a forgiving person, and therefore, it will be okay if J doesn't attend the memorial. Maggie will forgive her, after all. Despite the number of years J knew my mother, it's amazing she is able to come to that conclusion about my mother's personality. It's not like I inherited my deep scorn and grudge-holding abilities from my father's side of the family, for crying out loud. So, it does gives me pleasure to think that perhaps my mother will haunt the people who offered the lamest of excuses. If she doesn't, when it's my time, I might haunt them. I might haunt them, even if my mother already has. And I'm looking forward to it. This is about my mom, and I want my mom to have the party she wanted for herself, even if I would have preferred to sit shiva for a week, back in May. Ice cream socials and toddler-chasing happen all the time, that it's VULGAR to hear these excuses. We only die once. This is Maggie's Big Day, and she deserves the send-off she wanted.

I am focusing on the negative, and I hate that about myself. But it's hard to not feel like a loser, to some degree, in listening to some of these pathetic excuses. In several cases, I have, or Glen, or my sisters, or father, or mother has done something big and inconvenient to help the people above. And it's not about paybacks, but it's hard not to think "how did these relationships become so one-sided?" Especially when we're already feeling so drained. Personally, it makes me want to tell those people to fuck off (I may still yet, if they haven't read it first here), and then sell my beloved truck, as it has hauled way more shit than I ever needed to haul for myself, anyway. I won't though, because I know there are more people who do come through as friends, who are there when you need them most, who do take an interest in reciprocal relationships, or at least, in some other way, are "paying it forward," which I can live with.

There has been a positive side of responses we've received; a great network of friends have come out of seemingly nowhere, and it's been really nice to reconnect. For instance, I had a friend, G, from high school, who became really tight with my mom. G went off to the navy, and has been stationed in some far off place all these years; most recently, California. And he happened to be out on the east coast just last week, but because of his fondness for my mom and family, G is making a special trip, from California, with his wife and kids, to be with us on the day of my mother's memorial. We haven't seen him since 1987, and haven't had much contact with him, but that doesn't matter: he never said, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I was just in Annapolis recently, and just can't come east again." Or "It's been too many years that I just don't care anymore." So, G's huge sacrifice to be with us on July 19th pretty much makes up for all the lame-ass shit above, doesn't it? (Lame-ass excuse givers should take notice.)

And there are some really, really distant relatives who are flying in from Georgia and Florida (it would never occur to me to think I was actually related to anyone that far south); and some of Mom's childhood friends who'll be making the journey, despite not having seen her in decades; at least one person traveling from North Jersey with a diabetic, neurotic, rescued dog, who found pet-friendly accommodations in the Salisbury, MD area, so he could take care of his dog, AND pay his respects. Plus, there are a couple of people who are battling illnesses themselves who will be making the trip. There's a small, but significant pile of people who will be making the trek from our neighborhood in Howell. These people are getting less ink, and I am sorry for that, but, I know the day of the memorial, I will focus on these people, their decency, their desire to stand by us and say goodbye to my mom. There are more of them than there are jerks with lame excuses, and they quietly, and without any bullshit, do what's right, and I suppose it's that quality that makes it oh-so-wrong that the wasters should stand out more.

So, I'm done bitching for now.