Friday, August 29, 2008

Circles

This post does have a Trenton focus, and was composed primarily with one hand (Matthew needs my other arm, so he can eat), and is therefore several days in the making.

This baby business has me thinking a lot about shapes. It has me thinking how we live in squarish buildings, in a city with orderly (at least in design) squarish/rectangular blocks. We have goals that depend on relative straight line steps, and we create spreadsheets with a tidy grid full of boxes to mark our progress.

Yet, so much of the natural world is curved, or outright circular: pregnant bellies, and breasts, and mouths, and heads, and bums; outside, there are hives, and nests, and tree canopies, and stones, and tornadoes, the changing of the seasons, and flower buds that open into full circular blossoms. The sun is a sphere, and so is our earth.

Also, our daily rituals are based on circular habits. Sure, we may have tasks and goals and deadlines at work, but so much of our day-to-day activities revolve (as in a circle) around the same things every day: we get out of bed, and head to the bathroom; we have our coffee, and go to work; we come home and make dinner, and do dishes and laundry and put out the garbage; we read or watch TV and head to bed. And the cycle starts all over again the next day. The daily chores — unlike projects at work — are never done for good, which can be frustrating, but they are — if nothing else — proof of life. A decent life with food and shelter, too.

Circular patterns turn up throughout society, often as successes and failures. In Trenton, we've got patterns of poverty and crime and addiction and abuse, and a couple of experiences I had in and around the hospital last week made me think a lot about this. I was talking with a young black girl, who was 16; she gave birth to her daughter two days before Matthew was born. It's easy for society to condemn a girl like this, but giving birth is perhaps one of the most difficult things a person can do; and then holding a little one afterward is so powerful. In our arms, we hold another human, unique, and so vulnerable, so dependent, and yet, so strong (I've wrestled with Matthew a lot during these last 11 days, as we both get the hang of breast feeding), and full of raw potential. These little, helpless babies can be anything, and so much of it depends on our actions over the next couple of decades. It's amazing and scary, all at the same time, and I hope more than anything to provide a really good foundation for my kid so he doesn't grow into a knucklehead.

So, back to this young girl: like me, she was admitted to the maternity ward at Capital Health's Mercer Campus with some ideas of the sort of birth experience she wanted. Her hopes were like mine: she wanted a natural birth (no drugs); she didn't want a c-section; she wanted to breast feed her newborn. When I met her, she was holding an ice pack to her abdominal incision and was loopy from painkillers, and she was bottle feeding her baby. I asked her what necessitated the cesarean birth, and she said that her baby had trouble descending through the birth canal. And when the girl cried out in pain (labor and delivery, like some other aspects of life, hurt; some parts of life are just meant to be painful, I think), she was given an epidural, and she lost her ability to push, which is one of the lousier side effects of that sort of anesthesia. There are birthing emergencies from time to time, for real, and it's good that we live in an age where we can cope with them. But we also live in an age where a lot of OBs like to play golf or go yachting, and/or don't like to wait around for women to take the time they need to get their babies born. It's quicker to remove the baby surgically, but it's not better for the mother or baby: recovery is hell; there are new studies that imply that babies lacking in that final rush of hormones as s/he is born may contribute to autism; it interferes with the bonding process; depending on the types of meds the mother is given, she may not be able to breast feed — or even tend — her baby.

I have thought about this girl every day since I got home from the hospital — and the gaping differences in my life compared to hers. We live in Trenton, too, and we're certainly not rich. But we have decent insurance, and we planned for this baby. I have a very close relationship with my midwives, and feel comfortable with the OB they work with. They had my back, and were willing to work with me as long as I needed (as long as both baby and I were safe) to birth Matthew. My birth experience fell well within my expectations. The young girl's didn't. It could be that she really had an emergency situation; it could be that she was too immature to understand the work she needed to do to get her baby born, and the associated pain. But she may have been given a quick and easy c-section because she didn't have insurance or a dedicated obstetrical team, and was just another pregnant black girl in Trenton, and the attending OB didn't want to wait around any longer.

I don't really know why this girl's birth experience deviated so much from her hopes, but I do know the impatient OB scenario happens to so many women, regardless of class or color. But I wonder if it happens more frequently to society's most scorned group: the pregnant, black teenager?

Last Wednesday, we were finally discharged, and Glen drove us down Prospect Street to get us on our way home. It was surreal for me — trapped in the hospital for almost four days, three of those days with a pristine little baby so full of promise — to see all of the morons in long white t-shirts, selling drugs in broad daylight, or milling about aimlessly. I felt angry about Trenton, and I wondered about our future here with a child. On one hand, seeing the knuckleheads doing what they do, with impunity, in the hospital's West Ward neighborhood, made me want to leave (no wonder the hospital wants to leave, too). The West Ward is home to a strong voting block on city council; it's home to some of the largest, richest churches in the city; and it's where the mayor has a house. You'd think with this sort of power — political and biblical — one of the city's largest employers wouldn't have to deal with the long t-shirts and drugs right outside their doors. WTF?

On the other hand, the anger over the knuckleheads has made me feel like fighting for Trenton even more. Maybe I'm crazy. I don't know. I'd love to know what other blog-reading parents of new babies and young children think about this. Are you going to stay until your child is ready for school? Or do you plan on homeschooling or sending your kid out of the city for an education? What about your neighbors? Crime on your block? Do you allow your kid to socialize with anyone else?

Things aren't so bad over here in our neighborhood, for the most part, but there are challenges ahead; I'm sure that's the case even if we lived in a "safe" suburb. But, I'm glad to be in a good relationship, and to have some groundwork in place for our future with Matthew. We have supportive families, reliable vehicles, skills, and life experience upon which to draw, as needed. I think about that young black girl, and her adorable newborn daughter; I wonder about what part of the city she calls home, and her life there. I wonder about the father of her baby. And , most of all, I wonder about what sort of future is ahead for that little girl. I hope it's not nearly as glib as I imagine it might be.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A little more...


I've received several messages directly from some of you, and I'm so sorry to not have had the chance to respond properly yet. Matthew was born Monday night, August 18, at 9:10 p.m., healthy and vigorous. And large, too: 8 lbs, 15 oz!

Like his big sister, he has a full head of hair, and long fingers and toes. It's impossible to not see Katie when we look at him, and it hurts so badly; we will never understand why we lost her. There are mysteries in the universe, and I suppose some questions simply do not have answers. But Matthew's healthy arrival has helped to restore our faith and hope, and that, to me, is what's beautiful about life: it can be so tragic and senseless, and glorious and beautiful all at once. Matthew is, in many ways, a gift from his sister. She changed our lives, and her death sent us to some dark places. But because of her, we know so much more about love, and that love, I think, has made us better people, and will make us better parents to Matthew.

I went in to the hospital for an induction on Sunday night (Cervidil), really unsure if it was the right thing, wanting to trust the natural process; my midwives did not want me to go past 40 weeks — which was Monday. I didn't sleep at all on Sunday night, stressed and scared, and figuring for sure, this medical intervention would lead to others and I'd wind up in some horrible situation again. But, I went into labor on Monday morning, though, unfortunately, it stalled around noon. I slept for a bit and then fretted and debated about what to do next; my midwife suggested that we rupture my waters, and after some debate, and dealing with the real issue (fear, mostly of losing another child), we decided to proceed with artificially breaking my water, around 4 p.m. I went into more active labor around 6 p.m., ramping up around 7:30, and the baby was born just after 9. I did it without painkillers, and while I wouldn't necessarily push that philosophy on anyone, I'm proud of myself. It HURT! But it's so doable, and so worth it. And, I found there was great peace in between those illogically painful contractions, which helped me to find the emotional strength to get Matthew born.

A couple of technical notes I'm still grappling with: with my pregnancy with Katie, it was really important to me to do the natural thing, because I wanted to bring my baby into the world in the most gentle way possible. Losing her, of course, shook my foundations; and it left me open to a more managed pregnancy, since as long as there's a live, healthy baby at the end, HOW I got there didn't matter that much. I tried to find the right balance for us, though...I had committed to the pregnancy, and the person growing inside of me, and I would be that person's mother, no matter what, so I wasn't interested in all the genetic testing, or finding out the gender. But I opted for more ultrasounds, and non-stress tests to keep an eye on the baby's well-being, and as importantly, to make sure the non-baby parts were working properly. Around 30 weeks, all of that geared up, and we went up to a radiology center in Princeton, specializing in maternal/fetal ultrasounds: we always, ALWAYS, told them we needed them to really keep an eye on the cord (Katie's presumed cause of death), the placenta (Katie's was on the small side), and my fluid levels (when Katie was born, we found my fluid level had dropped off a lot).

Matthew did not scream at first when he was born, which can happen, I suppose: he was monitored right up until he was born, and I could hear his heartbeat through it all, which was so reassuring. And my midwives cleaned him up, suctioned out his mouth and nose, and he was fine in a few seconds. But the silence again was incredibly distressing, for those very long seconds. The cord was torqued, AND it was around his neck, AND — most upsettingly — there was a true knot in his cord. I know some of this can happen during delivery, but one of my midwives suspects the knot was there for at least 4 months, and just pulled tight as I pushed; she said it looked the same on both sides of the knot — good blood distribution, healthy tissue, etc., which is why she thinks it tightened in the last minutes before he was born. We, of course, are befuddled and angry, amid our delight in Matthew's safe arrival, that a supposed specialist could miss this. How many times have we all heard that lightning doesn't strike twice? It was SO very hard to dig deep and find the strength to do this again, and then to have lightning strike twice just makes you doubt everything. In our case, I can be thankful that the second lightning strike did not yield the same results, but it's scary stuff. We're gonna settle in to our new routine and focus on our Matthew, and think about the issue with the specialist next week. I know ultrasound is an art as much as it is a science, but we rely so heavily on it. An aside: I was in late last week for my last scan, and the baby was estimated in the 7 pound range, but he was nearly 9 pounds at birth. Ow. (I now have no regrets about the induction, anyway!) If nothing else, if there's anyone reading this who might have recently received unsavory news from an ultrasound tech, try to remember how off they can be.

This blog was started as a way for me to prove to myself I could focus on something other than the immense grief I had over the loss of my baby, and it blossomed into something I never expected. It is because of Katie, I'm sure; and while it's not like I have a huge readership, it's just been good for me to have an outlet, and to occasionally connect meaningfully with people. The internet and computers can be so unfeeling and clinical, but it's helped me process the loss of my first child, and then, later, the loss of my dog, the loss of my mother, and the terribly complex emotions that went along with my pregnancy with Matthew. I am so grateful for those connections and inspiration and support. It has made a difference. Thank you for reading.

I'm not going anywhere, and hope — perhaps na├»vely — to raise my kid in a better Trenton. Failing the better Trenton scenario, I'm sure you can count him in as one of the good guys.

_________

Matthew's arrival was attended by his father, Glen; two maternal aunties, Karen and Jenny; a paternal auntie, Brenda; two midwives, Pam and Louise; and several hospital nurses. It was wonderful to be surrounded by that much love and support. I know I couldn't have done it without the love and commitment of these people. Matthew's healthy arrival helped us all to continue a journey we all started in our own ways, back in 2006. It has gone so different than what we expected; taking such complicated and tragic turns, and yet, it has been so remarkable as well.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Trapped in Trenton (sort of)

Glen and I are so pleased to announce the healthy arrival of our little boy, Matthew. He is BIG! 8lbs, 15oz, 21 inches. Was born on Monday night, but we are still inexplicably trapped at the hospital. I know some of you Capital Health employees read this, so if someone can pull some strings and spring us out of here, we would be forever in your debt. I am posting from a cell phone and need to get back to my boy, and am looking forward to reconnecting properly with the world soon. Thank you all for your love, prayers, vibes, and support. It has meant everything to us.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The 1976 Buick Le Sabre

NOTE: this entry is long; brought on by some happy memories yesterday, many of which happened in the Trenton area. It's time for a personal post to keep my family members and out-of-Trenton friends interested in my blog. But you're welcome to read it, even if you're not family or out-of Trenton friends.

I had an appointment yesterday morning in Princeton, and it was a nice sunny morning, a good morning for a drive, even to Princeton, for an appointment I wasn't too happy about in the first place. The ride up 206 made me nostalgic, in a contented way, though the passage of time doesn't always make sense, as memories, emotions, and sensations aren't really linear.

What made me feel this longing for the past is that there are so many changes afoot in our lives, and right now, I'm just waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Also, I used to drive up that road a lot while I was in college too; and I suppose the way the light came through the trees and hit the road just so, brought me back. I had a summer job at the Kinkos in Princeton on the corner of Witherspoon and Spring Street, while in college. The shop is gone now, as is the car I used to drive from Trenton to get there. The car was a light blue 1976 Buick LeSabre. White leather interior. Posh. Electric everything. Huge engine. Smooth ride. Low mileage, because I inherited it from my grandmother, who that year, purchased a new Buick Century. I am positive I had the better car, even though last I heard, the Century was still in operation. I have no idea, sadly, what became of the Le Sabre.

The Buick had "road trip" oozing out of it; if a car could itch for a journey, I knew this one was. I was too. So, when my semester at Trenton State College ended in May of 1989, I decided it would be a great idea to take my Buick to Canada, with a friend. We left at the very end of the month, stopped at a grocery story in Rochester, NY, and stocked up on bolonga, American cheese, bread, and Pop Tarts, which were our staples for the duration of the trip, since there was no extra money for dining out. While Canada and the US share many similarities, it was disorienting to be in a different country while so many international events unfolded: Chinese students were killed by their own government in Tiannamen Square. The Ayatollah Khomeini died. And the Maybe-It's-Too-Late-For-Sobriety Captain Hazelwood could not avoid the news if he tried (I mean, I'm all for self-improvement, but after you drunk drive an oil tanker into a reef and unload nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into a pristine habitat, there's no bouncing back from that; any personal victory you may have over alcohol will not undo that bit about causing the worst man-made disaster of all time. So hopefully Joe just accepted his flaws, and kept on enjoying the drink, but you know, not behind the wheel).

Also, the Le Sabre also ran into some issues involving the fuel line, which, in hindsight, offered just a bit of foreshadowing. While in Canada, the car started protesting, and refused to ride smoothly. Turns out, the fuel pump went, in a town called Colborne, and now, looking at the map, I see isn't far from Glen's hometown of Peterborough. A great mechanic we called "Charlie Goldtooth" replaced it, and for a good price, too. I remember he told me that he was never so helpful to folks with New York plates, but he never met anyone from New Jersey he didn't like. Take THAT, all you Corn Fed M-F-ers in the rest of the country!

My pal Charlie Goldtooth replacing the Buick's fuel pump in Colborne, Ontario

The following day, we stopped for more bologna and bread and Pop Tarts, and on our way out of the grocery store, the car started acting up again, bucking and kicking out of the parking lot. I thought Charlie and I had connected; I trusted Charlie, and now his integrity was suspect. I was crestfallen. I backed the car up, popped the hood, and took a look: I am kind of technical and geeky and have a decent sense of how things work, but I really had no idea of what I was looking at under the hood. Even though we were well-stocked with lunch meat, cheese, and toaster pastries (some of the best things in life, no?) I was depressed. But, there are definite benefits to being a not-so-ugly 20-something girl with New Jersey plates in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. At that moment, a cute Canadian man named Bruce came up and offered to help us. And, go figure, he was a mechanic, just getting off work. I told him about Charlie, and how I hoped he hadn't screwed us, or overlooked something, because he seemed like a great guy and a great mechanic. This gave Bruce something to go on, and he determined — and showed me — that the fuel filter, a little 50 cent part, was gummed up. And, again, what luck: the shopping complex had an auto body store, and he ran over to get me a new fuel filter. I was glad it was a cheap, easy fix; moreso than the pump the day before. I asked Bruce though, if maybe the filter was the problem all along, and maybe Charlie just wanted to make more money from us. Bruce, like me, seemed to trust Charlie, and figured since the filter was so gorped up, the pump was probably in bad shape, too, and it most likely needed to be replaced anyway. Though, he added, Charlie should have checked the little filter, too. Oh well. It was nice to get to know some of the locals, so it all worked out. Turns out, Bruce was fond of folks from New Jersey, too. He had an aunt in Lodi. Plus, it was always a pleasure to work on a "Yankee 350, eh."


Bruce, the off-duty mechanic who replaced my fuel filter in Kingston, Ontario

That summer, fuel line issues continued to pester me. I broke down once in the middle of the night, on Rt. 9, in Waretown. My mom came to get me, and the next morning, we got the car towed to a repair shop in Barnegat, NJ. I told the mechanic that both the filter and the pump had been replaced recently, so my problems had to be something else. I was learning a lot about the fuel line in that model Buick and was aware there was a hose that connected this part to that part, and my guess, the hose was screwed up. The mechanic was such a douche, though, and simply replaced the fuel pump — the most expensive part. I fought him, but you know how it is: I was a 20-something college girl...what the hell could I possibly know about my own car? I pulled out of his repair shop, plotting revenge, and the Le Sabre immediately bucked and kicked again. I stormed back in and told him it had to be the something else, like maybe the damn tube that connects all of the parts of the fuel system. I asked for my old, Charlie The Canadian-installed fuel pump back, but the guy in Barnegat said it was gone. Ass. But, I was right in my latest diagnosis, and the guy made the next round of repairs for free. I drove off, and felt one with the car, happy to put my foot heavy on the accelerator, and I continued to plot revenge against the mechanic in Barnegat. Nothing ever came of it, but it was nice to think about on my ride up the Garden State Parkway that afternoon.

School started in the fall, and I got myself a permit to park the Buick on campus; it was handy to have, especially since it seated about 10 comfortably, and I liked to drive it.

The following spring, I found that I had problems again with the fuel line. The Buick bucked and kicked, but it was obvious to me, who knew way too much about fuel lines at that point, that it wasn't something terribly serious. Or so I thought. Luckily — I thought — I was dating a guy, Jim, who was mechanically inclined, and he offered to take a look at the car. He determined the relatively new fuel pump installed by the douche in Barnegat was a refurbished jobbie, and was already shot. Jim got another one, plopped it in, and we were off. To Princeton for the day!

Somewhere in Lawrence on Rt. 206, I smelled smoke. Not the kind from a distant fire, but rather, a chemical fire, and really close, too. Odd, I thought, but not so odd that it should occur to me to stop driving. After all, the car had been bucking and kicking for the last few days, and it was just SO satisfying to have a smooth, open ride again. And things were going very smoothly, other than the thick, black smoke coming into the car. Jim suggested I pull over. I did, but reluctantly. And I popped the hood, and, surprisingly, flames shot out ferociously. A woman drove by, with a cell phone in hand — this was 1990, mind you — and she oh so helpfully said, "You know, your car's on fire." I nodded and thanked her, unsure what else to do, since I had never been party to a vehicle fire before, especially never up close and personal. Luckily — for real, this time —a nearby resident had a fire extinguisher and ran over and sprayed out the fire. On the surface, the car looked fine. No cosmetic damage, and all of the metal parts under the hood were in good shape, if a bit darker than usual. But all of the soft parts, the plastic and hoses, etc., were gone. Poof. Just gone. The man with the fire extinguisher drove us to a U-Haul rental place, where my boyfriend took over: he rented a truck with a hitch, and we went back to the Buick, where he hooked it up. We towed the sad Buick back to Howell, my hometown, and Jim's too.

So Jim wasn't quite as mechanically inclined as we all thought, though he had a good heart. And he was well-connected, and determined to correct his error. His best buddy was Willy the Car Jesus, who lived in nearby Jackson. Willy the Car Jesus, along with Jim, cleared their schedules to fix the car. It took a week...a grueling week...and in the end, I was told that I would "never, ever replace the fuel filter again," because of the way Willy the Car Jesus rigged things. At the time, the car was 14 years old, and the car seemed ancient to me. Not being able to maintain certain systems of the car didn't seem like an issue at all.

****

The car ran well, and came with me back to school again in the fall, when a group of friends and I decided that we were annoyed by the old "Welcome to Pennsylvania, America Starts Here" sign on I-95. Our thought was that:

  1. Pennsylvania was the SECOND state admitted to the union; a full 5 days after Delaware got the ball rolling.
  2. Pennsylvania was the EIGHTH state to ratify the Bill of Rights. An interesting aside: many of the early signers rejected Article II, the right to keep and bear arms.
  3. Pennsylvania is LANDLOCKED.

So there's nothing about Pennsylvania that started anything; Pennsylvania certainly did not start this country in a patriotic, philosophical, or physical sense. And Pennsylvania pretty much still sucks mightily to this day, especially since all Pennsylvanians drive for shit, and with so many of their soccer moms over here in my neighborhood buying heroin. Things have to suck pretty badly over there if all their soccer moms are addicts, right? And why does that state require only one license plate on their cars, anyway? Damn, I hate that.

Maybe I was a bit of a geek (and maybe I still am), but at least I was a proud geek. My friends and I wrote to then-PA Governor Bob Casey, and asked him nicely to take down the offensive sign. We wrote to then-NJ Governor Jim Florio, and asked him to defend New Jersey's history. Casey thanked us for the amusing letter, and Florio suggested we never leave New Jersey, so we wouldn't have to look at the sign again. It's always so nice to be dismissed. The exchange did land me on Jim and Lucinda's Christmas card list for the next few years, and nothing impresses friends and family like displaying Christmas cards from the governor, even The Most Unpopular Governor Of All Time. Go ahead and laugh. I bet you never got a Christmas card from Jim and Lucinda.

So, we had no choice. We had to take matters into our own hands. We did some reconnaissance for a few nights and decided we could alter the sign to make it read "America Farts Here" by using some high-end spray mount (I worked for the school paper, and knew a lot of artists, who all claimed "spray mount is FOREVER." We made our giant "F" to place over the "ST" of "Starts," and figured that we'd need to build a three-man ladder with three tall guys — which we had; the guy on top would slap the F over the ST, and we'd be on our way.

Things don't always work out as planned though. We did pile 16 college students all dressed in black in to Le Sabre* that night. Some of whom, I found out later, had bags of rotten produce. We pulled up to the little rest stop near the offending sign, and people fell out of the car; we all ran down the hill, and someone started humming the theme to "Mission Impossible." The three young men had not practiced their ladder, but did okay, nonetheless, climbing on top of one another. You'd never know this from zooming past those signs at 60+ miles an hour, but they are much higher and much bigger than you'd think. The letters, too, are more enormous than the imagination is able to handle in an abstract way.

Eddie, who was nearly 7 feet tall — but very thin — was at the top of the human ladder. He called down: "I can't reach the 'STARTS.' I can't reach the 'STARTS!!' What should I do??" The human ladder below him was buckling a bit, so he made the snap decision to just slap the F up there, as high as he could, and the boys tumbled. The gals with the rotten produce threw it at the sign, and yelled, "FUCK YOU, PENNSYLVANIA," and we all ran back to the Buick and crossed the Delaware as quickly as we could. I'm not too snobby to admit this: I peed my pants that night. I peed them good.

We returned the next day to see the fruits of our handiwork...and by and large, I'd say the endeavor was a flat-out failure. The sign read:

Welcome to Pennsylvania
America Starts Here
F

But the splatter from the tomatoes was VERY obvious, at least. My mom came to visit me the following week, and she wanted to see the sign. Because she was never much for following the rules, she got a good laugh out of it, and I know she was proud of me.

The stray F remained for about a year, which is a long time, but certainly not forever. The artists claimed the paper and foil gave out first due to the weather: spray mount IS forever. Period.

****

I started my career as a newspaper reporter at a small family of newspapers in Ocean County. I worked with a funny girl who liked to listen to Paul Harvey on the radio; Paul Harvey is inexplicably still alive and still talking on the radio, two facts I did not know until a minute ago. Paul Harvey is kind of an institution on his own, and I admire that about him, but he always struck me as a bit too conservative and old-fashioned, and a tad bit judgmental, but I listened to him every day with my coworker, anyway: "Hello Americans, I'm Paul Harvey," he'd start out. I've been kind of discouraged by the commercialization of our country; product placement bugs the shit out of me. And in a sense, Paul Harvey is guilty of this as well, and yet, I can let him off the hook for that: his sponsors were companies he believed in. And Paul Harvey believed in Buick. He talked about Buick all the time, at least in the early 1990s; Paul Harvey told Americans that Buick was the Number 1 car in customer satisfaction. Paul Harvey told Americans that if they own a Buick, they would be very inclined to buy another one. I loved my Buick. It was comfortable, and held so many people, and best of all, the Yankee 350 (eh) made it one fast automobile, and I liked driving fast. A lot.


Paul Harvey is so very, very old.

Most likely, my reasons for loving my Buick were not the same reasons Paul Harvey and the bulk of his listeners loved their Buicks. And as a newspaper reporter in my early 20s, I was making — no freakin' lie — $8 an hour. My father, as you can imagine, was thrilled to have sent me to college. I had a cousin a year older than I am, who didn't go to college, and was making nearly $60,000 that year. I heard about that a lot. Which sucked.

But, that Buick! And all those memories that came back yesterday, just because of my morning drive up Rt. 206. I see kids in my neighborhood with similar cars these days, and I know, I know, I know, that my Le Sabre could still be on the road. And maybe it is, even with an unmaintainable fuel filter thingy, somewhere. Stupidly, oh so stupidly, I used the Le Sabre for trade-in purposes in 1992. On a Chevy Cavalier. Do not judge, okay? I was making $8 an hour, for crying out loud. A new Buick, even the shitty Skylark (or was it the shitty Skyhawk? Maybe both were available at that time), was just out of my financial reach, as was just about everything else.

Late in 1992, I was living in Beach Haven, NJ. And maybe you recall the big nor'easter that year. It happened to hit on my birthday. Below is a little bit of footage I found on the interwebs (I didn't take the footage...just found it this morning online). I was aware this storm was coming, but I thought the term "nor'easter" was cute and harmless and kind of silly, and therefore I had no concept of what a nor'easter could do to a little shore community, or what a nor'easter could do material possessions, or the lives of the people living in those communities. It happened to be a full moon at that time, too. Before there was any precipitation or major wind, the tide rose and rose and rose and rose. Silently. The bay and the ocean met. My street became a salt water river; the water levels were up to my armpits. It was wild...just wild. And then, it occurred to me: My car, I thought. My car! It was completely underwater, and the salt water quickly ruined it. A total write off.



Flood and fire are total opposites, except they are both rare, and so extreme. It worried me I had both in my life in such short order, and yet, I was young, and found it exciting, too. But what I ultimately realized is that the flood of 1992 totaled the Cavalier, a piece of shit car; but the great fire of 1990 did not total the Le Sabre. To be fair to the Cavalier, salt water is probably worse than fire, and the ocean is vast, and many cars far superior to my Crapolier were totaled in that storm as well. But still, cars are not made like the Le Sabre anymore. It felt good driving Glen's car up 206 yesterday, but not Le Sabre good. Glen's car will only hold maybe 6 people, and that would be very uncomfortable. It bears New Jersey tags, and has made multiple trips to Canada, but its guts do not yield a Yankee 350, eh. It is probably more reliable than the old Buick, and there is something to be said for reliability, especially after the run I had with cars through my early driving years. But there's something so life affirming about knowing your car can be resurrected after a devastating fire; and Glen's car, in the same unlikely scenario on Rt. 206 with flames shooting out from under the hood, I'm sure, sadly, would be done.

Before summing up all of this babble, I just want to say that despite the fond memories of my 1976 sky blue Buick LeSabre, I didn't run out to buy another Buick, once I was out of the $8 an hour pay range, though I did dabble in other GM cars. I do tend to be loyal to certain brands, but not so much to automobile brands, since there are so many variables in the outside world — like flood and fire and other drivers and a shitty economy and ridiculous gas prices — and we ultimately do not have nearly as much control over our own lives and possessions as we'd like to think. Even though I realize just how insignificant we are in this universe, does not mean I'm interested in driving around in a total shitbox. I do have some ego, some esteem. For the last 10 years or so, I've had the same Ford F150, and I love it possibly as much — if not more — than the Buick; and because I was a bit careless — in retrospect — with the gift that was my Buick, I'm not letting my truck go any time soon. It's been a great vehicle, but I don't drive it much these days, partially because I don't need to, and also because gas prices are ridiculous. The point of this is that while I have a soft spot for MY Buick, it's not like I'd jump at the opportunity to be Buick's spokesgal these days. I'm older than I once was, but not old enough to drive a vehicle into the plate glass window of a grocery store, and that's pretty much Buick's target crowd, no? A Buick is a decent car, by and large, but has a completely questionable customer base these days. No offense to old people, but maybe they should be banned from buying cars with big engines that go from zero to plate glass window before they can realize their foot was on the gas pedal, not the brake.

After my appointment yesterday, I slowed at an intersection, and put on my right turn signal. A car to my left — based on the lack of signals — intended to go straight through the intersection. I took one look at my fellow driver's grill and instantly recognized it as a Buick. I looked at the driver, and he was maybe Paul Harvey's age. I swear I don't have anything against old people. And I am normally a very courteous driver; and that pisses off nearly everyone who drives with me. But oh well: I let EVERYONE go first. Generally, I simply enjoy being in the car much more than I like to arrive at my destination; so I just don't care if there are a million cars in front of me, or not. But I looked over at that old guy in the Buick, and noticed he had a stop sign, and I didn't. I had the right-of-way, and decided to take it, and quickly, too, in case he was a fiesty old guy. Maybe if he had been in any other type of car, I would have waved him on, but I suppose, at my core, because of the fond memories I have of my Buick, I can't stand how old people have hijacked the Buick. Buicks aren't exactly high performance, racing vehicles (except for the Grand National, I suppose), but for a consumer-end car, they are generally made well, and have a lot of cylinders and horsepower, and other doohickies that make them go very fast. And old people drive them like they're stuck in jam. That is disrespectful to the engine, it's a waste of innovation and technology and money, and I just can't let that go ahead of me. Screw that noise.

_________

* I deleted the "the" before the "le" on purpose since "the" and "le" mean the same thing. I contemplated deleting every "the" before every "le," but it seemed SO pretentious and Franco-philish. I am an American, and I am from New Jersey, and you better not have a problem with my more-or-less deliberate redundancy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The crapper at Cadwalader and the little park that could



My focus entirely is always Trenton

— Mayor Douglas H. Palmer


An uplifting story caught my eye today in the Trenton edition of The Star Ledger about Sharon Jones, a resident of the Donnelly-Page Homes, who decided to take matters into her own hands and clean up Carlos Negron Park, for her neighborhood's children. This park falls under the jurisdiction of the city, and in recent years, the playground equipment had been removed because it no longer met safety codes; the gear had been replaced by open air drug dealing, litter, and other illegal activities. Read the article here.

Ms. Jones began cleaning up the park, and her enthusiasm caught on. She was joined by other neighbors and she received toy donations from a nursery school, and other generous folks. The children now have a place to play again, and some toys with which to play.

The city says there is no money in the budget to renovate the park, but they allow the toys to stay, because without them, there would be no park. While conditions are still far from ideal, this is a great story that illustrates that our city government is kind of on the irrelevant side. The neighbors are working to take back their park, and so far, are succeeding.

On the other hand, while they city is crying poor about the budget for the city's parks, an astute member of the Trenton Speaks community, mmcgrath, noticed a couple of interesting items on last week's City Council docket:


5oor - RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING AN AMENDMENT TO THE CONTRACT WITH HOLT MORGAN RUSSELL ARCHITECTS FOR PROFESSIONAL ARCHITECTURAL SERVICES FOR THE REHABILITATION OF THE COMFORT STATION AT CADWALADER PARK. (The amount of this amendment is $17,080)



and


5zzr - RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE AWARD OF A CONTRACT THROUGH A FAIR AND OPEN PROCESS IN ACCORDANCE WITH N.J.S.A. 19:44A-20.5 ET. SEQ. TO HMR ARCHITECTS, 350 ALEXANDER STREET, PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY 08540 TO PROVIDE ADDITIONAL PROFESSIONAL ARCHITECTURAL SERVICES RELATED TO THE RESTORATION OF THE CADWALADER PARK COMFORT STATION. (In an amount not to exceed $12,347.93)


According to mmcgrath, based on what was ascertained at last week's city council meeting, this "comfort station" has already cost the city $500,000 for renovations; some of the above money had already been budgeted, and some is for "extra services." You can read the thread here.

I'm sure there are people out there better at interpreting this legalese; but it seems to me and several others — and someone please correct us if we're wrong — the same architectural firm is receiving a BOATLOAD of money to fix up a bathroom at Cadwalader Park.

Without all the information in front of me, and an often bad habit of giving even the biggest jerks the benefit of the doubt, I realize that perhaps the city may have received grant money for this project; I realize that Cadwalader is Trenton's gem, even though parts of it are in shambles, and maybe the money would have been better spent another way, within Cadwalader. But, when the skeptic in me prevails, it seems like a gross misuse of funds to fix up a bathroom, when the kids in the neighborhood of the Carlos Negron Park don't even have a swing set, and those local residents have to ask nursery schools for cast-off toys, and have to clean up the broken bottles themselves. Certainly more people should pick up litter — I'm all for that — but come on: Negron Park is the size of a basketball court, and it would seem, based on the language above, that if the city has the money to pay someone to make a bathroom very comfortable over at Cadwalader, the city should be able to toss some money over at the Negron Park to install a damn swing set, or a see-saw, or whatever type of park equipment is deemed safe enough for kids to play on these days. There are parks like the Carlos Negron Park all over the city that have become havens for illegal activity, and to think that somehow, Trenton has the money to pay over $500,000 for a crapper at Cadwalader, is simply outrageous.

In the meantime, I hope Ms. Jones keeps the faith in her park, and I hope more people like her emerge. This is our city, and there's a lot we can do to improve it without relying on anyone else to help us. Of course, if our city's administration worked with us, imagine what we could accomplish.

Residency, Quality, and Morons

Citizens of Trenton have been grumbling about the residency of Director of Communications for the Trenton Police, Irving Bradley, for some time. And for some time, he's been claiming the Broad Street Bank as his home.

Personally, I believe in residency. But I also believe in most of the laws that govern our society, and don't feel they get in the way of my happiness. But, whereas many of our laws don't really affect me one way or another, I actually do like the residency laws, at least in spirit, because, at the core, they are about civic pride, and an individual's responsibility to the community, and love of home. And I don't mean to get all pompous, but I believe in those things.

I believe in quality, too, and quality and residency are not mutually exclusive. However, we have a lot of non-quality here in Trenton, but when we stop focusing on the loud, inconsiderate neighbors, and the egomaniacal, self-serving politicians, it's easy to see the quality that surrounds us. Because we are quality people, with quality brains (and we live here, to boot!), we can smell bullpoo a mile away. Because of that, we all know that Irv Bradley does not really live in Trenton. We know this without the blogs and the forums and the gossip (though I love the blogs and forums and gossip, by the way). We knew Mr. Bradley didn't live in Trenton before city administrators came to his defense at a city council meeting last fall. We knew Mr. Bradley didn't live in Trenton, whether or not he had placed a deposit on an apartment at the BSB. We knew he didn't live in Trenton before he T-Boned his city-owned vehicle while on personal business, outside the city, back in May. And we certainly knew he didn't live in Trenton before the State Department of Personnel deemed his butt unqualified for the position he is currently holding in Trenton. And we know whether or not he announces a separation from his wife, that separation will not result in residency, either. Hello, Trenton Administrators: we're not stupid.

The people who are opposed to residency laws claim we need the best of the best, and so why should we limit ourselves to Trenton residents only? We'll get a bigger, more talented pool of respondents if we look outside our municipal borders, right? So, forget for a minute that TWO courts just upheld Trenton's residency laws, and our own mayor wasted a load of our money to fight us on it, and forget for a minute, too, that there are any decent people in Trenton. Let's just look at Irv Bradley.

So, if we have blind faith in our city's administrators, we should believe that Irv Bradley, a former Newark employee and current Rahway resident, was appointed to his position of director of communications because there is no one more qualified to hold that position, and we, the people, of Trenton, deserve only the best.

However, a higher power — the State Department of Personnel — says Bradley is unqualified to hold that position, a position in which he makes nearly $90,000 a year. A position, by the way, non-existent in other municipalities around the state.

Because I believe in residency, I do want our administrators (and mayor) to live in the city. But because I believe in quality as well, I want the people holding the high paying positions in our city to be QUALIFIED residents. Mr. Bradley will dance around the residency issue for months, wasting our time and money, and insulting our intelligence. And all of this will happen with the blessing of Mayor Douglas Palmer, because he's too busy somewhere else — anywhere else — to care about the city. Mayor Palmer is off looking for his next political job and is completely irrelevant to Trenton, so Council should take matters into its own hands and show Mr. Bradley the door. Immediately. Why are we making allowances for an unqualified law breaker?

Because I have lived elsewhere, I know that what happens in Trenton pretty much only happens in Trenton, and it's a disgrace. Because our politics have been steeped in secrecy and back room dealings and a lack of care about representation, the criminal element has been able to thrive here. It's why people on the message boards think that bulldozing the city and starting over is the only viable option. And, I suppose, as long as that bulldozer took out pretty much all of the city's administrators, maybe that "wipe out and rebuild" mentality isn't such a bad thought.

It is embarrassing to me to have to explain to a friend or a family member that the people elected to serve in Trenton, in general, don't care about the people who elected them. It's embarrassing to me to think of these elected officials at bigger events, representing me, knowing that other politicians from other parts of the state and country, are looking at them, thinking "What a pack of morons." My embarrassment about the state of affairs in Trenton isn't enough to make me throw in the towel though; I'm sticking around because this time I think the morons* can be voted out of office, taking out all of their condescending, appointed cohorts with them. We can bulldoze hypothetically and reshape politics here in Trenton, so someone like Irv Bradley — to repeat, an unqualified law breaker — won't be allowed in Trenton, except maybe to eat, shop, or visit with his hypothetical friends at the Broad Street Bank.

_______________________

*Not everyone involved in Trenton politics is a moron. But a lot of people in Trenton politics, especially Paul "PowerPoint" Pintella, the Idiot Prince of Trenton, are morons. Paul is a moron with a gavel and a microphone, but someday soon, I'm quite confident, he will only be a run-of-the-mill moron.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

An invitation to our Canadian friends

There was a little gem of a story in the "latest news" section of nj.com the other day that caught my eye. In case you didn't click on the link, it's a very brief tale about three Canadians who assaulted two victims on Nassau Street in Princeton "with their hands and feet for no apparent reason. The assailants fled on foot, but were arrested a short time later and charged with simple assault, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest."

It seems the writer at the Star Ledger could use a refresher course on pronouns and antecedents, since it isn't clear whose hands and feet were used in the assault, but I think it's safe to say that the Canadians used their own; although if the Canadians used the very limbs of the Americans against the Americans in the assault, that would be pretty damn cool. Wouldn't it?

I have not been able to get this story out of my head since I first read about it earlier in the week. I realize I don't have all the details, and I haven't seen any follow-up to it, and I realize I might be speaking completely out of turn, but I wanted to offer some thoughts:

  1. I worked in Princeton at one time, just off of Nassau Street, in fact, and I can say first hand that so many of the locals are self-righteous, better-than-thou, demanding, pompous assfaces, and most of them deserve to be beaten at least once or twice in their lives, to remind them that they have the same blood pumping through their cardiovascular systems, just like everyone else.
  2. Americans tend to think of Canadians as our friendly neighbors to the north, and I'm here to correct that assumption, and I can do that, because I am married to one. Canadians ARE very polite, and tend to be very funny, but they have A LOT of pent-up rage. I have given this a lot of thought over the almost 8 years I've known Glen, and traveled back and forth to Canada, and hosted Canadians here, and the reasons for this rage will just have to be the topic for a different post on a different day — it's too involved and off-track for today's entry. But if you have any doubts about this anger, just remember that hockey came from Canada. And in Canada, hockey is everything. And the more violent, the better. A quick aside to illustrate this point: I had no idea until I was involved with Canadians, that they hold Russian hockey players in utter disdain: the Russians skate well, but don't like to get hurt. A Canadian player, on the other hand, doesn't mind losing his teeth, or having his internal organs punctured from time to time. All for the game, you know?
  3. Many Canadians, including mine, do not like the heat very much. I think it surprises them when they find out how hot it is here in Central Jersey, and after the initial surprise wears off, the heat makes them very, very angry. And so, I'd like to say now, that maybe the victims in Princeton were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, since I have witnessed some absolutely reprehensible behavior from at least one nameless Canadian in my life who seems to lose his mind on the really hot days.
  4. Despite the propensity toward violence (but just with hands and feet!), I think this Canadian energy can be harnessed for good purposes, and I just wanted to let all you Canadians know that our door is always open for you. Please come to Trenton. Stay as long as you'd like. We don't have self-righteous, better-than-thou, demanding pompous assfaces here, but we do have our share of misguided, irritating, thoughtless, self-destructive knuckleheads here in the hood, and they, too, could use a beating. Trenton would be a much better place with seething, sweaty, underwear-clad Canadians lurking in every shadow, righting all of the wrongs of the hood. I know, amid this rage, at the core of most Canadians, there is a good, just heart. So, Canadians, this is your opportunity to help administer justice! So please consider coming for some extended holidays here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A letter to council

I sent this to Council members this morning:



Dear members of Trenton City Council,

I take a lot of heat from my family and friends for living in Trenton; most of that criticism is because of the crime. I don't blame them for their concern: Glen and I are not from Trenton; we don't have ties here, so why do we choose this life, they want to know. We could have purchased a home elsewhere, but we chose Trenton because of its location, its history, its beautiful, affordable architecture, and because we hoped that Trenton would see a rebirth, like many New Jersey municipalities are experiencing right now.

Family and friends are right: crime is a problem, especially since we live very literally just a few doors from three murders that have taken place in three years (Jamal Tucker, 11/2005; Anthony Dunbar, 6/2008; Brian Smalls, 8/2008); murder is jarring; it makes the history books; it causes a person to rethink everything, because there is no violation more offensive than the taking of someone else's life. And this is a good neighborhood! I'm not afraid for my safety; I don't have bars on my windows; I have furniture and plants on my porch and they've never been disturbed. My neighbors, for the most part, are good, decent, honest people. I can say this with certainty, even though I find the casualness about the loss of life here to be heartbreaking.

The problem comes from the top. Crime is so prevalent because our system is broken. And when I talk about Trenton's REAL problems with the friends and family members who wonder loudly why we stay, I feel a deep sense of embarrassment. Our system is broken, and we haven't fixed it, even though we can — we could have a dozen times over in just the last few years. We, the good people of Trenton, are able-bodied, and smart, and come from a long line of innovators, and we turn the other way at the gaping wounds in this city's fabric. We drag our feet when we can and should be running after the nagging issues that taunt us repeatedly. We retreat into our homes each night and don't do enough to make a difference.

We are faced with a horrible budget crisis, one that has escalated possibly because of the lack of openness in our government's administration. There are members of the public, as well as members of city council, who must regularly fill out Open Public Records forms, just to get information from our administration — information that would be more than forthcoming in any other municipality. We are selling our assets, and our taxes are going up, and our palms are outstretched for hand-outs from the state and the feds, and yet we continue to allow the status quo to stand. The status quo is not working.

Council, you have the power to make a difference. We have elected you to represent us, and we need that representation now more than ever. Trenton needs to make some serious changes; some of the changes are so simple, but they'd make a significant dent in our problems, and send a clear message that change is afoot. Here are some:

  1. We need to put an immediate end to our very liberal take-home car policy, and the associated perks (namely, free gas for those who get a take-home car). Far more affluent municipalities around the country have ended this practice, and it benefits everyone; so there's no reason for a financially-struggling city like Trenton to wait another minute to end this practice as well. There's no reason for the citizens to be paying upward of $4 a gallon in gas for a large-engined fleet, plus maintenance, for people who make enough money to afford their transportation to and from work. Plus, with some of our employees traveling over 50 miles each way to work, that's a lot of gas, a lot of wear and tear, and it needs to stop immediately.
  2. Police Communications Director Irving Bradley was recently found to be unqualified by NJ's Department of Personnel to serve in a state taxpayer funded position. He is also in violation of the spirit of Trenton's residency ordinance, with his family living full-time in Rahway, NJ. None of the other cities around the state have a communications director for their police departments, so there is absolutely no logic or reason for keeping the unqualified, rule-breaking Bradley in this $90,000/year job.
  3. Enforcement, and other money-making ideas. Who wouldn't want to see a functioning, vibrant downtown and business hub in Trenton? (I'm not criticizing the existing businesses, by the way, even though your hours are kind of lousy). We need to take care of some housekeeping first before we dream, and waste any more money. We need to fine those in violation of our codes and laws. We need to issue tickets consistently for illegal window tint, for not allowing the pedestrian the right of way, for speeding, for those in violation of the noise ordinance, for truancy. We need to go after lousy landlords AND lousy tenants, and encourage them, in the strongest way possible that they must behave according to the laws that govern polite society, OUR society. We must go after those who dump illegally in our alleys, and the drug dealers AND buyers, as well as the prostitutes. There are many areas of this city where criminals are allowed to act with impunity, and this must stop. Studies show that enforcing our laws will help to discourage those on the fence about committing criminal acts. Enforcement helps. The laws are on our side; it's time we get to it. Related to this, perhaps it's time the city thinks about a city wage tax — both New York City and Philadelphia have one — for non-resident state workers. This may generate some interest for some state workers to move here (a good thing), and will certainly generate some much-needed revenue to help us maintain our struggling city.
  4. Crime may be down nationwide; specific sorts of crimes in Trenton may be down. Violent crime is NOT down here. This is not necessarily the fault of former police director Joseph Santiago, but to know that violent crime is at an all-time low elsewhere in the nation, it seems evident that perhaps we've taken the wrong approach here in Trenton. Also, since he is unwilling to live by the terms of his job description, I have no idea why we keep him on the payroll. The courts have declared his position vacant; Santiago has wasted so much of Trenton's money to fight us on our own laws, and it is insulting. It wasn't personal, but it's becoming personal: Police Director Joseph Santiago must go. And he should go before his grace period expires. This city deserves a functioning head of the police department, especially in light of the very violent summer we've seen. And we must begin to discuss plans for the post-Santiago years; we cannot rely on the administration to take care of us, or for things to fall into place. The citizens of Trenton must not be kept in the dark about this issue.


I would like to attend tomorrow night's city council meeting to show my support for this city and my neighbors. There's enough going on right now, I almost feel motivated enough to speak. However, I'm expecting a baby any day, and have a prenatal appointment tomorrow evening, and timing isn't so good for us. So, I'm writing instead, so you know that even though some folks can't be there, we do care, and we're tuned in, and we do expect you, Council, to represent us well.

Regards,
Christine Ott
Trenton, NJ 08629


NOTE FOR BLOG: I heard from Councilman Coston, and just wanted to follow up: the city of Trenton is not permitted to charge a wage tax on state employees. And, more importantly, city council has no power to remove Santiago before his last day (9/22). I appreciate the councilman's feedback, though it is discouraging to hear this news, particularly the latter bit. Perhaps council has the ability to tie Santiago's hands somewhat, so he won't be able to enact any more changes within the department? — co

Monday, August 4, 2008

A taste testing, vegetarian style

You may recall from my post about my mother's memorial weekend, that Glen and I forgot to bring the veggie burgers to Maryland for the two vegetarians who would be in attendance. You may recall that my father does not "believe" in vegetarianism and therefore refused to stock his fridge or freezer with any non-meat anything; and Glen, while sympathetic to vegetarians, temporarily lost his mind and proclaimed the vegetarians could eat grass.

The result: we have a large case of Boca Burgers in our freezer.

I am still pregnant, and due any day, and am caught in an in-between state of wanting to nest and cook and stock our freezer with things we actually like, and just wanting to sit in the air conditioning, and hope, this time, we actually come home with a baby. I had a non-stress test at noon (everything looks fine), and I got home, rather hungry. I thought about those veggie burgers in the freezer, and I thought if I had one or two every day until the kid is born, it would open up a large amount of space in the freezer for something good, like a big casserole, prepared by one of my sisters (hint! hint!). I decided that if I was going to eat a veggie burger, I might as well eat two, since I was hungry, and I am eating for two. Right? Plus, the way I figure, there ain't no point in doing anything unless I'm gonna throw myself into the experience.

A few years ago, I worked for a large food distribution company, and we received a lot of samples; a lot of it was organic, all-natural, and/or vegetarian, and/or vegan. Most of it was high quality and tasty, but I'm not a terribly fussy eater, either; as long as mayonnaise isn't involved, I will never complain. I'm pretty good at doing what I need to do to get through a social situation without angering the cook or the food bearer, who might spit in my food. Anyway, at the time, I recall Boca made a huge variety of products, and after a taste-testing at work, I wound up taking home a small package of Garden Burgers, which I actually sought out in the grocery store, after I ate all of mine at home. The "Burger" part of their name was misleading: it was definitely a patty, though, made with a variety of veggies — real, bona fide vegetables — and then rolled through some sort of crumb coating, and they were quite righteous. They reminded me more of fried zucchini, though, than a burger.

So this is what I had in mind when I trekked to the basement fridge for my two Boca Burgers today. But when I saw the package, it didn't look like the Garden Burgers of yesteryear. Same brand, but different product. I looked at the ingredients and saw that the first ingredient was something soy-based, and my heart sank. Still, I committed to the idea of having two of them for lunch, so I grabbed two — individually wrapped, I might add; not very environmentally cool — and brought them back upstairs.

As a result of all this prenatal monitoring, it was discovered recently that I am slightly anemic; not anything too extreme, but my iron was low enough that it was recommended that I eat more red meat. While I'm not a vegetarian, I just don't eat a lot of it. So I've been trying to eat more mammal, and when I'm not — like today — we have been using our cast iron pans, since they help to boost a person's iron, too. So I took out the cast iron pan, preheated it, oiled it up, and put down my two Boca patties.

After a few minutes, there was no shrinkage at all. Shrinkage, as a general rule, is something to be avoided. But in a burger? I don't like a lack of shrinkage in a burger. I want to know there are fats and juices running out, helping to brown up my patty, dammit. And without the shrinkage, the Boca burgers flipped very poorly, which takes points away from the Boca Burger, first of all because I don't want to have to scrub my pan so damn hard to remove freakin' tofu residue, for crying out loud; and also because I wondered if the crap stuck to the pan contained all of that helpful iron my body needs right now.

Still, I have an open mind (or low standards, depending on how you look at things), and forged on. I knew that I'd need to accessorize what would become my double soy-burger, and was dismayed to only find one pickle left: I do need a pickle if I'm going to have a burger — any kind of burger — but my need for one today was powerful. While I'm glad I had one, TWO would have been better: one, sliced thin, for the burger, and one for later, to cleanse the palette (or at least change the composition of the palette). Not much will cleanse/alter the palette like a good hearty pickle. I grabbed small tomato and a handful of chips to accompany my burger, since I didn't have the extra pickle. I should also note, I added some plain ol' American process cheese food slices to these burgers, and served the whole thing on plain ol' white bread, because we're out of buns. I toasted the bread for a minute, though, so things wouldn't get too soggy.

Steve the dog, and Angus the cat joined me for lunch, as they often do. Angus is a tough Trenton cat who came with the house, and prior to us falling sucker to his charms, he was perfectly content begging at the backyard parties in our neighborhood (particularly when real barbecue was involved), and eating the knuckleheads' leftover/discarded pizza, sandwiches, fried chicken, cheese doodles, and Chinese food, all of which is strewn without a care, all over Trenton. These days, he'll usually appear in the kitchen at mealtime out of habit, but unless we're eating one of the aforementioned foods, he usually winds up on the floor, on his back, looking up at the ceiling, or wall, like Rainman. Steve, on the other hand, is a dog, and is interested in — at least right now — everything we eat. So he took a spot next to my legs as I sat down at the table with my double soy cheeseburger.

I took a bite and it tasted more like fake, manufactured burger than anything from the Kingdom Plantae. I added some ketchup. And more pickle slices. It didn't TOTALLY offend, though, but I credit the cheese and pickles for playing a major role in the lack of suckage.


I forged on; Angus had stepped away and settled on the rug and was staring up at the plates on the shelves. Steve was still very intent on what I was eating. I don't want to raise a naughty beggar, but am fully aware of the long and wonderful history we humans share with dogs, and much of it came to fruition because of food: food was what brought us together in the first place. So, I won't try too hard to change a dog's nature in this regard (because, in my opinion, there's no point in having a dog who is not allowed to be a dog), but I normally wouldn't totally foster a beggar's behavior, either.

But I chewed on my soy thing and couldn't help but wonder what my dog's take would be. Dogs, after all, really dig meat. I ripped a bit off, and handed it to Steve; he took it politely, and ate it. Very slowly. But he ate it. We have given him real meat on occasion (he had some steak last week), and while he is a very polite dog, there was nothing slow about the way he ate the real meat. He, like every other dog (and many cats) I've met, is very excited about meat.

When he finished his soy morsel, he stayed put, but he had a confused look on his little furry head. And I continued to eat, but more out of a need to fill that empty void in my gut, and to make sure the kid got some nutrients. There are nutrients in soy burgers, right? After awhile, the tomato and potato chips beckoned, so I abandoned the last few bites of the burger. I couldn't finish it. My thoughts again turned to Steve, who was sitting there, perplexed and expectant. Lacey, my wonderful dog of 15 years, often enjoyed the bread nearly as much as the meat, and so, I wondered what Steve would think of the bread. I cut up some of my remaining food into small, Steve-sized chunks, wondering if he would go for the bread first — some of which had cheese and ketchup attached to it — or would he head for the fake meat?

So, here's how it played out with Steve: ever-hopeful, he went immediately to the fake meat, but again ate the morsel slowly. He moved to the bread, which he ate more quickly, AND he finished all the bread I put down for him. There were a few bites of soy burger left, and he went to them last, and again, slowly. In conclusion, I think Steve and I probably feel similarly about the soy burger: it doesn't outright suck. But there are so many better things to eat.

If you want to try a non-meat burger, I would recommend the GARDEN burgers, rather than the soy variety. Portabello mushrooms, with a bit of horseradish, on a roll, also are a wonderful substitute/change of pace from a meat burger. But if you're a vegetarian who is vegetable- and/or mushroom-intolerant (and there are a lot of you, aren't there?), I have the better part of case of Boca Burgers in the freezer if you want 'em. Just send me a message, and they're yours.

Hopefully, one of my sisters is on that lasagna or something else yummy to fill that space soon!


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A quick epilogue: I forgot to eat an apple last night after dinner, and for the first time in awhile, I woke up, burping fire, and wanting to cry last night. I sure as hell wasn't going to forget the apple after today's weird meal, just in case the soy tries to repeat on me...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Stern office managers and a Stevie update

Any dreams we had for world domination with an armada of Steves are now officially quashed.

When I think about the current pet breeding stock out there, and the imbeciles who don't get their animals fixed, I get really really mad, because those animals just cannot be as cool as Steve is, based on who their owners are. This city is overflowing with strays, and animal breeders — whether they live behind me or in Princeton — are just creating heartbreak, even if they claim to be ethical or humane or whatever. Some city animal is getting euthanized in a shelter somewhere because of a breeder. Or some poorly trained, owned-by-a-rich-moron suburban dog is suffering the same fate because aforementioned rich moron never bothered to train or sterilize his pet, and as a result, allowed the dog to explore his more aggressive side.

I'll get off my high-horse for now, because mostly, I just wanted to say that Little Stevie is doing just fine. He was sleepy when I picked him up at Trenton Veterinary Hospital yesterday afternoon, but he wagged his little tail at me, which just melted my heart. Glen and I had been worried about whether or not Steve feels any loyalty to us, because Steve is so friendly, that maybe he'd be just as happy with anyone else, and if, god forbid, he disappeared, maybe he wouldn't even miss us, like we would him. But the tail wag said volumes: it let me know that we're worming our way into his little heart too, and I'm glad for that.

By the way, the vet at Trenton Veterinary Hospital is Dr. Peter Batts, and he's fantastic. He's British, and therefore, automatically — right or wrong — reminds me of the author/vet James Herriot, who wrote several (heartwarming AND heartbreaking) semi-autographical stories about his time as a country vet in England. Most vets really do like animals, but Dr. Batts seems especially fond of them; he even told me that Steve was "really cute," and is "such a good boy," which just made me beam with pride. I also admire Dr. Batts because — someone correct me if I'm wrong — he may be one of the only vets, if not THE only vet, left in this city. He's right across from the reservoir on Pennington Avenue, and that gives him some serious cred, in my book.

I need to mention — and am mostly doing so because I have seen it elsewhere on the web, and I do think it's fair — Dr. Batts has an office manager who is a stern German woman. I'm not sure if I mentioned it before, but there is something really compelling to me about a stern office manager, or clerk, or shopkeeper, especially if said manager/clerk/shopkeeper is German (or Sikh, as in the case of the austere owner/manager of Subzi Mandi on Quakerbridge Road, a man I mentioned in a follow-up comment to my post earlier this week about food). In these situations, I have the ability to detach emotionally, and am often amazed and amused by just how far the scowling, judging clerk/manager/owner can go and still keep business coming in. And in the case of the office manager at Trenton Veterinary Hospital, I reckon she has seen some horrific sights, which may explain some of her behavior. Or maybe the harshness might simply be because she's German, you know? Germans are just harsh. And before you give me any crap for that, just know that I am a good deal German, and have been surrounded by them my whole life, and have always been amazed and impressed at just how well they speak their minds, ALWAYS with brutal honesty and eloquence, and often with a really sweet, sing-songy tone. Like the old family friend who told my sister (about me, and my pregnancy), "But she is too old to have a bay-bee." Or the other family friend who sweetly proclaimed that, "Americans need to call ahead when they vant to visit someone else because Americans are very, very messy and need to clean derr houses virst. Not so in Deutschland. Ve are very, very orderly and can drop by venever ve vant." Or Tante Helga, my godmother, and the first wife of my uncle (my mother's eldest brother), who called my father to express her condolences about my mom's sudden death, and to tell him that she "vood be drinking a visky sour in Maggie's honor because me and Maggie had big dreams. Ve had our babies at the same time, me and Maggie." She added – tenderly, I promise — that "perhaps it was for da best that Maggie could not be revived, Mike. She vood have been a TERRIBLE patient."

Anyway, it's because of my experience with Germans that made me think that I could chum it up with Dr. Batts' office manager after a visit or two, but, after yesterday — my third trip in — I have concluded that there will not be any chumminess any time soon, since she appeared to not even recognize me when I came back at 5 to pick up my dog. I mean, how many massively pregnant white chicks with toy-sized dogs named Steve are coming in? My guess: just one. And that would be me. So, I walked in, and said hello, but didn't announce myself, partially because I think it is up to the employee to invite the customer to speak, and also, because she seemed to be doing something that required a bit of her attention, and also, because I (erroneously) thought she would remember me, and just head back for Stevie when she was finished with whatever else she was doing. But it didn't go like that. When she completed her task, she looked up at me, expectantly, demanding I speak with her glowering eyes.

"I'm here to pick up Steve," I said.

"Who?" she said, and this threw me a little bit, because I couldn't imagine any other Steves hanging out in the kennel waiting for a ride home.

But I like to be helpful, so I clarified and said, "Steve. Little guy. Got neutered today?" I knew this would ring a bell.

She looked at me blankly. I know she's not stupid, partially because she's German, and every German I've ever met has been really smart, and also, because there's no way a dummy could have been running that doctor's office for all these years. So my guess is that she's a sadist. And she said, with a blank expression, which I suspect she perfected decades ago, "...and you are?" She even made me spell my last name for her before she took action, but fortunately Dr. Batts and his vet tech overheard this exchange and knew right away who I was, and who Steve was, and retrieved him from the back for me, which is when Steve wagged his sleepy tail at me and Dr. Batts praised my dog, and all of that stern German business fell away.

I sat my sleepy puppy down on a blankie on the passenger side seat, and headed home in a direction I thought would get me there more quickly; but at the precise moment Steve slithered over onto my lap, I made a wrong turn and wound up on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. I just wanted to say that while I am not a criminal — not even part time — and therefore don't attract that sort of element to my life — MLK Boulevard just didn't seem THAT bad. I felt uneasy, but maybe only because people talk so much about it, and the big drug busts and shootings and prostitution that goes on there? At 5:15 on a Thursday afternoon in the summer, it's just a street in North Trenton, and one that doesn't even look as bad as some less notorious streets in East Trenton. At least it would appear to be the case yesterday. I'm not a dope: I KNOW what happens on MLK Boulevard, and so much of it is bad, and I hope we see some changes in our government soon, so that maybe the really rough pockets of our city get some more attention, and can get cleaned up. And at the same time, I think more residents in this city need to speak up against the bad press and stereotyping; not to the detriment to our safety, of course, since obviously Trenton's MLK Boulevard (sadly, like every other MLK Blvd. across the country) sees some seriously bad shit, but we all know that there are plenty of good people who live on that street too. We need to find balance, which might be the first step in reclaiming the city for the non-knuckleheads. Maybe?

Anyway, I got Steve home, where he expressed his gratitude and glee, and wobbled around for a bit, and eventually settled on the rug in the kitchen. When he woke up, he proceeded to dominate Simon, my very sweet cat, who may — possibly? — think Steve is just trying to cuddle. Steve fell down a few more times before going out to pee, and once out of our sight, managed to gobble up a pile of cat shit, shit belonging to a stray cat. And then he wanted to give kisses, once back inside. That did not fly.

One of Steve's favorite toys. And maybe his motto. Steve's cat-love is not pure, though. It's dirty, and it makes me uncomfortable.

Today, he doesn't have boundless energy per usual, but he's still all over Simon, who still doesn't seem to mind; he has dug two of Glen's socks out of the laundry; and spent some time head circling, following the blade of the fan in my office, periodically snapping at it. So, he's going to be fine, sans testicles; we may not even see a difference in his personality. And even though there can never be another Steve now, that might not be the worst thing in the world, either. He is a special, one-of-a kind, shit-eating, cat-humping, fan-biting freak. And he's all ours.