Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Glen, Matty, and I joined a group of about 20 street walkers last night. The group included Police Director Irving Bradley (who gushed over Matty, which wins him points with me), Community Affairs officer, Detective Bob Russo, a few other policemen, a representative from Inspections, at-large councilman and mayoral hopeful Manny Segura, a large contingent of Villa Park Civic Association members, and us. The original plan was for the director to walk through Villa Park and listen to residents' concerns about problem areas, as a kick-off to the formation of the Villa Park Neighborhood Watch program. We bundled up and joined the group, hoping to convince the Police Director to walk through our streets in the near future. We are not exactly part of Villa Park, nor are we part of Wilbur, though we've been called both. Realtors will say that homes for sale here are in quiet and lovely Villa Park; reporters will say that the violence up the street took place in the crime-ridden Wilbur section. Neither is correct. But I suppose, neither is totally wrong either. We are a neighborhood without an identity.

But maybe that's okay. Last night, we were totally surprised and energized that the members of the Villa Park Civic Association, as well as the police representatives on hand, were including our street and a couple others on our side of Hamilton Avenue, in the walk last night. So, like members of the Villa Park group, we pointed out the recurring nightmares on our block, and everyone got to see a pile of tires dumped in the alley. And, was nice to do the "East Ward Holiday House Tour," as many houses were beautifully decorated, everywhere we walked. Equally, it was interesting to hear what the folks from Villa Park were saying about our side of the tracks. We have more uniform homes here, resulting in a more cohesive-looking street. Our houses have a bit of front lawn. Larger porches. More trees. And, with the Christmas lights lighting some homes, I live on a pretty street. As long as the thugs stay inside.

Detective Russo urged us to see our neighborhood as part of Villa Park, and I believe the members of the VPCA are happy to have us. However, the desire to branch out on one's own, or to form yet another group, is so strong in Trenton. We all think our way is the only way, our problems and concerns are unique to the specific area in which we live, and we don't always play nice with others. It's a struggle for me, too. I have an ego and opinions, just like everyone else; and really, a designated group for our neighborhood would not be a terrible idea. But I can't get behind that after being made to feel so welcome last night. We ARE more like Villa Park than Wilbur. There's a perfectly good wheel, right across Hamilton Avenue, a wheel that's very willing to ride down my street. Why should I reinvent it?

We got in late last night. I heated up some cider, and we drank it in front of our tree, while Matty played with a kiddy tool bench, which was an early Christmas gift from one of Glen's coworkers. I checked my email and read we now have at least 9 people, to date, interested in running for mayor next year. It gave me a headache. Several of the hopefuls are already aligned politically, and have the same or similar positions on the issues. Some ran in 2006, and lost handily, and maybe their money could be better spent another way. I'm not trying to ruin anyone's dream of ruling our city, but COME ON. Why is ego so strong in Trenton? Based on what we saw in the South Ward's special election last month, I can only imagine what chaos will happen in the ward and at-large races, since it seems all seats will be open. On one hand, I find the show here in Trenton to be hugely entertaining. We could (and should) have our own reality TV show. But after awhile, the entertainment in Trenton, like reality TV, makes my brain and soul atrophy, and it might be doing the same to everyone else's. My bet, though, is that most people don't realize it. Why can't we work together and put ego aside and be functional little cogs in the machinery? I mean, it's OBVIOUS the machinery that is Trenton is broken; we NEED cogs; but the machinery will remain broken if everyone wants to be the boss.

The deadline for the paperwork expressing intent to run for office is still a few weeks away. If you love your city, you do not need to run for office! It's my hope that some folks will come to their senses and not submit that paperwork. What am I smoking, you ask? I know. I know. I'm a dreamer. Unfortunately, I suspect more people are going to crawl out of the woodwork and run. How annoying. And how wasteful.


An aside, maybe the attitude of "my way is better" is infused by our very system of elections, which are in May, which is permitted under election law, though many municipalities choose to have their elections in November, along with the general election. It costs more to have elections in May, and in a city already strapped for cash, does that make sense? We already have the machines here in November for the general election, so wouldn't be more prudent to just move our municipal elections to the same time? That might increase voter turn-out as well, and eliminate the need for run-off elections — and a return of the bulky election machines — in the spring.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Palmjob

Doug Palmer announced today that he would not seek a sixth term. He also said he had a lot of work to do, so he can hand the new mayor a better Trenton than the one he received in 1990.

The Trenton Palmer received way back when had problems, but crime was not as high, and businesses were still open, and gangs were not an issue. There were more people here in 1990, and most adults were gainfully employed. The schools, too, had their problems, but today, almost all of the Trenton schools are a failure.

Palmer has a lot of work to do in the next seven months, indeed.


Glen and I met George in front of the War Memorial, on a stinking hot day in the early summer of 2005. He told us he used to live on Division Street, not too far from where I once lived, after I graduated college. George had just moved out, he said, because Trenton "turned a corner, and was too far gone." Glen and I had bought a house near the high school only a few months prior to this man's proclamation, and it was just too soon to hear that the city in which we bought our home was "too far gone." Surely, Trenton would improve, or at least hang tight, if people didn't leave, if people fought harder. We were new and fresh to the city, and we were ready to work for what was right.

I believe the failures in this city are, in part, a result of the good people giving up too soon. However, we elect leaders to inspire, to show us the way. Trenton faces terrible enemies now: gangs, poverty, crime, and overall decay. Had Doug Palmer infused the people of Trenton with courage and confidence, people wouldn't be retreating. We wouldn't be sinking further into despair and ruin.

During the mid- to late-90s, after Doug Palmer had settled into his tenure, our nation began to enjoy an economic upturn. But business — except for the drug trade — steadily declined here, counter to the national trends. When he took office, he had a grand vision for the city's youth, and I wonder about those kids born in the late 1980s and early 1990s, who grew up only knowing Palmer as the mayor, the mayor with a vision for their future. Those kids now, in a perfect world, should be entering college, getting their first jobs. Precious few of them are, but that's in spite of, and not because of, any Palmer contributions to their future. He appoints the school board, so he is accountable for Trenton's dismal drop-out record; he is to blame, in a big sense, that so few city kids go on to college, and choose a dangerous life of crime instead. The reality in Trenton's schools does not reflect the trend in New Jersey, where most municipalities enjoy high graduation rates; most New Jersey municipalities proudly see many of their high school seniors off to college.

We bought a house in between what we thought was the safe Villa Park, and the edgy Wilbur. In 2004, many houses over here were getting renovated. Our street was repaved. Not long after that, new trees were planted a few blocks away on Olden Avenue. The stage was set for a rebirth, it seemed. In 2005, though, the drug dealers set up shop on our corner, and operated seemingly without consequences. It infuriated me to watch people inject heroin into their veins right outside my dining room window, to chase the dealers off my steps, to feel the burn of embarrassment when people came to visit. They thought the same thing George did, that Trenton was too far gone. I knew they were thinking, "I told you so." It ate me alive. I hate to be wrong.

My husband is Canadian, and we bring goodies unique to Trenton to his family with each trip north; we take his family and friends to the colorful local restaurants when they visit. Those establishments started closing shop, most recently, Pete's Steak House. A guy was shot and killed down the street in 2005; Glen saw him die from our living room window. Glen's car was t-boned by a guy with no insurance. Two more murders occurred within feet of our home the summer of 2008. The young kids, instead of getting legitimate summer jobs, became look-outs for the drug dealers, and would drive around on illegal off-road vehicles to keep track of the location of the police. The city council president (and now, official mayor-wannabe) Paul Pintella, called us, and people like us, Johnny-Come-Latelies: to him, we were too new to have an opinion that mattered. We were insulted by a local columnist for being white; for disagreeing with the status quo in our city.

This does not happen to other people we know.

We endured terrible personal losses while living here, and planted flowers and decorated walls in memory of those we loved and lost. We put a patio in, and some new trees and shrubs, and continue with other renovations around the house as time and money permit. The drug dealers have become more discreet. We try to improve the lives of the local stray cats. We got to know our neighbors. We cook some fabulous meals. We have a baby boy.

This is our home. We dug our heels in. There is, I think, hope.

It's been four years since we talked to George, the guy who moved away from Division Street, but his words are never far from my mind. I thought about him when I saw an unruly bunch of long t-shirt wearing knuckleheads creating a ruckus on a porch up the street not too long ago. I thought about him the day nearly all of my majestic bearded irises bloomed at once, after years of waiting. I think about George, in fact, every single time there's a significant event here, good or bad. He's either right or wrong, depending.

And what is happening here? There are battles won and lost every day here. Palmer, like George, has left the city long ago; he stopped fighting; he stopped inspiring his people. I hold Mayor Palmer responsible the for the departure of Trenton's once-thriving businesses, for the increase in violent crime, for the demise of historic buildings. Two decades is a long time to rule, without a single notable accomplishment; but I admit that pointing out the guilty party will not rectify what's wrong. We need to start focusing on the future, and coming up with strategy for winning the war. For that to happen, we need to bring in someone who isn't afraid to roll up his or her sleeves and get to work.

We can do it. History is vast, and people are resilient.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Congratulations, George

I don't live in the South Ward, but know a few folks there, so I thought I had some idea about their politics. I hoped common sense would prevail and Paul Harris would not be elected, and that indeed came to pass, so I guess I know a bit about the tone of the ward.

I hadn't realized how well George Muschal knew his ward, and I wasn't aware, until after the election, how well he hustled during this short campaign season. It makes sense a former police officer would know the hearts and minds of his neighbors, and would understand how to connect with them. So, I am pleased he took the most votes on Tuesday, and I wish him the best. I hope he kicks some ass, and provides us all with some much needed inspiration. We need it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tolerating Failure

Today is Election Day, and I voted. My polling place is the Hedgepeth Williams school, which is a mere two blocks from my house. I walked over today with Matthew in tow, allowing him to walk for part of our journey, and when he became too distracted by the litter on the sidewalk, I opted to carry him the rest of the way. I always hear kids screaming in there. I can hear the screams from my house when my windows are open. I can hear them screaming right now. Because I'm a relatively positive person, I'll say that it sounds like there's a permanent pep rally happening in that school, but if I were a negative person, I could easily say that it sounds like bedlam.

The grounds are often strewn with the aforementioned toddler-distracting litter, and in the later months of the year, dead leaves. A couple of weeks ago, I watched a couple of kids throwing rocks at the windows along the Gladstone side of the building. I stopped the car and rolled down the windows, unsure of what I was going to say to the little punks, but they ran off before I made a fool of myself, and I hoped for the next few days that they didn't know where I live, lest my windows become their next target. The sign for the employee lot is on the ground, and the building is usually decorated in one spot or another with graffiti. On my way home, an elderly woman asked me if this was our voting spot, and I said yes. She asked me where the entrance was, and told her that it was on the Olden Avenue side of the building, and that there was a flag hanging on the fence near the door. I wanted to mention the graffiti, but I figured the flag was description enough.

You'd think that school officials could slap a bit of brown paint on the door to cover the graffiti, at least on Election Day, when the school should be saying, "we take the honor of being the area's polling station seriously, and we want you, the community, to admire us, and feel safe within this building." Alas, that is not the case here at Hedgepeth-Williams. I'm thinking about going over on Saturday morning and taking care of the graffiti myself.

When I got home, I grabbed Steve, and the three of us had a bite to eat and then a walk in the park; it's a beautiful autumn day. But I couldn't stop thinking about that school. We don't make a lot of money and I have no freakin' idea how we'll get Matthew educated, but he's not going to that school, even though it's two blocks from my house, and has an impressive history. That makes me sad. In the 1940s, two mothers in my neighborhood, Gladys Hedgepeth and Berline Williams, took action against the Trenton Board of Education because their children were not permitted to attend that school, then known as Junior #2 (some locals still call it that), simply because they were black. The Hedgepeth-Williams case was the precursor — by 10 years! — to the Brown v the Board of Ed case which outlawed racial segregation. So, the school should be an immense source of pride for Trenton, but instead, the school has slipped into academic embarrassment and is an eyesore. It's not all Mayor Doug Palmer's fault, but he appointed the school board, and he's been running (if you can call it that) Trenton for nearly 20 years, which is ample time to make the place shine.

I'm not one of those white parents of previous generations who chose to send her kid elsewhere simply because there were black kids in the school. I don't want to send my child to a school that is a complete failure. The Times of Trenton's Meir Rinde reported back in February that one of the state's lowest scoring middle schools was the Hedgepeth-Williams school, with proficiency in language somewhere around the 50% mark, and math around 40%. Egads. All the kids at one of Hamilton's schools passed the same test, just to put this in perspective. The fact that my kid and I are white makes me feel icky about my "I won't send my kid to that school" proclamation. Still, I'm not going to send my kid to a school that has no expectations, and I won't send him off to a place where failure is perfectly okay, if not outright celebrated (which seems to be commonplace here in Trenton). Maybe if I bitch enough — and in the off-chance, I'm joined by other local parents who find the current conditions at Junior #2 to be an insult the legacies of Mrs. Hedgepeth and Mrs. Williams, and, simply, an unacceptable environment for children — conditions will improve. We've got a few years before Matthew is school-aged, but I'm not sure if that is enough time to turn that school around.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why I love Trenton

Some things in Trenton are way cooler than other things. Many of my neighbors are not so cool. Trenton politics are not so cool. But, where else can you hit the Villa Park Halloween Parade, grab some lunch at Pete's Steak House, and on the way home, witness the take-down of a heavily tattooed man wearing nothing but a loincloth held up by suspenders? Why, that would be no where else but Trenton!

The parade was fun, and Pete's is always a treat, but I admit, the coolest thing I've seen in awhile is the mostly naked guy getting arrested on one of the busiest streets in the city, around 2 in the afternoon on a Saturday. I'm disappointed that I was unprepared to get the full frontal shot of this guy, but I'm pleased that once I recognized my good fortune, my photo-taking reflexes kicked in immediately to get the shot, below. Call me simple, but the experience has made my week, and has even made me less angry about the knuckleheads up the street. At least for now.

I know you can't get this kind of fun where you live, so, please, live vicariously through me. Enjoy.

The 400 block of Hamilton Avenue, Saturday, October 31, 2009.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Inspiring leaders

I watched Newark Mayor Cory Booker kiss and make up with late night talk show host Conan O'Brien last night, after they spent the better part of recent days trading insults. It started, not surprisingly, with Conan mocking Newark. Newark, and the other New Jersey cities, and, come to think of it, the whole damn state, are often the punchlines to many jokes, and usually, I don't care much because there are 8 million of us jammed into the little telephone booth of a state, and it's because this place is great. It's where everyone wants to be. The way I figure, those on the outside looking in are just jealous.

Sometimes, though, there are morsels of truth in teasing. Newark, like other New Jersey cities, are gritty and suffering. But occasionally, special leaders come along and give everything to improve the lives of those they represent, and they work to honor a place's history. Conan, I'll bet, saw that quality in Mayor Booker, and it moved him. It moved him enough to donate $50,000 of his own money to Booker's Newark Now initiative, and the talk show host was able to get NBC to match that donation, sending Booker home with $100,000. Newark Now helps to provide Newark residents with skills, tools, and support to transform their neighborhoods.

I admit, I once accused Booker of being a big baby because former hockey announcer, Barry Melrose, warned visitors to the Devils' arena of the dangers of Newark, and it sent Booker into a tizzy. What I didn't know is that Melrose had never even BEEN to Newark. When he made it to the city, Melrose was fed and watered and shown about, and he apologized. Although, in my experience, Canadians — and Melrose is Canadian — are very quick to apologize. But I think he, at least, did it publicly.

I think if Trenton had a leader willing to freak the hell out at all of the criticism coming from outside our city, we'd be in much better shape. Instead, our mayor poses for Esquire, and makes cameo appearances in Tyler Perry productions, and buries his face in the buttocks of the Clintons. It's all about Doug, and never about Trenton. You're planning to run again, aren't you Doug? Your big ticket appointments have not been realized, Doug, and somehow, we still have some meat on our bones. Please stop using us, Doug. Please. For all that is good and right.

Why was it an ordinary citizen who delivered the Trenton care package to the jackass who wrote the nasty letter to the editor about our city? Why is it ordinary citizens who tout the city's strengths (and, okay, the weaknesses, too) with their blogs and Twitter accounts? Why are the residents organizing the rallies and vigils?

I'm not looking for the government to do everything for me, but I am looking for my leaders to inspire. That's not happening in Trenton. Doug needs to go.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A quick note to Bill

Dear Mr. Clinton,

I like you, and I reflect back on your years in office as good times in my life. But I can't understand why you've been chumming around with my mayor, Doug Palmer. He supported your wife during her presidential bid, and I can see how that may leave you with an obligatory affection for him. But he was unable to deliver his city's vote to Mrs. Clinton, and I'm quite sure it's because he's so disconnected from the people he's supposed to be serving that he is no longer able to inspire.

He has an adversarial relationship with many of us, and the rest of his constituents are lured to the voting booths with promises of gift cards and fast food if they cast a vote for him.

And yet, he's asked you here to support his green initiative, which is, if not a full-blown sham, way-too-little-too-freakin'-late for him. Sure, Trenton could green up, but it will not happen under Palmer, even though he's been yapping his fool head about the idea to the US Conference of Mayors for the last few years. He's all talk. And back at home, his actions are petty and the backstabbing variety. Speaking of green, he did away with City Hall's recycling program because the guy who headed it up ran against him in 2006. And, oh yeah, then Palmer saw to it that the same guy got fired a short time later.

He's a charismatic man, and he can talk a mean green line, most notably with the "Live Where You Work" campaign, but Palmer, an elected official does not live where he works. Did you live in France while president of the US? No. Because that would be stupid. And wrong. Compounding that lack of green is the shocking amount of waste that gets him back and forth from his Hunterdon County estate to Trenton. He has two drivers, police detectives, actually, earning police detectives' salaries. The car is city-owned and city-fueled. There is a paid police dispatch in front of his abandoned Trenton home. Did I mention that Trenton is a fiscal mess? Did you know he gave himself and his top pals a big raise earlier this year?

Trenton faces the highest urban unemployment rate in New Jersey — higher than Camden, Paterson, and Newark — and has a dense population of unskilled, uneducated workers, a group Palmer brought to the city en masse. I have nothing against the poor; their conditions are heartbreaking. But while Palmer was trading low income housing for quick, suburban cash, Trenton's businesses left. The schools fell apart, both physically and academically, making it nearly impossible for the city's massive poor population to improve their lives. So much of this happened while you were in office, and the rest of the country was booming.

Palmer has missed the boat on every federal or state appointment/endorsement he wanted, but it wasn't for lack of pimping himself. I believe most good politicians look at someone like Doug, then the state of his city, scratch their heads, and decide to call Cory Booker, or some other functioning urban mayor, instead.

I believe in your heart, you are a compassionate, humanitarian sort, and if you have a few minutes next week while you're in town getting adored by our mayor-in-name-only, please take a drive around some of the Marriott's surrounding neighborhoods. I suggest Passaic or Spring Street. Or, head toward Olden on Calhoun. All of Trenton is not like that, I promise, but there are other similar, shattered neighborhoods and compromised lives all over this city. It's unfathomable. It's unacceptable. And, to be fair, it's not 100% Doug's fault, but he dug the graves for so many of Trenton's once flourishing neighborhoods, and you know what? He was too busy trying to impress your wife or make nice with our governor to even attend the funerals.

I hope you get to see some of the other side of Trenton while you're in town. I bet it boggles your mind to be confronted by some of the ruins of Trenton, ruins that stink of the Third World. In the state capital! In New Jersey!

Please do not associate with our mayor. He's just going to use your visit as a way to impress the large amount of people in this city with voter cards, but without the resources to buy a newspaper to learn about what's happening here. To them. And, under Palmer's watch, the public libraries almost fell apart, and now hours and resources have been cut, making it more difficult for the city's poor to get online. Palmer is charming and dangerous, like a snake, and you need to know that.

I'm not saying don't visit Trenton. We'd love to see you. Instead of hanging with Doug, please consider visiting one of the many groups here who actually works with, and cares about, the city's poor. Not that I'm opposed to a green initative, but since it's coming from Doug, I'd rather see your time and efforts in this city actually count for something.

Christine Ott

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Patricia Stewart for South Ward

I live in the East Ward, and therefore, my opinions on the goings on of the South Ward may seem irrelevant. No matter. I'm going to offer them anyway: there are only three serious contenders for the council seat vacated by Jim Coston.

Paul Harris
In the world outside of Trenton, Paul Harris would not be a serious contender for the open council seat in his ward, but this IS Trenton, where things do not always, or often, make sense. He's received some important endorsements, and to his credit, Paul has an ability to communicate well, and I admire his persistence. He is clearly the most interesting and complicated candidate, which — I'll say this up front — is by no means an endorsement, even if I use more words and space to explain him.

A few weeks ago, someone — not Carlos Avila, who is running against Paul Harris for the open council seat — logged onto the Trentonian's comment section on their website, posed as Carlos Avila, and made some racist comments. Oddly, The Trentonian, considering the plethora of shockingly depraved comments that go unchecked every day, traced the IP address. It was discovered that the comments made by El Carlos Falso came from Paul Harris's computer. Paul quickly blamed his campaign worker, much the same way Ashley Simpson did a jig and blamed her band after her botched Saturday Night Live performance a few years ago. Of course, I think Paul's story — like Ashley's — is fishy. Campaign worker? Who was immediately dismissed? My ASS. I'm not terribly surprised, because Paul has also engaged in questionable antics on the TrentonSpeaks website, namely, posting, and then deleting, a load of inflammatory commentary he posted himself.

I'm not dismissing Paul's — err, his campaign worker's — behavior, because posing as your rival and posting racist comments is pretty deplorable, but I can't get totally lathered up about this, because the comment section of the Trentonian's website is a total cesspool of racism, sexism, and pure, undirected hatred, with the bulk of the regulars having, at most, a second grade education. Whoever thought the comment section of any online news outlet would be an area of intelligent debate must be bitterly disappointed, because no one with half a brain could take anything said on any of those sites seriously, and remember, we're talking about the Trentonian. I mean, this is the same paper with the hate-filled "Back Talk" column, the Page Six Whore, and (in my opinion) a racist, albeit award-winning columnist. Besides, there are probably 100 people a day who should be arrested for what they write on the Trentonian's site, with people posing as other people ALL THE DAMN TIME, because of the free-for-all way the geniuses at The Trentonian decided to run their comment section. Frankly, it makes no sense to me they'd trace the IP address of some obviously idiotic political comments, when there's probably not a single registered voter (or anyone else) who takes that drivel seriously. Still, shame on Paul.

If I put this incident aside, which is difficult, I see an underdog — a newcomer who rents — who seems to care about the city's biggest problems. He seems absolutely intolerant of crime and quality of life issues, and that impresses me. He's intelligent, well-spoken, and also immature, kind of emotionally disengaged from the other humans, and completely in love with his own reflection (make sure you get your collar up perfectly, Paul).

Paul Harris and council president Paul Pintella have a contentious history. Despite this, I see Harris as part of the same-old, same-old crew, which Pintella belongs to, too. He's too easily wooed by those with power and money, and that's just kinda yucky.

Despite all of this, if Paul wins, I wouldn't be THAT upset. After all, the position is for just for a few months. Maybe, he'll prove me wrong, which would be ideal. But mostly, if Paul wins, I'm hoping for some epic feuds between him and the Idiot Prince Pintella. If that's not a reason to attend council meetings regularly, I don't know what is.

Carlos Avila
In American congressional history, 7 women in the Senate and 35 in the House have assumed their seats through the deaths of their husbands. This trend is called the Widow's Mandate, and has also occurred in other areas of politics. But what happens if the politician is only dead to us, and is moving, along with his living wife, to Waco, Texas, and the intended successor is a dude? Well, then, Carlos Avila is appointed to finish the term! At least, that's what could have happened in the South Ward had The People not freaked the hell out. An appointment is less than ideal, but historically, those appointed to the unexpired term do no harm, since presumably, they share attitudes and philosophies with the elected-but-now-gone. I don't see it as an affront to American democracy, even if the practice of an appointment is a bit old-fashioned. It doesn't bother me one bit that Jim Coston, prior to his departure, wanted Carlos to finish the last few months of his term; it IS just a few months, after all; and while it boggles my mind that Coston couldn't have just hung on until May, what's done is done. Jim, one of the only members of council with a consistent backbone and brain, trusted Carlos enough to suggest he continue his good work, and maybe it's stupid or unamerican for me to admit this, but the Widow's Mandate-style appointment of Carlos really was good enough for me. But now that there's an election looming, and I've had a chance to get to know a bit more about Carlos, I still can't complain. He is young, and maybe naïve, and his expectations might be a bit off-base for what the position actually entails, I do think he's more than capable of finishing Coston's term and serving his ward effectively. This will allow him to find his own footing so that he could run for a full term in the near future. This is a great opportunity for Carlos, and it could be good for the South Ward, as well.

Patricia Stewart
If one of the two guys above wins the South Ward seat, honestly, I can't be too upset because I think The Paul Show will be "must-see," and I think Carlos will do his very best. And the position is just for a few months. And I don't live in the South Ward, anyway. There's another election in May, so if whoever wins blows it — or not! — we will have to endure all of this crap again (thanks, Jim!). In the best case scenario, it makes the most sense to get someone in that seat who knows the ropes, who isn't full of ego, or horseshit, to help get this city back on track, and right away, because Trenton is a disaster, thanks to years of mismanagement and neglect. Pat Stewart, a long-time resident of the city, successful career woman, and community activist, has the right blend of experience, toughness, insight, and love of Trenton, to finish out Coston's term, and hopefully, she can go on to win a full-term seat of her own in May. She isn't a politician, yet her years of attending council meetings and appointments on various boards have taught her how the system works. She often does not agree with the Powers-That-Be, but she seems to have a good working relationship with that entity, and everyone else in the city. She's able to do that without making the mistake of trying to please everyone: she's simply respectful and dignified. If you have a question about Trenton, Pat can either answer it or direct you to the person who can. She has the smarts to know the important issues facing Trenton and her ward, and the ability to get us back on track. I love her no bullshit attitude, and the fact that she's willing and capable of putting aside her own opinions to better represent the whole. She is not running to launch a career in politics: she has seen what those sorts of people have done to the city, and I hope she can clean up their mess.

An aside, but an important one: Pat lost her husband too soon, forcing her to raise her son in Trenton alone. Not only has Pat been able to manage single motherhood and a career in city where many can't handle just one of those things, she excelled at it. And her success in raising her son is an inspiration to me, as a mother of a little boy in a tough city, myself. Nick has grown into a fine man, and it's because Pat has her head on straight, and is able to navigate through adversity. Her ability to prioritize shows that she's more than capable of holding a council seat to help our city through this adverse period. Besides, Pat Stewart knows the mayor, but if her son, Nick, were pulled over by the police, I'd bet good money he wouldn't call his mom at the scene to bail him out, and I'd bet even more, she wouldn't show up and berate the officers. And, that's the way it should be.

Trenton needs Pat Stewart.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Some compare and contrast

Okay, I admit it. I've pretty much jumped on the "Cory Booker is Great" train. Cory Booker, Newark's visionary mayor, looks especially appealing to me, a Trenton resident, who is enduring one of lamest mayors in recent history. So, Booker can't help but look good. But I don't want to take away from his awesomeness, either. He would still rock the house, even if he weren't standing next to the steamy, stinky pile of poo that is Trenton's mayor, Doug Palmer.

I'm not really the gushy sort, and because I tend to write about the goings on in Trenton, and some of the dysfunction in my life, I will use the Booker inspiration to illustrate just how thoroughly lame my mayor, Doug Palmer, is.

Booker vs Palmer on salary
First, since both cities, Newark and Trenton, are facing horrible financial woes, let's look at salaries. Booker took office in 2006, after years of mismanagement, and during an economic downturn; he inherited a mess. And he did the right thing: former Newark mayor, Sharpe James, was making about $200,000; Booker reduced his salary TWICE since taking office, and is now making in the ballpark of $130,000. Newark's population is approximately 280,000.

Doug Palmer, who took office in 1990, and had a starring role in the economic gutting of the capital city, presides over 80,000. That's 200,000 people LESS than in Newark. Earlier this year, he railroaded city council to approve raises for himself and other top (and extraneous) administrators. He gave himself a $13,000 raise in the shittiest economic climate in recent memory, from $126,000 to $139,000 a year.

Just to put this in perspective, state law allows the governor of New Jersey to make a maximum of $175,000. Governor Jon Corzine accepts a token salary of $1 a year.

Booker vs Palmer on executive waste
Booker has 16 members in his executive cabinet. None of them have received pay increases since Booker took office in 2006. In fact, Booker implemented a 2% pay cut for managers and directors currently earning more than $100,000 a year. Booker slashed the city budget deficit from $180 million to $73 million.

Because of a lack of transparency, or a lack of vision, or both, it's very difficult for the general public to figure out how many people are in Palmer's executive cabinet, but it is as least as large as Newark's, again, a city with 200,000 more people than Trenton. Palmer saw to it that his top cronies received a 10% pay RAISE earlier this year. Citizens, by the way, have filed suit against Palmer for these pay increases for himself and his staff. If the citizens win, Palmer and friends will be forced to repay more than $460,000 to the city, which can help, if even a wee bit, to plug a $20 million budget shortfall in the city.

Booker vs. Palmer on commitment to their cities
Booker lives in Newark. In fact, for awhile, he lived in a neighborhood that's been described as a drug-and-gang-plagued neighborhood of boarded up houses; that building has since been demolished. I mention it, because Booker could live anywhere in the city, but instead chose a horrible neighborhood, to make a point: neighborhoods like that should not exist; people should not have to live in those conditions; things should never get so bad. Palmer owns a home in the safe Hiltonia neighborhood of Trenton, and is occasionally seen there. But he also owns a home in Hunterdon County where he is rumored to spend much of his time. Palmer does not feel strongly about residency since he involved himself in the losing side of a lawsuit against him and his crony, former Trenton Police Director, Joseph Santiago. Santiago, by the way, also worked for former Newark mayor, Sharpe James; James is now in federal prison in Virginia serving a 2-year-and-then-some sentence on corruption charges.

Booker has regular office hours for citizens to drop in and discuss their concerns. He has round-the-clock meetings and appointments, and attends many of the social functions held in Newark. Has anyone seen Doug, even on East State Street, lately?

Booker vs. Palmer on crime
During Trenton's Santiago years, we heard the mantra "Crime is Down," with little evidence to back that up. And the reality on the streets was very different from the administrative line. Gangs dug their heels in; citizens were beaten and robbed for as little as $5 and a sandwich; violent crime — at least in some areas of the city — has not gone decreased. A girl was murdered this summer at an anti-violence rally, while Doug Palmer was likely at home, in Hunterdon County.

Cory Booker's main goal as mayor was to reduce crime in his city, and in his three years, has made major improvements. As of July 2009, murder is down 42%, and other violent crimes have dropped dramatically as well. Booker shows up at crime scenes; Booker talks to the grieving families; he attends the vigils. Booker has organized late night strolls through his city's toughest streets with bands of citizens to send a clear message to the criminal element that their antisocial behavior is not appreciated. He rides with the police during the overnight shifts.

Booker vs. Palmer on reputation
Recently, some lame-o wrote a letter to the editor to the Trenton's Star Ledger office about how horrible Trenton is, and in response many Trenton residents got pissed off (Miss Karen, of, by the way, wrote so well about the incident). Like Karen said, the truth is always murkier, than what opposing sides say. There are some totally shit things about Trenton; if it were all rainbows and lollipops, I sure as hell would find something better to do with my time than bitch so much. I think. But there are some great things too; some wonderful people. Some of them are well-known, and some of them are not. There is beautiful architecture, and lovely gardens, and despite the persistent rumors, so many delicious places to eat. There are fantastic activities all over the city, all the time, due to the very hard work of just a few people. And, knock wood, despite the prevailing thought that Trenton is just a violent cesspool, I have never experienced bodily injury, and I live in what many folks consider to be the Wilbur section. I haven't even experienced much in the way of property crimes. When things are good over here, it's downright suburban. But sometimes it's not so suburban, and the amount of work to maintain some level of normalcy is just infuriating. If I were slightly less stable than I am, I could possibly justify taking out a few of my neighbors for the betterment of the neighborhood, and sleep well at night. But I'm not THAT crazy. Yet.

My complicated relationship with the city aside, there have been many, many opportunities for development to succeed here. We're in such a great spot, you know? I'm not saying that every business venture in Trenton has been a failure, but one cannot objectively look at this place and call it booming. There has been a lot of dismal failure. A lot of bad planning.

On the flip side, developers are starting to knock on Cory Booker's door. Newark is receiving philanthropy money. That's not to say that the same isn't happening in Trenton, but it's not happening on the same scale; there are so many obstacles to success here.

As far as mayors' reputations go...
Cory Booker has made it clear that his commitment is to Newark. President Barack Obama had expressed interest in Booker joining his team in Washington; Governor Corzine ask Booker to run this year as his Lt. Governor. Booker is staying in Newark, and said he'll run for his seat again in 2010, because his work in Newark isn't done.

Douglas Palmer, a career politician of the self-serving kind, has been trying to get the attention of bigger politicians for a long time, and, by and large, he's been passed over for any of the important jobs.

Booker vs. Palmer on politics
Booker, certainly a "Johnny-Come-Lately" (meaning "not born here") to local politics and Newark at the time, first ran against Sharpe James in 2002. Among other things, Booker was said to be "not black enough" to understand the city.

Here in Trenton, the newcomers are called "Johnny-Come-Lately," and their thoughts and opinions are summarily dismissed by the current administration. Palmer refers to his critics as "haters."

I've only skimmed the surface. But the other bloggers have done a more thorough job detailing the mess that Trenton's in, so be sure to check out some of the links on the right. Between my skimjob and the more thorough reports, suffice it to say, Trenton needs its Johnnies-Come-Latelies and haters. Cory Booker, a JCL and hater in his own town, is just one man. One man who has inspired so many. Maybe we can find some of that energy and hope here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


An Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes Albopictus).

I want to extend thanks to the folks at Mercer County Mosquito Control, for their commitment to reducing the numbers of the region's pestiferous Asian Tiger Mosquito. These dedicated government workers have been toiling tirelessly in my neighborhood for the last month or so, even entering our backyards without permission, and leaving gates open when they go to the next property! I've seen more mosquito control agents around here than any other government official, ever! We've had four visits in the last couple of weeks, right here, including one at 3 a.m. this morning, in a really REALLY loud sprayer truck that woke us all up! But I'm not bitching! It's not like I ever get more than two hours of continuous sleep at a time these days anyway! It's mid-September, and these mosquitoes must DIE before our autumn is ruined!

I bet the folks in Hopewell or Princeton don't get this level of attention! But then again, maybe the suburbs don't have the same level of mosquito populations!

So, thanks again, Mosquito Killers! I only wish other government workers had half the dedication you do.*


* For real.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I have no reason to protect anyone, especially the stupid, the insane, and the criminal around me. Well, I suppose I'm protecting myself from them by keeping quiet.

But sometimes a story must be told. I can change some details to protect the guilty, and my own safety.

We do our best to tend the stray cats in our neighborhood, and very recently, we've begun to ask ourselves if we're really helping. We provide reasonably safe haven (Steve enjoys chasing the cats, but he hasn't yet discouraged them entirely), food and water. And when we can, we catch them, and get them fixed up. Occasionally, we find them new homes, and sometimes we sterilize and release. But we're not moving fast enough; we'll never be quicker than their ability to reproduce, and, despite our best efforts, we're probably helping them reproduce, with our cat sanctuary. Even if it is Steve-flavored.

Adding to our mounting frustration is the fact that some people around here are obviously acquiring cats from a shop. These cats are easily recognizable because they tend to be attractive and clean, are not afraid of people, wear collars, and, most maddeningly, have their reproductive organs. These idiot neighbors let their cats roam, and they often roam into our yard, and eat the food we put out for the strays, and MATE WITH THEM.

One of our insane neighbors, K, is also annoyed by the owned domestic cats roaming free, mostly because his yard has become a litterbox. 

Two months ago, K asked to borrow our humane trap so he can do his part to clean up our neighborhood's cat problem. We dragged our feet, because we didn't want to loan the trap to an insane person. A few weeks went by, and we hoped he forgot about his request, and that something else came along to occupy K's attention. He spends a lot of time on the sidewalk, yelling at his girlfriend to wash her genitalia. She yells back at him in the same manner, so we figured the cats would slip his mind.

Then D called me. Every time I see her name on my caller ID, I regret giving her my number. She is one of the insane neighbors too, though she doesn't scream at anyone to wash his or her genitals. While I'd be hard-pressed to call her stupid, I cannot help but question nearly every one of her decisions. She is nice, friendly, and will eat up your entire day if you run into her. You will never get that time back, and you will resent it. And her attitude on animals alarms me. She breeds —without licensure — small dogs, and ones with a known defect, at that. But it's okay, I guess, because she sells them cheap. She's also had her share of cats, and it's only been in the last few years she's had them sterilized. She can point to nearly every stray, and at least one of our indoor cats, and recount the animal's heritage, going back to her first, fertile and prolific cats, some years ago. Damn her.

But she loves her animals, even if that love is wrong. I can't hate D; I feel bad she's so damaged, and I feel worse for the small creatures in her care.

There was a panicked tone in her voice the day she called. "Have you seen M?" she blurted. "I haven't seen her since Thursday, and she's always around!"

I told her I saw M, her cat, at my back porch, eating the strays' food, on Friday, and I saw her again on Saturday, resting under D's car.

M is D's last living cat, and is spayed. She's a nice kitty, too, but it bugs me that she eats our food.

D was relieved that I saw the cat on Saturday, though it was Wednesday, and unlike M to be gone that long. D then launched into a 20 minute story filled with names of people I don't know, and their life stories, which, no offense to them, I just can't care about.

I got off the phone as quickly as possible, and called Glen to ask him to keep an eye out for M. We had noticed several cats go missing lately, including Jagbag, and her mother, Liz the Hussy, and we hadn't seen any of the collared, big-balled males, either.

A few days later, Glen was out front doing some yardwork, and ran into K. Glen mentioned M's disappearance, and asked K if he had seen her.

Now, you would think someone prone to screaming about dirty genitals for the world to hear might not have so many varied activites, and so much time on his hands, but you'd be wrong.

"That fuckin cat's been shittin up my yard for too long," K began. "I told D to keep her cat out of my yard. I told her! But she told me she couldn't help where her cat went."

Oh no.

"So I grabbed the cat, and took her for a ride, and let her go over there." He gestured to another part of town.

In the weeks since K asked to borrow our trap, he had not lost interest in catching cats, as we had hoped. He caught them with his bare hands, is all. Cat noodling, we call it. He bragged to Glen that it was the second time in a few years he had captured M and "relocated" her, but she found her way home the first time.  

I felt sick as Glen recounted the exchange for me. D is a HUGE part of the animal problem, and even though she is good-natured, her choices in life are maddening and have consequences for so many. And, on the flip side, K's frustration with D is understandable. But the cat! It's not her fault her owner is a mongo! 

I was mad at myself for feeling sick. People bag kittens and drown them; shoot them when they've had enough; poison them with antifreeze. If not those things, they claim cat allergies, so they don't have to get involved. What the hell is wrong with me?

K also explained that he was able to capture and relocate several other cats, but it was challenging work. He had good luck with the obvious pets, and the juvenile strays, he told Glen.

Yesterday, to my surprise, I discovered Steve was playing "Swat n Duck" with Jagbag; who had miraculously reappeared yesterday morning. They both played tirelessly, Steve with delight, Jagbag with increasing irritation. I was glad to see her back, even if she is a bird killer. 

I haven't told D that we know why her cat disappeared. I hate knowing, and wish we didn't. It weighs heavy on me. I heard D & K talking outside my window earlier this week; K pretended to help look for the cat in our hedges, and offered suggestions. A guilty conscience, perhaps? Short of hanging "missing cat" signs, D has done just about everything to find M. We're hoping K noticed the heartbreak in D's voice, and finds that damn cat and brings her home. And Jagbag's return gives me hope that maybe M will make it home on her own, too. Maybe.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


When I was a child, I snuck into my mother's china cabinet, and took out the Lenox statuette of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus. My mother was napping on the couch. And, through some bizarre twist of fate, I lost hold of the porcelain form. I'm terribly uncoordinated, but have pretty good reflexes, so I was able to catch it quickly (like those catatonic people in the 1990 Robin Williams/Robert DeNiro flick, Awakenings). But Jesus's porcelain head tapped the table, and popped off, and rolled across the dining room floor. I was young, probably around 8, and gearing up for my first communion. Religion was terrifying to me at that time, and I knew God would smite me, and bad, for breaking off the head of his only begotten son. There was no need to incur the wrath of my mother as well. She was sleeping, so I used that opportunity to glue the head of Baby Jesus back onto his body, which was not so safe in his mother's arms. My mother never found out, though when I looked at the figurine last year after my mom's death, I could clearly see where the glue had yellowed around the neck of the savior.

You'll say I'm ridiculous, but I don't care. The visual of the head of the Baby Jesus traveling across the dark green carpeting of our dining room, has never left me. I see it now as foreshadowing of my broken faith and my heartbreaking road to parenthood.


Matthew turned one a few weeks ago, and buying the chunky 1 candle at the supermarket for his cake was a profound moment for me. It was just a run-of-the-mill wax 1, but I had spent so much time in the previous year marking the anniversaries of sad, miserable days: my mother's death, my dog's death, and, most notably, my daughter, Catherine's, death. So I pulled that candle down from its hook in the baking aisle, and held it in my hand until I checked out, barely believing I had arrived at the one year mark in my little boy's life. The chunky candle was proof, and proof in hand feels so damn good.

I spent the better part of 2007 trying to find my footing again, after Catherine's unexplained passing, and I wrote, and created art, and read everything I could on grief and infant loss, in the hopes of processing everything properly.

In January of 2008, we marked the year that had gone by since we lost Catherine. It was a sad day, but not full of the despair that I had experienced throughout the previous year. There was a sense of confusion over how time could simultaneously stand still and rush forward; confusion over how our lives could be SO different from the year previously. I had been quietly marking each day without Catherine, up to her anniversary, by saying to myself, "One year ago today, she was alive, inside of me." I couldn't say that anymore on January 31, and I had mixed feelings about uttering to myself, "One year ago, she died." It's a significant unit of measure, the year, and in a very basic sense, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I had made it that far. It forced me to try harder to find meaning in Catherine's brief time with us. Finding meaning, I suppose, is what we humans do.

Some people, I suppose, turn to religion. Sometimes their faith is strengthened by tragedy. Not so much by choice, I have never been one of the faithful, and maybe that's the reason I bristle when I hear people say, "It was God's will," or "God had a plan for her," or "God only gives you what you can handle."

On the flip side, I've also recently witnessed friends and family talking about "God's will," and "God's plan" when it comes to a little baby girl, born too early. I am relieved that it looks like she will pull through. People mean well; I know they meant well when they used the God terminology with me, too. And I don't want anyone to experience the loss of a baby; the pain is illogical, and I'm fairly certain, no matter how much time goes by, I will always feel a bit broken, failed. I will always wonder if I could have done something differently, maybe she'd be here, now. That doesn't nag at me the way it used to, but it's always there, under the surface, so when I hear about "God's goodness" in respect to the premature baby, I can't help but feel smote, for a spell, all over again, singled out, as if my lack of faith may be the reason my baby died, at least in the minds of religious people.

Really, I don't believe that's true, and I really don't believe the faithful think that my faithlessness is the reason Catherine died, but I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I think about the headless Lenox Jesus in Mary's arms, and my glue job so many years ago, and how the imagery affects me. Except, perhaps, I'm not holy, and I'm the one who's been glued back together.

But, I think those cracks that make me so vulnerable, also make me stronger, better able to prioritize, and more capable of appreciating life. A few weeks ago, we celebrated Matthew's first birthday. Instead of marking an anniversary of tragedy, in which we have no choice but to find meaning, I was able to simply bake a cake. And, just like so many other people in this world, I planted a fat wax 1 right in the middle of it. It felt so good, so right, to experience something normal. I am grateful.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Texas needs another Baptist minister, and the South Ward needs another candidate??

Texas needed another Baptist minister and the South Ward needed another candidate for its open council seat??

I can't fault former South Ward councilman, Jim Coston, for doing what he felt to be right for his family, career, and his own heart. I don't know him, but I miss him already. There is, however, the critical little voice in my head that says, "Waco needed the guy more than Trenton? Really?! There were just a few months left in his term, for crying out loud!"

That other voice says, "Yeah, but, it's his life, and his decision, and he's faced with the challenge of raising children in a city with a terrible school system, and a lack of resources. And, yeah, perhaps, somehow, Waco needed another minister." 

I try not to judge. Jim Coston wasn't my councilman, anyway. But he was perhaps the only consistently decent member of one of the most dysfunctional and disgraceful government bodies I have ever encountered. And, now, nearly every couple of days in the few weeks Coston's been gone, another one of his constituents decides to run for his abandoned seat. As of today, there are six people vying for Coston's vacancy, including the owner of a bird whose cries, "HELP!" alarmed neighbors last year, and who has, perhaps, foreshadowed the chaos that will certainly ensue on debate night, September 8. By the time the debate comes around, I estimate we'll have at least 10 people running for Coston's seat. HELP is right, little birdie!

You'd think with all of that egotistical, fractured activity, all that lack of ability to team up and find the best person for the South Ward, that I'd be glad to be living on the east side, even if we only have a hollow, begrudging shell of a councilman for the next few months. The truth is, I have mixed feelings about it. Sure, I'd have a very hard time sitting through a debate with upward of 10 — some embarrassingly unqualified — candidates without descending into laughter, or exploding with frustration at the reality of democracy in action in one of the most screwed-up places in the northeast. But, on the flip side, it's rumored my councilman (in name only), Gino Melone, isn't running again, AND it's still early by Trenton election standards, for all of the candidates to come out of the woodwork. But, in bearing witness to the South Ward's enthusiasm for politics, I fear that the East Ward is, at least from this very early stage, lacking the volume of fiesty — if kooky — community activists who all want to serve these neighborhoods. And that makes me sad. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Trenton should not be the way it is, currently. We need a change in leadership, for sure, but we also need a few rocket propelled grenade launchers, and we need them now, on a few select corners around the city. How about Rossell Avenue and Willow? S. Clinton and Beatty? The gas station on the corner of Greenwood and Chambers (you know which one I mean)? And just about any street that crosses Hermitage?

In my vision of a New Trenton, we need those RPG launchers on those corners, and we'd also have a couple of floaters to pass around the city, just to keep the knuckleheadery on its toes. If I could, I'd be filling out the application now for my floater launcher; I'd be happy to mount it on my telescope tripod. The guy in the tricked-out Crown Vic, the one who doesn't even live here, would be SO gone. BLAM! His friend in the neon Monte Carlo — BLAMMO! The guy who is trying to turn my neighborhood into an open-air drug market would become a barbecue pit, where, in my future neighborhood, the good residents could gather round and break bread, in peace. The dudes who think it's okay to play paintball here are gonna get painted crispy: BLAM BLAM BLAM!! I'd have the launcher aimed at the guy who's playing his music so loud that my walls are rattling, so he better turn it down, if he knows what's good for him. And if the crazy guy who lives behind me who screams incoherently at the garbage men on Wednesdays, wakes up my baby one more friggin' time, he's in for a world of pain. BLAM!

Yep, I know, I know, I'm full of great ideas, but alas, I am not running for office. Not to toot my own horn, but we can only hope that 2010's council and mayoral candidates have ideas half as good as mine. 

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Emperor

A year ago, an Ellis Avenue man named El Bey declared his property — where he kept a couple of horses — a sovereign nation. As an autonomous state, Emperor El Bey was exempt from the petty ordinances of Trenton. The Emperor could have reigned quietly for many years, and perhaps even annexed neighboring properties, had the stink of his horses' poo not pissed off his neighbors. It's not like Trenton ordinances are enforced with regularity, anyway.

A couple of years back, Glen and I put some manure down in our garden, and several neighbors bitched, so I can't help but wonder if maybe El Bey's neighbors are simply nature haters? There are a lot of them in Trenton, after all.

There's been little follow-up in the news about the living arrangements of the Emperor's horses, Princess and Pop. So, this morning, Glen and I did a polite drive-by the Ellis Avenue Embassy, and did not immediately see any horses, but we did see evidence of them; the backyard looked like a farmyard. So, I assume he's keeping them on his property — err, nation — because it seems this case is headed to court. Further support for my assumption that he must have the horses in his immediate custody is because earlier this summer, the Emperor, along with his horses, trotted over to the Trenton Free Public Library headquarters on Academy Street, in an attempt to woo library director, Kimberly Matthews. However, Matthews did not swoon and ride off on horseback with El Bey; instead, she notified her security guards to call the police.

El Bey, as far as we know, is still without an empress, Ruling an empire, even if it's just the backyard of a north Trenton duplex, can be lonely business. He is not without an heir, though: according to news reports, he owes child support to three different women.

Child support delinquency is serious business, but I have to thank Emperor for his declaration of sovereignty, and, as long as his horses are well-tended, I kinda hope he'll be allowed keep them. If he wins, I have new plans for my house and property.

Those plans do not involve horses. I always thought girls who were into horses were kinda weird. Rather, I plan to follow El Bey's lead, and create a sovereign nation of my own, on my corner.

I'm formulating my constitution, but will refrain, for now, from sharing it here, in case El Bey's case does not establish a precedent. But if it does, things are gonna change around here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

An urban oasis?

I'm in a bit of a rut. I shouldn't be, but I am. I'm not depressed; my rut is the lack-of-artistic-expression variety, as I adapt to my life with an ever-changing, wonderful little boy, who may be part machine, based on his ability to do so much, with so little sleep. This blog has been a huge creative and therapeutic outlet for me, and I just don't have the time, energy, or focus I once had. Despite that, I keep a file of blog fodder, so when I do have time, energy, or focus, I'll have something to jump on. The problem with that, though, is that once I do have time, circumstances have changed so radically, that whatever story I was going to tell has become something else to digest and make sense of in my head before I can write about it. And some things just don't ever really make sense.

Periodically, I write about yard and gardening stuff, and this summer, so far (knock wood) everyone is healthy, and I'm not busting at the seams with child, and so, I do putz in the yard a bit. I don't putz that much, for the same reason I don't update my blog regularly. So, the yard is a bit grown over, but nothing that a few hours, some basic tools, and some sweat can't fix.

I like to write about yard and gardening stuff because here in Trenton, many folks forgo the great outdoors for driveways, which is too bad, and I hope that maybe some of those nature haters might stumble on this blog, and maybe, MAYBE, become less afraid, but based on my preferred subjects, my entries may have the opposite effect. There's SO much going on, even in my small backyard. There's so much going on, even in your small backyard, even if it's just a driveway. I see that as a really cool thing, but I realize, sadly, not everyone will share my view.

The problem with gardening and yard stuff is that it's part of nature, and as such, can be unpredictable, and friggin' cruel, even without any help from human assholes who fight dogs or beat cats with brooms, without assistance from idiots who pour their motor oil down the sewers. I like to think of our yard as an asshole-free sanctuary: sure, there are pricks, and the occasional dick, plenty of dummies, and certainly some morons who pass through our yard, but most of them are the animal variety. Animals just can't help it.

The start of this season was, if nothing else, interesting in the nature-sense for me. It started off with a couple of stray cats choosing to give birth around our yard; as much as we don't need any more kittens around here, who doesn't love kittens once they're scampering around right in front of you, prancing around after bugs, and stalking their own tails? We even wound up with a couple stupid kittens stuck in our garage (they were quickly reunited with their mom, outside the garage). On the flora side, I was so pleased with the way the sedum and lambs ears were filling in around the rocks. Also, I've been bugging Glen for a couple of years about replacing the eyesore of a chain link fence on the one side of our yard with something that allows for more privacy, and lo and behold, the hydrangeas we planted in 2006 really started to fill in, and presented us with so many vibrant pink snowball flower heads. The hydrangeas are still a foot or so away from the top of the fence, but their growth spurt this year is encouraging; I think I'd rather allow them to grow than install a new fence at this point. Unless we get new neighbors who piss me off. Which is always a possibility around here.

Along with the hydrangeas, an unknown woody vine started coiling its way around one of my shepherd's hooks last summer, and this year, it went hog wild, and sent out tendrils, hungry for our neighbor's drainpipe, and, on our side, put a choke hold on my trellis. That's what trellises are for, I know, but the voracity with which that thing grew made me think one word: weed. I'm no different from the next gal — I'm not crazy about weeds, especially when they take over. But I don't like annihilating anything (except for bloodsucking insects and arachnids), even when it's well deserved. In this case, I didn't want to remove it from our yard until I knew what it was. That's fair, right? I mean, to kill the thing before knowing what it was is like shooting first and asking questions later. That works for some people, but not for me.

So, I sent a message to one of my master gardener friends, hoping she could help me identify the woody, viney thing; I sent some pictures, and provided details on the leaf type and orientation, adding that there were some bizarre inconsistencies within the specimen: there were thorns on some of the new growth, but not on the old growth. It was fixing to produce some berries. The leaves were shaped one way on the newer growth, and totally different on the older parts of the plant.

The unknown vine which took over my trellis, and tried to consume the neighbor's drainpipe.

Also slowing down my need to remove the Evil Dead vine from my sideyard was a pair of robins who made their nest in the wacky tangles, right in the middle of our trellis. Those little birds were so ambitious, so industrious, and built a solid little nest, and in short order, we could see three little robin babies with their mouths open wide at the sky, waiting for a nutritious deposit from their parents.

I figured I'd wait until the robins grew up and moved on, before removing the vine. That would be fair. I kept the tendrils in check, and clipped the side closest to our neighbor's property, doing my best to not disturb the birds. I'm 5'4" and could almost reach the nest; I wished those birds were a bit higher, but figured they had made it this far — the babies were probably very close to their first flights — were reasonably safe in our little asshole-free haven.

Alas. The cats. The damn stray and ubiquitous and omnipresent and often, dickish cats.

I am not a good napper. I'm not a very good sleeper. I am, however, sleep-deprived of late. It will not last forever, and most days, I'm okay with the fatigue, even if I'm a bit more stunned than usual. It was a rare Sunday afternoon that I thought maybe, just maybe, I could sleep. Glen offered to watch the baby. I went to the bedroom, and managed to drift off...

...only to wake up a short time later, abruptly, to a horrific sound; one I had never heard before, but identified instantly: birds screaming in primal fear for their lives, their children's lives. I heard Glen through the house, screaming, too: "No! No! NO! Get the FUCK out of there! STOP!" I felt his footsteps reverberating through the house as he raced out the backdoor, Matty in his arms.

I shot up out of bed, and joined him. He was too late. A beautiful, fluffy, creamsicle colored juvenile stray cat had made her way up the trellis, and tossed the babies out of the nest. Their parents were frantic. Glen watched the cat bat one of the babies — again, mostly grown, but not flying yet — in our hostas. He thought another baby bird had hopped in that direction. I poked around and found one of the babies; I scooped it up, and handed it to Glen, who was tall enough to put it back in the nest in the trellis. It shrieked, and one of its parents shrieked desperately in reply, and flew around close, but it wouldn't return to the nest, at least not yet.

We poked around the hostas, and found a dead baby robin. Glen dug a hole in the corner of the yard where Lacey and Monkey are buried, and we laid the baby bird to rest. The adult robin continued to flit and cry nearby; it did not approach the nest.

Prompted by the cat's actions, we named her after she destroyed the bird's nest; we called her Jagbag. She remained in the hostas after her crime, ever watchful, until Glen chased her away, in anger and sadness.

The next day, I took my extension clippers and chopped the unknown woody vine down; it failed to provide safety for the bird family, anyway. Besides, I never heard back from my master gardener friend (and still haven't). I saved the empty nest — materials of which include Easter grass and cigarette butts — and stuck it in a planter in the yard.

I found the adult male robin, dead, while clearing the vine. I buried him with his offspring, and my beloved pets; I didn't dig very deep, lest my shovel make unfortunate contact with one of the other critters in that gravesite. Lacey and Monkey, at least, were buried very deep. I added some soil to the top, for good measure, and then transplanted some lilies to that location.

We've spent a decent amount of time in the backyard this year, and Jagbag had no shame. She'd sit nearby as we enjoyed an evening cocktail. As the weeks wore on, we weren't any happier about the needless slaughter of the birds, but were less angry with Jagbag. She's limited, of course, by her species. She knew not what she did.

She has since disappeared.

We don't need anymore cats over here, inside or out. We do what we can for the stray bunch (food, shelter, and when we can catch 'em, sterilization), so, duh, I never wish them any harm, not even the ones named Jagbag, who kill birds. One could say that maybe karma caught up with Jagbag, but I know that nature and Trenton are way too random for karma. I hope she's okay, even though, logically, I'm pretty sure there's no happy ending for Jagbag.

I grew up in a heavily-wooded small town, with lots of farms nearby. I have seen a whole lot of nature, but there are many more things I had not seen until I moved away from most nature, and into Da Hood. I spent long hours as a kid studying bugs, and yet, never saw a tomato hornworm parasitized by wasp eggs until moving here (I blogged about that two years ago). I'm sure I must have encountered parasitic wasps before moving to Trenton; I must not have known what they were.

I let Steve out back one morning last week, and when I called for him, he was happily chasing an airborne creature around the yard. Steve is a considerable dummy, totally unaware of the dangers of the real world, and completely oblivious of how frigging good he has it for a Trenton street urchin, mistaken, by a neighbor, for a possum, last May. I had recently been stung, and figured he was chasing a bee, since I have not yet moved the bee balm out of the yard. I went out to disengage his pursuit and get him inside, but found he was chasing a Cicada Killer Wasp, and she was struggling to bring her cicada trophy back to her nest. The cicada was fighting the attack; there was a lot of noise. The wasp did not relent.

I took a couple pictures with my phone, but it was a gloomy day, and the low light and quick movements did not yield quality photographs. But this is what it looked like:

Picture from the very informative

Cicada Killers (Sphecius specious, a silly name if you ask me) are generally fierce-looking mofos, about an inch and a half long, and low-flying. Unlike most other wasps, they are solitary creatures — not social — and the males don't have stingers; most females will never bother with a human, unless accidentally stepped on. Cicada Killer wasp mommies dig holes — decent-sized holes, too, about the diameter of a finger (maybe not if you have sausage fingers), usually near a sidewalk or driveway, or some other compacted, dry area. Then they go find a cicada. There is a fight, and the wasp often wins, dragging the cicada back to the nest, where, exhausted from all the digging and cicada wrestling, she will deposit her egg (it's usually just one egg per cicada, and she usually doesn't lay more than 3 eggs) into the body of the cicada victim. The egg develops quickly into a larva who eats up the cicada, from the inside out, as Cicada Killer youngins are hungry little buggers. Cicadas, in some parts, are pretty big pests, so this particular sort of wasp is our friend.

Maybe it was just too soon after the bird slaughter, and Jagbag's disappearance; maybe I've seen too many disgusting fly carcasses, courtesy of that supposed beneficial fly fungus, all over my garden this year. I just felt badly for that particular cicada. The circle of life often intrigues me, but sometimes, the brutality of it all is exhausting. Once I stopped a hawk from making off with a squirrel (reppin' my fellow mammals, yo!), even though hawks are cooler than squirrels; that carnage would not happen on my watch, dammit. However, I didn't feel THAT bad for the cicada to get involved. It's just a cicada, after all. I wondered where the wasp's nest was, and how much further she had to go with that big, juicy cicada.

Earlier this year, I read an article about how I could turn my urban backyard into a small oasis for local critters. The article inspired me, and I had hoped to create a habitat conducive to attracting the region's birds, and beneficial insects. I haven't completely failed, but I don't feel like much of a success. There's one less cicada in our August choir, and three less robins to sing in the morning, and one less kitty to poop in my garden.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The state of the State according to cranky ole me

Back in June, my sister Karen said she wanted to bring her son Eric over to Trenton so we could go to the State Planetarium. There's a distinction between the Trenton that the state runs, and the part the city runs, but STILL, I was a happy little ambassador. I like to show off the local attractions, because it proves the whole city has not gone to shit. I took a peek at the museum's website to check on hours, reported back to Karen, and we started to make a plan.

But I've been conditioned in Trenton to not make plans (or even get my hopes up) without calling first, since hours at most establishments are arbitrary here, regardless of who (state, city or private) runs the shop, so I called the number listed on the website, and the recorded voice told me that the planetarium was currently closed for renovations.

Irritating. But no huge deal. We'd try again in a few weeks.

Karen called last night and asked again about the Planetarium. We figured, in terms of summer vacation, it's been nearly the whole summer; the repairs MUST have been made, right? But rather than operating on blind hope and optimism, Karen called Planetarium after hanging up with me, and found that it is STILL closed.

Maybe I am just a big friggin' jerk. Maybe all I am is a big stupid complainer. I realize the State is having trouble paying bills, and artsy stuff like museums are likely the first to see the belt-tightening. There have been furloughs and layoffs and all of that; I get it. I really do. And I realize, too, that timing sucks occasionally, and buildings and the technology within need repairs. But I just can't shake the thought that it's absolutely retarded for a state-run institution, in a state strapped for cash, to close a tourist destination in the summer months when people are sitting around bored, unable or unwilling to spend the money for the week away this year, and are looking for affordable and interesting day trips for their families. The Planetarium would have been a great destination this summer, but it wasn't. DUH.

There are so many stupid things going on in this state right now, the least of all is the summer closing of the Planetarium. There's a former rest stop near Burlington on I-295, that's been closed for years. Yet, all of the parking lights are still on at night. How much money does that cost? Also, I wonder how much money was spent to introduce yesterday's new handgun bill? I have mixed feelings on guns, at best, but in general, don't really like them, not from my perspective as a reasonable, law-abiding city resident. I hate gun trafficking just as much as the next gal, but it just strikes me that our new "one handgun a month" bill is superfluous. Are gun traffickers and criminals actually going to give a shit? I have no idea how many handgun purchases the normal, law-abiding gun enthusiast makes in a year in New Jersey prior to this new legislation, but now he (or she) can make 12, well, technically 13, based on the law. While the law is on the books, that's quite an arsenal over the years. Again, maybe I'm just a big friggin' jerk and complainer. Maybe this new law will slow down the flow of a particular type of weapon into the black market. I hope it does, even though I'm not terribly hopeful.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I planted some Jacob Cline Monarda in my garden in 2005. Monarda is one of my favorites. It's not too showy, but pretty nonetheless, and has an slightly spicy scent. Maybe it's stupid, but back then, our first summer here, I was looking for plants that liked to spread out, or even invade a little bit, and the monarda was supposed to do that.

It didn't. For the last 4 summers, it has sent up, grudgingly, no more than 3 flowers. It has not gotten much bigger.

My Jacob Cline Monarda, which as been eaten a bit by damn bugs.

But last year, I noticed there was a smaller, second monarda growing next to my original. For whatever reason, I dug it up, and moved it a bit back further in the garden, along the path into our garage. I was excited earlier this season when I saw that it — that secondary plant — had gone nutso and presented a huge cluster of plants.

Its abundant procreation was great, but, there were some oddities. For starters, the flowers on this clump of plants were all white, and not nearly as large as the parent plant.
Jacob Cline Monarda is a hybrid, and some hybrids have a tendency to revert back to one parent or another. So, I'm assuming — though I could be wrong, since I didn't spend much time in my yard last year — that the little offspring I dug up and moved must have not inherited the big, red flower trait. Maybe the bees had something to do with it, or maybe my original plant sent out a different kid?

My new, hearty white monarda, with some purple coneflowers tossed in.

And, ultimately, this new clump of monarda couldn't have been moved to a less convenient spot. Monarda's common name — Bee Balm — gives a hint. It attracts bees. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a live-and-live, calm, rational sort of girl. Bees don't bother me. I mean, I feel better when they're not so close, and I certainly respect their abilities. But I don't scream or flail or in any other way live in fear of bees. Also, I'm sympathetic: honeybees have been dying off for the last few years, and that's bad for humans, since bees pollinate our crops. We need them. I figure, it's not gonna kill me to have some plants in my garden that honeybees — and even their healthier bee cousins — enjoy, and plants tended without any chemicals, at that, which, I hope, gives them some healthy food.

We have a little infant chair for Matthew we use in our yard, which we keep in the garage. I've been hauling him out on my hip, and working my way into the garage to grab the colorful bouncy chair several times a week, so we can enjoy the yard. Navigating through the buzzing bees did give me pause, on several occasions, since the monarda was beginning to intrude into the pathway; the long stems leaning a bit right into my pathway, forcing me to figure out how to gingerly move through the bees. This went on for awhile, and maybe I started to get cocky, passing through that field of buzzing energy. I couldn't imagine how some people could live in fear of bees, considering any one person maybe gets stung only once or twice in a lifetime, and how, for most people, it's just no big deal.* So, I continued to push through the bees to get Matthew's car, hoping my bravery/insanity/cavalier attitude teaches him respect, but not fear, of bees.

Alas, my number was called last week. A bee must have gotten caught up in my shirt, but thankfully escaped prior to stinging me on my abdomen or back, but got my left forearm, on the tender underside, before flying off. It fucking hurt! But mostly, I was offended: I had TRUSTED the bees. Man, I was stupid!

I had only been stung once in my life prior to this summer, probably when I was about 10, so I waited to see if I went into anaphylactic shock. I didn't. Also, there was no stinger left in the welt, so I'm assuming the bee has lived to see another day. Which is fine. I hate the idea of bees dying after they sting, since it must be an act of such terrible desperation for them. Mostly, though, I'm glad it didn't get Matthew. To help teach him about the respect aspect of our relationship with bees, I cut the flowers off of all the monarda directly next to the path to the garage, and, to be safe, I'm gonna move the whole cluster out to the front of the house, perhaps near the corner where my new, bold neighbor likes to sell drugs.


* Bee stings are big a big deal for some people. I know.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Naughty Mommy Chronicles — Part One

We occasionally do things we never think we'll do, depending on circumstances. A couple of years ago, I never thought there'd be a kid in my life, and here I am – with some painful and also beautiful twists and turns — with a kid in my life; so that's a big shift in philosophy for me, itself. Once we committed to parenthood, we certainly discussed ideas, goals, priorities, hopes, and dreams, but never made a list of all the specific items we'd deny my child, or what we, as parents would never do. It never occurred to me, prior to this very active stage of development for Matthew, for instance, that I'd let him eat White Castle cheeseburgers, or play with glass bottles. I'm not confessing to those crimes, necessarily, I'm just saying
I never gave it any thought before circumstances were afoot. I'm just asking that you don't get all high and mighty on me, or worse, call DYFS, because you've probably peed in the shower, or stolen office supplies, or failed to disclose an STD, or kept a book you borrowed from a friend, or seen Kenny Loggins in concert, or SOMETHING you hadn't planned to do until the circumstances were right there.

I was running a fever, and had a throbbing headache, and my hair hurt. But, I decided to do the dishes, even though I would have preferred to go back to bed. Matthew, now almost 11 months, is The Decider of Who Sleeps And Who Does Not And When, and since he was, at that time, fully awake, and chasing the animals in his walker, my not-quite-25 pound master would not permit a nap.

I lamented the pressure in my head, and trudged through the dishes. As I neared completion, I noticed Matthew had almost figured how to escape his walker. This pre-walking stage is terrifying, because it seems like everything is interesting to my kid, and we will never be child-proof enough. And my sinus headache day was a particularly curious day for my boy; he had pushed himself most of the way up and out of his walker, by climbing on the support bar. Matthew likes to climb, and he's fast as hell, too. We are ambivalent about his climbing aptitude, but at the same time, are amazed at his adroitness, and are delighted that he's so alive and healthy. However, he can never, not for a second, be left alone, or he will figure how to climb as high as he can, with what he has in front of him for tools. Sigh. So, Matthew was leaning over the little food tray in his walker, and most of his upper body was in the gigantic bag of Steve's dog biscuits, next to the refrigerator.

I didn't bother drying my hands. I simply separated the boy from the bones. But as I reseated the child, within Matthew's hand was a red dog bone, and he showed it to me with his heart-melting, beaming happy face. He held it up so I could see his handiwork, and said, "ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya!!"

I smiled and congratulated him on his skills, and proceeded to remove the small red bone from his clutch. Whoever implied that it was easy to take candy from a baby was a dope. Taking a dog treat from a baby was no small task, either.

So, like that, Matthew went from sweet, adorable baby to a tyrannical monster. He protested in his strongest terms. I'm not such a pushover that I'd be bothered by my baby's wail over a dog biscuit he should not have, but I'm also not so uptight to be horrified by a baby holding a dog biscuit, either. There are bigger concerns these days. Maybe you're horrified by the baby-with-dog-bone-scene, and that's fine, but that day, as Matthew fought me for control over the natural bacon flavored (but artificially colored) dog biscuit, it felt like a knife entered my eye socket, due to that fever I mentioned earlier. At least it wasn't one of the brown, liver flavored bones.

So, I let him hold on to the dog biscuit. Often Matthew just likes to visually assess what he has in his hands, and I hoped that would be the case.

We walked out back with Steve, and i sat down in my patio chair with Matthew on my lap, while Steve defended the perimeter of our yard from the stray cats, and William, the same neighbor he sees about 18 times a day. The barking rattled my brain, inside my stuffy skull case, and I said, defeatedly, "Steve. Shut up. For the love of God."

Sensing my weakened state, Steve, ever the opportunist, did not immediately shut up. And, alas, after a few minutes, Matthew's assessment of the bone moved on to his mouth.

I pulled the bone away from Matthew's mouth, and again, he voiced his disapproval with all his might. We were outside, mind you, and I am sensitive to the amount of racket my kid makes because a) I don't like to hear other kids bitching and moaning, and b) I don't want people to think I'm abusing my kid.

Matthew shares an unfortunate trait with his father I call, depending on my ability at that particular moment to find sympathy, either "Canadian Rage," or "World of Pain." The fact my kid inherited this does not please me one bit. He has my eyes, fingers, earlobes, and toes, and Glen's mood swings. Seeing this characteristic in his son does not make Glen happy either; no one likes seeing their worst traits in their offspring, right? So, as Matthew freaked the hell out over my attempt to take his bacon flavored Milk Bone, the knife in my eye socket turned. I wasn't up for the fight: the bone WAS edible (and promotes healthy teeth), after all. So, terrible mother that I am, I allowed my boy to gnaw on it.

After a minute, Matthew pulled it away from his 4-toothed piehole, and allowed his bone hand to dangle at his side, where my sometimes-lieutenant, Steve, stepped in and snatched the bone from the baby, and with economy of thought and action, swiftly buried it among my purple coneflowers, which are just spectacular this year, by the way.

Matthew thought the exchange with Steve, and subsequent ritualistic burial, was a total hoot. It's a little known fact that Steve, despite his outgoing nature and seemingly endless optimism, has a dark side. My exuberant, young canine friend likes to prepare for the worst, and as a result, we often find kibble and bones and items the baby has launched off his tray (carrots, and bits of waffles and bread primarily), carefully tucked into the cushions of the chairs and sofas. I now know to look for this, so I can convince Steve, as he's trotting toward the living room with a bit of bagel in his mouth, to live in the moment, and to enjoy the spoils of Baby Cast Off. Periodically, I fail, and discover Steve crunching on a 3-day-old bit o' waffle, or find a bit of crust poking me in the back, when I plop down on the couch. The plus side here is that Steve will not save any meat (save for kibble or dog bones) in his couch-pantry, but the situation is still wrong, at least from where I sit now. I may have a different take on things in another couple of weeks.

Perhaps if the economy tanks and food is rationed, I'll wish we had some shriveled carrots and waffles and Dog Chow to help us through our rainy days. I don't want to seem unappreciative of Steve's Disaster Preparedness, but I check the couch cushions daily now for these treasures because it's a matter of time before Matty finds some day-old kibble and bits and gets pissy with me for taking it away from him.

The sinus infection is gone now, at least, so I'm in good shape to battle a demanding baby, if necessary. And the bag of dog bones, for the record, is now out of reach of my boy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

To the security salespeople bugging the shit out of everyone in the East Ward

First, piss off.

Secondly, I have no idea why police director Irv Bradley supposedly wrote a letter of endorsement for you. His letter doesn't make it okay for you to knock on our doors at inopportune times and talk at us with your stinky breath, and not get out of our sight until we slam our doors in your faces. We don't care if Hizzoner Doug Palmer Hizzelf, or President Obama or even Jesus Christ the Savior had penned that "it's okay to peddle security systems here" letter. Permission to be douchely does not make it okay. We have choices in this life, and you, security salespeople, are choosing incorrectly.

Furthermore, when you do, on the rare occasion, slip us some sort of literature about your irrelevant business, we absolutely do not think you're an environmentally-friendly company when you ask for it back. You're not green. You're just too fucking cheap — in the off-chance you're legit — to make brochures and business cards. And that incredibly pathetic, because it's possible to have basic business cards printed for about $6 or less these days. Morons.

We East Ward residents, for the most part, are a nice people. Most of us are not inherently unfriendly. But you, salespeople, are rude, despicable, soulless, and have bad breath, besides. You have invaded our space, our free time, and our peace, and we get enough of that from the thugs among us, which is why all of us have security systems to begin with. We are angry, and we're tired. Because of you.

We have no idea why our neighborhoods are SO important to you that you appealed to the police director to get his permission to harass us. If you really cared about us, you'd rent a little shop here in Trenton. We know you don't care, though. So go rent a kiosk at the mall, or a table at the flea markets, or go pound salt up your ass. Just LEAVE US ALONE.