Sunday, March 29, 2009

Savage

There's a chance when I hit the little "publish" button after writing this, I will feel like I'm betraying Glen. But I must. I've kept this gooey secret for far too long, and I need to vent.

I am not a neat freak.

But some things are just not done.

When one shares a bathroom, one should follow the manufacturer's instructions and squeeze the tube of toothpaste from the bottom; one should return the cap when completed. I prefer these things to happen in my bathroom, though I am not too upset when they don't happen. But I can't fool you: while I may squeeze from the bottom and roll the tube up as I go, Glen does not; if this were Glen's only faux pas in the bathroom, I would not be writing this today.

In addition to the usual, enduring differences in philosophy regarding the tube of toothpaste, Glen and I also part ways regarding a very basic standard of cleanliness in and around the bathroom sink. I had a dentist while I was growing up who promoted the "less is more" concept regarding toothpaste, and encouraged me to use small amount, since it doesn't take much for it to foam up; plus, he said, clean teeth come about due to the brushing itself, and not so much because of the lather. Glen clearly came from the "more is more" school of thought, and squeezes that tube like it's a zit, in need of popping. The result is a bluish, gooey mess, all over the sink.

Once the tube has been relieved of its contents, the walls, mirrors, curtains, windows, wall tschotschkes, light switch, and the already beleaguered sink and tube of toothpaste, then receive the foamy brine which must spray out of Glen's mouth. I had not witnessed that act for many years, but know that must be what happens. There is no other explanation.

Again, if this is all I faced each morning as I performed my morning routine, I would not be writing.

Every morning, I find an illogical stew of sputum and toothpaste, seasoned with hair, of all varieties, colors, and lengths, in addition to the foam all over everything, and the bleeding tube of toothpaste left to die, on the side. Personally, I would be embarrassed if I created this mess; and if, in the unlikely scenario, I were to create that mess, I would clean it, before anyone could see it. Again, this is where Glen and I part ways on attitudes. I will admit that I am not a neat girl, though my messes usually involve paper, and clean clothing, so I really do hate to expose this side of my relationship with Glen, since I am far from perfect. But, a line was crossed when Glen came home with one those electric toothbrushes a few months ago.

Ivan Pavlov, the dude behind classical conditioning, showed us how his dogs began to drool when they heard a metronome, which was used to signal mealtime. The big deal about this is that the metronome was not food; they weren't drooling at the sight of food. They drooled because of the sound they associated with feeding. In my troubling tale about toothpaste, I have become conditioned to fly into an insane rage at the sound of the electric toothbrush, the sound I associate with the crimes in the bathroom. By the time I actually see the mess, I am depressed, and I head to the downstairs bathroom to clean my teeth, where I squeeze the tube from the bottom, replace the cap after use, and, in the unlikely event my spit misses the mark, or contains extra chunks of unprocessed toothpaste, I rinse it up.

We have an old-fashioned basin sink in the bathroom, without a flat surface, so Glen set up his electric brush on the back of the toilet, and within a few days, a disturbing pool of gelatinous goo pooled below it — flecked with hair, of course — and the entire device was coated in a foamy crust. The mess grew, and spread all over the back of the toilet. I had been doing my best to use the downstairs bathroom, but since it doesn't have a shower, I need to use the toothpaste-covered bathroom some of the time, and every time I see the toothbrush with its blinky blue light, and white crust, and toothpaste goo all over, I sigh in defeat.

I went to Maryland in January to visit my dad; he has a similar electric toothbrush to Glen's, except Dad's is clean, and not sitting in a pile of blue goo.

So when I got home, I examined Glen's electric toothbrush, because I thought perhaps he must need to fill the handle with toothpaste; I imagined Glen's must secrete toothpaste as needed. But upon inspection, I saw this was not the case. The blue pool and white crusts were spreading out. I grabbed one of Matthew's empty baby wipe tubs, and before I could stop myself, grabbed my fancy sewing scissors, and cut a quarter-sized hole in the side. I cleaned up the back of the toilet — dried on toothpaste is harder to clean that you'd think, yo — and placed Glen's disgusting electric toothbrush in the baby wipe container, and ran the cord through my hacked hole. Mess contained. For the most part.

The Electric Toothbrush. Contained. It's not as messy as it has been, since it's only very recently it set up residency in that container.

A few days went by, and I noticed brand new foamy splatters all over my mermaid mirror, and her little merman friend, as well as the frame of the fish painting that my mother painted. It's a small bathroom, and I could see that the occasional bit of toothpaste might hit the mer-people, but the fish painting is above head level. It should be out of reach of stray toothpaste.

I decided to spy on Glen as he performed his toothbrushing crimes before bed one night, and it was so fucking savage, I had to rethink my whole life, all of my decisions that led me to that moment in time. There are some differences in brushing techniques, to be sure. I was taught to start with the front teeth, and then close my lips a bit as I brush the back teeth; the foam begins to accumulate, at which time, it is okay to politely spit a bit of the foam into or near the drain of the sink. Glen, on the other hand, keeps his mouth open wide the whole time, allowing foam to spill out of his Canadian pie-hole, all over his chin, and down his arms. The stuff that happens to land in the sink has a two-foot fall, and spatters everywhere, including my mother's painting which is more than three feet up the wall. Glen then rinses his arms and face, and leaves the rest, including a bleeding tube of toothpaste to the side, perhaps for God to sort out.

After I watched this, I launched myself at him, out of my mind that a 46-year-old man would not know better. He laughed, because he thinks my anger is funny. Which is why I must resort to this. He told me with a big smile on his freshly brushed face, that that's how he's always brushed his teeth, and he wasn't about to change. I asked him to reconsider, because now we have a child: he cannot teach our boy anything in the bathroom, if he fails so miserably at dental hygiene. "Oh well," he said, still laughing. "There's nothing wrong with how I brush my teeth," he said.

The next day, I cleaned the sink and moved the toothpaste to the baby wipe box on top of the toilet, figuring things would improve. But when I got up to brush my teeth the next morning, I found this:


We're all human, I guess. And as horrifying as this particular shortcoming is, it's Glen's worst. So I suppose I'm pretty lucky.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Merge Ballet

I drove yesterday. I did other things, of course, but the driving part took up a significant amount of time. I did it alone — well, my new alone, which is with Matthew strapped in the back. So often lately, I've been the passenger that I've forgotten how good it feels to simply operate a vehicle on the highway.

It was warm yesterday and I drove south on Rt. 130. I opened the window and the wind mussed up my hair a bit. A couple of songs I like came on the radio, which enhanced the experience. I even caught myself speeding — just a wee bit — on the few stretches of open road provided by the otherwise stop-n-go of Rt. 130.

I've never been a very angry driver, and have a very low tolerance for them, which I generally keep to myself, especially when riding shotgun, because almost nothing pisses off an angry driver more than a passenger more or less pleading with him/her to take a deep breath. I've often seen my lack of road rage to be a failing, because it makes me so different from so many other people in the world. Other than some occasional speeding, I am pathologically calm on the road. I keep a wide berth, I expect to encounter dummies, and I have a voice in my head telling me that everyone else — even the dummies — are just like me: people trying to get from Point A to Point B.

I was, like most people, shaped by my mother, who was not so much an angry driver, either, as much as she was a superior driver, in her mind. Compared to everyone else on the road, her mission was more important, as well as her overall purpose in life. And she also liked to tell us that she was a much better driver than everyone else, besides. Therefore, you see, all of the other drivers were incredibly annoying to her. This attitude made her feel that the laws of the road were mere guidelines, which she could follow if she was in the mood to do so. My mom was not often deliberately confrontational on the road. She did not often, for instance, usually pass people on the shoulder, nor did she cut them off, but believe me, there are MANY liberties one can take on the road without doing those two things. For instance, stop signs and the painted lines on the road fell clearly into the optional category for my mother. The steering wheel allowed her to "dance" on the road to the tune on the radio.

Driving with my mother, until I was able to drive myself, was a joy. When I turned 17, it became a terrifying experience, and I heard a lot, "Oh, CALM DOWN, Chrissy! I can do this if I WANT TO," as she rode the center yellow line of a secondary highway. "No one else is around, and the road is smoother in the center, OKAY?" I'm not a bad passenger, but driving with my mother once I was old enough to cart myself around, helped me to see the wonder in the collective, and the glorious history of lawmaking, and most importantly, how absolutely freeing it can be to NOT be special. It opened my eyes to how satisfying it can be to be a member of the same species, just doing what we do. "Hey, I'm just like you," feels SO much better than, "Hey asshole, get out of my way!"

I've done a lot of things in my life; I've been a lot of places, and seen a lot of stuff. I've been a front-line witness to that wavy thin line that separates life from death, from both sides. So many people say that birth is a miracle, and I am a mother, so on many levels, I appreciate that sentiment, but I don't agree with it. It's a marvel, to be sure, a gift, a powerful force, with a bit of mystery tossed in. But it's also part of our biology, as it is part of the biology of fleas, too. Reproduction is what living creatures on this planet do. What separates us is not our ability to appreciate the birth of our children (unlike flea parents, perhaps), but rather, our ability to drive, and everything that comes along with it.

And what I've forgotten until today, and maybe you have too, is that we are so young in our driving experience, and yet, look at our fantastic bridges, and our Garmin Nuvies, our temperature controls (we even have individual butt warmers in Glen's car), our power EVERYTHING, our new and improved transmissions. In general, we successfully navigate the illogical Whitehorse Circle. Traffic lights and merging lanes are like ballet, ebbing and flowing with beautiful choreography. I think about the miracle of merging — and it is truly a miracle — whenever I'm on the road. An enormous amount of effort and time and labor and debate and trial and error went into the making of the merge. And the execution of the merge involves SO many variables: personalities, steel, gadgetry; so much pavement; flora and fauna; music; there are weather conditions, speed, and laws to be considered.

Merging, as well as driving in general, almost always goes off without a hitch, if you step back and admire it from a distance. Which I do. Because of the crazy amount of potential for disaster, which almost never happens, it's just hard for me to get pissed off at anyone else (on the road). That's not to say that there aren't some particularly bad drivers out there, drivers with some sort of pre-existing condition, like anger or stupidity. For them, and for everyone else, I wish calmness; I wish that everyone is gently reminded that just a hundred years ago, there were no power windows; I wish for everyone, the ability to appreciate the sun on your faces, and the wind in your hair or the rhythm of the wipers; and regardless, a good tune on the radio.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

TD Bank: Total Douchbaggery

We saw the red C of Commerce Bank disappear not long ago, and in its place, the greenish TD sign popped up. Glen said, "Uh oh, that's a Canadian bank, and in Canada, TD is the worst bank."

I just want to take a minute to apologize — and publicly — to Glen, for my skepticism. It's not personal. It's just my nature. While I had no gripe with Commerce, I figured a Canadian bank HAD to be better than any American bank. I've been to Canada, and I'm sorry to say (for us) that Canadians have it much better than Americans do, with regard to customer service, civility, and common courtesy — everything that's lacking from most of our businesses and institutions.

I opened my account with Commerce in 2000. I was struggling to pay my hefty car payment, rent, utilities, and living expenses on my salary. Saving dough at that time wasn't going to happen, since I needed to pay the above-mentioned bills. So, I opted for Commerce's no-fuss free checking. I liked the late night and Sunday banking hours. I wanted access to my money.

A lot has happened since then; I'm no longer working in the corporate sector, and that terrible car payment is behind me — it's been years since it was paid off, and it still doesn't quite feel real. But my largest freelance client recently shipped most of its work off to Asia, without even a warning for me. And we have a mortgage and other bills these days. I still have that same checking account, but because my paychecks are far more sporadic these days, the balance — while never dipping below zero — fluctuates pretty wildly.

No biggie, right?

I noticed in December, TD hit me with a "cycle service charge" of $15. It didn't totally sink in, though, thanks to the birthdays in my family, the holidays, and the fact that we went to Canada for a few days. But then, it happened again in February; Glen noticed it on my statement, and he about hit the roof. He did some reading, and found that TD charges their customers every time their accounts dip below $100. I shouldn't feel like I should have to justify why sometimes that account has less than a hunge in it; it's just the way we roll here. I complained to the bank, and said it was outrageous that they'd do that, especially in these economic times. Certainly someone with less than a hundred in their account is really gonna feel what amounts to the theft of $15. And what if that penalty causes an overdraft, and all those associated fees? What a nasty snowball.

I was told, essentially, "tough shit." My account dipped all the way down to $26 for a day or so in February, and after the penalty, plunged to $11. They offered me another type of checking account, one that costs $3 a month, plus a fee for every check over 10 written each month. They took an oh-so-helpful peek in my records and mentioned that I tend to make online payment transfers more often than I write checks, so changing my checking account might make sense.

When I opened the account, I signed up for FREE checking, so I am not really interested in their $3 a month account, with a limit on how many checks I write, even though I know I don't write that many. Instead, Glen and I have been making sure to keep more than $100 in that account.

I received my March statement yesterday, and I was hit again with another $15 "cycle service charge." I went back through my history, and at no time did my account dip below $100, not even for a minute. I contacted them yesterday and demanded my money back. They complied, but suggested again that I transfer my account to that $3/limited check option.

I'm not going for it. Glen is right. TD sucks. Why should I pay them ANYTHING to hold my money? With the amount I have in that account, it makes far more sense to keep my money in a shoe box in the closet*, and they can pound salt right up their skinny Canadian asses, eh.

____

* Yeah, I shouldn't announce that I have cash stored in the house, right? Whatever. Our closets are totally jam-packed full of stuff. So, if you can find your way to said shoe box, in one of our many messy closets, the $27.89 is all yours!

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Rape of a City

Congratulations to Trenton's mayor Doug Palmer for his new salary of $149,000+, which is approximately $118,000 more than what his average constituent makes! That's right, the average citizen of Trenton makes just over $31,000 a year! Talk about getting blood from a stone! Doug is an old pro! Woot-Woot!

In 2006, Newark's Mayor Cory Booker was making just under $131,000 a year, and he's running the state's largest city. His city is home to over 280,000 people — 200,000 more than the population of Trenton. Boy, Booker needs to pay closer attention to Doug Palmer! Here, each of us antes up $1.80 for Palmer's annual salary, and in Newark, each resident kicks in 46¢ to pay for their mayor. The median income is $26,748 in Newark, so while Booker's salary may seem like a bargain, we need to consider this: Booker actually lives in his city, and really, what mayor does THAT anymore? Who wants their mayor so damn close, watching and meddling in everything? You get what you pay for, right??

Mayor Palmer is even making buckets more money in salary than NJ Governor Corzine. New Jersey state law allows for a maximum salary of $175,000 for our governor, but Corzine accepts a token salary of $1 a year. Doug knows the score: you CAN get rich as a public servant!

Be sure to stop by Mayor Monitor to let that evaluation team know how awesomely savvy Mayor Palmer is for his ability to turn poverty into profit for himself!

Monday, March 9, 2009

We the people (at Motor Vehicles) and generation gaps

Thanksgiving, 1989. We were headed to North Jersey for the holiday to see my grandmother. During the cocktail hour, Nana asked Jenny, "How long does it take you to make your hair look that bad?"

Silence fell over the room. Then there was some awkward laughter. Nana apologized; she didn't mean for it to come out that way. It was the late 80s, and we were in the big hair capital of the world. Jenny had some major-ass big hair, too. Nana clarified by saying the Jenny's look was deliberately wild, compared to the very orderly coifs of my grandmother's generation; that's what she meant. "How long does it take to rough up your hair like that?"

My grandmother and her friends went to the hairdresser once a week; my grandmother, now almost 91, probably still does, bless her. She's certainly accustomed to the work that goes into making one's head style fit in with one's peers.

I was never able to attain the Whitesnake hair heights that my sisters could; we shared a bathroom, but we didn't necessarily share beauty products. At least I didn't use their stuff (too often). So maybe I wasn't using the right product in my hair, or maybe I wasn't using enough of it, or maybe my hair was just a bit incompatible with that style. Don't get my wrong, if we were to look back at pictures from those days, my hair was certainly bigger than it is now. I just didn't have Bon Jovi hair. I claimed, at the time, it was because I thought all that hairspray and mousse was ridiculous, but a little of my scorn was due to jealousy, and the despair of hair failure.

Jenny didn't say much about my grandmother's comment. She was probably a bit hurt, but she also understood what my grandmother meant. And we all realized it was a bit of a generational gap thing, too. It was okay for teenagers and 20-somethings to unload a ton of grape-scented Aussi Mega-Glue Hold atop of their heads, but not so much for the near 70-year-old set.

~~~

I found myself at Motor Vehicles on Saturday morning so I could renew my license. I had to get my picture taken, and I felt vulnerable, dismayed, old, fat. Before I left the house, I did not say, "Damn girl, you got it going on." I was filled with dread: about my age, about my weight, my chin, and of course, my hair. My unease made me think about how much older I am than my kid, and caused me to wonder what his friends will think of his honest-to-goodness old lady, when the time comes. So, I was pretty much a wreck by the time I got to the reception area at the office on Front and Stockton Streets.

The DMV, even the one in the city, runs far more smoothly than it used to, for certain; not that I minded the inefficiency of the old DMV, back in the day. On the contrary, the once-every-three years visit, for me, was in many ways, was better than Christmas. Christmas comes way too frequently and doesn't afford me the same people-watching ability, nor does it provide me with as many "holy SHIT, did you see THAT" moments, and I am very fond of of those moments. I like to believe that in any given situation, I am amid a cross-section of society; we all represent America. In the DMV of old, amid the drunks, and the abusive ladies at the counter with ham hocks for arms, I felt "unum" and "pluribus" simultaneously: distinctly alone, and yet, part of something bigger. That "alone but together" experience is kinda like sweet and salty tastes combined, for me: a chocolate covered pretzel, for instance, which I love. So, that sensation, but on a bigger scale, is a good one for me.

With an ability to have "We The People" experiences wherever I go, it's safe to say that I don't judge others by how they look. That's not to say I don't judge them. I just don't judge people right off the bat, and certainly not for their appearances or obvious habits or addictions. But, there at DMV (I will probably always call that place DMV, even though it's MVC now), in Trenton, on a Saturday, I found that I was silently asking myself the same sort of question my grandmother asked my sister, about some of my fellow citizens with whom I shared the morning.

I found myself sitting near the restrooms, and on the door, there was a sign that read:

NO BATHING, SHAVING, OR DISROBING

ALLOWED IN THIS RESTROOM.

I was a bit on edge on Saturday morning to begin with, but the thought of doing even one of those things in the restroom at the DMV was terrifying. I chanted, We the People, We the People, a bit more deliberately, to banish the thought that perhaps someone was naked and shaving just on the other side of the wall.

The "Maitre D'" at the desk of my section was quite professional in his uniform, and handed each visitor a card with a number on it, and gestured for everyone to sit down in the bank of chairs to his right; he'd call our number when it was our turn. I was number 46.

It went like this:
"FORTY-ONE!" he hollered, somewhat like a marine drill sergeant, but not quite as loud.
"I SAID, 'FORTY-ONE!'"
Someone from the bank of seats said, "I'm number 39. You missed me."
"NO," the man in the uniform bellowed, "I did not. I'm going in order, and we're up to FORTY-ONE!" A man, with a big red 41 on his card, reported to the desk, where he was directed to Booth 12.
A moment later, the uniformed man yelled, "TaQUAN! You're up! Taquan, you still here? Get in line at Booth 12!"
A few minutes later, he said, "FORTY-THREE! FORTY-THREE! You still here? FORTY-THREE to Booth 12!"
I kept looking at the 46 in red ink on my card; Number 39, seated in front of me, was agitated. I was concerned, since the host was on a number-only basis with some of us, and a first-name basis with others. He might miss me as well.

A woman in a half-shirt walked in front of me. Her belly was loose, as if she recently had a child, and it was hanging down over her tight jeans. I hate how women are judged, and so, on one hand, I admired her courage for wearing that outfit in public. I admire that she was proud enough to say, "This is who I am, and this is what I look like. Get used to it." My hope is that as more women with bodies like that, dress like that, the more accepting we will all become. But in my heart, I know that's not the case. We The People, are harsh.

"SHIRLEY! SHIRLEY?!?! Where you at, girl? SHIRLEY! You're next! Booth 12!"

A woman — not Shirley — with a newborn in a carriage, and two toddlers in tow, emerged from the bathroom. I wondered if the militant rules on the bathroom door applied to babies. I wondered how on earth a woman with a NEWBORN and not one, but TWO barely walking children could have found herself at DMV on a freakin' Saturday, without another adult to help. I couldn't fathom it: the whole reason I waited until Saturday was so that Glen could stay with Matthew.

A kid in a black and red ensemble sat down next to me. His sneakers were red. His hat was red, and was too big for his head, and was tilted to the side. I found myself asking (silently), I wonder how long it took him to make himself look that freakin' stupid? I forced myself to chant silently, We the people, we the people a few more times and looked at the number on his card (48), and said to him, ever-helpfully, "Not long now."

"Yeah," he replied, with a note of "Whatever," laced in. His shirt had a skull and crossbones on it, and beneath that representation of human decomposition was the word, "Legendary." I wondered what would motivate a person to think that of himself? Was he really the stuff of legend? Of history books? I snuck another glance at him. Not likely, I thought. Such ego. So crass. So not legendary (most likely).

I felt harsh, so I chanted silently again, we the people we the people we the people we the people.

"FORTY-FIVE! FORTY-FIVE!" A woman standing near me walked to the desk, and the man in the uniform directed her to Booth 12.

My heart started to race. I was up next. Would he skip over me? Number 39 was still milling about, trying to complain to another DMV worker, who didn't seem terribly interested. "I've been here since 9 this morning. I've been waiting for almost 2 hours, and HE PASSED OVER ME!!" Number 39 cried. Number 39 was well-dressed, very together, and she had 3 inch long finger nails, painted white, and beginning to curl downward. I wondered how she could do anything. Like pull up a zipper. Or type her blog. I felt the familiar scorn and jealousy I felt back in the 80s when I looked at my sisters' hair. I need the use of my fingers, I tell myself, but I am also ashamed that all of my nails are uneven and unpainted. I always, always, always mess up the paint job when I polish them. I finally came to terms with this, and threw away all of my nail polish, about a month ago.

A well-built guy walked in front of me; and again, I found myself uncharacteristically judging him. But, it was for good reason: he obviously worked so hard SO people would look at him. He had a strange chin covering, and he had shaved stripes into his hair, near the nape of his neck. I couldn't imagine the maintenance involved with the highly decorative goatee and stripey head. The thought of sharing a bathroom with a man who put that much time and thought into each and every one of his hairs was troublesome to me. Sometimes I forget to brush my hair. Plus men with overly groomed faces and heads always make me think of Uday Hussein, and I don't like thinking of Uday, since he was such a prick. The American Uday came closer, and I tried not to look, but couldn't help it: his hard, detailed grooming work paid off, I guess. As he got closer, I could see he had a tattoo on his neck, and his eyebrow and his chin were pierced. He was smiling — at someone probably better groomed than I, behind me — and I winced in pain as he walked by. I rubbed my neck in the corresponding spot where he was tattooed, hypothetically protecting, in particular, my brain-feeding blood vessels. I have always appreciated my carotid artery, and would never put it in jeopardy by bringing a needle anywhere near it. For the love of God.

"FORTY-FIVE!" The uniformed man bellowed. I froze. Shit! He called 45 again! The same thing was going to happen to me as Number 39. But I was going to handle it differently. I wasn't sure how yet, but I would.

"FORTY-FIVE!"

"FORTY-FIVE! You gonna miss your turn if you don't get up here NOW!"

"FORTY-SIX!"

Hallelujah, I thought. I jumped up before he could say it again, and practically ran to his desk. "Booth 12," he said.

I got in line, and from that vantage point, I could see four signs which instructed in no uncertain terms:

NO CELL PHONES AT COUNTER!!

There was a security guard to my left, on a cell phone, at the counter. I figured maybe that was acceptable, except I could hear her talking, and it wasn't Motor Vehicle business. Some of which went like this, "You ain't gonna dis my cousin and have me just smile and listen. No. No, you don't dis my cousin. Uh-uh. Not around me. I'm gonna have a say in that. And you ain't gonna like it! You know?"

The girl in front of me at Booth 12 had hair that was straightened, and it was plastered to her face. It was so extreme that it made me long for the Big Hair Days of the 1980s. It's all the same, though: very big, or very flat: she probably spent as much time flattening her hair as my sister spent electrifying hers, and to someone outside her generation, it just looked kinda ridiculous. The flat-haired girl posed for the camera, and when her image appeared on the monitor in front of us, she lunged in front of it, apparently horrified about how she looked, blocking it from my view, and asked the woman behind the counter — a small, good-natured woman — if she could retake the picture. "Sure," the employee smiled. I wonder what the great big ham hock ladies of DMV's yesteryear would have said? I was able to catch a glimpse of all four photos taken of the flat-haired girl, and other than that her hair was too flat, I thought she looked cute in each picture. She finally settled on one, stepped aside, and waited for her license to emerge from the license-cooker. She got on her phone to tell someone that she was almost done. She had brought a friend with her as well, who was also standing at the counter, to my right, also on her phone, right next to a "NO CELL PHONES AT COUNTER!!" sign.

I stepped up to the counter, and turned over my paperwork, and Number 39 ran up alongside me, having spotted a manager walking behind the counter. "He skipped over me," she cried, pointing, with her too long fingernail, to the man running our bank of chairs in our section of the facility. "And, he said he didn't. I've been here since 9!!" She showed the manager her card with "39" written in red, and the manager called the uniformed guy to the counter, and reamed him out in front of everyone. This is not supposed to be how it is. It was always Us versus Them at DMV, or so I thought, but the manager was on the side of the customer on Saturday. While I was glad for that, it also made me very uncomfortable, in so many ways. The reaming went for too long, that it crossed into the area of humiliation. I turned away, blocked it out, trying to find my happy place. I ran my fingers through my hair, and checked my lipstick.

The clerk at Booth 12 asked me if I'd like to use the picture I had taken last time. "I can do that?" I asked.

"Yes," she said, helpfully.

I thought about it for a second, and remembered how much I hated my previous photo license. But that was a few years ago, and photos, DMV or otherwise, generally do not get better with time, even if the employees are nicer and let you choose your favorite of four shots. I opted to use the same photo.

I paid up, stepped to the side, and a minute later, got my new license with the old photo. I booked it out of there, and on my way out of the parking lot on Stockton Street, I saw the woman with the newborn in a carriage, and the two toddlers, holding hands behind her. One of the little girls stopped in the middle of the street to pick up something, and her mother did not immediately notice, since she was struggling, one-handed, with the baby carriage. My heart pounded, and I froze, so I could watch for traffic coming down the Rt. 1 ramp, ready to block, if necessary. The man with the tattooed neck and distressing face piercings, jumped into the street on the Front Street side, to block traffic, and screamed at the woman, "Your baby! Your baby! Get your baby out of the street!"

My car windows were open, because it was hot in the car on Saturday, so, I could hear what was going on. Calmly, the woman turned to the little girl, and said, "Oh, honey, we don't stop in the street, okay? It's very dangerous." I found her calm refreshing and confounding, all at the same time, given the amount of traffic in that location. It made me all the more grateful for Glen, back at home with our baby — I'm not sure how I would have navigated Motor Vehicles with even just one child! I turned right and headed for home, and saw the pierced/tattooed man cross back toward the building, and the mother of three make her way to the parking lot.

We the people. We the people. We the people.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Eat my dirty, icy slush, hater!

A couple of quads and my elderly neighbor, yesterday. More pictures below. As always, click to enlarge. If you feel like it.

Is it unreasonable to expect a certain standard of peace and quiet, most of the time?

Apparently, it might be in Trenton.

Now, I realize the following:

  1. When one lives in the city, one can expect more "ambient" noise than when one lives in the suburbs, or in rural areas.
  2. My priorities, goals, perceptions, and interests are not the same as, say, my neighbors.
  3. Kids everywhere, not just in Trenton, complain of nothing to do, but in the case of Trenton, there really isn't that much for kids to do safely, compared with other locations (many other municipalities have relatively safe parks, movie theaters and other kid-friendly hang-outs). I'm not saying there's NOTHING for kids to do here. A bored person is often a boring person, right? We make our own fun, if we are given the right guidance. But it's harder in Trenton.
  4. Some kids, regardless of location, will behave badly. Trenton, however, seems to have a higher concentration of bad apples, based on reports of higher crime and shitty school performance.
  5. The police are busy, and must prioritize.
  6. Not every individual in an organization is going to perform 100%, 100% of the time.
  7. I am a fair and reasonable person. Believe it or not.

For the last few months, my neighborhood has been under siege by knuckleheads on off-road vehicles. This has been an on-again, off-again problem over here, but it is much worse lately. There are a lot of sensible reasons why riding off-road vehicles on the road is illegal. Namely, it's dangerous, stupid, brazen, and annoying as hell to the people who aren't riding off-road vehicles, which is probably only 50% of the city's population. But that includes me. And I have a blog.

In 2002, not too far from where I live, Leatha Barr was killed by a kid, Recardo McCoy, who was not only riding around — illegally — on an ATV on East State Street, but he was doing so, DURING A LARGE BICYCLE RACE. Maybe you remember that story. The case went to trial, and last June, ended — inexplicably — in a hung jury.*

Even if this sad story were not true, even if Leatha Barr were still alive, I'd still hate the ATVs riding around my neighborhood. It's a symptom of lawlessness and it pisses me off. It's ridiculous, and just should not be the case. Where I grew up, if you you took your ATV out on the road, you did so with your heart racing, full of terror, and a plan to get from Point A to Point B quickly, without incident, knowing full-well what you were doing was wrong. Ask my brother-in-law about the time he got busted by the Howell cops because he drove to visit my sister (while they were still in high school) on his damn snowmobile. I mention this, because I think it's almost (but not quite) okay to take a risk periodically if you expect you might get busted. I mean, that's what makes risk-taking fun and rewarding, right? Over here, it would appear I am the oddball for not riding an illegal vehicle around and around and around. I'm the oddball for thinking there are consequences for risky behavior. I'm the oddball for thinking the commonplace and mundane of my neighborhood are risky. But, there are consequences for this sort of stuff in the rest of the world, even if that isn't the case in my neighborhood.

Glen and I debate almost every time we hear the knuckleheads skidding in the street: do we call the police, or not. It's a tough call, because certainly, we know there are worse things happening in the city. They're just kids on motorbikes, right? Also, sometimes it seems the police are not terribly responsive, and while we don't know why that is, it is maddening. And, of course, certainly, we know the problems of police officers in vehicles designed to handle the road, pursuing vehicles driven by half-wits, that are not street-worthy. It's a disaster waiting to happen.

But it's also a disaster waiting to happen to NOT pursue these jerks. The St. Patrick's Day Parade is coming up: maybe the idiot up the street can rev up his four-wheeler, and mow down a couple of the very few out-of-town spectators, at one of the last big shindigs this city offers. That won't happen? Maybe tell that to the people who saw Barr get hit by McCoy at the bike race a few years ago.

Yesterday — the snow day — the ATV-ridin' knuckleheads were at it, and let me say that these ATVs are not snowmobiles; they're quads and dirtbikes. So they were skidding out of the alley and into the street — uh, just a couple blocks from the East Ward Police Station. Again, Glen and I debated: Do we call the police or not?

Glen decided to call. It went something like this:

Dispatch: Can I help you?
Glen: There are some off-road vehicles riding around on the street.
Dispatch: Typing. Hold please. Pause. Can you describe the vehicles?
Glen: One is green and one is red. One guy is wearing a helmet, but he has a kid on the back of his bike who isn't wearing a helmet. The other driver is not wearing one, either.
Dispatch: Can I have your name, address, and phone number?
Glen: Is this for reference or are the police going to stop by or call?
Dispatch: Oh, it's just for reference.
Glen: Okay. He gives the information.
Dispatch: More typing. Well, give us a call next time you see them driving around.
Glen: I called you because they ARE driving around now, the whole time we've been on the phone. They've been skidding in the street, and someone is going to get hurt. I can also tell you where the bikes are garaged.
Dispatch: Oh.
Glen: Should I have not have called?
Dispatch: Oh, you should have called.
Glen: I wasn't sure. I know it's hard for the police to do anything about this, but we saw officers on the block last week trying to round up these guys, and I thought maybe they'd want to try again. Someone is going to get hurt.
Dispatch: I'll let the officers know. Is that all?

We can't see everything from our house, and even if we could, it's not like we're looking all the time, so we don't know if the police showed up or not. If they did, we don't know if they caught the asses on the illegal vehicles, or not. If not, someday, I hope they do catch them, because I am THIS CLOSE to snapping.

If Trenton — and I'm not singling out the police department, even though this particular frustrating story involves the police dispatch — decided to enforce even ONE of its (or the state's) damn ordinances on a consistent basis, we'd be able to collect enough money in fines (or from the auction of the illegal vehicles) that MAYBE our mayor, "There But For the Grace of Doug Go I" Palmer, wouldn't try to close the libraries and sell our assets and charge entrance fees to the free pool. And maybe it would send a message to the criminals and knuckleheads that their behavior is no longer tolerated here.


* I wasn't sitting on that jury, so I don't know what was discussed. But the verdict still smells like bullshit to me.