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.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This year's compelling/disturbing insect circle of life story, and some other blather

First a warning: if you don't like hearing about bugs, reading about bugs, or looking at pictures of bugs, you may want to stop reading until I can post something about my family, or how I'm still not sleeping, or something political or gastronomical. But that might be awhile, at the rate I'm going. If you appreciate the circle of life's horror show side like I do, please, read on.

I've been composting this year, in a nice blue barrel my dad rigged up for me. This year, with a kid to inspire, we're eating a more varied and healthy diet. So the barrel contains more than just coffee grinds and garlic skins, compared to my pathetic pile of yesteryear. My compost doesn't smell too badly, either, unless you stick your face right in the barrel door, which you wouldn't, because the contents within the barrel are attended by a zillion gnats and fruit flies and other flying insects, which are annoying to us, but are good for the compost. I hope. And because of the stray cats, and my dog, we usually have some shit here and there, around the yard, and occasionally, I'm sorry to report, underfoot, which attracts more flies. Yay.

This is my compost barrel and a pile of stray cats and kittens, who enjoy hanging out in my backyard, despite Steve's constant attention. If you're looking for a cat, let me know. This batch is extremely fluffy, and extremely cute.

It's not all bad news. There are a several beneficial insects and natural controls to handle the bugs that bother plants, but flies are another story. Birds are good, and so are bats, though there is a fungus that seems to be killing off bats in record numbers this year (which is, well, bad news for bats, and even for us). So, you can never really have enough fly-eating agents, in my personal opinion. Luckily, there are other forces at work, quietly and stealthily. I noticed some fly carcasses on my flowers last year, which prompted some reading on the dead bastards and mysterious white dust around them. The dead flies are back this year, too, so it is time to showcase my new, disturbingly favorite pest annihilators, Entomophthora muscae.

Entomophthora muscae is a friendly fungus from the genus whose apt name means "insect destroyer." As much as I'd prefer to view my flowers without fly corpses, there is some satisfaction knowing that there is something in our world hellbent on offing the flies, so I don't have to. I hate flies, but prefer not to kill anything myself. Yeah, I'm one of THOSE people, though I make an exception for anything that eats my blood, or the blood of anyone else I know.

Oh, the circle of life takes some weird and disgusting (yet compelling) little spirals, if you care enough to look closely. The relationship between E muscae and some species of fly is definitely one of those awesomely sickening spirals. And it goes a little something like this:

Fungal spores invade fly. Hungry fungal spores gobble up fly's guts, but not enough to kill it, only enough to give fly's abdomen a striped appearance. Fungus makes its way to the fly's little bundle of nerves that serve as fly's brain, and fungus commands fly to climb as high as it can: to the top of your window screen, to the middle of your pretty purple coneflower, etc. This is a sad moment for the fly, but if it's lucky, at least the view will be pretty. From this apex, the fly ceases to be a fly, and becomes a mere brittle shell for some bustling E muscae. In short order, the fly's exoskeleton bursts, and our little fungal friends are off in search of another fly host, in what is called a "conidial shower." This may be too much information, but I did not lose my appetite until I stumbled upon that term.

This is a dead fly, stopped dead in its tracks courtesy of Entomophthora muscae, which is getting ready to burst. I snagged this picture from the interwebs

This is a dead fly on my monarda (bee balm); a rain shower came down simultaneously with the conidial shower. Repulsive.

This is the plot of nearly every horror movie, and it's happening right in your backyard, for free! Now we know where the horror writers get their ideas.

I'm not a huge fan of chemical controls. It's too much power for me, and I don't want it. Even though I have thought about buying ladybugs to unleash on my aphids, I haven't yet, though it's mostly because I always forget until it's too late. I do worry I may tip the scales too far; I wonder if I have the right to meddle. Despite these nagging concerns, I poked around to see if E muscae is available for purchase. It isn't. Even though it has the incredible ability to penetrate the exoskeleton of a fly, despite its teeny powdery form, and basically become the fly's brain, it is simply too delicate to cultivate for sale. For shame.

Some more good news today: E muscae seems to prefer cooler temperatures, which we've had for the last few weeks. That should put a hurtin' on the fly population, so perhaps the flies won't be so bad in the warmer weeks of summer. Of course, we'll have to look at grisly fly cadavers. But that's better than having them alive and all over our summertime chicken and cake, right?

Further reading (if you want):
Entomorphthora muscae:
Bat's white nose fungus:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Two Daughters

I just watched a video of a young Iranian woman die in the fight for a better life for her people. Maybe you've seen it too. I hadn't intended to watch it; I didn't know about it before I clicked on a link. But I watched. I cried as I saw the life and blood drain from her, as she looked at her father one last time.

I wish I had never seen it. I wish it didn't happen to that girl, Neda. She is, in death, the beautiful, silent voice galvanizing her people, and perhaps most of the world, to continue fighting for democracy in a tyrannical and oppressive place.

Neda makes me think of Trenton's young Tamrah Leonard, murdered on June 7; she was an innocent bystander, caught in the middle of an alleged gang feud. Her death, too, was caught by cameras. I wish I had not seen those pictures, either; but mostly, I wish Tamrah was enjoying her summer vacation, her upcoming 14th birthday, alive and full of promise.

As Neda's death has brought her people together, there's been some talk in Trenton of Tamrah's death inspiring positive changes here.

The families of Tamrah and Neda are faced with the illogical task of learning to live without their daughters.

A young person should not die. But we live in an unfair world, so failing that, young people absolutely should not die in vain. The world is outraged about Neda's death, and many of us are watching as the demonstrations in Iran continue to unfold. The Iranian people have been marginalized and kept down for too long by their own government, and they are willing to risk everything, by protesting in the streets. There's a good chance when the tumult is over, Iran will have changed for the better. The world is watching these pivotal days, hoping, hoping, hoping.

A girl dies senselessly here, and it barely makes the news outside the city. People have rallied, yes. But the police had no help in apprehending the young men who ended Tamrah's life. Neighbors and friends signed the bedsheet memorial, so commonplace in urban murders, but turned away from authorities, who worked diligently, regardless of the community's help, to find some answers for a cowardly drive-by shooting.

A girl's death in the Middle East may change history. Here, we grieve, yes. But our acceptance of the unacceptable has led to a horrific complacency where lousy politicians are not held accountable, and misguided, violent thugs in our midst, continue to wreak havoc on our souls, our sensibilities, our quality of life, and our future.

This should not be. We are capable of more. I'm so sorry Tamrah. I'm so sorry.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Douchely Priest faces tough times ahead

My mother was raised Catholic. The stern, pious, judgmental, "look at me, I'm a martyr" old school Irish variety. It damaged her, and there were issues with her decision to marry my dad, who was — gasp — a Protestant (which was, at least, better than an Italian in the eyes of my grandparents). We, her children, would not endure the same torture. She enrolled us in CCD, and we had our grade school sacraments. But that was it. We never went to mass. Not even on the holidays.

Most of the time, this wasn't an issue. My grandmother had died, and a few years later, my grandfather remarried. Between my step-grandmother's family, and my mom's siblings still in Jersey, we didn't see my grandfather for many Sunday dinners, and only the occasional holiday. It was on those very rare major Christian holidays that her father came to visit us in Howell, and when that happened, my mother panicked. Handling stress was not her strong suit, especially when a meal was involved. Through the fog of cigarette chainsmoke, and the smoke of the roasting flesh in the oven (the sum of which is greater than both its parts, and is why I have never smoked, or cooked a roast), she'd beg us, "Please don't tell Pop-Pop we didn't go to church today. Please!"

My mom always struck me as brave, in a crazy, kinda combative way; she headed off the bullies before they could bully us. She never accepted the tiniest bit of attitude from anyone. But her father terrified her.

Maybe it was the lying — or at least the pretending — about our church attendance, or maybe there was old school Catholic residue in my DNA, but the guilt overcame me. When I was in 8th grade, I was struck by the feeling that I would go to hell, since I didn't go to church. I was 12: a few years away from serious responsibility, making decisions for myself, and my drivers license. But I knew I was hellbound; I felt it in my gut, if I didn't get to mass on Sundays. You may think I was hard on myself, being so young, and unable to drive. But my friend across the street walked to the Catholic school every weekday. I could certainly walk myself to mass in its church once a week.

So I told my mom that when I entered high school the following fall, I'd be going to church, with or without her.

Maggie was proud of me, and wanted to go with me. Also, she did not want my church experience to be like hers, so she encouraged me to join the folk group and the youth group, so I could have some fun, too.

I fell away from the church by the time I finished high school, but while I was involved in my Catholic social activities, I had some of the best times in my life. I enjoyed the cross-section of humanity: the smart, quirky geeks; the dopey, but effervescent jocks; and certainly, the older, long-haired bad boys with cars, who were in the youth group as a last stop before reform school.

There were retreats, and with that came sharing, and epiphanies. I never felt more safe than I did at my youth group meetings in the basement of St. Veronica's rectory; or away on those weekend retreats at Jeremiah House in Keyport.

I was hanging out with my sisters this weekend, and Karen was flipping through the community newspaper and saw that the priest I've called "douchely" in this here blog, had been arrested for allegedly molesting boys in the mid-1980s. "Holy shit!" she exclaimed, and we took turns reading the paper.

The Douchely Priest was in charge of the youth group at St. Veronica's while my sisters and I were involved. The Douchely Priest became my mother's friend, and an unfortunate fixture on our couch and at our dinner table during the mid-to-late 1980s. My dad, sisters, and I hated — let me repeat that for emphasis: HATED — him. We weren't flat-out priest haters — there were a few we liked — it was just this particular one was a pathological douchebag.

I could write more about The Douchely Priest, but this isn't really about him, even if he is the impetus.

The Douchely Priest is the second priest close to our family who was recently arrested for molesting boys, during the mid-1980s. The other was a guy we loved, who ran Jeremiah House in Keyport. Though I had long been non-religious, and uninvolved in anything remotely Catholic, the news of that priest's alleged crimes, was shocking. Truly hard to believe.

But why would anyone make that up?

It's not so hard to believe about The Douchely Priest, though. But it's still wretched news. In a very general sense, I think it's more difficult to be a girl, and woman; unless you are a boy with a priest after you, and later, a man who must deal with that.

I fell away from the church primarily because I didn't believe. I tried, and searched, and even struggled, but faith eluded me. Maybe part of it was the shitty role models? My church alone, that I know of, went through a whole pile of damaged priests. There was another priest picked up for diddling (though, years after); two who left — one dramatically during mass — to deal with their substance abuse issues. Another one was so mentally unstable that he was a danger to himself and others, and had to be committed. In the middle of that, The Douchely Priest was quietly ruining the lives of boys, and screwing up the dynamics of my family.

Why did St. Veronica's get all of these guys? Do other churches have the same record?

Up until a short time ago, I could look back at my active involvement in the church with fondness. But now I'm left wondering if my friends and I were only pawns and fodder for our ill-equipped, and often very sick, leaders; people we were taught to respect and trust. I wonder if the pastor took money from the diocese to harbor these damaged priests, putting vulnerable, admiring children in harm's way. Mostly, I'm left with a terrible feeling in my gut, because I'm certain I must know The Douchely Priest's accuser/s.

The Catholic Church's inability to screen for pedophiles, and policy of shuffling troubled priests from one unsuspecting community to another, makes me look back at what should have been a glorious time in my life, with bile in my throat.

I am a lucky one.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Farewell to Councilman Coston

I read the news today about South Ward Councilman Jim Coston's resignation, and became depressed for Trenton. I don't know Coston personally; he isn't my councilman; I don't agree with everything he's done on council. But I believe his sort of approach to government is correct, based on how I've seen municipal bodies work in the other municipalities I've lived in, and reported on, while working as a newspaper reporter. He was the only member of city council with a bonafide spine for several generations of councilpeople, and it is gratifying that his spine was periodically contagious among his colleagues.

Trenton has so much promise: we sit in an advantageous location in this state, in our country. We have a rich heritage and so many resources. But this city is very nearly a disaster, with our crumbling infrastructure, our empty bank account, our violent crime, our remaining businesses that don't stay open when most people are home from work, and of course, our self-serving, small-minded politicians. We also have a lot of people here who are used to the status quo of back room deals and a lack of openness, and the complete apathy on the part of the citizenry. I can't see how any self-respecting person in government would choose to operate that way; I don't know how those officials would continue to choose mediocrity, but they're the ones who have to sleep with themselves at night. Maybe they can close their eyes and fall asleep, content in their half-assed, self-absorbed (at best) approach to representation.

If we learn only one thing from Councilman Coston's brief stint here in city government, it is that we must demand more. He planted a seed here, by showing willing members of council, as well as the people of Trenton, that there is a much better way of conducting government business — with openness and respect. I hope that seed has had enough time and care to take root; I hope it germinates and thrives, and we, the good citizens of Trenton, not only come to expect, but also demand if need be, that high quality work ethic from our other representatives.

I am thankful for the three years he served the people of the city; he has made Trenton a better place. I hope Trenton will continue to improve for his efforts, but right now, it's hard to be optimistic. Regardless, I wish the best for Reverend Coston and his family as they start the next chapter of their lives in Texas.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A compare and contrast, and some more introspection

The comments and notes I received after my recent quality of life posts have resonated with me. Those comments focused primarily on my attitude, which I have been exploring on my own, and mentioned — though only briefly — in that post. I explored all the things wrong with my neighborhood, instead of what the hell is wrong with me.

I tend to write when I am most irritated, or angry, or confused, as a means of working through my thoughts and feelings. When I do that — and I'm not unique in this regard, I'm sure — I may be prone to exaggeration and sweeping generalizations. I know that not every former Trentonian is a wuss who gave up on the town. I know that not everyone who lives outside these borders owns a large, starter mansion. And only most — not all — people who do live in large newly constructed homes are insufferable. Along the same lines, many — not all — of my neighbors suck. There are good (and bad) people everywhere. Sometimes, in the thick of a severely irritating week, it is easy to lose sight of that. And when there's so much negativity, it breeds more negativity; I was pissed about what's happening on my street, and lashed out a bit at non-Trenton locales, and really, only some are deserving of my wrath. I'm sorry about my ego; my tendency to criticize so harshly.

I spent a long weekend in Canada with my in-laws in my husband's home city. Peterborough, Ontario, in many ways, shares some characteristics with Trenton. Population is about 80,000. Industry is basically gone, and there isn't much work. It has a beautiful waterfront (utilized in Peterborough). There are some rundown areas, and some crime, too. Where it's very different is that there is a bustling downtown. There's more than one coffee shop, and they're open on holiday weekends (yes, Cafe Olé, that's a dig at you); there's a wide assortment of restaurants, stores, bars, clean and safe parks; a zoo, a university, gyms, and even a brand new spa at the end of the street of my husband's childhood home.

Brenda and I loaded Matthew into a stroller loaned to us by Brenda's friend, Nora (thanks Nora!), since our car was so full of barrels of pretzels and Yuengling (both are unavailable in the Great White North, and very popular) to accommodate Matthew's stroller. We leashed up Stevie, and walked for a few hours through the streets of Peterborough, down to the water, where we stopped for a rest and a snack.

Brenda pointed out just about everything, including plenty of lousy things about her city. There's A LOT of petty crime, a lot of vandalism. Someone broke an arm off of the romanesque statue out front of that new spa, but it was repaired. (And the owners feel comfortable enough that they even have an aviary outside; a sociable cockatiel called to us as we walked by.) Peterborough is home to Canada's Canoe Museum (there's a lot of water in Peterborough, so the canoe was important there), and Brenda reminded me that this past Christmas, some jackasses cut down and made off with a large, old evergreen tree that stood outside the building (she also blogged about it not long after it happened). Brenda's home was recently broken into, and her purse and a few other valuables were stolen; not long after that, someone hit her car, and broke off the mirror on the driver's side; her father's extension ladder was stolen from her house. Glen tells stories of countless stolen bikes, break-ins, and bullies. Peterborough ain't no Mayberry.

But it's no Trenton, either. Gun crimes are virtually unheard of in Canada; violence against people is rare (unless you're drunk at a bar, or happen to be inside a hockey arena, where beatings are not only legal, but encouraged). Being able to walk for a couple of hours around a functional city was refreshing; and it made me melancholy, because Trenton could be that way, without — I think — a ridiculous amount of effort. That walk in Ontario, and the comments I received after my last post (several of which came while we were in Canada), seriously made me, for the first time, want to pack up and leave Da Hood.

We drove home on Sunday, and as we approached New Jersey, we were filled with a complicated mix of feelings: we were anxious to get home, yes; but filled with trepidation, too. What would we find? The whole way home, I thought — and Glen and I talked a bit — about the possibilities if we moved. Right now, the housing market sucks. Where would we go? We couldn't possibly afford a house as cool as ours (history, size, features) somewhere else. We live within our means here. Bad neighbors can happen anywhere; and most days are good here, though when it's bad, it's baaaaaaaaad.

When we arrived home, there was no puke in front of our steps. Our house and garage were not vandalized. The new yellow rose bush we planted last year had been in bud when we left last week, and it remained unmolested while we were away; we were greeted by a large, bright bloom (which I snipped and brought inside, just to be safe). The cats behaved. My garden is now verdant and lush. And it has been quiet up the street.

In these couple of days we've been home, there have been positive developments on the knucklehead front. I want to hope for improvement, but I'm not going to hope too hard. Things can change in an instant, but I'm starting to feel better about my neighborhood, though it isn't one of the most cohesive or organized in the city.* Maybe that can change, too.

We have a few years before school becomes an issue for Matthew, so that gives us time to see what happens here; time to explore our other options. Trenton has been in a downward spiral for a long time, and I'm not sure it can sink any lower. Can it? I hope there's nowhere to go but up. We're looking forward to the election next year. The anonymous commenter said no one would give us a prize for staying; I know that's true, and I wouldn't want one, anyway. But there is a certain satisfaction in making a place better than how we found it.

We'll even hose off the puke. For now.


* My neighborhood isn't like Mill Hill, or Hiltonia, or Glen Afton, or even Villa Park: most neighbors here tend to stick to themselves, and sadly, don't often call the police when the kids at one of the two problem houses on the block, start acting up. Some residents over here did try to start a neighborhood group a couple years back, but it didn't go far; and I am, admittedly, sometimes confused and irritated by "democracy in action" in Trenton, and that caused me to back away from the start-up group in my neighborhood. City/Ward-wide, I have gone to my share of meetings, but have avoided many, many more because of concern over whether or not my head would explode from Trenton's unique brand of democracy in action. We're going to try to get to some more, despite the exploding head risks, now that Matthew is less prone to meltdowns. I don't think there's any crime in complaining, in and of itself, but lately have been guilty of complaining for the sake of complaining, and I'm sorry for that.