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.
Coming Up Empty
2 days ago