Friday, December 10, 2010

Handicap accessibility?

I thought there was an earthquake yesterday here in East Trenton: the animals were freaked out (don't they have a sense about impending doom?) and the whole house was shaking. I looked out the window and saw a dump truck and an excavator ripping apart the driveway skirts in front of my neighbors' driveways. A piece of concrete (possibly from the one neighbor's brand spanking new sidewalk?) must not have crumbled effectively, so the man operating the excavator slammed the shovel portion of his vehicle repeatedly into it, creating the earthquake sensation.

Matthew and I were waiting for my sisters and some of the kids to arrive — we met my father in Delaware last night for dinner — and they showed up a few minutes after the men finished maiming the driveways across the street, and as they made their way to mine. The dump truck pulled alongside Jenny's airport shuttle, and backed up, dangerously close, and the excavator started its disorderly, but capable destruction of our driveway skirt.

It was about 3:30 in the afternoon, and plenty of school kids were still around: we live a block from the middle school. I found it odd that the city would be annihilating our sidewalk at that time of day, and without notifying us first, but then I remembered the knock on the door at 9 a.m. yesterday, which, admittedly, I ignored. Most of the time, unannounced visitors are religious zealots, racist alarm salesmen, crackheads, and/or crackhead entrepreneurs wanting to mow my lawn, and I am just too tired to deal with those people anymore. I have a sign on my door urging them to leave me alone, but it doesn't work all the time, since I still get a lot of the above types knocking on my door.

We were running late, as my father was about to pull into the restaurant, so I strapped Matthew in, and we were off. Glen got home a short time later, and found out from a neighbor that the city is installing handicap ramps. In our driveways.

Now, please don't think I have anything against folks in wheelchairs, even though I've only seen one guy in a wheelchair around here, and he was — no lie — selling drugs on the corner, and WAY too cool to use the sidewalks anyway. When he made the drop, he took his hand off the wheel, and rolled back into the sewer drain, which was (yes, I suck) one of the funniest things I ever saw. But only because he was a drug dealer. I promise I wouldn't have laughed if he was just a regular person, you know, not selling drugs on my corner. Still, I understand that there may be other handicapped people around here, even though I've only seen that one fellow, and maybe they don't get out as much as they should because the sidewalks aren't set up for them. However, our driveways — even on the alley side, where the sidewalk intersects the driveway — were already rather accommodating to wheelchairs, since they, you know, accommodate vehicles.

My sisters dropped us off at home around 8:30 last night, and our neighbors' driveways were corralled with "Caution" tape. Ours — the same side as the school, mind you — was open, with some sort of broken rod jammed in the middle of it. I realize that it's not always possible to finish what you start the day your begin your project, but I just want to note that it's now after 10 a.m. the next day, and there is no sign of the city's workers. So, not just people in wheelchairs are going to have problems walking down the street, but everyone will. And, we can't use our garage, which I suppose is just as well, since it was shot in there anyway.


I realize that I'm just a nerd in her pajamas with a computer. I can't even drive a dump truck. But Operation: Driveway Destruction strikes me as lame-brained. The city should be ripping up the corners where the sidewalks meet the street, which are not handicapped accessible here. We happen to have a higher-than-normal drop from curb to street on the corner due to an originally moronic job by the city and/or settling issue (which is probably why the wheelchair-bound drug dealer rolled so well into the drain grate).

Yay, Trenton.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Happy Tragedy Day?

There's been some buzz around here about how Mayor Tony Mack blew off reporters yesterday, and my initial thought was that it was nothing new — it's pretty much just the Trentonian reporting on the city, and the mayor has shown no signs of intelligence when dealing with the press, anyway. So I didn't get around to checking out the video until this morning.

Holy moly. It was the Trentonian to post the video, but it shows Mack with a sizable squad of reporters, including those from the TV news (NJN, ABC, and PVI), asking him about the arrest of his brother, Muscles Davis, during the county's raid of Trenton Water Works earlier this week.

In the video, Mack wanders about the lobby of City Hall with a peaceful, yet moronic, look on his face, wishes the group a "happy Pearl Harbor Day" (huh?), and warmly pats NJN's Jim Hooker on the back.

The reasons Mack is tailed by the reporters are worth mentioning, but the other local bloggers (namely, Kevin Moriarty), along with the media (namely, the Trentonian) have done a great job outlining Mack's string of failures and questionable actions so very early in his term. I just am really tired of the public relations nightmare I endure when friends and relatives demand to know why the hell I still live in Trenton. I noticed a couple members of Mack's posse milling about in the background of the video: you idiots actually get paid to put a positive spin on the city and the mayor. Can you try, for the love of god, to keep Tony from wandering around with the peaceful/moronic look when reporters are around? Can you encourage him to not tell journalists they have the wrong number when they call him? Can you write one coherent, if bullshit sentence, for him to use when approached by the press? Here, let me help you with that:

"Good to see you [insert name of reporter here]. I have no comment on that at this time. Thank you."

That one's on the house, losers. You're welcome.


_____

I went to the Recall Workshop on Monday night. The meeting was very informative, and attended by a cross-section of city residents with varying opinions on recalling an elected official here in Trenton. The state does not encourage this action on the part of the citizens, and makes it very difficult under state law. If you were unable to attend the meeting on Monday, and you're interested to learn more, there will be a YouTube video posted in the near future, and in the meantime, you can read the slides here. In the meantime, Tony Mack, I hope you take this to heart and resign. Thanks.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Mischievous Bullet

Warning: cussin' laden

I suppose I am one of those people who thinks the universe is opinionless about our lives. It's not for lack of exploration or lack of desire to have some kind of belief in god. I'm not looking to debate, or get converted, or convert. It's just what I've been able to discern from my time here, and that's all, and I mention it so you may better understand my heart as I offer my latest tale of woe from Trenton.

I don't mind randomness as a general rule. Sure, it can be a big scary world out there, but that's just not completely fair. We live on a lush, round planet, and it is not difficult to see the beauty in the chaos, if you want to see it.

And, I think, regardless of our motivation for finding and being and doing good, most people, in most communities do want to find meaning in the randomness. It's what we humans are designed to do. We may have no choice but to live in a random universe, but it is in our nature to defy that uncertainty, all the same. So most people try to make positive and meaningful lives, with the resources they're given.

But I have found myself in a place where making our lives count is plain difficult, where the negative aspects of randomness are celebrated. This became clear to me earlier in the week when we discovered a bullet hole in our garage door, which led to the discovery of a bullet lodged in the radiator of Glen's car.

Do I live in a city where a random fucking bullet does not matter?

I think I do. And, I'm probably wasting my time bitching about the random fucking bullet that hit our car and put a hole in our garage, since a different random fucking bullet that hit 7-year-old Tajahnique Lee in the face in 2006 (while riding her bike), and yet another random fucking bullet that killed 13-year-old Tamrah Leonard (at a block party), failed to sustain the proper indignation among the good people in Trenton to crush the mentality that breeds random fucking bullet shooting assholery.

You pro-gun people out there: please don't fret: I'm not making any kind of statement about the rights to your firearms. I'm just saying that average citizens who use them in cities a) don't have any common fucking sense, and b) are assholes. If you don't agree with me on this one, well, maybe you a) and b), too.

So. Back to my random fucking bullet. Upon its discovery, Glen, of course, called the police. Despite this abhorrent act, my neighborhood has seen so much improvement — albeit with a little up and down — over the years. Yet, in the last weeks, we have found ourselves at the relative center of some of the ward's hot spots. We know this because a not-so-random bullet took down (but did not kill) a local thug a block a way, and Glen was around to hear the activity. And, there have been other skirmishes, on the other side of Olden as well. When your garage and car have been shot in your usually random fucking bullet-free neighborhood, it may not be your first thought to remind the officers of the problems nearby, especially since, well, come on, they should already know.

The officers who responded to Glen's call did not, in fact, know of any recent problems in our neck of the East Ward, nor did they remember any reports of guns fired. Therefore, our random fucking bullet was relegated to mischief, but only if we wanted to file a report at the station.

The now-mischievous fucking bullet, of course, could have just as easily hit the house, a window, a child, MY child, a friend, a neighbor; it could have even easily hit an asshole down the street. But it hit our garage and our car. Everything about this bullet is appalling and unacceptable, and it changes everything.

Yes, yes, I hear you, all of you: I am not so egotistical or stupid to not see relocating the fuck out of Trenton is a viable option. We have lost much sleep over this mischievous fucking bullet, and it brings me no peace to say, "well, at least it's the first time in six years THIS has happened." It's a bullet, for crying out loud. I'm pissed at the assholes who put the bullet through the garage and into our car; I am pissed at (some of) our empty-headed, elected seatwarmers who do nothing to improve the city because they're too busy trying to impress their friends, and I'm pissed at their friends for being impressed with their mediocrity; I'm pissed at the cops who dismissed this particular bullet as unworthy of further investigation*; I am pissed that my friends and family will be all the more unlikely to visit; and I'm pissed that the yard I love so much is mere feet away from the bullet's trajectory.

I'm just so pissed about this – obviously. And, I really don't know what to do. You know, in a practical sense. Yes, again, I hear you: we could move. But do you really think that will happen tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Don't we all know people in super-appealing suburban neighborhoods who've been selling their homes for MONTHS, even YEARS? Okay. Let's move on.

Right now, all I feel I can do is bring attention to this, and to continue to bitch that random fucking bullets are not acceptable. And they're not mischievous. I want a new way of thinking for my neighbors who have grown so accustomed to poverty and violence that their priorities are stunted to the point that they have forgotten that we, as humans, are capable of so much more than simply getting and giving that stupid ghetto version of respect. I want them to remember our design, our strengths, and stop shooting at anything, even if no children are harmed in the process. I want them to have a glorious Personal Responsibility Epiphany, which motivates them to shun the deplorable conditions and people they once considered companions.

Next, I simply ask our elected officials to banish your dumb ideas, egos, and designer clothing and accessories in favor of more sensible attire that can sustain a bit of dirt. I am pleading with you to wash your brains and kick your own asses, in the appropriate amounts, depending on the amount of time you spent warming seats instead of rolling up your sleeves and getting busy. PLEASE get outside and and lead by example. I urge you to not only look outside this city, but also to the city's newcomers who have made homes here, for ideas of how things work on the outside. And things DO function outside the city. What's happening in Trenton, isn't. If you recoil at this simple request, please look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, "What have I done so far that has worked?" I invoke you to keep staring deep into your own eyes, and into your soul — I know it's still there — until the answer comes angrily from your own lips: "Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!" I call upon you to use this shocking revelation to motivate you to stop tolerating bullshit, turning a blind eye to self-serving favoritism, idiotic accusations of zoophilia, and appointing your friends to key and/or imaginary — yet well-paid — positions because, look the fuck around: your actions to date haven't stopped the lifeblood from hemorrhaging from this city's arteries. I want you to continue to look deep into your reflection, until you're whimpering, "no more." Then, get your ass outside and, I don't know, maybe weed an abandoned property, stand with other good people on the drug dealer's corner, scare off the state workers who come sniffing for drugs on payday, help a prostitute clean up her life, feed the hungry, play with some kids, sift the shit out of the litter boxes at the animal shelter, or do something for no other reason than to help. Yeah, I know it's not your job, but times are tough. Plenty of us are doing those things besides, and we're not on the city's payroll.

Perhaps I've lost my mind entirely, but wouldn't it be lovely if all of the Trenton-hating, white-flight pizza eating mofos just shut up for a minute about the city, because, come on: even with random/mischievous fucking bullets, it is not NEARLY as bad as they say. There are wonderful people here; I spent Thursday evening at Papa's with easily 30 such folks, many of whom I never met before. The problems in Trenton are everyone's problems, in the form of higher taxes, failing schools, creeping-into-the suburbs violence, and wasted lives. Writing off an entire city, or even a specific group of people, does nothing to make anything better. Instead of hating Trenton, and eating your suburban (and inferior) pizza, maybe you can help ease the burden in our heartbreaking animal shelter; you can help plant and maintain gardens around our meticulous and graceful architecture; you can ease the pain of the homeless and the hungry and the addicted. By doing so, you help to break that cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy of poverty and underachievement. On a fun note, you can come to our great ethnic restaurants, and our nifty bookstore and art galleries. Visit our museums, or watch show at the planetarium. You can try our bakeries and of course, our outstanding pizzerias, or take a tour and see that this place is not a write-off, and in fact, full of beauty and history. Or, you can sit on your asses and post nasty, racist, and poorly constructed comments on the Trentonian's website. If you do that, well, you suck.

We live in a random universe, and while many people and communities rail against the chaos in favor of order, we live in close proximity to far more people who exacerbate the randomness, and we are currently led by those seemingly inept at even holding a flashlight for us to pull ourselves onto solid earth. We see and experience so much frustration that whittles away at our quality of life; we have a different set of standards for the behavior that happens here. I hope that we cling to the good core within us, and stop using phrases like, "well, it's not bad, by Trenton standards." We need to look in that mirror too, and stop accepting depravity from our neighbors and halfassedness from the employees of the city. We need to sweep our porches and make it uncomfortable for knuckleheads to do their stupid, knuckleheady things. And we just have to stop tolerating random fucking bullets.


___________

* The community affairs officer has since been made aware, and has acknowledged that maybe the random/mischievous fucking bullet was part of something bigger. That's where we stand now. Maybe someone would like to take a closer look at the entrance hole or the bullet, or SOMETHING, because maybe, somehow, it's tied to something else. Maybe? I would think in a normal place, there would be follow-up. Here, I'm not so sure. Someone, please prove me wrong.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Farewell to an invertebrate

"Hey, how about Election Night, eh?" — Mister Clean

I don't care if Gino Melone is black or white, Irish or Italian, gay or straight, or republican or democrat: those words don't reveal anything about his character or ability to serve the public. Gino Melone was the councilman in my ward in Trenton for nearly the whole time we've lived here. He lives a few blocks from us; he's been to my house once; I've talked to him on the phone a few times; we've sat through long meetings with him; we see him around.

I am a Johnny-Come-Lately and because of that, when I look at Gino, I don't see him sentimentally: he wasn't my brother's schoolmate, for instance, or the kid next door. He was the councilman who sat in my living room who said so many impressive things, and as a result, I voted for him in 2006. I truly thought it was the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship. Because he earned my trust and vote, after the election, I contacted him on a few occasions about the nuisance properties on my block; I contacted him repeatedly because our corner — just a mere 4 or 5 blocks from his home — is a magnet for car accidents. I never expected him to press a magic button to solve my problems, but I did expect a response. He drank my coffee and ate my cookies and said all the right things, but I never heard from him again.

It's one thing to be singly ignored by your council representative (maybe I'm a pain in the ass?), but it's another entirely when he (or she) begins voting with utter disregard for his (or her) constituents. Sure, I know my opinions aren't shared by all of my neighbors: we're all not going to agree on everything. But, it became clear in Gino's last term that catering to a despotic — yet well-connected — mayor who didn't even live in the city was more important than doing what was right for the people who voted for him. And then he didn't even answer our calls or emails when we asked him about it. Gino had forsaken the people who nurtured his career in politics here in the hood, and intended to be installed as our next county clerk.

Would the conservatives of Mercer County vote the party line? Were they paying attention to Gino's track record in the city, where he was Doug Palmer's lap dog, and allegedly a democrat?

Trenton's East Ward has not been thriving, and while Gino can't be held entirely accountable, he did little to improve life here while he was in office. Take a look at the scads of once stunning, now decaying, homes along Greenwood Avenue, all within the East Ward, to see how far we've fallen. Despite the nagging issues that compromise our quality of life, I'm sure there are quite a few here on the East side who remember Gino as a kid and voted for him to be our next county clerk for that reason alone, even though his inaction on council did little to honor the good old days. Outside the ward (and maybe within), a few thousand people voted for him only because his name was in the republican column, even though that term doesn't erase his spinelessness on Trenton's City Council, and impotence (or lack of care?) to improve his own neighborhood. I passed him on my way in to vote on Tuesday, and wished him luck. All the same, I'm glad the voters of Mercer County elected someone else.

Gino is still young enough that maybe he'll learn that he can't say one thing and do another, at least not so often; he can't expect to lead and then not respond to the needs of the people. If he's learned some lessons this year, maybe he'll run again in a few years, and the results will be different.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Embarrassment isn't all bad

There's a reason why people urinate (and worse) on the grounds of city hall

I'm a little uptight. I've always been that way. My sister found a picture of our family, and my mother was goofing off in the picture. I was about 10 at the time, and I looked mortified. I've lightened up a tad over the years, and, a few times, I've acted without restraint, probably while I was in college, or shortly thereafter. But mostly, the fear of embarrassment continues to motivate me. I wish I could chill out a bit more, because I could see how it could be immensely satisfying to, say, mouth off to a lousy cashier, or curse at all the other drivers, all the time, or even just act really, really silly in public.

My concern, though, if I began to do those things, is that I'd start to flaunt the rules of society. I need a clear line, or perhaps, I'd stop paying my bills. I'd answer the door the way my husband does (and you know how that is if you've come over, or have been reading this blog). Maybe I'd make a scene if asked to do the very things everyone else in our society is expected to do. I would be above the pesky, annoying laws and rules of society.

I clearly have issues, but all the same, I wish some of our local officials were motivated by the fear of burning embarrassment and the judgment of others, A LITTLE BIT. Just a little bit. Without that ability to feel embarrassment, it's really frigging easy to cross over into the land of amorality. Our new mayor continues to make crazy misstep after crazy misstep, without the "burden" of worrying about what we, the people in his care, think. A judge he appointed to enforce the rules of society upon us, is, herself, so above us that she thinks she need not pay the fee to keep her license, or submit to the background check before taking office, or even pay her personal bills. I'm sure both Tony Mack and the honorable (?) Renee Lamarre Sumners occasionally do the right thing in life, because, well, that happens sometimes when you just don't give a shit.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Library

We've been operating here in Trenton without our neighborhood libraries for several months now, but we're finally on the precipice of finding out if they can reopen. I hope they do: libraries are a mark of a civilized culture, and Trenton has lost enough already.

Chances are you've heard or read about the volley between the library director, Kimberly Matthews and the mayor's office; on Monday, the mayor's office went public with the exchange and issued a bizarrely written 2-page press release. Sure, this raised questions; namely: how can the mayor guarantee the money to the library without a) agreeing to the amount, and b) putting that amount in writing?

But for me, there are other pressing issues:
1) Is Lauren Ira really making $83,600?
Laura Ira is Mack's spokeswoman, and she should be ashamed that her name is on that convoluted press release. I'm sure working for someone like Mack is confusing, but she gets paid the big bucks to digest the madness so it makes sense for all of us dummies. I'd be happy to do her job for free*, and though I don't imagine Mack would keep me for more than an hour or so.

2) How is it that Mack cleaned house when he took office, and removed several effective and respected people from their departments; created a complete circus with the firing of former deputy clerk (and former councilwoman) Cordelia Staton; and lined up just shy of 400 city employees — including cops, firefighters, and inspectors — for the firing squad, yet failed to ask the Library's board of trustees to resign? Tony! Hello! You're missing an opportunity for some more theatrics! It's not like the current board has done much to help the library system in Trenton, though, I'm not sure if whatever Mack makes of the mess will be better, based on his current track record.


___

* I offered to work for free in the city's sign shop earlier this year, but never heard back from anyone. I suspect I won't hear back from Mack on my offer to work with him on press relations either, even though I can save the city $83+k. I have all the wrong friends.

Overthinking

You'd think this picture was taken outside of one of the local bars, but you'd be wrong.


Glen and I have many large issue opinions in common, but we differ on some of life's smaller, day-to-day dilemmas. For instance, if a cat pukes in our kitchen, and I discover it, I quietly curse the cat, if I'm lucky enough to know which one perpetrated the vileness, clean it up, wash my hands, and move on. Cats vomit. If Glen encounters the same problem, he calls out to me, "Hey babe, one of the fucking asshole cats puked on the fucking floor. Fucking idiots. I fucking hate those fucking ungrateful assholes. Fuck." I call back to him, "I'll clean it up." And he responds, "No, I got it." And then there's another string of expletives, infused with rage, and it does not dissipate for at least 20 minutes.

We keep the cats out of the bedroom mostly because they don't understand that humans are usually diurnal creatures; they're wired to be active at other times of the day. We're the dummies who choose to keep them anyway. Occasionally one will slip in, and it's usually crafty Angus, our nice black cat who came with the house. If allowed, he will sleep on my shoulder all night and not bug anyone. Despite Angus's compatible desire to sleep when we sleep, when he gets in, Glen will often throw the lights on, since it's hard to see Angus with his black fur in the dark; he'll begin swearing, and will crawl around on the floor until he's red with anger and exhaustion, at which time Angus will just head to the door to leave. We've been talking about the possibility that some of his cat-directed anger over the more mundane issues is slightly unwarranted, and Glen agreed. So last night, as Angus got in, and then made his nearly invisible approach to the bed, Glen was silent. Nonetheless, I could practically hear the gears spinning in Glen's overthinking head as he waited for Angus to jump on the bed. Angus settled down on my shoulder, and Glen, feeling victorious, plucked him from me, and removed the cat from the bedroom.

Recently, some jerk dumped hundreds — yes, hundreds — of beer bottles in the alley behind our house, which is a problem because the county handles the recycling here in Trenton, and they pick-up in front of the house; the city handles trash, and they pick up behind the house, in the alley. While this is not an every day occurrence, irritations like this happen several times a month here in Trenton. Well, dumping happens constantly, with pretty much anything that's not wanted: construction debris, rabbits, cats, beer bottles...whatever. But we only encounter it a few times a month, so we're lucky, I suppose. Anyway, Glen handled the "clean up and move on" part reasonably well, and I give him credit because the bottles were funky with old, stinky beer, and it didn't stay in the bottles, so he stank when he came back into the house. Just prior to his clean up, we called the county to get another recycling bucket, and Glen headed over to the office on S. Broad, to get the bucket. He explained the situation to the woman there, and he was able to get 2 new buckets into which he was able to put the stinky Corona and Heineken bottles.

There were so many bottles, though, that he actually filled all three buckets: the two new ones, plus our old one, AND two cat litter buckets. And we weren't able to get our own recycling out this week because of the vast quantity of dumped bottles.

Bright, shiny recycling buckets are nice, and according to Glen, highly coveted. He asked me to mark our new ones with our address quickly before someone stole them. I didn't get to it right away, and he asked again, and again mentioned that he was worried someone might make off with our bright yellow buckets (even though, at the time, they were filled with scores of bottles). I marked them with our address earlier this week, which brought relief to Glen. As he was putting the buckets out late last night, he asked me to keep an eye on them, especially after the county came, so that no one steals them. I suggested that maybe he was overthinking the recycling bucket issue, and that there was a really good chance that no one will ever lift our buckets, because they are just yellow buckets, and if in the off-chance they did get stolen, we could easily get a couple more. He agreed it might be better to not worry about this unlikely scenario, unless it actually comes to pass.

Just to be on the safe side, I kept an ear out for the trucks, which came early today, and I promptly removed the buckets from our curb and brought them up to our porch, where they are empty, and so much more vulnerable.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Do-over

We went to the East Ward CPAC meeting on Monday night, primarily so we could wish Detective Bob Russo well on his retirement, even though his retirement most likely heralds a more dismal era for residents here in Trenton. He handed out an 8-page crime report, and asked every other person to take one and share with the person sitting next to us. The city's budget cuts didn't allow him to make enough copies for all those in attendance. He also offered a much thicker document for seniors; he had even fewer copies of that, due to budget cuts, he reiterated. At that time, I counted about 35 people at the meeting; within a half hour, there were 50, most of whom were seniors. The room was PACKED. We had Matthew with us, and Glen and I were swapping in and out of the meeting to hang out with Matthew in the lobby. During my time in the lobby, a woman came out of the meeting, and asked the officer at the front desk if she could make another copy of the thick document for seniors; the officer did, but reiterated that the reason there weren't enough is because the city slashed the department's copy budget.

On Tuesday, council approved Mayor Mack's childish do-over "hire my friend's law firm" proposal. I'm trying to keep an open mind, because I don't serve on council, and I'm not privy to all the legal issues that are facing the city, but I just can't help it: it rubs me wrong that council voted down Mack's proposal to hire his friend's firm last week, yet he asked again, like my toddler might ask repeatedly for a cookie after I've already said no. I thought no meant no when it came to official legislative business? And, as others have pointed out, there might be some pay-to-play issues here, since one of the lawyers in the firm hired, Lloyd Levenson, was the chair of the mayor's inaugural ball committee.

Oh yeah, and the firm is based in Atlantic City (are city taxpayers going to be footing the bill for fuel??), and we already are represented UP THE WAZOO by lawyers. Why do we need another firm — one that is not only at the opposite end of the state, but one whose CEO is a personal friend of the mayor's — when the police department is not allowed to make 50 frigging copies of a couple of documents that will help concerned citizens and seniors? Why are we in a position to lose any police officers, particularly a really helpful one like Detective Russo, when we just took on what seems to be an extraneous law firm? It doesn't make sense from my perspective.

Yesterday I sent a message to my council representative, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, because she voted yes for this new law firm — both times: on Mack's original proposal, and on his "Mommy, PLEASE" do-over last night, and I'm hoping she might be able to explain why we need this firm. I'll post an update when I hear back from her.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A letter to the governor

Dear Governor Christie,

The City of Trenton has squandered much of its gift money from the state (and federal) government over the years that it may not make sense — at face value — to send anything else our way. I understand that. But I'm also a good citizen in one of the better neighborhoods in the East Ward; we have a few problem homes here, but lately — thanks to the cooperative efforts of committed activists and the police — we've been able to stabilize the neighborhood, and we've even seen some positive changes. Our new mayor, who admittedly inherited a damaged city, continues to hurt us more with his every decision. One of those decisions is to lay off a large number of police officers. It hasn't happened yet, but the news has sent ripples through the department, and good officers are leaving while they can. This city and my neighborhood are going to be negatively affected by the reduction of police officers on our streets, and personally, it troubles me because I've invested so much time in helping to make my neighborhood a better place.

If there is anything you can do by way of state aid or executive power to keep our police department intact, you will be helping the decent, law-abiding residents of the city, along with the families of scores of police officers, and that might be enough to make a huge, long-lasting, positive impact on neighborhoods like mine. Saving our police department will be money well-spent over the long haul; yet another blighted hole in this already wounded city will cost us so much more over the years in wasted lives, time, effort, and money.

Please help us.

Regards,
Christine Ott

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Yes. Yes, it can get worse.

The idiot neighbors have been reasonably well-behaved in the last couple of weeks, but current events in Trenton are more disturbing than ever. I've been busy with work and life, and luckily haven't had much time to dwell on the unsettling news, but we were driving today, and I saw a large sign in a nearby New Jersey municipality which threatened a $1000 fine for riding off-road vehicles on the road, and that sign triggered an enormous amount of irritation and rage about all things Trenton. All of the bullshit that's been going on in Trenton just exploded in my head, and started to eat at the lining of my stomach. Thank you, Tony Mack.

If Trenton simply enforced the laws we had on our books, not only would we not have assholes riding around on ATVs and dirtbikes, waking up babies and killing spectators at events, but we would be able to generate some much needed revenue while said assholes began to learn that city streets are not the place for off-road vehicles, even if many of the pitted and battle-weary roads here, well, look like the dirt and semi-paved fire roads in the Pine Barrens.

Another bit of semi-annoyance last week was that city council proposed an ordinance that would make landlords responsible for their shitty tenants. A couple of particularly lousy properties on my street are owned by uncaring, absentee landlords; I see and hear those tenants all the time, and I loathe them, along with the people who rented to them. So it's hard for me to feel sympathy for some landlords. If there's a hell, I hope for their sake, it's as Dante imagined, and those shitty landlords suffer somewhere on the 8th or 9th level. You know, the circles reserved for those who consciously commit fraud, treachery, and/or violence against society. But not all landlords suck, and some only deserve the 2nd or 3rd level of Dante's hell: the levels reserved simply for the self-indulgent unrepentant. Hell aside, it strikes me that this proposed ordinance may be a bit redundant: there are probably dozens of laws already on the books that cover shitty tenants, shitty landlords, and shitty people in general; and if, for the love of god, Trenton just frigging enforced the laws, we, again, would not have to deal with assholes up the street (many of whom ride off-road vehicles on the streets), and we'd be able to collect fines from them until they learned how to to behave properly in a civilized society.

But instead, we're laying off inspectors and cops, the people who are the most useful in keeping the lowest forms of humanity from disrupting the rest of us too badly. One such city employee is Detective Robert Russo, one of the most dedicated officers I've ever met: he was recently offered a demotion after 36 years of service. And by service, I do mean service. He served our community extraordinarily well, and now he's retiring, and I have no idea what we'll do without him, but I wish him the best, all the same. I wish things were different. By different, I mean better for all parties involved.

And, while we're down, we might as well get pissed on a bit, right? We found out recently the annual St. Patrick's Day parade will be moving to Hamilton. I can't help but figure that this had to be in the works for several years, since, you know, everyone's pretty much clamoring to get the hell out of Trenton, anyway. Hamilton is a giant mess of suburban spawl, and I imagine the traffic problems next St. Patrick's Day will piss off a lot of Hamiltonians, but whatever. I enjoyed living in the neighborhood that was home to the parade, and walking up every year to listen to the bagpipes and watch the mummers, and it burns a bit that we're losing that wonderful bit of history. But hey, most folks in the US don't live in neighborhoods that host such big parades, so I guess we were lucky for awhile. Rumor has it that some folks here in Trenton are going to march down Hamilton Avenue next St. Patrick's Day, anyway, and I'll be there to watch. Even if it is just one guy. Who's with me?

All of this is small beans, though, compared to the water crisis we experienced this week. I tend not to worry too much or for too long; I let a lot of stuff slide, but our boil advisory caused me to lose sleep this week, something I can ill-afford to do. If you're reading this entry, you probably know all about the fiasco, but if not, I've posted some links at the end. I'm not an alarmist, but as the days of the boil advisory wore on, I couldn't help but wonder what the hell was in the water. I imagined officials furiously and repeatedly testing, and not telling us what was going on because whatever was in the water was THAT BAD. We still don't know. Why? Why don't we know what was in the water? Don't we have a right to know, since we were exposed to whatever was in the water for at least a day, before the alarms were sounded? Because of the lack of forthcoming information, I can't help but assume the worst case scenario: that we were exposed to coliform*, and perhaps pesticide/industrial runoff. I hope I'm wrong. And, based on other reports around town, I don't feel comfortable that we're completely in the clear yet. That a 30+ year veteran of the Water Works would turn whistle blower and give up his career yesterday does not instill confidence, either. I'm still concerned about washing my kid in Trenton water because I do not want genuine or figurative shit particles** and their associated bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and/or parasites anywhere near his perfect little body.

I know Tony Mack was handed a city on life support when he took office, but what he's done in his first three months continues to squeeze life from us. Please, Tony, pack up, or nut up. Please.



______________

* Coliforms are abundant in the feces of warm-blooded animals; and, according to this entry in wikipedia, as well as my recollection from a fairly recent biology lecture, they are easy to culture (which is why I don't understand why we had to boil water for so long, and had no information), AND indicate that other nasty fecal pathogens are present.

** I must make one exception for his own shit, although I don't particularly WANT those particles near him either, and do my best to separate him from said particles as quickly as possible. Maybe we'll be lucky, and he'll take to toilet training early.

Further reading on Trenton's — and Mercer County's — water crisis:
Kevin Moriarty's blog

The Trentonian has been doing a great following the story. Here's one story on how Trenton Water Works may have caused a Hamilton sinkhole. Here's another one on how worker inexperience may have caused the problems. Check their archives for more stories.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Uninspired

I'm sure you've heard that Facebook co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg, donated a million bucks to Newark's schools, and maybe you've also heard that Newark mayor, Cory Booker, has raised $40 million (so far) in his attempt to match Zuckerberg's donation.

I've been thinking a lot about this, partially because it's all over the news and my social media feeds, and also because urban education has become interesting to me. Newark high schools ranked poorly on NJ Monthly's Top High Schools for 2010; there are several high schools in Newark and some of them ranked in the 200s; a few ranked in the 300s, and one had the dubious distinction of placing lower (319) than Trenton (317). For perspective, Millburn ranked #1, and Camden ranked at the bottom, at 322.

That urban schools struggle so badly makes me feel a bit ill. I cannot imagine the hell the young people currently enrolled must endure. That we live in Trenton and have a 2-year-old we plan to educate worries me to no end. On the other hand, I really like Cory Booker, and Zuckerberg's donation — while curiously timed to some unseemly news revealed about his delving into Facebook users' profiles and the power that affords him, as well as to soften the blow of how he's portrayed in the movie, The Social Network — is an incredible opportunity for Newark to turn their schools around.

I've been also thinking about this so much because it would be nice if Trenton had the same incredible opportunity. But the reality is, Cory Booker is a friggin' rock star in the realm of mayors: he is a really charismatic, universally appealing, intelligent dude, and he inspires people to make $100 million dollar donations to his city. In contrast, we languished for a generation under a petty little tyrant, Doug Palmer, who set the stage for Trenton's total destruction; and we are currently led by a man, Tony Mack, who may very well be in over his head. I have been trying to give the new guy a bit of room to find his footing in the rubble left by his predecessor, but the truth is, his missteps in his first few months have been massive indeed, and any hope and support I had in me have evaporated. I don't think million- and billionaires are obliged to give their money away; though I think it is an incredibly generous, gracious, rewarding, and community-building thing to do. But there is no way I'd expect any of them to give money to the leadership in Trenton, based alone on the news of the back-and-forth foreclosure of the mayor's personal residence, his inability to make cuts in his own staff and salary (granted, the money the city would save there is a mere drop in the bucket, but the gesture would be hugely symbolic, and offer a clear message that he's on board with trying to fix the city's financial problems). The failure of Trenton school officials to take responsibility for not only the abysmal academic performance of students in their care, but also for the shocking financial abuses that took place right under their noses, pretty much seals the deal that we don't deserve any charity.

It bothers me to sit here on my ass and offer little but criticism about the uninspiring and often pathetic leadership in Trenton, but I firmly believe that calling attention to Trenton's shortcomings will provide some fuel for change. I hope. No one on the outside owes us anything, especially since we haven't been able to take care of ourselves. There are people in this city, some of whom are in brand new positions of leadership, who can and do inspire. It would be nice if at least one of them channels some Cory Booker, because we've got a lot of work to do to turn this place around, and we have to do it ourselves.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Why I Love Trenton

Reason #42
Roving landscapers.

(click to enlarge)

However, this may just be his means of travel.
We see him almost every day.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

StoryCorps

I spend a good deal of time complaining about Trenton; I do it because I love this city, and know we should be better. However, in the midst of the stupid politics, loud neighbors, and failed schools, there are plenty of wonderful things happening in Trenton, and that's thanks to many of people here. One of the cool things going on right now — thanks to the dedicated people who advocate for this city, and because of the great people who live here — is that the StoryCorps mobile booth is here in Trenton, recording stories of gloriously average residents. I know we have some good stories to tell.

StoryCorps is one of my favorite radio shows: it's a collection of short, oral histories that are preserved at the Library of Congress. I tend to download the podcasts and listen to a pile of them at a time, and usually wind up coming away exhilarated, although many of the stories are quite sad. Life is precious and so very good, and this show is a reminder of that.

The StoryCorps booth is parked between the State Library and the State Musuem; you'll need to make a reservation to record your story. Trenton, I'm looking forward to hearing your stories.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

...In honor, glory rest


Many of our quality of life issues have improved over the last few months. Summer here was downright suburban, and I'm glad: I don't feel like dealing with the behavioral issues anymore. A beautiful weekend wrapped up our quiet summer, and Glen, Matty, Steve and I walked around the neighborhood a lot. We noticed such a bizarre blend of the beautiful and much improved, alongside the shameful and dilapidated. I hate to be negative, but this post will show off some of the problem areas in my part of the east ward, in the hopes we can fix this place up. Right now, I hear some hammering and sawing and weedwacking down the street, which feeds my optimism.



Why are so many of the cables like these here in Trenton?

Playground at Villa Park.

House on Hamilton Avenue; most of the cars do not have plates, but they have an attack dog to protect them.


We have a mail relay box like this one on our corner. It was the bane of my existence for several years, until I decided to plant flowers around it and/or the neighborhood douchebaggery decided to sit elsewhere. Ours was covered with graffiti for quite awhile, and it took A LOT of energy to get the post office out to paint it back in 2005. The post office came out again a few weeks ago to repaint all these boxes, and this one, on the corner of Cuyler and Gladstone, on the grounds of the Hedgepeth-Williams School, must have been painted in a rush, or by a blind person. Green spray everywhere. So thoughtful that the post office would do that in front of a school.

It's no wonder the post office doesn't give a shit about how its mailboxes look on school property in Trenton. The schools couldn't really look any worse. Here, we contemplate the sidewalk ahead, grateful that Glen put some air in the tires of the wagon.


I love u Kristie.

Sewer or trash can? Here, BOTH!

Cuyler and Farragut.

My own front yard is weedy, and I often fret over what the neighbors might think. But no more. These folks must be a big fan of all things green as they used string to hold back the "flora," instead of just mowing the lawn.

Diane's clothing, on the side of her house. Diane passed away suddenly this spring, and her children and second husband have been locked in a vicious and very public battle for her things. Diane had a lot of things. During one of their epic fights, there was a car accident in front of their house, and it caused substantial damage to the fence and property. The police tape is still there in tatters, but nothing has been done to fix the place; and Diane's kids keep throwing her stuff out onto the sidewalk and into the alley, without a care for the rest of the neighbors.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The man in the closet

My mother-in-law has a saying: "There's a Jack for every Jill."

When you look at the online gallery of mugshots in the Trentonian's story about the pile of Bloods gangsters rounded up on Wednesday night, I would like to think that maybe my mother-in-law was wrong about a few Jacks.

Alas, these lads were all found hiding in the homes of their girlfriends.

It isn't that the men in question are physically unappealing — they all seem attractive enough — that I'm dismayed that the arrestees all have women willing to hide them. It's that their despicable choices SHOULD take them completely out of the gene pool — the stuff on the inside — but that isn't the case. True, there are more women than men in our society, yet, I bet all of us know at least a few single men who are not currently running from the law. That these Trenton women would partner up with antisocial dirtbags when there are ANY other non-criminal single men out there, is befuddling to me.

Girls, you gotta step it up. Maybe you like bad boys, or you like the stuff they give you. But these men are unworthy of your affection because they destroy and abuse other people; there's a good chance you might become his next target. You need to think better of yourselves and not hang out with men like this; if you don't do it for yourselves, do it for your children. Your kid will think it's normal to aspire to be like the man hiding in the closet while the po-po raids the apartment. It's not normal. That's awful.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Why, Eric, why?

I hear all the time about the terrible roads in Trenton, and I experience them periodically, too. One thing I've noticed is that — in general — the louder the complaint, the faster the driver. My neighborhood was repaved in 2004 and isn't too bad, and as such, many of my fellow Trentonians tend to treat the streets near me like the freakin' Autobahn. Don't get me wrong, I'm not perfect; so I don't judge others for speeding, necessarily. But I am critical of their aggression, and more importantly, their lack of thought: it is wholly unsatisfying to get up to a good cruising speed, only to have to stop a half a block later. We have stop signs every two blocks here, which, in my opinion, defeats the point of speeding. A lot of people would also argue that it's dangerous — and they're right: we have about six to eight accidents in front of our house every year.

Anyway, my point is that most people in Trenton drive too fast, which is stupid because of the lack of a satisfying straightaway, and it's a downright destructive activity given the state of most of our road surfaces. If your undercarriage is damaged, there's a very good chance it's your own damn fault.

Still. If Former Director of Public Works and one-time mayoral hopeful, Eric Jackson, had only filled some potholes this spring, Trenton wouldn't be in its current pickle, and we'd all have mufflers. To be fair, it is largely an inherited pickle: we're in this terrible predicament because of the mismanagement of the former administration and council, with a little help from the current economy. We all knew the new mayor would be walking into a nightmare. We needed him to think quickly and responsibly, and instead, we wound up with a guy who can't even take care of his own family, so the inherited mess is just as tangled as ever, and the pile is growing. I feel bad for Mayor Tony Mack, but my sympathy doesn't mean that I think we should turn a blind eye to the regional headlines about his impending foreclosure; his kind-of nepotistic hirings in the face of lay-offs that will have dire, far-reaching consequences for our safety; his questionable handling of campaign money; his empty, broken promises. It's one thing if his thinking, and possibly his integrity, is so impaired that it interferes with his ability to provide for his wife and four young children, but it's another thing entirely if it drags another 80,000 people down further into the abyss along with him.

I'm an optimist, and I hope Mack can work out his personal financial disaster, and start figuring out the city's. But in case that doesn't happen, we need to be prepared to recall him. For information on how to do that, check out Old Mill Hill's latest post, and Recall Countdown Clock.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Resign, Tony. Please.


I said I wouldn't give Mayor Tony Mack a hard time until he had a chance to prove himself, and unfortunately he's doing so in all the wrong ways. I don't want to cover ground that's already been covered (Kevin Moriarty and Old Mill Hill have both summed up the mayor's egregious failings since taking office), so I'm just going to ask the mayor to resign. We'd be better off if Toonces the Driving Cat were steering the city. I requested that he pull out of the mayoral race a couple of months ago if he really loved Trenton, since back then he was only delinquent on his taxes, and taking campaign contributions from a convicted child rapist, and was recently fired for mishandling a school district's money. But the fact he didn't pull out of the race was an indicator that the mayoral position was about power, and not love of home. Those missteps are small beans compared to what he's doing now. Has Trenton not sunk low enough without the Mayor hiring felons, sneakily firing people while they're out to lunch, bringing in his cronies to positions the city doesn't need despite the financial chasm about to swallow us, letting extremely qualified volunteers walk out the door, and claiming to not understand how his own residence might possibly be listed on the sheriff's sale?

Those on the outside are probably laughing, claiming we got what we asked for. After all, the majority of voters, including me, put Tony Mack in office. I will say I pulled the level under duress and confusion: I went into the booth with no idea of how I'd vote, and had a fussy toddler with me, and I was baffled as to why the write-in side was taped over. No excuse, I know. But, I don't think voting mistakes are unforgivable: we've all voted for candidates who've let us down, though perhaps none so much as Tony Mack.

I am tired of feeling embarrassed by Trenton, especially because of what the leadership does; I'm tired of feeling embarrassed by Trenton, because of what the leadership DOESN'T do. It hurts me that we've come to accept garbage as the norm. We cannot afford to sink any lower. Mack must resign, and if he doesn't, Trenton residents need to stand together to see to his removal. We need a fresh start without ego; we need real direction and leadership. That may come in the form of a state takeover. I'm not fond of that idea, but the city is surely headed over the cliff otherwise.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pez

For the record, 10 year old Pez candies are yummy. They don't look always that great — the purple ones, for instance, are kind of mottled — but they taste just the same as fresh ones. Not that I was ever really into the candies. I just wound up with zillions of them.

Mottled, but tasty grape Pez.

It started 15 years ago: my mother gave me a little spring-themed dispenser for Easter, and I brought it into work to keep near my phone in my cubicle. I was working in tech support at MacWarehouse at the time, and I was pretty new to the job. The mid-1990s were a busy time for the computer world, and the phones were constantly ringing in the tech support department at MacWarehouse — the callers, sadly, were so feebleminded that they should not have been set loose with a crayon, much less an entire computer — making it difficult to get to know my coworkers. But, the Pez dispenser got a few of us talking, mostly because nothing brings people together like candy. A couple of my coworkers started to get me more dispensers candy, so they could eat it at work. I mentioned this to my mother, and not to be outdone, she bought me more Pez dispensers. Within a year, I had about 20.

I moved back to Trenton not long after that, and started working at a lobbying company downtown. I set up the collection on my office bookcase, and it grew there as well, thanks to gifts from coworkers and matching contributions from my mother. I had a neighbor around the corner, on Ashmore Avenue, and he actively collected Pez dispensers, so when he bought one for himself, he'd get one for me. By 1997, I had 50 dispensers.

There were too many for work at that point, so I set them up at home on a shelf in my office, prompting everyone to ask if I collected them. I'd explain that I only displayed them: others were collecting them for me. Nonetheless, my email address was pezchick@xxxx.net; the company I set the account up with went through buyouts, before it wound up with Verizon; and in the first of a series of unforgivable screw-ups, Verizon killed my pezchick account in 2004. "Oopsie! We're so sorry!" they said. "But it's irreversible." They went on to commit other serious crimes in the next few years, and I do not care how great their cell service is, or if they're an okay company to work for, Verizon can pound salt. They'll never get another dime from me.

Anyway, I don't think I've purchased more than 10 dispensers for myself in the 15 years this Pez thing has been going on; I had no need, since my mother bought them constantly for me. I hate to say it now that she's gone, but it was borderline annoying at the time. They weren't just for holidays and birthdays: every time I saw her, she handed me a shopping bag filled with Pez dispensers. My too large but manageable collection of 50 grew excessively to hundreds and hundreds.

My mom visited with my sister Jenny in March of 2008, and dropped off a large bag of Pez for me. Jenny forgot about it initially, and I didn't bring the bag home until late April of 2008. I set it on the stairs to go up to the attic, where I had my other other sacks of Pez. I didn't really look in it. My mother complained to my sister that I didn't thank her, and Jenny told her that I didn't get them until recently. I sent my mother an email to say thanks, even though the Pez were beginning to feel like a burden. A couple of weeks later, she was gone.

I looked in the bag, and among the standard dispensers in bags, there were two collectors' boxes.

The Elvis Pez does not come with a peanut butter, bacon, and banana sandwich, or sequins, but it does come with a CD.

Hello Kitty Pez.

I felt like such an ass.

Glen and I have been working on a major clean-up in the attic, and the catharsis has been great. Seeing so much floor has been incredibly motivating. But periodically, we'll stumble on something that stops us in our tracks. Gathering all of the Pez from this box and that corner, and putting them in one spot — a large Rubbermaid tote — caused my Great Attic Purge come skidding to a halt this morning. I didn't count them, but I looked at all of the dispensers, especially the loose ones, which had been on display at various workplaces and apartments. I heard Ken, the collector on Ashmore, tell me, "the ones without feet are worth more money." And, "They started out as peppermint candies in Germany." Vicky, a coworker, used to tease me about the ever-expanding collection. "You'll have to start a new shelf," she said. Another coworker of mine, Mac, in a different place and time, loved the candy but enjoyed the ritual of eating it out of the dispenser, and once, he felt badly that he ate so many, that he gave me money to buy more. My friend, Chris, on the other hand, was only interested in the candy, and she'd eat a few packs at a time, after I received the dispensers from my mom.

My large bin of Pez.

It was Chris who encouraged me today to try the candy to see if it was any good. Matthew woke up during my tasting, and he seems to really like the candy, which sucks, because every time we brush his teeth, it's Armageddon. But on a more positive note, he watched, enthralled, as I installed a pack into a dispenser — a character from the Disney flick, Cars — and I'm happy to say he's far more interested in the dispenser than the candies. This kind of thing makes me feel good: he'll never get to know my mother, and she won't have a chance to spoil him like she spoiled her other grandchildren. So, I like when he holds on to something that she touched and thought about. Maybe it helps to connect them. Maybe not. I don't know.

He's still holding the dispenser, calling it "Mater," because he calls all the cars from that movie "Mater." This particular car depicted on the dispenser is not Mater, but since I only saw the movie once, with Matthew, stopping every 11 minutes for some major toddler crisis or another, I couldn't tell you who it is, only that it's not Mater.

I'm hoping to get back to work up in the attic later today without any major emotional interruptions. And, I'm hoping this crazy Pez collection, started by my mother, is something Matthew can enjoy in the years to come.

These are two of my favorite dispensers, acquired during my MacWarehouse days:

The Tractor Trailer and Dino.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Not-Quite-Dead Cicada



Matthew has a new thing: he'll point to the eyes of a character in a book, or to the eyes on one of his toys, or to my eyes, or Glen's, and he'll say, — poking his finger into said eye — "eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes!" And he laughs and laughs. He never does this with say, a mouth, or an ear, or a toe. It's an eye thing, and that's that. We should probably discourage him, since it's a matter of time before someone loses an eye to this little game. But it's funny and he knows it, and it's cute to see his warped little sense of humor developing.

Last night, we were in the yard, and I found a dead cicada on the patio. It was perfect, as far as cicadas go, and I had no idea why it was dead. In addition to his fascination with eyes, Matthew has also shown an interest in bugs, too. He enjoys putting dead beetles and wasps into his little toy boats, so they can float around safely (as safe as a dead critter can be) in his pool. I picked up the cicada by the wing, and brought it over to Matthew, who was on the back porch, getting antsy to go in. He switched gears immediately, and sat down on the porch, looking down at the cicada, where I had placed it. "Ooh!" he said, "Da bug. Da bug!"


He pointed to the insect's eyes, and said, "eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes!" Then, gingerly, he picked the cicada up, and examined its underbelly and its wings. He moved it around and made a little buzzing noise, as if it were still alive, and flying. Then, unexpectedly, the cicada did start buzzing, and poor little Matty didn't know what to do; he froze, and held on to the bug by its wing. And then he screamed, still holding the bug. The bug buzzed again, and Matty screamed again. I gently shook the cicada out of Matthew's hand, and Glen picked up Matty; I looked up at him, and he was crying in earnest now. The cicada continued to lay there, motionless.


We went back inside, and Matthew didn't want to let go of Glen; our poor boy was spooked. Glen was waiting for a friend in Australia to call him on Skype, and so they sat in front of the computer, shirtless, watching Phineas and Ferb videos on YouTube until Matty was ready to run around the house again.

This morning, Matty woke up at 5:45 a.m., and said, "Outside? Outside?" I tried to encourage him to go back to sleep, except I had to pee. But if I get up, the ever-faithful, Steve gets up, and if he's up, he probably should relieve himself, too. So, I figured, we might as well go outside, though it took a few minutes for the three of us to stumble downstairs and get our shoes on, and burst out of the back door this morning, to greet the world at the crack of dawn.

The cicada was where I left it on the back porch. The stray (and motherless) kittens were in the backyard, and Matthew loves them. The feeling is not mutual, since Matthew's love is loud and terrifying. I scooped up the cicada with Matthew's toy boat, and showed him, leaving the poor kitties to escape to the hosta.

"Da bug," he said, without any excitement. The tone in his voice said, "That was da tricky bastard that scared the heck out of me last night."

He pointed to the bug's wing, and said, "Da wing!" Then, he pointed to its eye, and said, "eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes!" He tried to take the cicada vessel out of my hands, but I discouraged him. "Remember what happened last night?" He looked at me with a face that said, "I think I can handle it this time," and so I let him take the boat containing the cicada, and he put it on his little car, and sent it down his slide. The boat and bug handled the ride very well, but I picked them up just the same, and put the craft off to the side. We went back inside.

I was outside again later in the day, and the bug was where I left him. I gently poked its leg, and it moved back, on its own, into its resting spot, giving me the sense that it was still alive. I've never looked so deep into the eyes of a cicada that I could possibly understand its essence, but they, too, looked like there was life left in them. What happened to this cicada? Did it just emerge from its nymph stage, exhausted and unable to fend for itself? Did it just escape an epic battle against a cicada killer wasp?* Have you ever watched a battle between a wasp and a cicada? It is every bit as epic as a fight between lion and zebra, except, I think, we feel more sympathy for the zebra, and we don't have to go to Africa to watch it. That's not to say I don't feel badly for cicadas; they aren't THAT much of a nuisance around here, and I kind of like their love songs in late summer.

Anyway, the cicada is still on its side on my patio table. Time will tell if this not-quite-dead cicada joins the ranks of the living for awhile, or not.


______

* Cicada killer wasps are considered beneficial, even though what they do is parasitic, and kind of gruesome. They are large and look menacing, but they rarely sting humans. A female wasp will fight a cicada, paralyze it, and drag it down into her lair, where the female lays her eggs — just a few eggs; generally under 5 — inside of the live, but motionless cicada. The eggs develop into larvae, within the cicada, eating it alive, until the young wasps emerge, leaving the empty cicada carcass behind.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

New Normal

I've been having trouble sleeping the last few weeks, so I've been listening to podcasts at bedtime. One that really caught my ear is Radiolab, a show produced by WNYC; its focus is largely scientific, and I like science a lot, but what's hooked me on the show is that the hosts, Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad, infuse cerebral scientific concepts with lots of messy, uncomfortable, and tender humanity.

One show centered around the ideas of change and finding a new normal. One segment was about a group of baboons who got into some tainted meat, and many of the dominant, aggressive males died. The females and the more cooperative males were left running things, and over the course of the next baboon generations, primatologists noted that the group was by far the most peaceful baboon group they'd studied. There's some debate as to how this group became less prone to fighting: was the changed learned, or was it innate since the aggressive males were out of the gene pool? Can baboons even change? Can people change? Maybe.

Another story in the show talked about a small conservative town in Oregon called Silverton, and what happened there when one of their own, Stu Rasmussen, ran for mayor. Rasmussen is a business owner, a metalworker, woodworker, and electrician, and over the years, he gradually took on the appearance of a woman (his girlfriend, by the way, says a man with boobs is kinda cool). Sure, his fellow townsfolk thought he was odd, and they didn't really like what he was doing with his body, but they liked it even less when a group of conservative Christians came to visit. Stu won the election, making him the nation's first transgendered mayor.

~~~

The show has really stuck with me, because in both of the segments, the groups are small, and they've found themselves in challenging situations. Trenton, I think, sits on the edge of some big change, and we may just fall off the cliff. But maybe with some extraordinary thinking, we can find ourselves in a new, better, normal. I'm not terribly interested in criticizing Mayor Mack yet since he's only been on the job for a few weeks, and all of the problems facing Trenton were here before he took office. But it bothers me to read that he is taking home the same salary as former mayor Doug Palmer; and hasn't made any cuts to the take-home fleet of vehicles, and, like Palmer, has drivers and security guards. It makes me sick to think that Mack's talking about laying off over 100 police officers in light of the excesses right in front of his nose. Public safety must not be compromised.

In the last couple of weeks, Mack has also talked about closing the libraries and cutting hours at the pools, and then later, reversed his decisions. He is new to the job, and it's easy to blame everything on Palmer, since so many of our fiscal problems were exacerbated, if not caused by, Palmer. But it's so very rare to hear anything resembling an apology from an elected official, that we should give Mack a bit of credit. He needs to think for himself, and he needs to make some serious sacrifices, and soon.

I hope that our new administration is looking at every option to save this city. Are they looking around to see how others are coping with this lousy economy? Hamilton doesn't give take-home cars out willy-nilly anymore. That's a good idea, and one we need to see here. Newark is implementing a 4-day work week for non-uniformed employees. It's not an idea to get excited about, but it's better than layoffs, and my god, it's certainly better than laying off cops.

Elsewhere, two libraries in Baltimore now allow patrons to order groceries from a local supermarket and pick them up the next day at the library, something that could work in Trenton, and it may help our libraries to stay afloat. According to governing.com the program is funded by a $60,000 stimulus grant. Baltimore hopes to add a third location.

In New York City, the Business Outreach Center network, offers training, loans, and grants to small business owners, and informal entrepreneurs/hustlers who turn legit. Successful businesses help families, and in turn may help reduce the need for welfare, and may encourage more young people to value education and hard work. Read more here.

One of my Facebook friends posted a link to a story about a city in California that outsourced everything. And has not experience anarchy. Part of that, perhaps, was that some of the former employees in Maywood were hired back by the consulting firms handling those departments. Also, the consulting firms are doing a good job running the city. I don't want Trenton to outsource all of its employees, but on the other hand, maybe we can try it in one particular area. Namely, the Trenton school district. With the recent news that our school system is more of an outrage than we suspected, firing every single district employee, and starting over again with an entirely outsourced system, seems like a really, really good idea to me. I know that not every employee has hoodwinked us. So, maybe the consulting firm can hire back some of them after a forensic audit? I think that sounds fair. There are so many things holding Trenton back, and the school system is one of the biggest. It has — in conjunction with many parents — failed most of Trenton's kids for at least 20 years. Because everyone knows this, many people won't buy homes here, if they have kids. Businesses leave, and others don't open up shop here because our pool of potential employees is barely literate and can't do simple math, for starters. Fixing the schools with outside blood will probably save us in the short- and long-term.

I hope the new administration and city council are scouring everything for information on how to change. I know it's not exactly their duty to set up a grocery program at the library or help small businesses, but the more ideas they're exposed to, the better off we'll be.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Wombat

Wombat, the stray cat, chilled out with me, under Matty's baby pool, while I took pictures of a butterfly (the one to the left on this page) the last week in June.

I'm not the sort of person who gets depressed, but I've been in kind of a rut this year. So much has happened in my life in the last few years, and finally (for now) things are settling down. Now that I have a bit of space in my head and heart to process what's around me, I realize there's a lot to do, and yet, I'm not all that motivated. I'm not complaining about my boy, but having a toddler challenges the concept of "me time," not that I need that much. But it's difficult to do much since said toddler is not a good sleeper, and yet, has an abundance of energy.

Despite that abundance of energy, Matthew is like his Canadian father: he hates the heat. So the yard tops the list of the areas of my life I've been neglecting. The weeds aren't totally out of control, but I'm so far away from the look I'd like for my yard, and my lack of awareness and maintenance is probably why last week Glen and I got poison oak (we're both still itching by the way; Glen far worse than I am). We have a little clubhouse for Matty, along with a slide/track/car thingy, a splash table, and a baby pool, and on the days that aren't too hot, he's happy to play outside for a little while before demanding to go back in. On those days, I'm usually overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done, and I need to keep an eye on my boy around the water toys, that I'm unable to do anything, except clean up animal shit before the kid starts to pull the door off the hinges to go back inside.

~~~



If I didn't feel disconnected enough from the world, last week Glen and I were watching that show, River Monsters, with that British dude who looks like Malcolm McDowell, but slightly more psycho. While we waited for him to come back on to tell us all about the giant sturgeon that's flipping boats in Alaska and causing the people there to think they've got a malevolent demon lurking, a promo for the Animal Planet channel came on. In that promo, several biologists and/or zoologists, set against all sorts of stunning backdrops, talked about the wonders of seeing life in action: the polar bears on the ice floes and the lions in the savannas, and the great apes running in the jungles, and so forth. The banality of my own life, with my silly little crafts and the abundance of weeds and stray cats in my backyard, just slapped me in the face.

Because I haven't been in the backyard much this summer, I didn't notice that Wombat, one of the feral cats who comes around, was sick. Holy frijole, she's sick. She was born in 2007, a daughter of Liz the Whore (who is now gone), and a member of the last litter of kittens we bequeathed with names, since so much horrible stuff happened to our strays and ferals since then, that it was just too painful to even name them. I am sure that by now, Wombat is no more.

I had hopes, in the fall of 2007 of trapping beautiful fluffy little Wombie and finding a home for her; but she was elusive, like her mother. We were able to catch her sister, Garbage Juice, and her aunt, Sophie, and get them cleaned up and sterilized. We couldn't find them homes, though; so they went back outside to their colony. Wombat came around a lot, and sat nearby that fall, after my dog, Lacey, died. It was a rough year for me, since we also lost our daughter, Catherine in January of 2007. I suppose there was a bit of solace in having some other warm-blooded critter sit with me, while I reflected on life and death. Wombat was around a lot in 2008, after my mom passed away; she stuck around as I waddled around the backyard, pregnant with Matthew, scared about all of the terrible things that I knew could happen, because of our experience with Catherine, and my subsequent involvement in a support group, where I learned just about every single random and pointless way a baby can die; all the while mourning my mom's sudden death, and trying to come to terms with how that relationship went so awry at the end, without getting to make up. Wombat sat quietly through that, and generously endured the insanity of Steve the dog, who showed up on the day my mom died. She sat there, in the hostas, while Steve launched himself at her, time and time again, until he learned it wasn't worth the effort. She was curious about Matty, watching from the side; first, listening to his coos, and then later, as he ran around the yard.

She had a litter of kittens this year, and I saw her nurse her little ones on Saturday, with one eye glued closed, and an emaciated belly. Damn. I let her down; I wasn't able to trap her initially, and then when my own life got hectic, I stopped trying. She would have made a nice pet; she understood the relationship we humans have with her species; she knew she was domesticated, a companion animal, even though something went wrong in her family tree that put her just outside all of that. I suppose it could have been worse: at least she was born in my backyard, and spent most of her days here. I run a pretty good Kittyland.

She was resting in the shady spot under the lip of the baby pool on Saturday, and for the first time, she allowed me to touch her. I ran inside for the eye medicine, and moved quickly to get some in her eye; I couldn't rub it in, but maybe she would take care of that while grooming, I figured. She was so skinny and so brittle, and her gait reminded me of Lacey in her last couple of days. Damn. Damn. Damn. I took a picture of Wombat just a few days ago while I was photographing a butterfly in my backyard, and she looked fine. Life is makes no sense sometimes. Despite what I knew in my head, I hoped maybe the medicine would help, and she'd recover. In my head, I was thinking that she didn't want to be alone when she died. I am probably projecting my human sensibilities onto the cat, but to all you anti-anthropomorphists out there, I say there's a good chance we got our human sensibilities from our animal relatives.

Suddenly, Steve went ballistic, because the asshole with the pit bull came around again. Steve's barking and fervent patrol of the perimeter caused quite the commotion; I yelled for him to calm down. Glen heard the chaos from inside, and burst out of the house, shirtless and covered in angry lesions of poison oak, ready to kick some ass. Matty was startled by the activity, and for whatever reason, yelled, "baybee!" and headed for Wombat. Steve, not in his right mind, headed toward Wombat, too. Normally, she wouldn't move for Steve, but I think the added threat of Matthew made her run, with legs that barely cooperated, under our fence, and into the street, where the asshole and his pit bull were standing. Angry, shirtless Glen went out too, and thankfully, the asshole had the dog on a leash for the first time ever. But the dog, so strong, was able to pull the skinny little asshole toward Wombat. The asshole whipped the dog with the asshole's side of the leash, and the dog stopped, just inches before she reached the cat. The dog, the asshole, Wombat, and Glen all faced each other; the asshole proclaimed, "Wha da? Sumthin wrong with dat black cat. Wha da fuck. Come on, let's go," he said to the dog. As if Wombat wasn't worth the bother of the cat hunt.

Wombat ran off into the neighbor's yard, and we haven't seen her since. I cannot imagine she's still around.

To make myself feel better at times of despair in the kitty world, I tell myself we do so much for our strays and ferals, with the resources we have. After all, most people around here don't do anything, except for one of our crazy neighbors who loads them up, and dumps them in North Trenton. Not that he's helping at all. But many people do help, and are able to do way more than I can. So, I beat myself up. While I wouldn't give up our Angus or Platooski, two big Trenton cats we cleaned up and brought inside from our yard, the randomness of it all bugs me. It could have just as easily been Wombat stuck in the bushes; if so, perhaps she'd be inside now; maybe healthy and thriving. Timing was bad for Wombat, and it's unfair. It sucks.

The last few days wondering about Wombat have made me rethink my feelings of isolation and purposelessness, thanks to the Animal Planet commercial, and how extra silly our little backyard cat sanctuary seems. But I'm okay with it. I think. Wombat's species isn't threatened, and there's nothing majestic about stray and feral cats who eat on our back porch and shit in my gardens. And yet, the bond that develops between animal (regardless of regality) and human can still inspire awe, and even provide comfort. I am so, so sorry things didn't work out better for Wombat, but it has been an honor to spend some time with her, all the same.