Friday, April 30, 2010


Forget crime, forget the fiscal disaster, and forget our failing schools. The key to winning the 2010 election in Trenton boils down to one simple issue: potholes.

Yesterday, Matthew, Steve and I walked around our neighborhood. I don't do this as often as we should, and it's not because I don't feel safe. I do feel safe. But, I don't like to be annoyed, and I have a gaggle of annoying neighbors up the block, and I'd rather not see them. But, we left the house after the school kids passed by, and before the knuckleheads awoke from their alcohol- and/or drug-induced stupor, and, so it was relatively quiet. It was a lovely morning, and we were not attacked by any unleashed pit bulls. Unleashed pit bulls are a concern these days since every pathetic gangsta cliché in the city must own one of these poor creatures.

While on our walk, I took note of the various political signs around my neighborhood. There weren't that many. Most of them were for John Harmon, and Eric Jackson; one for Shahid Avraham bin Whatshisnamethisyear graced the front of the knucklehead store across from DeLorenzo's on Hamilton Ave; and one on a home across from the high school displayed a sign for Paul Pintella, which he himself must have put up without the homeowner's permission, while he was driving around in his repaired PintellaMobile the other night.

When I got home, I reread Mr. Clean's brilliant post about Eric Jackson, and then, took a look at the comments. One of Jackson's dedicated campaign workers dobermaned Mr. Clean, kind of inappropriately, I think. But, I appreciate that kind of loyalty, if nothing else. The subsequent dialogue (if you can call it that) got me thinking about the potholes. Granted, I have not been to the debates this year, and because of that, I haven't offered many thoughts about the election, and I have no idea who's getting my vote (though I'm pretty excited by the just-announced write-in candidates). An aside: not a single east ward candidate has come by our house to stump; I also find it a bit sad that my large group of hopefuls is the least technologically savvy of all the candidates in the city. Aside from Verlina Reynolds-Jackson's site, and Joe Harrison's YouTube video, my candidates are the least represented on the web. The real, non-Facebook web. STEP IT UP, DUMMIES! Sheesh.

Anyway. The potholes. I realize many of us are oversimplifying Mr. Jackson's job by complaining about the city's abundant potholes. We assume — perhaps incorrectly, I don't know, as I've never filled a pothole — that potholes should be easy to fix. But people are mad as hell about the potholes, and the damage the potholes are doing to their cars, and rightfully so. Mr. Jackson has probably discussed this a bit at the debates, but he needs to do more. Here's why: I think people really do like Candidate Jackson, despite being fervently opposed to those associated with outgoing Doug Palmer's administration. But, the difference is that Jackson was appointed, not elected; Palmer was/is his boss, whereas members of city council should have been, in many ways, the boss of the mayor. Council holds the purse. Council decides which of the mayor's initiatives makes it into law, and which doesn't. Too often over these last 20 years, Trenton City Council members have played dead when Palmer walked into the room, and/or buried their faces way up his asscrack, and it's unforgivable, because we elected them to represent us, and not act as Princess Leia to Palmer's Jabba the Hutt.

So, people like Jackson well enough, but he's dropped the ball on the potholes, as a concept and rallying cause, and also in a very literal sense, because the city is filled with them, and it shouldn't be. Who cares if the parks aren't safe, or the alleys are filled with construction debris dumped illegally? WE WANT A SMOOTH DRIVING SURFACE, okay? It really isn't that much to ask. I think many of us also want our next mayor to be a little more hands-on than the outgoing Esquire-magazine-posing poser. Jackson has a golden opportunity in this homestretch: he can roll up his damn sleeves, and get out to Ferry, and Lalor, and Market, and South Frigging Broad, and Clearfield, and Perry, etc. etc. etc. and pour some asphalt into the craters in the streets. Then, he can smile for the camera, and he'll win the hearts of the people.

If he doesn't take this weekend to fill potholes, he's a fool, and doesn't deserve to be mayor. If he passes on this opportunity, hopefully one of the other candidates will spend some of his/her election funds on asphalt, and get out there and fill these holes him/herself. Time is running out. Let's go. Whoever fills the most potholes might just win this election.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Flowers and dental hygiene

(Note: I have no idea why the formatting is funky.)

I try to spend a lot of time in my backyard* to make up for the neglect it experienced in the last few years. I've put in a lot of hours this year, and many more over the last 6 seasons, and while I — probably like all gardeners — see room for improvements, I'm really starting to get comfortable in my space.

Glen and I moved here from a rental in south Jersey, and several small Japanese maples volunteered to come along for the adventure. Two are still in pots; we planted the largest one during the fall of 2008, and is thriving this season. It's still a small tree, only as tall as I am (about 5'4"), but it's been a pleasure to watch it grow — about a foot each year.

Matty and Steve enjoy the yard as well. Matty likes to stalk the ever-present flies. He calls them "burds" right now; soon enough he will know the difference.

A green bottle fly with my potted sedum.

A lot of my smaller, flowering plants are doing well, too. A bleeding heart has grown up quite a bit in the last few years, offering several pink arches of hearts; the tulips are pretty. Steve likes to sit in this area of the garden, with whatever he can carry out of the house. We've been trying to get Matty excited about brushing his teeth, so we've let him carry a toothbrush around. He likes to carry it around, and say "Brussssssh. Brussssssh!" while trying to brush his hair with it. Then, he drops it on the floor, and Steve, ever helpful, swoops in and grabs it. If Steve is very lucky, this happens as we're headed out the back door. He enjoys nothing more than a leisurely plop in my garden, with a toothbrush.

Dental hygiene is one of Stevie's interests.

Last year, I picked up a couple of new plants, one of which was a snowball viburnum, which looks a lot like a miniature hydrangea. It blooms earlier than hydrangea, and I was looking for that. I couldn't decide where to put it, so I stuck it in a big old pot that came with the house, and set it near the garage. It's rewarded me this year with a nice pile of snowbally blooms, but I hope to put it in the ground this year, so I don't push my luck.

Snowball viburnum

The other plants I picked up last year were two money plants, at the Trenton Farmers Market. The seller told me they were biennials, meaning they live for two seasons. The first, they grow, and in the second, they bloom. The foliage last year was okay; it stayed green all year, which I didn't expect; and don't know if that's normal. This year, it shot up tall, like a weed, and produced a bunch of rather boring white blooms that look like weeds. It bummed me out a bit, because I have fond memories associated with this plant: my mom used to get bunches of it dried, and I loved the shimmering round seed pods that kind of look like money. Coins, anyway. When I saw the disorganized white flowers, I thought the lady at the Farmer's Market pulled a fast one on me, but when I looked at it closely today, I saw the beginnings of the tell-tale seed pods. Yay! I'm glad about that. I'm also glad that it's slated to die this year, because I have something else in mind for that spot. Something not so ugly. I'll report back next year.

Money Plant. Notice the little green pods? They should turn papery and silvery soon. Exciting stuff!

My parents left New Jersey in 2003, and when they did, my mom gave me a large pile of her irises that she (or probably my dad) dug up from their gardens in Little Egg Harbor. I didn't know why they didn't take the irises with them to Maryland, but after visiting their new house, I saw why: the property in Maryland was covered in irises. And, that property was much larger than the property in Little Egg, so there were A LOT of irises. My parents loved their new digs, except for the snakes. I don't have a problem with snakes, but it's because I'm from New Jersey, where we, as a general rule, don't encounter too many of them. It seemed crazy to me for a couple of proper Jersey folks — true snake haters, at that — to leave their relatively snake-free existence for one filled with the slithery reptiles in Maryland. The established fields of irises were a favored hiding place for the snakes, so my snake-hating parents decided to give up the beauty of those elegant blooms for the hope of fewer snakes. So, in 2005, I took receipt of about a zillion iris rhizomes and planted them all over my yard here in Trenton.

Nothing happened with any of the irises — the ones I acquired from Little Egg, or the ones from Maryland. 2006: Nothing. 2007: Nothing. Then, in 2008, all of them opened, and were absolutely stunning. There were pure white ones, tea colored ones, blues and purples, and burgundy ones, as well. A few of them that I planted along the side of the house were stolen, which was so offensive to me; it felt like such a violation, since I waited so long for them to bloom. My mother died, unexpectedly, two days later, and I never got to tell her how much I enjoyed the flowers she gave to me, and I still feel badly about that.

Since then, I've been puttering around my iris islands once, anticipating their big, fibrous buds. There are lots of them this year. But they're all covered with aphids. I don't remember that happening in the past, but maybe I just wasn't aware of it. Irises are tough plants, and while it seems unlikely that aphids can do too much damage, I don't trust those soft-bodied demons one bit. They always come in huge numbers, and even soft, wet little yuckies can do a lot of harm. So, I've been hosing off the plants in that area of my yard with a hard blast of water. It's a good control for aphids, but unfortunately, I probably have to do it every day or so.

Damn you, aphids!

Yesterday, my first iris bloomed: a big white one my mom gave to me in 2005. She bought that one specifically for me, from a master gardener in her area, because I was enrolled in the Mercer County/Rutgers program here that year. She was proud of me. She didn't always say so with words, but she tried to let me know in her own way. So, it's comforting to be surrounded by her flowers; flowers I hope will spread and grow over the years.

* Unlike many of my neighbors, I see the point of spending time outside, even if no one can see me.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Call for Pranks

I read a story last night about a guy who went into his local Costco and added fake price signs like "Vinyl Dungeon Restraint System $164.99" without getting caught. It inspired him to make more of these little, easily duplicated signs and send them out to friends around the country, so they could prank their Costco stores, as well. Within a few months, Costco stores around the country had signs for "Goat Balls $7.59" and "Polo Chaps Assless $119.99."

Marvelous! I have been smiling about this for hours. But with that good feeling comes one of melancholy. Living in Trenton has drained me of my creative mischief, and that makes me sad. The story of the Costco prank came at a good time, though, because I've been trying to think of non-police, non-annoying group ways of throwing a wrench into the plans and activities of the bad guys in the city. There is a place for the police, and groups do serve a purpose, absolutely. But there must be so many things that people like me — that is, relatively antisocial noncriminal types — can do to fight crime, without resorting to calling the police, or, god forbid, joining a group.

For instance, some places have resorted to playing loud music in high crime areas. Not hip-hop, in case you're wondering. Even the baddest of the bad seems be annoyed by loud opera music, a tactic used by folks in Belltown, a low income area outside of Seattle, with some success. The thought is that opera is annoying enough to drive criminals away, but not so annoying that it will offend the general population. In Australia, officials are piping in Barry Manilow to encourage criminals to think twice about conducting business in some spots. So, the use of music is an easy and free way to help deter crime, without involving the police or a civic association.

I've been reading about the mayoral and council debates; I've read many essays submitted to Beautiful Trenton. It is all well-intended, but much of it either lacks specifics, or is so high-minded that it lacks practicality. There are small, specific things we (that includes you more social sorts!) can do to help our city improve.* So, I am calling on you to brainstorm with me.* Maybe you think I should think of my own pranks and leave you out of it? I suppose I could. But I need your help because my brain has atrophied in the last few months due to life with Curious George and Bob the Builder and cleaning up Cheerios, and I'm hoping you'll sympathize. Additionally, I realize you might be tired of submitting your thoughts about Trenton right about now, but I can assure you that this exercise will have useful techniques you can use right away, and the results should be fun. You won't even have to leave your comfy chair. You won't have to get up from your computer. Think about it. Okay?

If you have an idea, send me an email or leave a comment here on this entry, and hopefully we can discuss this in the near future. Thanks!


* Now, I wouldn't advocate annoying very dangerous criminals; I realize it can be difficult to figure that stuff out. But, if you're like me, and have been living in your neighborhood for a few years, you probably have a sense of just how bad your bad guys are. Maybe they're bad enough to sell drugs right in front of your neighbor's toddler, but not bad enough to kill you if you spread bird seed near their car that just so happens to be parked next to your house, perhaps?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Moving Trenton Forward (on a spare tire, maybe)

Glen had a PintellaMobile sighting on his way home from work today. Serendipity! When he spotted it, he headed over to it and got out of his car to get some pictures.

You will notice, as Glen did, that the front passenger side tire is flat.

Is this foreshadowing of the outcome of his campaign?
A warning of what life in Trenton will be like with the Idiot Prince at the helm?
Maybe it sums up his last 16 years in office?
Or, perhaps, all of the above?

Friday, April 16, 2010


Toddlers are hard work. Especially if they're the high-energy, non-sleeping sorts. Living with one almost gives me insight into why so many other parents around me have just given up. I'm not giving up, though. And I'm not patting myself on the back, because I'm sure I'm screwing up this motherhood thing in my own way. Despite that, I take Matthew once a week to a "Music Together" program at Crean Hall, the nursing school behind St. Francis Hospital, and I was shocked and delighted to find that it was free. The program costs upward of $350 in the suburbs. Not only is the class free, but lunch is provided, also for free.

I signed up, largely, because I needed to get out of the house. That sentence seems particularly selfish, because I just wrote another sentence in an email to a friend about the benefits of being an older mom; namely that I've gotten to explore the world a bit, and have had plenty of time to do the things I wanted, so now, I can hunker down and focus on my little boy, without feeling isolated or stircrazy or greedy for alone time. But Matthew can use the interaction, too, and besides, he seems to really like music. Maybe all kids his age like music. I don't know. I have a piano, and can play a little bit, and I encourage Matthew to tinker with it. He does, happily, and with far more agility than I'd expect from a kid his age.

Matthew and I have gone three times to our music class, and the first week we were encouraged to come for lunch. Sitting still is too much to ask of my 20-month-old, in a room packed with a bunch of other moms and toddlers, and within visual range of the motherload of toys, so since that first week, we've eaten lunch at home and then headed to class.

The classroom is always too hot, and I am fat and way older than all the other moms, and I've always had lousy knees, and it's a bitch to get up and down off the floor for some of the songs. Especially when my kid is making a dash for the autoharp. It must be far more fun for Matthew than it is for me, but I don't need the pity party: it's worth it, because even at this young age, Matty is way more popular than I ever was, in any class. When we walk through the door, the other moms — a great group of Latinas, primarily — all cheer, "MATTEO!!" And I beam with pride that my kid has that affect on people. He is pretty terrific.

Most of the kids are under 3. There are some little babies occasionally, but most of the children are older than Matthew. He loves the instruments, and he loves the teacher's CD player. He was really happy today that the teacher let him try her autoharp. Often, though, throughout the hour-long class, Matty gets fussy, and will start hollering because I'm preventing him from pressing the buttons on the TV, or he'll start screaming during the lullaby because he wants to run free, and we're encouraged at that time to rock our babies. I try not to expect too much of him at this age, but he might be more disruptive than any of the other kids in the class, and that embarrasses me a bit. Today, I apologized for his outbursts, and the teacher scolded me; his behavior is normal, she said, especially for such a young boy, who's only been to 3 classes. After all, he did start to get a hang of the activities today, and more importantly, she said, when Matty hollered, he did so, "on pitch." So, there's that.

Matty especially loves when class is over — not so much because he doesn't enjoy class (I think he does, even though he does have some tough moments) — but because he can watch the older kids run up and down the hallway, away from their mothers: he squeals with delight, hoping, perhaps, for the day that he can do that too.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Times tactics

The street was littered with small white bags this morning. Glen said they were everywhere through our neighborhood when he left this morning, and he called me from work because he was curious if anyone had picked them up. I took a walk to the front of our house, and found two off to the side, and could see more dotting the landscape as I looked up the street. There were more near our garage, as well.

I picked up the bags in my immediate vicinity: they had Times logos on them, and within, there was information on how to sign up for home delivery.

Newspapers are working harder to keep and find subscribers in this tough economy. But is the "Hey, Let's Do a Lit-Encased-in-Plastic Dump On The Neighborhoods" the best the Times Think Tank could do? That sort of promotional campaign seems sooooo 19th century, and perhaps that's why the paper of record continues to slip into the abyss. Perhaps the Times Barely of Trenton would have more success with subscriptions if they hadn't gutted their Trenton bureau, and the paper really covered the goings-on in the city, giving local readers a reason to buy it?

We throw away at least two additional large bags of garbage every month, due to all the litter we pick up. So, there's a very good chance that many of my neighbors didn't even notice the newspaper mess this morning. But that doesn't absolve the Times. They should know better.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Cheeseburger Truck

I'm not religious, but when my father comes to visit, I pray with all my heart that the little wasters in my neighborhood can be on best behavior for a few hours. Each time my father calls to say he's a few minutes away, I begin the conversation in my mind with my neighborhood's knuckleheads, and I ask for three simple things:

  1. Try not to kill anyone in front of my house, or on my block, if possible. Please. This may sound like a no-brainer, but in 2008, two of the city's homicides took place just feet from our front door, so I have reason for concern.
  2. Keep the drug dealing to another corner. There are lots of corners in this city.
  3. Keep it to a dull roar. My father is mostly deaf, so this is a very reasonable request.

I'm not asking for a lot, right? My father is already not thrilled that we live where we do, so I hate for him to witness any of the all-too-typical antisocial behavior that occurs near me. Don't get me wrong, we go many days, and often weeks, without any significant annoyances (or worse), but the summer-like weather made for a very bad week here in my neck of the woods, and had me on edge.

My father arrived on Friday afternoon, and the plan was to spend much of the weekend in the backyard taking care of some home repair projects: our gate and back steps were dilapidated and needed some major work. The weather on Friday was more springlike than it had been all week, so my prayers had been answered: the wasters were cold and quiet. But maybe they were worn out from the week's free-for-all? I have no idea.

Saturday was chilly, but much sunnier, and it started off well. The gate had been finished, and my father started working on the steps. I was very pleased that the idiots kept quiet, including the two young fathers who are prone to loud behavioral issues. Around 5:30, though, a few of our chronic jagbags pulled up to the corner and held a "who's car stereo speakers are louder?" contest, which my deaf father could hear. And feel. We hear loud music all the time. The drug dealer who lives up the street gets a lot of company, and all of his friends have loud stereos, so we hear them coming and going. But this was far more aggressive. The entire block was shaking. I could hear a couple of the turds yelling at each other to "turn it up! Let's see how loud we can make it!" A very short time later, several police vehicles descended on the corner, which caused an immediate decrease in volume. Two of the jerks wandered off too fast, and the cops rounded them up for questioning. They held on to the guys for quite awhile, and I was certain that they were going to get arrested, but alas, that was not to be. The quick police response may have sent a message to the idiots on the street to keep it down for the rest of the weekend, because, for the most part, that's how things went. For that, I am thankful.

The ice cream man went by at about 10:30 on Saturday night — the latest I've ever experienced* — which didn't bother my dad, partially because he's deaf, and partially, I think, because the convenience of food in a truck has a certain allure to him. So, when I told him there's also a cheeseburger truck that comes around, his opinion of my neighborhood definitely went up a notch or two. My father thinks the Cheeseburger Truck is a handy service, "in case you don't feel like cooking, you can run out and get a burger," he said. Of course, that occurred to me, too, but my problem with the Cheeseburger Truck is that it plays THE most annoying song in the world, which involves clapping, and a voice that calls out, "Hello!!" and that alone works like a repellent for me. Also, it attracts my neighborhood's wasters, and they order everything on the menu, which, in case you were wondering, takes about an hour to cook. All the while playing the irritating song with the clapping and the "Hello!!" I do not want to wait for dinner with those people, while listening to that music. But, I digress. The Cheeseburger Truck did not make its rounds this weekend.

There was a rowdy group of people who walked passed the house around 4:30 am, which woke up my dad; and later, there was a verbal domestic problem involving a woman screaming "if he's gonna stay out all night, he can just stay out," around 7:30 in the morning. All told, not a bad weekend. Especially since the back gate and the stairs look fantastic. My dad said he'd probably come back again this coming weekend to help finish a few other projects. I was planning to make a nice dinner, but maybe I can skip all that work, in the hopes that the Cheeseburger Truck comes around?


* I'm officially old because I spend a lot of time criticizing the up-and-coming generation. I know that each generation is guilty of complaining about the next, and, historically, the next generation is generally okay. But I have my doubts about this generation, at least those who live near me. The problem with the late-night ice cream truck is that it indicates a lack of concern on the part of the area's parents. Who cares if the kids eat ice cream after 10 pm? Who cares if they ever go to bed?

Thursday, April 8, 2010


The kid across the street was 10 when we moved in nearly 6 years ago. He was a short, wide child, and hasn't appeared to change physically since 2004, though he smokes cigarettes now. I see him on his front porch, sneaking those puffs, with a worried look on his face, as he peers to the back of his house to make sure his grandmother doesn't catch him. It's not okay for a 16 year old to smoke, but I still see him as the 10 year old boy; it's distressing to me that he'd pick up such a terrible habit. But, it could be worse. I won't rat him out, but I hope his grandmother catches him, and soon.


A young white woman in a Honda with PA plates has been pulling up alongside our house every day for the last week or so. Glen noticed her first, early last week. She doesn't have the hallmark emaciation of the drug users we're accustomed to seeing around here, but we couldn't figure out why else she'd be idling near our dining room window every day at the same time.

So, I figured I'd go outside with Matthew, and stand on the sidewalk, near her car, which is also near my steps. If she was idling, say, to pick up one of our neighbors for a social visit, she'd stay put; if she was idling in front of my house for drugs, she'd probably pull away after a short period. I knew it was risky, but this is my home, and I can take my son out to my side yard if I choose, even if there's a strange woman hanging around, possibly for an innocuous visit with a neighbor, or possibly to buy drugs. When she saw my animated, curly-headed baby, she smiled — genuinely. Then, she fumbled with her purse, her cell phone. Glen pulled up, and even though I was perfectly content to hold my ground, I was relieved to see him. Matthew laughed and bounced in my arms when he saw his daddy, and the young woman smiled again. I stood by her car while Glen parked; and after Glen crossed the street to greet us, the woman in the Honda pulled away.

I don't want that woman — and others like her — to think her little habit isn't hurting anyone. Her actions put the drug trade right in front of me. I want her to see my face as she conducts her supposedly harmless business; I want her to see my family as she degrades my neighborhood. I hope she's filled with a shame that motivates her to change her ways, or at least the corner where she waits for her dealer.

I don't want my child to look out the window, or over the fence, and see what I see now. I do not want him thinking the chaos in this city is normal.


The city is full of many beautiful things; beauty that should be addressed and nurtured and advertised; and I can be a cheerleader from time to time. But I am not going to turn my head to the the dilemmas in our community. We've done that for too long. It's currently after midnight on an unseasonably warm Thursday in April, and my idiot neighbors have been whooping it up across the street for the last two days, non-stop. Included in that mess of people is one very small child I can hear and see from my window, running, screaming, laughing, crying; too young to understand she is only an accessory, like an attractive handbag, in her mother's ensemble; and sadly, one that may get cast aside as the seasons change. That poor little girl will probably grow up too fast, like so many other kids in this city.

I know my loud neighbors, and the neglected little girl hanging with them tonight, and even the drug dealing that happens on my corner, are minor compared to some of the nightmares that happen in this city. The story of the 7-year-old girl who was pimped out by her 15-year-old sister and raped repeatedly is beyond my comprehension; I cannot even imagine what may have brought that about. I heard on the radio today that our sense of fairness is not innate, but rather, is fostered by our communities. Some days, I'm afraid the community in which I live is one of those without a proper sense of fairness.

A huge factor in our lack of fairness is apathy, and that's something we can change.* If we fight our fears, and stand up for a better life for the good citizens in Trenton, particularly those who are unable to speak for themselves, hopefully there will be fewer stories in the national news about the atrocities against Trenton children. And hopefully there will be fewer people silently slipping through the cracks, along with our humanity.


* Sorry to get all preachy. I hope I don't sound like a pompous ass.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I am within earshot of two young fathers of young children, and this post is for them.

You need to grow up. Growing up means not calling anyone — particularly the mother of your child — a bitch. Especially in front of other people; especially your child. Growing up means it's not okay to scream "fuck you, you fucking bitch! Go ahead and call your brother! I ain't going nowhere!" over and over from your parents' porch. Growing up means it's not okay to carry on loudly on your parents' porch until the wee hours of the morning, just because you don't have anything else to do. The rest of us DO have other things to do, which includes a desire to not listen to you. Growing up means taking responsibility of some kind. Responsibility means, but is not limited to, finding a job, and/or something productive to do with your time, so you can help provide financially, or at least morally, for your child. It is not okay to have psychotic episodes on the corner and scream with blind, primal rage. It is not okay to sit in your car and listen to incredibly loud music at 11:45 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. every night; chances are, your family is losing sleep because of it. Maybe they're more understanding than I am. I, your neighbor, am actively wishing you would go away forever, except in a way that's unsuitable to share here.

You are not cool or hip or flickity-fly, and you're certainly not keeping it real. You are losers, and it seems that you worked very, very hard to achieve that, and that makes you pathetic, as well. It's far less work to be real men, and far more rewarding. But are you capable?

To your women: is this the best you can do? Really?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The opposition

Congratulations and thank you to the band of Trenton residents who opposed the city's attempt to sell the Trenton Water Works. Thank you, too, to that dedicated group for fighting the appellate court's decision, which (confusingly) sided with the city. Today's Supreme Court victory will allow the residents decide the fate of the last money-making asset in the city. The decision sends a message to the outgoing administration and council: we, the constituents of Trenton, are imperfect and may not always agree, but we are not your wards. This is our city, and we have a say.


Can someone provide numbers on how much money the city wasted in this lawsuit against the citizens of Trenton? Should Doug Palmer be held personally responsible for the lawsuits he inspired — and lost — over his 20 years in office?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

School Failures

The last couple weeks were busy ones for the Trenton School District, and that prompted a lot of discussion among my friends. In case you've been out of the loop, or live outside the region, here are some highlights:

  • 218 of 357 Trenton Central High School seniors may not graduate because they've failed a proficiency exam, and, somehow, only just found out about it. They'll need to pass one of two proficiency tests, and the results won't be ready until a few weeks before graduation, leaving these kids without a certain future for a few more agonizing weeks.*
  • A Latino teacher at the Daylight Twilight Alternative High School filed suit against the district, alleging he applied — and was repeatedly passed over — for 20+ upper-level positions over the last 5 years, because of his ethnicity.
  • In the wake of Governor Chris Christie's budget cuts, the district is planning to cut 215 jobs.
  • In the wake of Governor Chris Christie's budget cuts, the district is planning to close three city schools (Stokes, Harrison, and Rivera).
  • 12 of the 18 security guards at Trenton Central High called in sick Friday, March 26, to attend an early morning school board meeting to protest the possible outsourcing of their jobs, leaving the high school scrambling to keep the hallways and borders safe.
  •  Blogger and substitute teacher Skip Harrison was attacked in the school in which he was working, earlier this week.

It's been busy, indeed. The news, along with the discussions that ensued, are helping me form stronger opinions about the education of our child. There's a consensus among my friends that since we (as in "the people," but not "we, the residents of Trenton") pay taxes for public schools, we should be able to use them with confidence, the way we use the roads, or count on food inspectors to do their jobs.** My friends and I are products of the public schools, and we're okay. I have nothing against private schools; I'm generalizing a tad, but there's a sense of entitlement in private institutions, along with the icky consumer excesses that are usually less prevalent in the public sector. The more level playing field in a public school, allows young people to focus on their studies, and a little less on their clothing and so forth. At least in theory. Yes, I know we're talking about teenagers.

The school system is broken in Trenton; there's no putting a positive spin on what's happening here. Sure, some kids do well, and get out alive, but they're the ones with parents who are doing their jobs, by being positive role models and nurturing important life skills. They teach their children very basic, but important concepts like listening and focusing; and maybe those kids were born with some common sense of their own, too. I hope Matthew was born with a good, curious brain and heart; I plan to do my job as a parent so that he's not adding to the problems here in Trenton. However, when we send our kids off to school, we don't decide whom they sit next to, or whom they'll hang out with in gym or in lunch. There's a very good chance, in a Trenton school, that the parent/s of the child that my child befriends will not have the same hopes and dreams for the next generation that I have. And with so many kids who have parents who don't care much, it's no wonder that the teachers aren't able to do their jobs. One criticism of the public schools is that classes are designed to be easy, so that more kids can succeed. But if the classes in Trenton are dumbed down to the point that it's not even about academics, but rather, ensuring that fewer people are getting hit in the face with books, how can anyone learn anything? There's a very good chance my child won't get educated in a Trenton classroom, AND, even worse, he could become a knucklehead because of the people he's around.

My child is too important to me to risk his future in the schools here. I'm not giving up hope; maybe things can turn around, but we're saving up for tuition just to be safe.


* This blows me away. Skip Harrison, the gentleman in my last bulleted item above, wrote an insightful piece on 3/25, that may, sort of, interpret what's really happening with the students who failed the proficiency test.

That so many kids could fail the test the first time around is proof to me that the schools here in Trenton are not working; since the failure rate elsewhere is not nearly as high as it is in Trenton. Check out the comment section in the Trentonian, after they reported the story of the mass test failure, for further evidence that the schools here are a wreck (a warning: the comment section is scary in and of itself). I can understand the "keeping it real" philosophy to a small extent, but that does not include writing horrifically (poor grammar, slang, all caps); no one will bother to decipher that mess. That's the problem with "keeping it real": the bulk of the population responds by saying, "okay, you do that, honey. I'm going to enjoy my life. Buh-bye." I scanned those difficult-to-read comments and I think the basic sense is that people who complains about the students and/or don't have children in the schools, and/or newcomers are haters, and don't have the right to criticize. There are some haters, to be sure, but everyone has the right to an opinion, including people who cannot express themselves well; besides, the nearly 20 years of silence about the problems in the Trenton schools has done no good. If it takes some childless newcomers to provide the catalyst for change, then yippee. That needs to happen. But these kids, through a series of tragic failures (of their parents, mostly) that brought them to this point, have no attention span, no understanding of consequences, and they demand instant gratification that studying and sitting peacefully cannot provide. It can be hard to pay attention in class; playing video games, riding ATVs, doing/selling drugs, and even just hanging out with friends can be more fun than studying. But come on: when you're young, you have so much energy, and an incredible ability to get so much done in a day. There's no reason that I can think of that kids here can't play AND study.

I wanted to see what the kids were up against, so I looked online at many available study guides for the test in question, the HSPA, or the High School Proficiency Assessment. Because of my personal strengths (language arts) and weaknesses (math), I had mixed feelings. Namely, the language arts section was reasonably easy, even for someone like me who hasn't been in a classroom for a very long time; and the math section was difficult, most likely because I haven't been in a classroom (especially a math classroom) for a very long time. But it didn't look any harder than any test I faced as a kid; and when you're immersed in the concepts presented in the test, it should not be THAT hard; never so hard that almost your entire eligible-for-graduation class fails.

Over the years, it's been said that standardized tests cater to non-urban kids. I can see how the differences in the lives of an urban kid versus a suburban kid in the very young grades factor in, but as kids get older, don't things level out a little bit? I'm asking that because I really don't know. Regardless, I think at some point, an older child HAS to be aware enough to take SOME responsibility for his or her own success in school, regardless of how bad things are at home. School can be a refuge and a gateway to freedom from poverty. Why do so many urban kids choose chaos? How do we break this cycle?

** I am seriously baffled as to why the suburbs, who ARE paying for the schools in Trenton, aren't complaining. Hello, Lawrence, Hopewell, Hamilton, The Windsors, Robbinsville, and The Princetons! You're taxed up the wazoo, and 218 of 357 Trenton High School kids may not graduate! Hundreds of others dropped out before they even took the test! You may as well throw your money out of a moving car on the highway! There's a very good chance it will wind up in hands of people who will spend it better than it's been spent in Trenton.