Sunday, June 27, 2010

Save the po-po

The last 6 weeks or so in my neighborhood have been wonderful, aside from a few isolated incidents. The loudest local troublemaker was arrested, and someone, somewhere, put the smackdown order on the two major problem houses: a pack of dirtbags were evicted from an apartment across the street, and our local thugs had a pool installed behind their house, and they've been spending a lot of time in it — and keeping it respectable! — instead of all over the streets.

I have a very hard time believing that the universe conspired to make all of these neighborhood- and sanity-saving acts occur simultaneously. My bet is that the police were heavily involved, and for that reason, I'm loosing sleep at the thought that the new administration might lay off 142 cops*, which, I think, is roughly one-third of the department. I am deflated, and worried, and so very, very tired.

I never thought I'd say this, but it's also distressing that Mayor-elect Tony Mack will be letting go of Police Director Irv Bradley, as well. It's Mack's prerogative to clean house, but it seems to me that the police department has suffered needlessly under tumultuous leadership for too many years; Bradley was able to bring about some peace. Happy cops, in my opinion, do a better job for the community. That, along with some better policies, has brought about a tangible reduction in crime in the last two years. Former police director and mayor Doug Palmer crony, Joseph Santiago, had the "crime is down" mantra, but uttering it so many times, especially with no action to help it happen, did not make it so.

Bradley has been the target of a citizen-based lawsuit, due to residency issues (does/did he live in Rahway, or here?), and I do believe in residency. But I also believe in a working relationship with the police department, more than high philosophical issues like residency. I met Bradley in December, during a walk around Villa Park with police officials, and I was really impressed: he listened to our concerns. He really listened. And he doted on Matty, and that earns him bonus points in my book.

The other philosophical issue surrounding Bradley, is whether or not Trenton should have a civilian, mayor-appointed director of police, or if we should have a police chief. Bradley's predecessor, Santiago, was so unpopular that opinion (civilian, at least) has shifted back toward chief, it seems. Personally, I think the police department should decide. If they're happy with Bradley, and the city can afford him, he should stay. The clock is ticking, though, and my opinion probably doesn't even register with the powers-that-be, so I just want to express my thanks to Bradley. I thought we'd be getting more of the same Santiago nonsense when he took over in the fall of 2008, and I am deeply satisfied to have been so wrong. Mr. Bradley, thank you for a job well done, and all the best to you.

Back to the layoffs, because I'm kind of obsessing about them: Mack will be implementing Palmer's layoff plan, and that rubs me wrong because Palmer has wasted our tax money for too many years, with legal battles and an extravagant posse of security and assistants, and cars, and preferential treatment and bending rules, and who knows what else. In a perfect world, I'd like to see him pay the city back — at least for money wasted in the legal battles. I realize, too, that Palmer is full of experience and information about how to run the city, and it behooves Mack to listen. But it also behooves Mack to take a look at how other New Jersey cities, especially Newark, are dealing with the budget crisis because there's a very good chance that Palmer's insight is not so insightful. I hope every single intelligent money-saving option has been explored, because layoffs in the police department will be absolutely catastrophic to the community. I cannot bear the thought of what will happen in my neighborhood.

Instead of layoffs, I implore the new administration to insist on tougher enforcement of all city ordinances (as well as state and federal laws). During the campaign, Mack said he'd work to improve quality of life in this city. I hope he realizes more tickets issued to offenders of even the simplest infractions, like tinted automobile glass, mean more money for the city. More money means it's easier to keep police officers on the payroll, and improved services all around.

I was just about done with Trenton earlier this year, and our peaceful six weeks has restored some much needed hope and enthusiasm for me. I urge the new administration and the police unions to cooperate in order to keep every single police officer on the payroll. We need them.


____________

* The Mack administration is also talking about laying off 78 firefighters, which is also a mistake. I am fortunate that we have not experienced a fire personally, or even one nearby. But wasn't there a fire every couple of days all winter long this year? How much worse will it be with 78 fewer firefighters? Much worse. That's how much.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Something for nothing

I was out of town all day yesterday, and as I drove north on Olden toward home, I had a little trouble navigating through the cars filled with Trenton Central High seniors, honking and screaming, with congratulatory messages scrawled into their car windows with white paint.

High school graduation was a big night for me, too. I remember the lines of honking cars and the exuberance. Life awaits. It's a good feeling.

But the differences between Trenton and my hometown, Howell, are profound. For starters, close to half of the incoming freshmen drop out before their senior year here in Trenton. Also, of the seniors eligible for graduation here in Trenton, more than half of them failed not only a basic proficiency exam, but later, an alternative version of the test, required for graduation. Instead of holding these kids back and requiring them to go to summer school, or even repeat the grade, Trenton school administrators scrambled to do what's been done for too many years: they pushed these unprepared kids forward. They didn't want to negatively affect the kids' self-esteem, so they allowed the failing kids to walk at the graduation ceremony, and get a diploma.

I had a good friend in high school whose girlfriend dumped him a few months before graduation, and he took it particularly hard. He stopped going to English class for whatever reason — just his English class, since I saw him in our other shared classes. But English, is, you know, one of the big ones. Our teacher failed him. Even though he passed the rest of his courses, he wasn't permitted to graduate with the rest of us; he had to take summer school. And he's doing okay now. His decision to blow off English may not have been the wisest, but he made it up in summer school, and got over the girlfriend, and earned his diploma.

Ceremonies are supposed to be special, reserved for those who accomplished something that required a fair amount of work and discipline. So, it's mind-boggling to me that the Trenton school officials would not only foster, but celebrate, failure.

I could go on about why there are such high school failure (and drop out) rates here in Trenton, and how it's largely because of what happens at home. But I've done that before, and today, I feel like addressing the school system's complicity in ruining Trenton, by perpetuating a sense of entitlement, with things like worthless diplomas, which ultimately get Trenton kids nowhere.

No good can come from pushing unprepared kids through the system, except it might look okay on paper. Maybe all the administrative suits are saying, "Half of the incoming freshmen went on to graduate. Yippee! We're doing SUCH a great job!" Only half the children in Trenton have been left behind, on paper, and maybe that doesn't sound too bad to school officials. But if those administrators took a peek outside the gates of the high school campus, they'd see scores of young adults left behind, milling about the streets, unable to read or write properly, but with excellent loud stereo, dice, pit bull, hip-hop, pants down, and baby-making skills. It can be a cruel world out there, and those skills are not as valued as the average Trenton kid might think. The Trenton School system is a sham for encouraging the kids to think life will turn out okay for them, just because. Maybe some will get lucky, but their successes won't have anything to do with the meaningless diploma they took home last night.

I could take my not-quite-2-year old over to school headquarters tomorrow, and if I demanded loudly enough, I'd bet they'd give him a diploma, too. Maybe the legions of dropouts should demand their diplomas, as well; maybe there can even be a special Dropout Graduation Ceremony, so their self-esteem isn't damaged from watching so many of their peers get something for nothing last night? Seriously, I hope the new city government overhauls the school system, because the school system is a joke. Best of luck to all the recent grads, whether you earned that diploma or not.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Loose

I've always had a dog as an adult. Many of those years were shared with Lacey, my Shepherd-Chow mix who passed away in 2007. I spent many of those years walking with her, and a lot of that walking was done in here in Trenton. Safety wasn't as much of an issue as companionship, but I always felt safe with her, even though she was kind of on the small side for her mix, weighing in at about 35 pounds. We didn't walk much in her last years: she was too tired.

Steve showed up in 2008, after I vowed to never get another dog. He was everything I wasn't looking for in a dog: small and yappy, primarily. But dogs are amazing creatures, and despite my vow, despite my disdain for his variety, he wormed his way into my heart. He's got a great personality, and is full of energy, and our house and yard are just large enough that he gets plenty of exercise defending the perimeter. But I miss walking. Now that Matthew is older, it's easier to do. But I'm reluctant. It's because of the pit bulls.

I've learned it's easy enough to fall in love with an individual dog who doesn't fit into my short list of preferred varieties, but I've never had a relationship with a pit bull; they don't appeal to me, but I'm not a hater. I've just seen too many idiots around my neighborhood with unleashed pit bulls, and they're usually not sterilized, too. It's a mentality I don't understand. I recently had one of those, "fuck it, it's MY neighborhood, too" moments, and I took both Steve and Matthew out, without any problems. But the next day, I heard some noises in my shrubs. I looked out and saw a teenager who lives down the street and an unleashed pit bull; he was encouraging her to root through my gardens, in search of cats.

~~~

I have an unfortunate tendency toward apathy when it comes to many issues — not all, just some — but the pit bull-in-the-hedges issue is not one of them. I was upstairs with Matthew at the time, and I could see the kid and the pit from the window; I ran down the stairs, flew out of the door, and walked over to him, so he knew he was the reason I was outside. I didn't want him to think I was standing on my stoop for a breath of fresh air. My heart was pounding, and I hadn't expected to be there at that moment, but I managed a simple, "Hi. What's going on?"

His dog was clawing at my gate. "I'm teaching her to kill cats."

I tried not to look shocked. I realized an old white lady from the suburbs has a different life view than the black city kid with his pants belted below the curve of his ass cheeks, with a loose pit bull clawing at my gate. Not everyone likes cats, and that's okay. Right now, I hate them, too, especially my cat, Platooski. But it is illegal to kill them for sport; I'm not sure my young neighbor was aware of this, or even cared enough about the law. And I was pretty sure that was a conversation I didn't need to have with him.

"These are my cats," I lied. Or half lied. Or, maybe it's not a lie at all. I don't know anymore. They're strays and ferals who hang out around my house because I am stupid enough to feed them, and occasionally catch them and get them sterilized.

The dog trampled a clump of lilies I recently transplanted from my mother's garden, and I shot the kid a look, and I'm glad I didn't have to say anything about that. He grabbed the dog's collar and made her stay on the sidewalk.

"Oh. I didn't know they your cats. Most dogs WILL chase cats," he told me.

"Not all of them," I started; I was about to say something pompous about proper training, so it's just as well he cut me off.

"Not yours, I guess, because you have a little chihuahua," he assumed.

I decided it wasn't worth correcting him: Steve is a terrier mix, and he spends his entire life chasing cats; it never grows old for him. He's also strong enough to hurt them, but because he's received just enough training, he's smart enough to know that if he pushes his luck, he's going to have to answer to me. So, he only goes so far.

"I do have a little dog," I said. "And a little boy. I don't want them to get hurt. I don't want my son to watch a pit bull kill one of his kitties, you know?"

"Yes ma'am," the kid said.

"Your dog is very pretty. She has nice eyes," I said, trying to keep the boy from feeling vindictive.

"Thank you. I'm not training her to fight. I don't fight her. I'm just teaching her to go after cats."

His voice trailed off, and I'm hoping that was some kind of realization on his part that perhaps teaching his dog to kill cats might create very big problems down the line.

But, I don't know if he had that epiphany or not. I said, "I just want to feel safe in my yard. I don't want your dog killing any cats near here."

He nodded his head, and took his dog home.

But, the next day, he was riding around on a bike, with his dog, unleashed, alongside him, taking detours through plenty of private property along the way.

~~~

The weather isn't too bad today. It's hot and humid, but it's going to be way worse tomorrow. Matty has become a bit of a couch potato — a wild, jumping, thrashing couch potato. I bring him into the yard, and let him romp in the pool; I show him ant hills and beetles and kittens and all sorts of things boys should like, and he does indeed love those things, but he always wants to go "ee-side" after a short spell. I encourage him to play with his cars and trains downstairs; and I try to read to him. But he always heads back upstairs to the TV. I feel terrible about this, because it's supposed to wreck his little brain and such, but screaming in the pool, throwing cars and trains (he's got a good arm, too!), and tearing at books isn't terribly healthy either.

I kind of feel like we're in a rut. So, today, I decided we would walk up to the playground in Villa Park, and I wanted to take Steve, but the kid with the loose pit bull was too fresh in my mind. I read that inspirational story about the Bordentown woman who saved her dog from a pit bull attack a couple of weeks ago, and I thought maybe I could defend Steve against a pit bull*, too. But I know that it is just way too risky with a 22-month-old kid in tow, too.

Steve cried as I closed the door behind us. I heard him howling as we walked down the street. I told myself that I was doing reconnaissance to see if I saw any loose dogs at this time of the day, and if not, maybe I'd bring Steve with us the next time we walk around. I felt optimistic all the way to the park (though there were some shady looking people milling about, and evidence that someone may have spent last night on one of the park benches). The only dog I noticed was watching us from a second story window, and he was very well-behaved: he just watched us, and didn't bark.

But after Matty was done running around, and we were about a block from home, we encountered an incredibly large male pit bull, loose, with his owner many paces behind him. Maybe the dog is super well-behaved, but maybe he was only well-behaved because I didn't have Steve with me. It is not like me to be so fatalistic, to feel that a dog attack is imminent, but sheesh, why do people have to walk their dogs without a leash? Why?


_____________

* I mention pit bulls in my dog attack scenario, even though it could be any sort of dog. When Lacey was young, there was a Husky mix who lived across Division Street from me; that dog was able to push the door open, and she attacked Lacey on several occasions. In the owner's defense, he happened to be right near the door on those instances, and was able to grab his dog before things got too hairy. Once she was grabbed by a large German Shepherd, and another time, a Rottweiler. Both of those attacks happened in the suburbs. But pit bulls are just so prevalent here to the point I almost never see any other breed of dog, certainly not leashless.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Voting and hope

I am back from voting, and I feel a little dirty. I walked over to Hedgepeth-Williams for the third time in about a month, and the school grounds were filthier than the previous two times, combined. No condom boxes or dead birds this time, though, at least. But it looked like the front office for a landfill on a windy day, for sure.

The campaign workers inside the school were awake today (most of them were asleep last week, and looked annoyed that I disturbed their paid naps when I entered the gym to cast my vote). I entered the booth and opted to do the easy stuff first: the No on the referendum question, and then worked up from there. I had been toying with writing in someone else for mayor, but apparently that is not possible in a runoff, as the write-in side was taped over. As much as that sucks (and may contribute to some election irregularities, since, I'm told the absentee ballots had the option for write ins), it makes enough sense; otherwise we'll be voting every month for the rest of our lives, unable to get a victor at that 50%+1 required by our form of government here in Trenton. I stared at my options: Manny Segura and Tony Mack, for what seemed like several minutes. I thought about the arguments in favor of each of them. There weren't many. I thought about the abundant arguments against each of them. I thought about the burden of voting; writing someone else's name in would not be helpful, even if I could. It frigging sucks to have to ponder two candidates and decide which is least offensive. It's not a matter of party differences, or disagreement on issues with this election, as is the case in many other contests. If only! Trenton has two egregiously flawed candidates for mayor; the only positive aspect of this is that we get to slam the door on an inept mayor and an inept council who drove this city into ruins. There's a good chance the new team can't do any worse, even though I have seen, firsthand, that when you hit rock bottom, as soon as you brush yourself off and begin your climb, you can easily fall back to the bottom again. I hope that doesn't happen here. But it probably will. Please prove me wrong.

I cast my vote, and headed out. I had to kick some trash out of the way on the cement steps, leading to Olden Avenue, so my toddler wouldn't trip. Even the litter all over the place couldn't utterly ruin this beautiful day, so I decided to take Matty to Dunkin Donuts for some Munchkins. On our way up Olden, I admired many front yard gardens: a lot of people are working to improve this section of street. There were flowers everywhere, pretty baskets, and urns with flora spilling out. It never ceases to amaze me that we humans are capable of feeling so many complex and often conflicting emotions at once. Seconds ago, a short list of names left me feeling hopeless. Here, in front of some homes in an edgy part of town, hope returned. We the people are the ones who will turn this place around; some of us already are.

In one yard, I noticed some young, newly planted portulaca nestled in a bed of mulch. Growing out of the plant in the center was, I'm quite sure, a small marijuana plant. Right out in the open on Olden Avenue. "Where else does that happen?" I asked Matthew. "Nowhere," I answered for him.

Marijuana and portulaca on Olden Avenue.

The lady at the doughnut shop gave Matty his own glazed Munchkin, and my happy boy and I began our walk home. We took Hamilton Avenue, and I noticed a basic, but effective "Kesner Dufresne for East Ward Council" sign in front of the tax joint. My unease about the election morphed into sorrow about Kesner. Just a few weeks ago, Kesner had potent dreams to serve the city; proof of his desire was stuck firmly in the earth, though now, Kesner himself is gone.

I pondered the mysteries of the universe, and looked down at Matty's sticky face. We rounded the corner, and encountered a skinny, focused woman with a pile of literature. "Vote for Tony Mack," she said, and offered me a flier.

"I just did," I told her. But I'm not sure why, I said under my breath to my little boy, even though he was getting tired, and doesn't care about politics yet, anyway.

"Good!" she said. "And, oh yeah! I hope you voted NO on the referendum!" she said to me.

"Done!" I called back to her.

"That's right! We need to keep our jobs here," she said.

Hope returned again.

Most of the people in the city don't give a crap about the emotional roller coaster ride I've had this morning, and they don't care about whether or not American Water is told, officially, to beat it. This lopsidedness in caring among my fellow Trentonians is distressing to me, but it is what it is right now. If things go the way they should, the engaged minority will see plenty of victories tonight: we'll defeat the referendum, and a new group of our neighbors will be sworn in to serve, and hopefully, inspire, not only those of us who are active in civic affairs, but those who are disenfranchised as well.

I'm looking forward to watching the numbers come in tonight, and eating some Munchkins. Good luck Trenton!

Monday, June 14, 2010

GUEST BLOGGER: Willie

Hi. My name is Willie, and I'm the write-in that cost Eric Jackson a spot in Trenton's mayoral run-off. For that, I'm truly sorry, because our current choices really chew the root, and I don't think Eric Jackson sucks as badly as the other two guys combined. I predict more people will vote on the water deal referendum tomorrow than will vote for mayor, though I know many more Trentonians will stay home.

Because the thought of a whole bunch of people staying home tomorrow really pesters me, I'd like to propose a more inspiring option: vote for me. Now, I'm not sure which one of you wrote my name down on that controversial ballot. I'd like to simultaneously smack you upside the head, and give you a big ole wet one. I'm not a politician, but with nearly a month of thinking about things since that fateful write-in,  I'm pretty sure I can do a better job than most of the dummies running, combined.

All I'm saying is if you write my name in tomorrow, for any position, and, in the off-chance, I win (which is possible here in a city where so few vote), I will be happy to serve. I don't have a real platform, but I promise I will impose some serious money saving measures, and surround myself with uptight, mathematical sorts and the occasional republican, and not brown-nosers who just want a damn job.

Thank you and God Bless you, and God Help Trenton. WILLIE FOR PUBLIC OFFICE! WRITE IN WILLIE!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Trenton's Choice...and More Meat

You may think this is a food post, but it isn't really.

I've been wanting to eat healthier, but it is so very difficult with Glen around. He does not abide by this philosophy, at all. A couple of weeks ago, I made an eggplant dish with a salad, and that night, Glen issued a proclamation.

"I've been feeling off lately, and I think there's something missing from my diet." He stroked his beard, and looked toward the ceiling fan. He has been cranky lately, but I assumed it was just the stress of work, coupled with life with an energetic toddler who does not need to sleep. But, I didn't want to bring that up again.

So, I said, "What do you think you're missing? We have some multivitamins if you want to start taking them."

"No, no," He dismissed. He took a lackluster bite of his eggplant, and then put some more ranch dressing on his salad, and took a bite of that. He chewed thoughtfully, and then declared:

I know what's missing from my diet! We need more meat!"

I found his meat proclamation simultaneously hilarious and also borderlilne annoying. I worked hard to make a delicious eggplant dish, and it was my first attempt to eat a bit better, since meat is — despite what Glen says — a prominent player in our diets. The thing of it is, it's probably not the meat of his youth: I don't do roasts, but we do eat steak and burgers and chicken and lunch meat. And, oh yeah, hot dogs. There's plenty of meat in our diet.

"What, you don't like the eggplant?" I asked, pissed off.

"Oh, it's delicious, it really is. I just feel off. Something's missing, and it's DEFINITELY meat. Can we have meat tomorrow night?"

~~~

So, since then, Glen has picked up a vast quantity of meat: steaks and ground beef, and bone-in/skin on chicken breast, and even some fish. It's now broken up into dinner-sized portions in the freezer. On Wednesday, I thought I'd do something with the chicken, and just to be forthcoming, I'll just say it right now, I made some THE best chicken of my life on that night.

On Glen's most recent Mission of More Meat shopping spree, he also picked up some buttermilk. He said it was for waffles, but I knew he was sending me a message — the message of fried chicken. So, I marinated the breasts in the buttermilk and herbs; then I dredged them in flour and spices. I let them sit, all floured up for a few minutes, and as I was pouring some oil into my pan, I caught a glimpse of the buttermilk marinade; there was enough of it left that I thought it was wasteful to just pour it down the drain. So I dipped the floured chicken breasts in the liquid again, and redredged them in the flour. I let them sit — the cooking shows say this is the first step in encouraging the coating and chicken to become a more perfect union — while I heated up the oil to fry them.

I also made some mashed potatoes, and some broccoli — my feeble attempt at healthier eating. The chicken fried up like I have never seen at home before. I was in awe, and proud, and was practically singing as I plated up the food, and the boys came to the table. Matthew climbed into his chair, and looked at the bounty, and exclaimed, "FOOD!!! FOOD!!" And my sweet boy reached for some broccoli, stuck it in his mouth, and proclaimed, "Yum!" But he made his way to the potatoes, and pretty much didn't give the broccoli the time of day after that.

We don't really dress for dinner here, though some of us dress even less. Glen, in fact, had stripped down to his "at home outfit," which consists of underwear and socks. In his defense, he had been moving some heavy stuff in the garage, and the oven and stove had been on, and he's Canadian, and prone to heating up quickly in this part of the world, particularly when there are other (like the above) factors at play.

Before he got too comfortable, he peeked out our dining room window, and noted a white minivan, full of white people, parked alongside our house. He craned his neck and noticed New York plates. He snapped a picture, since white people in minivans outside our dining room window generally mean one thing: drugs.

But we've been wrong about that occasionally.

~~~

Just as soon as I sat my fat ass in my chair, drooling, for a bite of the tantalizing fried chicken, I realized I forgot to bring napkins to the table. I climbed over the baby fence into the kitchen to retrieve them, when the doorbell rang. The doorbell has been ringing a lot lately: all sorts of politicians and hopeful politicians, and mosquito people, and neighbors to let us know about block parties, and religious nuts, people dropping off campaign signs and literature, and a repairman from the Water Works, have all been by in the last 10 days or so. On any other night, it would have just been annoying. But with some absolutely perfect homecooked first-timer fried chickens before us, I was pretty livid. Luckily, the door was already open, so our dinnertime visitor could get the full-on view of Glen approaching the door in his at home outfit. I'm sure, though, the visitor had to see me, and our little boy — who, by the way, almost NEVER sits still for dinner — patiently waiting to eat, too.

"Um, hi." said a petite, young, white woman — probably a college student — with a haircut that made her look like Rowlf the Dog from the Muppet Show. "Is, um, Christine, um, Ott? at home?"

Glen, ever protective, said, "She is, but she's eating dinner right now."

Rowlf the Girl was about to politely protest, even though she could clearly see us, plates of glorious foods in front of us, waiting for Glen to return to the table so we could dig in. I was starving for chickens, and not in my right mind, and I sprung from my chair, ordered Glen to watch Matthew, and went to the door. "I'm here," I told her.

"Um, hi." She tried to look knowledgeable and dignified. She looked down at her clipboard and flipped some papers. "I'm here on behalf of Manny Segura. Do you think you'll vote for him on Tuesday?"

I was shocked, on so many levels. Who WAS this chick? Where did she come from? Did she really understand the politics here? My perfect chickens were getting cold, dammit!

She mistook the confused look on my face for ignorance about Manny, and she started to explain to me who he was. "No, no," I stopped her. "I know who Manny is. I've even met him on a few occasions." I said that because I wasn't sure she had.

"Do you think you'll vote for, um, Tony Mack?" She asked, looking at her papers.

I began to felt sick to my stomach. I did not want to think about Trenton's Choice at that particular moment. We need to make some unsavory decisions, and I just wanted some time off from thinking about it.

"I don't really like the thought of Tony Mack as mayor," I said.

She flipped her papers on her clipboard, and she said, "Can I, like, go over a list of Manny's accomplishments with you?"

"No!" I said, emphatically. My bold answer surprised her, and me; I attempted to tone it down. I said, "I'm sorry. I follow local politics, and I vote. I read. I have signs on my lawn. I'm reasonably involved civically. I usually have definite opinions on the issues here. But I'm not sold on Manny, either. I don't like my choices, and I have no idea who I'm going to vote for, and that won't change just because you stopped by tonight. It's a mess here."

Rowlf the Canvasser was one of those really pasty white girls to start with, but it seemed all the color was draining from her face. I felt badly. I was once like her, young, and skinny, and once, I even had bad hair, too, though it was a perm that made me look like Roseanne Roseannadanna; but even with the bad hair, I was hopeful, and happy for the occasional oddball summer job that involved talking to people about a cause I thought was good, but maybe I didn't know that much about it, really. She didn't know what she was getting into, and who she was working for. She thanked me for my involvement, and skittered down my front steps, and, as it turns out, to the white van with New York plates, parked outside our dining room.

I got back to the dining room table, and hunger returned and replaced any ill feelings about the election or about my behavior toward the girl. We devoured our chicken, while we watched Rowlf and her long-haired hippy dude counterpart having some kind of animated conversation — which involved flipping of pages in the clipboards and pointing to notes on those papers — in the street, near their minivan.

I'm more confused than ever now. I was deadset against Tony Mack just a few weeks ago, primarily because he can't balance a checkbook, and Trenton really needs someone who excels at that particular skill right now. It's also because Tony Mack received campaign money from a notorious and obese sex offender who allegedly abused a young girl in the late 1970s. I'm old enough to remember Rowlf the Dog, and Rosanne Rosannadanna, and I certainly remember Jo-Jo Giorgianni, and think it's icky icky icky that anyone running for public office would take money from him, and it goes to show you how little Tony Mack thinks about money. But I'm no fan of Manny, either, though I certainly appreciate his Jim Coston-infused backbone for a very brief time. There are people who criticize Manny for his heritage or his accent, and, to me, that's petty and offensive. But at the same time, I happen to be good at understanding accents, and I think foreigners are really interesting, even though they tend to be really opinionated, at least the foreigners I know (and live with). The thing about Manny is that he seems too slick, too polished, too slimy, especially lately. I hate that his money and support staff are coming from outside Trenton; and I, of all people, a Johnny-Come-Lately, have nothing against new blood. It's just that this outside interest that comes along with Manny is not new blood. It's greed and ego and power that will mean more victimization for Trenton.

Trenton's Choice is unappealing and very nearly impossible. How I wish the decision were as easy as having more meat for dinner.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Kesner

The city of Trenton would do well with more people like Kesner Dufresne, an intelligent and thoughtful young man who wanted to represent the East Ward on city council; though he lost the election, he pledged his continued involvement. He had hope for Trenton, and wanted to be part of positive change. But he died last night in his Villa Park home. He was only 35.

I didn't know him well: we ran into each other at various East Ward meetings and functions in the last year, and I was taken by his compassion, his quiet strength, and his ability to ask pertinent questions. We had a lively email exchange prior to the election, and planned to meet for coffee. I'm sorry that didn't happen.

We needed Kesner. My condolences to his family and girlfriend. He left us too soon.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What a mess

There's a lot of voting here in Trenton lately. Today I voted in the primary. On the way to Hedgepeth-Williams, my polling place, I thought it might be fun to play "which one of these things doesn't belong" with Matthew, except he's not quite old enough for that game, and, very quickly it became obvious that there's more wrong than right with the grounds of the local school. Primarily, there's litter everywhere, but there's more than that. Now, I'm no saint: it is an effort to keep our property free of litter, and if we don't perform a litter patrol every 12 hours, it builds up, and most of it is courtesy of the kids walking to and from Hedgepeth-Williams. But, unlike the school, we don't have a staff, and we're just a couple of haters, not an institution.

Like I said, the litter caught my eye right away, but it's the type of litter that's really distressing. There was an empty box of condoms, right by the side entrance! A pillow top mattress. A wooden board. Some large stones. High weeds near the parking lot. Dead grass most everywhere else. There was fast food and junk food debris scattered everywhere. My toddler and I had to step out of the way of a middle school boy running out of a vehicle with a gigantic, full, McDonald's bag, into the school. There was also an abandoned scooter, and a dead crow. Crows are scavengers and are likely drawn to the school by the volume of trash surrounding it, and possibly the misery within it, but is anyone still worried about West Nile?'

I'm sure kids are taught to litter at home. But perhaps if the city enforced its ordinances, the school wouldn't look so bad. Here are some photos. They really don't do the mess justice.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

TrentonYes/American Water = Bastards

It's a hot day, and from my window, I can see my neighbor fanning herself on her porch, with the latest in a series of propaganda pieces from the TrentonYes bastards. The TrentonYes bastards are trying to get the ridiculously few voters in Trenton to agree to sell off the Trenton Water Works pipes that service the neighboring suburbs. No offense of course, but it's my hope that the ridiculously few voters who manage to get off their asses on Tuesday, June 15*, are not the sort who are swayed by glossy, expensive printing; and it's my hope that the TrentonYes bastards do not resort to handing out Target gift cards, because we know those sorts of tactics have worked to move the masses, at least in the short-term, here in Trenton. After all, who doesn't love Target?

Target gift cards and glossy postcards stink of desperation, don't you think? TrentonYes/American Water bastards know we're sitting on a gold mine, and since they have far better management than we've had at our city's helm, the TrentonYes people will know how to make some sweet coin off those pipes. That sweet coin will come not only at the expense of our future, but also at the expense of our neighbors in the suburbs, many of whom erroneously think the goings-on of the hood do not concern them. Perhaps they'll think differently when they wind up facing fairly substantial, and regular water rate increases, courtesy of American Water.

Trenton is screwed  in the short term, whether or not we sell off any part of the Water Works. But I hate the slick, slimy, deceitful advertising on behalf of the TrentonYes bastards. Are they really trying to convince me that if this sale doesn't go through, we'll be any worse off than we already are? The streets will become any less safe? The schools will become any worse? Ha ha ha! We're already at rock bottom, and the way I see it from here, we might as well hang on to the one thing we actually own, especially if it can generate revenue for us.

Of course, with so many years of idiotic leadership in our immediate past, and perhaps, sadly, some more on the horizon, we have our work cut out for us. We need to maintain ownership of the pipes to help us keep taxes down, to help us pay the salaries of city employees, and maybe, someday, if we get the right people in charge, we can even turn a profit, without gouging the residents in the suburbs.

My neighbor has taken a temporary break from fanning herself, and is holding the postcard upside down. The postcard is oversized and sturdy, and makes a good fan. It's too bad I've already thrown mine away. I'm sweating.

The proposed sale of the suburban pipes is a one time gimmick to plug a horrific financial geyser that's about to explode on us, courtesy of His Majesty, Douglas Hunterdon Palmer's mismanagement over the last 20 years. Palmer and his group of puppets on council failed in their responsibility to balance our budget; they probably don't even know what a budget IS. The proposed sale is short-sighted and might slow the bleeding temporarily. But we need the revenue from those pipes — as well as competent leadership — to help us dig out of our mess. Without the income from the pipes, it will be so much more difficult to ease the suffering in this city.

Vote NO on the Public Question #1.

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* I received a sample ballot in the mail on Thursday, but it's for House of Representatives/County Clerk/Freeholder/Local Committeepeople; that election is June 8. It seems counterproductive, wasteful, and just annoying that Trenton can't hold its runoff/referendum election on the same day. WTF? I'm sure there's a good reason for it, but it's still stupid.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Urban homesteading?

Except for some herbs and the occasional tomato, I've pretty much given up on growing food plants here, mostly because the sun is inconsistent in our yard. It's a sunny backyard, but it's a small amount of real estate, and the neighboring trees, houses, and other structures prevent constant sunlight, which is critical in producing good veggies.

Another reason I've given up on food plants is because some of the ones I've chosen in the past are greedy for territory, and that attitude won't fly in my small space. I had a small blackberry bush that I kept in a large bucket at the house we rented, back in 2003 . When we moved to Trenton, I thought it would be nice to give this healthy, though non-producing, fruit bush a permanent home in our back corner. Our first full summer here, 2005, it had grown significantly, but didn't offer any fruit. In 2006, I didn't notice any real change, though we did get a few berries. In 2007, a large part of my backyard was covered with thorny growth, and plenty of berries. I realized I was going to have to micromanage — which isn't my style – my blackberry bushes, or else the yard would become a thicket. I started digging up the newer plants. I continued this process in 2008, but had enough of it by 2009 — the seedy, yet delicious, berries were not worth the constant vigilance to keep the brambles from invading our little yard. So, last summer, I showed no mercy and eliminated all the blackberry growth I found. This is a difficult, and to this day, ongoing, task, as this sort of vegetation spreads underground and doesn't need much light or water.

We had new neighbors last summer. Promising new neighbors. One day while I was annihilating blackberry plants, the wife was in the backyard tending a very small, but successful pepper crop. She was looking at my blackberry brambles with a bit of sad longing, I think. She didn't speak English, but seemed very friendly, nodding and pointing to the bushes. So, I left a couple spindly thorny arms near the fence, hoping they'd cascade into her yard in the future. I was also digging up some mint and lemon balm — two other very successful edible plants — because they began rudely popping up in less than ideal spots around my yard. I was planning to just toss those into my compost barrel, but instead put some of them in pots, leaned over my fence, and asked my neighbor if she'd like them. "Si! Si!" She said enthusiastically, and immediately dug a couple of holes and planted her new herbs. "Gracias!" she said.

I was happy that she could use some of my extras. And throughout last summer, I saw her occasionally picking some mint or lemon balm, and bringing it back inside. They're great for teas, or marinades, or garnishes.

Then, one particularly swampy day last August, we noticed our neighbor and her sons on their front porch, fanning themselves. They had window air conditioners, so we couldn't understand why they'd be out in such oppressive heat. One of the guys came over and explained that one of brothers was responsible for paying the electric bill, and he hadn't. The power was shut off. And, could they run a power cord from our house to theirs so they could turn on the air conditioning in just one room?

It was awkward, and agonizing. Glen and I didn't want them to roast. During that particular heatwave, even the nights were uncomfortable, and we could only imagine what they were going through. But, we had to say no — it's not legal, and it's so dangerous to run electric cords between houses, especially for high powered appliances. In old buildings.

It wasn't long before they were gone, possibly because the house was too hot to live in, or more likely, because the same brother made off with the rent money. We don't know. The landlord is totally insane, and told one thing to one neighbor, and another to a different neighbor, and no longer comes around these days anyway.

The house is currently in foreclosure, and we have mixed feelings about our lack of neighbors next door. Our yard feels more private, as do the rooms along that side of our house. And it's SO quiet. But now that neighboring property is not maintained. Glen periodically trims the grass, and another neighbor removes the junk mail from the porch. There's a significant amount of structural damage to the carport in the back, due to the heavy snow earlier this year, and I've seen the feral cats go in and out of the basement door, which, inexplicably, is open. And, guess what else? The blackberries, lemon balm, and mint in that backyard are out of control. It barely qualifies as a yard, actually, as most of the back property is a driveway/carport. But that patch of grass between their driveway and our backyard is well on its way to reverting to woodlands, or a meadow, or something in between.

It's all my fault, too. It happens to be blackberry season, so I figured I'd make the most of the abandoned plants, and I plucked everything I could reach from my side of the fence, and easily harvested a pint of berries. Matthew is just starting to show signs of food preferences, and at first rejected my offering. He splashed around (nude) in his little pool, got out, and played with his trains. As he rolled Thomas and James around my makeshift outdoor coffee table, he grew more curious about the little bucket of berries in front of him. He took one, at first tentatively, looked at it, rolled it between his fingers, deemed it edible, and popped it in his mouth. "Mmmmm!!" he exclaimed, and he proceeded to eat all but four berries in the little bucket. He looked like a nude vampire.

 Matthew, devourer of blackberries.

Earlier this year, I saw one of the local dirtbags casually walk into the abandoned yard and fill up a large bucket of water, so he could wash his car. I don't like the dirtbags that close to me, and I dislike it even more when they get away with dirtbaggery on my watch.  So, the next day, I put a lock on the fence. Tomorrow, I'm headed over with a key to harvest some more blackberries, and take a closer look at my wayward plants. They'll have to be destroyed soon or else they'll take over, but not without a fight from the mint and lemon balm, which will also need to go. If you want any of this stuff for your yard, let me know. Obviously, all three species are vigorous and will easily take over if not watched closely. If you're up for it, it's great to have fresh berries and herbs. Let me know.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Vote No

GUEST BLOGGER: John R. Hamada, DC, LAc
Former Trenton resident and business owner

I ask the people of Trenton to consider the greater significance of selling off the suburban part of their water system resource.  I ask that you look beyond arguments of a one time sale helping balance the City budget, or keeping it as it is one of the few revenue producing resources the City has left.  The April 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine is dedicated to the resource of water on our planet, and in the article they explain that by the year 2025, 1.8 billion people will live where water is scarce. Water is becoming the new oil, except that we are finding alternatives to oil; but there are no alternatives to water - for drinking, washing, cooking, transportation, etc. in our lives.

The City of Trenton cannot solve the big picture of the dwindling availability of clean water around the world, but we can keep ourselves in a position of much better leverage when that day does arrive.  He who has the water resource will be king.  The people from New Jersey American Water Company know this and it is part of why their parent company, American Water, and they continues to gather water resources all over the US, as well as recent ownership of the Thames Water Company of England.  They are smart business people.  I suggest that the good people of Trenton also consider doing good business, and not waste away this valuable resource of their future.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Some quick updates

Last week, I volunteered to work in the city's sign shop; I was told there's a critical vacancy, which may be the same thing as a hiring freeze; I'm not sure. Either way, the result is that our city, in dire need of various signs, is going without. I haven't heard anything yet from James Allen (Assistant Director of Public Works) or Eric Jackson (Director of Public Works) yet, but perhaps this week I will. Mr. Jackson is likely busy with the election recount* and hopefully Mr. Allen is busy filling the critical vacancies in the street surfaces around the city.

~~~

I also have a happy update on the kittens born in my backyard. It turns out one of the goopy-eyed furballs has lived. I saw it late last week, just sitting there, dopey, in the middle of yard. It may seem ridiculous, but after burying two of its siblings, seeing it sitting there was one of the best things I've seen in a very long time. It's a cute fluffy black one, and I have no idea what the kitten's gender is, but the last two fluffy black cats born in the vicinity were female, so I'll assume for now this one is too. She seems to be quite healthy and playful, and her eyes seem all better. In addition, one of the above mentioned fluffy black cats also had kittens and brought them into our yard — so there are two more: a little fluffy white one, and a little fluffy gray one.

I've said before that more cats in the yard are not good, but dead kittens in the yard are far worse. I've heard from a couple of really helpful people about my cat issue, so I'm hoping we can get this batch of kittens rounded up and sterilized, along with a number of other adult cats in the coming weeks. I'll admit, the cat problem is emotionally draining for me, and I don't really consider myself that much of a cat person, despite the copious evidence to the contrary. Of all my difficulties in Trenton, it is definitely the most agonizing. The problems with people that we've had, in general, make me angry, rather than scared, or sad; I think that's partially because I believe that people — regardless of their upbringing or circumstances — can decide to better their lives for themselves. If others are there to help — and there are people willing to lend a hand here — it makes that challenging task a bit easier. With people, it boils down to free will, something the cats in our neighborhood don't have. I've seen the shelter on Escher Street; it's motivation to do what we can in our own backyard.

 A fluffy white kitten and her mama.



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* I've heard and read a lot of people saying how Jackson should just concede this election, but in the case of such a close election (we're talking fewer than 5 votes), I think he owes it to himself and his supporters to make sure every vote is counted, especially when the other two guys headed for the run-off are slightly shady and slightly stupid. Which is which? You decide.