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 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, 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.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Scratchy, scratchy news

I'm irritable. Of course, the heat has factored into my state. But I've never been one of those people affected tremendously by weather. It's Planet Earth after all, and weather happens. But it's been hot. And, somehow, after spending my multitude of years not allergic to any sort of plant matter I've ever encountered, this week, I seem to have contracted a bit of poison oak. Glen's got it, too. And, of course, it's worse for him, as afflictions are always worse for husbands. To be fair, this time he is in really bad shape, and I feel bad complaining with my quarter-sized patch o' misery on the inside of my right forearm, and the little splotch on the back of my left hand, and 2 solitary bumps on my right foot. But holy friggin' moly, the burning and itching are pure hell. I've always been good at pushing discomfort out of my head, but this rash is pretty much all I can think about in the last few days. So, I do feel badly for Glen, who has a full-on rash on both arms and across his chest. And as much as I try not to bitch about the weather, it is a relief that it's cooler. A bit.

So, I was perhaps a bit less tolerant than normal about the news this week. Wait. Not really the news itself, but about some of the folks working for our local media outlets. I have tried, over the last couple of years, to not jump on the LA Parker hating bandwagon; that's partially because he does, occasionally, make some exceptionally good points about culture and community, amid the uncomfortable displays of former mayor Doug Palmer worship.

But, this week, he has been ALL over Trenton's new mayor, Tony Mack. I'm not saying Mack doesn't deserve critical examination; but I also accept the fact Mack is our new mayor, and I'm going to give him a bit of time to settle into his new job to see how things go. I'll probably wind up attacking him, too, but I'm fair: I'll wait until he actually screws up as my mayor.

Most members of the media are objective reporters, and they usually work on behalf of the public to keep everyone in the know. That hasn't been the case with LA Parker, who is ultimately just like me, a blogger, except he cozied up to former mayor, Doug Palmer, instead of the public, and, oh yeah, unlike me, Parker gets paid for spouting his opinions. Over the course of the years, instead of building relationships with members of the community, Parker has burrowed himself so far into Palmer's ass, that even a Silkwood shower cannot clean the stink off of him. Parker could have ripped into Palmer any number of times, for good reason, but never did. Instead, he launched an attack on Mack, a guy barely a week into his job, a guy who has had conflicts with Parker's idol, Doug Palmer. LA's attacks on Mack showcase just how screwed we are in Trenton. Our media representation tends to suck. Not entirely. But mostly.

However, LA is just one guy, and, like I said, he does occasionally make some great points; a bigger problem with Trenton's lack of coverage is The Times. They showed their total disconnect from the city that gave them life recently by writing editorials about how citizens here should support Palmer's bid to sell off Trenton Water Works' suburban pipes. I have tried to look at the sale from every angle, and, granted, I'm a bit of a dope. But, I don't see how the sale would have benefited anyone, except some big, lame business; and Palmer, since the sale would divert some attention from the gaping hole in the city finances, a hole caused by Palmer.

This is but one glaring example of The Times' inability to service its readership; the paper has laid off most of the staff who'd be covering this city, besides. And, the staff that's left is in circulation, and those dopes are using an outdated business model to try to drum up readership: they're littering our streets with little white plastic bags containing a piece of paper offering a deal on subscriptions. Do they really think they'll bring in subscribers that way? Many of our neighbors don't even care enough about litter to even know that the shit that's in the street contains an incredible subscription opportunity. Those of us who do know what's in the white plastic bag know because we've cleaned up several dozen of them. Not only have I cleaned up the Times' litter around my house, I've sent emails to their circulation department, and joined a Facebook group to show my disgust. I'll be damned before subscribing to that paper again.

With two major Times' faux pas just behind us, I thought it couldn't really get any worse. Last night I had a near-psychotic episode while fruitlessly, insanely scratching the outer margins of the small but sinister poison oak rash on my inner arm. I had just used my phone to check Twitter, and I was waiting for my tweets to load, holding the phone in my right hand, attached to the afflicted arm, while I scratched with my left. Maybe one of the tweets would be funny, or offer a great link to distract me from my misery.

Alas, that was not to be. Let's just say for the record, I don't mind the occasional, "I'm listening to blah blah blah song," but if you offer up a blow-by-blow of what you're listening to on your internet radio, I might delete you. I do not have time to read through your playlists, because IT IS JUST NOT THAT INTERESTING, especially when your followers, like me, are suffering from a (mentally) debilitating case of poison oak. Furthermore, while sometimes it is interesting to hear where my tweeps are at any given time, usually it is not. So, all of you people on foursquare have GOT to figure out how to hide your "I'm at the Home Depot" posts, especially if you are under 30, and are always out and about, and are bopping into place after place after place, all the livelong day. I do not care if you are the mayor of Cluck-U. Unless you occasionally bring me a Little Roman. But when I have to sift through page after page of "I just checked in at blah blah blah," I'm going to wish hard that your home gets burglarized while you're out.

But, back to The Times. I follow their affiliate,, on Twitter, and I appreciate the news headlines, even though they do not do nearly as good a job as the Trentonian does on Twitter (the Trentonian, by the way, is worth following). Go figure, right? The Times abandoned the city, so why should offer many pertinent headlines that I might find interesting? Also, had this thing for haiku recently, and while I enjoy the occasional short poem, the haiku-on-twitter thing, courtesy of (of all people/outlets) just irked me. I feel uncharitable for saying that, as I do admire an attempt to bring higher-minded ideals to the interwebs. So, let's just say I find's priorities on Twitter to be confusing, at best. This point was hammered home last night, as I scratched away at the good skin surrounding the ruined layers of epidermis on my arm, in the hopes of finding some kind of peace, when I saw the reason for my 120+ new tweets in the last 40 minutes to be largely due to's live frigging tweeting of whatever was happening with that athlete last night. I love/hate live-tweeting. It can be, occasionally, hilarious. Usually it isn't though, because the person live tweeting is writing about something which is of no consequence to me. In this case, the offender was, and the subject was LeBron James.

I realize I'm the weirdo for my sports apathy, and I'm even lamer for having almost no interest in celebrity athletes. Sure, I've heard of LeBron James, and it doesn't surprise me that someone who is probably an immature, egotistical basketball player would want to have an hour-long special on the big sports TV channel, but the fact that anyone cared is befuddling. That chose to live-tweet the hour-long ego-driven show of some athlete who, until yesterday, played for some team in Cleveland (I had to look that up, I admit), OHIO, and is going to play for some other team in Miami, FLORIDA, is so not interesting. Go take your talents to Florida, LeBron, I do not care. Got that,