Monday, September 27, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 17, 2010

Why I Love Trenton

Reason #42
Roving landscapers.

(click to enlarge)

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

Thursday, September 16, 2010


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

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

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

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

...In honor, glory rest

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

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

Playground at Villa Park.

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

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

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

I love u Kristie.

Sewer or trash can? Here, BOTH!

Cuyler and Farragut.

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

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

Friday, September 3, 2010

The man in the closet

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

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

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

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

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