Friday, April 8, 2011

Dystopia

Just some random thoughts on a rainy day in Trenton.

Spring has become a conflicted time for me here in Trenton. On one hand, there's a basic human need to see young life start and green things emerge; it's been rewarding to watch my own gardens come into their own, and I'm excited for what's in store in a few weeks. I love to pick a few hyacinths on the very first day I'm able, and bring them inside. Their scent fills my house and erases the drudgery of winter, instantly.

On the other hand, the leaflessness of the trees exposes the despair of boarded up homes, litter in the shrubbery, peeling paint, and broken architecture. It's not consistently warm enough for most people to tend to their properties, but many people wouldn't do that here in Trenton, anyway. And, there are some some days that my friends elsewhere would describe as beautiful and hopeful for their warmth and sunniness. Who doesn't love a surprise 70+ degree day in late winter or very early spring? No one, that's who. Not even those concerned with global warming. And certainly not even knuckleheads. And it's the latter types of people who have made me loathe the warmer months in this dystopia.

I don't mean to bitch, really. But it's healthy to vent, and occasionally, I do more than just complain about this place. But probably not today, unless you think posting pictures of my recent outings is somehow productive. The warmer weather has drawn me — like my knuckleheaded neighbors — outside, and I'm depressed by the state of my own yard; the front, in particular, is LOADED with litter, and is so overgrown, partially due to my own stupid landscape choices, but also because the property next to us is abandoned and is falling down, reverting to a sylvan state, and is hellbent on taking a couple of other properties down with it.

The back of the house next door.


A lamp post outside my front door; signs like this are attractively nailed all over my neighborhood these days.

It really isn't ALL bad. In my wanderings around Trenton in the last few weeks, I've been occasionally inspired by work my neighbors have done on their back deck. It tickled me to discover the Sword Guy walking around on a Saturday while I was out recently. He's a local gem and he makes Trenton better, and even cooler, just by his existence. Another positive morsel is that the Trenton St. Patrick's Parade — which wasn't even supposed to happen — was impressive.

A left-handed banjo-playing Mummer in Trenton!

And, I'm not sure why the evidence of beavers in the Assunpink, along that stretch of parks — Hetzel Field/Assunpink Park/George Page Park — off of Lawrence Street makes me smile, but it does. I like trees, and hate to see them chopped down for construction, especially in the city, but beavers are more successful than any of the recent developers who've come to Trenton, and I need a story with a happy ending from time to time.

Beavers! Well, beaver damage.

While I was over there taking photos of beaver damage, I noticed a bedsheet memorial and I got pissed off all over again. I immediately assumed that another young, and probably stupid, kid was murdered. It may seem uncharitable of me to call murdered kids "stupid," but many of them are. I'm not saying they had it coming, or they deserve it. My heart breaks for the families who lose kids to violence, but urban machismo and gang participation is short-sided, self-destructive stupidity. But since I had my camera with me that day, I quickly snapped a picture, and when I got home, I combed through the whole wide interwebs to find news about a recent murder, because SURELY there must have been one: it's nice out, and that's what happens when it's nice outside in Trenton. Fueled by red wine, I was irritated by the whole concept of bedsheet memorials. They're tragic and represent a failure in society that is mind-boggling. When people here in the city die to violence, the loved ones feel the only way to honor their dearly departed is to create a bed sheet memorial. No one talks to the police about the crime. No one seems to counsel the kids on how to break this cycle, because — I don't know — living hard and dying young and getting a lousy looking magic marker memorial on a big piece of MAYBE 200-thread-count fabric is somehow their flickity-fly ghettoriffic birthright? I'm sorry if my suburban upbringing prevents me from understanding those kinds of aspirations, but it just hurts my head and heart.


I'm hoping this small-minded, "Snitches Get Stitches" idiocy stops.

But despite my best efforts, I couldn't find information on any recent murder. I was grateful for that, but confused, too. Why else would I have come upon a bedsheet memorial? I reached out to The Trentonian's Joe D'Aquila, and he found out for me that an older man, known as "Uncle Randy" in that neighborhood, passed away; he was loved by everyone. The wheels started spinning in my head, and I figured Uncle Randy must have been one of the two Caribbean drummers, along Lawrence Street, across from Hetzel Field/Assunpink Park/George Page Park. Like the Sword Guy — yet different — the Lawrence Street Drummers are a wonderful addition to that neighborhood. The drummers are just two guys who play all summer long, and their music sounds so nice when I drive by with my windows down. I asked Joe if he could find out more, and he reached out to the family, and confirmed that Randy was one of the drummers. It's never a good thing to hear about a death, but I am particularly saddened by this, because I am — despite my negativity — proud of all the local color and characters here in Trenton, and I'm sure those drummers, in their own way, improve their neighborhood and keep it safer. Randy's death is a loss to Trenton.

Given my feelings on bedsheet memorials, I'm somewhat disgusted with myself that the whole reason I took a picture of that tribute was to criticize the practice. I invaded a sensitive moment in time, and I'm sorry for that. At the same time, I stand by my assertion that bedsheet memorials are a wholly inadequate way to honor the deceased. Perhaps the community and city can work together to create a proper memorial at the park that Randy must have looked at while he was drumming?


A heartfelt, if inadequate bedsheet tribute to the North Ward's Uncle Randy.


I am terribly down on Trenton lately: everything is inadequate (not just bedsheet memorials). There's perpetual roadwork, but never any improvement to the streets.

Olden Ave. looking north; perennially under construction, never improved, complete with a bit of graffito (art?) on — wait for it — a building on the grounds for the Department of Justice.

There's an impressive arts movement here in Trenton, yet despite the accessibility to programs, budding "artists" choose to deface what's not theirs. And, at the same time, we have schools here in Trenton, but they're failing on an embarrassing scale.

TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE: The door to the shed just outside the tennis courts at the Villa Park playground. This is not only another example of graffiti in Trenton, but also the failure of the Trenton schools.

Oh, Trenton, I feel that this is your last warning. I don't think I have it in me to survive another summer here without you at least TRYING to get your act together. Please?