Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Toothpaste Cap Administration


I used to work with a guy with a severe cognitive impairment. He happened to have a radiant personality and was adored by everyone in the company. He handled a lot of essential (but underrated) tasks for the firm: he sorted the mail, watered the plants, made sure we had coffee filters, and swept the floors. He told me once, "You don't have to be smart to do most jobs. You just have to work."

I'm not saying that cognitively impaired folks are dumb, or should be relegated to the mailroom; all humans, regardless of brain function, have different strengths and weaknesses. But what was noticeable about this particular guy was that he had a tight, caring family, the support and admiration of everyone at work, and in his case, was probably placed perfectly for his skill level.

As weeks turn into months during Tony "I'm my worst critic" Mack's reign as mayor here in Trenton, I cannot help but conclude that Mack himself must have suffered a traumatic brain injury in his past. I am by no means saying that someone with a damaged brain could not be mayor, but I am saying that this particular brain-impaired individual is not a good fit for the particular job he currently holds. The difference between Tony "A/B+" Mack and my former coworker is that Mack does not have the proper support network of friends, family, and colleagues, and furthermore, he is clearly in over his head, skill-wise.

Based on my limited knowledge of the human brain, I suspect that Tony "I don't think" Mack's brain impairment is in his frontal lobe. The front area of the brain is responsible for — among other things — problem solving, memory, and judgement, all of which are clearly impaired in our mayor.

How else can we explain the 8 business administrators (one* who quit and then plead guilty to stealing $480,000 in campaign funds from Congressman Frank Lobiondo's [R-NJ's 2nd district] campaign treasury fund; the heroin addicted deputy mayor; the 30-houses-for-$30 deal; the firing of a political rival using the SWAT officers, the do-over bullshit with the IT firm; the contaminated water; the unauthorized overtime; the raises and jobs for close friends and family, while many, many others got the axe; the empty promises to reopen the libraries; the even emptier promises to keep police officers on the job; the resignation of our law director; and the appointments of judges without background checks? Every week, this mayor is behind another insult to our dignity and intelligence. Every week, there are more episodes of poor judgement, and he is counting on us to forget.

Tony "Happy Pearl Harbor Day" Mack and his friends list mundane ribbon cuttings and photo opportunities as "monumental accomplishments" for his first year in office, and yeah, I'm sure it can go to one's head — and take awhile to get used to — to have so many people looking at you all the time. But what Tony's done so far — and I'm being generous here — is the political equivalent of putting the damn toothpaste cap on after brushing his teeth. Give. Me. A. Break. It's disturbing to see otherwise intelligent people snowed over by this**. Yeah, it's great that a boy from Wilbur has made it to the big league. I'm living just blocks away from Tony's childhood home, so I have a firsthand understanding of the hurdles Mack must have faced. What an example he could have been! It's profoundly disappointing that he's been given this chance in life — knowing that he was walking into a mess — and has chosen to surround himself with knuckleheads, thugs, and asskissers, and they are demolishing the city instead of rebuilding it.

I'm sure the mayor and his allies don't agree. They're still caught up with the newness of the spotlight; they like the spotlight. They like what it does for their ridiculous, massive egos. But the job of mayor, like so many others, has nothing to do with ego, or even brain function. It has everything to do with community and the capacity for hard work: qualities completely absent from the Mack administration.

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* On March 4, 2011, Andrew J. McCrosson Jr., who served as treasurer of LoBiondo's congressional campaign committee from 1995 until August 2010, pleaded guilty in federal district court to charges of embezzling more than $450,000 from campaign accounts over a fifteen year period. The charges included one count of wire fraud and one count of converting funds contributed to a federal candidate. He faces up to twenty-five years imprisonment on his sentencing date of June 16. (from wikipedia)

** If they want to worship a politician, there are so many other worthier ones out there, right now. Just about ANY other politician. Except for maybe Anthony Weiner.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Grandpa Juicebag

I'm sure I'm doing it all wrong. Motherhood, that is.

Seriously.

When Matthew was born, I still dealing with the loss of Catherine, our first child, and my mother had just died, and just before that, my dog had died as well. It was a rough spell for sure. Plus, taking care of a newborn is no easy task, even under the best of circumstances. Matthew had dropped a bit of weight right after he was born, and we had to go to the pediatrician's office for weekly weigh-ins to make sure he was packing it back on; dealing with the staff's and other parents' "Is he your first?" questions was more than I could take. But I took it, because, really, what choice did I have? Most people don't have to decide how to answer questions like that, and I'm glad for it. All the same, it still sucked for me. So, I opted not to go out much — with or without Matthew — for a very long time because I just felt so freakish. I couldn't be casual. I didn't want to let anyone in. Matty was a super-fussy baby, to boot. He screamed pretty much constantly for a good six months.

After that, I suppose I was in a bit of a rut/routine with him, and even though he was screaming a lot less, he was still difficult about clothing and riding in the car, and given my overall state, I was okay with that. Needless to say, I didn't join any mommy groups.

It's only been in the last 6 months or so I've felt better enough to get out more frequently; I've felt better about Matty's overall temperament, too. I try to get him to a playground or the playroom at a fast food joint a few times a week. I'll be honest: he still screams a lot, but it's different now, as an almost 3-year-old. He squeals with delight and he roars and he laughs, and it just warms my heart to see him so happy, even though he is so very loud. I trust him, though: he's friendly and outgoing and has never been aggressive with another kid, at least not in any typical way. He does have a tendency to roar at and around other kids, and I probably have not done a great job at discouraging it because, well, I think it's hilarious. When he does it, his eyes are twinkling and he's smiling profusely, and every kid he's roared at — until today — understood Matthew's intent, and they enjoy the playground while roaring and yelling and laughing and chasing one another.

Today, we went to the Burger King on Quakerbridge Road, and a family with three kids was in the playroom, and in typical fashion, Matty roared, the kids understood, and they ran around squealing and laughing. The family eventually left, and another came in. The adult was a man, probably in his 60s, and for all I know, he could have been the father, since, in general, men can make babies until they die. The girl was probably 6 and the boy was about 5. They all looked miserable. They had yogurt, which explains some of it. Yogurt is great, but who wants that at Burger King? No one.

The two older kids got in the play contraption (I have no idea what to call it: it's a climbing apparatus with bulging windows that lead to a tunnel, which leads to a slide); they were the quietest two children I've ever encountered. Matty could hear their footsteps, though, and it excited him, and he went in after them. I should mention that Matthew is actually too small to climb the climbing part of it, so he generally just stands in it, roaring up at everyone, or crawls beneath the bottom step and hangs out.

Today, he sat under the bottom step, looked over at me and said, "Hi Mommy!" and then roared. Have I mentioned that he's a Leo? I laughed and waved back. He sat there, until the little boy came down the climbing part. Why the little boy came that way is a mystery, since there's a perfectly good slide he could have used. So, Matty jumped out at him and said, "Hi!!" And then he roared. And the little boy sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

My first, private reaction was, "Come ON, kid, you HAVE to be kidding me." But I realize everyone is different, and as much as I want my kid to be able to roar as much as he wants in a place like BK's playroom, I don't want anyone else's kids traumatized, either. So I asked Matty to apologize, and he did, earnestly. The boy continued to sob, and then, without warning, he took off out of the contraption. He didn't run to the adult man with him, interestingly; he ran to the shoe station on the other side of the room. And, of course, Matthew chased him.

The boy screamed in terror, which Matthew misinterpreted as a scream of delight, and continued laughing and roaring. I called Matty over to me and asked him to calm down a bit, since the boy was scared. "Boy is scared?" he asked. I said, "Yes, so you need to chill out a bit." Matthew said, "Okay, Mommy."

The old man forced the crying boy to eat his yogurt. Matty tried playing with the girl; she wasn't afraid, but she was absolutely irritated with him. Matthew was still unaware that his personality was too much for this particular family, so I pulled him aside again, and asked him to play a bit more quietly. He sat and drank his juice for a minute, until the little boy came back over to the contraption. The boy got into the climbing part, and Matthew followed him, and they both rested their arms on the upper level; well, Matty dangled since he can't quite reach. Sound travels in that place, so I could tell Matty was roaring away happily and laughing. The little boy just stood there with Matty, so I thought everything was okay. I took a picture (below) and then walked over to be sure. I should note, that all the while, the old guy was sitting close to the exit and at one point, left to get more soda. Maybe you've never been in one of these rooms (if so, lucky you), but it's a separate room from the main restaurant, with doors that close.

Matthew with the little boy who hated him, but refused to move. FYI: until recently we didn't take Matty's shoes off in those playrooms, since he can't really climb that well yet, and god knows what sort of funk is crawling around in there besides; but Glen had his first encounter with an asshole parent last weekend, and it was about Matty's shoes. So, we've been taking them off, just to avoid those parents.

I walked over to the kids, and saw through the "window" that the older boy's head was in his hands, and he was weeping. Matty was roar-talking and laughing at the boy, thinking they were great friends, unwittingly sending the child further into the abyss with every leonine noise. I brought Matthew out of the contraption. The old guy returned with a freshened beverage, sat back down by the door, called the kid, who jumped down and ran across the room as if his life depended on it. Before I could stop him, Matty chased the boy, and they wound up — from my vantage — on the far side of the garbage can. I could not see the kids. The old man, from his seat, yelled at my child, using his name. "Matthew!" He barked, "DON'T DO THAT." I ran over and grabbed Matthew, and asked him to apologize — he did, again, sincerely — and I asked the guy what had happened, as I couldn't see from my angle.

Matthew has never hit another child, but I had expected the man to say something like that, but instead, he snapped at me, aggressively. "Matthew was running after him and yelling. THAT IS NOT PLAYING."

I just want to say I don't have a problem with someone else reprimanding my kid, if he deserves it. I'd also like to say that I had a good comeback — after all his kid was at least two years older than mine, a good deal taller, and last I checked kids run and yell when they play. Especially in designated play rooms in fast food restaurants. But I was utterly dumbfounded. I eventually said, "I'm sorry he scared your boy." I was sorry. I felt the blood enter my cheeks; I'm sure I turned red. I walked Matthew back over to the table, packed up our belongings, and we left. We had a good run, I figured, and I knew Matty was just too young to understand the other boy was not having fun, though I'm sure he wouldn't have any fun without Matty, either. As we walked out of the restaurant, I started to get pissed: at the old guy for being such a douche, and at myself, for not being quick enough to respond in any kind of intelligent way.

I packed Matty into his car seat, and under my breath, I said, "Grandpa Douchebag." But it probably wasn't under my breath, since Matty heard me and attempted to repeat after me. "Grandpa Juicebag?" Matty asked.

I started to laugh, and Matthew laughed too, and then he started chanting, "Grand-pa Juice-bag! Grand-pa Juice-bag! Grand-pa Juice-bag!" as if we were at a sporting event. I joined in, and together we chanted "Grand-pa Juice-bag! Grand-pa Juice-bag!" for the next few miles. I felt a lot better.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Meow



My friend, Megan, took three sickly kittens from my backyard today (two pictured above), and she is probably right now up feeding them with an eyedropper. Their eyes are in rough shape: one has two bulging eyes, completely closed and crusted over. Another one only has one eye like that. The other just has oozing eyes, but has a few open sores on her brand new body. They go to the vet tomorrow, and we're hoping for good news. Hopefully these little guys will grow strong and will get adopted.

Politics in this town are mindboggling, but my experience with the animals is just heartbreaking, and hands down the worst part of living in the city for me. There just seems to be no end to shitty conditions for companion animals. We've been here 7 years, and we've come across countless stray, feral, and abandoned animals. All of our indoor cats are city strays (though one came from Camden); Steve the dog was tossed out into the streets and came to us in 2008. Someone hopped the fence of the abandoned property next to us and dumped a pit bull. We called Animal Control to get him. I have no particular fondness for that type of dog, but the fear in his eyes is never far from my mind. We don't know what happened to him. We've found domestic rabbits. But it's the cats — the endless cats — that get to me the most...and I never considered myself a cat person.

I care because they're in my yard. I care because they're supposed to be domestic, companion animals. We made them, and we have failed them. You may say "who cares?" and, that's fine. But there's a link between unsuccessful governments and abandoned animals: these governments cannot properly govern their people, so of course the non-human life forms suffer even more than the citizens. I'm not doing nearly enough for the cats in my yard, and it kills me.

I'm not sure what to do about the people who kick animals out of their homes. I'm not sure what to do about little assholes who run their big strong dogs without leashes, who encourage the dogs to kill other smaller animals. I have no idea how to change the minds of those who think dog fighting is cool. I cannot imagine — no matter how I try — the utter depravity those people must have been subjected to to make them act the way they do toward animals.

Glen and I care for nearly 20 cats currently, between our own and the strays in the neighborhood (in case you're wondering, our indoor cats are sterilized and so are several of the outdoor ones: there's just no end to animal abandonment, and I suppose the cats can smell the suckers). You may wonder how we do that. It's difficult and financially draining.

Maybe you don't have a cat. Or maybe you only have one or two. Maybe you are so sick and tired of listening to me bitch about my cat situation. I know you can help, and I'd be so grateful if you could take a kitten or two, or maybe one of the mama cats. I can hook you up with so many wonderful resources so it's not a hardship at all, and it will mean everything to the individual/s you take home with you.

Click to enlarge. And, Trenton TNR's contact info is: trentontnr@gmail.com; (978) 228-5239

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Monumental Accomplishments


Yesterday's videos* of Mayor Tony Mack were a TREASURE TROVE of blog fodder. Thank you, Mayor.

He said, "I'm so excited about the fact that we kept garbage collection two days a week when it was slated for one day a week," he added. "We are making monumental accomplishments with less."

How is no change in service a monumental accomplishment? There have been NO monumental accomplishments at all in the last year, no matter how many times Tony says it. Our finances are a monumental disaster, and the mayor's priorities are monumentally screwed.

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* You can watch the videos here.

From his own mouth

Monday, June 6, 2011

Recall!

A year ago, I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life: I pulled the lever for Tony Mack on election day.* I'm not making excuses, but the write-in option in the booth I used was covered (I had planned write in another name). I stood there for a moment in confusion, staring at the two names, holding a squirming toddler, forgetting I could abstain from that particular unsavory race. To quote my friend, Mr. Clean, "It's like someone comes up to you and says, 'Would you like your left eye poked out, or your right eye poked out?'" I muttered, "Fuck it," under my breath and voted for Tony Mack. I lamented my decision immediately, and wrote about it here, to try to sort it all out.

Tony won by a sizable margin, so the chaos, embarrassment, and — I'll say it — illegal and unethical activity that has taken place since then is not all my fault. But I feel the burden of my poor decision. Today I had an opportunity to atone for my voting sins by joining a few of my fellow Trentonians in signing a letter of intent to recall Mayor Tony Mack.

Recalling an elected official is a very difficult process in the state of New Jersey: it takes time, money**, and requires a huge effort. You can watch a quick video about the recall process (with some festive music!) on Kevin Moriarty's informative blog. Tony Mack walked into a terrible mess courtesy of the previous administration and council, but he had so many opportunities to do things better. Instead, he appointed his friends and family, and gave them raises; he allowed his house to go into foreclosure, but took a loan from a Burlington County "friend" to fix it. He fired a political rival by using the SWAT team. He's the man in charge while time cards are forged, and the Water Works practically melted down. And he hired a heroin addict as his right hand man! These are just some of the things that Tony's done in his first year in office; just some of the things we know about. Tony Mack has screwed up enough so that it shouldn't be too difficult to get 9,860 (and extras for good measure) signatures in 160 days so we can hold a recall election. It does seem a bit daunting right now, though! Citizen campaigns have gone well in recent years and I believe this one will, too. It's also my hope, though far-fetched, that Tony will acknowledge this effort to recall him by stepping down.

Everyone asks, "Who will replace Tony?" I don't know. And, it hurts my head to think about it. We had 10 candidates in the last mayoral election: some of them were decent, and some were downright comical. The bottom line, though, is that there were about 8 too many. Over time, I'm hoping this recall effort will bring Trentonians closer, so we're more engaged with one another, so we can pick the best candidate to replace Tony. We have a difficult process ahead and we need to work together.



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* In the interest of full disclosure, I voted for Eric Jackson in the first election. If only he had filled a couple of friggin' potholes, we would not be in this mess right now. Tony Mack and then at-large councilman, Manny Segura, had made it to the run-off election.

** A recall election will cost the taxpayers an estimated $90,000. It is a disturbingly high number, and a lot to ask from an already overtaxed and underserved group of taxpayers. It weighed heavily on me that by joining this group to repent for my voting error, I'd be personally responsible for yet another tax hike. But the thing of it is, as of today, Tony Mack's list of improprieties is so very long. But next week, it will undoubtedly be even longer. He's been paying people who were not even technically employed by the city...and in some cases, paying them overtime. His actions are bankrupting this city. I'm not a big fan of state hand-outs, but Mack is singlehandedly making that aid less likely in the future...without a plan for self-sufficiency in place. Tony Mack is a one-man PR nightmare for the city of Trenton, to the point Trenton has become the punchline of disparaging jokes (more so than any other time in our history).