Posts Tagged ‘New Jersey’

I’ve been sick with a head cold which a massive dose of “Emergen-C” has probably prevented from turning worse. To tell the truth, I’m still tired, stressed, and more than a little cranky. I’m also behind the curve in terms of current events commentary, so I’d thought I’d play catch-up by offering my unsolicited opinion on a range of news topics, albeit at a deeply discounted price, given the economy, my general mood, and the fact that the stuff is unsolicited (which makes me just like the other 80 million bloggers across the globe). Anyway:

imagesArmy doctor at Fort Hood kills twelve:  The shooter was commissioned, a loner, a psychiatrist (!) and a Muslim, in no particular order — or maybe the order matters. The location was a military base in Texas. The hero  was a local policewoman. So many stories, so much analysis, so few new angles. Once again, mainstream media is obsessing.

Health care legislation may not solve problem of rising costs: I admit that while championing a solution that would provide health care for the uninsured, I foolishly believed Congress and the White House might also be able to craft legislation that addressed the runaway cost of health care. Was I wrong? Tell me I was wrong. Otherwise, what the hell are we doing? Obama_health-care_Congress_Sept102009

Republican candidates win gubernatorial races in Virginia, New Jersey: First governorsof all, these victories do not represent an indictment of Obama; rather, the Democratic candidates represented an indictment of incompetancy. Second, New Jersey is exceptional; that is, exceptionally corrupt. If the virus is spreading, however, I have to rethink this whole third party thing.

Joe Jackson petitions son Michael’s estate for an allowance:  I have no idea what kind of a fatherJacksonJackson was, except probably a typically show-biz type — all swagger and gaga over the cash cow he produced. Still, he’s now eighty and he’s asking for approximately $180,000 a year, which is probably less than some of the Goldman-Sachs bonuses this year. Give it to him.

Andrea Agassi has “written” a book:  This autobiography apparently contains  shocking revelations about drug use (gasp), fake hairpieces (no) his antipathy for his first wife, AgassiBrookes Shields (oh dear) and his apparent dislike of tennis (oh please). Mostly, it’s noticeable for pull quotes, serialization potential, and the overtly earthly presence of its “ghost” writer. It’s sure to be a best-seller.

Now hand me the Kleenex and turn off the light on your way out.


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Five rabbis, three mayors, and two state Assemblymen walk into a bar…wait, you’ve heard that one? Okay, how about: a councilman and a businessman meet in a diner? That too? What about the one about the developer, the adulterous brother-in-law and the hit-man or the governor and the boyfriend he put in charge of Homeland Security, or the Senator and the Korean entrepreneur or the union official and the…never mind. You’ve obviously heard them all. If you haven’t, read “The Soprano State, New Jersey’s Culture of Corruption” by Bob Ingel and Sandy McClure. The book never goes out of date; they just keep releasing new versions.   

The Soprano State

As anyone who is paying attention knows (and if you aren’t, New Jersey will grab you by the lapels and get all up in your face until you are), 44 people were indicted on bank fraud and corruption that involved land, body parts, and wads of cash stuffed in pockets, envelopes, and even a box of Apple Jacks. As New Jersey’s acting US attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr. noted, “They existed in an ethics-free zone” which New Jersey apparently provides without the onerous taxes imposed on the rest of its citizens. No matter, btw, that some of the leading figures were from Brooklyn; Jersey will take the hit. arrest

I live in New Jersey and I’m not alone in wishing my home state would stop supplying fodder for late-night comedians (although I’m secretly hoping Andy Borowitz takes it up). But seriously, the culture of corruption is so entrenched in the Garden State, that, as Mr. Marra pointed out, the good citizens “don’t have a chance…”

I have a good friend who, though not by nature a paranoid person, pointed out something else perhaps  no one is going to address, at least not publicly: the perpetrators of this scheme appear to be Jewish. They were devout, but their devotion seems to be to the Almighty dollar. On top of madoffMadoff, this is, to my friend’s way of thinking, a disaster for anyone identified as a Jew, which would include me, notwithstanding I am thoroughly lapsed.

It hadn’t occurred to me that this could at all be tied to me. Who stereotypes like that? People stereotype in other ways (“Oh, that explains your sense of humor”) but that can’t be all bad. And yet, looking at the picture in the Times, I felt a familiar tightening of the stomach. (I also thought for some reason of a busload of elderly New York Jews heading to Atlantic City but never mind). Here we go again: Jews and money. Money and Jews. Fraud and deceit and manipulation and money laundering and Jews. Evil Empire, economic manipulation, Zionist plot, world domination. Shylock. Shylock

I know, paranoid, right? This kind of scandal hurts lots of people. Italians who are sick of being caricatured as characters out of an HBO series. Women who don’t have big hair and lots of jewelry. Long-time residents who love the state. Politicians who are just trying to do their jobs honestly. It’s about assumptions and greed and entitlement and perhaps an environment that makes it far too easy to take the money and run. I can always move to North Carolina or wherever fed-up New Jersey residents are flocking these days.

My friend is blunt: “These guys are perpetrating an image that infuriates people. And let’s not forget what happens when people become infuriated with Jews and blame them for their problems.”  Paranoid? It is. Still, one hates to feed the beast.

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Tipping Point

Enough with the politics. ‘Tis the season and all that. I’ve been intermittently watching morning shows while engaged in the difficult task of book rewrites and have all sorts of ideas about what to bring to a holiday party, what to wear, what to make, what to gift, where to find bargains and how to survive without gaining weight, losing your mind or forsaking family and friends. This year seems especially stressful, what with the economy so low, our hopes so high and our expectations veering from high to low and back again. Then again, unless you were once the recipient of lavish year-end bonuses punctuated by over-the-top holiday parties, this year is pretty much like last year only tighter.

People who in any way depend upon the services of others expect to tip and are expected to tip. That’s not supposed to change in challenging years.  Being hard up is relative. The “Social Q’s” etiquette columnist in the Times Sunday Styles section responded to a letter from an apartment dweller asking whether she could cut her tips by asking if her being “pretty broke” meant “only buying two chinchilla coats this season or…contemplating a tin of Meow Mix for dinner tonight?” In other words, we all have it rough, lady; tip the doorman.

Out here in the ‘burbs, we also have holiday tipping to attend to. To acknowledge the teacher who helped Sadie with her math or put up with little Johnny, that scamp, money is a no-no, of course. Instead, I’d try gifting baked goods or better yet, a small contribution in the teacher’s name to a favorite children’s charity. Or, given education budget cuts, buy classroom supplies which would otherwise come out of Teacher’s pocket.  Your cleaning lady, if you’re lucky enough to have one, will look for extra cash, which I suppose is thanks for simply doing her job. Since it’s a job you don’t want to, don’t have time to, or can’t do, she deserves it.  The postman also awaits your tip although I’m not clear why; isn’t he supposed to deliver the mail? My guy has yet to change the name inside my mailbox so I don’t get mail from the residents who lived here eighteen years ago. On the other hand, Willy and I went through the anthrax scare together and still joke about handling the mail while wearing gloves, so I feel a certain kinship. Ah, the things that bind us.

The woman who throws the paper more or less in the vicinity of my doorstep seems to expect money as well; I suppose I’d better if I want to avoid walking across the street in the pouring rain. While that’s another job I don’t want, the expectation of money simply for the execution of the job begins to feel a little oppressive. I have a new paper delivery person since last Christmas who actually might be the mother of the young man who began the year delivering the paper.  Come to think of it, her life can’t be too easy. Anyway, her resourcefulness impressed me; she included a stamped, self-addressed envelope along with her holiday card stuck in my paper.  

This year I received a new surprise: a blank envelope left at my front door with a holiday card that read: “Seasons Greetings from Tony, your recycler.” Our development hires a service to pick up the recyclables we put out every other week. Some truck comes along and dumps the containers, which we then go out and retrieve from the stoop. I don’t know who these guys are; I can’t even remember who they work for. For sure I don’t know what the tipping  etiquette is in this situation  – do I tape money to a plastic water bottle and leave it in the recycle bin? All I know is, if “Tony” is expecting something, I don’t want to disappoint him. But I wonder: what’s next? “Happy Holidays from Uncle Junior, your scrap metal specialist?” This is New Jersey, after all.

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This is the summer of my discontent, at least when it comes to where I live. It’s a nice enough development, convenient to transportation and just outside the tony town of Princeton. But the twenty-something-year-old townhouses are showing signs of wear and tear. I’ve been having my cracking popcorn ceilings removed room by painful, messy and costly room, only to discover that the popcorn was hiding the contractor’s original sheet-rock handiwork, which is lousy. The new hospital to be built across the increasingly noisy highway my development abuts isn’t thrilling me either; it just means I can listen to the wail of an ambulance fighting its way through Route 1 traffic along with the constant squeal of trucks braking.

What’s got me even more crabby is the state I’m in – not my emotion or physical state but the state of New Jersey. It’sis the most densely populated state in the union with the sorriest excuse for a transportation system you can imagine. The property taxes have long been outrageous. We can’t even manage a world-class public university on the order of University of Pennsylvania or Michigan or Massachusetts. We have all these autonomous little towns, townships and school districts, each with its own library and fire department and school and well-paid administrators located maybe two miles from another fully outfitted township. Total waste of resources and taxes but you know that no one’s going to consider consolidating and letting go of his, her or their piece of the pie. Anyway, in New Jersey, the surest way to lose an election is to remove well-connected people from their comfortable jobs. Thus we have a whopping 38 or 40 or 42 – I’m losing track – billion dollar deficit to go along with the tanking economy. I’m also losing track of the number of politicians and so-called civic leaders who’ve been indicted or will be indicted or should be indicted. Try reading a book by reporters Bob Ingel and Sandy McClure called “The Soprano State: New Jersey’s Culture of Corruption.” It’s funny and infuriating, especially if you live here, which I find I’m too embarrassed to admit. I hate when people ask me where I’m from when I’m traveling; I tell them I was born in Wisconsin and New Jersey is so not my fault.

Not that I’m doing much traveling, because this is also the summer of the day trip and the “staycation” which means we’re all hanging out where we are.  Which is why I was so unaccountably moved by an essay in the New Jersey section of the NY Times,  a review of a Springsteen concert turned into a love song about New Jersey. Physically, not to mention culturally, we sport enough  diversity to mirror the entire country. You can travel from the shore to the Delaware River, from the mountains to the marshes and reach the greatest city in the world, New York and its not too shabby cousin, Philadelphia, all on less than a tank of gas.

So while I dream of a warm and welcoming community someplace more afforable and less tainted, where I can live with pride in my small, sustainably green house, well, I’m here. The popcorn ceiling is gone in the kitchen and I’m ignoring the crack in the living room. I’m an hour from the shore and a half hour from the river. It’s summer in Jersey and if it’s good enough for the Boss, it’s good enough for me.

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