ON THE QT
Everything You Always Suspected--
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
All Of It True.
Publisher and Editor
and Au Revoir from the QT you've come to know. On The QT first
appeared in the Spring of 2001, on a bi weekly schedule. The personal goal was one year of publication. Twenty five issues
later the time has come to leave the building.
One reason is I no longer live in a city. (Another change: QT
is now appearing in first person.) A consistent QT subject has
been urban living. Something I'm very familiar with, having lived
most of my life where the sidewalk begins. I grew up in Trenton--
New Jersey's capital. Trenton is a medium size city bordering
Pennsylvania on the Delaware River. It's old (by American
standards) with architecture reflecting some 300 years of
history. Going to school in Trenton meant being raised on the
American Revolution. Particularly the Battle of Trenton, with
Washington crossing the icy Delaware on the day after Christmas
to surprise the Hessians, sleeping off a drunk in their barracks.
(The drunk part may be apocryphal, but as the movie Liberty Valence advises,
"Print the legend.") A bridge spanning the Delaware sports a sign
boasting "Trenton Makes, The World Takes." The sign remains but
the skilled industrial jobs that were a bridge for the poor to
cross to the middle class are gone. Along with the safety and
civility that equalized the city's public life. Trenton certainly
had poverty. But children could play on streets in the evening,
go to movies alone, take buses at night. Mothers and children
could picnic in secluded sections of lovely, Olmsted designed,
100 acre Cadwalader Park. No matter how deprived the individual,
a refuge and richness existed in Trenton's larger civic world;
in its schools, libraries and commercial areas. Now Trenton sits,
a tooth and claw island amidst a sea of suburban prosperity. Its
gentrified enclaves smaller islands within. Trenton's tax base is
small and property taxes high. Politicians flood it daily only to
withdraw at night, pork in hand. The governor's mansion is down
the road in tonier Princeton Township and Jersey governors never
seem able to lift the sagging seat of their government. I've
As an adult I lived in Manhattan. But also in what are called
second tier cities. In New Jersey and the Hudson River Valley
of upstate New York, where my mother's family has lived for over
150 years. Another historically rich area. Eventually I came to
like medium size cities best. Second tier towns had good city
things like 24 hour life, ethnic and blue collar neighborhoods,
idiosyncratic small businesses and urban architecture. Without
what became signature megalopolis negatives: high rent dumps,
din beyond belief and consumerism raised to religion. Second tier
towns let one breath mentally. But by the 90's they'd changed.
Either the slide downward reached the final denouement or they
became cultural knock offs of larger cities. Regional urban
culture didn't disappear, but it diminished as more successful
cities morphed into a neo urban Anywhere USA. Same food, same
restaurants, same festivals. Same art, same newspapers, same
philosophies. Less successful cities were an experiment in terror
amidst booster pressure to pretend the golden cookie cutter had
arrived. Meanwhile, I kept wondering
I sympathized with New Urbanists, Neighborhood Associations, etc.
When discussing urban blight many pointed a finger to the suburbs
and said "They did it". White people got gassed and fled their
responsibilities. Including their duty to buy urban real estate.
Then one day, in a certain upstate New York city, I was returning
by bus to my downtown apartment from a shopping trip. In the seat
behind me a young black woman was chatting loudly with a friend.
She lived in an older suburb and was going to visit her sister
downtown. She was a salesgirl in a mall. $6.50 an hour. When the
bus reached downtown, she stopped talking about her boyfriend
and started telling her companion how though she was busting
her chops paying her share of the rent and had little left for
anything else, she was glad she "didn't live down here anymore".
Because she hated "crazy drug stuff and lowlifes". Something
struck me. This was the kind of young woman progressives used to
love. She was Ginger Rogers fighting to escape a back lot slum.
Or plucky shop girl Joan Crawford "wanting to be someone". But
no-- the analogy had to be wrong. Beneath the vivacious young
black woman disguise, a suburban white man (gut tightly cinched)
no doubt lurked, using "drugs" as a code word for "black". Yet
statistics (as well as your eyes) tell you suburbs are no longer
made out of white bread. Making one ask
Then there was the elderly lady met on a Neighborhood Crime
Watch. Also black and a homeowner in a racially mixed, low to
middle income neighborhood. Drug business had ripped up her nabe
in a startlingly short time. Many of those involved were from
downstate, specifically New York City, and were being housed
by one major Section 8 HUDlord. Or in facilities for substance
abusers, where people with violent criminal records, or who were
still doing/dealing drugs were supposedly not allowed. Guess
what? You got it. Anyway, this skinny little old lady came
running out of her house. "Crime Watch, Crime Watch, Yoo hoo!"
She waved and beckoned. She needed help. Drug delivery boys were
in her backyard every night. The cops didn't come. We told her
to keep calling. Those calls counted. They would eventually bring
help. They provided a record. It was the civic minded thing to
do. But a sense of futility nagged. I'd heard the same line
myself, many times, in other neighborhoods and other cities. And
this particular nabe had a few additional problems. Like the
city's mayor. A man who seemed more concerned about negative
publicity than resident safety, who'd reportedly blanched under his tan when
shown candid photos of neighborhood conditions, saying "Do you
know what The Daily Blat [not the real name] would do with these?"
Not much help could be expected from the nearby, "gentrified"
neighborhood associations either. Though they fretted over not
attracting minorities and tenants, real estate dreams and
discomfort with the issue of crime kept them mum. They also
hoped that the drug trade, if fed someone else's neighborhood,
would never come to theirs. You have to ask
Urban experience teaches otherwise. But back to urban epiphanies.
A larger one occurred more slowly, building while working on QT
and picking up speed when doing research for a NY Press article about a widening federal municipal
corruption investigation in New Jersey. One which most recently
sank Republican James Treffinger's hopes of stepping into
Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli's equally soiled shoes.
I've never liked hearing people say "politicians are all a bunch
of crooks." Since the sweeping dismissal can excuse political
passivity. But after brushing up on the endemic political
plundering of municipalities throughout the Northeast, with
attendant subjects such as the many faces of HUD fraud, misuse of
transportation and economic development funds, public contracts
for cash, extortion, environmental scams, crony tax abatements,
rubber stamp consultants, predatory mortgage practices, campaign
finance bribes, wire fraud, mail fraud, tax evasion, drug
related money laundering, and one case of alleged mayoral child
molestation, I found myself wanting to stand atop the Empire
State Building and shout: Yes! They all ARE a bunch of crooks!
And the internecine, nonpartisan nature of the crookedness made
me want to add, like a woman-on-the-street interviewed by CNBC
about the now infamous Merrill Lynch "shit" memo, "...and they're
all in cahoots!" But I still don't advocate political passivity.
An October 2000 story by Clint Riley in a South Jersey newspaper,
CourierPost, titled "The Camden Investigation: Officials pocket cash as sewer crumbles" describes the political looting of
Camden. A Camden resident is quoted "It doesn't get better in
Camden because this city has become nothing but a whore, and
you've got everybody pimping her." And Larry Makinson, of the
Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., talking about the effects of money in politics says, "The dirty little secret
is, it is much worse at the local level, in your own back yard."
I believe Larry Makinson is correct. And urban pimpin' is not
unique to Camden. The poorer the city, the more it gets turned
out. In order for New Urbanism to mean more than just new pimps
in town, urban corruption and the ways current policies feed it,
demands scrutiny. Also needed is acknowledgement that nothing
empties cities like crime, since it tells people the social
contract is no longer in effect. And lose the fantasy of
techtopia and tourism lifting all ships. When we let those
solid industrial jobs go, we dealt second tier cities
a staggering blow, contributing heavily to the formation of an
underclass mired in the drug economy and public support. Is there
any hope of getting those jobs back? People who say no and speak
of inexorable market pressures are often the same people who
believe coercion can carrot and stick individuals back into
cities. But rerouting cars or handing out houses only succeeds
in very limited situations. Like cities that have a lot going on
already. Or in enclave, gentrified neighborhoods where turning
inward, away from the city at large, becomes an operating
principle. Thereby undercutting the whole meaning of "civitas".
Matchbox success is immensely expensive to the general taxpayer.
It fuels public resistance to the whole idea of helping cities.
In the meantime the pimps are raking it in. If one cares about
the future of America's second tier towns, now is not the time to
be passive. Or to let sleeping Hessians lie. On the larger front,
I really don't believe every politician is a crook. But a dark
star has definitely risen. In important regions, our two party
system is in real danger of morphing into one corrupt, fraudulent
organization which uses political ideology as a sales tool for
rubes. We could end up living in the United States of Enron.
As I said on opening it's only Au Revoir. Keep watching the sky.
You'll see QT again. Not nearly as often but its range will be
wider. While I've enjoyed the pulp discipline of QT's bonsai
garden format it's time for some larger projects. As to why,
after a lifetime of in-town living, I headed on out, it had
to do with a need for clean laundry. I've shrugged off murders,
robberies and drug-a-rama street dealing. But when a heavy duty
drug thug makes 2 A.M. collection calls on a tenant living
a few floors below you, shouting violent threats into the
basement apartment window from which the "recovering" addict
does nickel and dime deals, it makes you reluctant to use
the laundry room. And I had just about run out of socks.
THE LAST ROUNDUP?
In Oklahoma Michael P. Wright has been receiving ugly emails
from boomcar boys threatened by his sharp website take on their
pathology. His site now features fascinating Justice Department
info on who's most heavily hit by their noise. And thanks to
Sergei and "Pete" for the hilarious, operatic "Albanian
Rhapsody". It will appear in PEEP. In New Jersey, the
indictment of real estate developer and Democratic fund-raiser
Rene Abreu (job references include Senator Robert Torricelli,
Representative Robert Menendez, and West New York Mayor Albio
Sires) adds another page to the ongoing corruption saga. United
States Attorney Christopher J. Christie sez that aside from
terrorism, prosecuting municipal corruption is number one on his office's "to do" list. Up the river in Albany, New York, some
employees of A.A.R. Contractor, Inc. have pled guilty to federal
charges in what's been called the largest case of asbestos
treatment fraud in US environmental history. One involving myriad
public buildings, including the New York state capital. These are
the first employees of A.A.R. to fold, leaving others, including
A.A.R. head man Alex Salvagno (now of AAR Environmental
Services) still facing charges. Rip & skip boys, rip & skip.
Or should we say, squeal & deal?
Jersey Pols: Concrete Shoes
Officials pocket cash as sewer crumbles
Center For Responsive Politics
Michael Wright's Noise Pollution Website
"Bunker Hill had taught Americans that British regulars could
be resisted. Trenton proved to them...that the dreaded Hessians
could be conquered."
AmericanRevolution.org, The Hessians, Chaptor VIII. Trenton,
December 26, 1776
"Go Go! Go Johnny Go!"
Chuck Berry, Johnny B. Goode
ON THE QT is online at
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