Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Trenton News update: French Towers elevator saga day 6

TRENTON -- Here's a lift for residents at the French Towers: the two-car elevator that has been down since last Friday's storm fried all of the motherboards is scheduled to be up and running some time today, or early evening, according to Director Kenny King.

The news couldn't come at a better time because anger and frustration began to hit a bubbling point Thursday with some of the residents on the higher floors, as The Trenton News chronicled during a 105-minute noon run to check on the well-being of residents.

Edward Anthony Salter, an artist and member of Occupy Trenton, led a 3-person "noon run" group with Round One and his daughter Janet Jackson. They checked every room from the 10th floor down to the 5th to see if folks wanted water or cookies or both or if they needed help downstairs to get to appointments. They knocked on every door to offer anything the residents needed. Most of the folks smiled when Round One opened the cookie bag. Another resident walked out of his room with a box of Klondikes. He was delivering them to a friend on another floor. What would you do for a Klondike bar? "Cartwheels," he said laughing before shoving a whole cookie in his mouth. Big smile. One man on the 8th floor opened his door and said "I've got everything," and as he pointed to the elevator he said, "all I want is that working."

An older woman in her pink robe and head wrap took 4 cookies and water and told Salter, Round One and Janet "God is going to reward y'all." The man in the video above lives on the 9th floor. He didn't want water. He didn't want cookies. He wanted the damn elevator to work again. He closed the door on Round One. A few seconds later he opened the door again, calmer. Like every other resident at French Towers, the big man wanted the elevator to work again. Round One felt badly for him. Really bad. He gave the man 4 cookies, then 8. Then he gave him an entire package.

Janet provided a humorous moment on the 8th floor. She knocked and said, "Would you like some cookies and milk?" She corrected herself as her cheeks turned red.

Minutes later on the 8th floor, Round One knocked on a door. The man opened and told Edward Anthony Salter no thanks. Then he saw Round One. "Oh, there's my man, Round One! Come on in!" So the trio and a reporter went into the Candyman's room. He used to be a chef for the New Jersey Department of Transportation and showed us all a ton of pictures. His room was full of cool stuff, including one of those dancing dolls that sings Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World".

We were somewhere near the 6th floor, on the edge of the busted elevator, when the philosphy kicked in. Edward Anthony Salter is a strong man with a sharp mind for discussion, an acute sense for detail and an soothing personality. He's the type of guy you'd want talking someone down from the ledge. Very calm demeanor. Checking up on these residents is more than knocking on their doors and offering them some cookies. The person with the clipboard cannot forget one resident and must remember all of their patterns. He gives every resident at least a minute to get to the door. He double-checks which residents haven't answered their door two or more times in a row because that signifies something could be wrong. Maybe nothing's wrong, but the person with the clipboard can take nothing for granted. He takes every note from the noon run down to the director to compare notes from previous runs. The person with the clipboard today, Edward Anthony Salter, who talked freely about being a ward of the state as a kid and moving around from one "pack of wolves" to another to another, tells Round One and Janet Jackson to pay particular attention to those on the 6th floor because many of them are in wheelchairs or use canes or walkers "so ask if they have any appointments."

As for the philosophical, Edward Anthony Salter the artist and Trenton Occupier said that Trenton needs to better mobilize community groups by creating a "community crisis management line so we can coordinate." So many Trenton organizations stepped up this week, but none of them coordinated, just showed up to the French Towers to help the residents. Salter said these groups should probably spend a day to become certified in First Aid through the Red Cross. Then talk broached on FEMA and if federal resources should be made available for sagas like this. "We don't need federal monies," Salter said. He understands the difference between catastrophe and elevator motherboards getting fried. "This is an instance of 'Where are people in the community?'" Round One quickly said "This is community love."

One o'clock rolled around about the time Edward Anthony Salter, Round One and Janet Jackson finished the 6th floor. They decided to do the 5th floor just in case. One elderly woman by the name of Jackie answered the door and eagerly put her hands out for cookies. "Anything! I'm honegry!" Round One gave her a handful of lemon-creme cookies. Then the woman across the hall opened her door, then another. "This is fun!" Jackie said. "We havin' a party!"

After 105 minutes the noon run was done. We hit the stairwell to head back to the lobby. On the 4th-floor landing was Perry Shaw III, Don McKinnis and Shihid Wilson of A Better Way. They were with a 10th-floor woman who was sitting down for a few seconds on her 160-step downard journey so she could get to a doctor appointment. She was a bit emotional and talked a lot of Jesus Love. Perry Shaw was wearing a gray 3-piece suit because earlier he had a meeting with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Then he came to the French Towers at 12:45 to carry 97-year-old Mamie Kelly downstairs from the 6th floor so she could go to the doctor. Then he went back up to the 10th floor to bring this woman down.

After a fight with a block of ice that he had to stab down to make fit into the cooler, Perry Shaw III, looking dapper in that gray 3-piece suit, popped on his helmet, hopped on his motorcycle and raced west down West State like he couldn't get there fast enough.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Trenton News update: National HIV Testing Day -- the stats

TRENTON -- Cookie Hernandez mesmerized the four dozen or so men and women of all colors and persuasions with "My Story" of contracting AIDS from her dead husband yet staying alive for 24 years. Before her 30-minute speech she chatted with a Trenton News reporter about her job working with Jersey prisoners who have HIV or AIDS and her role in getting them ready for re-entry into society. The reporter asked Cookie if she thinks that infected prisoners who are so angry by being locked up would go back into society and purposely infect others. Cookie saved her answer for "My Story".

Jersey's HIV/AIDS statistics ( are staggering, especially here in Mercer County (we'll break down Trenton's numbers afterward). As of December 31, 2010, there were:

* 503 men's HIV (not AIDS) cases with 91 deaths
* 1,203 men's AIDS cases with 756 deaths
* 292 women's HIV cases with 39 deaths
* 521 women's AIDS cases with 277 deaths
* 20 cases (both genders) occured in those 13 years old or younger
* 137 cases occured between 13 and 24
* 488 cases occured between 25 and 34
* 622 cases occured between 35 and 44
* 310 cases occured between 45 and 54
* 129 cases occured over the age of 55
* 230 Latinos have HIV or AIDS
* 1,064 black men and 628 black women have HIV or AIDS
* 399 white men and 104 white women have HIV or AIDS
* 566 cases emerged from male-to-male sex
* 508 cases emerged from injection drug use
* 84 cases emerged from male-to-male sex and injection drug use
* 409 cases emerged from heterosexual intercourse
* 139 cases emerged from those unwilling to state their risk

Before 1990, 222 of 242 reported AIDS patients died (92%). In '90, 86 of 95 AIDS patients died, and these are the following years: 1991 (115-82), 1992 (229-158), 1993 (150-113), 1994 (189-107), 1995 (180-88), 1996 (141-64), 1997 (101-39), 1998 (101-40, first increase), 1999 (100-30, 10% decrease), 2000 (95-21), 2001 (90-24), 2002 (84-24), 2003 (76-14), 2004 (94-15), 2005 (72-8), 2006 (72-8), 2007 (61-8, 2% increase), 2008 (65-5), 2009 (62-unknown), 2010 (63-unknown).

Here are Trenton's HIV/AIDS statistics:

* 403 men's HIV (non-AIDS) cases and 77 deaths
* 985 men's AIDS cases and 623 deaths
* 249 women's HIV (non-AIDS) cases and 38 deaths
* 463 AIDS cases and 252 deaths
* 16 cases emerged in those 13 years old or younger
* 101 cases emerged between 13 and 24
* 389 cases emerged between 25 and 34
* 512 cases emerged between 35 and 44
* 259 cases emerged between 45 and 54
* 105 cases emerged in those 55 or older
* 248 cases (186M, 62W) were reported in the Latino community
* 1,526 cases (960-566) were reported in the black community
* 314 cases (234-80) were reported in the white community

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Trenton News: National HIV Testing Day

Cookie Hernandez delivers "My Story" (Trenton News photo/JOEY KULKIN)

TRENTON -- "My Story" is her story was their story is our story.

Cookie celebrated her son's 6th birthday in 1988 by learning her husband had AIDS. 

Doctors said Lino would live for 3 weeks, tops. AIDS was a great unknown back then and scared the crap out of Americans. No one knew what it meant to have AIDS other than you must be gay to get it, and if you got it you died. 

Because Cookie and Lino were married 7 years, doctors told her to get tested.

"That's when you got tested and waited two weeks. There was no pre-testing counseling, no support," Cookie told the group of men and women inside the Trinity Cathedral Church on South Overbrook Drive in the west end of Trenton. Today was National HIV Testing Day, and Trinity Cathedral held 4 hours of programs to educate the public about HIV and AIDS. After her test Cookie went home "to be a mother, to be a wife, to be sane and insane."

Two weeks later doctors told Cookie she had AIDS, too. Her husband would be dead in a week. She passed out on the spot. 

She knew a few things about the sexually transmitted disease because she worked for the State of New Jersey in health and human services, but again, little was known about AIDS on August 27, 1988, when Cookie found out her husband had it. 

Back then we speculated about AIDs, not to mention there was another racist theory that went around for about a year before people started to realize how idiotic that theory was. Doctors told Cookie she had 6 months to 2 years to make peace with herself and the world.

"But it's 2012, and I'm still here," she told the room full of whites and blacks and browns, men and women, some of them who looked like they were on break from Econ 101 at Princeton, others who looked like they'd been on the pipe for 72 hours in a flophouse at the corner of Stuyvesant and Prospect.

Being told she had AIDS was nothing compared with the doctors who said 6-year-old Ricardo Hernandez, Cookie's boy, had to be tested, too. She was afraid to let doctors take Ricardo's blood because "it would be so unfair if my 6-year-old was infected." He wasn't. It was the happiest day in her life. But she had only 2 years to live, tops. So she began to teach the boy how to cook -- at 7 he became pretty darn good at making shrimp salad -- and taught him how to clean (and clean himself) and taught him a ton of other responsibilities to get him ready for the day she'd be dead of AIDS and he'd be on his own. "All I cared about was my son."

Back in '88 when Magic Johnson was winning another NBA title with the Lakers, AIDS patients had to take AZT -- a cocktail of pills every 4 hours "that made you sick," Cookie said. She couldn't hack the meds or the stringent 4-hour cycles anymore, so she quit AZT. "I decided I'd live 2 years OK instead of 10 years sick." And sick she got. Then a new AIDS med hit the market, she said, an Alka Seltzer-type lozenge the size of a half-dollar that you had to chew till it was goopy and foamy and soupy then swallow it without water.

About 40 people were transfixed on every word Cookie delivered in the ballroom of the church that had probably seen a few AIDS funerals. They ate lunch 30 minutes earlier. Wraps and fruit and butterfly pasta salad and tortilla chips and a terrific bean and corn dip. Soda and water. Great spread because the mission was to get butts in the seats to hear presentations by fighters like Cookie Hernandez then to go climb aboard the Project Impact motorhome to get an HIV test. 

The great thing about HIV testing in 2012, if there is such a "great thing" about HIV testing in 2012, is that they prick your finger to get a drop or two of blood. Results arrive in 15 minutes tops. While you wait for the scariest answer in the world, Pamela Hayes and Ron Furman provide counseling and advice. The test is free. 

Anyone who took one got a $25 gift card to Payless, a small consolation for a monumental moment. The test for a woman by the name of Cassandra from Rowan Towers came back negative. Watch the video below.

Lino Rosario was a teacher with two Master's degrees. Didn't do drugs as far as Cookie knew. She didn't starting putting 1 and 1 and 2 and 2 together till years later: Lino was living on the down-low and having sex with men. Cookie said his family knew but never told her. The "worse" in "for better and for worse" was a swift kick to her grits. Lino had gay sex then had marital sex and gave his wife AIDS. It killed him. 

She began to plan for Ricardo's future. One job paid the immediate bills and went toward her funeral. The other job paved the way for her son's future. She is a Puerto Rican of great strength, though, and the longer time marched on the longer Lourdez Hernandez marched on with it.

"Every August 27 I would pray to God to let me live a little longer so I could teach my son more," she said. She asked God to let her live long enough to see Ricardo graduate from the 5th grade. Then the 7th. Then the 9th, then 12th. "But God was great and allowed me to sit at my son's graduation with tears in my eyes. He allowed me to take my son to college and sit in his dorm room."

Cookie works for the New Jersey Association of Corrections, in an HIV program that deals with inmates who have HIV and are going back into society. She's been doing it for 11 years because it's her "passion" and because it gives them hope to see someone with AIDS alive and kicking 24 years after being told she had the death-sentence disease. It's important they hear this message, she said, "Because AIDS has come a long way, and because research has come a long way, and because medication has come a long way, and because education has come a long way." In 1996 her T-cell count was zero. Full-blown AIDS. "But I'm still here," Cookie told the crowd. She told the men and women of the early "bad days" when she wanted to kill her husband "because he gave me AIDS" but instead she decided to help him till the day he died." She has been with a man for 8 years. He knows she has AIDS "and he's OK with it."

All eyes and ears were on Cookie, except for a Princeton-looking woman in her 20s who picked at her cuticles and seemed to be a million miles away in a happy place with Biff the rower. The speaker told the rest of the crowd that being safe with 30 partners is so very different than taking that gamble. "All you have to do is have sex with a person one time and that person has HIV -- it only takes on partner."

These days Cookie takes one pill a day, the same pill, she said, that Magic Johnson takes to control his HIV. Magic, whose wife's name is Cookie, told the world in November 1992 that he was retiring from the NBA because he had HIV. That's when HIV and AIDS got serious. The pill Magic and Cookie and thousands of others with HIV or AIDS take is called Atripla. It controls Cookie's AIDS but makes her life miserable in other ways: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglicerides, gives her allergies. But it still beats the alternative. As she wrapped up, her message was loud and clear:

"None of us is good enough to take someone else's life in our hands," she said.

Minutes later she was finished and walked away from the podium to a standing ovation. Many of those clapping their hands walked outside and climbed into the motorhome to let Trenton's Project Impact team prick their fingers to draw a pinhead of blood.

Cassandra takes literature on HIV/AIDS

Testing and counseling are free, always

Trenton News update: French Towers saga day 5

Theodore Wright and his MJ collection

TRENTON -- If it were just a matter of getting the parts at the elevator version of Pep Boys, Herb Brown would have done it by now. But nobody is more powerful than lightning and can snap his fingers to turn fried circuit boards into gold overnight.

"We're looking for parts from suppliers" all over the East Coast, the executive director of the Trenton Housing Authority said, "and we will have them flown in."

So it's Day 5 of the elevator saga at French Towers at 630 West State Street. The two elevators in the 10-story residential building for seniors and disabled folks have been out of order since Friday night's lightning storm. The bolts zapped the motherboards, the sensors and other key components that make the elevators run. "Completely fried," Brown said. The 1970s-era elevators -- one of them is a Standard, the other Cummings -- have passed inspections every year, Brown said Wednesday morning on the 5th-floor landing. He called the meltdown of circuitry "a cascade failure" in which parts died one after another, like Dominos falling. He found sensors in Long Island and other parts in Staten Island -- and now it's a matter of working around the clock to "rekey" all of the moving parts to "these elevator specifications."

Brown said the "best-case scenario" for the motherboards and sensors to arrive for installation is Thursday. He repeated Kenny King, director of the French Towers, by saying the THA is paying top-dollar to the repair company to get the circuitry rekeyed and delivered as fast as possible.

In the meantime, a dozen or so kids in the B.O.Y.D. program showed up Wednesday morning to volunteer their time, energy and spunk. Three of the students were Taz McKnight (17), Wykia Cooper (13) and Kalli Johnson (12). They spent about 45 minutes with A Better Way mentor Alfred Harris delivering water and other necessities to folks on the higher floors. They brightened the spirits of a hunched 81-year-old by the name of Alonzo Hightower, who has a few ailments, including "old age." He felt a little more spry after Taz delivered water. "They are very good," he said of the B.O.Y.D. kids. "We admire them 100 percent. This is going to mold their character for years to come."

The highlight of the morning, at least for Taz, was Theodore Wright's room on the 6th floor. Inside the tight quarters of a 43-year-old man who swam and played baseball at Trenton High, but who these days has a tough time walking, is his shrine to many of the greatest athletes in American history: Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Ice Man Gervin, LeBron James ... but the sweetest display on one of the walls is the row of Michael Jordan 23 jerseys, from his high school days to his UNC days to his Bulls days to his days wearing No. 9 on the Dream Team. There were jerseys and signed posters and plaques and memorabilia galore of sporting greats. Taz's eyes bugged out a bit. And his cheeks got somewhat red when Theodore told him that Jordan went to North Carolina and made the winning jumper to give the Tar Heels the national title over Georgetown. Taz said he should have known that because he was born in North Carolina

Up on the 7th floor, a 73-year-old fella by the name of Albert Hicks said he's so happy that Taz and Wykia and Kallie and the dozens of other kids are volunteering at the French Towers amid the crisis. "They're doing something constructive," he said after Taz had given him a few bottles of water. "That shit in the street is nothing for nothing. There are only 3 ways in the street: the graveyard, the hospital or jail."

The most endearing part of the morning took place after Wykia and Kallie made a delivery to Miss Agnes Novak in 704. About 15 minutes earlier the girls delivered to Miss Novak then asked if she needed anything at the store. Orange juice, she told them. She gave the girls two dollar bills. They went back downstairs and then to the corner store. They raced back up the stairwell with a reporter. Wykia tripped on the last step before the 3rd-floor landing then realized the video camera was on. Her cheeks turned red. Wykia and Kallie made it back to 704 and knocked on the door, and Miss Novak answered and smiled when they gave her the bottle of OJ and the other dollar because the juice cost 99 cents.

"It was worth it, though," Wykia said on the walk down the stairwell. "Her smile was so cute."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

TV Trenton News alert: French Towers saga Day 4

TV Trenton News photo by Joey Kulkin: Perry Shaw III, Mamie Kelly, 97

TRENTON -- Five Trenton men who look like they could play middle linebacker or defensive tackle exerted their bodies for 15 minutes lugging a 250-pound woman up 6 flights of stairs at the French Towers on Tuesday. She was in a wheelchair. Scenes like this have been taking place since Friday's lightning storm fried the elevator motherboards at the 10-story building for elderly and disabled residents.

The circuitry is not expected to be fixed anytime soon. Monday is an estimated date, but when a reporter asked Kenny King, who runs the French Towers, if the new circuitry would be ready by Monday or if Monday was just a target date, he shook his head in the kind of way that let you know the truth. The truth is that hundreds more volunteers are needed at the French Towers to help the residents up and down the stairwell or to fill large buckets with ice and water and lug those up the stairs and set them up and each landing of the complex. Or even do a few of the mundane things like fill plastic bags with cukes and squash and blueberries and other natural goodness so that other volunteers can bring them to the residents who don't come down as much because it's just too much trouble without the use of an elevator.

When TV Trenton News arrived for the second day in a row, a sweetie by the name of Lillian said she's staying positive despite the elevator outage. She's a 60-something diabetic who lives on the 4th floor. "I walk up then sit on the platform, then I walk up the rest of the way," Lillian said during a video as she said on a bench outside on a glorious day of sunshine and breezes.

Minutes later a 49-year-old man by the name of Scott Smith led TV Trenton News up the stairwell to the floor he lives on -- the 6th floor. It doesn't look like anything is physically wrong with Scott, who was wearing jorts, a short-sleeve cotton shirt and a fedora. But Scott has lung problems. He had to stop on every landing to catch his breath, and Perry Shaw III and Esmond Liverpool of A Better Way were right there at every step to make sure Scott did not exert himself too much and to make sure he drank a cylindrical cup of water after every set of 8 steps. We made it to the 6th floor in about 4 and a half minutes. Scott led us into the room of Mamie Kelly, the oldest resident at French Towers at 97. She was stretched out on a lengthy adjustable chair wearing a pink lounger with white polka dots and a checkered scarf around her head. The air was on blast. On the TV played one mundane afternoon show or another. No one in the room paid attention to the TV. In a chair to her left was Mamie's son, Clatis, 67. His big concern today was Mamie's doctor's appointment Thursday. Perry Shaw III took down Clatis' phone number and promised him he would show up on Thursday with Mr. Liverpool and carry Mamie down the stairs and get her to her doctor's appointment on time. Clatis seemed relieved to her Shaw's promise. In Mamie's kitchen sink was dinner, thawing: pork loins and what looked like collard greens.

Perry Shaw III had a much easier time making a promise to Clatis than he did carrying Kim McRae up 48 steps. Shaw and the other four men charged with the mighty task lifted the woman's spirits by the "third and a half floor" as they took a water break. By then they had figured out it was easier to let the inertia of the wheels do most of the work up each step. But lugging a large woman in a wheelchair up so many steps takes a toll on any man, or set of men. By the 5th-floor landing McRae seemed happier, and she smiled and shared her talent by singing to the men. She sang about praising Jesus. The men, worn down and wet with sweat, enjoyed her voice. It made the final 8 steps tolerable, as you'll see in the video below. It shows McRae's 15-minute journey from the commons room to her front door.

Back in the lobby, Perry Shaw ran into Marge Caldwell-Wilson, the Scottish silver fox who represents the North Ward on city council. She appeared with a few dozen bags of ice. She's one of three city council members who have come to lend support. Verlina Reynolds-Jackson and Zach Chester are the others. Everyone who was asked said Mayor Tony Mack has not walked through the front doors since the elevators went down Friday. Andrew Bobbitt, who runs a city organization called Never Give Up and whose bass voice makes the late Barry White seem like a tenor, didn't let things like the mayor's absence that faze him. Bobbitt said at least 100 volunteers from city organizations have walked in and out of the front door, and up and down those stairs, and that several more groups have called to promise volunteers. It could be several days before the company that services the French Towers elevator builds new motherboards and sensors and all the other electrical gadgetry that will carry 97-year-olds and 250-pound women to their floors.

Kenny King said he's paying the company top dollar to fix that circuitry ASAP. But that company has several other clients, too. It's one thing if it were just a matter of ordering new boards and circuits, but by the sound of things, the company has to build the motherboards, which takes time. King has been the most patient person at French Towers since Friday night because everyone is tugging to get his attention, stretching him like silly putty. Lesser men would have crumbled under such a weight. About 20 minutes after helping lug 250-pound, wheelchair-bound Kim McRae to the 6th floor, King stood in the lobby. For a few moments it was quiet, peaceful, no one nagging him to fetch this or secure that. The ice that Councilwoman Caldwell-Wilson brought leaked into a puddle. Kenny King stood there mopping the floor.

"I wouldn't ask my staff to do anything I wouldn't do," he said.

Lillian Jackson: "staying positive"

Volunteers from A Better Way

James Milbourne from A Better Way

Mamie Kelly and her son, Clatis

Perry Shaw (L) of A Better Way and Councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson

Kenny King: all in a day's work

TV Trenton News: We're live

Volunteer groups helping French Towers citizens get up and down the stairs

TRENTON -- You are looking live at the (temporary) new home of TV Trenton News, the only 24-hour news operation that covers the City of Trenton. You might remember this space being called The Incredible Kulk, which highlighted my time as the managing editor at The Trentonian, but I have moved on, and TV Trenton News is my new endeavour. We'll have a new website soon and plan to build Facebook and Twitter pages.

I plan to partner and engage with Trenton businesses and citizens to provide full digital coverage in every aspect of news: breaking, politics, sports, business, day to day minutia, features and everything in between.

And I will continue to produce the TV shows, only I'm changing their names to TV Trenton and TV El Latino. The groundbreaking TV productions are set to begin broadcasting original content within the next 5 days. Freedom Green agreed to continue hosting "Freedom" and Harry Luna wants to do a show on El Latino TV, and I'm pretty sure Tyrone Miller will want to keep doing his shtick on "The Tyrone Miller Show" and we're going to keep growing TV Trenton and TV El Latino.

We have big plans to build TV Trenton News into your one-stop news outlet. It's going to take time to build, but build we will, from the ground up, from East Trenton to South Trenton to North Trenton to West Trenton. TV Trenton News is about you. We have begun to partner with the movers and shakers of Trenton. But we need more help. If you are a business owner in Trenton, there are great reasons to partner with TV Trenton News.

Last night TV Trenton News was at the French Towers at 630 West State Street. The French Towers is a 10-story facility for seniors and the disabled. Lightning from Friday's storm fried all of the elevator controls, leaving the 100 or so residents in a tough spot because they must now climb and descend the stairwells until next Monday. Imagine a 78-year-old woman with bad hips and bad knees trying to walk up 9 flights of stairs two or three times a day, and you'll understand the plight of the folks at French Towers.

That's why several Good Samaritan groups from Trenton stepped up to volunteer for the next 7 days. They belong to groups called Never Give Up and Black Gurlz Who Rock and High Rollaz and NGU and Sisterhood Social Club and Kings & Queens. One vibrant young fella by the name of Beanz belongs to High Rollaz. He weighs about 350 pounds, so getting up and down those stairs can't be easy for him, either. But in between pizza slices he told TV Trenton News why he is volunteering to assist French Towers residents.

TV Trenton News will be back at French Towers throughout the week.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Trenton, My Trenton: 100 degrees, 100 people, 100 pictures

TRENTON -- The goal was to snap 100 photographs of 100 Trentonians in the 100 degrees and write down 100 ways they planned to stay cool on the second of three straight "Do the Right Thing" scorchers. It was a chore and a half, and I only made it to 69 photos, 70 if you count the shot of George Washington standing atop the Trenton Monument in his bronzed outfit, so it would seem like I did not complete my goal. But is 69/70 out of 100 incomplete? Is not taking the project as far as I could take it project enough? It's better than just daydreaming and not starting the project, right? #wjchat.

Hanover Street between Montgomery and Calhoun is where the journey began. It continued downtown, and then I wanted to see the inner bellybutton of this city and pounded the pavement into the hoods of Brunswick, Race, MLK ... Oakland/Hoffman. I walked in and out of those hoods, and others, for five hours and no one hassled, harassed, harangued me. Sure, some folks looked at the white boy and his crazy red curls hanging over the Spurrieresque visor and wondered what the hell I was doing as I scribbled their answers on empty pages inside a book called "The Carrot Principle" -- I lost my notebook and needed *something* to write their answers in. One person thought it was cool.

Anyway, some folks didn't want their picture taken but were nice about saying no. Everyone else showed great class in allowing me to interrupt their daily doings to let me take their picture and ask how they planned to beat the heat. I met old-school Italians in a North Trenton kiosk. As the 52-year proprietor led me to a wall to show me pictures of Thurman Munson and Tim Witherspoon and Burt Reynolds, a middle-aged fella by the name of Bob Terlecki walked in to the kiosk. Bob Terlecki is a Ewing High grad who pitched for the Phillies for two months in 1972 after great success in the minors (35-16 in the 3 seasons leading up to the call-up). The 27-year-old was called up August 16 and didn't register a decision in 9 appearances. He made $13,500 with the Phils. Terlecki said the coolest out he made involved a Davy Concepcion suicide-squeeze that he fielded and flipped to the catcher to nab Reds Hall of Famer Doggie Perez. He gave up a homer to Doggie that day, his debut. In 2 innings he gave up 5 hits and 3 earned runs. He said that the toughest batter he faced in '72 was Pirates Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, who got his 3,000th hit on the last day of the '72 season. He died three months later in a humanitarian plane crash.

I met a Latino Zen master on South Warren who works next to 650-degree ovens all day at Columbus Pizza. "I use my mind," he said with a smile. "If I say it's not hot, it's not hot." I met an old black woman on MLK named Aretha who's still got a whole lotta sass and wants to work; she can still clean homes and motel rooms; I have her number if someone wants to give the woman a job. I met dozens of Trenton's next generations of folks, all of them willing to shake my hand when I extended mine. Some of them will become statistics, but many of them seem ready to become productive citizens. I met an older black man drenched in sweat. He had just come from the gym and was headed home to shower then go to school at Thomas Edison College. He's trying to earn his bachelor's degree. I met a handful of Liberians, all of whom smiled during our chats. All of them said it never gets *this* hot in Liberia, although Ghana can be brutal some days, they said. I met a 28-year-old mechanic in a garage on Brunswick, and inside the garage was a magnificent 1933 Model A that I plan to drive in very soon after I write the story.

I spent the most time on MLK. I was most impressed by Race between Brunswick and MLK. That's a hard area, but Race is a street full of residents who care about the visuals. Houses are clean. No trash outside. It's not Beverly Hills, but not the Beverly Hillbillies, either. Just a nice street with a church in the middle of it. Trenton keeps surprising me.

Most of the answers were obvious: folks fought the heat with lots of water and even more AC time. Other answers had Zen qualities; a mechanic said the same thing as the pizza cook in terms of thinking cool/staying cool. Meanwhile, several folks railed on Mayor Tony Mack. They wondered why he couldn't bend the rules and open city pools during this week's string of 95-95-90. Or at least send city workers to open the fire hydrants so kids could frolic in the water. Or turn on the Whittaker Street fountains. Something, Tony. "He should make an exception" and open the pools before July 4, one woman said. They need to open the city pools, another woman said, so that she doesn't have to cross the bridge and drive to Oxford Valley to pay $7 to use their pool. The pool near MLK Park "should have been opened on the last day of school," a 19-year-old by the name of Miles said. His 20-year-old buddy Steve said the pool should've been opened when Rita's opened. A 19-year-old provided one of the great lines when he said Mack "broke rules for everyone else -- so he should've broke the rules for the pool" and opened this week instead of waiting till the usual July 4 opening date. A woman by the name of Dishea said Mack "should cater to the people during the heat wave and open the pools because a lot of people aren't fortunate enough to have air conditioners in their homes."  A woman by the name of Tyrisha, 37, said that if Mack were standing there she would ask him "When are you going to start worrying about the community? We put you in office and you don't even care about us."

I was walking up Pennington toward Patriot Village then made a left onto Independence. I started walking with a 49-year-old black man. He walked with a cane. Got hurt on the job and can't work anymore. I told him the plan to walk to Oakland/Hoffman. He said he didn't think that was a good idea. He said even *he* wouldn't go over there, and he's a strappin' galute. I told him I have been to Oakland/Hoffman many times. He told me again it probably wasn't a good idea to walk over there. I started to think about it. Did I really want to walk into my death scene? Is this one of those moments one is supposed to listen to the cosmos? In this case, the cosmos was a 6'2 black dude telling me I'd be goddamn crazy to walk over to Oakland/Hoffman just to get a few pictures and quotes. My mind was fighting itself. I wanted to walk over there. I'm a stubborn bastard. But I was hearing this dude loud and clear. You can't be stubborn all the time. You just can't. Sometimes you have to pay attention to the world. So instead of making a right turn at the corner of Independence and Prospect, which would have led me to an entrance to Oakland/Hoffman, I made a left with the fella. We parted ways when he walked into Prospect Village to go home. I continued walking. I was losing steam fast. I wasn't sure how much steam I had left for the walk back to Hanover Street. It's like the cosmos heard my mind because an angel appeared: Suga GP drove up and stopped in the middle of the street. What a sight for sore eyes. She flashed that great, wide smile and asked why I was walking in that part of the hood. She pulled over in front of the West Ward Rec Center, and I told her what I had been doing for the last 4 hours. I told her I wanted to go over to Oakland/Hoffman. She didn't think I was crazy, or, if she did, she didn't tell me. Suga GP was on her lunch break, had about 20 minutes left, and she said she'd drive me over to Oakland/Hoffman and be my wing woman for a few minutes.

One thing led to another and we were on Hoffman at the corner of Oakland. If there are 10 "hardest" places in America, this is the intersection of one of them. A bunch of fellas were hanging out in the shade under trees. I walked up and told them what I was doing. Suga being there helped. Turns out that a fella by the name of Finesse was more than happy to let me take his picture. That's when the best part of the journey began. I'm not going to talk about where we went exactly because that will be another story. But Finesse took me into Roger Gardens to photograph a ton of folks who live there, including the father and son you see in the picture at the top of this diatribe. Six weeks ago I was at Roger Gardens after a shooting. No one would say a word to me. With Finesse and Suga by my side, people talked to me, gave me ideas for some stories. I walked inside an appartment to snap photos.

Hopefully it will be cooler when I go back there to research the stories.

Here are the photos of the 69 people, and George Washington, and a dozen or so more other sights from today's 5-hour walk under the sun. At one point I saw the cat under the car and thought, "smart cat." Much smarter than me. My underwear bunched up the sweatier I got, so my inner thighs are chafed badly. Next few days won't be fun. If anyone has Johnson's Baby Powder, please drop it off at 600 Perry Street.

Latoya Thomas, 28: "stay in the AC"

Kaylin Smith, 8: "go to the carnival with my family then in the pool at home"

Shantae Ford: "go back to work & stay in the air conditioning"

Trenton cop Ken Lugo: told cool story of bike arrest

Toya Blackshear: "AC at Beauty World"

Steven Smith, 43: "about to get under the air"

Quianna McNeil, 19: "go home and get under the AC"

Tim T., 58: was getting hot coffee but then back to work with the AC

Belithia Bright: "heat doesn't both me ... I get more chocolate brown" (laughs)

Karriemah Graham, 29: "stay at work"

Josiah Yancy, 67: "keeping myself out of the sun"

Hector (left), 50, and Breon (33): "drink a lot of water
and try to pick up trash as fast as we can"

Rene Betancourt, 43: no shoes and socks and stay in the shade
(that bike looks like a Rock Hopper ...)

Andrew 41, MC Auto Sales, Brunswick Avenue:
"focusing on work and keeping myself hydrated"

Ken James, 65: "ready to be under my AC"

Essence Padren, 28: "lots of water"

Shakara Moreland: "going to the beach at Belmar"

Trenton, My Trenton: old music store

and some of the posters inside; the smell inside is foul

Tyrisha Simmons, 37, MLK & Pennington: "eating an ice pop"

Ashley, 19, walking dog on Pennington: "3 bottles of water so far"

Davilo Hernandez driving his fan offering Ashley water for her panting dog

50 Cent career arc: from In Da Club to In Da Gutter

Darrin "Finesse" Eutsey, Pope of Oakland/Hoffman: "I've had 10 waters"

Natasha Mann, 23, Oakland/Hoffman: "We need more pools"

Lewis Santiago, Roger Gardens

Shazeak Thomas, 22, Roger Gardens

Kwami, 34, and son Armaini, 2, Roger Gardens: "ice cream and water"

Lisha, 48, Roger Gardens

Frank Cooper, Roger Gardens: "water and the AC"

He has a nickname, but I'm not putting it down here;
listen, folks of Roger Gardens, call him by his real name

Goldie, 58, Oakland near corner of Hoffman

and his wife Stacy Collier

Nadine Grant, 57, Hoffman

Khalil Tucker, Hoffman

Joe, with his really blue eyes, on Hoffman

Finesse sweatin' Suga GP, his "high school sweetheart"

Thomas Fryar, 54, Race Avenue: "sitting under awning doing crossword"

Jamal Evans, 21, Race: "hanging under the trees ... lots of water"

Church in the middle of Race

Katrina Tucker, 36, MLK: "drinking lots of water, staying up under the fan"

Latrice Roberts, 16, MLK: "about to go to my house and get under the AC"

Pete, 58: "drink a lot of water and stay out of the sun"

James White, 53

Aretha Perry, MLK: "sitting on my chair, and it's too blazin'
I'll go in and get under the AC

Alyssa Mott, 15, MLK: "stay in the air conditioning"

Miles, 19, MLK & Ingham: "stay under the air and drink water"

Steve, 20, MLK & Ingham

Juanyo, 30, owner, Yessina's  "682" Grocery MLK and Ingham:
Sold me 2 bottled waters for $1. Good man

Mercedes, 12; behind her a Kasso wall purification, MLK & Ingham

Lisa Massey: "ready to lay under the AC"



Dishea McBride: "going to be in the air and drinking lots of water

Edwina Page, 28: in bikini bottoms at V&C "New Way" Market on MLK

Jimmy Saunders, 20, MLK & Rosa: "chillin' under the AC"

John Epps, 42, MLK: "hanging out under the tree"

Kyle Mathis, 24, MLK: "the heat doesn't bother me -- I'm built for this"

Tyrek Spears, 22, MLK: "the secret is you have to choose the right routes"

Hy Giene?

Tahara Medley in her sweet ride at MLK & Sweets headed home to be "in the AC"

Poor George: Someone bring him a jug (or 50) of water

My "note" book. Hey, whatever works.

Trenton, My Trenton: So many gutters littered with booze bottles

Brunswick Avenue

Christie Dukuly 34, of Liberia: "Ghana is hotter"

Didn't even turn the card over to see what it was

Mary Gibson: "Liberia can be hot, but not like this"

Petey Green is rolling in his grave

Johnny Chico of Dee Dee's Liquor: "a lot of water"

Hampt: "going to school to study for degree"

Justin Morrison, 28: "just hydrate"

Robert Lee Henry: headed to Fuld for a CAT scan.
Me: What's wrong?
RLH: It's not what's wrong, it's what they try to make wrong.

James Cardinale, Deluxe Barber Shop:
"The only thing that makes it hot is the conversation here"

Pro athletes and celebs on the wall at Deluxe

including Terrible Tim

Bob Terlecki: 2-month cup of coffee with Phils in '72

Taniqua Bacote, 21: "staying hydrated and getting under the air"

Ant, 21: "taking off layers"

Carlos Rodriguez: "I use my mind -- if I say it's not hot, it's not hot"

Joe Van Story, 46: "inside work with the AC; left AC on at home for dog"

James Washington, 35: "AC in one room to make it ice cold"
Michelle Ladnier: "work then home to sit under the AC"