Twist and Shout

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

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"