The Cloud Burst, The Head Of the Tempest

Stop & Shop Consumer Affairs

To Whom It Concerns:

Perhaps you remember my open letter of 14 November 2007, in which I presented problems with the 08904 Stop & Shop including smelly, rotten fruit, an eye-opening lack of products from recycled paper and a peculiar lack of significant baking ingredients for National Pie Day. It’s true that National Pie Day is usually celebrated in January and fruit is supposed to be one kind of smelly but those things aren’t important right now. No, what’s important is that your feedback form and I have established a relationship, deepened by a phone call from a nice lady in corporate, and I wrote down almost everything she said because I have a memory that is for poop, a zany coincidence since she promised an improved selection of recycled products and last Thursday night, I found zero recycled paper products in that same store. But I get ahead of myself.

Scenic 08904 is a tiny town of people from all over the world, though I happen to be a local. This all means that people walk to the grocery store, possibly because they don’t drive, and when they get there hope to be able to pick up staples. It’s a grocery store. You find pantry staples there. So. In November, I mentioned the selection of products from recycled paper was puzzling in 2007, when most people were aware that we were having some trouble with packed landfills; imagine my surprise when last week, which was undoubtedly 2008, I found no recycled paper products on the shelves what. so. ever. Not even one. Trembling with rage, I marched to the courtesy counter, where a manager and an employee pressed themselves against pregnancy tests and pouch tobacco, hoping I would go away quietly.

It’s true, I threw a hissyfit. I expressed my G Rated outrage at this improbable turn of events. You’ll be pleased to hear they were very nice The manager, brow furrowed, turned to go see for himself. I walked a whole step to the Express Lane, where I counted myself lucky to be third in line. Fortunately, that line didn’t move, so when the manager came back from the paper products line, brow more deeply furrowed, he offered to order recycled paper products for me. This is awfully nice but it misses the point. Just today, I took aside the kid putting out the vegetables to tell him his arrangement of lettuces was truly beautiful, but that’s beside the point, too.

Across the street, the health food store sells products from recycled paper, along with organic and natural products. That health food store does a brisk business. Tiny 08904 has set its sights on becoming a green town. In good weather, I myself walk to and from work in the city on the other side of the river because it’s healthier for me and the planet. In 2008, people are more conscious of what they’re doing and what they’re ingesting, and yet your very expensive, very poorly stocked store is sitting right in the heart of town, a giant, stodgy blob of festering 1965. What gives?

Rumor has it I am not the only little old lady delivering this message. I hear that people rant this same rant all day every day, which means others think the same thoughts but don’t bother mouthing off. If that’s true, why is Stop & Shop resisting what customers want? That’s kind of like saying, “Your mouth says ‘No’ but your eyes say ‘Can I get extra styrofoam in my dioxin gazpacho?'”

I would like you to observe that Princeton, a scant few miles straight down Route 27, supports a coop, an Olive May and a Wild Oats. A McCafferty’s is not far and several pretty good large grocery stores do fine. Even Costco now offers organic vegetables, healthy items and Marcal recycled paper products, which I’ve reminded you before are made in New Jersey. So what are you waiting for?

Safety first,
Princess Ta

The Earth It Moves Too Slow

Rock and rock and roll radio!

Pete and I unlocked the front door of Rancho Rococo just before 8 last night, so tired showering seemed both essential and overly ambitious. The drive back from Virginia, which can suck beyond belief if someone sneezes on Route 78, was evidently sneeze-free. We ate Sun Chips. We drank gallons of coffee. We surfed the airwaves and found songs we loved, liked and minded somewhat, but only once did we both reach for the radio in alarm. The words “Monday morning: The Billy and John Boy Drive Time Show – where Rednecks find a home” made us both blink, then shout about locking the doors on that home and issuing flea collars.

Previously on Poor Impulse Control: my dad died 1 April 2007 in a surprising flurry of admirers, ex-wives and current children. Last fall, we had a yard sale of his things and because he was a tremendous packrat we had another this past weekend. If you’ve joined this story in progress, I can sum this up in one little moment from the yard sale, then I have other things I have to do. I will catch up tomorrow, I think. Anyway, Saturday morning, on a lawn in Staunton, Virginia:

A man and woman walk around the yard, then circle the tables and casual ground-level displays of some small number of Dad’s thousands of books. Half a dozen other people wander around quietly. Daria, Todd and I don’t look like anyone else and we’re wearing canvas money belts. My teenage sister Dara looks a little more local. My step-mother Darla is standing near me when we discover the woman is paying attention.

She: Are you a family giving this garage sale?
Darla: We are.
She: Whose books are those? Who is the gourmet, who is the naturalist, who is the writer?
Tata: Those books belonged to one person.
Darla: They were my husband’s.

The woman turns to the only male personage in sight: my brother Todd.

She: Is that you?
Todd: No, I cook but I can’t keep up.
Darla: He died last year. These are my husband’s grown children. They came to help out.
She: He must have been an interesting person.
Tata: He was quite a character.
She: You must be interesting people.
Todd: It’s possible.
Daria: What I wouldn’t give for a grilled cheese…

No One Nice Again

We’re sitting at the kitchen table reading Dad’s antique Playboys. All the male models resemble Tucker Carlson and fuel-injected luxury Volkswagon cost $3300. A person might acquire a very respectable vehicle to do zero-to-fifty – yes, fifty – in 8.6 seconds. Todd looks up and says, “You could jog faster.” Our favorite ad so far declares, “Introducing the new home appliance that answers your phone!” For crying out loud, the page Daria’s reading features six people in some advanced stage of plaid gangrene, and she’s convinced the best-looking person is the dog. The 1974 Spring and Summer Fashion Forecast is truly something special. An orchestra seat for Pippin starring Ben Vereen will run the Broadway goer a big $12.

I’m scritching Miss Samantha, princess and adventurous scrapper in a house full of larger cats. Pete, who should not lift anything, stayed home and whipped up a fantastic dinner of corned beef, latkes and cabbage, while we got up in the dark and had a yard sale of Dad’s stuff. By the time we arrived back at Dad’s house, we were ravenous and ready to bite each other’s arms. Fortunately: latkes! After we stuffed ourselves, we all fell down or cleaned up, and when I woke up later, three cows were walking around in the front yard. We don’t own any cows.

You should see the shoes.

Know When Or Where To Go

I’m packing to go back to Virginia again. The catsitter’s coming tomorrow to adore Topaz and Drusy in my mournful absence. Tonight, I went to pick up snacks at the Extortion Mart across the street from the family store while Anya closed up. A six of San Pellegrino, carrot sticks and Sun Chips later, I found myself flummoxed in front of the toilet paper again when there wasn’t a single recycled paper product on the shelves I’d complained held too few. Ten minutes later, Anya met me at my car a little flustered.

Anya: Where’d you go?
Tata: I had to throw a giant hissyfit, and those take time.
Anya: What happened?
Tata: I can’t believe it! In that store, in March 2008, I didn’t find a single recycled paper product in that aisle – not a napkin, not a tissue, not a paper towel, not a single roll of toilet paper. In 2008, there’s no excuse for this.
Anya: You’re not the only one who has this talk with them.
Tata: I marched to the checkout line but two people were at the courtesy counter so I turned around, interrupted their conversation and described my umbrage. I was umbrageous!
Anya: Is that a word?
Tata: Of course not, so it’s not a cliche!
Anya: Did they say anything or did they hold still and hope you don’t bite?
Tata: The one guy said he was a new manager from Somerset where they have lots of recycled products. I corrected him by saying there’s a recycled product ghetto that was inadequate but better than nothing. Anyway, he looked really surprised so he went to look for himself. Fortunately the Express Line wasn’t moving so when he got back he said I was right but he had the decency to look confused.
Anya: Are you inhaling at all? Because I haven’t seen you breathe for a few minutes.
Tata: He said it’s a small store. I said that makes it worse because people walk to the store but then they have to drive two towns away for recycled paper and what’s that mean?
Anya: Dead dinosaurs weep!
Tata: He said corporate in Massachusetts made the decisions. I said they’d already heard from me, and I was fully prepared to have a conniption up and down the East Coast.
Anya: We buy our Marcal products at Costco.
Tata: Really? I’ve never found them there!
Anya: We buy them for the stores and our houses at Costco.
Tata: I’ll look again. Anyway, I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it and I couldn’t even shut my mouth! Hey, did I drive by your house? I can’t tell when I’m nearly hysterical.
Anya: No, it’s actually two ahead.
Tata: Your block has nine houses. Yet I can’t pick out the one in the middle.

My campaign of letter-writing terror begins anew Monday.

Trouble Is A Temporary Thing

This week, I had to stop watching One Life To Live because during the writers strike, a familiar soap plotline developed: a glib blond bully menaces the whole town. This show has been down this road before recently. This glib blond bully has the added loathsomeness of racism and sexism, whereas the last one was merely a scheming sociopathic murderer. I have nothing against this actor and I wish him well in his career; I don’t have any patience for cruelty and no desire to watch it for entertainment purposes. So. I’ll read the plot summaries until the bully is no longer Chief of Police, because that shit is a little too much like real life. Via Pandagon:

Two years ago, Tunde Clement stepped off a bus at the city’s main terminal downtown.

Clement, a black man, was carrying a backpack and coming from New York City. That may have been enough to pique the interest of undercover sheriff’s investigators scanning the crowd with their eyes.

They cornered Clement and began peppering him with questions.

He was quickly handcuffed and falsely arrested. He was taken to a station to be strip-searched and then to a hospital, where doctors forcibly sedated him with a cocktail of powerful drugs, including one that clouded his memory of the incident.

A camera was inserted in his rectum, he was forced to vomit and his blood and urine were tested for drugs and alcohol. Scans of his digestive system were performed using X-ray machines, according to hospital records obtained by the Times Union.

The search, conducted without a search warrant, came up empty.

In all, Clement spent more than 10 hours in custody before being released with nothing more than an appearance ticket for resisting arrest — a charge that was later dismissed.

This story turned up in comments as a response to this post.

Police records show the officers called out a “Signal 38″ to alert a dispatcher they were onto something suspicious and about to pull someone over. They would later write in a report that they had pulled her over for “failure to signal,” although no ticket was issued, according to police records shared with the Times Union.

The actions of police in the minutes that followed would end in controversy rather than with an arrest. They would also leave Shutter, a 28-year-old single mother from Ravena, shaken and angry after one of the officers allegedly inserted his finger into Shutter’s vagina on a public street during an apparent search for drugs.

When it was over, “I pulled off down the road and I just cried for probably a half hour,” Shutter said. “I called my dad. – I felt like I had been basically raped.” The incident has triggered an ongoing internal affairs investigation by the Albany Police Department.

It gets worse.

One of the officers at the scene, Matthew Fargione, is the son of a former Albany police narcotics lieutenant, Thomas Fargione, who is a longtime friend of Chief James W. Tuffey. Fargione headed the drug unit for years when Tuffey was a narcotics detective in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the two men also worked together for the State Emergency Management Office.

A member of the Citizens’ Police Review Board, who spoke on condition of anonymity because only the chairman is authorized to make public statements, said some members of the board have privately suspected that the department may be hiding cases of police misconduct.

Shutter said she grew increasingly unnerved by her experience with internal affairs — which is known as the Office of Professional Standards — because male detectives twice requested she wear clothes from the night of the incident to re-enact the body search.

Tuffey declined to comment on a list of written questions submitted by the Times Union last week, including why internal affairs officials didn’t assign a female detective on Shutter’s case.

I get that sometimes white guys don’t think sexism exists because women are so used to the vast pile of shit men heap out that ordinary, day-to-day crap isn’t worth a mention. This morning, the man sitting at the next desk thought it’d be a hoot to email me about the hilarity that is a woman driver and I did not whack him with a shovel. I get that if I did whack him with a shovel the university would contact the local gendarmerie and I would be escorted off the property in shiny restraints because my co-worker’s annoying remarks are supposed to amuse me, wherein my position becomes indefensible and, oh by the way, someone’s going to have to mop that up: call a woman, preferably one who doesn’t speak English. I get that.

I get that many white guys think there’s no such thing as racism because it’s not happening to them. People tend to congregate around other people who are like them and validate what they think, so white guys who don’t think much about racism tend to spend time with other white guys who don’t think much about racism. Together, they don’t think much about racism, and are offended by any mention of the fact that they are white guys who don’t think much about racism, which means they’re practicing it willy-nilly. These are also the first people to get indignant when someone says, “You should hire some people of color, maybe a few of them should be women, and some people who aren’t the same religion you are.” I get this.

I get that through the lattice of patriarchal oppression, people near the bottom oppress each other in festive circles of hideous words and deeds, and by oppressing, get something they need from the patriarchy by making sure some other group doesn’t get it. It’s ghastly to observe and weird to be a part of because society is set up such that I must actively or passively do a certain amount of it to get by and so must you, but I get that.

What I don’t get is how these white guys aren’t sued into extinction by the vast numbers of lawyers being churned out by law schools in this country who can’t get jobs because now even litigation can be outsourced to India, and by gum, those white guys are infinitely replaceable by qualified men and women who may or may not be a different hue or follow a different creed. Why yes, the Supreme Court is stacked against those seeking relief from the throttling cruelty of the bullying white guy, but I have faith in the sheer number of ingenious seekers and the wear of time. Someone shall overcome, fuckers.

The days are now numbered.

When Kindness Falls Like Rain

This week, the temperature is supposed to be above 40 every day. This means I can walk to and from work again, which is grand news. I walked today and love what it does for my metabolism and morale. It makes all the difference between feeling confined indoors burning fossil fuels and getting out into springtime and new life. Today, I was sorry to read that Twisty’s father died last week. That anyone endures this now inspires a familiar ache for me. I want to say, “I don’t know how you feel because I am not you, but I know it gets better with time.”

This weekend, we have the final garage sale of Dad’s stuff. I expect we’ll cry all Saturday. But it gets better with time.

That Endless Skyway

Recently, Pete and I watched a documentary on PBS about Pete Seeger and the sloop Clearwater. I was stunned by the story because, like many children our age, my sister Daria, brother Todd and I participated in it. Daria reminded me that we and our neighbors rode on the Clearwater more than thirty years ago. This is where we learned about basic environmentalism and took to heart a love of green places. This, I remember now, is where I became a shameless treehugger, for which I will never have even a single moment of embarrassment.

Last night, my own Pete happened on another PBS fundraiser and we both stopped what we were doing. Channel 13 out of Newark – you know, where Sesame Street came from – was running The Power of Song. Once again, I was shocked speechless by what I remember of Pete Seeger’s life and what I had forgotten.

In 1952, I believe it was, Pete Seeger was blacklisted for being a communist and didn’t appear on radio or television – except for PBS – until the Smothers Brothers invited them on their show in 1967 and 1968. One of his biggest legal problems is that he would not sign a loyalty oath or swear that he was not a Communist. Funny thing: in February 2008, a math teacher at California State University at East Bay was fired from her new job for refusing to sign a loyalty oath that included promises of violence.

California State University East Bay has fired a math teacher after six weeks on the job because she inserted the word “nonviolently” in her state-required Oath of Allegiance form. Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker and graduate student who began teaching remedial math to undergrads Jan. 7, lost her $700-a-month part-time job after refusing to sign an 87-word Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution that the state requires of elected officials and public employees.

“I don’t think it was fair at all,” said Kearney-Brown. “All they care about is my name on an unaltered loyalty oath. They don’t care if I meant it, and it didn’t seem connected to the spirit of the oath. Nothing else mattered. My teaching didn’t matter. Nothing.”

A veteran public school math teacher who specializes in helping struggling students, Kearney-Brown, 50, had signed the oath before – but had modified it each time. She signed the oath 15 years ago, when she taught eighth-grade math in Sonoma. And she signed it again when she began a 12-year stint in Vallejo high schools.
Each time, when asked to “swear (or affirm)” that she would “support and defend” the U.S. and state Constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Kearney-Brown inserted revisions: She wrote “nonviolently” in front of the word “support,” crossed out “swear,” and circled “affirm.” All were to conform with her Quaker beliefs, she said. The school districts always accepted her modifications, Kearney-Brown said. But Cal State East Bay wouldn’t, and she was fired on Thursday.

In what fucking bizarro universe does a math teacher need to defend the goddamn State of California? And – wait for it – California officials can’t agree on what the problem is.

Modifying the oath “is very clearly not permissible,” the university’s attorney, Eunice Chan, said, citing various laws. “It’s an unfortunate situation. If she’d just signed the oath, the campus would have been more than willing to continue her employment.”

Modifying oaths is open to different legal interpretations. Without commenting on the specific situation, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jerry Brown said that “as a general matter, oaths may be modified to conform with individual values.” For example, court oaths may be modified so that atheists don’t have to refer to a deity, said spokesman Gareth Lacy.

What the fuck is wrong with these people? The article goes on and on with the kind of bureaucratic back and forth anyone who’s every tried to work with a state structure recognizes. Then she’s fired, which raises the question: does anyone truly believe Medieval history and Comp Sci grad students are going to take up arms to defend anything? Of course not. That’s why THEY’RE IN FUCKING COLLEGE. So what’s that oath really intended to do?

Simple: to screen out people of real conscience.

“I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, that I am any less of an American than anyone else.

I am saying voluntarily that I have sung for almost every religious group in the country, from Jewish and Catholic, and Presbyterian and Holy Rollers and Revival Churches. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent the implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, make me less of an American.”

Pete Seeger before the House Un-American Activities Committee on 15 August 1955.

We have been here before. We have seen this before and done this before. It was a tragic, terrible failure. And we can’t wait to do it again.

Every Purpose Under Heaven

It rained here for a day and a half, sometimes with impressive ferocity but it didn’t seem like anything special. It was raining. Then it stopped. As anyone who lives on a river knows, your weather matters but what matters more is the weather upstream. For two days, upstream, it was monsoon season. This morning, Pete and I drove two miles to Mr. DBK’s house on the other side of the river, and to cross we had to backtrack around a flood plain. The park glistened where the river broke its banks and settled, bringing hungry geese almost to the road’s edge. We decided then that later we’d go out and take pictures. Turns out taking pictures along the river just before sunset is a bitch.

The Raritan is a wide tidal river of variable depth. Pete and I both remember big boats on the river when we were children, their starling horns renting the air. Now, even the unnamed university’s boathouse is a ghost town and it’s possible the crew program’s been disbanded; in any case, the only little motor boats on the river seem to glow a little and commute back and forth to the Arthur Kill. That can be seen from space, you know.

Mighty Route 18, which skirts New Brunswick before zipping across the river and stopping in the middle of nowhere, has been under construction for three years. I can see construction from my living room window, and listening to it has been pretty awesome. It’s got a great beat, but absolutely nobody can dance to it. Years ago, I read the plans and saw something I didn’t understand: specs for a tunnel under Albany Street, which is to say the bridge I walk across into the city. There’s no place at the edge of the river where anyone needs a tunnel. I waited and waited, and one day I found the construction had hollowed out a section of previously stable Route 18 and Route 27 merge space, wrecked the road surface and put in a set of concrete stairs to …nothing. The sidewalk I walk on is cracking under the pressure. The tunnel itself is crushed and failing. Well, that’s not true. Along the edge of the river live the homeless, and these concrete steps take one to the spot where people have always lived out of doors. There’s trash everywhere. When Pete and I went down to look at the tunnel, we saw someone living in it.

The tunnel goes nowhere. We’ll go take more pictures – but not of the river people. They don’t need attention. Someone besides us should know of this wasteful bullshit, and the tunnel that serves no purpose but to destroy the bridge.

Note: Fucking Blogger won’t upload pictures tonight. I’ll add them to this post later.
Update: Images added Monday night. Blogger’s help board was full of messages about this since early Monday morning, and Blogger kept mum. I guess you get what you pay for there.

Until She Slipped Into My Pocket

I’m wimping out here, to which I freely admit. It’s raining a little, cold and the wind is blowing through the trees along the river with some force. Am I going outside to take a picture? Fuck no. Instead, you get a picture Pete took of wine in a jelly jar while he was chasing the pussycats around the living room. I love the honey-colored light, the glistening glass surface, the smoothness of the table, but I also see this still life as a very active image. To my eye, this glass looks still only at its center, the way candlelight is always in motion. I know this room was alive with cats running in circles and one athletic man fiddling with the flash – even I was laughing. This is what we distill of that moment.

On Friday, minstrel wrote about a report that lengthy, repeated tours of duty are destroying the armed forces. I’d read this report, too, but I don’t have the same capacity he does to break out meaning. The article:

The report showed that 27.2% of noncommissioned officers – the sergeants responsible for leading troops in combat – reported mental health problems during their third or fourth tours.

“Soldiers are not resetting entirely before they get back into theater,” said Lt. Col. Paul Bliese, who headed the team that conducted the study. “They’re not having the opportunity to completely recover from the previous deployment when they go back into theater for the second or third deployment.

Note the inconsistency within the article: the first paragraph cites third or fourth tours; the second paragraph mentions problems beginning with second and third tours of duty. This is not a small discrepancy. It means that problems start even sooner than anyone is willing to discuss: with a second tour of duty. A second. We’re sending them in for a fourth. Minstrel:

They are driving the army straight into the ground. Also, these type of endless and back to back deployments have never happened. No one else in the history of warfare has done this to their troops.

Let’s read those words again: No one else in the history of warfare has done this to their troops.

No one else in the history of warfare has done this to their troops.

Rumor has it the tours of duty are about to be extended again, and it will be done quietly. When the destruction of our armed services is an undeniable fact in history, will you then support the war crimes trials of the people whose thoughtless cruelty, greed and hubris left you more truly vulnerable than you have ever been in your life?

What will it take for you personally to get off your ass and do something about this?