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Postcard from the End of America: Trenton

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Many will have recognized by now that this man was spouting from the Nation of Islam's teachings, and much has already been written about the Black Muslims' problematic views on race, so I will only add that any man who thinks of an entire race as evil in origin and purpose is undoubtedly a racist, so this black man lecturing me was clearly a racist, and I cringe whenever anyone insists that black people cannot be racist since blacks are not structurally in power. To condemn, despise or demonize anyone for the color of their skin alone is the very definition of racism, and this is a moral, individual failing that can befall anyone, of any color, and at any time too, I should add, from moment to moment. To deny blacks of this moral agency, to posit that they cannot lapse or sink into racism, or rise above it, is to deny their very humanity, so what would that make you but the ultimate racist?

Done with my education, for now, my lecturer left me his name, Melchezidek, meaning "My Righteous King," and his phone number, then he hopped on this beat up bike and rode away. One can't help but wonder how can a man with such a world view function in the larger society, populated as it is with so many devils? In Trenton, though, as in most of our cities and towns, he may not have too, since blacks and whites are still mostly segregated in a society billed as post-racial when it elected a president who's only half demonic in genetics, though entirely evil in actions, it has turned out, with yet another bloodbath coming with the incipient assault on Syria.

The government that harassed then murdered Martin Luther King now commemorates him, in the most superficial manner, each year. Flatulent speeches are given, but no sanctioned maven ever asks why he was gunned down, or points out that the syndicate that squashed King continues to kill, torture or lock up anyone who can seriously shine a light on its sinister working. Witness the recent murder of Michael Hastings, for example, or the humiliation and breaking down of Bradley Manning. In any case, Trenton never recovered from the rioting that followed King's assassination, though it was already in decline, with the erosion of its industrial base, and white flight, occurring well before 1968. Note that nearby Levittown, a prototypical suburb built from scratch, was completed by 1958.

With its compact layout, Trenton is very walkable, though one must watch out for bullets, knives and cars careening out of control after their drivers had been shot dead. With four more months to go, Trenton has already tied its all-time record of 31 murders for an entire year, and the homicide figure only indicates a portion of the bloodshed, of course. On August 15th, for example, a 24-year-old ex convict kicked and punched his girlfriend, stabbed her dog to death, then shot two cops, sending both to the hospital, with one still in critical condition as of this writing, 14 days later. The shooter was himself killed by police bullets, and that is not counted as a homicide. So practice extra caution when wandering through North or East Trenton, and don't you even think that the South or West Ward is entirely free of lacerating or puncturing surprises. Oh shoot, am I shot?! In short, it's wisest not to trek through Trenton, but what the hell, let's just go, and so I was putzing around Clinton Avenue when it started to rain hard, so soaking wet, I decided to duck into La Guira. Opening the door, I entered a tiny vestibule to espy an apparition behind bullet-proof plexiglass, so I asked, "Bar?" After my grim ghost nodded towards a second door, I entered a darkened purgatory, hitched myself onto a stool, then inquired, "What kind of beer do you have?"

"Every kind."

"Tecate?"

"No, sorry."

"Rolling Rock."

"No, sorry."

"Uh, Yuengling?"

"Yes!"

I was the only customer. On TV, a swooning hostess asked some toothsome chica, " -Como le gustan los hombres?" Grinning, she chirped, "Muy románticos! Buenos trabajadores! Altos!" She was about to choose between two well-inked beefcakes, half naked, with "Leo" and "Tauro" signs dangling on their toned chests, but suddenly, there was kicking, punching and hair pulling, for we had switched to the Steve Wilkos Show, as the bartender didn't want me to be flummoxed by Spanish. I found out he was Dominican and had been in the US all of five months. Though his English comprehension was bare bones, we did try to converse, and all was friendly and pleasant until some middle-aged guy arrived and got all weirded out at my camera. He was the bar owner. To calm down this excitable crank, I explained that I was visiting Trenton from Philly, and only took photos to share the countless virtues of his lovely establishment with the rest of the world, and I was having a great time until I encountered his hectoring, irritated mug, but since he was being so rude now, I would never return, so he barked, "Don't come back!" I didn't appreciate this pissy mofo ruining my hopped up sense of well being and equilibrium, a glancing nirvana that had cost me a dear $8, including tips, so I called him an a**hole before I left.

It turns out, though, that Mr. Martin Rodriguez has ample reasons to be touchy, for his dismal bar has become a ground zero for mayhem and police misconduct. A look at the recent history of La Guira, then, becomes a window into Trenton itself. In February of 2012, cops were called to deal with an unruly customer, Darrel Griffin, whom they roughly arrested, along with a second suspect, Michele Roberts, for reasons unclear, though a surveillance camera does show a police woman grabbing Roberts' hair, screaming at her and slamming her head against the wall, all after Roberts has already been handcuffed and not resisting. Roberts claims she has only gone there to drop off a dish of lasagna for a private party, but the cops thought she was filming them with her cell phone, so they went berserk. In any case, no charges were ever filed against Roberts or Griffin, though both are suing the Trenton police for excessive force used in their (illegal) arrests.

Though not one of Jacob's cursed creation, and hence not inherently and irreversibly evil, Griffin is hardly a placid Buddha, however, or a turn-the-other-cheek Jesus. Hell, he might not be any kind of God at all. In 2005, a 20-year-old Griffin was charged with shooting Omar Hightower in the head. With such a slug stuck in his brain, Hightower suffered seizures for years until he finally died in 2013. Charges against Griffin were dismissed, however, because the state could not gather enough evidence against him. Peace! God!

In April of 2013, La Guira again made the news when a surveillance camera caught officers of the New Jersey State Police strip searching a man down to his brief, as other patrons looked on. Caught twice now by La Guira's annoying cameras, the cops have decided the remedy is to go after Martinez himself, by visiting his business often and citing him for petty or imaginary violations. They're trying to shut La Guira down in retaliation, Martinez has protested to the press, for it is certainly no nuisance spot in this half-boarded up neighborhood. Well, it is a crappy bar, but within its concrete, asphalt, garbage and broken glass context, it is a heavenly oasis where Gods and Goddesses can drain Coor's Lite, Bud, Ciroc and Grey Goose as they bump, grind, shake and twerk. (See, see, Mr. Martinez, I am talking up your blase sh*t hole, so you should give me a shot of Jameson the next time I walk in!)

Guira is a Dominican percussive instrument, by the way, and a nice chunk of Clinton Avenue, where La Guira is located, could have gone kaboom! this last April, when scavengers removed a stove from an abandoned home, thus releasing gas from broken pipes. It's not clear why gas was still kept on there, but not much works the way it's supposed to in Trenton. Indicted for corruption, its mayor, Tony Mack, has refused to step down, though his continued presence has blocked state funds to this strapped city. "Napoleon" or "The Little Guy," as Mack is known, claims he has been entrapped by the FBI.

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Linh Dinh is tracking our deteriorating social scape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America . He is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a just released novel, (more...)
 
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while the US prepares to overtly intervene in a wa... by mhenriday on Thursday, Aug 29, 2013 at 6:26:05 AM
month's best.... by molly cruz on Thursday, Aug 29, 2013 at 8:23:35 AM
Thank you, Linh Dinh for my reality fix that I loo... by E. T. SIMON on Saturday, Aug 31, 2013 at 1:24:47 AM
We see the waste, the downtrodden, the abuses, the... by E. T. SIMON on Saturday, Aug 31, 2013 at 1:25:53 AM
Roam the streets ... Over 700 previously owned and... by E. T. SIMON on Saturday, Aug 31, 2013 at 7:37:41 PM