Litter in Jersey City; Talking to: Scott Garibaldi

Scott Garibaldi is a local resident of the West Side, who has lived here with his family for about three years. Frustrated with the litter situation in his neighborhood, Scott  – who has a full-time job and two young kids – has taken it upon himself to go and pick up garbage at least once a week. 

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Litter that Scott and I picked up this Sunday.

Have you seen the litter along Duncan Ave? It’s bad. We’re not talking about some fussy thing where we’re complaining about someone occasionally dropping a candy wrapper. We are talking literal piles of garbage – liquor bottles, drug paraphernalia, dirty diapers – abandoned on the sidewalk, that residents have to dodge on their way around their community. Throughout this article, I’ve included several “best of” (or maybe “worst of”?) pics of how absurd this situation is. It’s not just Duncan Ave, either – it’s also West Side Ave and lots of other streets in Jersey City. The condition of our streets is abysmal. 

 

This Sunday, I went out for about an hour and picked up litter along Duncan Avenue with Scott, for four blocks between Mallory and Delaware Avenue. Together, we picked up a huge bag. That was just in four blocks – and believe me, we had to really squish the garbage into that huge contractor bag just to close it. So I talked to Scott about his impressions of this issue, and his thoughts about solutions. 


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Not a great pic of Scott, but just for size comparison. This was about 3/4 of the way done with our trip. 

Why did you start picking up litter along Duncan Avenue?

Well, when we moved here in the winter of 2014, it was a bit of an adjustment. We used to live downtown, on 5th street between Monmouth and Coles in a small apartment. My daughter was starting to get bigger and we knew that we were going to have to find another place soon. Some friends of ours suggested we’d be better off buying, so we began a search for our next place. We were looking primarily in the Heights and here on the Westside. Ultimately, after a year of searching we found our home. I couldn’t really grasp at the time what the true up close make up of the neighborhood was. We had walked around certain areas of the West Side, mostly all the streets that line the front of the park, but not many of the side streets. So it wasn’t till after we really moved in did I get a grasp of what it was like on the streets in terms of the trash.

At first, I was moved to clean up on my street, branching out from immediately in front of my home, to including the addresses to my immediate right and left and then the whole street. After a couple of months in the house, and time spent walking up Duncan to Journal Square for my daily commute did I begin to just get disgusted with what I saw. The amount of litter was just obscene. It was everywhere – on the sidewalks, on the curb line, in the street. It was sickening and depressing. So I took it upon myself to start extending my coverage range to include Duncan avenue. Eventually I got further and further up Duncan to the point I was nearly reaching West Side Ave. At this point, I knew I couldn’t keep this up myself, so I was directed to my councilman at the time [Ed: Chico Ramchal], who I made many a desperate plea to for help. He in turn not only heard me, but put me in direct contact with the head of the DPW, which gave me a chance to express my concerns and issues directly with the department responsible for handling such manners. To this day, I still email them multiple times a week to inform them when the street is in real need of attention.

But that really reads more like a history than a real DIRECT answer to the question. The reason I started picking up garbage is because it was disgusting here. Like truly embarrassing. I was not proud of this neighborhood, I was embarrassed for friends or family to see where I lived, and I myself couldn’t stand the sight of it anymore. If nothing was being done I HAD to take it upon myself to do it.

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Litter along West Side Avenue.

There has been a recent administration change in the Department of Public Works (the appointment of the new director, Paul Stamato). Do you notice a difference? Have services in our neighborhood become better, or worse, or not changed at all?

Well, to be honest, I’d have to say no I don’t see a change. If anything it sometimes is a little more difficult because I had established a kind of relationship with the previous head of the DPW, he knew me ( I had been over to the facility), he knew my problems and I didn’t have to do a lot of explaining or make too many repeated requests to see things get taken care of.

What about the garbage men – meaning, the guys who haul away garbage and recycling three times a week? How would you rate the service they provide?

If the streets are bad before either garbage or recycling night, they are usually even worse after they come. I find more garbage strewn everywhere, plastic bottles, broken glass after they come through. I know being a garbageman may not be the most glamorous job in the world, and I can imagine there are times where it just sucks, but I don’t think it ever warrants someone doing a poor job. I often times feel like if an area has struggled either in the past or currently is in regards to litter/cleanliness it kind of gets no respect from anyone -INCLUDING waste management. When an area perpetually looks like crap, it gets treated that way, like crap.

What could the city do to improve Duncan Avenue? Other than sending crews to come and clean it

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More garbage on the West Side.

up, what other things could the city do to improve the condition?

The way I see it, there are a few things that can be done in regards to addressing this issue. Number one, the obvious answer, is send cleaning crews more regularly and often. I know sometimes this is not possible – the city is big and from what I am told the resources in this particular department are “scarce” and there are many problem areas – but all I can say to that is, prioritize those resources to areas that are the worst. Some areas right now just flat out NEED it more than others. I can guarantee the trash that builds up on some streets would double or triple what happens in other places.

Secondly, I would suggest more trash receptacles. More places to put garbage are better than less and they WILL get used. Yes it means more cans to empty or attend to, but isn’t that better than that trash being on the ground?

And third, enforcement – and I don’t mean just warnings but real fines for not just businesses but home owners. I know most people will cry that it isn’t their garbage that has settled in front of their homes, but I would say to that, listen – you own property in this city and part of that experience is attending to the upkeep of your property. It sucks, it really does. I am cleaning up not only in front of my home but essentially an entire neighborhood. None of the garbage I have ever picked up is MINE – but this is my NEIGHBORHOOD, and I think people here should not have to be threatened with fines to want to take care of it, they should just want to because they love their neighborhood!

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Any thoughts on “Stop the Drop” (the city’s official anti-littering program)?

I think the program, in my experience does very little, at least around here. I see plenty of homes with the STOP THE DROP placard on their fence, but sometimes the sidewalk in front of their properties is just as bad as every other one around it, if not worse sometimes! The only place I think any kind of education could be effective would be in schools where children can be broken of what can only be a learned cultural indifference when it comes to not littering. When you find the same kind of litter day after day, the only conclusion one can come to is that the people perpetuating it either don’t think they are doing anything wrong or just think it’s normal to drop your trash on the sidewalk or in the catch basin. Children should be taught to respect their neighborhood, and their planet for that matter.

The problem with St. Peter’s University

A few days ago, an account belonging to a site dedicated to local news tweeted the following:

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I went through the roof.

Prince of Pizza, Wonder Bagel, Our Hero, and Panda House are all fine McGinley Square establishments. But they’re grab-and-go, or at least grab-and-quickly-eat. They’re not really what I’d consider to be a restaurant. Want a slice of pizza? Prince of Pizza is great; I also hear the tuna subs at Our Hero are first rate. Want to go on a date? I hope you know better than to take her to Wonder Bagel (although their bagels are excellent, it’s not exactly what I’d consider fine dining. And they close at 4pm).

What’s especially annoying about this is that there are several establishments just a block or two away – still very much in McGinley Square – that are way more “sit and linger” places. Some have full table services, others have really nice ambience that encourages you to hang out a bit longer than just the time it takes you to quickly scarf your food. I’m thinking of Carvao (full restaurant with a bar), Harry Street Coffee (independently-owned coffee shop that does open-mic nights and other events), Honey Bakery (Korean-Ukrainian food!) are all within one to two blocks of Wonder Bagels. El Cocotero (a highly-anticipated branch of their NYC restaurant) opened a day after this poll went up, and is even closer.

This would seem like a silly – if incredibly misguided – tweet, the sort of thing that PR people with no real stake in a particular area make all the time. Except that as I scrolled through their timeline trying to figure out who was behind the account, I discovered that the company puts various St. Peter’s University interns in charge of it. This week, the account was being managed by a SPU senior. And so I went from thinking that the tweet came from some person in an office somewhere who had never ventured to McGinley Square, to realizing that the news was far worse: it was written by someone who had been coming to our community for the last four years… and somehow never ventured more than a block or two off campus.

While deeply troubling, this isn’t surprising. It’s rare to see SPU students at community events or encounter them living off campus. When the McGinley Square Pub opened across the street from the school, I feared it would be overrun with college students trying to sneak in with fake IDs. Winds up I had nothing to worry about – not only has this not been an issue, even their professors and administrators don’t see to frequent the place to unwind after a long day. And while SPU hosts a variety of speakers and performances, I’ve never seen an invitation to the non-SPU community, encouraging us to come. I often walk by and gaze longingly at SPU’s immaculate gym facilities (usually empty) and wonder if they offer memberships to people in the neighborhood – as I head to my gym in NYC.

Schools maneuver their relationship to their local community (sometimes referred to as “town and gown”) in different ways. I happened to be getting my graduate degree at Yale at a time when the school had hired a new-ish President, who was making integrating the campus into the fabric of New Haven a top priority. Now, I understand – Yale has a budget and resources that SPU does not, but let’s look at a few things that they’ve started during my twenty years since getting my Master’s:

  1. They have an Office of New Haven and State Affairs:

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This is an office in the university set up specifically to encourage engagement with the local community. It’s impractical to think that SPU could dedicate an entire office to this function, but what about starting with one administrator tasked with connecting the university better?

2. They encourage employees to buy homes in the area:

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Ok, probably a lot to expect from a smaller school like SPU, so how about just encouraging students to live off campus after their freshman year? Or at least encouraging students to consider it? Even something as small as having a bulletin board with rental housing available would be a good start.

3. They encourage local businesses by promoting them on their website, including a calendar of nearby community events:

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Well, this one is just a no-brainer. SPU should do this immediately. (Currently, there is no information about local businesses on the SPU site, other than a short list of hotels in the Newport/downtown area. Not a single McGinley Square, JSQ, or West Side business or attraction is mentioned as far as I can tell.)

4. And they prominently display which events and centers are open to the public in an open and inviting way:

If this info is anywhere on the SPU website, I can’t find it.

Comparing SPU to Yale too much of a stretch for you? What about Rutgers vs SPU? Rutgers encourages its students to buy a meal plan debit card which can be used both on- and off-campus at over 100 local restaurants. This is standard procedure at most schools at this point, often called something like “Flexbucks.” It gives the students a budget to follow and then “use it or lose it” money to spend in the community. So if a student is given a budget every week, chances are he or she will spend most of that on campus because it’s the easiest for them to walk to, but they can also take their debit card into town and spend it at select local businesses. Many schools do this. (SPU offers “Munch Money” but it is to be exclusively spent at SPU-owned dining facilities.)

Let’s just do some quick math to show how important all this can be: SPU reports having a Fall 2015 student body of 3,406. Say we could convince half of those students – just half – to spend $5 at local businesses every week for a year. That would bring in $442,780 into the economy of McGinley Square every year. That’s money that would go a long way in terms of encouraging healthy economic growth and the betterment of the neighborhood overall, which would in turn make SPU a more competitive school that even more students would want to go to.

And what if people living on the West Side felt comfortable and welcome at SPU events? Suddenly our neighborhood would have access to great theater, lectures, concerts and other events that we never had before. Not everything would have to be free – many colleges offer gym memberships or season theater tickets to people in their town for a low fee, but a fee all the same. This could offer a new revenue stream for SPU. Why constantly fundraise only to your alumni when you could branch out and ingratiate yourself to a much larger audience?

St. Peter’s University only stands to gain by becoming a greater part of the fabric of our community. A vital, thriving community makes for an even more impressive and competitive school. They need to do their part to step up and join us. It really is a great place to be.

(Please note: if anyone at SPU would like to reach out to discuss these ideas further, I encourage them to do so via my contact page.)

 

 

 

Community meeting this Saturday

There’s going to be a meeting open to anyone interested this Saturday, concerning the development of a project on Duncan Avenue.

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Located at 276 Duncan Avenue, the developers are looking to get a number of variances in order to build their 12 apartments, which will also have retail space. (Variances are exceptions to the usual rules for building – usually minor tweaks, but what’s minor to one person may not be so minor to another – so this is where community input is especially needed.)

Currently, the property looks like this:

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My personal rule of thumb is that some kind of development is almost always better than just having an empty lot filled with garbage, but that’s a pretty fast-and-loose rule. It’s of course very important to make sure that the building that’s built there makes sense for the neighborhood and that it only improves conditions for the people already living nearby.

Anyway, come on out and see the plans and voice any concerns you might have. There will be other things also discussed at the meeting, but this is first on the agenda so you don’t have to stay the whole time if you don’t want. I’m told there will be free coffee!

Saturday, February 25th; 10:30 am

Gallo Center at Lincoln Park (free parking!)

The meeting is sponsored by WSCA (the West Side Community Alliance).

Talking to: Willie J. Keaton, Jr.

 

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Pastor Keaton at his ordination

 

I first met Pastor Willie J. Keaton, Jr., a few weeks ago, and was immediately impressed with his passion and commitment to his congregation at Claremont Lafayette United Presbyterian Church, located in Jersey City’s Ward F. I was eager to sit down and chat with him about his impressions of his community, and his hopes and concerns for its future.

 


I know you previously served in North Philly and Chester, PA – both of which are communities that face a lot of challenges. Can you com pare what you see in Ward F with your experiences there?

Yes. In many ways the circumstances are almost identical. I started my pastoral ministry in Chester PA, in 2008 and at the time I was an ordained Baptist Minister. I only came to Chester to help start a after-school program and I was paid by a suburban church to work in a urban church, but soon after I arrived there were some difficulties in the pastoral relationship and the congregation that could not be resolved and I was asked to preach. This left me preaching every Sunday and the only service I did not provide was communion. I was in seminary full-time – Westminster Theological Seminary – and I was allowed by the Presbytery of Philadelphia to serve as the pastor [at the same time]. I taught Bible study every Wednesday and preached every Sunday. I also was involved in the community affairs and the community events and there was this issue with the school system and its inability to pay the teachers and this made national news; Ellen Degeneres even donated financial support (if I remember correctly) to the teachers. Also, just as Jersey City, Chester was under the management of the State. But I remember being so perplexed and I just couldn’t understand how in Chester city the school system was so poor and was ranked last in terms of performance and right next-door was Swarthmore and Media – which was the county seat – and the school system was so rich. In Chester City the value of the homes was so, so low and the value of the homes in Swarthmore and Media where so high, I mean there were extravagant and beautiful homes, and the quality of life was so different, dainty shops and a Trader Joe’s.

Think about this, I was being paid by Media Presbyterian Church and working with some of their young people in teaching a class and and preaching in this “high steeple” congregation, but part of my responsibilities was working in this urban neighborhood. By the way they loved me like I had been birthed on their pulpit. I was born in Brooklyn but spiritually I was shaped in Chester PA. But any way some days I would drive from Media Presbyterian Church through Media, through Swarthmore, through the back roads of million dollar homes with manicured lawns and within five minutes I was in an area where prostitution was a problem, where drugs were being sold heavily; there were murders, there were police shootings. And like pouring salt on a wound, A lot of the murders went unsolved. Even now there is national news being made in Chester about the murder rate and the unsolved murders – for such a small city there was and still is lot of violence and crime. During this time, I noticed the political way in which problems were solved.

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Keaton as a pastor in Chester, leading youth on a trip to Washington, DC

 

I’ll never forget the events leading up to the soccer stadium being opened in Chester for the first time. The grand opening was being touted as the beginning of economic development and opportunity [in this] otherwise economically depressed urban city with blocks of boarded up homes, high unemployment and the blight was thick as the fog in Los Angeles.. The soccer stadium and the political hoopla around the state-of- the-art center dominated the news in Chester and Philadelphia which the team was representing during the week leading up to the opening of the stadium, realizing that the stadium was going to to attract suburbanites The mayor and the police commissioner called a curfew which was very suspicious to a lot of people [in the community] because it sent the wrong message: Now we’re going to do something about the crime because we want to protect those who are coming down for the soccer events. The mindset of our leaders should be: The time to crack down on crime should be all the time, not just when it’s economically or politically advantageous. So it’s OK if the violence is poverty on poverty but to make outsiders feel safe, we’re going to try a new tactic? It sends a bad message. When it’s trendy we want a piece of it, but when it’s tragic – out of sight out of mind.

I see similarities in Jersey City to be frank. Example,I was invited to the Midnight Market downtown and I really was enjoying myself sampling the different foods soaking in the ambience of the waterfront. Then, within a ten to fifteen minute drive back to my residence, I felt like I was in a third world country as I drove through Ward F. The contrast of the two cities, really was that much more noticeable. The trash, the prostitutes, the dark streets, the liquor store on every corner, the poverty and suffering on MLK.

Here is a rhetorical question for you: If we allow our children to grow up in trash then what should our expectations be of the developing mindset and their dreams? Have we stopped to think that if a child grows up in trash, surrounded by trash, then maybe subconsciously they begin to wonder “maybe my life is worthless.” Or maybe they begin to believe, the kid down the street his life is worthless so I can shoot him down. Even though they played hide-and-seek together as kids.

In North Philly, where we did marches and rallies against gun violence, in the worse neighborhoods, on the worse corners, the trash you see walking that you do not see as you drive through is remarkably staggering. I see that here in Ward F, coincidentally on Martin Luther King Drive. In fact, I saw a shooting this past Christmas Day, which incidentally was a Sunday after I led worship – I was with my daughter and granddaughter in the car and the shots rang out. Children and the elderly running and ducking for cover together. Broad daylight. On Sunday, Christmas Day, on Martin Luther King Drive. Nothing is Sacred. Felt like I had ventured into a war zone. Very different vibe than that of the festive, exuberant and joyous atmosphere of the Midnight Market. Certainly a tale of two cities

I heard you once describe the atmosphere of Ward F as embodying a sense of hopelessness. To what do you attribute this? Can you describe what you meant by that?

Poverty breeds hopelessness and I think that prolonged periods of poverty saturate a person’s mind from the time that they are children, and can leave a permanent stain until the day they die. I think when you have generations stacked upon generations of suffering and oppression, there is this sense of apathy as if nothing is going to change.

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Listening session on re-entry

There is this feeling – and I’m just being honest – in Ward F, that City Hall does not care or has forgotten about Ward F, or has simply decided that, that area Ward F is not worth developing and the people are not worth developing. If Ward F could fund mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns, would it look that much different than downtown? The abatements end up downtown for a reason. Again, this is not me giving an assessment after a month or two, but after a year and a half of being in the neighborhood mingling with some of the ministries and with participants in a organization, that leases space in our building, and the listening sessions we have had.

The overwhelming sentiment is that no one cares about Ward F. The F stands for forgotten. Or the F, stands for the grade City Hall receives for letting one area be disproportionately be developed while other portions of the City deteriorate physically and spiritually. Many people in Ward F act as if no one cares that our public schools are under-funded; no one cares that drugs are being sold openly and aggressively in schools and on the corners as latch-key kids walk home from school. I just heard recently from someone who really was saddened by the fact that most of the children were not being fed or properly nurtured in the homes and they were coming to school hungry. Now if the children are coming to school hungry, then how are we expecting them to perform? If the children are hungry in Ward F, will they have the energy to sidestep the school to prison pipeline? The narrative that I’m hearing as a leader with Jersey City Together is that this has been an ongoing issue and no one cares – or at least that’s how it feels, that no one cares. Because if you cared, action speaks louder than words. Think about this, if you say “Jersey City is a safer city” and you tout this as an achievement, but the people in Ward F do not feel safer, then what is the subliminal message?

Ward F does not matter.

So if Ward F does not matter, than what emotion should I expect to overtake me? Hopelesness. If you tout, low unemployment and the establishment of 650 new businesses and that is not my reality in Ward F, then I am convinced that this part of the city has been left to fend for itself. In addition, if our leaders stand by and are silent as the truth is being stretched then I might begin to die spiritually. We really need to go back and read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s thoughts on tokenism and how tokenism stands in the way of true freedom and justice for all.

What kind of help do you need – from the city, law enforcement, the community, anyone – to help make Ward F a better place?

We need quality and authenticity. If a problem issue is identified then we should not rest until a quality, authentic solution has been identified. Too many times “shell” programs are inserted as a means to quiet the masses that feel disenfranchised. But after the crowd has dispersed, the ribbon been cut, the checks get cashed the doors get closed and we are left holding the bag. There are several programs that simply are not providing the services in a manner consistent with their claims. Again, as a person who is in Ward F, hearing the stories, we need quality and authentic programs providing measurable results in a transparent way. This is important because of the connectedness of the events in areas such as Ward F. If we do not provide quality re-entry and recidivism reducing programs should we be focusing on a persons record when someone is shot? [Ed. Note, see article: Should Fulop Have Publicly Discussed Slain 17-Year-Old’s Criminal Record?] Victim-blaming will not get us anywhere. In fact, the blame game is tricky because fingers get pointed in every direction. We have to take responsibility and work harder on solutions as opposed to justifying or rationalizing violence when it’s poor on poor.

What gives you hope for the neighborhood? What bright spots or success stories have you witnessed?

At Claremont Lafayette United Presbyterian Church I am proud of where we are now. We have worked hard to provide for the community not because of politics but because of the

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Claremont Lafayette and turkey dinners, 2015

Gospel. We have fed the needy the last two years giving away over 250 turkey meals. We have worked side-by-side with Jersey City Together with youth and education issues. We have promoted plays, started a re-entry program and raised $50k to go toward assisting ex-offenders and with the assistance of other leaders I am in the process of starting a Civic Trust in Jersey City. We are doing our part in the neighborhood paying for CCTV’s to monitor our property and make the community safer.

What gives me hope? I leave you with the words of a famous hymn, a hymn that has inspired hope for close to 150 years.

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand

Have you been banned by Mayor Fulop on social media?

Mayor Steve Fulop uses social media the way that many mayors do: to communicate important information about things the city is doing to his constituents. It all seems simple enough at its face; a reminder about snow removal here, an announcement about a meeting there. If, in the end, these posts serve to boost him as November approaches, one could forgive him. It’s good, after all, if a mayor can run for re-election based on his record.

And it’s understandable in these times that any public figure would want to at least lightly curate their comments on social media. We’re in a very negative time in US politics, and Fulop is a high-profile Democrat. There are loonies out there as we all know; people willing to turn a simple post about the importance of shoveling your sidewalk into a racist, all-caps rant that has nothing to do with the topic at hand, written by someone living far from Jersey City, just to get a reaction.

But what if it wound up that the mayor was censoring and deleting on-topic, sensible, reasonable – albeit critical – comments from people within JC? What if those comments are calmly and rationally stated by well-known community activists, who are simply choosing to object to a certain issue or the way in which the Mayor framed it? What if, in the absence of such comments, the thread accommodating the original post looked as if everyone in Jersey City was in whole-hearted agreement with Fulop?

It’s been the rumor in JC activist circles for sometime that if you dare to disagree with our Mayor on Facebook, you will get banned – your comment will be immediately deleted, and you will not be allowed to comment further on any posts, ever. In some cases, it’s taken so far that you’re not allowed to see the Mayor’s posts ever again in your feed (no more announcements of snow removal schedules for you, you crazy dissident!).

I’ve heard this from enough people that I believed it, and I’ve been following this as an unfolding story for a few weeks…. but I had a hesitation. How widespread was this, really? And what if the people who had been banned really said something bad – like in the heat of the moment?

So, two things. For one, I started an online questionnaire. If you’ve been blocked by the Mayor on any forum, perhaps you’d like to take it. The link is here. More on that in a moment.

But secondly, this appeared on the Jersey City Politics group on Facebook:

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(That’s all one post – I’m sorry I couldn’t make it fit better.)

Bruce Alston is behind the Hudson County Chronicles, a website that covers local issues. When I posted my Ellen Simon story, I received an enormous amount of traffic from his Chronicles, even more than I did from NJ Politico – the man is a force to be reckoned with and has an absolutely huge following. And he is definitely not crazy or prone to all-caps ranting – I don’t know Bruce personally at all, but I’ve seen him on Facebook dozens of times and he is nothing if not totally polite and on-topic. I don’t always agree with the guy, but he is certainly not someone to be censored or dismissed.

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There is something about a Facebook comment thread that is 50+ comments deep – it comes across as a certain kind of truth. You see it as a casual observer, and it feels like you’re seeing an accurate portrayal of what people really think of a person, a product, or – in this case – an administration.

Back to my questionnaire: I only have a few responders, so it’s too soon to really report what I’ve learned so far. But if you’ve been blocked, please fill it out. You can be anonymous or you can sign your name – it’s up to you. I’ll follow up this post later, if I get enough responses.

Look, no one has to have comments turned on for any of these media. You’ll note that I have comments turned off on this blog – that’s because I wanted to create a place for my opinions/thoughts/ideas, not a discussion. Fulop can likewise turn off the comments to his Facebook posts, and that would make it much more clear that it is an outgoing platform for him to share information with the community, but not a discussion.

But making it appear to be a discussion when in fact it’s not is intellectually dishonest. He’s taking out all the “bad” comments and making it seem as if there’s overwhelming, nearly unanimous support for everything he does. There is not.

Be my creepy Valentine: The JC Oddities Market is next week!

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Brittany Graziosi is a jewelry designer and Jersey City native who has put together this amazing event, happening next Saturday. All kinds of creepy things gathered under one roof – from pickled octopus legs to goth/horror memorabilia – make this market a first of its kind in JC.

The details:

Til Death Do Us Part: A Valentine’s Oddities Market

Cathedral Hall: 380 Montgomery Street, Jersey City

Saturday, February 11th, 12-6pm

I talked to Brittany about her experiences as a designer and vendor at JC’s various markets, as well as what we can expect to see at her fair. Interview below!


Q. Tell me about the JC Oddities Market. Why did you start it?

BG: I started JC Oddities for a few reasons, one being that I really want to open a store. The idea for the store would be a collection of work from various crafters, with a monthly (for lack of a better word) gallery show. (I use the term “gallery” loosely because I have no experience or intention of working with fine art but hate the word showcase). I want to rotate pieces in and out and give artists a chance to sell in a brick and mortar that they can direct traffic to- without having to worry about the overhead individually.In order to make that even remotely possible, I needed to build a network of the type of artists I’d like to work with.

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Piersanti Pop Culture

[In 2012]  I noticed as I introduced more bone work and “weirder” elements into my work, I stopped getting accepted into markets outside of JC. Pacific Flea, Sixth Borough, Indiegrove have all been warmly welcoming. Because of my old work schedules I didn’t get to do too many of them, but they all accepted me as a vendor.

Trenton Punk Flea is nearly impossible to get into cause it sells out so quickly. So beyond that, Monster Mania, the horror conventions- I was limited to where I could go and none of it was super local.

I recently applied to vend at Brooklyn Oddities Flea and was rejected, and ya know that’s fine because they have their scene going on and it’s wonderful. But we can have one too. I just wanted it to be known that you don’t have to wait for a massive yearly horror expo and you don’t have to cross the water to find a market like this.

In your experience – both in organizing this and with other events – what’s it like to put on an event in JC? What are the difficulties you face?

My experience with markets was mostly just as a vendor (though I do coordinate the vendors for Pacific Flea).

Jersey City events are fairly simple. Space is the big issue. Cathedral Hall was a godsend

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Down to the Bone Design

because it’s massive and aesthetically is PERFECT for an oddities market. I also feel great about spending big money on it because I appreciate the work 4th street does. [Ed. note: in order to pay for the rental of the space, Brittany raised money on Indiegogo and paid for a lot of it out of pocket. Her goal was to keep the vendor fee low to be as inclusive as possible.]

I know you’ve been looking to open a shop on the West Side or Greenville – can you talk about some of the things you’ve run into during that process?

Storefronts on the other hand… Owners have spaces that have been vacant two years and counting and won’t come down from $2200 on a 850sqft space on West Side and Virginia Ave. – it’s wild. There’s no real foot traffic there but they’ll wait out the wave of gentrification just to get a ten-year lease at that price rather than filling the space for 2 years a bit lower. I guess I don’t understand real estate so I’ll stick to one-day events and pop up shops for now.

How would you describe the overall environment in JC for artists and craftspeople?
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Naughty Rabbit

As far as environment- I think it’s great here but you’ve gotta be doing something original. There are so many talented people here that the competition is endless. Especially when your category is jewelry. It’s hard to explain for me at least that what I’m doing is way more than jewelry. That’s why I changed my own personal name from antisocial jewelry company to antisocial JC. Well, that and because I’m not one of those NJ artists that puts NYC in their bios 😂

One thing I will say though, is I owe a big part of my successes and ambition to create this market to Uta Brauser. Creative Grove was the starting point for me as a vendor and it was the first place I ever felt welcomed and comfortable selling work as a crafter. The politics of how Creative Grove was pushed out are all unclear to me, but I’ll always miss that market. It was the one place we have total unrestricted creative license, and it was affordable. Back when I had a small baby and wasn’t back to work yet, the spring and summer at Grove were my only expendable income, as well as my only time out interacting with peers- and it was something I could even bring my son with me for most of the day which was vitally important to us.


For more info and a full list of vendors, check out the website for the market at jcodditiesmarket.com

 

 

The greatest photograph ever taken of Jersey City

Ugh. I am so jealous. My neighbor Jodi took the photo I’ve been trying to take for years. And it is so amazing:

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This is of a man carrying what I believe to be two goats (that’s just a guess), one stacked on top of another, walking down Newark Ave in India Square, probably en route to a butcher or restaurant. It’s a very common scene on Newark Ave – a burly man in a rubber apron and boots, carrying some array of dead animals, slung over his shoulder. They’re usually out in the mornings.

I’ve been an ethical vegan for over nine years. I’m not even used to thinking of meat as an option to eat. But one thing I think of often is: if I were to eat meat, it would be very easy now to do so – just go into any suburban grocery store and buy your chicken breast all perfectly filleted; cut up just so, so that you don’t even have to think of it as an animal. It could be animal, it could be soy – whatever, it all looks the same. You don’t have to think about it. There it is, all pre-packaged and perfect for you, just cook it up real quick and it’s ready to eat.

About fifteen years ago, I remember walking down Newark Ave and watching a guy pull out four or five skinned goats from a truck. He just flung them over his shoulder like they were nothing – legs dangling below, the stomaches stacked up one by one, hauling them off to wherever he was headed. I remember being at first taken aback by the horror of it – so many dead animals – and then by his brute strength (they had to be incredibly heavy, right? How much does a dead goat weigh?). And then just by the alienness of it all – of the glimpse into another way of life so different from mine. He just walked matter-of-factly, down Newark Ave, while I sort of staggered behind him, trying – but failing – to take a picture. It was all I could do. I almost couldn’t process what I was seeing.

I hate to put too much on this moment, but in many ways, this – to me – is Jersey City in a nutshell. It’s all about being confronted in a way you can’t ignore, with a way of life you only barely knew existed. Did I know that there were people who carted around dead goats for a living? I mean, I guess – but I never really thought about it. I definitely never saw one with my own eyes, let alone many of them over the years. Nor did I ever admire the strength it took to do such a job, or the strange beauty inherent in it.

Looking at this photo, I can’t help but think of a Francis Bacon painting – and yet, there’s something about the photo that makes the Bacon seem almost kitsch. The Bacon is a set-up, a metaphor; this is reality, walking down the street, just making a living. I hate to be like “it’s art” because it’s really so much more than that. It’s reality. It’s life. “Art” feels like a pose. This is something else.