Good Neighbors or Not

11554035_sMany years ago, I lived in this wonderful neighborhood in Queens, New York. I went to school from there, visited with my friends who lived across the street, or up the block, there. All of us teenagers grew, and the parents aged, but no one left home. What I mean is, we were all one big family – the two or three block vicinity bonded. When the people across the street forgot sugar or flour at the market, they had only to cross the street and knock on my door, or go to the house next to them. I may have mentioned this before, but when summer arrived the entire area threw a block party, put on by everyone. I grew up having dinner with my friend’s folk, or at the house of my parent’s friends. Then, at any given time, we would switch houses. At New Year’s Eve one household, or the other would throw the party, but we all attended. Then, as we teenagers became adults and left home, the parents, and grandparents were left, still carrying on that “good neighbor” spirit. Yes, I remember a home, or two that may not have been included in the camaraderie, but for the most part we all looked out for each other.

When, I got married and moved to New Jersey, I found it to be a hemisphere away from what I knew in New York. The person next door may have said hello in passing, but if I forgot anything at the market, I’d just have to make another trip back. And, as far as the holidays; thank goodness for my relatives traveling out from New York, because if I waited for someone from across the street, I’d kind of still be waiting. Yes, life proved the total opposite end of the spectrum. In 1998 we moved from Morris County, New Jersey to East Brunswick, which is south of Morris County. Here, I had a “middle of the road” impression. In this area, attitudes were  halfway between denizens of New York and those of Morris County. I don’t know why they are friendlier in East Brunswick, but they are; as different as night and day. In fact, we supped at one or two houses, and shared Fourth of July festivities. In any event, everyone in both counties, although not as welcoming as New York, remained civil.

Why did I bring up this specific topic? Friday night’s episode of ABC’s 20/20 and Blogger Bob Borzatta’s “Neighbor From Hell.” As different as the three examples I mentioned above, I would seriously hate being in one of these subdivisions. In one particular locale – two homes across from an Alderwoman – the residents couldn’t have made a worse mistake in moving there. The Alderwoman called the police whenever they played loud music, or for working on cars in their driveway, and she had been seen measuring their grass with a ruler. In another state, someone went so far as to get a restraining order on a person. Why you ask? Because the supposedly good individuals made some kind of derogatory comment about the restrained mother’s daughter. From that moment forward, she became out of control. The restricted woman is a single mother, and not to take sides, but from what the network aired she appeared as one of those on the edge characters – someone ready to go off at any given moment. She actually had a “meltdown” when being interviewed by the reporter; filming literally came to a halt until she regained her composure. She draped obscene and insulting banners from her garage; pulled her dress up and shook her bottom at them – anything wild, or outrageous to so call, retaliate. The network, and the police knew of these happenings because the one being attacked, installed a surveillance camera in order to catch-all of her antics.

I must say, at an early age I learned from my grandmother to mind my business. I discovered this mostly by way of the best teacher ever – observation. I am well aware that part of my demeanor came directly from that bloodline. Her motto simply stated – if you stay out of everyone’s business then, they should stay out of your affairs. I have found through the years, however, that sometimes one cannot help him/her self. They don’t like the fact that you’re not causing any confusion, so they will, in the least, talk about you anyway. Somewhere along the way, I read of a website – Next Door dot com – where a person can log on and keep up with their neighborhood. It’s sort of like Facebook, only for subdivisions. I haven’t had the desire, or need to do so – motto remember? Although, I did take a look-see in writing this piece. But, it all makes me wonder, what’s happening to our world? All of it simply makes me miss those early days. I guess I could envision it as one of the five places I’ll meet in heaven, huh? How is the family across the street from you? Do you have a relationship with them?

Image courtesy of 123rf.com

Wikipedia

ABC’s 20/20

Bob Borzatta Neighbor From Hell

Next Door dot com

Not Your Typical Monday

12273888_sI must say the past two weeks have been chocked with news items. From the flooding in Colorado to the Boardwalk fire in Seaside Heights, New Jersey to Monday’s news with the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C. As I read those words, I have the impression of a time traveler popping in from another century. I sit, watching all of the above on some kind of glowing device; a television maybe that I’ve never been introduced to, with horrific stories looping one after the other, and each one more shocking than the one before. In this instance, choosing a story to expand on did prove quite difficult. We know that lives were lost in the floods, and I do send my condolences to those families. However, the incident at the Navy yard grabbed more of my attention.

I understand it has been described time after time, by anchor after anchor in every way possible, but what keeps coming to my mind is this: Another Monday morning, your loved one gets up, showers, dresses, has their coffee, and heads out for work. It’s so routine, no one would ever have the inclination things could be any different. What’s on their mind? Maybe:

This weekend is Robert’s first football game for the school year. I’m so excited for him; or

I got Joe tickets to Las Vegas for his birthday on Sunday. This getaway will be like a second honeymoon for us; or

For Pete’s sake, Annie wanted me to bring the rest of those tomatoes in to work, and I forgot them. She’s going to be so mad.

But then, twenty minutes, or a half hour after they arrived at work, none of those thoughts mattered any longer. Because just like that, they were not coming home. At least that scenario played out for the poor souls at the Navy yard. I have to say, and I know it’s attributable to the fact that I now live in a military capital. Just as it is here in southeast Virginia, civilian contracting is a way of life, and has been year after year, without incident. We may now, however, be in for some policy changes for these armed forces.

When things of this nature happen it’s like the ringing of a massive bell, don’t you think? Reminding us to never take even one day for granted; never leave home without kissing, or at least saying goodbye to your loved ones. And, like my little building in the picture above, it doesn’t matter where you are – Navy yard, regular office building, or walking behind a garbage truck with your co-worker, you just never know. Not only is life very short, times have definitely changed.

All of this makes me remember an incident in a San Francisco, California law firm, where an irate client came in, and opened fire on the staff. A few years later, I vacationed in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Completely by fate, I met this woman who had given up everything here on the mainland, bought herself a sloop, which she had moored in Great Cruz Bay. She lived on that boat, and rowed herself in to shore every day on her dinghy. She then, made her way to one of the local restaurants where she worked as a waitress. At night, she maybe stopped off to socialize with the bartender at the local hotel before her return trip to her boat. So, what’s so different about this tale? She happened to be a paralegal in that same law firm that had been bullet riddled, in the years prior. She explained her new way of life as a necessary spiritual experience after such a close call. Like I said you really never know. My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to the poor families that have been impacted by this senseless act of violence, and yes this is to include the assailant’s family, as well. Because everyone lost – even if it involved their sense of freedom, and safety – that counts as well.

Image courtesy of 123rf.com

Where Were You

7573995_sHere we are at another September 11th, and do you realize it’s been twelve years. At first thought, I didn’t want to write about this, again. Then, after some pondering I said to myself, I need to write about it. I need to write about it, and talk about it until I can’t any longer. Then, when I realized the official day fell on blog day that cinched it for me. This time, however, I’d like to come at the topic from another point of view. Like many other important dates in our lives, they seem to linger, am I right? They hang on, and fill our minds with the events of the day – be it good, or bad. This specific day, I believe, will go down in notoriety like Pearl Harbor, or the day President John F. Kennedy met his fate. Each one of us will remember it the same as a wedding day, a milestone birthday, or when your first child came in the world. I have often thought about September 11, 2001, and it makes me happy and sad at the same time. Happy, because I didn’t have to endure the hardship of trying to make it home to one of the boroughs, or New Jersey from Manhattan; happy, because my loved ones were not in, or around the devastated area. But, sad because I am a New Yorker, and living and working in New Jersey caused me, at times, to perceive myself as a conformer. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like conformity.

As I recall the day, I worked in Princeton, New Jersey for a Manhattan based law firm. My attorney had actually just moved from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to across the river in to Pennsylvania. I had finished setting up one of the conference rooms for a deposition she had scheduled, and surprisingly the defense lawyer had traveled to our office from Washington, D.C. I returned to my desk and went to work on my next project. My cube-mate had her tiny transistor radio at her desk playing on low when the word came about the first plane. She mentioned it, and I popped over to listen. When I made it back to my desk to go on-line, a picture of the north tower adorned my computer screen with plumes of black smoke billowing in every direction. Before I could finish reading the article the second plane hit. By this time most of the office had become a buzz. If you know anything about legal, you know that under no condition do you intrude on a deposition. Well, you do, of course, if the circumstances involve life and death, or a landmark building collapsing due to some act of terrorism.

After the failing of the first tower, and rumors began spreading of a terror attack, I had a conversation with my co-worker about interrupting that deposition. I think what happened next will stay in my mind the rest of my life. I knocked on the conference room door, opening it at the same time – all eyes turned directly to me, obviously. My attorney beckoned for me to come in to the room. I began:

“They think there’s been a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center,” I said, my entire body shaking. “One of the towers just collapsed to the ground.”

Everyone in the room began frowning.

“Do you mean, there is some sort of structural damage to one of the buildings?” my attorney asked.

“No, one of the towers has fallen to the ground.”

“Wa…wait…wait a minute,” the gentlemen being deposed said, broadening his eyebrows. He lifted his right hand, placed it at the table’s edge and pushed himself backward. “Are you saying one of the towers has literally fallen…it fell to the ground?”

“Yes,” I answered, continuing to shake. Only now, the tears had begun to fall.

The balance of the room went completely still. My attorney took me by the waist and led me in to the hallway, and back to my desk. Needless to say by the time the Pentagon had been hit, the Washington, D.C. attorney had decided she had better try to make her way back home.

As if it were yesterday, I recollect riding in the car with hubby two weeks prior as we traveled in the Jersey City, New Jersey area on our way to a function. This part of New Jersey sits right across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan. Like the images of the leaning Tower of Pisa, you actually got the sense you were touching the structure. So, playfully, I reached out of the window:

“Honey, look. See, I’m touching the buildings.”

Just like that they were gone, and two weeks after that, I began classes at Gotham Writers’ Workshop in the Village. Did I have any trepidation about going in? Uh…yeah. But, as I sat on the train, on my way to Pennsylvania Station, we came upon a spot where the towers would normally have been in full view. The entire car went completely still, not a sound came from anyone. We all stared at the surrounding buildings, and then, the large void where the towers had been. For me I had the impression of finding that favorite old photo of my grandmother – only to realize someone had cut her out of the picture. At that moment, I grasped all that had actually taken place. If it were that way for me, then it had to have affected every other first timer on that train the very same. Tell me what you were doing?

Image courtesy of 123rf.com

Critique Groups

Critique groups are integral to writing, and some would say a faction such as this gives breath and life to ones work. I know I usually begin my posts with the title in mind, and somewhere along the way go into a left turn that leads me one hundred miles in another direction. But, this time it will be deliberate. For us old timers (I mean how long we’ve been writing or trying to write), we know a few things that happen at a critique session:

  1. Bringing your work before your peers to obtain feed back on what has been produced in the past month or since you last met;
  2. Brainstorming – bouncing ideas around for those who are stuck in a plot, scene, chapter beginning, ending, etc.;
  3. Reviewing your work for grammar, structure; and
  4. Motivation – spiritual and intellectual.

I joined New Jersey Romance Writers (NJRW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA) twelve years ago, just as I moved from Rockaway, New Jersey to East Brunswick. Then, through NJRW I became hooked up with a group of women calling themselves, “The Lusty Ladies,” who I must say left an indelible work ethic on my craft as well as my heart.

Once a month the six of us would meet, right after work for me, at a members’ home where we’d begin the evening with pizza, and someone always managed to bring desert. Back then, only one of the six held bragging rights to being published.  Then, maybe a year before I moved here to Virginia (give or take), we took in another member who had stories published in True Confessions Magazine. Everyone usually read something at every meeting.  We would share stories, our written fiction works, as well as an account of our day-to-day lives since we were together last.  And, if anyone knows anything about writing, they are aware a writer’s story is their baby; they’ve sweated, cried, and agonized over its formation – so the person with whom the tale is shared becomes a confidant – almost as intimate as the doctor delivering a son or daughter, theoretically that is.

Growing up in the city, I think helps some of us develop a thick skin; some of us…maybe. I must say for the newbie out there, you have to bite the nail and dive right in, because as one of my critique buddies said, “otherwise you’re writing in a vacuum.”  Okay, so if you go in “thin-skinned,” after a few months, your hide should be toughened enough for anything.  But, you cannot trade the hours spent learning in such a setting. Along the way, I got in my head to take some courses at a school for creative writing.  After I finished the classes, I wrote a piece for one of the trade newsletters comparing that experience with the local chapter. What I said in that article still holds true today. Everything taught in those courses, I already knew. Why? Because of all the information picked up from the work shops, meetings, my special bond with my critique buddies, and those many critique sessions. I am in the process of looking for another group, I’ve had two since I’ve lived in Virginia. But, I have to say, and I must be candid here, I have this fear that I’ve been spoiled for life.  I don’t think I will ever; can ever find another party of women who can equal the professionalism and camaraderie found with “The Lusty Ladies.” Thanks guys, and I just want to say how much I miss our little meetings.

Geographical Fun Facts

Typical Queens Neighborhood

This week I decided to step way out of the box, and discuss the first book I’m pushing.  Maybe try to scout up some interest, if you will?  For those of you who do not know of this fiction work, entitled A Mother’s Prayers, it is a coming-of-age story of an African-American teenager who lives in Queens, New York.  The book covers a ten-year span of her life.  With that in mind, there are also many people who are unfamiliar with New York and/or Queens.  The story does however, wander into Manhattan, different areas of New Jersey, Nassau, Bahamas and Paris, France, but I will stay mostly in the New York/New Jersey region.  As I began my research, I realized there is some pretty neat history surrounding these areas of America.  Why did I pick Queens? Simple – I spent the second half of my teenage years there, and lived there until I married, and moved to New Jersey.  The borough of Queens is so huge though, there is neither time nor space to list everything.  I have therefore, confined all of these facts to the SE corner of the county. Here is my list of interesting facts on Queens, New York:

  • General Peter Stuyvesant settled this area under Dutch rule in 1656 and called it Rustdorp, even though it’s inhabitants were the Lenape, a Native American Tribe;
  • The English arrived in 1664, and named it “Jameco;”
  • Bet you didn’t know how the borough of Queens got its name? It came from Queen Braganza, the wife of King Charles II of England;
  • We know that George Washington slept in places up and down the eastern seaboard.  And yes, he slept in Queens as well – at the house of Rufus King, an attorney, Senator and signer of the U.S. Constitution.  In 1974 his home became a National Historic Landmark, and is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in Jamaica;
  • Jamaica Avenue, a main thoroughfare, at one time served as an ancient trail for Native American groups from as far away as the Ohio River and the Great Lakes, coming to trade skins and furs for wampum – they called it “The Kings Highway.” That’s a funny fact, because over 400 hundred years later, this main drag is still congested with all kinds of traffic – all coming to shop in the local establishments;
  • After World War II, builders in Long Island were responding to the cities overcrowding and to White soldiers coming back from the war. So they built massive suburban developments on Long Island. This helped escalate something called “White flight” that emptied out many homes in southeast Queens. When this happened Middle class Black families from Brooklyn and Harlem took advantage and purchased homes in large numbers. This resurgence continued into the 1960s;
  • Jamaica Bay is a literal Wildlife Refuge and is managed by the National Park Service, but in 1972 became a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. The area also provided parks/beaches such as: Jacob Riis Park (Riis Beach), Breezy Point Surf Club and Silver Gull Club. Floyd Bennett Field is also located nearby and provides Archery year round;
  • South Ozone Park, NY where the story takes place is now simply called Jamaica. The change took place sometime in the 1990’s (I haven’t been able to pin down an exact date);
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) carries a Jamaica, NY address;
  • JFK is located in Jamaica Bay, which is only twelve miles from the southern tip of Manhattan;
  • In June of 1975 an Eastern Airlines jet went down on Rockaway Boulevard after being stuck by lightning, killing all but fourteen;
  • On December 11, 1978 one of the largest, if not the biggest heist took place at JFK’s Lufthansa Terminal. This theft made it to Hollywood in the movie The Big Heist.  It also  served as the main plot of the 1990 Goodfellas movie;
  • The Concorde made its first stop at JFK in December of 1977;
  • This part of Queens is about twenty minutes from the beach, Far Rockaway, NY;
  • On Rockaway Beach, you can sit and watch the planes landing – depending on the flight patterns. There is also an amusement park there named, Playland, which is similar to Coney Island, only not as large;
  • Aqueduct Raceway is in SE Queens, and Belmont Raceway is roughly fifteen minutes in the other direction, toward Long Island.

Lastly, some notables who live in Queens:

Jimmy Breslin – author and columnist
Mario Cuomo – Former Governor of NY
Metallica – Rock Group (for only a brief time in 1983)
Nicki Minaj – Rapper
Cyndi Lauper – Singer (grew up in S. Ozone Park)
Donald Trump – RE Developer, and our
Rufus King who housed George Washington – attorney, senator and U.S. Constitution signer

Fun Facts of Belleville, New Jersey

Why did I choose Belleville?  Areas by Branch Brook Park remind me so much of Queens.  It is also very likely for an African-American business owner of a sheet metal company to want their office there. It would put them closer to Manhattan, and it’s more of an industrial area.  A few tidbits about this town:

  • Belleville gave itself the nickname Cherry Blossom Capital of America, with an annual display that is larger than that in Washington, D.C.;
  • Most notably, some of The Soprano episodes were filmed in this town.
  • Some significant people from Belleville:

Joe Pesci – Actor
Frankie Valli – Lead singer of The Four Seasons
Russell Baker – NY Times Columnist

Fun Facts of Hunterdon County, New Jersey

My story wanders into Annandale, New Jersey which is in the northwest part of the State.  Since there are no real or interesting facts about this tiny town, I decided to go with Hunterdon County, which is where this haven is situated.

  • Again, the Lenape Indians, “Original People” occupied the area;
  • The County has 246 bridges;
  • The first courthouse went up in May of 1792.  In fact the last hanging in the county took place in 1828 – James Guild, a 14-year-old who murdered his mistress;
  • On January 2, 1935 the Lindberg Trial began at the Flemington Courthouse.  Bruno R. Hauptman went to trial for the fatal kidnapping of Lindberg’s son;
  • Lee Van Cleef, a movie star appearing in Westerns in the 1960s and 1970s began his career at a local theater company in Clinton, New Jersey;
  • Bernie Worrell, the keyboardist and founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic is listed as a resident. He later moved on to the group Talking Heads.

So, that concludes our little, and not so brief, geographical fun fact-fest on A Mother’s Prayers.  I hope you enjoyed reading the history of these towns as much as I took pleasure in doing the research.  Now, we wait for the book.  If you have any questions or comments, do not hesitate to leave them.

All images courtesy of Google Earth

Some information provided through Wikipedia and County of Hunterdon, State of New Jersey

Developing Characters

Be Attentive

One week or so ago, a writing buddy mentioned going to Panera Bread with her laptop to write.  Panera Bread is right up the street from my house, but this is something that has been so far from my thoughts it would have to be written in large bold letters, and waved in front of my face (that being a tweet).  I don’t know why.  Anyway, the instant I read the message, the switch flipped – I threw a hand to my forehead, and thought, man, am I a ditz or what?  I haven’t made it there yet, but it is definitely about to become a part of my routine, since I love being out and about, writing and people watching.  I want them so sick of me that in order to keep me away, they’ll have to stamp my card.  I recall reading how Ernest Hemingway frequented the local bars and restaurants in Florida to do nothing more than observe folk.  He also had a compulsion to incorporate things he noticed into his own made up characters.  I always try to remember this whenever I’m out anywhere, since this has always been one of my favorite pass times.

Probably since I lived in New Jersey for so long two other writers come to mind; Albert Einstein and Orson Welles.  Why do I bring up New Jersey when I mention these two greats?  Because in case you didn’t know, Einstein used to frequent the Nassau Inn, which sits right on Nassau Street in Princeton, since he taught at the college.  Secondly, Orson Welles lit a fire to his career with the infamous War Of The Worlds broadcast of a Martian invasion in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, which is a stones throw from Princeton.  As I worked in this college town three years for a Manhattan based firm, I had the chance to get up close with these two locales.  Having lunch one day at the Nassau Inn,  I sat across from the wooden booth bearing Einstein’s name (it is said he carved it there).  Although his works were philosophical, and not at all in the same genre as Welles or Hemingway, I still envisioned him taking in human behavior and writing on his note pad before he inscribed his name in the wood.  I don’t know how Welles picked Grover’s Mill as the scene for his ruse, but he did.  As a lover of the art of television, radio and the screen, he also had to have an inclination toward building personalities.  Let’s think about some methods of constructing a character:

  • Watching while out having dinner or at the local watering hole;
  • Eating lunch in the park – there are others there enjoying their meal as well;
  • An oddball you remember from your past may make a controversial bad guy;
  • Friends who have lost touch;
  • Family members/Friend’s family members;
  • Boyfriends/girlfriends from the past;
  • Growing LARGE ears and eavesdropping on nearby conversations as mannerisms are carried over into speech.

Those of us who have been around for some time know this, but are you newbies on your toes?  One day my husband and I were having breakfast at the Seville Diner on Route 18 in East Brunswick when a large family across the way caught my eye.  The father had three tea bags in his cup of water.  Now, that’s not something you notice everyday.  Of course, you know one of my people had to have that little oddity.  As writers, we are attentive creatures; sometimes though, it’s not inbreed, some of us have to learn the trait.  But, either way it is a critical part of creating riveting individuals in our work.  Tell me how you go about devising/developing a personality?

Listen

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Photos courtesy of iStockPhoto

Information provided by Nassau Inn & Wikipedia

New State-New Rules

I recently had a very nice reader tell me last week that she awarded me the “Versatile Blog” award.  I thank her for that (I think) and move along “Diverse Highway.”  Okay, today I’m recalling my first real experience living here in this new land.  We had been here probably one month.  If you remember, we lived in an apartment in Yorktown as we waited for the house.  One day in my errands, I made a run to the post office in the same town; only three or four miles from my temporary residence.  I took care of my minor chores, got back into my truck, and headed out of the parking area.  I made my way around, and up to the traffic light.  So, there I am in the lane to make a left turn, where I sat, sat and sat waiting for the light to change.

It’s September, and in this state it is still quite warm.  Therefore, I had the windows up and the air conditioner cranked.  As usual I also had the radio going.  As I took a peek in my rear view mirror, I noted a fast line of cars beginning to stack up behind me.  But hey, red light – we were going nowhere.  Then, after another few seconds or so, I glanced behind me and caught sight of an even longer line that had formed to my rear.  Suddenly, I heard honking.  “Hey, don’t get upset with me, I have nothing to do with the fact the pesky apparent malfunctioning device is still red.”  Out of nowhere, a car pulled up next to me, preparing to make a right turn.  I happened to shift my view in that direction, and I catch sight of the man talking and glaring right at me.  Now remember, I don’t hear; windows up, air and radio going.  When I realized he wanted me, I immediately began turning things off, opening windows, etc.  What did he want?

Now, in the meantime, the line behind me had continued to grow, and had curved around the lot.  This guy hanging from his window – what did he want of me?  Actually, once I lowered the window, and had quiet in my vehicle I understood him not to be simply conversing, but shouting instead:  “You’ve gotta pull all the way up to the line so the light will change.”  I thought to myself – Excuse me, what kind of nonsense it this?  Okay, I did as I had been instructed; three seconds passed, “poof” the light went green – everyone calmed down, and all the waiters, including myself finally went on our way.

There may be just too much forward thinking here in Hampton Roads.  So yes, a tough lesson in deed. Now, together with high-tech traffic aids, not having to renew my car registration with its inspection, and having everyone recognize me as the crazy one when I ask, “Do I have to dial the area code?” By the time I get it right, I’ll be on my way back home to the north.  (In New Jersey if you are calling your neighbor you must use the area code). But hey, seven years and it doesn’t matter, old or young, new state new rules.

Again, check out pics on “View From The Roads” page, and don’t forget to click “Like” on my Facebook Fan page. Thanks in advance.

Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto