Nine in the suburbs: Why is it so damn dark out here?

It has been just over four months since we moved from Hoboken to Basking Ridge, and we’ve settled in nicely, for the most part. We really like it out here, and everyone is adjusting well, from yours truly, to Mrs. 9, to 0.9, and even the cats.

9House

The 9 Compound

The positives definitely outweigh the negatives. I mentioned some of these things in a previous post, but that was months ago, and most people online don’t have any attention span, anyway, so here goes:

  • Mrs. 9’s commute has been shortened to about 15-20 minutes, with little to no traffic, from 50 minutes on paper and much longer in real life when we were still in Hoboken.
  • 0.9 loves his daycare and the teachers there.
  • Driving around here in general is a far more pleasant experience. Not only is traffic rarely an issue, but there just seems to be a lot less douchebaggery on the roads.
  • Life in general is a lot less stressful. Things like shopping, or going out for dinner, are much more manageable out here. People just seem to be a lot more relaxed, and it shows.
  • The two fat cats have actually lost weight since we moved here, likely due to having a lot more room to run, as well as the steps. Even 8-Ball, who used to move twice a day, has actually shown signs of being spry. The only bad thing about 8-Ball and Trouble getting into better shape is that one of them might catch Skittles one day, and eat him, because he continues to bait the two of them mercilessly, figuring that he can outrun them.
  • This will not be a factor for another five years or so, but the elementary school 0.9 will eventually attend is picturesque. It looks like something Norman Rockwell would paint. It’s a beautiful building, with so much space around it. I am actually jealous of him, as I feel like when you grow up in Manhattan, classrooms feel more like cells due to the lack of space. The thought of having a vast expense of grass for him to play on, instead of a slab of concrete, is comforting.
  • I have taken advantage of the fact that it is about three-quarters of a mile from our house to the train station and taken New Jersey Transit into Penn Station or Hoboken a few times. It’s pretty easy, and for someone who has been known to enjoy the occasional beer or 12, it’s a great option to have.
  • Being walking distance from the downtown area of Basking Ridge has been a huge plus, as well, and we have taken advantage of it a few times, weather permitting. It’s good to get out, walk, and exercise, rather than having to drive everywhere.
  • I work in the basement, right next to a window that faces our back yard, and I have been fortunate enough to see deer on a number of occasions, and even a red fox, which was larger than I thought, but quite a beautiful animal. It’s nice to see species other than stray cats, PATH rats, squirrels, and pigeons.
  • As I suspected, Cablevision’s Optimum is not even in the same ballpark as Verizon FiOS, especially when you factor in the Internet speed of the latter. Good riddance, Cablevision.
  • I raked leaves for the second time in my life, and shoveled snow for the first. Neither was too tough to pick up. I didn’t rake the entire yard, so sue me. We would eventually like to get a lawn mower, but with all of the expenses related to moving, new furniture, and 0.9, the lawn mower is on the back burner, for now, as is the snow blower, the generator, and the grill, which will likely come first.

There are a few things I’m definitely having trouble adjusting to, however:

  • I simply cannot get over just how fucking dark it is around here at night. I didn’t expect Basking Ridge to be lit up like the Vegas strip, but it is absolutely pitch black. There are very, very few street lights around here, and other sources of light are scant. As soon as the sun goes down, this is what the view from our window looks like:
Our view ...

Our view …

  • Speaking of the dark, when I take the train back to Basking Ridge and arrive after sundown, I have to walk by a cemetery while it’s pitch black outside. Shaggy and Scooby-Doo have the right idea being rattled. It’s definitely creepy.
  • I said earlier that drivers around here seem to be a lot more courteous and less ruthless than those closer to the city, but the one thing I’ve noticed, kind of related to my point above about the darkness, is that a lot of folks out here have a tendency to not bother to switch from brights to dims when other cars are approaching, and some of the newer cars out there, especially some Audi models, have headlights that are completely blinding. One of the first things I was taught when driving at night was to switch off my brights if another car was coming. But for whatever reason, many people out here simply can’t be bothered.
  • Luckily, we haven’t had to deal with anything major yet in terms of household repairs, but I find myself missing the phrase “call the super” more and more. I did have one unfortunate incident that required an emergency plumbing call due to cat litter clogging up the drain to our slop sink. I know enough not to intentionally pour something that is designed to clump when wet down a drain: It was a stupid and costly accident, as I didn’t realize the trash bag I was dumping the litter box into had slipped, and the litter was going into the sink, and not the bag. You learn from your mistakes. But after living in apartments for the first 44-and-a-half years of my life, it’s still scary that there is no safety net. People can make fun of me all they want for some of the things I don’t know how to do, but I have never had to do them. I am more than willing to learn. We’ll see how it goes. I just hope future mistakes or repairs for other reasons aren’t too costly.
  • I never thought I would find a power company that would make PSE&G look like a superstar, but JCP&L can kiss my ass. There is apparently a history of JCP&L neglecting this area, and their response, or lack thereof, to Hurricane Sandy was an utter and complete joke.

Mrs. 9 and I were talking about this the other day: Despite the fact that we’ve been here a little over four months, we both still have the feeling that we’re on vacation, and that we’ll have to pack everything up one day and go back to our apartment in Hoboken. This place is very much like home, but there are times when it feels like the beach house on Long Beach Island that I was part of for years: You feel at home, but it’s still not your home. Obviously, it is, and we will not be returning to our apartment in Hoboken, or any apartment, for that matter. But there are times when this move still doesn’t seem real or permanent.

Overall, I have no regrets: This was a wise and necessary move. Are there things I miss about Hoboken? Sure, but not enough to make me wish we had never moved here. And there are some treats coming up this summer, as we will hopefully join the local pool, and I will try to get a spot in an over-40 (fuck you in advance for what you’re thinking) softball league.

Yeah, Basking Ridge doesn’t suck. But why is it so fucking dark?

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Setting the record straight about why I am so angry with JCP&L over our power situation

I think a lot of people (particularly on Facebook) are misinterpreting why I am livid with Jersey Central Power & Light due to its handling of our lack of power, which started around 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29, during the roughest part of Hurricane Sandy, and has not been resolved as I type this.

As of 4:30 p.m. today (Nov. 7), more than 168,000 JCP&L customers in New Jersey are still without power, and I am one of them. Do I think I deserve preference over any of the others on the list? I absolutely do not. Do I have any malice toward those whose power has been restored? Again, I absolutely do not.

My problem is with the awful communications between JCP&L and my new hometown of Basking Ridge, or Bernards Township. We have received little or no information throughout this process, and the precious nuggets of news have been inaccurate, conflicting, and useless.

Two close friends (ironically both former roommates) live in areas serviced by JCP&L. One, in Brielle, was told that power would be out for 15 days, and it was restored in seven days. The other, in Whippany, was told that power would be out for 18 days, and it was also restored in seven days.

We received no such information, other than a very vague statement that most homes would be restored by today (Wednesday, Nov. 7), nine days after power was lost. The implication was that power would be restored gradually throughout that period. The truth was that very few homes in the area had power until Sunday, or six days after it was lost, and as of 3 p.m. today, 4,494 out of 12,567 homes were still down. Does the number of restored homes qualify as “most?” I suppose so, but JCP&L’s communications to our town were still extremely misleading.

I don’t know if the issue was that the company was afraid to deliver bad news, but had it come out with a statement saying something along the lines of, “Most residents of Bernards Township will not be restored for several days,” I would have come up with a much more efficient plan for getting through this than the one we chose. No one wants to be told that they will be without power for several days, but after digesting the news, no one could possibly blame JCP&L or any other company for the damage caused by this storm. I can, however, blame them for not being honest with us and allowing us to plan accordingly the way our friends did.

We are currently staying with my mother-in-law in Cherry Hill, an hour-and-a-half from Basking Ridge. We chose to do so because we were led to believe that this situation would linger for a handful of days, not nine and counting.

We have cats, and they absolutely do not travel well, and are completely freaked out by change. So I have driven back-and-forth from Cherry Hill to Basking Ridge every single day since we set up camp down here last Wednesday to check on them, feed them, reassure them, and spend some time with them. I don’t even want to think about how much I have spent on gas. On the way back from Basking Ridge to Cherry Hill this morning, I topped the 1,000-mile mark of distance driven specifically because of Hurricane Sandy.

We have a six-month-old baby who is absolutely driving us nuts and not letting either of us get any work done. It’s not his fault. He is stir-crazy and bored out of his mind. But our daycare center, also a JCP&L customer, is out of power, as well, meaning that we can’t even make alternate daycare arrangements so that we can have a few hours of peace and quiet to get some work done.

This situation is far from ideal. If I had any inkling that it was going to last this long, I would have tried to figure out something better, where the cats weren’t left alone in a house with a temperature that has dropped as low as 50, and where we had better resources in terms of sleeping (we bought an air mattress because the sofa bed was slaughtering both of our backs), possible child care, and other things.

In other words, if JCP&L was honest and upfront from the start, we would be in a completely different situation.

No one wants to hear bad news, and no one wants to be told that something as vital as power will be kept from them for several days. But that was the reality dealt to us by Hurricane Sandy. JCP&L should have been honest and straightforward about how long this process was going to take, rather than spending two days saying it was “assessing the situation,” and then issuing three completely conflicting estimates of when work would start in our town and how much of it would get done.

I’m sure my next-door neighbor, an older woman who lives alone, would have come up with a much better plan, as well, since her plan consisted of sitting in her car with the engine running to stay warm, and eating crackers because her stove is electric and she can’t cook. Do you think she would have done something different if she knew we would be dark for nine days and counting?

JCP&L told my friend in Brielle it would be 15 days. JCP&L told my friend in Whippany it would be 18 days. Why didn’t the company give our town the same courtesy?

And on another note, it doesn’t help my mood that my former hometown of Hoboken, which was absolutely decimated by the storm, with most of the city under two to three feet of water, is fully restored. Naturally, I am happy that Hoboken is back up, as I still have many friends there, but when it comes to restoring service, my old provider, PSE&G, is kicking JCP&L’s ass, and sadly, there is no way to switch back.

After reading that, if you don’t think I have a right to be angry, then we will have to agree to disagree. But I would think friends would take the side of their friends, and not of an ineffective power company.

Speaking of friends, a lot of ours have made generous offers, and I wanted to explain why we haven’t taken any of them up on those offers.

Parents out there can back me up on this: When you travel with a six-month-old baby (or any baby, for that matter), the amount of stuff you need to bring with you is ungodly. Packing and unpacking it is a mission, as is setting it up. We don’t want to uproot the baby at this point, and force him to get used to another place, when we have no idea whether it will be for one night, one week, or one month.

Plus, for our friends who don’t have kids, they take over your entire house. I know everyone’s offers were sincere, but some of you don’t know what you were potentially getting yourself into. We are used to being awakened at 4 a.m. by piercing screams. We don’t want to put anyone through that.

And for those who have offered to help with the cats, I really don’t think it’s a good idea to move them at this point. They are already completely freaked out, not to mention cold and lonely, other than the one hour or so every day I have spent with them. Bringing them to a new place would be overload. And they might do a lot of damage to someone’s place, not out of malice, but due to stress. Plus, if anyone whom they don’t already know comes to check up on them, 8-Ball will be happy to get fed, but the other two will hide and not benefit from their company, and likely think they were abandoned.

So I do thank everyone who made offers, and there were many of you, and, as I said, I have no doubt every single one was sincere.

In any event, I hope anyone who reads this now understands that I wasn’t simply whining about not having power, as there are still hundreds of thousands in the same boat. I believe I have a right to be angry about JCP&L’s communications with my town, or lack thereof, and I stand by everything I have said about the company on Facebook. And if you still side with them over me, well, I just don’t know what to say anymore, but I take nothing back.

Unemployment Nine: It’s 6 a.m. … I must be lonely

The Awl, a New York-based Web site with the motto, “Be Less Stupid,” published a brilliant blog entry by Josh Duboff, The Night Blogger Blogs Alone. I’m going to quote from it, but I definitely recommend reading the entire piece.

6 a.m. gets earlier and earlier ...

Duboff talks about how lonely you feel and how little human contact you enjoy while blogging. I’ve never had a night blogging job, but even working from home during the day, many of the observations he made hold true for myself, as well. And, starting Monday, I will be taking on a new assignment for my existing blogging job, which will involve being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed while sitting at my PC at 6 a.m. every weekday. While 6 a.m. may not be as lonely as the middle of the night, I doubt I’ll have any company. Not only will none of my friends be online, but even the cats will be asleep.

He writes about going hours without actually speaking out loud, which isn’t a problem for me with three cats either trying to kill each other or objects in the apartment. Duboff added:

As is so often the case, this blogging took place at the desk mere feet from my bed, meaning that as I would blog the night away — fueled primarily by almonds and Diet Coke — the end of the tunnel was always an arm’s length away. The modern isolation of your standard blogging job — the lack of non-virtual people around, the relentless Internet tunneling, the lack of sunshine or regular movement — was multiplied by the lack of even having digitally present coworkers, the darkness outside, the silence.

Substitute Snackwells for almonds and iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts for Diet Coke, and this is a very familiar feeling. Before Facebook and Twitter became mainstream, I always used email from friends as a way to take quick sanity breaks between stories, often leading to snarky responses like, “Do you EVER work?” when, in fact, I was utterly swamped.

During my normal work day, I constantly take breaks to read personal e-mail and check in on what’s happening on Facebook and Twitter. As I said in a blog I posted earlier today, anyone who claims that they don’t do this is full of it. The only way anyone can be 100% focused on work and nothing but work for several consecutive hours is if it’s fueled by the adrenalin of a crucial deadline, or a large sum of money at stake, and even then, sanity breaks help.

But for people who work at night, or, in my case, for people who will be starting before the sun rises, the e-mails, status updates and Tweets are few and far between. And for me personally, one of my favorite diversions will pretty much be rendered useless, as no one will be making any Facebook Scrabble moves at that hour of the day. More from Duboff:

Now that I’m working during the daytime hours again, I feel like I have returned to the land of the living — back in the sea of hyper-stressed, closed-off New Yorkers. While I’m generally happy about this, I have to admit there are certain mornings where I catch myself feeling sort of wistful when the alarm goes off at 7:30 a.m., and feeling sort of ordinary on the subway at 8:25 a.m. I miss the Starbucks barista, Kevin, who would hand me my drink at 6 p.m. every night with the resigned look I imagine he reserved for people who order venti iced coffees past sunset.

I had a freelance job from May-September that required my presence in the office during work hours, dressing like a human being, commuting and all that stuff. I felt a lot of the same things Duboff did, although I’d have to replace Kevin, the Starbucks barista, with Punjab, the Dunkin Donuts clerk. At this particular job, one of the things I missed most was reliable Internet access: Both my PCand the Web connection were horrible, which made me miss the comforts of home that much more.

As I said in my post earlier today, there are plusses and minuses about working from home and, if this relates to you in any way, read Duboff’s post. You won’t be sorry.

The Cat Whisperer? I don’t think so

I took 8-Ball, my senior cat, to the vet this week for her twice-yearly haircut and to let the doctor run some tests. For the past few weeks, she has been embracing the concept of bizarro litter box, meaning that she has been going to the bathroom everywhere BUT the litter box.

8-Ball, post-haircut

She knows it’s wrong, because if I catch her, she runs like the grim reaper is after her. If you can’t tell by the picture of her, 8-Ball does NOT run. And when I’ve picked her up and brought her near the litter box, she screams like I’m about to drop her into a pot of boiling oil. So I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a medical issue.

At times like this, I really wish it was easier for animals and humans to communicate with each other, because I basically spent $400 to find out that 8-Ball hates Skittles. Well, duh. 8-Ball has hated Skittles from the second he entered this apartment.

The vet recommended a behavioral specialist, but the idea of throwing away money in the hopes that The Cat Whisperer will work his or her magic just doesn’t appeal to me. I just don’t see it helping. Still, I was ecstatic to find out that 8-Ball passed every medical test with flying colors and was declared to be a perfectly healthy cat, albeit a bit on the chubby side.

8-Ball went through something like this a few years ago, when she had picked three different spots in the house to urinate, none of which contained cat litter. I almost hesitate to ask for advice again, because it didn’t work out so well the first time, and the problem dissipated on its own.

Someone suggested sprinkling pepper in the areas where she was urinating. Cleaning up cat urine is a disgusting enough task, which was made far worse by having to clean up wet pepper.

Someone else suggested putting aluminum foil down, saying that cats are afraid of the crinkling sound it makes, and they won’t walk on it. 8-Ball walked right onto it, stared me dead in the eye and urinated right on it with a smirk on her face.

But, screw it: I’ll ask for advice, anyway. Note: This request is solely targeted toward cat people. Those of you who hate cats (you know who you are) have already made your ill-informed opinions quite widely known, so keep them to yourselves.

For the cat people: Has anyone had to deal with a cat who would NOT use the litter box, and what did you do about it? What worked, and what didn’t work?

My senior cat and I thank you in advance.

The best part about 2009 (well … besides getting engaged)? It wasn’t 2008!

Everyone else is doing year-end blog posts, so what the hell? And what better way to do so than actually waiting until the last day of the year, sitting in the recliner, on the laptop, sipping an Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout (yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like, stout brewed with oysters) from Flying Fish Brewing, with a cat assisting me by resting on the back of the recliner (Hi, Trouble!)?

So, here goes nothing. I didn’t think 2009 was an overly good year or an overly bad year. It was pretty mixed for me, with more good than bad, but not enough good to call it wonderful. This is in direct contrast to 2008, which can pretty much go to hell. I managed to lose my job, my favorite bar and my ballpark in 2008, while 2009 brought some sadness, but nowhere near on the level of 2008.

In Newport, R.I., just before getting engaged

The highlight of 2009, by far, was getting engaged. It was a remarkable day, spent in Newport, R.I., and a remarkable experience that I will never forget. I have yet to experience one second of doubt about this and likely never will.

The precursor to getting engaged was fun, as well: Welcoming my fiancée and her cat, Skittles, to the apartment my two cats, Trouble and 8-Ball, graciously allow me to occupy. Trouble and 8-Ball still hate Skittles, but their skirmishes have become more amusing than alarming. As for the humans, we’re getting along just fine, thank you!

Anyone who knows me and has gotten to this point is saying, “Um, what about the World Series, jackass?” About fucking time! The entire season for the Yankees was a great run, starting way back when I first saw the new Yankee Stadium, before the start of the regular season. Yes, I would move back across the street in a heartbeat, and I miss the old ballpark like a lost family member. But it was great to have the Yankees rise back to the top again, and I really liked the makeup of this team, as opposed to some of the underachieving squads of the mid-2000s.

Skittles

I went to two weddings that I was very happy about, within weeks of each other. Both brides are longtime friends of mine, one much longer than the other, and both finally found perfect matches and soul mates, which was quite heart-warming. It’s funny to think of how much I used to hate weddings, and how quickly my opinion of them reversed when the prospect of actually being a groom inched closer to reality.

My then-girlfriend, now-fiancée and I went on a great trip to Cancun and, even though it was more than nine months ago, I still find myself dealing with insatiable cravings for Mojitos at 11 a.m. on occasion. We also went to Cape May and loved it and, of course, there was Newport, where I finally popped the question (without actually popping the question, as I am constantly reminded of … sigh!).

Now, on to the not-so-good: The obvious lowlight is pretty simple. If anyone had told me that I would go an entire calendar year and not spend one second working on a full-time job, I’d have asked them when I won the lottery or was named in the will of a rich old aunt I had never met. This economy sucks, this recession sucks, and this job market sucks. I’d have completely lost what little mind I have left if it wasn’t for the one part-time job I still have.

Bidie, R.I.P.

One of my favorite pooches went on to doggy heaven. I still miss Bidie. I lived with the little bug-eyed, hot-tempered, 200-decibel-snoring rascal of a Boston Terrier for a year, but I knew her for most of her long, happy life, and there was a strong bond between us. As I said in my tribute post to her: If there’s a dog run in Heaven, I hope all of the other dogs up there are quick, or they might be in for a rude awakening.

For the first time since 2001, I was not part of a beach house on LBI, mostly for financial reasons. It turned out to be a good summer to skip, as it seemed like it rained almost every weekend, but there’s a certain calm and peacefulness about being near water, and I truly missed that all summer.

My Aunt Rose gave me a huge scare, as she suffered a minor heart attack and minor stroke in October. It was very unsettling for a while, as she was having a great deal of trouble expressing things like names, numbers and dates, but she’s improved to the point where she’s very, very close to 100%. I knew things were on the upside when she started nagging again.

So as I said earlier, overall, 2009 was pretty mixed, and it doesn’t draw the same “two middle fingers up” response that 2008 would. There was a lot of good and lot of bad, but the good outweighed the bad. Whatever else happens in 2010 (a job would be nice), our wedding April 25 and the honeymoon in Hawaii directly afterward will be the highlights, and I’m ecstatic about both.

The Flying Fish Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout is now history, and I am currently enjoying a Defiant Christmas Ale as I post this. Happy New Year to all who read this, and I hope 2010 is better for everyone. Cheers!

My fiancée and I on the beach at Key West

My senior cat

I took 8-Ball to the vet last week for her annual shots, blood work and a much-needed haircut. The vet ran a few more tests than usual, after informing me that 8-Ball is now a “senior cat.”

8-Ball shortly after adoption

Senior cat? 8-Ball? Wow. She’s no different than she was when my old roommate brought her home around four years ago. 8-Ball rarely moves, and there have been times when people have poked her to make sure she’s still alive because she has spent hours in the same spot. Needless to say, she’s not the most active animal.

According to the hospital records, 8-Ball was born in March 2001, meaning that she will be nine years old in March. But who knows how accurate that date is, since I was told when we first adopted her that she was found in the hallway of an apartment building in Jersey City.

8-Ball now

8-Ball now

My little ball of fur weighed in at 17 pounds and four ounces, so she is now off the weight-management food I’d been giving her and Trouble and on weight-loss food. Forgive me for being skeptical, but when the vet said 8-Ball would weigh 12 pounds the next time I brought her in for a checkup, I asked if that meant she was getting her legs cut off.

 

Still, while hearing the term “senior cat” rattled me a little bit, I’m not too concerned about 8-Ball. As I said, she is pretty much the same cat who arrived here about four years ago, give or take a surprise pile of cat droppings in the bathtub. She is still the sweetest, most affectionate cat of the three we have here, and she still wakes me up every morning, like clockwork, at 6:40, because she wants breakfast. She still wants no part of Skittles, the newest cat in our household, making noises straight out of the Gremlins movie, hissing and baring her teeth whenever the poor guy wants to play.

I know it’s not uncommon for cats to live past the age of 15, so I hope my senior cat and I have a lot more time left together, cold snouts in the ear at 6:40 a.m. and all. 8-Ball is a great cat.

Feline fun

The great move of ’09 has been fairly smooth so far. Everything went well Thursday, and the apartment is slowly starting to come together. The new king bed is so comfortable that I’m actually afraid of falling asleep on a Friday night and waking up sometime Tuesday afternoon. All in all, things are good.

Would YOU try to take food from this cat?

Would YOU try to take food from this cat?

The cats, on the other hand, have been coming along much more slowly than the apartment. Skittles — my girlfriend’s cat, the new cat in town and the only male of the three — is adjusting pretty well. After being skittish (pun intended) at first, he’s becoming more and more comfortable, and he’s tried several times to approach Trouble and 8-Ball in a friendly manner. Trouble is getting less hostile. 8-Ball? Not so much a lot.

But Skittles did something this morning that made me wonder if he’s brave, or just stupid. I fed Trouble and 8-Ball and, just as 8-Ball started to eat — her sole reason for being — Skittles tried to nudge her snout out of the way so that he could sample a few bites. What a bad, bad move.

8-Ball let out a hiss for the ages, her plume shot up like Medusa, and she raised her paw up threateningly. I’m fairly certain Skittles made it to the other side of the living room in fractions of a second that are usually reserved for timing the 40-yard dash in the Olympics.

I mean, honestly, what sane being would try to take food from an animal that looks like 8-Ball? I’m just happy I didn’t spend the remainder of the morning cleaning up blood, fur and cat parts.