the inmate-run asylum

now playing: jackson browne, “the night inside me”

i stopped by the kids’ house last night to drop off the digital camera and an assload of batteries for jayda, whos’ on a bus to boston as we speak for a weekend field trip to harvard university with her upward bound class. her awards banquet was on wednesday, and she came home with an armful of awards…there are essentially two kinds of awards that they give – awards for excellence, which are academic awards, and awards of achievement or recognition, which are essentially awards for effort or for making an impact on the class in some other way.

she came home with excellence awards in chemistry, geometry and composition literature – those i remember. there were five in all, including her perfect attendance certificate…and then she appeared twice in the talent show – once singing with a rapper, and she closed the show out singing a slow, smoky christina aguilera song called “walk away”.

it was definitely her day.

dylan went with me to the awards presentation, and then we bolted with just enough time to stop for a quick bite before i dropped him off and headed to the night’s performance of “tommy” – which was marred with some negative publicity from last saturday night’s show due to someone sneaking in the back door and groping some of the girls as they were coming on and off the stage. however, there were more people in the audience after the newspaper article than there were the initial weeknight show, so again the old adage – “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” – rings true.

i often think about what it is that motivates people and their actions…and where the city of reading, pennsylvania is concerned, it often stymies me completely.

this is a city full of dilapidated row homes, corner markets and one way streets…where people will walk out into oncoming traffic and then flip you the bird and yell at you when you don’t come to a stop in the middle of the street so they can cross. a city where someone will park their car in the middle of the street with their emergency flashers on and leave it there indefinitely without a thought as to whether it’s an obstacle or not, and they won’t care that there’s an open parking space a few car lengths from where they elected to stop – to them, that’s not relevant.

injuries and deaths related to gunshot wounds are very nearly routine in the city…as are drug and gang-related crime. when i lived in the city limits, i was burglarized a total of four times – twice in my apartment and twice in the van. i now pay well over twice what i paid for rent in the city to minimize worry about such things.

in berks-county-speak, the phrase “the city” has overwhelming negative connotations, no matter how you say it, no matter what inflection your voice carries when the words are spoken…if you talk about going into “the city”, driving through “the city”, going to work in “the city”, sending your kids to school in “the city”, there’s absolutely no hope for a positive spin on it. there’s nothing you can do or say to change that here – it is what it is, and it’s been reinforced for at least one generation that i’ve been witness to, and it isn’t likely going to go anywhere.

and things like what happened at the theatre last weekend only go to prove that the negative mindset that people have about “the city” is, at least in part, justified.

but when does “the city” stop perpetuating its shitty image and turn itself around? when do they say, “y’know, we’re kinda tired of being the human toilet of berks county, and we’re not gonna reinforce this mindset any more”?

well, i’ve come to think that will happen on the day that the gunshots die down, on the day that you can drive through the city without dodging double-parked cars and pedestrians with their middle finger in the air before they step off the sidewalk…when a local entrepreneur can sink a substantial amount of money into rennovating a theatre for the public to patronize and appreciate without the city having to post bike cops in the parking lot and sentries in the hallways during performances to keep the peace.

in other words, when the most vocal and visible occupants of the city – the ones responsible for maintaining the stereotype that the naysayers cling to – decide that things will be different, then they’ll be different. in this scenario, the people who would truly like to see positive change in the city are in the distinct minority…and powerless as a result. the future of reading belongs to the punks, the thugs, the jaywalkers and the backdoor gropers – not to the residents who would prefer a citywide facelift, in terms of both landscape and perception.

i’ve come to believe that this isn’t going to happen, though…which brings me back to questioning their motivation…why would anyone want to keep that particular face forward? to keep property values low and rents manageable?

most of it, when you boil it down to its root causes, stems from apathy. but then again, so much of what’s wrong with the world around us today has its roots there to begin with.

i can’t figure it out. seriously.


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