THRILL OF THE HUNT

Joe Torrence’s hobby involves moving at something less than turtle speed with his head down and a large pair of headphones covering his ears.

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It’s relaxing and therapeutic, especially given his occupation, says Torrence, a Middletown resident who drives a taxicab five days a week. But the real appeal, he says with eyes-wide enthusiasm, is “the anticipation. You never know what you’re going to find.”

OK, so most of what he does find is not likely to cause much of a blip on the average person’s radar.

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CUTS GRASS WITH SICKLE, OWNS HAMMER

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“I’m pretty far to the left,” Al Strasburger told us with a note of caution over the phone the other day, before we met him at his Oakland Street home for an interview.

Looking back, we now see what a considerate gesture this was. Clearly the man has a sense of his own toxicity, as measured by today’s political standards. He was gently trying to spare us from… well, a shock, no doubt.

Of course, the warning only whetted our interest. What passes for the ideological “spectrum” in America today is actually a range from the barely-left-of-center to the far right. We thought it would be refreshing to meet a real hairshirt liberal, the kind who might actually resemble the bogeymen that far-right radio screechers have gotten rich warning us about.

So we eagerly made our way past the cartoonishly overgrown yard—which, swear to Allah, Strasburger maintains with a sickle, because he doesn’t own a lawnmower—and into his musty, poster-lined living room, where a two-foot-high stack of Cuban art magazines stood in a corner.

A couple of hours later we departed, having met perhaps the most charming, erudite, Chevy-driving, Phillies-loving defender of Stalin we are ever likely to encounter in these parts.

And yeah, the hair was standing up on the backs of our necks.

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THE RIGHT WAY TO DO ADDITION

There’s never a blade of grass out of place, it seems, at the Mac Testing & Consulting facility on the corner of Maple Avenue and Reckless Place.

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The green-shuttered white building, the verdant lawn and the flowerbeds surrounding the educational services company are always impeccably groomed. The only incongruity there is the Georgia Bulldogs flag hanging out front.

What’s amazing to us is that this uber-put-togetherness remained the case all summer, as the building went through major renovations, including the addition of new rooms upstairs.

From what we could see, not a flower stem was broken in the process. There wasn’t a scrap of busted sheetrock or clump of sawdust left in the grass. That cantilevered portion you see in the picture? That’s new, and we never saw a bit of debis in the bushes beneath it.

To any homeowner who’s ever endured the daily hell of gypsum dust everywhere, tire-gouged lawns and the mud, mud, mud that goes with remodeling work, the Mac site is the unattainable ideal, the Martha Stewart of makeovers.

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BOSTON TEA PARTY ON SOUTH STREET

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At this point, it’s a far cry from Proposition 13, the landmark 1970s effort that resulted in constitutional limits on property-tax increases in California.

And it’s barely a whisper compared to the noise made by the toilet-paper flaunting brigades who turned out in Trenton after Gov. Jim Florio raised the New Jersey sales tax in 1990.

Still, there may be a tax rebellion developing in Red Bank. And it will face its first test of strength next week.

A group of South Street homeowners has been leafletting the borough in recent days in an effort to pack next Monday night’s Borough Council meeting with residents and business owners.

Their message: do something to stop tax increases.

Their aim is to draw a crowd—ideally, one as large as the unexpected throng that jammed the council chambers in July 2005, when the council’s Democratic majority hoped to resurrect dormant plans for a White Street parking garage that would be financed with public funds. That night, a standing-room crowd spilled out of the chambers into the first-floor hallway of the municipal building—and the parking lot plan got shelved.

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REPORT: ZAZZALI TO GET CENTER CHAIR

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As predicted by the Star-Ledger’s Josh Margolin in June, Rumson resident James R. Zazzali, Associate Justice on the state Supreme Court, is Gov. Jon Corzine’s choice to succeed Chief Justice Deborah Poritz upon her expected retirement next month, according to the Associated Press.

Citing an unnamed source, the AP also reports that Corzine will nominate Appellate Court Judge Helen E. Hoens as an associate high court justice. Corzine is expected to make a formal announcement this morning.

Zazzali, a Democrat, was appointed to the high court by by then-Gov. Christie Whitman, a Republican, in 2000.

If confirmed, he’s unlikely to hold the job for long, because the state Constitution requires that justices retire at age 70, a milestone Zazzali will reach in a year. Poritz turns 70 in October.

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GLIDING TO A TITLE

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Something surprising happened when we photographed John Soucheck showing off his championship race walking form at Red Bank Regional High School recently: every series of pictures we took caught Soucheck moving in nearly perfect sync with the motor-driven camera shutter.

The result was the appearance of Soucheck gliding across the pavement—and always with one foot on the ground.

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TAX-DODGE TO QUIT TAXATION POST

Jack Westlake, the Monouth Couty Board of Taxation president who last week pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion charges, will quit his part-time county post, the Asbury Park Press reports, citing Westlake’s lawyer.

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Westlake, whom the Press says is a Red Bank resident, is expected to step down by Friday, his lawyer, John C. Whipple, told the Press. Westlake is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 19 to between 10 and 16 months in prison, under the terms of a plea deal.

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WALL STREETERS IN RUMSON BORDER CLASH

Here’s a feud that must make for some chilly encounters on the SeaStreak Ferry gangplank.

The Asbury Park Press has a story today on an escalating four-year battle between a couple of Wall Street bigs with adjoining estates on West River Road in Rumson.

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On one side is Pete Dawkins, vice chairman of a unit of Citigroup, former Heisman trophy winner and onetime U.S. Senate candidate who has built one lavish monument to himself in the form of a Navesink River mansion, and another in the form of a website.

On the other is Mickey Gooch, majority owner of an obscure yet soaring Wall Street firm and author of a rambling, exclamation-filled first-person column in the weekly Two River Times, which he owns with his wife, Diane.

Combined size of their Navesink River properties: 19 acres. Combined assessments: $15.8 million. Pettiness level of their dispute: pretty high.

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AND NO, DESSERT ISN’T INCLUDED

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If a $50 bag of groceries gives you sticker shock, wait until you hear what Bonnie Lane Webber says about the actual cost of raising and transporting the food that ends up in your refrigerator every few days.

The way the part-time Rumson resident sees it, if the “hidden” costs of pesticide and herbicide impacts, soil decimation and ozone depletion weren’t dispersed across society—or deferred to future generations—you’d be ringing up charges totaling thousands of dollars every time you visited the supermarket.

That pound of steak you pay $10 for now? That would cost you $815. The tomato on your salad? Well, if it’s not of local origin, that little baby not only won’t taste as good as a Jersey, but it might cost $374. A typical load of groceries could set you back $32,000.

Try using your FoodTown bonus points to trim that bill.

Webber acknowledges that there’s a lot of “poetic license” in the figures, which aren’t derived from any particular study. But they’re meant to get consumers thinking beyond the health issues that usually frame the debate over modern versus organic farming techniques, and to focus attention on the pocketbook as well.

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RUMSON WOMAN DIES KAYAKING IN MAINE

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The body of Susan Wakelin of Rumson was found early Tuesday morning off Deer Isle, Maine, seven hours after she’d been reported missing from a nighttime kayak outing, according to reports.

The Asbury Park Press, which ran a wire story, gives Wakelin’s age as 60, while the Star-Ledger report says she was 65. The Ledger says Wakelin was visiting for the summer and was enroute to her mother’s home when she failed to appear Monday night.

According to both accounts, Wakelin was wearing a life vest but not cold-water survival gear. The water temperature was 56 degrees. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

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TWO AREA MEN DIE IN AZ. CRASH

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Two men originally from Lincroft and Tinton Falls were among three killed in a fiery crash in Arizona over the Labor Day weekend, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

Dead are Gene Charles Bailey, 26, originally of Tinton Falls; Ryan John Daly, 25, of Lincroft, and Ryan Higgins, 26.

Stephan Schrankel, 26, originally from Tinton Falls, was reported comatose and hospitalized in critical condition.

All four men lived in Pacific Beach, Calif. The identities of two of the the dead were determined by a check of dental records.

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NAVESINK WOMAN DIES IN FIRE

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A 78-year-old Navesink woman was found dead yesterday morning in her Osborne Avenue house following a fire.

Dorothea F. Brooks was already dead as a result of burns when firefighters arrived at the scene of the 11a blaze, Monmouth County Prosecutor Luis A. Valentin told the Asbury Park Press. A neighbor had tried dousing the fire with a garden hose.

The fire is under investigation but does not appear suspicious, authorities told the Press.

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SAFER, AND NOT ALWAYS UGLIER

What’s the right balance between security and aesthetics when designing airports, government buildings and skyscrapers in the post-Sept. 11, 2001 era?

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The Chicago Tribune’s architecture writer, Blair Kamin—a son of Fair Haven—takes on this and related questions in a new package of stories called “What Price Security?

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STROKIN!

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Crews from Red Bank-based Navesink River Rowing are among the more than 3,000 rowers from 36 countries competing in this weekend’s FISA World Masters Rowing Regatta at Mercer County Park in West Windsor.

In 33 years of the Masters competition, this is only the second time the regatta has been held in the United States. The park’s lake, Mercer Lake, is the training site for the U.S. national rowing team that will compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Rudy Larini of the Star-Ledger has a page-one story today focusing on the eldest competitors, some of whom are well into their eighties.

The event began on Thursday and continues today and tomorrow.

Please click on the image above to enlarge.

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BLACKWELL IS GOLDEN

Marcia Blackwell, owner of Red Bank-based Blackwell’s Organic Gelato and Sorbetto, has been named Emerging Business Woman of the Year by the Central Jersey Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).

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Blackwell’s Organic, which has its production facility on Catherine Street, makes dairy-free, preservative-free frozen desserts using only organic ingredients.

In case you missed it, redbankgreen profiled Marcia back in July as “a compelling ambassador of sorts for the organics movement,” and “a businesswoman who is committed to living her life within a sensible framework in as many ways as she can.”

The award is presented to a woman whose business is less than three years old, has seen rapid growth since its inception and demonstrates the potential for greater growth in the future. It will be presented at NAWBO’s annual dinner at Branches in West Long Branch on Tuesday at 6p.

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NYC IN RB

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They’ll be everywhere in coming days, as the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 approaches: images depicting the horror of the attacks, the unspeakable collapses, and the resulting devastation. There will be no shortage of them. They’ll be all but inescapable.

Bob and Elisabeth McKay of McKay Imaging Studio and Gallery wanted to commemorate the anniversary in a different way. They’ve decided instead to “celebrate New York,” says Bob.

Starting Friday, the McKay Gallery, at 12 Monmouth Street, will feature the works of 23 area photographers in a show entitled “New York City.”

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JUDY’S FIFTEEN MINUTES

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Take the name Bruce Springsteen, mix it up with some hot gossip, and you’ve got a volatile fuel, ready to propel a story around the globe in a flash.

Judy Barnaby’s been getting a ride on such a rocket. Her fifteen minutes, you might say.

Readers of redbankgreen know Judy as the Antique Center of Red Bank manager who got a hug and a scoop from Patti Scialfa a week ago. On a visit to the store with her husband of 15 years, Patti told Judy that the gossip item in the previous day’s New York Post about an imminent split in the Scialfa-Springsteen household was bunk.

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OLD IS NEW

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Here’s a belated welcome to Scott Betesh and his two-month-old Broad Street emporium called Maison Blanche.

Betesh, of Long Branch, comes from a family of antiques wholesalers, and he’s the first to venture into the dicey game of retail.

He sells antiques, yes, but also new furniture, jewelry and some outdoor pieces. “There’s a big antique market here in Red Bank, and a lot of home furnishings stores, but I try to bring something a little different.”

Why Red Bank? “It’s really become a destination,” he says. “I used to come here for drinks, and I really like the way the town has evolved. I see a really, really bright future here.”

If Betesh is concerned about getting caught in the riptides of the Broad Street churn, he keeps it to himself, just as he’s not bashing the landlords for the rental rates that others complain are out of whack.

“I could have gone to a lot of other towns, but I think Red Bank is worth it because it’s a destination,” says Betesh.

He’s got some help in the shop, but his relatives are sticking with the world of wholesale.

“Nobody else wants to work retail—they think I’m crazy,” says Betesh. “It’s a lot of long hours.”

The store is at 65 Broad.

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‘THE WINDOW MAN SEES A LOT’

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Ten quick questions for Eric Auerbach of Clearview Window Cleaners, Long Branch. He’s shown here at Bain’s Hardware, Sea Bright.

How long have you been a window-washer? About 13 years. I started off working for another company and then I went off on my own. I was doing all the work, and he was making all the money, so I just went off on my own.

Do you enjoy your work? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I do enjoy it, for the most part. You do the same thing day in, day out for 13 years, you get a little tired of it. But for the most part, I feel I’m lucky to have what I have. There’s a lot of people who don’t have jobs, or go to a job that they hate. I like what I do. I make all the decisions. There’s no corporate bureaucracy to deal with. I’m the corporate bureaucracy.

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JUST THE RIGHT TYPE

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John Six of Mayo Auto Service on Monmouth Street lends an arm at Saturday’s ‘Rock ‘n Roll Up Your Sleeves’ blood drive at the Two River Theater.

The event, which featured live music in the lobby, was held to help the Central Jersey Blood Center address a blood shortage, particularly of types O Negative and O Positive.

Donations are still being sought. Call the center, located on Sycamore Avenue in Shrewsbury, to make an appointment. (732) 842-5750 ext. 264.

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WHAT, NO IMPROMPTU SHOW?

Good god, how did we get sucked into this celebrity coverage all of a sudden? First Kittie, then the Springsteens, and now this. Will it never end?

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Anyway, we feel it is our duty to report that Sheryl Crow just finished a shopping spree at the Antique Center. Yes, the same place where Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa gave a scruffy little concert on Friday, no doubt much to the chagrin of the scribes at the Post’s Page Six.

Crow is performing tonight with John Mayer in Holmdel, at the Arts Center named for a bank. We’re told she bought a lot of stuff for a farmhouse she purchased recently.

Somebody informed Crow about the Springsteen/Scialfa visit on Friday. Her response, according to our highly reliable source: “Oh, I really want to give them a call.”

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