Friday, June 18, 2004

Dads and Grads

It's sometimes hard when things get busy to stop and appreciate anything. I have been storming through life these last few weeks tired and angry. Work has gotten crazier, as it does every June, and as the days get longer I have been finding myself resentful of the longer days - more time for work, less time for play; usually doing so with a slick layer of sweat covering my body, the result of 2 hours mid-day in an unairconditioned auditorium with 40 eighth graders.

In one of the most visible contradictions in my life I frequently comment on how done I am with teaching while continuing to work my ass off. I try not to talk to non-teaching friends about my work, it's hard for me to listen to the advice - however well intended - knowing it's from someone who's work life is comprised of such a different bag of nails than mine. When I am roped into talking about the transition I make daily from "Jay" to "Miss", I feel the familiar knot of anxiety well up in my stomach and neck, and I once again question why I do this. The conversation always ends in an open invitation to my classroom which, to date has not once been accepted.

Last night was our graduation. At 5 pm, after 10 hours of constant labor, I readied my students to march into the very packed, very hot, auditorium. For weeks I had spoken to my kids about honor and pride, and the accomplishments made through the year, yet somehow I had limited my vision of the ceremony to these past few weeks of rehearsals and aggravation. Nervous energy started to consume my body. I needed a little help.

The skies opened up and it poured. As I watched for late-comers my father appeared at the door. I had invited him weeks ago and never really expected him to show; any conversation about my job with him begins with "Why not come out to the Island and teach?" The gesture brought tears to my eyes. I ran and hugged him and sat him down with the teachers, beaming "This is my Dad."

The ceremony began with blunders and continued to the end amid more blunders, but it didn't matter. When my students received their awards, they hugged me tightly. When they marched out, some cried. I got a spontaneous round of applause. The Valedictorian, and Salutatorians (all from my class) each promised to keep in touch. Parents approached me with the stories their kids told about me over dinner. Kids cried on my shoulder and with each other. My favorite kid returned to me ten times, "Just one more hug Miss." When my Dad finally found me in the sea of a hundred other sweaty bodies he said, "These kids really love you."

My Dad and I went running through the rain to a diner by my apartment and as we talked about our family and Father's Day he stopped and wiped a little food from my face. "I understand why you do this, and I'm really proud of you." I dropped Dad off at Penn Station and wandered slowly home. I slept through the night for the first time in weeks.

This morning the non-stop routine picked right back up, full of fights, and lies, and all the evil things that eighth graders do. It didn't matter because last night I remembered why I do what I do.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


Years ago, when my little sister was still much littler than me, my world revolved happily around her. The first time I came home from college, a mere 6 weeks after I first left, I cried at the amount she had changed - new braces, new haircut, a new inch or two (which would eventually leave her towering over me). The only things that made all these "misses" bearable were the nightly phone calls, the frequent letters (clever disguised as homemade telegrams), and the knowledge that I would always be the one who was turned to for the questions no one wants to ask.

"Jay, have you ever (smoked, kissed, shaved "down there")?"

"Sure Ella."

Always followed with some sage advice. I spent my 21st birthday weekend teaching her to bleach her lip, three weeks later, I sat outside the bathroom door at my parents' house talking her through her first battle with a tampon. Suffice it to say we were close.

In my world, it would always be that way, I guess I didn't remember puberty all that well. First she skipped my college graduation for a biology trip to Niagara Falls (she came home with a shot glass, a HOOTERS shirt, and phallic gummies, a sign of things to come.) Disappointed as I was, I was still naive to the distance she needed to get from me. Things got worse when I moved home to do my masters. We were one door away and worlds apart. Once her confidante, I was now relegated to the role of observer.

I did not like it. I fought her on every bit of space she needed. Now those phone calls, and letters, and uncomfortable questions got stamped to Miami, our older sister having replaced me as the all-knowing-guru-of-life. Sadly it remains so today, 5 years later, but I see signs of improvement, and I also see setbacks.

Five years ago, on my return from college, feeling a little bit lost in the world, as most recent grads do, Ella returned the one thing in the world that gave us both a little comfort. Years earlier she had stolen Gumdrop, my white plush bear. Try as I might to get Gummy back, she refused, and my mother sided with her (what 10 year old needs a teddy?). Gummy is now a city bear, sharing my comfy two-bedroom, little sister still snuggles him whenever she comes over.

Three years ago, after I had once again moved out and after Ella had gotten her first job I opened my Christmas present to be stunned to find an engraved Tiffany bracelet. My mom told me she spent her whole first paycheck on it, Ella told me it was for all the times I hauled her and her friends to the moon and back.

Two years ago, for my birthday, home for a weekend, I woke up to find a telegram tucked under my door. Of all the sparklies and pretties I received that year, that letter was my favorite. I cried later on remembering the dozens I had received through college, and thankful to receive one more.

But then, there are the other times. Last year, while I was housing for my parents, I let Ella have "some friends over". The end of the story is obvious, I end up on the floor scrubbing tar out of the tile and carpet, Ella thinks, "You're making too big a deal over this."

Then there's last weekend. Ella's home from college for the first time and visiting friends a stone's throw away.

"Hey Ella, can you pick me up tomorrow on your way back to the Island? I need some beach time."

"No problem Jay, it'll be fun."

"Don't forget me, Ella, I am counting on you."

(Laughing)"I won't forget you."

I smile and pack and call my dad to gloat that she's coming around. The next day I get a (hung over) phone call, things aren't going to plan, you should take the train.

Point is I do have faith that she and I will mend our fences, and learn to be close as adults. For a long time I assumed our problems all stemmed from me not accepting her growing up. Now I think maybe it's a little bit her not accepting me growing up as well.

Either way, the bracelet and the telegrams and the bear are just about the nearest things to my heart, except of course for the person who gave them all to me.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Gotta Where Shades?

It's true, I am obsessed with the 80's, but this aural jewel of the Stiff Stuff era, in addition to the fact that I left my sunglasses at work, is on my mind because I wonder about the future. More specifically, I wonder about my future.

Essentially I need some change. A Caribbean island, Spain, Georgia (the state, not the country). However, no matter how much I want to switch gears, I can't seem to work the clutch.

Ten years down the line? I close my eyes and see myself in exactly the same place I am now. I even have the same students in my class (and for some of them, that is a legitimate concern). I see my friends moving in a million directions, meandering along some invisible path that actually leads somewhere. Somehow I think I ended up on the invisible path that leads me in a tiny little circle, right back to where I started, with saggier boobs and a few more wrinkles.

Maybe its this cold I caught, but I feel a little melodramatic tonight. Someone break out the violin.

Friday, May 21, 2004

The Air Up There

I know you all have been hanging on, baited breath for further news on the dramady that is me, and at last I can say I have experienced a miracle. The gods above smiled kindly on me this afternoon, around 4:30pm. While wallowing in sweat as I took my daily after-work nap I decided to check my broken air conditioner. Low and behold, it rose from the dead. I've named it Jesus.

I now sit in my living room, nice and frosted, all thanks to Jesus.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Week after the ____________ Week Ever

Having survived the 2 weeks of scrounging pennies for cigarettes and the cruel joke that was last Monday-Wednesday I have to say my disposition is sunny yet sleepy. Only a few pangs of hypochondria and an air conditioner on the fritz can dampen these spirits, and only slightly at that. This week has been G-o-o-D!

Thursday...Last week, uneventful, which was exactly what I needed, watched ER, and did something else, crap I forget. To whomever I was with, I am sorry, I still think we had a good time.

Friday...Three words: NAKED BOYS SINGING! My sister, my mom, and I examine men's members as they pranced and thrusted singing onstage. We liked it so much we gave the boys 10 bucks to capture the memory.

Saturday... Bachelorette Party. I brought some products, and played a little too much. Night ended when my left leg became spasmodic, pulling all muscles from hip to toe for several days following. Did I care? Hell no, I was full of drink and met a guy.

Sunday... Barbecue on Long Island with the entire family tribe. An impromptu gathering in honor of my sister's return to the North, they both spent the time sleeping on the lawn. I spent my time gorging on hot dogs and riding bikes by the ocean.

Monday...The first day I have taken off of work just because in 3 years. I stayed on LI, went to breakfast in the adorable town I called home for 23 years, and spent the afternoon playing PAC-MAN (the real thing) with my mom.

Tuesday... Mets game with Velma. She bought the tickets I bought the food, she roots for the Cardinals, I for the Mets. My boys pulled out a brilliant win at the very last second, and then we ran home as quickly as her sick and my injured body would carry us. I think she may have transferred her rash to me wrist, but I have known her for ages, and well, I will forgive her.

Wednesday... JUSTICE IS SERVED!!! Not only do I spend my day in school court seeing the evil-doers who laxitized my drink (unsuccessfully) punished, but I find out the criminal who attacked the gym teacher was found guilty in real court.

Today...Napping on the couch my air conditioner died. It lived a long, productive life, I'm not too sad, just a little hot.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The ____________ Week Ever

Vh1 has this show that I adore called Best Week Ever - I have not had that week. My week in fact has been so bad that I can not adequately articulate the precise hell I have been in. And all of this is unfortunate not only because its happening to me, but because...

Sunday...Excellent day, the week is looking up, the gods are looking down (laughing), their fun is about to begin. I have an awesome steak lunch with my mom at the elbow room, and the spend the evening with my crush, Dane Cook. I laugh so hard I nearly pee, and when I get home, I sleep soundly.

Monday...I wake up knowing it's going to be bad, how bad, I could not have guessed. We'll call Monday the epicenter of the shit storm.

Upon arriving at work, two teachers have called in sick. By 8:30AM I have had to have a student escorted by safety to the office for bringing a variety of illegal objects to school (including a laser gun). Third period, said student's brother shows up and punches him in the stomach for being so stupid. School safety and the police watch the brother take the kid out of the school, and smack him again.

Fifth period, I have the class we all call the "boobie prize". One student refuses to come to class, I chase him down the hall. Teach class, and don't notice until the next class (6th period) begins that my water has what appears to be spit in my water.

Bad enough? Not yet. Turns out that its not spit, its a laxative. Only bright spot - I didn't drink it. But the story circulates the building. Now everyone is asking me if I'm okay.

Period 7, lunch, nothing can go wrong here, right? Wrong, one of my homeroom students has brought a "shocker" to school and shocked the assistant principal with it. He has a PO (parole officer), I have to track the PO to report this - it is a violation.

Go home, drink wine, go to sleep, it can't get any worse.

Tuesday... I overslept, while quickly exiting the bus, I injure my back. How? I am not sure, but as my day progresses my back continues to stiffen, until finally I can't really walk so much as shuffle around. I distinctly remember the gym teacher asking me if this funny walk is related to "my water", I give him the finger, and go home to pop some pills.

Wednesday...Hump day, but not with this backache. Pop pills before work, will make the pain subside and the day more bearable. Again, two teachers out, I am teaching extra classes. Period 5, meet with the laxative crews parents, they seem to think it was a harmless prank, not so. The crew is sent home, not because of the "prank", but because we hear rumors of a knife fight after school in retaliation to a fight the day before. "Not my child," say the parents in unison. Oh yes, your demon spawn.

With any luck the end of the week will improve. Friday my mother and sister are coming to town and we are seeing Naked Boys Singing! Saturday, I have a bachelorette party, and I have decided to take next Monday off. With this week I deserve it.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Taking Care of Business

It seems to me every April, right around tax time I suddenly and inexplicably become broke. Not the kind of broke where things are tight, but the kind that leaves you with $1 on payday, after you've collected all the random owed money from friends simply to pay the bills. All this happens because you inadvertently spent your tax return on shoes, and purses, and books (I am not as shallow as I seem).

This year, lucky me, I survived April in the black. I worked overtime, and diligently avoided my usual dive under the fridge for cigarette money. I was so proud, I had finally grown up, I had a debt solution plan, I was on my way...Until May. Life plays cruel jokes, and this one involved sending my old roommate her security deposit back. April's hard work paved the way for May's giant check - I didn't owe the government but I did owe an old "friend".

So here I was on May 1st, trying to figure out how to live on $10 after bills for two weeks, with a smoking habit, and a looong standing Mother's Day tradition looming over my wallet. Solution: I had cancelled my very recent birthday party due to an untimely cold, so I hit up friends for cheap lunches and cigarettes, and they happily obliged. Next, I bought the girls at work lunch on my credit card, hoping for cash in return (they haven't paid yet, so this plan may have backfired.).

The pleasant surprise in my calculated plan came when I called home to inform my mother that unfortunately her mother's day would have to wait a week. My father, moved by my plight, offered to loan me the money on the down low. Some people say it pays to Discover, I say it pays to be a daddy's girl (though I have been discovering a little lately).

So, I have another week of mock-poverty to go (its not like I'm homeless) and I need to thank my great friends for feeding me and not lecturing me, my dad for loaning me dough and not lecturing me (even though I know he wanted to), the kind folks at Citibank for increasing my credit line, and my two sisters, who made me look like the financially responsible one when both lost their ATM cards within hours of each other.

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