8 10 2008

Today I decided to walk from school to Grand Central today because it was so beautiful. Crisp air, bright blue afternoon sky…no need to be crammed and sweating in a subway car. Each time I’ve walked to Grand Central I’ve taken a different avenue or have zigzagged my way uptown. I like to get a feel for each avenue, see how they’re different, see what’s around me. Today I took Lexington Avenue and I’m glad I did. Besides how narrow it was, compared to other avenues, it was beautiful. Old buildings, more residential on the stretch I walked than other avenues…

But the main reason I was so happy to be on Lexington was because, as I was stopped at a corner waiting for traffic to pass, I heard a little voice call out, “Ms. Coggio?” Had I heard the voice say, “Gina?” I probably wouldn’t have turned around because no one knows me by my first name in New York City outside of the school. But because my ears are so trained to small voices calling me by my last name, I turned around immediately and there in front of me was one of my students. She was getting out of a cab with her mother right where I was, and after a few surprised seconds, they invited me up to their building’s roof! 

It was the first rooftop I’ve been on in my life in New York, and I couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful vista or two more lovely people to be up there with. The building has a view of the East River, where I’m told the 4th of July fireworks explode before their eyes, and, better yet, the Empire State Building basically leans over them. We were so close I could almost see into the building’s offices. I exaggerate of course, but the view was really beautiful. Being up so high in the late afternoon, watching the shadows grow long and deep purple across the city while Queens remained golden in the distance brought such calm to my day that had been agitated by some work stress. It was so nice to be up there with my student and her mom; the conversation flowed so easily, and I learned more about their family. I left the roof feeling patient and forgiving.

Much needed qualities, it turned out, because as soon as I did get into the subway at Grand Central, I witnessed some embarrassing behavior (more embarrassing than the woman I saw squatting against the side of the building urinating in broad daylight on my walk over to Lexington Ave) from passengers in the subway: privileged, self-righteous, impatient behavior that made me cringe. A man had held the subway door waiting for his teenage daughter (or neice?) to run in behind him. Three different people spread through the subway immediately clammored at the man to stop holding the door—-a wait that was certainly no longer than five or six seconds. “Jesus Christ!” one man directly opposite the man holding the door. “What the f***?!” He went on swearing to his friend about how inconsiderate the man had been, dropping a few more vulgarities throughout the rest of his (rather loud) complaint session. Another woman seated across from me moaned with an older lady about how “this is exactly how the trains get held up!” And there were a few more whispers throughout the train. All I could think was, for those few seconds of waiting, we had probably made a big difference in that daughter or neice’s day. How nice is it when people hold doors for us? Any kind of door? I wanted to shake my head in shame at the reaction of the complainers on the subway, but I just shot them teacher stares. Had they caught my eye, they would have felt the ice, I’m sure. 

Now I’m back at home with a purring Otis and some string cheese. My neighbors are shouting again and I’m about to watch some television. Today from my perspective was pretty good.


Bad habits.

26 09 2008

I know my friend Cheyenne will probably throw up when/if she reads this. So, Cheyenne, it might be best to look away.


I always enjoy looking at people on the subway. I don’t know, people are interesting. And sometimes I can start up a good conversation with a perfect stranger and walk off the subway feeling refreshed and positive about mankind.

Today, hopping on the subway at my usual stop and then transferring at Grand Central to the train that takes me to Queens, I happened to sit across from a man who, just moments before, was standing on the platform next to me. He looked like a professional, respectable, educated fellow, mid-forties; he wore a blue fleece with SF (presumably San Francisco) over a button-down shirt and slacks. I didn’t take much note of him when he walked on the train, nor did my gaze settle on him for the first few minutes of the ride out to Queens. It wasn’t until I saw, out of the corner of my eye, his pinky finger in his mouth. At first I just chalked it up to a man with a finger in his mouth, but soon realized his finger wasn’t coming out. Perhaps, as I politely passed glances in his direction, he was picking out a stubborn popcorn kernel from between his teeth. It appeared he’d hooked his pinky around his molar and seemed to be fudging with his finger quite a bit, all the while immersed in his Kindle (that electronic book sold on Amazon.com). Within seconds, I breathed a sigh of relief seeing him withdraw his pinky, but quickly inhaled with confusion as I watched him suck on it, and then put reinsert it into the other side of his mouth, hooking around his other molar. Had this man somehow gotten food stuck in both sets of molars on both sides of his mouth? Not impossible, I thought, but very improbable.

In the same manner that he withdrew his finger from the right side of his mouth, he withdrew the pinky from the left. And then he quickly reinserted—AGAIN, yes I know that again is redundant—into his mouth again, on the right. From Grand Central to my stop in Queens, a solid 12 minutes, the man red and sucked on his pinky. But it wasn’t just that: he was chewing on his pinky. And it wasn’t a mere nibble, it was a full-on Open-Mouth-Insert-Entire-Finger-Gnaw. Then Switch Sides. He continued reading and chewing, sucking, reading, and chewing. Even though more passengers boarded the train, even though he was eventually squished in between two giant people, he continued chewing his finger. 

And then it moved on from his pinky fingers to his INDEX. The man stuck his whole index finger into the side of his mouth and chewed it. And when he had chewed it for a few seconds on one side, he switched to the other. And, (now this is the gross part) in between chews, he scratched his head, wiped his nose, wiped his finger on his jacket, and recommenced the chewing. (Cheyenne, I know you are gagging. And trust me, so was I.) 

I wanted to ask him if he realized what he was doing. I wanted to ask him if he understood how unhygienic it was to chew his fingers on a subway, fingers that clearly had been other places on his body let alone other places on the subway. I wanted to interrupt his reading and have him stop the chewing because my stomach was beginning to clench with disgust. But I didn’t. Instead I watched his face as he read and he reminded me of a nervous little boy. He must have been reading something really good or interesting, or perhaps he had reached part of the book that was scary because when he chewed his index fingers, his face squinched up like he was reading an awful part of the plot. I could see, quite clearly, he was a nervous man. And the last thing I wanted to do was make him more nervous, or more insecure. 

I wonder what this man’s job is, where he lives, who his friends are. I wonder if he’s always been this way: chewing his finger while he reads. I wonder if he is aware of this habit, if he’s ever tried to stop it. I wonder what kind of comfort it brings him, where along the span of his life he learned that this was a comforting feeling. 

I was glad to leave the train this afternoon, not simply because it was crowded, but because being that close to someone’s visible subconscious was too uncomfortable.

Staying late.

23 09 2008

For the second day in a row, I’ve stayed at work until past 6. My students leave at 3:05 each day and I am lovingly pushing them from the school so I can finally get work done. And work I do. Serious work: grading, diagnosing, commenting, reading, planning, working through the stress of having to teach something I’ve never taught before. The silence of the school after the kids go home is one of the nicest parts of my day. This is not to say that my kids don’t bring me pleasure, but teaching is a fairly stressful thing, and if I’m not totally prepared, it can make or break my day (and everyone else’s day who comes in contact with me.)

So for two days, I’ve hovered over books and journals and my keyboard trying to make educational magic happen. It feels good to come home without any work to do, and that’s partly why I choose to stay late (because my days of homework have ended). Nothing beats being able to walk in the door, drop my bag, and not have to worry about anything until the next morning (which comes much sooner than I’d like, seeing that I’m coming home much later than I’d like.)

But things are good. I feel useful. I feel like I have a purpose in those hours after school. I feel like the time I put in matters and makes a difference somewhere. To someone. That’s a great feeling.

At a loss.

22 09 2008

I don’t know what my deal is these days. I’m just not feeling it. When I was in Brazil, it was part of my every single day routine to come home from work, make a bowl of popcorn, and write. It was my life breath, this blog, and it was unimaginable for me not to write on it.

Suddenly, I came back to the States, and boom. Writer’s Block. Well, not exactly “block,” as I’ve since written an essay, fudged with another one in the process, and spent hours and hours day dreaming about a third that I’m bound to finish one of these days. It’s almost criminal to let this many days pass without narry a fresh word posted.

Part of me is frustrated with the title. I’m no longer working my way through a different culture, living now in New York, and the trials and tribulations of a foreign language no longer give me fodder for funny essays. So what is this blog all about? I’m going through an existential moment here, a blog-istential moment, I guess, wondering if this should exist at all.

Another thing that has been lovely and thus has helped me meander my way through the ups and downs of moving back home, has been….(drum roll, please)…therapy. Now that I’m living in New York, I might as well just go with the flow and get my own therapist. When in Rome, and all.  I spend one afternoon a week drifting in the mess of my Self and despite how messy it is at times, it feels wonderful. Just to have someone sit and listen to my ramblings (and they are ramblings) feels like heaven. I feel validated. I feel good about myself. I feel aware of myself in ways that are good. Not the all-consuming fear of myself and the world around me that I seem to have developed and allowed to take over me at very inconvenient times. The woman I talk to each week is wonderful.

What is not wonderful about it is the fact that it is f-ing expensive. And without health insurance it would be impossible—-IMPOSSIBLE—-for me to get it. And even WITH health insurance, the process for getting coverage for therapy is a gauntlet. What a shame our health care system is, when the people who need the help are overwhelmed with the vital minutiae of the process of getting the help. 

And so. While I’m here on the blog searching for words to fill it, my off-blog life is full of them. I’m loving my job, the people I work with (students, parents, and teachers), and find every waking moment in the city worthwhile. I’m busy from early morning until late at night. It is the exact opposite of my life in Brazil. And that’s a good thing.

End of the week.

19 09 2008

It still feels like Tuesday. Is it legal for time to pass so quickly in a week? It seems like just yesterday I was slamming my fist into my cell phone’s alarm clock and squealing out “Monday!” and now suddenly the week is over and I’m about to drink some wine and eat some cheese with my colleagues here. In the middle school lounge. I love this school.

Big weekend ahead: we’re going out of town for a night, back to the old stomping ground of New Haven. Eh, it’s not really a big weekend, but there’s going to be a great reunion tomorrow night with my old teacher friends from New Haven. I’m so excited to see them again as now we’ve mostly all scattered ourselves to the winds.

Today was a great day and days continue to be great here. I am in love with my students, supported by their parents, and collaborating with my colleagues. Plus, the weather was cold this morning which gave me the excuse to wear a new jacket that I found at a thrift store nearby, and thrifted jackets make me feel great. Now, finishing out the week with wine and cheese and not even having to leave school to do so? I couldn’t ask for anything more.

The series of Open House events here at school have finally drawn to a close (and I think the wine is celebration of that fact) and before I know it, we’ll all be whisked away in teaching and learning and testing and thinking. I’m surprised it’s been only three weeks since the school year began: I feel so comfortable here that it seems it’s been longer.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone.

Found: Dinner. Every. Night.

15 09 2008

Those long white folded menus stuffed under my door were getting annoying. One day it was Golden Wok on Skillman advertising free delivery seven days a week, then it was Golden Rainbow on Queens Boulevard advertising free delivery seven days a week PLUS a free spring roll with an order of ten dollars or more. And then, before I knew it, I had a drawer full of long white menus listing meal after meal of Chinese food and then suddenly I became blind to the long white menus and their funny translations into English, the “Chicken, large shrimps and beef in chef’s fabulous garlic sauce” and the little red chilies next to the name indicating that the Scallop w. Mixed Vegetable is a spicy dish. A veritable carpet of slim menus gathered near our door, and by that I don’t mean to imply that we are messy people; we are definitely messy people. But I have become numb to the novelty of receiving menus under the door and thus no longer thrill in perusing the names of the hundreds of dishes available for delivery, no minimum order required.

Numb, that is, until today when, surprise, surprise, I saw yet another long, slim, white menu shoved beneath the door. And rather than step over it, I saw two very important words that would make this menu like gold in my home: “Taco House.” Friends, this is a combination Chinese and Mexican restaurant. And there is free delivery. And no minimum order. And they accept Visa. And their soft tacos start at $1.09. And you can order Fajitas By the Pound. And the “tortillas are freshly made from scratch & baked from our own tortillas machine” and the Special Combo Dish is served with Mexican rice, black beans, lettuce, tomatoes, onions & 2 pcs. of fresh tortillas, sour cream & soda. And they are open 7 Days A Week until Midnight. 

There will be no reason for me to leave the house, other than work. 

But oh, the sick days. Or “sick” days, I should say.


10 09 2008

Two days ago at Grand Central Station, while waiting for the train to take me to Queens, I saw my first subway rats. They were both black and they were running in between the rails chasing each other. I know it’s probably wrong to think they were really cute, but they WERE really cute. Many of you out there I know are shaking your heads, repulsed at the thought of vermin in the subway, but I was amused by them. Maybe someday I’ll get grossed out by them? Not likely, unless they are running over my feet or biting me. Or eating my food.