Happy Birthday Me

Cards from Younger Daughter (far left, she made it herself), Older Daughter (center), Aussie Emjay (top) and my friend Sheila from MN (right)

It actually happened Wednesday, but I was too busy and too broke to observe it. This was also not a birthday I was looking forward to. Sixty is a strange age, at least in the US: you’re too young to retire, too young for senior discounts (though I’m offered them all the time by young cashiers trying to be helpful). Yet you’re regarded by hiring managers, marketing execs, and advertisers as being “old,” i.e. worthless and sick. Online I’m seeing ads for arthritis and cholesterol meds, and on a couple of occasions, handmade hardwood coffins built by Trappist monks. Memento mori!  I need to switch to a browser that doesn’t collect data about my age.

(Re hiring: no, I didn’t get the job at the college. They did indeed have an internal candidate for the job since November, according to the friend of a friend who works as an English adjunct there. The interview was just a dog and pony show for HR. Needless to say, I won’t be applying for a job there again.)

In Japan, 60 is considered an auspicious age because the person has lived through five cycles of the lunar calendar and thus, it is believed, s/he has begun life anew. Men celebrate it with the kanreki, a big party where the birthday boy wears a red hat and vest. I’m not sure if nowadays Japanese women also celebrate kanreki. No one threw a party for my mother when she turned 60, but Dad got a banquet at his favorite Chinese restaurant and was presented with a red cap and sports jacket. I didn’t attend—I was living in Minnesota back then, and nobody sent me an invitation, which was interesting—but it’s probably good I didn’t. I would have ruined the day with snarky comments. I do not hold well with old Japanese traditions, including the feting of males while dismissing the value of females. And don’t get me started about the worth (or lack thereof) of old men. I’ve found most of them to be whiny, incompetent, and a general pain in the ass.

I found this awesome article on The Huffington Post about turning 60. Most online advice/inspirational articles don’t do much for me (if I see another article about how to work more productively, I will hunt down the author and smash her Pomodoro), but this one struck me as true. I understand myself a lot better now than when I was 20 or even 30 or 40. I dress comfortably but well, and fashion can go fuck itself. I take care of my health, not because I “have to”—there’s no Mommy or Daddy to tell me to brush my teeth and eat my veggies—but because I want to. I do things for myself, not because somebody else, especially somebody else on social media, will think I’m cool.

I also have less patience for friends who suck the life out of me. I’m a little ashamed to say this, because I realize many of them need help: they’re depressed, stuck in emotionally abusive relationships, or struggling to stay afloat financially and emotionally. They have, however, a tendency to call me as soon as they’re down or troubled, but never when they’re happy or having a great time. (“Oops, sorry, I forgot to invite you to my party. We can have coffee later and I’ll let you know how it went!”) I’ve also stopped making plans with these people: they tend to cancel or not show up anyway, because of one excuse or another. Mostly, I suspect they’re passive aggressive: I didn’t show them enough sympathy over the phone, or I remind them of their mother, or they want me to drive to their home, knock on their door, and rescue them from ODing on pills and liquor. I had one episode like this two weeks ago: I won’t go into it here, but it angered and upset me enough that I won’t take this person’s calls anymore. It sounds harsh, but putting a friend through something like that is ugly and selfish. This person is smart, with plenty of resources and who knows how to get help. (He sees a therapist.) Instead, he tried to put me through a guilt trip: tried, but I didn’t take the bait. He ended up on tubes in an ER and is now under suicide watch in a psych ward. I understand what it’s like to feel as if your life is in the toilet: but you don’t drag others down, especially the people who care about you.

Anyway, I’ve been sick for the last couple of weeks, which has given me the excuse to baby myself a little. Instead of running errands after work, I go home, change into pajamas, eat a light supper, then go to bed and read or watch a little Hulu. Older Daughter sent me a Harry & David gift tower, and I’ve been slowly savoring my way through the treats. The only conflict I have is with Sunny, who likes to sleep in the middle of the bed and slowly nudge me off of the mattress.

Sunny hogs the covers


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on safari



It’s spring break here, but in my typical lucky fashion I came down with a virus. The student I worked with this month coughed in my face all last week: so I had a feeling I was going to get sick.

It’s an odd situation, because her IEP doesn’t stipulate that she needs an aide. She has diabetes, which requires that a nurse come in twice a day to check her blood sugar level: but she also has another life-threatening condition (which no one will disclose to me) which caused her to miss two years of school. As a result, this third grader can’t read or write, let alone do grade-level math and spelling. I asked the teacher why she wasn’t held back; the teacher gave me a brittle smile and said, “We don’t do that anymore.” Instead, whoever makes these decisions chose to toss the student into a regular third grade classroom, where she struggles just to copy words from the whiteboard. I just sit at her elbow and enable guide her when I can, but trying to make up for her having missed first and second grade is not within my abilities. I just do what I can, knowing that in April I’ll be moved to yet another school and student.

Before all this—before this student, before the interview—I was in San Diego. Earlier, my younger daughter asked if I wanted to go on a whale watching cruise, or go to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. (We went to the San Diego Zoo the last time I was in town; the Safari Park is located in Escondido, a half hour’s drive outside of the city.)  One of my coworkers at the time told me about her horrific experience during a whale watching tour in Monterey, where the waves were so rough she became seasick and passed out after throwing up over the side of the boat. California has been experiencing extremely high surf levels this winter, so much so there have been almost weekly warnings for people to stay away from the beaches. I don’t know if that contributes to a choppy ocean surface, but my last bout with seasickness left me with no desire to repeat it: so I voted for the Safari Park.

We went on a Saturday, which is not a great day to visit any theme park, especially if you’re an adult. The place was packed with families, some with very small babies who, depending on their level of discomfort/disinterest, either slept through the exhibits or screamed bloody murder. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the sun was fierce. My daughter had offered to lend me a sunhat, but after trying on a couple, vanity took the place of good sense and I said, “Nah.” I did slather on sunscreen, and the park had strategically placed patio misters that sprayed cool water while you were waiting in line for exhibits or tickets. Having just come from an area where it’d been raining and the highs were in the low 60s however, I was overdressed. Not that I wanted to wear a spaghetti strap tank top and short shorts, the off duty uniform of young women in SoCal: but I caught myself staring enviously at the older women wearing long, loose sundresses and big floppy hats. I need to embrace my oldie self and choose comfort over misplaced dignity.

SafariPark1 (1)

my sensible daughter and her clueless mom

The Safari Park takes up 1800 acres, and while not all of it is accessible to the public, it’s smart to wear sensible walking shoes and bring water. The map the park provides for visitors isn’t very good: it wasn’t clear how to get from the entrance to the actual Safari Park where you have to line up for as much as an hour to board one of the guided shuttles to see the animals on a open plain. Daughter and I wasted time getting lost in the “Safari Outfitters” mall and “Nairobi Village” where all the gift shops and overpriced cafes and concession stands were. I thought, cynically, that the park designers probably planned it that way, given the number of children wailing to their trapped parents, “I want that! Mommy, Daddy, want that!” In spite of the $50 admission fee (this was with a AAA discount; I was horrified, but Daughter paid for all of it), the park constantly throws in your path snares to capture your money. At a number of the exhibits a “host” grabs you and makes you pose in front of a backdrop for a photo like the one above; she then shows the end result to you and asks for $30 for a copy. We didn’t buy one: the photo you see was a screenshot grabbed by Daughter from the park’s photo website. We were reminded however that all the money spent there went to caring for the animals, which undoubtedly was expensive.


lemur tails


I said, no photos!

Two features that were almost worth the money were the ring-tailed lemur and rainbow lorikeet enclosures, where you actually go into the cages with the animals. For the lorikeets, you can buy little cups of fruit nectar; if you hold them quietly and with an extended arm (kids had a very hard time understanding the former concept), the lorikeets will land on your wrist and drink the nectar. I’d never seen birds so unafraid of humans: they would come down and check you out as you entered the cage to see if you had a cup for them. If not, pfff: they would disdainfully hop away and go to the next guileless human.

To enter the lemur’s enclosure, you were warned not to bring any food or drink inside, unless you wanted to get mugged by a gang of lemurs. Visitors were also warned to stay upright and not crouch down to the lemurs’ level unless you wanted a lemur to jump your head. Ring-tailed lemurs are primates; they’re extremely curious, nimble and smart. They can do basic math functions. They have hands, and they like to hang out in social groups. So you’re forewarned.


By Diana Grande, All rights reserved

The lemurs aren’t afraid to check out the humans walking through their ‘hood. This guy hopped down from his perch to sun himself right in front of a large family who had just entered the enclosure. One man crouched down to take a photo, and the docent yelled at him to “stay on your feet!” The lemurs have been known to snatch baseball caps, baby bottles, smartphones, and very expensive camera gear, just because they can.

From the lemurs’ enclosure we rushed to the Safari section to secure a place in line. The park closed at 5 p.m. and we were warned that the shuttles stopped taking passengers at 4, even if you’d been standing in line forever. The shuttles drive down a narrow road enclosed in a long fence while the animals live on an “open” but manicured plain. It’s still a zoo: the animals aren’t free to roam wherever they like and the humans are in no danger of being attacked or even touched by any of the animals. There are signs everywhere warning you to keep your hands and body inside the car, but most of the animals were napping in the afternoon sun. If anyone was hoping for an action shot of a rhino charging the shuttle, he was sorely disappointed that day.


white rhinos: the guy in the front just took a mud bath, so not so white


this landscape reminded me of the lorax and the truffula trees




local deer

This deer made me and some of the other passengers laugh. Just by being there, the Safari Park has created a kind of wildlife refuge for the local animals. The guide said deer often come into the enclosure to eat the hay left out for the rhinos and other herbivores; the rhinos will take exception and try to chase the deer out. I wondered if the zoo didn’t worry about the deer bringing in parasites and disease and infecting the African animals—Minnesota dairy farmers worry about it happening to their cows all the time—but what do I know?

As it got closer to evening, we saw more napping animals.


Malaysian tiger so done with you


fennec fox, by Diana Grande, all rights reserved


fruit bat, by Diana Grande, all rights reserved

Daughter and I got frozen lemonades at $8 a cup (yes, they’re the same kind you can get at a 7-11 for three bucks) and inspected our photos and mulled over what we had seen vs. the cost. Daughter with her DSLR camera and lenses got the far better photos, though the iPhone didn’t do a bad job either. We had a full, fun day, but Daughter scoffed that “nothing is worth $50!” I had to disagree a little, but then she was the good hostess and paid for everything.

We didn’t have to pay for the view of another San Diego sunset, however.

Sunset San Diego

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spring high spring low

I promised I would write about my interview on St. Patrick’s Day, but something else happened which made it seem sort of unimportant:


Meet my granddaughter, Saya. She was a nice healthy 7 pounds, 11 ounces at birth. Lusty cry, pinked up as soon as she took her first breath. Mom was tired after a fairly fast delivery of four and a half hours. She and son-in-law didn’t even have time to find a sitter for Kai (not that anyone, even in New York, is up at 2:30 a.m.), so my daughter had to hop into a taxi by herself for the ride to the hospital. By the time son-in-law’s cousins arrived so he could make the trip to the delivery room, Saya was already here.

I got the news while sitting in the department office, awaiting the call by the hiring committee to interview. When I glanced at my phone and saw the above picture, I had to clap a hand over my mouth to keep from screaming. I wanted to share the news with the world and the department office manager sitting at her desk across from me, but she’d been about as friendly as a TSA inspector at JFK.

“You’re a little early,” she snapped as I walked in ten minutes before my appointment. Uh, in my experience one is supposed to arrive ten minutes early so the receptionist or whoever is the office gatekeeper can call the interviewer and check the candidate in. Or am I keeping you from finishing your coffee?  :roll:

I didn’t say that, of course, but it made me wonder why the office staff didn’t look very happy in general. I could see from the number of nervous-looking people in suits wandering the hallway that it was interview day for several open positions. Maybe it was a huge disruption for the staff; maybe it meant everyone had to come in early and stay late, though that didn’t seem like a good excuse to be rude to someone coming in for an interview.

l was also mindful that I didn’t want to announce there, of all places, that I was a grandmother. I’m too aware that even in academia, age discrimination is rife. I didn’t see anyone else in the office waiting to be interviewed, but the academic job market being what it is now, chances are there are several younger candidates with better interview skills or more recent experience working in a tutoring lab. I worked at a community college over six years ago, and chances are, tutoring practices and theory have changed.

During the first half hour I was asked to provide a writing sample based on a prompt: “What is your ideal candidate for a reading tutor? Imagine you are creating a workshop to train a group of student tutors. Write an agenda of what you would cover in that workshop.” It wasn’t hard, but I’m frankly a slow, ruminative writer, at least with things that require some thought. If it’s an article for a newsletter, I can usually have that done in ten minutes once I have all the facts. For the ideal tutor however, I had to think about what worked for me: patience, empathy, a little insight into what the student was struggling with, and of course some knowledge of the subject in front of us. (I was a little thrown by the students writing research papers about scientific subjects like gram positive viruses and gene splicing, but I can fake it after looking over the notes, provided the student took any.)

Also, I noticed the term “reading tutor.” I was given the impression that the position was for manager of the writing center, but apparently they wanted me to cover college reading. Community colleges now give assessment tests to new students to see how ready they are for college-level work, after discovering how many incoming freshmen couldn’t write an essay or do algebra. I can understand, if back in high school you had no plans to go to college and took the basic courses just to graduate and get your diploma. Community colleges were designed to be a bridge to help these people ease into the college track.  What no college wants to deal with however are a class of dropouts who couldn’t handle the coursework: so they now screen students using assessments. If an applicant is found to need more work in say, writing or math, s/he is placed in a remedial (“pre-college”) program.

Students who fail the reading assessment, however, have the highest likelihood of dropping out of college and are likely to struggle through all of their classes. It’s why I despair when I see students in elementary school struggling to read at their grade level. If you haven’t mastered a certain level of fluency then, it only gets worse as you get older and the classes become larger and more difficult. I’ve also observed that students who struggle with reading often haven’t quite learned to speak English yet. I enjoy working with ESL students, but it is agony to watch them parse a single sentence in a textbook when the assignment says they have to read 35 pages that night (which isn’t much by college standards). The tutor can’t sit there all day and guide the student through all 35 pages—that’s not what we’re supposed to do anyway—but when the student’s lack of fluency is that huge, it’s hard not to feel sad for him or her. Some do make it if they are iron-willed and determined to jump through the hoops: but most give up, discouraged if by nothing else the financial cost of taking all those remedial classes before tackling the first required courses for say, nursing or law enforcement, the reason they wanted to come to college in the first place.

So I was disappointed before I even went into the interview. And distracted. (Baby!) The unfriendly office manager handed me a list of questions the committee would ask me and printed out my writing sample—which was short and ended abruptly, because god, I can’t write fast under those conditions. Then she introduced me to the cheery glad-to-meet-ya! chair of the Literature and Languages Department, who took my writing sample and escorted me to the interview room.

It’d be nice to say the whole committee was like the chair, but no.  A couple of them scowled through the entire half hour, as if I was an enormous pain in the ass and they were just waiting to get done so they could get out of there. The one HR representative slumped in his chair and looked bored. (He said he was in “statistics:” so why was he there? To count the number of positive and negative answers I made? Or was he the only guy available in HR to sit through the interviews?) I did my best to sound upbeat and positive, but the more I looked at those scowls and “not listening, la la la,” the more nervous I got. The more nervous I got, the faster I began to talk, and the faster I talked, the harder it was to think of smart things to say. I have to admit I was becoming exasperated myself: I just wanted to finish the damn thing so I could get out of there and text back to my daughters and son-in-law. (Younger daughter was getting ready to fly out to New York the next day. Saya had come a bit early and caught all of us unawares.)

I was wearing a pair of black dress pants with a black Gap t-shirt and a black knit, informal blazer, by the way. I realize the all-black outfit probably made me look a bit “dark” and rock n’ roll, but it was also very slimming: over the winter I’ve put on four pounds that I can’t seem to shed, no matter how much I diet, and the white button-down shirt I usually wear with suits puckered open when I sat down and made me look frumpy. The black at least gave me a sophisticated look, though thinking about it, I suppose someone might have taken objection to my Black Widow appearance.:-/

To make things worse, there were no followup questions: they almost chucked me out without letting  me ask any, either. I had to stop them to request a phone number just in case I had any questions about the interview. It felt very rushed and unprofessional, as if none of them had done an interview before. Or maybe, they’d decided on the spot I was not their candidate. It was hard to tell: I don’t read poker faces well, though I can see boredom and irritation.

I talked to my younger daughter later that day. She said, “Don’t take it personally. They’re not there to be your friend, they’re there to see if you’re a good fit for the job.” But I didn’t get any sense that they liked me or if I impressed them at all. They just seemed to want to get me out of the room so they could move on to the next candidate.

I went home after that and changed into a green t-shirt and jeans, then drove out to the school where I’ve been working this month. The students I work with squeaked with joy when they saw me. “Miss HG! Where were you? Are you going to walk the track with us? The cows are out!”

The school is literally in the middle of a cow pasture. It’s a hella long drive from where I live, but I took a lot of comfort in seeing the cows, and the students.

Cows at Franklin

I know I’m loved here. *sniff*






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in the hour we lose

I know, I haven’t updated in awhile, so I now have a backlog of stuff to talk about. Trying to be brief, however:

I did my taxes last month and discovered I owe the IRS $394 and the state of CA $54, even though I took home less than $20K last year. I was aghast: if your last paycheck was just $744 and your rent is $550 (and I’m not even going to mention car insurance, student loan payments, gas and groceries), a third grader can tell you aren’t going to have enough money to pay your taxes. I asked a friend who’s a retired financial analyst if I was doing anything wrong, and he said 1) I’m now considered single with no dependents, so the only real deduction I can take is for myself (otherwise known as empty nester tax shock); and 2) the school district isn’t withholding enough money from my pay to cover my taxes. He suggested I go back to the payroll office and have them take an additional $40 out of my paycheck. Forty bucks! I screeched. I hardly make enough as it is! The financial analyst shrugged. “Well, it’s that or set aside $480 in a separate account to cover your taxes come April 15.” Agh.

With that in mind, I have good news—well, I hope it’ll result in good news. I have a job interview at a local community college on Thursday, St. Patrick’s Day. It’s for the position of full-time manager for the college’s Writing Center. This is a job I can do with one hand tied behind my back, and I know I have the experience and education nailed down. The question is, and it’s been coming up, unspoken, in interviews: am I going to be aced out by some enthusiastic young Millennial just out of college and willing to take home less than what I used to earn at the community college I worked at in Minnesota? I’m thinking of dyeing my hair to make sure there are no silver streaks showing when I appear before the hiring committee.

I also find myself agonizing over whether to wear my very polished-looking black Hillary Clinton pantsuit, which may mark me as distinctly over 50, or if I should try something more laid back and hipster-ish. The thought of wearing even twill or khaki, let alone jeans to a job interview makes the Mom in me cringe. (“Were you raised in a barn? Go get dressed, young lady!”) But if I overdress for a quasi-academic job, am I going to look desperate or “trying too hard?” I’m actually tickled to be called in for this interview, and I want the hiring committee to know how much I enjoy this sort of work. But maybe a black suit isn’t going to project that. Should I splurge and get, dog forbid, a pastel-colored suit? (Those who know me know I don’t do pastel. My closet is mostly black, with flashes of gray, red, and brown.) Maybe opt for light gray or navy? I’ve always been able to pull a sharp outfit together at the last minute, but this time I’m frozen with doubt.

Better news: two weeks ago I went to San Diego to visit my younger daughter. It was just for three nights, as both she and I had to be back at work, but sometimes short vacations are that much sweeter.


view from daughter’s terrace

Table for two at George's San Diego

table for two at George’s on the Cove, La Jolla

La Valencia Hotel La Jolla Feb 2016

La Valencia Hotel, La Jolla (no I didn’t stay there)

Younger daughter is thinking of leaving all this for Vancouver, British Columbia, because all the animation studios are moving there. Canada gives them big tax breaks, plus it’s cheaper to do business there. (Daughter did grumble about being paid in Canadian dollars, which won’t exchange well in the US: but if you’re going to stay up there for awhile, it’s still a decent living.) Her friends in the industry are moving out there, and she has no particular love for her current employer or the video game industry, which is still mostly white male and full of themselves. It does make me sad that I essentially won’t have family in California if she moves: but I also recognize I raised my children to be adventurous and to live a life true to themselves. Several of my older friends in the Midwest live just down the road from their adult children and see their grandchildren every week if not daily. I don’t have that, but I don’t want it either, not for my kids anyway. I took Kahlil Gibran’s advice on raising children very seriously, and I hope I’ve succeeded at sending mine “swift and far.”

Diana & Horton La Jolla

Look Horton! It’s a Who!


While I was in San Diego, we went to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Mission San Diego de Alcala, and Balboa Park. I’ll write separate posts about each of these. I should add here that on my first night my daughter took me to La Jolla for “margaritas on the beach at sunset,” which was on my list of things to do in San Diego. La Jolla also happens to be where Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, lived as an artist and writer for most of his adult life. We happened upon a show of his art at a private gallery downtown, and like all good tourists we had to mug with the art for the camera.

The margaritas were excellent, by the way. The bar at George’s on the Cove, a toney restaurant overlooking La Jolla Cove, made them to perfection: not too sweet, not too strong, and with just the right amount of salt on the glass rims. I had two, because I wasn’t driving and because they were that good.😉


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year of the fire monkey


Hashimoto Kansetsu, Monkey, 1940

I found this lovely painting on the internet to head this post, but you know what? I really feel like this guy:

Monkey sulking

Monkey sulking, Iwatayama Monkey Park, Kyoto

My younger daughter took this photo several years ago while she was visiting Iwatayama, just outside of Kyoto. She said the little monkey was sulking after a bigger monkey stole his apple.

There’s a Chinese saying that when a monkey meets another monkey, there can only be trouble: meaning, that typically, for people born in the Year of the Monkey, the Year of the Monkey isn’t very lucky. (There are exceptions to this rule; I’ll get into that in a bit.) This year is supposedly to be more troublesome for everybody because it’s a Fire Monkey year. Each year, besides being assigned to an animal on the Chinese 12-year cycle, also has its own element: water, wood, earth, metal, or fire. There are other websites that can explain this better than me and where you can find out which element your animal year was in when you were born. But according to Chinese astrology,  Fire Monkey years are prone to violent change, financial ruin, and conflict. I don’t think history supports that belief: 1956, the last time we had a Fire Monkey year, doesn’t look particularly ruinous to me. (And we’re all still here, right?) Or as my younger daughter pithily said, “It’s all bullshit.”

(Disclaimer: You might be wise to heed her words. While researching this Year of the Monkey, I found a number of websites that gave different predictions for 2016, as well as different explanations for the elements in Chinese astrology. It’s sobering to think that once upon a time, people took this stuff so seriously some of them would commit suicide.)

As I mentioned, some people will do better than others. If you were born in the Years of the Rat, Sheep or Dog, 2016 should be a good one for you, at least according to my favorite feng shui website. The other exception is that if you are a Monkey born with the metal element. Metal is resistant to Fire, so we’re better able to fight off any bad juju that comes our way. Favorite feng shui website (which also sells charms to ward off negative energy, which I don’t advocate) claims I’ll have success at finding a better job and more money. I’d like to hope that’s true, but I’ve also gotten fortune cookies that said “You will receive good news soon” or “You will soon come into a large amount of money.” Still waiting on those, Panda Express fortune cookies.

Another exception to the bad-news Monkey is that the element of Fire is friendly to women. If you’re a woman seeking a promotion or is starting a business, this is supposedly a good year for you. Women running for political office should also see success. Am I hedging bets towards a certain candidate running for the Presidency? Actually, no, not yet anyway. See Disclaimer.

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I got notice on Thursday that my assignment with the school I’d been working at since August was terminated. No explanation, no thank-you-for-your-hard-work. Instead, I got a kick in the backside: as I collected my time sheet from the office, I found out that the incompetent cow who works as the school secretary didn’t turn my last time sheet in to payroll, so now my next paycheck will be a week late.

“Oops, you must have turned it in really late,” she quipped.

I filled out the sheet at the beginning of the pay period, I said through gritted teeth. I updated it the day before I knew you turned the time sheets in. It was pointless arguing with her, however. She has a known habit of flipping her mistakes so it appears to be your fault. I ran the two time sheets down to payroll myself, cursing her, the school district and the idiots in HR.

Part of me was sad to leave the students I’d gotten to know: but the other part was relieved and glad. The work was getting too physically challenging, even dangerous. The previous day, the 150-pound TBI student ran away from class and charged straight into me. I managed to stay on my feet, but later at home, I discovered a huge bruise on my left shin and another on the left side of my rib cage. It didn’t hurt at first, but the next morning, getting out of bed was agony. I also had a very sore throat, which progressed rapidly into a stuffy head and runny nose. A colleague, one who gets paid sick leave, had come into work with a raging head cold two days earlier. I asked her why she hadn’t stayed at home, and she replied she wanted to save her leave time for when her children were sick.

I get that she’s a responsible mom and the district doesn’t allow us time off for family beyond three weeks of maternity leave: but people who come to work when they have a fever and a nose that’s running like a faucet are inconsiderate, speaking as one who doesn’t get paid sick leave at all. Plus this has been one nasty head cold—calling it a cold doesn’t do it justice. Last night I couldn’t tell if I was crying from the sinus pain or just had a runny nose and eyes. I tried to call the pharmacist and ask if it was okay to take sinus or cold meds with the ulcer medication I’ve been taking, but after the medical center’s switchboard put me on hold for 20 minutes, I threw aside the phone. “Screw it! I’m miserable and I don’t care if I get liver failure after this.” Dr. Google then said there were no reported side effects from mixing ulcer meds with OTC cold medications, so I took everything in the medicine cabinet and slept like a log after that.

That said, I’m back in the substitute pool now. It doesn’t pay as well as being a regular employee at a school, but I do have my freedom back. If I don’t want to work on a particular day, I don’t. I don’t get paid either, but given that I don’t get paid sick leave anyway and I’m both sick and covered with black and blue marks, I might as well use some time to recover.

Sunny has been loving that I’m home all day. She doesn’t like that I shake the bed with my coughing and blowing my nose, but my not working means she gets to stay in the cottage during our rainy, cold mornings and not get thrown out when it’s time for me to go to school.

Snoozing Sunny

ahh yaaas

I mentioned earlier that I have a buddy to hang out with now. He’s a 74-year-old gay man whom I met through the program for homeless families I volunteer for. We had some interesting conversations while working together in the kitchen, though it was always a huge effort since K is deaf as the proverbial doornail. I was surprised however when between volunteer stints, he began emailing me every night, sometimes as late as 4 a.m. (I told him I have to get up 5 a.m. for work; he said, “Good! Then I’ll expect a reply in a few hours.”) His friends at church told me K. has no family and has been profoundly lonely since his partner died five years ago, so they were happy to hear that I’d become his online “pen pal.”

With friendship comes responsibility, however. As I was packing for my Christmas flight to New York, I got a phone call from K’s closest gay friend, asking if I had heard from him recently. The friend had tried calling and emailing K about coming to his house for Christmas but hadn’t heard back. I hadn’t, but frankly my mind had been on trying to pack Christmas gifts for the whole family plus my toiletries and clothes into a single carry-on suitcase. After grousing that I had to leave the next day and ‘can’t you check on him, dammit?’ I put on my coat and drove to the downtown apartment building where K lives. It was pouring rain and I couldn’t find parking anywhere nearby, so I had to leave my car in an overpriced ramp and hike soaking wet to the apartment office. The staff called K’s apartment for me, but he didn’t pick up. A city police officer happened to be making a welfare check on another resident (the building was full of seniors living alone, apparently); he promised to check on K for me after he was done with the other call. After a nerve-wracking 45 minutes (what if he’s dead? omg!), the officer came down and said K had answered the door and appeared to be fine. His phone wasn’t working, nor was his computer.

After getting the code for the security elevator from the staff, I stormed upstairs, feeling both irate and relieved. When I got to his floor, K was waiting for me in the hallway.

He spread out his arms. “Can I get a hug?”

In his apartment I found that he had somehow disconnected his phone while putting up his Christmas tree. I reset the connection and got the dial tone back on, then called K’s friend to let him know everything was okay. Then I looked at K’s laptop and realized he hadn’t closed the goddamn reminder to “Update to Windows 10 for Free!” which had prevented him from opening his browser. K is heads and shoulders above my father at using technology, but he’s never figured out the details, like which browser or OS he uses on his laptop. I tried teaching him, but he was, hm, sweetly clueless.


like this

Since then, K has been eternally grateful. He takes me to concerts and goes to the art crawls and museum with me. It’s sometimes a pain in the butt because 1) I am always the designated driver—K can’t drive anymore and doesn’t have a car—and 2) he can’t hear worth beans, so conversations are not only hard to carry on, but I have to shout, sometimes about ridiculously personal stuff like my financial situation. (Shrieking, “I’M BROKE! MY LAST PAYCHECK WAS CHICKEN FEED!” during intermission in Symphony Hall is not exactly a boost to morale.) I also have to keep an eye on him, as he’ll walk straight into traffic or out an ‘Emergency Only’ exit if I don’t grab him. At times I feel more like his caregiver, which brings back bad memories of my parents. But he’s better read and more intelligent than my folks ever were; and he does try to be a decent person, most times. He still harbors prejudices about “single moms on welfare,” Muslims, and Mexicans. I have to remind him that we’re both from groups that have been hated at one time or another, so we have to work harder at not making generalizations.

I don’t know why the Universe threw K into my path. It hasn’t been easy being his friend, but it’s been an interesting journey with him.

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short updates

I got this from my older daughter yesterday when I texted her, asking how she and her family were faring during Snowstorm Jonas:

Kai in snow 1-24-16

little snowman

Of course they took Kai outside to play in the snow! He looks wild with joy in that picture. It was probably crazy cold too. I used to go a little bugeyed walking around in heavy snow, probably because it took so much effort.😀

Work…well, I’m glad to get a paycheck, though next month it’ll be just enough to cover rent, a few bills, and groceries if I’m very, very frugal. I didn’t get paid for winter break, so that’s going to put a dent in the number of hours I normally work. I’m not even sure I’ll have a job later in the spring, because the union is shaking up the district’s policy of placing subs in long-term positions. The union is demanding the district fill those positions with permanent employees, which I support; the problem is that the district may simply choose to shut down those job openings and wait until fall to fill them. Legally, they have to have an aide for every three students in a special ed classroom. The district isn’t above playing musical chairs, however, and just shuffle students from one classroom to another, regardless of their functioning level or their ages. The classroom I’m working in now, a Level 3 autism class for 4th through 6th graders, had a student with a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury transferred in this past week. She can’t do any of the tasks the other students are expected to do—write her name, memorize her phone number, work on basic math skills and word recognition—because she has the intellectual level of an infant. She weighs 150 pounds and is taller than I am, unfortunately. She also packs a considerable wallop when she’s angry, which is frequently, since she doesn’t like being told what to do. Guess who got assigned to work with her?

The teacher says I’m really good with difficult students. I’m calm and talk to them in a soft and steady manner. I don’t freak out and scream when a student hits me, as some of my colleagues do. Most times it doesn’t hurt, and after taking karate and boxing, I know how to absorb a blow. I also know how to hold a student (gently) when he starts punching and kicking the other students or aides. So I’m the victim of my own success. I get assigned to the least controllable students in the class.

Of course, I’m looking for another job. I’ve filled out 14 applications this past month, mostly with community colleges. I haven’t heard from any of them yet, but I’m frankly ready to bail before then. It’s not so much the students, whom I can handle. They are the way they are; there’s no pretense in their behavior. The school I work at however is a gossip farm, full of whispers and quick glances over the shoulder. I’ve seen this occur whenever employees feel they’re not valued or have very little control over what happens to them. The newspaper I worked at when I first thought I wanted to be a reporter was on the verge of failing, but the owners were secretive and treated the employees like children: so the same thing occurred, with people gossiping about each other and the company, or flying into drama-filled tantrums at the editor’s desk. When the publication was finally merged with our rival and half the staff was laid off, I wasn’t sorry. I didn’t like losing my job, but it was a relief to leave a workplace where the walls oozed spite and vinegar.

There is good news! My son was asked to be guitarist for an Olympia band that will be touring as an opening act for Beach Slang, a punk band from Philadelphia. [Waves at crankypants.] The band that hired my son is called Dyke Drama; the trans musician who’s the lead singer, Sadie Switchblade, fronted another band in Olympia called G.L.O.S.S.

This has been very hard to explain to my friends who are mostly liberal and open-minded but can’t wrap their heads around why Chris is playing with a band called Dyke Drama.

“Your son isn’t gay, is he?”

Me, laughing: So far as I know, no.

“Then why is he playing with a lesbian group?”

Me: They aren’t lesbian, the lead singer is transgender.

Confused stare.

I don’t think I’ll be inviting any of them when I go see Beach Slang and Dyke Drama play in San Francisco (tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, May 3; the tour starts in Brooklyn on April 20). I have a younger friend who might go, but being younger doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t going to wig out at a trans punk band with my ironic hipster/anarchist son playing guitar. I dunno. I’m very proud of my kid, but it also makes me realize what an strange unconventional family we are.

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