end of summer

Mom at 76_PS

mom at 76

Friday was the third anniversary of my mother’s death. I would have completely forgotten about it had the student I’m working with this year not asked me that afternoon, “Do you have a mother?”

The question startled me. It seemed like an odd coincidence he would ask it on that particular day, especially since he usually shows very little interest in other people, a symptom of autism. I answered truthfully. “She died three years ago.”

“She died? Of what?”

She was very sick and old. “Oh.”

Then, cheerfully: “What about your father?” Uhh, he’s still living but he’s old and sick too. I don’t want to talk too much about Dad because that normally leads to a discussion about why I don’t see him anymore. But my student dropped the inquiry so he could dig for dinosaur bones in the field. We had a discussion earlier about the land where the school had been built being very old, and it may have been the site of a Native American village or a pioneer’s cabin or…”Dinosaurs?”

Well, sure. So he’s been scraping the soil in the field behind the school, looking for fossils. This is fine, especially since it means we can sit in the shade of the few trees planted back there. The heat has been brutal these last two weeks, with afternoon temperatures in the high 90s. Why school has to start during the hottest part of the Central Valley summer, I cannot understand. On Friday it hit 102. I brought ice pops for the class that day, partly because it’s been so bleeping hot in the afternoons and the air conditioner is turned ‘way down to torture us all save energy, and partly as a reward for the kids being relatively well behaved during lunchtime. Lunchtime in the cafeteria is normally bedlam, thanks to the lack of adult supervision. There have been days where I looked around the room and saw that I was the only adult staff member keeping order, which is like the little Dutch boy standing with his finger in the dike as a tsunami approaches. Where the cafeteria supervisor and staff goes during that time, I don’t know. The principal sometimes makes an appearance, but he doesn’t really do much besides glare at the screaming hordes at the tables.

Anyway, as I was passing out ice pops, the teacher told me not to give it to the one kid who got sent to the principal earlier in the week for kicking another kid in class. I was a little dismayed—call me a sucker, but it was so hot everyone was dripping with sweat, and denying this one student an ice pop seemed pointlessly mean. I mentioned that this same boy had been exceptionally kind to my student when he was struggling in the computer lab that day, but she brought out the if-we-make-an-exception-for-him-where-do-we-stop? reasoning. So I told the boy, no ice pop for you. His eyes teared up and Ms. Softy Sucker had to turn quickly away. Five minutes later, the teacher said “Wait….” The student got a blue raspberry ice pop after sitting through a lecture about appropriate behavior.

I treated myself to an orange ice pop. Nobody wanted orange, and I needed the sugar. I thought it was too bad there was no vodka in that ice pop, it was that kind of day.

Back to the anniversary of Mom’s death: in Japanese Buddhism the deceased’s family is supposed to hold a hoji, or memorial service on the third anniversary. ‘Memorial service’ is kind of a misnomer, since the purpose of the hoji is to make offerings to the Buddha and gain merit, which in turn gets transferred to the deceased, who might still be waiting in limbo because she doesn’t have enough merit to be admitted into Nirvana. (I don’t know why someone who can’t pay the merit toll doesn’t get detoured to hell. Maybe if you’re just a dollar short, they let you park in the overflow lot until your family sends you some extra change.) I haven’t been contacted in regards to any plans for a hoji, so either I wasn’t invited at all, which is fine, or nobody made an attempt to schedule one, which is most likely. Dad and my brother aren’t any good at making plans: that was always Mom’s job when she was alive. My sister probably shrugged and said, “Not my job.” I don’t feel bad: but it’s more evidence that we are not a family anymore.

I had coffee with a friend today. We talked about this book on climate change that my friend had been planning to read for awhile and had finally found at a used book store. (We’re both overeducated and poor, so these sort of things thrill us.) I talked a little about work and saved these two cars from backing into each other in the parking lot by screaming “STOP!”  My friend chuckled and said, wow! you got lungs! I said I’ve had a lot of practice, screaming at kids.

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the whitney

School starts this week and I still have a pile of stuff to get done before The Big Day. (I’m sure the teachers are crying as much as the students right now.) Before I get swept up in the fracas, I wanted to complete my posts about New York, particularly the new Whitney Museum. the whitney

Again, I’m using a pilfered picture because there was no way I could get a photograph of the entire building. The place is huge, so huge that you don’t really know you’re coming up on it until you see walls of steel and glass. I was glad my older daughter got a sitter for Kai that day and came with me: I would have walked right by the place if she hadn’t guided me through the trendy Meatpacking District where it’s located.

The Meatpacking District is kind of a misnomer now. We did walk by a meat processing plant on our way to the museum and saw some guys in white lab coats and aprons taking a break at a diner across the street: but I fear their time is short, as real estate values in the neighborhood have skyrocketed. You see fewer warehouses and delivery bays and more postmodern highrise buildings, or gutted 19th century brick buildings that now house spas, high-end cafes and designer clothing boutiques.


the standard high line hotel


rooftops seen from the whitney’s top terrace

I was a little envious of the people who owned that penthouse across the way, until my daughter observed they probably paid millions of dollars just for that rooftop garden. I think you should at least get some living space to go along with the backyard, amiright?

We started the visit by having lunch at a Pan Asian restaurant called Spice Market. I didn’t get pictures because it was gloomy dark inside, which seemed sad since it was gloriously sunny outdoors. I confess I’m a little prejudiced towards anything called “Pan Asian” because it usually means some culinary school graduate has spun these otherwise inexpensive, perfectly delectable Asian dishes like eggrolls, noodles, and barbecued pork into white-tablecloth fare and doubled their prices. We chose this restaurant however because it was one of the few in the neighborhood that had vegetarian entrees. Because Meatpacking District. If you love steak, pan seared pork chops, artisanal fried chicken or duck confit, this is your neighborhood. Vegans and vegetarians, go the Village, you hippies.

spice market bar

another shamelessly stolen photo of the Spice Market’s bar, which was not lit up like that the day we ate there

The decor inside was Bollywood meets King and I, with bamboo rattan walls and furniture mixed with sparkly Indian brocade dais. I had the pad thai with tofu, which was okay but not really worth the $14 they charged for it. My daughter had some sort of salad, which she liked except for the large dollops of cabbage they put into it. I have mixed feelings about raw cabbage. If it’s chopped up fine and put into something like cole slaw or fish tacos, great. Encountering it in big chunks in a salad, meh.

It would have been nice to have lunch at the Whitney’s restaurant, which received a glowing writeup in the Times, or the terrace cafe at the top of the museum. This day was my daughter’s treat for her doddering old mother, however, and it didn’t seem right to ask her to pay $32 for a salad and a glass of iced tea. (Museum restaurant + NYC prices = exorbitant rates for basic “ladies’ lunch.”)


terrace cafe view. look at that sky

Speaking of terraces, a good way to get around the pokey elevators that take you from floor to floor is to take the steel-grill stairs that link the terraces. This route allows you to see each terrace as you move from gallery to gallery.


two part chairs, by scott burton, obtuse angle, 1984

The only problem is that it’s a little skeery since you can see everything below you through the steps. I wouldn’t recommend taking that route in inclement weather. Even on a sunny summer day, I was saying to myself, “Don’t trip, don’t trip, don’t trip….”


joel shapiro, untitled. i call it ‘oops’

The Whitney wasn’t anyone’s must-see first-choice NYC museum before the new building opened. The collection focuses on modern and contemporary American art; if you don’t follow modern art or aren’t a regular art fan in general, you might not be familiar with many of the artists or the works on display. My daughter grumbled that it was second-tier art by first-rate artists, which was harsh. But kinda true. I liked the retrospective show going on now at the Whitney, America is Hard to See, but I also took a lot of art history classes back in the day. I appreciated being able to see a number of older pieces mixed with some newer works.

Walk Don't Walk, by George Segal

Walk Don’t Walk, by George Segal

Circus by Caulder

Circus, by Alexander Caulder

Ba-O-Ba Number 3 by Keith Sonnier

Ba-O-Ba Number 3 by Keith Sonnier

Whitney terrace2

I will admit what I really enjoyed was the design of the building by Renzo Piano. The New Yorker‘s critic wrote, “The building is a lurching aggregate of shapes in striated steel cladding and glass, with outdoor stairways that connect terraces on three floors. It’s so confusing that, pretty soon, I gave up looking at it” (Schjeldahl, 72, The New Yorker, 27 April 2015). I didn’t have that problem with the place. I wish there’d been more restrooms: looking for an unoccupied toilet at the Whitney was a major exercise. (Tip: Floor 3 where the performance hall is located, and the basement near the coat check are the least busy restrooms in the building. Floor 5 was the worst, with just two little single-toilet rooms available. A line six-deep quickly formed for these rooms, and when a group of clueless old ladies cut in front, they were yelled at. Mostly by your grumpy blogger here.)

I liked that Piano seemed to understand that a museum visit shouldn’t just be about staring at walls of paintings all day, especially when the building itself is situated by the Hudson River. There was a lounge on Floor 5 where visitors could sit on comfy couches and stare at the boats going up and down the river.

Boats on the Hudson, Whitney Museum

(Check out the sky. Most glorious sky I’ve ever seen in the city.)

I must have sat there for a long while, because my daughter came up to me and said we had to go, the clock was running on the sitter. So I didn’t get to see all of the show, nor did we get to check out the High Line, the newest greenspace and park in the city. But I’ve checked off the Whitney as another great place to spend the day in New York City.


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trip to the cloisters


When my older daughter and I were planning the itinerary for my visit to New York, I told her that I’d always wanted to see The Cloisters, the stone replica of a medieval monastery which houses most of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s medieval art collection. Daughter warned me that it was a loooong trip from Astoria to where The Cloisters was: that it was on the northernmost end of Manhattan and would take over an hour to get to by train. “And it’ll take lots of walking. Up and down platforms and then in the park where it’s located.” Because Mom, we know you have a gimpy knee that you’re always whining about and which suddenly collapses at really bad moments, like in the middle of a lunch-hour crowd in Midtown. But my daughter is a good hostess and daughter, so she hired a sitter to stay with Kai for the day so we could see The Cloisters.

It was a very wise act on her part. The train station near my daughter’s place is a raised platform that overlooks the toll plaza into the Triborough/RFK Bridge. (I always get dizzy looking down at the steady stream of cars rolling beneath us.) The only way to get to it is to climb a steep flight of rickety wood and steel stairs. There are no elevators, and handicapped access, fuhgettaboutit, this is New York. I wondered how all those old ladies in Astoria who use walkers catch the train. My daughter says they don’t: they either rely on family to drive them places, or they just don’t leave the neighborhood. Maybe this explains why so many elderly New Yorkers move to Florida. I’d prefer to just use all the money I normally use to operate a car in California (which is a quite a bit) and take a cab everywhere, but what do I know?

view from the astoria boulevard station

view from the astoria boulevard station

Then we had to get off the N train and walk through a labyrinth of tunnels to get to the Times Square station where we transferred to the northbound A train, which takes you to Uptown/Harlem and the 190th Street station. As we were riding the A train, there was a sudden blast of music and then, I think, entertainment:

Except our car was a lot more crowded, and hip hop dancing in there was a lot more hazardous, at least for the people sitting around them. My daughter said there’d been incidents in which passengers had been hit or kicked by dancers, who pass the hat for change when they’re done. As a result the city was starting to crack down on these impromptu performances. The Swedish tourists sitting across the aisle from me were a lot more excited about this “slice of New York life,” however: one of them ran back with his phone to take a video. I wanted to keep my seat however—did I mention the car was crowded?—so no video by me here.

After we got off the subway, we ascended into this forest. I mean, I had no other way to describe it, since “park” seemed so inadequate.


the hudson river from ft. tryon park

One thing that surprised me repeatedly on this particular trip was that New York City is filled with deeply wooded areas where you saw little evidence of human activity. You could literally walk from a city street filled with traffic and concrete into a landscape that must have been very similar to what painters from the Hudson River School saw in the early 19th century.

There was also a fair amount of clambering up hilly roads and rocky paths. I wore cloth sneakers which held up pretty well on our hike through the park. My knees were meh, but that might have been the result of all the stairs we took getting around the subway system.


the cloisters, taken from the hudson river

I pilfered the above photo from Wikipedia because there was no way I could get all of The Cloisters into one shot from where I was standing. As you walk through the woods you suddenly see the top of this stone Gothic tower poking out of the treetops; then, coming closer, you see this stone wall. The place is massive, and as I was to discover, impossible to see in its entirety in just the short hour and a half we had left for our visit.


cloistered garden with herbs

terrace overlooking the hudson

terrace overlooking the hudson

limestone lion, Italian, early 13th c.

limestone lion, Italian, early 13th c.

sleeping knight

sleeping knight

Stained glass four panels cloisters

Stained glass panels: i didn’t get any notes on provenance or date

Stained glass Cloisters

from the legend of the seven sleepers, French, early 13th century

One thing I wanted especially to see was the Unicorn Tapestries from the late 15th-early 16th century. I had a small print of the unicorn hanging over my desk when I was in high school, which tells you what a geek I was back then. I wanted to be a medievalist—my high school counselor had no idea what I was talking about—and took Latin and read up on Scholastic philosophy and Gothic art. I blush to think of it: I had no idea of how I was supposed to make a living translating texts written in medieval Latin, or writing about tomb effigy sculpture, but then we’re talking about a girl who taught herself how to write Elvish after reading Lord of the Rings five times all the way through.

Unicorn tapestry I Cloisters

the unicorn in captivity

Unicorn tapestry detail, birds

detail, the unicorn defends itself

This had me laughing out loud. Jesus forgive me, but all I could think about was what a great lawn sculpture this would make, especially in my neighborhood where the most popular lawn art is a donkey being led or ridden by a man in a Mexican sombrero.

Jesus on a donkey Cloisters

palm sunday procession figure, German

I wanted to stay longer: there was a lot more that we didn’t get to see because we’d spent so much of the sitter’s time just traveling there. We ended up getting a ride on Uber just to get home in time, since the poor sitter was running on a schedule and had only so many minutes to eat dinner before her next gig. I was glad to get home and see Kai and Jingjing, but I’m thinking already of how I can do an all-day siege of The Cloisters the next time I visit.


Next stop: the new Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District.

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an atom of its glory


seventh avenue

There is no place like it, no place with an atom of its glory, pride, and exultancy.  —Walt Whitman

I got back from New York a few days ago and admit I’m still kinda jet lagged. I wake up at 4:30 in the morning and by 8 in the evening I want to crawl into bed, which is anathema to this night owl. It was also kind of a shock to find the weather at home was ten times worse than what I’d experienced out there, not that I should be surprised: 100+ temperatures are the norm for July in the Central Valley. Getting off the plane and walking into blast furnace heat however—at 11 in the morning—was a sharp reminder of how far away I was from New York, where the temperatures had been nearly perfect, at least for four days of the week I was there.

Evening in Astoria Park

evening in astoria park, queens

We did a lot, considering that we were limited by Kai’s mood and nap times (lordy, that boy can SCREAM). Older Daughter hired a sitter to look after Kai for two afternoons so we could visit The Cloisters and the new Whitney Museum, which I’ll have to write about in separate posts.  There was ‘way too much to see and write about to fit into a single post.

the cloisters

the cloisters


view from the cafe terrace, the whitney museum

We also went all together to see the Bronx Zoo, which also merits a post of its own.


feed the donkey? i don’t think so

Kai did not necessarily share in what Grandma and his mom thought were fun and cute. He’s at that unpredictable age where what might delight him one day becomes utterly despicable the next.

Kai at Martha's Country Bakery

cake…hmm, i like this 

Actually, he had his first cake pop here, at Martha’s Country Bakery in Astoria. He enjoyed it, as best as I can tell—he’s developed this fierce scowl which appears when he’s dealing with something new or very serious, at least from a 22-month-old’s point of view.  I had to stop myself from laughing every time I saw those eyebrows furrow, especially since they sometimes were the prelude for a major tantrum. Which I didn’t see a lot of, fortunately. Kai appeared to be trying to impress his Grandma, but of course Grandma is easily impressed. And amused.

(The chocolate cake in the foreground is for his mother, who deserves a whole cake for heroically putting up with this little tornado day after day. I don’t know how she does it. I was lucky in that I started out with quiet, bemused girls and graduated to a boy, one who visited the ER at least once a week until he started kindergarten.)

We spent a lot of time playing together. Kai loves Legos (the big kind, anyway) and the wooden Brio trains, which he especially likes crashing into cars. Why do boys like mayhem and explosions? He thought it was hilarious when we put his wooden animals on the train and the train flipped off the tracks from all the weight it was carrying. Of course, it didn’t help that Grandma would take one of the animals and pretend they were thrashing around in pain while wailing, “Ow ow! The monkey/cow/giraffe is hurt! Call an ambulance! Call 911!”

Fortunately, since the weather was so pleasant, we did a lot of quiet, fun things outdoors too.



The landlord for my daughter’s building tore up the front yard when he built that nice brick fence last year. He never bothered to re-landscape it, unfortunately, which is a bit of a scandal in their neighborhood. The front yards in Astoria are almost immaculate: the homeowners take a lot of pride in their postage stamp-sized gardens and fill them with rose bushes, hydrangeas and other blooming plants. Some even have lawns, though why you would bother mowing a six-foot by six-foot patch of grass is a puzzlement to this ex-suburbanite.

Anyway, the more time I spend in this city, the more I love it. I’m not so sure I would love it if I had to put up daily with the humid summers and icy winters, the noise (even at 2:30 at night, in a residential neighborhood, there were people yelling in the street and horns honking because you don’t ever sit at a green light and block my way, y’hear?), the smells (the odor in a subway elevator: horribly unforgettable), the expense ($24 for a sandwich in midtown? really?), the crowds and the rudeness (if you’re catcalling me, dude, you must be desperate). But it’s hard not to fall for a place that has world-class museums everywhere, four zoos and a major aquarium, and terrific eats on every block. No, you can’t be a tourist forever, but I think great cities open one’s vision and expand the soul, if you let them. I think New York does that each time for me.


tourist shot, the cloisters: my hair died on the subway platform.

And oh yeah, I wouldn’t have as much fun without these people:


art class 001





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a library of riches

I’m leaving for New York tomorrow evening, which reminds me that awhile back, I said I would write about my visit last December to the Morgan Library.  Um. Well. Let’s just say I got very busy in the months following, and while I didn’t really forget, there were some technical problems.


j.p.morgan’s study, not that you can tell

In most of the pictures I took, you can hardly see anything.

the east room, morgan library

the east room, morgan library

tapestry, the east room fireplace

tapestry, the east room fireplace

That’s mostly because the interior of the old building, the part built by J.P. Morgan, the millionaire investor and banker, is dismally lit. The old library’s rooms are filled with old manuscripts, illuminated books, Renaissance paintings and other precious artifacts, and sunshine is death to old pigment, paper, and fabric. Also, the library is located on one of the busiest streets in Manhattan and the architects wanted to preserve the silence associated with libraries back then: so they built the walls thick and lined the interiors with curtains and velvet. (Judging from the amount of noise I hear in my local branch of the city library, that notion seems to have died with card catalogs and the Dewey Decimal System.) It is a beautiful building however, and well worth a trip if you love books and gawking at the homes of dead rich people.

rotunda ceiling, morgan library

rotunda ceiling, morgan library

music room detail, in what is now the gift shop

music room detail, in what is now the gift shop

I should add that like many of the private museums in New York, the Morgan Library has a newer wing attached to the older, traditional building. It’s a little confusing. Initially, I thought this was the entrance to the library:


It’s not. It’s called the McKim entrance, after the architect that designed it in 1903. But the actual entrance where you buy your ticket and get your map of the building looks like the front of a fancy retail boutique with sleek glass doors and a flat white facade. It doesn’t look very interesting, but when you come inside you’re greeted by this:


Acrylic windows by Spencer Finch, library cafe

I really wanted to have lunch here: the light in this space was gorgeous, in spite of it being a gloomy day in late December. Unfortunately, the menu prices were crazy, even for a museum cafe. I wasn’t interested in paying $27 for a salad, so I kept going.

The newer Morgan Library isn’t just a library where books are kept: it’s also a museum, performance space and cultural center. The day I visited, there was an exhibition of illuminated pages from a medieval Bible, showing scenes from the Old Testament. I’m not very familiar with the OT, though it looked like a lot of people were torn apart by dogs or mobs, or did a lot of supplicating on bended knees. Photos weren’t allowed, but there was a lovely catalog available for $30. I wasn’t interested in hauling around yet another book up the length of Manhattan (did that earlier in the week after a visit to the Strand Book Store in downtown—remind me to bring a heavy-duty tote bag this time around because plastic shopping bags suck) so I passed on that too.

I did get a good shot of the skylight in the sitting area next to the gallery.


I’m not sure if those are supposed to be hummingbirds, but I really liked the detailing in the gridwork.

As I said earlier, most of the rooms in the old section of the library were too dark to take decent photos of, but it was fun to see what it was like to be a millionaire in the Gilded Age (billionaire, if you figure for inflation what J.P. Morgan’s assets would be worth today). Having a three-tiered library or a study filled with Renaissance paintings would be exhilarating (for me, anyway), though I’m not sure I’d have the stomach to do the things required to earn all that money.

rich guy's desk

rich guy’s desk

rotunda detail

rotunda detail


decor in the study

first edition french novels, which was code for porn in the 19th century

first edition french novels, which was code for porn in the 19th century

I spent over two hours at the Morgan, so I guess I must have enjoyed it. It made me ponder on how some people become fabulously rich while the rest of us scratch for our bread. Morgan came from a long line of merchants and entrepreneurs and married into money as well, so it’s not as if he had to sell newspapers in the street or wait on tables to make his start. He gave a good portion of his collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was a benefactor of the Metropolitan Opera and the American Museum of Natural History, among others. But as a child I regarded him as the guy whose picture appeared on the prospectus for the annuity my mother had invested in. (And which still might be out there, if my brother hasn’t pillaged it by now.) When I think about J.P. Morgan, the first thing that springs into mind is Morgan Chase Bank, which is a commercial lender and investment bank. I don’t immediately associate him with the arts or literature, in spite of the ornate library named after him and which I had spent so much time at.

But all these thoughts disappeared on the long walk back to the subway station. It was cold, windy, and I’d forgotten which platform I’d gotten off from. I didn’t have the money for a taxi, and I wasn’t even sure I had enough on my Metro card for the trip back to Queens. I didn’t mind walking, however. I felt rich in experiences that day.


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summer school.


sunny day

After weeks of eggs-fried-on-the-sidewalk heat, we suddenly have a cool, dry day. It also happens to be my day off from summer school, where I’ve been working these past four weeks. Summer school for special education students is just four days a week, four hours a day, thank the gods of midsummer. It means less money in the paycheck, but it also gives me a chance to breathe and enjoy a long, lazy weekend.

Sunny has been shedding so ferociously, there’ve been days where clouds of blonde hair trail behind her as she strolls in the breeze. I brush her with an old pony brush (yes, it used to groom a real pony) but no matter how many times I groom her, it seems as if even more hair appears. I mutter to her, “So where is this other cat you’ve got hidden in there?” I’ve collected so much hair from her, I could probably spin it into enough yarn for a pair of socks, if anyone was interested in a pair of cat hair socks.

cat rug

cat rug

(I can’t recall what novel I read this in—by Steinbeck? Tolstoy? Twain?—but one of the characters claims that socks made from dog hair are good for arthritis. I can’t imagine why they’d be more effective than sheep’s wool or alpaca, but then I haven’t met anyone who’s tried this.)

I’m leaving for New York in just over a week to visit my older daughter, grandson, and son-in-law. And their dog, who suffers greatly from neglect. (This is a joke. She is doted upon, but she chafes at no longer being the only child in the family.)  It can’t come soon enough: I miss my children, miss New York, and loathe the class I’m working in right now.

I won’t go into it now. I don’t want you guys to think my life is just a chain of unending misery. (Well, yeah, it has felt that way sometimes, but I think I writes best when I’m mad or upset.) The last week of summer school is coming up, and I will never return to that school again, even if I have to fall on my sword. I also don’t want to ruin the pleasure of the day. I just read the first chapter of the novel Harper Lee supposedly didn’t want published (depending on which news source one consults) and while I’m not so easily charmed as I was at 13 when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, encountering her funny, quiet prose again has been like running into an old girlfriend and falling into her arms in a huge, laughing hug.

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the purple claw

I haven’t updated in a long while, mostly because of this:

injuredhandThis was taken after I had packed the hand in ice for an hour. When I first got hurt, the ring finger looked like an eggplant with my ring clenched around it. The area underneath the fingers and my palm were also purple, the result of trying to stop a fall with my hand.

It would have to happen on the last day of school. (Yay.) I was working with level 2 autism students, all boys, nonverbal, able to do basic self-care independently (most of the time) but had little awareness of appropriate social behavior and required supervision during most of the school day. (Worst case example: one student would casually open his pants and urinate on the jungle gym, sending all of the general ed students running from the gym screaming and giggling.)

For phy ed we took the students for a walk-run around the track. Some of the students enjoyed this as an opportunity to get away from classwork: most of them did not, since their preferred activity was sitting indoors, staring at a screen with moving images. The fact that many parents now give their special-needs children iPads in the belief that the devices will intellectually stimulate them and encourage them to communicate better hasn’t helped, but I digress.

So I was accompanying one of the don’t-enjoy-physical-activity students on his very slow progress around the track. One of his habits was to sit down and start playing with the dirt, sometimes digging a hole in the track’s surface. I was supposed to prevent him from doing this, which was a lot harder than one would think. He was a little chunk: his lunch bag was always stuffed with Cheetos, cookies, and nacho-flavored Doritos, a sign that his parents had given up trying to get him to eat healthy food, or maybe they were unconsciously wishing their child would drop dead from cardiac arrest. Anyway, getting him back on his feet was work. He would either go into relaxed-floppy mode, which made it virtually impossible to move him without help, or simply pull back when I offered my hand to help him up. It was hard to predict what he would do, though I always started with a proffered hand and the question, “Do you need help getting up?”

One of the other aides told me later that was a mistake, even if it was the official by-the-book method of getting a student to stand up. “Don’t give them a choice,” she said. “Tell them to get the f*** up and if they don’t, grab them under the pits and haul them up hard.” This particular aide has been in the profession ‘way too long and really should get out before she’s written up someday. But I’ve heard mixed opinions about this: if you allow the student to decide whether he wants to get up or not, you’re handing control of the situation over to him, versus you should give the student positive choices and opportunities to help you and himself.

In my case, I chose the latter. The student took my hand, and I braced myself in order to pull him up. What I didn’t expect was his just hanging on my hand like dead weight and dragging me down, while the gravel on the track rolled under my feet. I began falling, and had I kept falling in that trajectory, would have landed right on top of the student. Which would have served him right: but instead, I stuck out my right hand, bounced on it, flipped and landed next to him. It looked as if I had taken a seat right alongside him.

He was so alarmed by this, he quickly got up and ran down the track. Success, I think. But my hand was throbbing so bad I thought, agh, broken something.

I showed the swelling, purpling hand to the class’ teacher and the other aides. Except for the one aide mentioned above, it was a good group: they immediately offered ice and sympathy. They also urged me to report the injury to the district’s field nurse and have a report generated so I could get reimbursed for any medical expenses that came up.

The nurse didn’t pick up his phone, so I left a message. In the meantime, the middle, ring, and little fingers were so stiff and painful I wasn’t sure I could hold the steering wheel to drive home. After four hours, still no return call from the field nurse. At that point I called my own clinic and left a message for my doctor, who was a lot more prompt about calling back. “Just come in. It’ll take me five minutes to look at it and order an x-ray.” Which happened, very fast. It really helps to have a regular GP, especially one who knows and likes you.

On the x-ray, no broken bones: just severe sprained fingers. He suggested cutting the ring off, but I whined, ‘My daughter gave me that as a gift!’ So he prescribed icing the fingers for 20 minutes every hour. No gripping, no lifting. “Stay away from that student,” my doctor joked, though he was a little serious. He’s mentioned before that I should find another line of work, not that he’s suggested an alternative.

After all that, still no call from the field nurse: so I called HR, where a young woman snootily informed me that because I was a “sub,” I wasn’t entitled to workman’s [sic] comp. That didn’t sound right, so I called the state office of worker’s compensation and got a very sympathetic caseworker, who said anyone injured while working is entitled to reimbursement, even if they are contract or substitute employees. Then she asked, “Who is your employer? Do you know the name of the person you spoke to?”

The following Monday, I got a hurried phone call from the field nurse at 7:30 a.m. He mumbled something about not getting my voice mail, but if I could fill out the paperwork he’d make sure he’d get the process for my care and reimbursement started. This was nice, because for the clinic visit and x-ray I’d spent $120 out of pocket. (It may be called the Affordable Care Act, but that doesn’t mean medical care in the US has become cheaper.)

I also got physical therapy (squeezing a foam sponge for 15 minutes, six times a day, then working my way up to squeezing a lump of putty) and reimbursement for two weeks’ loss of pay. It was actually 50% of what I would have made had I worked those ten days I was out, but am I really not going to cash that check from the insurance company, especially since I wasn’t expecting anything? I did wonder how many substitute aides had been discouraged from applying for compensation by the HR staff. Many aides are non-native English speakers, immigrants from Mexico, the Philippines, and south Asia. They wouldn’t expect compensation either, since we’re “just subs.”

Anyway, the hand is almost back to normal. The little finger has taken the longest to heal and still hurts when I grip anything in a tight fist. Given that I mostly use it to type, and laziness has created the bad habit of typing with mostly the four stronger fingers, I don’t miss its use much. Until I need to pick up a full ceramic mug of coffee. Ow.

Have a good 4th of July. We do have a few things to celebrate this time around.


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