Exactly 1/2 of Thursday

11:00 A.M.: Meet Demba at Mafia-run pastry shop. Normally, I meet him at the library, but on Wednesday, when we usually meet, Demba’s wife was having her day care business inspected by the Department of Health and on Thursdays, the library doesn’t open until 1:00.

Snobbishness about cappucino/espresso one of the uncanny similarities I share with Demba. We only want to drink the cappucino of the Mafia-run pastry shop, no other.

The Mafia-run pastry shop was a little noisy for tutoring, with the full complement of usual characters involved in heated discussion several tables away, but we made do despite the din. Today’s topic was “stereotypes.” Continuing with last week’s discussion of whether short people are unecessarily angry (Demba is quite tall and seems to feel that some of the short men at his job are overly defensive, whereas I come from a family of short people and therefore wish to bring him around to the viewpoint that we are not upset about being short), we began talking about what a stereotype is. We talked about stereotypes that could be applied to me, stereotypes that could be applied to Demba, stereotypes that could be applied to NBA players, stereotypes that could be applied to the full complement of characters in heated discussion several tables away, and stereotypes that could be applied to the people who live in the neighborhood between my neighborhood (Williamsburg-bordering-Greenpoint) and Demba’s (Bedford-Stuyvesant), which I think of as Planet Extreme Jewishness. I have been to this neighborhood exactly once, while tripping on mushrooms, and during this visit I perceived myself to have travelled through time and space to a galaxy long ago and far far away.

Our discussion of stereotypes was an excellent opporutnity to practice such important English words as “intermarriage,” “predjudice,” “racism,” and the like. We were discussing the Israel-Palestine issue and the different ways people feel about it when we stumbled onto the topic of the story of Jewish enslavement in Egypt. “The Jews built the pyramids in Egypt,” Demba said, “but they got paid for it.” This segued nicely into our writing time, during which I suggested that Demba begin writing down the story of Passover as it was told to him, and I agreed to bring the story of Passover as it was told to me, so we could compare next week and see if we couldn’t unravel some of the disparate narratives still affecting our global political situation today.

12:35 P.M: Photograph large American flag hanging from ceiling of Grand Central Station and disrupting view of beautiful constellations painted thereon so I can write about how the large American flag bisecting the formerly beautiful celestial ceiling mural destroys a) the nice metaphor that Grand Central Station is a microcosm of the whole universe and b) the beautiful, sacred feeling of Grand Central’s cathedral-like architecture while c) making Grand Central Station feel like a hall in which a Nazi rally was recently held. Enormous banners hanging vertically seem to remind me of fascism. Oddly, the stars and stripes do nothing to mitigate this feeling.

12:50 P.M.: Sprint, panting, onto Metro-North train. Begin returning phone messages while enjoying view of Hudson River. Compulsively complete un-ergonomic timesheets for last three pay periods of after-school program and check and re-check hours, wondering how much of my hard-earned money the government is going to steal so it can continue murdering innocent people I’ve never met and have nothing against.

2:15 P.M: Catch taxicab to middle school in Yonkers where after-school program occurs. While in cab, call friend, The Hardest Working Accordian Player in New York City, to extend regrets for failing to answer phone when he called last night. “Holly and I got drunk and stoned and lost all sense of time,” I explained. “We can hang out tonight, but then I’m going out of town for the weekend to go sledding!” The Hardest Working Accordian Player in New York City is, as one might expect, busy.

2:18 P.M: Arrive at middle school. Pay cabbie. “You sound like a lot of fun,” he says, managing to make a Jamaican accent sound glum.

Ask glum Jamaican cabbie, “Do you ever get to have fun?”

“No, I just work.”

Say: “I know. You have a very hard job. I hope one day soon you get to have more fun.”

Feel bad that Jamaican cabbie is glum because he does not have fun, feel bad that he envies cab passengers who allude to getting stoned and drunk, going sledding. Jamaican cabbie deserves to get stoned, drunk, go sledding! Or whatever Jamaican cabbie enjoys! Why can’t Jamaican cabbie and all other humans have enough to eat and wear and still get to get stoned, drunk, go sledding, watch DVDs, shoot clay pigeons, etc. Why must some people, especially recent immigrants to this country, work long hours for low pay and little job security just for the privilege of living in a country that will repossess their hard-earned money and use it to kill other people they’ve never met and having nothing against?

2:19 P.M: Enter middle school and go to teacher’s cafeteria to retrieve large cardboard box full of cameras and other supplies for photography-and-math after-school program that I am for some reason designing and running, despite many vows never, ever to work for or with anyone else, nor to work in school buildings of any kind, nor to work with more than one child at a time. It must be for the children that I am doing this. For the children, and also to fund Holly’s and my mission to go fishing in Nicaragua. Why fishing? Why Nicaragua? Well, why not?

2:21 P.M: Dismissal bell rings and hundreds of screaming middle-schoolers pour into hallway. While carrying enormous and heavy cardboard box, cannot see anything in front of face. Am hit repeatedly in face with box as screaming middle-schoolers run directly into box, and I (and box) run directly into them. Stagger down many hallways to room where program occurs. Set box on table, revealing Derranged Teacher Whose Room This Is in line of vision. Derranged Teacher talks compulsively during three minutes in which we overlap in this classroom. “How was your Valentine’s Day? (No wait for response.). Mine was pretty good. Can’t complain. I was with my family. And my fiance. He gave me a trip. To visit his relatives in Georgia. But I like Georgia, so like I said, I can’t complain. My aunt was there, and my newphew, so it was nice. Yeah, it was really nice. I really can’t complain.”

2:30 P.M: Children arrive at after-school program. Next two and a half hours are a blur of tricking kids into doing math problems and admiring amazingly genius photographs taken by twelve-year-olds while trying to simoultaneously reinforce to them the basics of composition and fractions. Use collective snickering fascination with a picture of a woman’s ass some kid took to talk about placement. “What do you notice about this photograph?”


“But why do we notice right away that her butt is big? Why does it seem like everything in this picture is pointing at the butt?”

Kids eventually seem to grasp idea that putting someething in the center of a photograph and shooting it at a slight angle can emphasize its importance.

Encourage kids to combine two pictures in a mosiac while making them cut pictures in equal pieces to deal with fractions. Encourage kid with picture of butt to combine it with a picture of his own head to make a “butt-head.” Kid obliges, all are amused. Wonder if kid’s creativity has been stifled for my own adolescent amusement. Wonder if “butt-head” has gained or lost me respect for in the eyes of children. Butthead. Heh heh.

5:30 P.M.: Sprint, panting, onto Metro-North train. Return cell-phone messages. Oblige college student who has noticed anti-Moron Puppet pin on satchel in rote conversation about unfortunate further decline of American politics. Kerry the lessor of two evils, blah blah, election probably rigged, blah blah, so frustrating, blah blah blah.

6:10 P.M.: Talk to mother on cell phone in middle of Grand Central Station rush hour. Mother so wise and lovely. Love mother so much. Best mom in whole world. No, I don’t know the address of where I’m going in Vermont for the weekend. Yes, I will give you the phone number of where I am if I notice I don’t have cell phone reception when I get there. If you don’t hear from me, assume I will be reachable in the event of Death and please do not call me if it is not the event of Death. You are the best mom in the whole world! I love you! Now I am going to an undisclosed location in a remote rural area! Catch 6 train to Canal Street, a.k.a, my clever stopping-off point between the train that leads from Grand Central and the train that leads to Flatbush, where late-night tutoring session with genius Orthodox girl is located.

6:43 P.M. Enter Excellent Dumpling House in Chinatown, the best eleven-minute meal in downtown Manhattan. Amazing Waitress makes eye contact with me as I come through door, seats me in four seconds and places teapot, teacup, chopsticks and soup spoon in front of me in the time it takes to say the word, “same?”

Reply, “Same.”

Run into bathroom, secretly racing my own dinner back to table.

Beat dinner to table. Drink two cups of highly caffienated tea, skim entire New York Press. Dinner, known in short version as “Same” and in long version as “Seafood Dumpling Soup with Extra Beancurd and Broccoli,” arrives. Check for dinner arrives. Manage to consume all ten generous dumplings without splash-landing them back in soup. Skim entire Village Voice, leave exact change on table. At exact moment exact change hits table, Amazing Waitress reappears, removes empty soup bowl. Pound rest of highly caffienated tea to mitigate increasing effects of hot sauce from dumplings.

6:54 P.M.: Exit Excellent Dumpling House. Throw free alternative weeklies into trash can with satisfying “thunk.” Buy water from newsstand kisosk. Notice that door to outdoor refrigerator is rigged to bell that hangs over the man inside the kiosk to alert him when beverages have been removed.

Say to newsstand man: “Neat bell.”


“I like how you have it rigged up there, so people don’t steal water and stuff. That’s cool.”


Other guy approaches newsstand. Newsstand attendant flings change at me, begins animated discussion with other guy. Feel sad. We are not friends, do not speak same language, I cannot convey to him that I admire his simple yet ingenious bell contraption.

7:02 P.M.: Board Q train. Get seat. Try to make progress on formidable New Yorker anniversary issue, laden with behomoth articles on deceased writers, torture, tree surgeons. Want to want to read articles, but really, at this moment, want to smoke joint, watch five consecutive episodes of M*A*S*H while drinking martini. Try to interest self in article about torture. As is often the case with two-week double issues of the The New Yorker, this one has been rained on, spilled on and crumpled and no longer looks appealing despite fact that only the New Yorker Nibblies (Talk of the Town, Current Cinema, etc.) have been read.

7:36 P.M. Arrive Kings Highway, Flatbush, a.k.a Spinoff Planet SuperJew, a.k.a, Arse-End of Nowhere, Brooklyn, deep Brooklyn, numerous elevated train stops-Brooklyn, one hour-plus to anywhere else-Brooklyn. Walk through nearly suburban streets, too-quiet streets, streets where I often fear nebulous quasi-suburban crime (swift kidnapping in back of unmarked van, brutal rape in empty playground, random stabbing during botched mugging, even simple, unbotched mugging in which I will lose wallet full of just-paid cash from tutoring job in too-quiet neighborhood). I fear this nebulous suburban crime despite the comings and goings of many innocuous looking Jewish family men and the occassional raucous group of teenagers.

As today’s fears of nebulous quasi-suburban crime are percolating, hear footsteps behind me. Wheel around just in time to collide with running figure. Scream.

Running figure is female jogger.

“Sorry! Didn’t mean to scare you!”

Desire to be home watching M*A*S*H now obliterated by enormous surge of adrenaline. Find self in dining room of student’s house with no memory of reaching doorstep, ringing bell.

8:07 P.M.: Student complains of “ache behind eyes.” Student has awakened at 6 a.m. to begin day at incredibly rigourous yeshiva. “I would like to take my eyeballs out and soak them in warm water,” she says. Closing SAT prep book, I instruct student to rub her hands together to generate warmth.

“Place your hands gently over your eyes,” I begin, unsure of what I will say next. “Relax your eyes. Relax your eyeballs, and the muscles around your eyes. Relax the eye sockets, relax your face and jaw. Imagine that your eyeballs can gently fall out of your eye sockets–“

(at this moment I peek to see if this is too gross and Student is disgusted or disturbed, but despite fact that my impromptu visualization has gone well beyond the normal poetry of yoga class visualization in grossness, Student seems to be alright with it)

“–and you can put them in some warm water, where they can rest. Your eye sockets can rest. They are not holding on to your eyeballs so tightly. They are empty and resting for a moment.”

Realize I am in the middle of an eyeball-removal visualization. Don’t know what to do next. Luckily, kid takes deep breath, rubs eyes.

“You tell good stories,” she says, with no trace of irony. She opens the SAT book and begins correcting the new demented grammar section of the bullshit standardized test of absolutely nothing that is my nemesis and livelihood.

Later, while we are discussing subject versus object pronouns, she starts singing the song, “Me and My Llama, me and my llama, we’re going to the dentist today…” which was on Sesame Street twenty-two years ago when I was a little kid. I have been obsessed ever since with why the kid in the accompanying visual keeps a llama in what appears to be a brownstone in New York City.

We discuss why the kid is keeping a llama in a brownstone in New York City, but we don’t know why.

9:30 P.M.:I walk back to the train, fearing nebulous quasi-suburbran crime until I reach Kings Highway, on which I fear vomiting because of the succession of ubiquitous chain stores.

9:35 P.M.: Q train actually approaching. Board Q train. Assume usual late-night on Q train position, feet resting on opposite seat, reclining against the luxurious, slightly greasy orange plastic. Determined to make progress on New Yorker before going sledding, slog through article about E.B. White as a stepfather. Relieved Roger Angell is writing about something other than baseball or his WASP-y adolescence. Realize that this Roger Angell article is good (for once) because even though he is not the greatest writer, he is writing about a good writer.

10:14 P.M.: Notice we are on Manhattan Bridge. Realize that this is the fifth time I have crossed the East River today, and there is one more to go.

10:20 P.M.: Switch to or from L train at Union Square for the fourth time today.

10:34 P.M.: Enter house. Thankful that house no longer smells of chemical dust from fire extinguisher from unfortunate minor kitchen fire on Tuesday. (Really another story.) Sigh, mutter, putter.

11:07 P.M.: Sit down in tiger-print executive chair, open computer.

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