Thursday, September 8, 2016

What's in a Name (Part 2)

My 7th grade teacher preferred to call every student by their last name and the title of either Mr. or Miss depending on their gender. It was disconcerting at first but became a joke to all the students thereafter. We spent most of the year calling each other by our last names whenever we were not in the classroom. Good fun, I can assure you.

By the time I went to college and studied abroad, the Miss My Last Name phase had already worn incredibly thinly on me (Thank you, 7th grade!). However, there I was in my advanced French grammar class with a seriously stern and strict French matron. She believed in the memorization of regular and irregular conjugations, correct pronoun usage and agreement and using the subjunctive. She was scary but with lovely skin and an awesome black wardrobe that was highly enviable. The sole difference with Madame B was that she didn’t call me Mademoiselle My Last Name. She just called me by my last name. All the time! Meanwhile she called everyone else by their first name.

I found myself in a quandary. How did I approach this professor and correct her when really it wasn’t that offensive? How do I tell her when I really didn’t want to get more difficult homework? I was doing well in her class, what if my confronting her made her hate me? After all, she was French and they were still mysterious to me culturally. Was this going to be the faux pas that sent me back home to the United States interminably? (Mind you, my friends loved that she called me by my last name. So much so that still to this day they call me by my last name as a joke to the past.)

Biting the bullet does not entirely capture my plan of attack. I decided I would wait after class and inform her that my last name was not my first name. As class was dismissed and people dilly dallied to leave the classroom, I waited in the back until everyone filed out. I walked up to the professor. Gave her an enormous smile and straightened my posture. I took a deep breath. She asked me if I had a question and I point blank posed, “Why do you call me by my last name in class when you call everyone else by their first name?”

Her facial muscles poured over her chin. I wondered if I raised the question in the correct French format because I honestly wasn’t sure what had popped out of my mouth. She picked up a piece of paper which I quickly realized was her class roster. She asked me “Your name isn’t A. A.?” I told her it was but that the second A was my last name and the first A was my Christian name. She understood immediately that the way my name was presented in the roster was the opposite of what it has been with the other students. My name for some bizarre reason was presented in the European fashion, last name first and Christian name second while everyone else’s name was presented with American way (first name followed by last name). She thought they were all on the paper in the same fashion. Immediately she profusely apologized for her mistake. She then added, “Both of your names are very pretty!” I thanked her and she said she would not make the mistake again. “Incidentally, you are doing quite well in class. You should have told me earlier. Of course now that I have your name correct, I will pick on you more in class!” This is exactly what I wanted to avoid! But oh well. Always be wary of what you wish!

Thereafter, she did call on me repeatedly to answer. The difference was that I didn’t feel awkwardly singled out because of my name but because I had the right answer. I also often asked questions in class to clarify grammar rules because I could see people were perplexed. By posing my comments, it helped me get fewer questions about English grammar. I saw a direct correlation to my understanding of English grammar and how that solidified my French language education.

Standing up and asserting myself instilled a confidence in me that I didn’t have before that event. It showed me that I could express myself thoughts in another language and be understood. Madame also seemed to push me harder and appreciated my confronting her. It seemed as though I gained her respect (Seemingly because who really could tell at that point).  In hindsight, I believe it did but in the moment, I was just as perplexed by her after the incident as I had been when she called me by my last name.

Oddly, once I started in the working world, I found that people often called me by my last name instead of my first name. In this regard there was no roster mistake, it showed me people don’t really care or pay attention. Often when I point out people’s mistake, they don’t even notice it. I have to explain a number of times where their error is. Sadly it’s happened numerous times – so many that I have lost count on all my fingers and toes. My retort is different these days. Instead of bothering to explain their mistake, I call them by their last names first. And when they correct me, I smarmily say ‘oh well, you have been calling me by my last name first that I thought that was the way we were communicating.” It’s impertinent but it goes both ways. If you respect me, I’ll respect you. Perhaps the reason I pointed out my teacher’s mistake was due to my respecting her or was it about respecting myself? Maybe as the years progress, I’ll figure that one out.

Friday, September 2, 2016

What's in a Name (Part 1)

My dad was a man of his word. If he told you he would do something, he would do it. There may not have been a specification of when it would happen but it was as good as done if he professed to do it. He was also a fairly simple man. He didn’t really see the need for so many words in the world. He often complained about going to the doctor because they said a lot. He also did not think there was any need for so many names.

He didn’t care if your name was Robert, Abdul or Yin. No matter your appellation, he would call you Johnny.  This was the case for males. If I remember, he was much better with female names or would just not say the name. This was startling to most people, especially if they had a name tag that clearly displayed their forename.

For instance, we were on a trip to Canada for a family wedding. We stopped at a gas station to fill up the tank. My dad rolled down the window and the attendant came over to greet us. The tag on his chest clearly displayed that his name was Mohamed. My dad, however, told ‘Johnny’ to ‘fill it up’. My siblings and I sat in the back seat trying not to crack up when we could visibly see this nice fellow was never christened ‘Johnny’.

Other examples were the many nice occasions when we would go out to dinner or to a party and my dad would tell Maurice or Steve to leave his appetizer salad for ‘after dinner, Johnny!’ Papa Luigi always wanted his salad at the end of the meal. God forbid Johnny, or anyone else for that matter, took his greens away before he was ready for them. Often there was also the request, ‘Johnny, can you bring me some ice for my wine?’ Yes, my dad liked an ice cube in his red wine. He always said that warm wine made him sleepy. As long as Johnny followed his instructions, all would be calm in the world.

The best part of all of this was that people often had trouble pronouncing my dad’s name (well, until the Mario brothers came along. After that he was famous!). There was often Weegee (rhymes with squeegee for that wonderful time in New York’s history where no car window was safe!), or Luis or even just Lou. At least those last two were in the ballpark in a way. You would think that having his name mispronounced would make him pay more attention. That was definitely not the case. My dad was more of the ‘eff you’ mentality on names, as in you are lucky I even decided to call you anything non-offensive at all. I don’t really know why I thought he would be more correct in name usage given that he would call us different nicknames at home.

There was a good decade of my life where I was convinced that my dad didn’t even know my real name. I was, after all, christened every single natural disaster imaginable by my dad. ‘Hey Tempest, come here’ or ‘Little Earthquake, bring me my glass of wine!’ My dad preternaturally knew I would be encountering name issues so he gave me an early education.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Around the Block

A few months ago my daughter's  nursery class was learning about neighborhoods and modes of transportation. There were daily queries of which transportation option I took to get to work and what was my favorite way to get places. In addition, I was asked by a little interrogator if I went to the grocery store or the post office on my way to work.

In order to further cement the lesson, her class was planning a field trip. I decided to sign up to be a chaperone because:
1) It was something I could squeeze into an hour of my morning schedule without attending a full-day event.
2) I thought it would be fun. (Honestly, this was the biggest factor in my participation!)

After dropping the kids off at school and making sure they had all the bathroom department business completed, the other parents, who were also chaperoning, gathered at the class door to collect their field trip pair. Each parent had their own child and then another little munchkin. My daughter was exhilarated that I was involved in this activity. She grabbed onto my hand and decided to swing from it while her friend pulled my other hand and arm down the stairs. (If only they had pulled my legs a bit so I would grow a few inches.)

We made our way outside and the teacher instructed the children to point to and call out the modes of transportation they had learned. Immediately twenty 3-year-olds yelled out, "Taxi!", "Bus!", "Bicycle!" The boisterous nature of toddlers was magnified by 100 times due to this close proximity to them. I could not contain my laughter because it was hysterical to hear them jubilantly calling out everything on wheels.

We turned away from the main boulevard, around a corner and up a quiet residential street. The noise became a bit more manageable. We decided to examine the budding flowers blossoming near all the trees. This fascinated quite a number of the children particularly because they didn't know the names of the flowers (daffodils, lilacs, impatiens, etc.). We then looked in on a couple of the businesses, waved to the owners and patrons, and explained what the people inside those offices and shops did. One particular child, who incidentally is always late to school, pointed out where she lived. It was eye-opening to everyone and horrifying to the child's mother that she was being ratted out.

The best part of the whole field trip was my daughter. Not only because she's my cutie and I got to share this moment with her, but also because she's shamelessly in love with dogs. As we walked around the block, she must have stopped to put her hand out to every dog. She wanted them all to sniff her so she could pet them. She did this unabashedly. She didn't care that her friend was scared out of her mind by every dog. My daughter also did not notice that I had to switch pairs so that her partner would not have a panic attack. She just thought all the dogs were 'cute' or 'fuzzy' and she wanted to pet them.

When we finally returned to the school entrance, the parents and teacher attempted to take a group picture. This was quite a challenge. I alone had 25 pictures of the children and in each one, at least one of the children was either hiding, not smiling, crying or running away from the group. It made me appreciate the work that the teachers do every day. There are moments where I really can not handle one child and yet, these teachers work with at most 20 different personalities on a daily basis. And they do it effortlessly and often, with no complaints. 

Although the trip lasted no more than a half hour, I know I will not forget it because:
1) My ears haven't yet recovered from all the screaming
2) It's a memory of a day at school with my daughter that I so frequently get to experience.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Warrior Two

My little one is very active. She has been since the earliest days of her development in my uterus. I was often kicked and punched deeply around my internal organs while my munchkin was growing inside me. One night during my last trimester, she had gotten into a kickboxing frenzy with my ribs – so powerful that I was convinced she had broken at least one of my bones.

As she has been growing, she can climb and run for great expanses of time without ever looking tired. The only indication of exhaustion would be the amount of time it would take her to fall asleep at night. If she had conked out within 5 minutes of hitting the pillow, she was truly spent. If it took longer, then she had not quite run on empty.

In order to keep her activity levels going through the winter, we decided it would behoove her (and us) if she took up some after-school activities. She was content with a cooking class but she would run around the apartment in circles for hours at a time. She proceeded then to climb and jump off the sofa for a few hours more. My husband and I were determined that she would definitely take up swimming since we both consider it a life skill. But what else could she do to burn off some energy? We decided to let her try a couple of activities and then let her choose.

The first class was martial arts. Her school had an activities event in the early Fall that showcased a number of different sports. She liked martial arts the most of all the ones on display that day. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the event but got the report from my husband, whose opinions are generally spot on. (I had a feeling that this would be a perfect activity for her especially because I not so fondly remembered the pain in my ribs that still lingers until this day!) She genuinely liked the class, particularly the discipline involved. Discipline, in this instance, was yelling out loud to answer the instructors!

Next, my husband brought her to a gymnastics class with a friend from her school. I used to take gymnastics and I loved the running, jumping, tumbling and dancing and thought she could use some work with the balance beam (Heck, couldn’t we all use more balance work?). She seems to like it but my husband informed me that it wasn’t very organized. I understood his point but I felt like it has to be difficult to maintain order with a bunch of kids bouncing around. Maybe I’m too lax with the idea of chaos in childhood.

And because EVERY SINGLE GIRL that my daughter knows does ballet, I thought we should give it a try. After all the intention of all of these trials would be that she would pick the class she liked the best. I am not one for tutus. I just don’t get the appeal. (Maybe it’s the gymnast in me. However, I hate leotards just as much as tutus.) The girls came in and were very upright and my daughter (just into her 3rd year at the time) was already slouching. The teacher was an older woman, who obviously was a dancer given her stance, walk, general poise and upright manner. She started the class by telling a story of a famous ballet. She then led the girls through some stretches and some passes back and forth doing ballet moves. They then read the full story and got dressed up and interpreted the story. It was pretty cute to watch my daughter struggled with plies (Hi! That’s my daughter alright. Not far from the apple tree!). Boy, did she ever love getting dressed up and dancing around the studio?

After class was over, and on our walk home, I asked her which of the classes she liked the best. She said martial arts. I was secretly contented. I told my husband to question her as well (I certainly didn’t want to seem as though I were sending out universal vibes towards martial arts!). She informed him that she preferred martial arts. And that is how the selection was made.

I am not always able to attend her classes but I get videos of her during the class. She’s super cute (no bias here)! When she first wore her all white outfit and belt and stood perfectly in her fighting stance, I knew she was made to be a warrior. I love to hear her punch and throw kicks. She is now obsessed with eating ‘good food’ so she will have ‘strong muscles’ and I secretly (and not so secretly) want to eat her. She enjoys running and jumping and looking at herself in the mirror as she goes by. I am happy she’s learning that good food gives her energy to do martial arts and to play in general. That’s a positive message we could all remember (but cookies are so tasty). As she becomes more aware of what her body can do, she is building up her confidence. I hope she’ll stick with this for a long time. Hopefully her beating my ribs to a pulp just a few years ago wasn’t all for naught.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Warrior One

My friend entered herself and me into an Instagram drawing a few months ago. And we won! The drawing was for a private yoga session for 2 with one of the instructors my friend knew at her local yoga studio. I’ve never won a single thing in my life. The irony of the winning name having been initiated by my friend and not me is not lost on me. I really have no luck.

After a few months of back and forth emails trying to confirm a date and time, we got together. Yippee! It was a great session. I had my alignment adjusted by a trained professional. Questions I have had for a long time were finally answered. One of the questions was around hip position in a pose called Warrior 1. I have always been perplexed with this pose because there is another relatively similar pose called Warrior 2. I was always mixing them up – doing arms for warrior 1 and legs of warrior 2 and vice versa.

Partly, my self-imposed game of ‘Twister’ had to with my recent yoga classes being in a studio with a mirror. I often found myself gazing at my position and feeling awkward with the reflection in the mirror. It made me second-guess my hip placement, foot alignment, etc. To put my thoughts at ease, I asked the instructor to explain the differences. Always go with your gut, people! You know more than you think you do.

She said my alignment and positioning was correct. She also confirmed my theory that mirrors do not belong in yoga studios. Yoga is a personal, internally-focused exercise. By looking in a mirror, and ultimately outward, it becomes competitive. Comparing yourself with others is inherently against the foundations of the practice. In order to be more mindful of my practice, I will wear my blind fold and do the various poses.  Here’s to a new way to do yoga!

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Four Letter Word

I have always prided myself on being nice. A number of people in my life have said I was one of the nicest people they knew. I suppose I should have known when someone said I was the ‘nicest’ person that something was seriously wrong in the world. I can be nice but I am not always very nice or the nicest, in the least. Was it possible that I had this superlative quality – that I was the ‘-est’ of some adjective? It was only relatively recently that I realized that niceness is not a positive trait in most people’s eyes.

A number of years ago, one of my managers said that an ‘opportunity’ that I needed to work on was ‘not being so nice’. You can probably imagine how aghast I was when she said this to me. I chalked it up to ‘her problem’ and justified it as being more about her than about me. After all, she was a word that rhymed with switch. She probably thought her being a micromanaging, indecisive hypocrite was a ‘strength’, while most everyone really hated all those qualities about her.

The feedback I received directly (and indirectly) from others for that particular review was that I was a positive person who worked well with others and was always collaborating. People also said I knew how to work with each individual’s skills to get the best out of everyone.  I saw these as truly great attributes. I felt stupendous about my propensity towards these characteristics; until the bomb was dropped. After my review, I spent the entire weekend moping around wondering why it was a weakness (Incidentally whenever ‘opportunity’ is used during a review, it is code for ‘weakness’). I always thought being a ‘team player’ was a valued skill. (Heck, isn’t it a prerequisite on most job descriptions?)  It seems pretty obvious to me that I was in possession of that talent. How could it be seen pejoratively? I’ll tell you how.

The extrovert is as American as apple pie and Uncle Sam. The person who points out the obvious vociferously on conference calls is ‘the bread and butter’ of the corporate world. Because I was quiet and reserved and hardly ever pronouncing on calls, I was seen as too kind.  I needed to speak up more - to tell people my ideas. I couldn’t correlate the two. How was being quiet also seen as being nice? Maybe I was just nice and also quiet but they normally are mutually exclusive? I mean she was loud and dumb, do those two go together? Not really, right? Most people wouldn’t agree to that connection.

Years have passed since that review and I’ve learned to live with my weakness. I was fine until one of my friends mentioned that she, too, had been called ‘too nice’ in a recent performance review. Then the ire subconsciously simmering in my gut blew up. Hello! Why is being nice a bad thing? I knew of many people who were rude, selfish and unprofessional. The overwhelming tone when those folks were a topic of conversation (euphemism for gossip here) was seething. They were bottlenecks to any progress and colleagues often dreaded working with them. Granted, I never fully knew what their reviews were like but am sure they didn’t take anger control or aggression as opportunities.  I suppose that I will never truly know why being nice is considered a bad thing in corporate America. However, I am going to exercise my right to be stubborn and say, "I refuse to be change". I will now be difficult, frustrating and close-minded. Thank you, very much. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Enforcer

The electronic street crossing signs for pedestrians have changed over the years. They used to flash a phrase - a white “Walk” or a red “Don’t Walk”. Recently the signs have been upgraded (to a degree) to show a red hand flashing a palm, which I presume means “Don’t Walk” (although it could be ‘talk to the hand’ in some circles). Conversely, the ‘walk’ sign is an outline of a person walking.
When my daughter started walking, I explained the meaning of these commonly seen signs so that she would understand them. She knows exactly when we should stop in our tracks and wait for the light to change and when we can proceed on our route. She knows these indications very well. So well, that she even tells strangers that they should be following the crossing signals.

One morning, on our way to school, we approached a busy intersection just as the ‘walking person’ began to flash – indicating that we should prepare to stop. On the other side of the boulevard, a mother, her enormous stroller and her 3 children approached the intersection as well. My daughter put her hand up (copying the red hand) and yelled out “Stop!” The mother laughed and halted. She made some faces to me from the other side of the street to say that my daughter was precocious (I already knew this as you can imagine). When the lights changed to walk, and we finally passed each other in the middle of the street, the mother said “She’s very cute. And she’s very protective of others!” I thanked her. Since that day, whenever we see this mom, she says hello to us and ceases promptly at the crosswalk if the light says not to walk.

My daughter has also shown her penchant for following rules by being a referee/mediator when the boys in her class wrestle in the hallway. As those little rug rats start pushing or punching each other, in swoops ‘Super Rule Follower’ to tell them, “Boys! No fighting!” It’s cute. However, I have indicated to her that she needs to stay far away from the boys because they aren’t paying attention to her. I don’t want her to get injured because she’s protecting and serving. (Let’s be honest here. Why aren’t parents telling their kids not to fight and wrestle? Why is my daughter pointing out the obvious?)

We’ve also encouraged the munchkin to cover her mouth when she coughs, sneezed and yawns. In addition to this courtesy, we have told her not to talk when her mouth is full of food. Whenever my husband and I sneeze or cough, she reiterates our admonitions “Cover your Mouth!” (Even if we are blatantly covering our mouths!) If we happen to talk at a meal, she wildly gesticulates with her adorable little finger that there is food in the offender’s mouth.  She points to her mouth and states, ‘There’s food in your mouth so don’t talk!”

I was informed last week by the assistant teacher that ‘little me’ tells everyone in her class to cover their mouth when they sneeze and cough. The assistant said that it was good practice for everyone. Too often the kids didn’t do it and the teachers forget to remind them. She even said it was great that she got up to get a tissue to rub her eyes. I had told my daughter to do this after a pink eye warning went around. The aide said that my daughter was a leader to the other students. Here I was thinking that all of these practices were to protect her and not get her sick. But because she inherently enjoys enforcing the rules perhaps this is an indication to a future profession – police officer, lawyer, nagging mother or wife, smart aleck. All of them are acceptable jobs to me. Let’s just hope she grows out of her informant ways and continues to enforce rules and proper manners. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Welcoming Committee

We are a family that can’t seem to be late no matter how hard we try. Even if we dilly-dally for thirty minutes or more, we are ultimately always early to events or to meeting other people. I guess it’s a good thing that we are punctual (or what it really means is that most people do not know how to manage their time). My husband says that being on time is one of the ultimate signs of respect. I can understand that because if you are ‘on time’ to meeting someone it means that you are considerate of their time. It could mean you just want to get there to see them (if you like them, it’s a respectful thing), too.

This tendency towards punctuality manifests itself in our daily school routine as well. We have to drop off my daughter by 8:20 am. We are almost always the first parent/child set to arrive. (Trust me; we have tried to waste time in various ways but we always get there before the majority of families.)  In order to kill time while we wait for the class doors to open, my daughter has taken to watching the staircase to see which of her classmates is coming up the stairs. (It’s cuter than it sounds.)

One of the moms christened us “The Welcoming Committee”.  Mind you, it’s mostly my daughter who is excited by the appearance of her ‘friends’. I’m a quiet observer. However, I will validate my daughter’s announcements.

M: Mommy, it’s J!!!!!!!!!! (Names have been made into initials to protect the innocent)
Me: Yes, it is J. Say ‘good morning’!
Moments later…
M: Mommy, mommy, it’s F!!
Me: It sure is!

A few weeks ago, the mom who ‘baptized’ us sent a note saying she missed the “Welcoming Committee” because her child had been out of school for a few days. It was a very sweet gesture. When the child returned to school after convalescing and my daughter announced the arrival, you could see that the child had missed this enthusiasm while out sick.  The mom said that we were performing an important role. 

I guess everyone at some point wants to know they are welcome.  So being early has a number of advantages. (Getting a seat for a sold out movie is one that immediately comes to mind.)  I guess if we can’t be late, we can let others know that we are happy to see them. It also makes others feel accepted and wanted and isn’t that what we all want in the end?  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Informant

A few months ago, the munchkin had decided that her new interest was fake sneezing. Finding it to be the funniest thing imaginable, she would use it as a measure to cheer herself up or to break the monotony of a conversation her father and I were having, in which she was not included.  It was endearing in some ways and a catch-22 in others.

When she decided that it was time to ‘hide’ (taking a piece of clothing or one of the sheets from her bed), she would attempt to stay quiet. Ultimately she would provide a clue to where she was hiding by ‘sneezing’ and then following it with a giggle. Her father and I would pretend we had no idea where she was after said sneeze to keep up appearances. She would then pop out from under the shirt or sheet so say ‘Peek-A-Boo!’

On a number of occasions, as I would walk down the street holding munchkin’s hand, she initiated a process of sneezing in order to jump really high into the air. Upon her landings, she often would drag me down or a bit to the side. I did not quell her fun. (My perspective is that childhood is the one time you are allowed to jump in the air without people looking at you like you are insane. In fact, most people genuinely smile when they see the munchkin doing this.)  After almost every sneeze, I would either say “Bless you!” or “That sneeze was so powerful, we should go to the doctor and have her check it out.”  The sneezing-jumping phase lasted for a few weeks, which included the early period of her pre-school introduction.

There we were at drop off one morning when the little one decided to fake sneeze in front of the head teacher. My face was aghast.

Munchkin reported to the teacher, “I got a powerful sneeze so I should go to the doctor to make sure I feel better.”

The teacher responded, “Ok!”

Of course, I felt the need to explain that she was not sick but fake sneezing. But am not sure how far that explanation went to pacifying the teacher’s fear of powerful sneezes not being an indication of sickness.  What this incident also initiated was a period where my tiny one would point out the obvious or inform people of things that perhaps they did not care to know.

Some of the items include:
“Hey Mommy, you are short!”
“Mommy, your toe nails are purple.”
“Daddy, cover your mouth when you cough!”
“Mommy, you have food in your mouth so don’t talk!”

Who knows what she said to other people? These were examples of the running commentary in my purview – as you can see most of them involved pointing out my mishaps or flaws (I guess she learned something from Nonna after all). After weeks of this behavior, I christened her ‘the informant’ because she delivered every line like the roving reporter on the evening news broadcast – matter-of-fact with no color commentary.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Loss and the City

“Roll up your windows! Lock your doors!” my dad whisper-growled to us as he made the exit off the expressway and deep into the heart of the 1980’s Bronx. Unlike roaches that scatter when light is turned on, the squeegee cleaners espied our station wagon and invaded from every direction. ‘Clean’ was now fair game.

Even as my dad made very obvious ‘no’ signals with his head, hand and mouth, they swooped down with their makeshift soapy water dispensers and sponge sticks to muddy the windshield.

“Jesus Christ! I said no! You mother guy” my dad howled.

Shaking his head in disbelief, he turned to the passenger seat and asked me, ‘Do you have a nickel to give them?’

At that young age, I knew a nickel wasn’t much money.  Most certainly not enough to split amongst the 6 cleaning people I could see. (Were there any people under the car?) My eyebrows took residence on my forehead as I looked at my dad and automatically dug into my coin pocket. Whatever coin I pulled out, I relinquished it to my dad. I was NOT going to crank open the window and give the vultures my precious hand.

My dad cracked the window enough to push the width of the coin through the slot he created. The main entrepreneur looked at the dime and scowled.

My dad screamed “I told you I didn’t want you to clean my window so that’s all you get!” He then pressed his heavy foot onto the accelerator. The behemoth screeched and careened as it turned tossing me against the door. Good thing, I had locked that door after all. For a brief moment, I imagined myself rolling out of the car, being beaten on the same road where we gypped the squeegee guys of their deserved pay.

Back then there were so many suspicious characters, like the squeegee people, who would menace ‘The Big Apple’ and its 5 boroughs. You devised various techniques to dodge bad deeds or unsavory people. You would chant the very useful ‘make no eye contact’ mantra to yourself as you proceeded with your plans. My dad always had an arsenal of comments to recite for any given situation. As they ‘cleaned up’ the city and it became less dangerous, there were fewer incidents with the likes of the squeegee people and panhandlers on subway platforms and cars. My dad however would still have a token term for any ‘riff-raff’ he saw regardless of whether they were threatening or not.

In recent years, all the efforts to ameliorate the quality of life in the city are vanishing. The singers, beggars and squatters are back in full force in subway cars. Groups of homeless people dance, sing and urinate in front of subway entrances (not necessarily in that order). There’s even a group of 5 who I have christened the ‘bad street boys’ that I see most mornings on my way to work. I’ve begun to repeat my ‘look down’ chant numerous times daily. While this makes me sad for the state of the city, what saddens me most is that I can no longer partake in these observations and complaints with my dad.  I’ll no longer hear the audible outburst “You mother guy!” from my dad’s lips, except in my own head.