"Things that interfere with writing well: Earning a living, especially by teaching."

-William H. Gass

Thursday, March 27, 2008

how the other half gives

"If he needs a million acres to make him feel rich, seems to me he needs it 'cause he feels awful poor inside hisself, and if he's poor in hisself, there ain't no million acres gonna make him feel rich, an' maybe he's disappointed that nothin' he can do 'll make him feel rich....

...It ain't that big. The whole United States ain't that big. It ain't that big. It ain't big enough. There ain't room enough for you an' me, for your kind an' my kind, for rich and poor together all in one country, for thieves and honest men. For hunger and fat."

It's not just that John Steinbeck is a huge pimp. It's also that rich people are the devil. I can't help it - I don't like them. They freak me out. Unfortunately, I am cursed with a particularly discerning palette. Thus, when uber-rich people invite me to dinner, I can't say no. On Tuesday I was representing my boss at a house that could swallow up the trailer from whence I came seventeen times over. I walked over with my iPod blasting Bob Dylan singing about a dead hobo. The jazz trio could be heard from the courtyard. Cheek-kissing ladies funneled through the doorway. I stood at the edge of the drive in my favorite blue sneakers, a little post-welfare ball of anxiety. I hate these people. But I want to eat their food.

The entry way is clogged with activity. A frantic young woman repeats "May I take your coat" to the air, her arm outstretched toward no one in particular. She takes my coat and points to a table covered with alphabetized name tags. This young woman has the perfectionism disease big time. Her pearls sit exactly one quarter inch above her neckline and if you somehow threatened the sanctity of this exquisitely planned event, she would eat you for breakfast.

And so begins the excruciating "mingle" hour. To me, mingling is drinking wine in the corner and mocking people. This is delightful with a partner, but alone it just looks crazy. I stand there with my wine, not eating, staring at people in shifts, leering just long enough to make them uncomfortable. One woman accosts me.

"Oh hello, dear. I thought I saw you walk by the house, and I said to myself 'well she looks like she would be coming here, why would she walk by?' and now here you are."

I say, "Yeah, I was listening to music and I hate to stop mid-song."

"Oh! Isn't that wonderful, sounds like you've got your priorities straight."

I'm so bad at this. I have nothing to say to this woman. I gulp Fume Blanc.

"So, tell me dear, what do you do with yourself."

I tell her what I do: Teach. She cocks her head. Then I mention my employer's name.

Within seconds there is a flurry of Burberry and Chanel; I am engulfed by five old ladies. "Ohhhhh you work for him? How iiiiiiis he. It has been tooooo looooong. Oh you must tell him I say hello. Oh you are so lucky to be working with him. It must be just fabulous."

All of a sudden, I exist.

They poured upon me stories of the late 1960s, when they met my boss and fell in love with his work. I offer words of admiration for his work, looking into my wine glass, which is looking mighty low. They hand me cards and tell me to make sure to pass those on to him and flutter away as a unit. Existence by association. Blissful, as you might imagine.

Alone again. Mingle hour is almost up; I have eaten exactly nothing. The furniture looks like a museum collection. The art on the walls is old and represents an obnoxiously vast cultural diversity. I feel like I might break something.

Along comes the Ambassador, tinkling a bell. She holds it up over her head and motions for us to gather elsewhere. She herds us into the largest room, we moo obey. We sit facing a podium. I take a chair next to a sleeping cat. The Ambassador tinkles her way to the front. She has a microphone - it's time for introductions. She instructs us to speak about ourselves, and passes it to her left. It is five people away.

I look at the cat. The cat looks at me.

The five before me are presidents and founders of various philanthropic outfits. They kept saying, "By day, I'm an attorney. By night and weekend, I run this or that organization that I started. We help 'the communities.'"

What communities, exactly? Certainly not the ones we all live in.

Anyway, I'm struck by the sudden presence of a commonality: We all have more than one job. I will hand that to these rich people. They are really busy giving small fractions of their fortunes to "the communities."

I stammer through some mildly humorous thing about teaching. Then I mention, again, my boss whose name makes everyone go, "Ahhhhh." The Ambassador winks at me.

The microphone passing takes a significant amount of time. As it nears the end people are either more comfortable or more drunk, because the two sentence intro turns into paragraphs and jokes and commentary. Most entertaining are the high school students invited to represent their schools. They are perfectly adolescent, and say funny things. Two of them are black, and this pleases the crowd immeasurably. Oh look how integrated our little party is.

After the introductions and a few longer speeches by guests of honor, the Ambassador talks about raising millions of dollars through parties like this for great organizations that support the arts in education in Massachusetts. Then she says, "Because I only invited rich people!" Everyone laughs. "Like me!" Laughs.

Oh. How we chuckled.

Then she goes on to say that in "this very room" Frederick Douglass and other community leaders of the past gathered and plotted against oppression and inequality. Everyone gets reverent, breathing in the space.

Yeah. I'm sure this is just how Frederick pictured the future. We have fabulous parties to raise some money to put a year's worth of art and music programming in the urban schools because otherwise "those kids" wouldn't get any. Nice work America.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

No, Actually, It Did Not Go Well

Welcome to the third and apparently nowhere near final entry regarding my quest for permanent baby-proofing. This promises to be the most frustrated entry yet, so bear with my ranting.

[to self: Deep breath. Settle into a calming, excessively wordy description, and go from there...]

The Women's Health Center is on the same floor, down the hall, from Dr. H's office. I approach it with great excitement, as I have waited two months for this appointment. (Actually, that is only the length of time between appointments. I first asked a doctor for tubal ligation at age 18, making my wait time just under ten years.) This visit to my gynecologist seems like a step toward the light at the end of a really, really long tunnel (if you are thinking that this is an intentional invocation of female anatomy you are correct, and I'm enjoying the hell out of it).

The Women's Health Center is a reproduction (pun totally intended) of the Medical Specialties Office. Same muted colors for the upholstery, television in the same corner, different magazines. I go through the check-in rigamaroll and sit. And wait. The television bestows upon we waiters the slings and arrows of televised small claims court. In this particular episode, a woman is suing her landlord for her security deposit and he is simultaneously suing her right back for damages. Plaintiffs and defendants both, they glare at each other beneath ill-combed mullets. This world provides daily reminders as to why reproducing humans is an act engaged in far too often.

My appointment time comes and goes. Cases are settled. The suers and the sued offer post-trial commentary beneath rolling credits. I wait and wait.

Finally, the receptionist comes around from behind the desk and calls me over. She points me down the back hallway, where a nurse is waving a clipboard. She tells the receptionist thank you, sending her back out front. The nurse explains to me, "I didn't want to go get you myself, because there's an angry lady out there who says she's waited too long and I wasn't gonna deal with that."

We go through the motions. Weight. Blood pressure. Doctor will be right with you.

She pops back in.

What was the last day of your last period.

I have no idea. We look at the calendar, thinking that will jog my memory. I literally have no idea. Do people keep track of this shit?

To get rid of her, I tell a complete lie. I say, "Ohhhh yeah. The sixteenth." She happily marks it down, thanks me, and leaves for real. I have lied to a nurse.

Two minutes later the doctor is in. She is a healthy sort, in her late forties I'd wager, and looks like she rides horses or something else that requires physical exertion and wealth. Tennis. No make up, no jewelry. Whether she remembers me or not, she acts as if she does. I mean, I do have a rather memorable...um...face.

"Hellloooo, good to see you again."

"Hi, it's good to see you."

"You look great."


"So." Clipped, but not curt. "What can I do for you today?"

"Well I think Dr. H told you that I am requesting tubal ligation."

"He did. Tell me, Kelly, have you hooked yourself into some counseling yet?"

As you may remember, as a teacher I am the Apotheosis of Patience, and this is no different. I make no gestures to reveal how vile I find the idea that one must seek counseling before a simple medical procedure.

"No, I haven't."

"Frankly, even if you had, I'm just not comfortable performing this surgery on women under thirty. However, I do want you encourage you to get a therapist or psychiatrist or other mental health professional involved before you continue with this. I think anyone potentially performing the surgery would want you to have sorted that all out."

Stop time, Zack Morris style. You won't do it at all? And you knew what this appointment was about? Um, that might have been appropriate information to offer BEFORE the $25 copay, ass hole. Or BEFORE I took the day off of work. Or BEFORE I got my little child hating hopes up.

Dr. Gynopussy, as she will heretofore be known, senses that I am frustrated (might have had something to do with heavy sighing and eyeball movements...she's very perceptive) and says, "I'm sorry to make you come all the way over here. And I hope you don't feel like I'm abandoning you."

No, actually, I don't feel abandoned at all. Here is the list of things that I feel:

1. Fucking irritated

2. Patronized

3. Belittled

4. Judged

5. Did I mention fucking irritated??

So then she launches into this defensive speech about regret rates, and her oath to "do no harm" and blah blah freaking blah. I say, "Would it be easier for someone to get a vasectomy?"

She says she isn't sure, but that she would certainly be interested in knowing. Then she says, "Are you in a relationship with someone who does not want children?"

I first mention that one's relationship status shouldn't really have any bearing on medical decisions. I then tell her, in an attempt to escape what had just become an awkward moment, that dating someone who wanted kids would be like dating a Republican. Someone who wants children disagrees with me on something pretty darned fundamental to my identity, something that is non-negotiable. Then I go ahead and make it awkward again with this: "I find it incredibly frustrating to have the entire medical profession, not to mention 98% of everyone else I know, consistently calling that part of me into question, as if there is some part of me that is unknowable, or that I need to be protected from decisions I MIGHT make later."

So then she says, "I understand completely," and IN THE SAME BREATH, asks if my boyfriend would seek a vasectomy.


Despite whatever antiquated world-view Gynopussy is operating within, I thought she might see how I would find that offensive. Regardless of who I am dating, my reproductive decisions are my own.

Folded into her suggestion is the assumption that obtaining a vasectomy for a young unmarried male presents fewer obstacles than obtaining tubal ligation for a young unmarried female. If this is true, me and the nice folks at Cambridge Hospital are going to be in our own little courtroom drama. I left the office with her repeated urging to seek counseling echoing in my brain.

I make an appointment at the desk with another gynecologist in the building. He represents one of three more "shots" within Cambridge Hospital. I have to wait another month. I have to pay another fee.

On my walk to the car, my mouth excreted foul language unlike any I've ever spoken. I ran out of swears. Now, I come from a long line of laborers and drunks. Running out of swears is not a small thing, people.

Then I do what I always do when I am about to for serious freak out. Like any grown up who can make her own damn decisions, I call my dad. He says a number of unhelpful things like:

"Given the likelihood that your offspring will resemble me, it's kind of your duty to the world to have at least one."


"General anestesia sounds like just what you need right now, actually, I'm surprised she wouldn't give it to you."

and, his only serious comment:

"Well, all she's recommending is that you explore a really important decision with an impartial person before going through with it."

To which I say:

Do people who want to have children have to seek counseling?

Do people who are having trouble conceiving have to go see a psychiatrist before receiving fertility treatment?

Do people seeking fertility treatment get a speech about how the process of having kids is non-reversible?

NO! Why is the seriousness of choosing NOT to have children GREATER than choosing TO have children?

There. Aren't. Enough. Swears.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

test prep test schmep

This will be short. Remember that time I got demoted for being too "unfocused on testing" and "progressive to a fault?" You know, the time when they told me to do more test prep or they would fire me. Well I do. And since then our students have taken lots and lots of tests. Ohhh how we love tests.

Lo and fucking behold:

ONCE AGAIN, upon receiving the test results this morning, we can see that: the test scores in my subjects for my students were higher than every single other subject and every single other teacher.

Did I bend to the will of the test prep wackos? No, no I did not. In fact, in my childish stubborn manner that is both adorable and effective, I did approximately ZERO test prep this school year. You know what I did do? I loved the crap out of my kids and my job and I did not for one nano-second believe that any of them could fail. That's it.

Huzzah! Drill and kill this, bitches. Sniff...sniff...mmm...I love the smell of victory in the morning.