Wednesday, December 23, 2015

life gets a little terrifying

Yesterday, I was assigned to a group of seven individuals, along with two other counselors. Our activity was to go the mall. This is a fairly common activity, although I'd never done it before. Everyone brings their lunch, we get into a van, go to a local mall, find bathrooms, eat at a food court (dayhab will often buy each person a soda), walk around and look in windows, find bathrooms, and drive back.

Part of the problem was that the people I work with suffer from the reverse of something I recently ranted about: a dayhab full of Christian counselors would never have taken a group of people to a shopping mall three days before Christmas. Or else someone just didn't think about it, since a group goes to a mall about once a week.

Then there was the destination. Instead of the usual Brooklyn or Staten Island mall, someone (still don't know who) decided to go to Roosevelt Field. This is a perfectly enormous mall on Long Island, maybe ten times bigger than Kings Plaza in Brooklyn. Kings Plaza has one anchor store (a large, "destination" department store that all malls have). And Kings Plaza is so down-on-its-heels that their anchor store is Sears. Roosevelt field has like ten anchor stores: Nordstrom's and Nieman Marcus and Bloomingdales and J.C.Penney and so on.

First, some app throws off our driver, and we get to the wrong town. Then we get to the right town, and it's really slow traffic approaching the mall. We get into the massive parking lot and drive around for 20 minute. We cannot find a spot. The driver decides to let most of us off to go in while she parks the car (later to reconnect via cell phone). As seven of us, five individuals and two counselors, leave the van and walk toward the entrance, I see a lot of people rushing out, holding up their cellphones, and saying, "There's a shooting." I turned around, stopped everyone, mouthed "a shooting" to the counselor who was outside the van, started herding our people back to the van and then quietly told the counselor who was driving. None of the individuals knew what was going on and we didn't tell them.

Then all the sirens, lots of police and ambulances. We made our way to a quiet spot within the parking lot, away from the main mall, and ate lunch in the van. We then went into an office building with a few big storefronts, and I explained to the concierge who we were and that we needed bathrooms. Then we got back in the van, and it took about 45 minutes to get out of the parking lot. Traffic was crawling. Some of the individuals kvetched, but no one really asked questions. It was really slow for the first half of the trip back. We got back just in time for afternoon pick-up (about 3:20).

At first, it was mostly a big ha-ha, about how screwed up the trip was, with the shooting as a slight added drama. But over about twenty-four hours, I realize how scary it was.

The actual shooting was a really minor incident: some schmuck tried to steal a Rolex from Tourneau Corner, got off a wild short that winged an employee outside the store, and then the robber was forced down by, I think it was an off-duty NYC cop and a security guard who was a former NYC cop.

The local press really played up the NYC police angle.

If we had gotten there five minutes later, the seven of us would have been in the middle of panic and stampede. Not near the shooting, but no one knew that at the time. And it's so much scarier when you're responsible for people who can't look after themselves well or at all. It's exactly if it had been a school trip with young children.

The either counselors, who were more experienced than I, were really amazing. The person driving popped in a recording of Jewish children's stories, which distracted everyone and discouraged too much talking. The two of them said and did the right thing, start to finish.

Also, I was kind of fascinated by the story. It was Jewish Jewish, not like Jerry-Seinfeld-Jewish or Woody-Allen-Jewish. It starts with a Jewish kid asking his zeyde (grandfather) to tell him a story. The grandfather has a heavy Jewish accent, so the whole story is told in this accent. It involved a good and a bad duke, who decide to steal the Torah from a little shtetl. The bad guy refers to it as "those worthless Jewish scrolls." The idea is to hold it for ransom. Someone the plot gets foiled by the rebbe (rabbi), not so much from cleverness, but from wisdom and faith. It was heavy-handed but also kind of astonishing. (I guess I've always found kids' books and stories pretty heavy-handed...actually, since I was about five.)

Here's another interesting story: one of our individuals is obsessed with (among other things) a particular episode of a particular game show and three particular answers from that episode. He'll say, " I'd like to solve the puzzle: not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse!" I guess I'm one of his favorites, because he tells it to me a LOT, along with a passage from a kid's book where you have to participate in the dialogue. I noticed he also likes to repeat his favorite things to another counselor, who is religious. One day, it kind of dawned on me to ask her, "Do you know what that's from, "not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse'?" She did not. I never realize how drenched I am in American culture until I meet someone who is not. She's pretty much my peer as far as age, and we really get along well, but she grew up in and lives in a very different space, in many ways.

A lot of the people I work with are pretty politically conservative, even the young ones, which still kind of shocks me. I grew up around a lot of liberal reform Jews, and I always considered it a Jewish thing. Nope. Religious Jews tend to be pretty conservative, though I have no idea why. I realized it was best for me to keep my mouth shut when another counselor said, right after Trump started running, "You know, I think Trump has some interesting things to say..."

On the other hand...another counselor posted a really obnoxious meme on our chat group. The caption, more or less, was "Let's go for Halloween as someone who steals all our candy and gives it to people who are too lazy to trick-or-treat for themselves!" With a photo of President Obama.

Even though I knew that the woman who posted it was too young and stupid to understand that social welfare also means that New York State funds our dayhab and the residences where our individuals live, I was still really angry for a few days. (And hey, she dissed my president!) I thought about it a lot and went very neutral, posted something like, hey, let's not talk politics here. (And one more thing: our chat group is actually called Where We Help Everyone, which doesn't sound like a space to be against helping others. And one MORE thing: would she think I was once on welfare and food stamps because I was too lazy to work? but I didn't tell that story.)

OK, she's my least favorite staff member. Probably the only one I dislike. She is just not bright. And to me, that's not helpful to me in that workplace for a lot of reasons.

All of the other counselors are my lifeline. I got thrown into the job knowing exactly zero, except to treat the individuals with respect. Of course, I've learned a lot about the job from doing the actual work, but I think I've learned more from the others. I learn both from what they tell me and from watching them interact with the clients. (I just can't keep typing "individuals" - it sounds fussy in my head.) They are so amazing and marvelous and patient and gifted in so many different ways. I'm there for six months now, and I often feel like a rank beginner. But it's a good learning process.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

great aunt and great-aunt

The deeper I look into my aunt's estate, the more money turns up. The latest revelation is 4,200 shares of IBM stock. I called the good-for-nothing cousin a week after he got the papers, and got his voice mail. I left a message along the lines of, "I guess you've had a chance to look over the papers, so we should talk. I found out that a copy of the will can be filed for probate in New York State, so my plan is to get an estate lawyer and get it filed. Also, I don't know why you said that I couldn't afford your services as executor, since the executor only receives a set percentage of the estate. I've found where the trust monies are. And I really need an accounting of the trust at your earliest convenience. I know your memory may be fuzzy, but being executor and trustee are serious fiduciary responsibilities." I got a voice mail back from him saying, "I'm in contact with my old law firms and the State of Florida, and I'll get in touch when I find out anything." Eventually, my brother and I will get that money, but I can't do anything without an executor except look in her safe deposit box (just look, not take anything out).

But in straight-up good news, my niece is pregnant, and I expect to be a great-aunt in July!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

hip and holidays

We had an after-work party on Monday to celebrate the birthday of one of our counselors, but it was mostly an excuse to have a staff party. We have a huge kitchen/main room, and tables were decorated with all kinds of sports motifs in honor of Sam; there was alcohol and kosher Chinese food was brought it, cake and a pretty fruit platter. Dancing ensued. Not one was allowed to stay seated. The best surprise was one of the young Orthodox guys doing a killer Michael Jackson. Who woulda thunk?

I acquitted myself nicely, until all of a sudden...a horrible pain in my hip. I limped home, applied a cold pack and took ibuprofen, called in sick the next day and did more of the same, and went back to work Wednesday, still limping and in pain. What I didn't want to do was go to my doctor, who would certainly send me to an orthopedist. Since it continued to hurt a lot - I take seven flights of stairs in my daily commute, plus my apartment is two flights up - I saw my chiropractor today, for the first time in years. (If anyone in Brooklyn needs a chiropractor, I would recommend Scott Skolkin with absolutely no reservations. He is incredible, and one of the nicest guys ever.) The limping was causing all kinds of back and leg pain, which I knew needed a chiropractor. Luckily, Scott is in my insurance network, no referral required, $20 co-pay. However, he couldn't x-ray me without permission from the insurance company, so he didn't adjust me. He did say that a large black-and-blue mark indicated some level of tissue damage. He did do some message and applied heat, so it does feel a good deal better for now. He should have the insurance company approval by around Wednesday.

This was emailed to me a few days ago:

Apparently the White House referred to Christmas Trees as Holiday Trees for the first time this year, which prompted Ben Stein, to say, on CBS Sunday Morning,

My confession: I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejewelled trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are, Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a nativity scene, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her 'How could God let something like this happen?' (regarding Hurricane Katrina). Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, 'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?'

In light of recent events... terrorist attacks, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said okay.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.'

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell.
Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.

Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing.

Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit.

If not, then just discard it.... no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what a bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein

I have very mixed feelings about this. I do think it's idiotic to refer to a Christmas tree as a "holiday tree," since it's a Christian symbol of a Christian holiday that occurs during the holiday season, along with something like six other holidays celebrated by various non-Christian religions.

I'm not crazy about being wished "Merry Christmas," because it always seems to carry that implication that everyone is Christian, or at least that everyone should be celebrating the Christian holiday. I generally don't wish non-Jews "Happy Chanukah," although I do wish Christians "Merry Christmas" (or sometimes "Happy Holidays," which to me indicates holidays of all faiths that take place in this season).

I do have a problem with Christmas, since in America, it seems to have become about 80% crass commercialism, 15% peace-on-earth, and 5% birth-of-Jesus. I have no problem with the latter two, but I cannot stand the constant advertising labeling practically everything a "great Christmas gift."  There's a commercial Best Buy is running this year that says if you buy their products as gifts, you will "win Christmas" - meaning that your gifts will be better than everyone else's. Competitive gifting: horrible.

Some years back, I worked in an office with two younger women, who always played an internet radio station which was basically music from the 70s on, minus any black music whatever, not even Michael Jackson. After Thanksgiving, they asked me if it was OK to play Christmas music. I said sure. Those weeks basically ruined Christmas music for me, even the cool ones like Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," the Paul McCartney Chirstmas song, "Jingle Bell Rock," et al. I cannot stand Christmas music any more.

Another problem I have with Christmas is this: when I was a kid, I of course always wanted a Christmas tree, and my parents told me very plainly that we were Jewish and did not celebrate Christmas. We had the usual Reform Jewish Chanukah: lit the menorah and said the bruchas (prayers when the candles are lit), received the eight days of modest gifts, ate latkes (potato pancakes which are traditional for Chanukah).

After my parents divorced, my father married a very lovely woman who is Catholic. They had a rabbi-and-priest wedding, but my father is not very religious and my stepmother is very observant, so the Christian holidays pretty much "won." My father announced to my brother and me that we were celebrating Christmas and had to buy gifts for him, my stepmother, and my stepmother's sister and parents. (My stepmother's sister is a very cool nun.) My brother and I were maybe 10 and 13, and not having grown up with the habit of saving up money for Christmas gifts (Chanukah gifts are parents-to-children only), not only had to frantically scrape together money, but also to choose gifts for people we barely knew. Whatever we received did not compensate for the anxiety of the gift-giving end. A year or two later, my father announced that we were no longer to buy gifts jointly, since we were each given individual gifts, and that was even worse. 
One year, I was unemployed, and told my father, in advance of the holiday, that I had absolutely no money to buy gifts He said, "It's OK, they don't have to be big gifts, just a little something." Bad, bad, bad. When I was asked what I'd like for Christmas, I was either told it was too expensive or given the cheapest possible version of the requested gift. At the same time, my father and stepmother unwrapped gifts long after everyone else had finished opening theirs, and some of them were really expensive. I remember one particular year when I was in college (which I did by working for NYU, which earned me two free classes each term), I asked for an electric typewriter, which I needed desperately for my schoolwork. At the time, university jobs paid way less than the private sector (which is no longer the case), and even the registration fee of $125 that I paid each semester was a hard hit. An electric typewriter cost about $125 at the time, and I was told that it was too expensive. 

When Christmas came around, as usual, we took turns unwrapping our gifts, and again, everyone finished way before Dad and Mary. When she opened her final gift, it was a necklace from Tiffany; I couldn't help looking it up later on, and it cost $800.

I'm not sure if I quit Christmas after that year, or continued on for a year or two, but I did finally announce to my father that I did not feel comfortable celebrating Christmas, and dropped out of the celebration, gifts and dinner. (I did not miss the dinner at all, which my step-aunt prepared; it was small, bland, and included that awful string bean casserole.)

As far as Ben Stein's wanting to put religion back into schools and so on, I say no. Emphatically. I think atheism is a perfectly valid choice, and people who do believe in God should be free to choose their own type and level of religion. You know that they wouldn't be reading the Quran or Torah in schools. I have no doubt that it would be dominated by Christianity. When I was in school, we had a Christmas pageant every year, and sang Christian songs in school chorus. Singing the Christian songs initially jarred me; I actually only mouthed the lyrics that were

As far as spanking children or any kind of physical punishment: no, no. no. Violence only teaches violence.

I find it pretty refreshing to work for a Jewish organization. Not only are you not assumed to be Christian, but no one judges your level of observance, or for being non-Jewish. We have a few non-Jews on staff, but most of the staff is more observant than I am, and mostly Orthodox or raised Orthodox. I'm certainly learning a lot about Judaism and Jewish customs. I don't have to use personal days to take off Rosh Hashonah or Yom Kippur; even with my very low level of observance, I never ever work on the High Holy Days. I'm actually kind of tickled about working on Christmas. (The only "American" holiday we have off is Thanksgiving.) And, I have to say, it's nice being around my own kind. Back in the day, I dated men of pretty much every faith and color (except Asians, just because it never happened), but I married a Jew. There's just a certain kind of familiarity within your own faith, plus I also consider being Jewish my ethnicity. Judaism in unique in being both a faith and an ethnicity; some of us use the abbreviation MOT, for "Member of the Tribe," as in, "She's an MOT, right?" I'm glad to be an MOT. Christmas is not for me.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

estate full of money, husband full of glue

As I've mentioned, my aunt was difficult and mean and very old-fashioned and conservative. We had had a poor relationship for the past 25-30 years; it mostly consisted of her criticizing me. If she couldn't find anything current to complain about, she would criticize something I did 20 years ago, or maybe criticize my brother. The last time I saw her, she was so outright cruel to me that I cried for an entire day afterward. This was about a year before she died; after that, on advice of my husband, my therapist and my psychiatrist, I stopped contacting her. She tried to call me several months ago, and we played a little phone tag, but she wouldn't leave voice mail or accept voice mail, so we never did speak.

However - she left my brother and me a shitload of money. The problem is that her will and a trust were prepared by a lawyer cousin of hers from Florida; he is the executor of the will and trustee of the trust. Ten years after, he was suspended from practicing law for failure to report on trusts and commingling trust monies. My aunt left a very good and organized set of papers: copies of the will and trust, info on the safe deposit box, etc. (Her apartment, however, was pure hoarder.) When I called the cousin, he said something like, "Gee whiz, it was such a long time ago, I don't think I have that will, I don't remember anything about a trust." I sent him (certified, return receipt) copies of all of the relevant paperwork, including copies of the check and bank receipt that opened the trust. He has probably had it in hand for about four days now (I sent copies to my brother at the same time, and he's had them for days). Hasn't called me yet, no surprise.

When I called the cousin, I gave him the benefit of the doubt; surely he wouldn't have messed with his cousin's estate. I was still on the fence after we spoke, but here's why I think he is utterly untrustworthy: one of the things he said to me was, "I don't think you could afford my services as executor." I later found out that an executor is, by law, paid a certain percentage of the estate, depending on the state and the amount of the estate - somewhere around 3-6%. I would not have to go out of pocket at all. So not only was he basically lying, but he did one thing that really pushes my buttons: acting as if I were stupid. That's something that never fails to really, really piss me off. I want a lawyer who will punch this guy out in some legal way.

Since the trustee is only required to report the trust finances at death, I had no idea what was in the trust, or supposed to be in the trust. The trustee is legally required to send me this info within 60 days after it is requested. But in the past few weeks, through various sorts of research and some papers sent by her long-time employer, I've discovered that there's a lot of money in all kinds of places. I've also learned that a copy of a will can be filed for probate, and a trust can also be valid with a copy. So it's time for an estate attorney. Since my brother and I are her only heirs, we will eventually come into a really good sum of money. The problem is that it could take a very, very long time.

Barry noticed a bump on his wrist tonight and got very freaked out. I said it was probably from drumming at a jam yesterday, or related to his carpel tunnel, or a ganglion cyst. Luckily, our doctor is a block away and open until 8:00 PM, and he said it was a ganglion cyst. "It's like gloooo," said he, in his Syrian-Jewish accent. He sprayed on some freeze and extracted it with a needle. "See," he said, pumping a bit out of the syringe onto a bit of gauze, "Gloooo." The doctor was very impressed that I knew what a ganglion cyst was and called me "Doctor Levy." I have to admit to being fairly interested in looking at dermatology videos online; the contents of a ganglion cyst are usually described as being a "gel," but I think I like "glooo" better. My husband is now glooo-free.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

the rabbi sang "My Way"

It was a pretty bad funeral today. My Aunt Mara died on Tuesday, not unexpectedly. And, as I've seen happen often at Reform funerals, the rabbi had never met my aunt and asked a few of the attendees about her (NOT including my brother and me). So he talked a lot about her kindness (not to us0 and her "determined individuality" (aka pigheadedness) and then he sang a couple of stanzas of "My Way." How truly awful was that?

Apparently my aunt was very kindhearted to certain friends and more distant relatives, but was quite unkind to my brother and me. Out conversations over the past 20 years mostly involved her criticizing me - and if she was having trouble finding something current to criticize, she dragged up things I did of which she did not approve from some 30 years earlier. She was hospitalized for a heart attack about a year ago, and at my second visit, she was so horrible to me that I never went back. I cried the entire next day because I really loved her. But she hadn't had a kind word for me in many, many years. For that reason, I didn't call her very often.

I went over it with my husband, my psychiatrist, and my therapist, all of whom had the same thing to say: you don't have to see her.

So I had a call on Tuesday from one of my cousins on Tuesday, who told me the funeral details, and my brother and I did go. (I'm not on the best terms with my brother, either, but we put that aside for the day.)

She was basically a recluse since IBM early-retired her about 25 years ago. For a while, she didn't even have a phone.

I am dreading going through her hoarder-ish apartment. I have been dreading that for years, ever since I heard from one of her neighbors that her formerly neat-as-a-pin residence (where she'd been for over 55 years). However, there are things there that belong to me. When my mother died in 1981, she "held" all of my mother's jewelry - which was actually a good move, since I was pretty wild and irresponsible then. But even as I grew older, she never turned it over to me. There is also jewelry from my grandmother which she said would pass to me. (My brother and I are her closest relatives, as she never married and was my mother's only sister.) Some of this is supposedly in a safe deposit box. These are all things she told me, unbidden, as well as that she planned to divide her money between my brother and me.

None of us are sure what still exists, and if there was any money left, and if there is a valid will. This is less about greed than about having some of these very sentimental items.Also, the fact that when she told me about this, and showed  me a lot of her jewelry, was actually a very good memory. There are certainly a few other mementos I'd like to have, to remember those better times.

Since my brother lives in Rhode Island, it will probably be up to me to find a will and take care of everything. The apartment stuff will have to be taken care of relatively quickly, as the landlord will want it back very soon. I have almost no idea where to start.

I will at some later time talk about her in more detail. She was a very complicated and difficult person. I cried quite a bit, but not without remembering the roadblocks she put up against our having a decent relationship.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

music anorexia

That's how I think of it. I sometimes go for long periods of time without listening to music, which is just plain crazy, because so much of my life has been built around music. I can't explain it in any way.

So I've just snapped out of it, and reactivated my Sansa mp3 player (since I don't like listening to music on my phone). My intention was to listen to music I haven't heard before, but when I saw the old familiars that were already on it...I did delete a bunch of them, but mostly added music I knew well. Though I did load a couple of albums I haven't heard: Wise Up Ghost by Elvis Costello & The Roots, an Alabama Shakes EP, and John Lennon's Rock n' Roll (how ridiculous is it that I've never heard the latter?).

Also bought me some new headphones that arrived today.

Speaking of the Beatles...I realized at some point within the past few years that I know all of the lyrics to all of the songs from the band albums (not the solo ones). That certainly happened without my even trying. I think that seats me firmly within my generation.

When I go on trips from the dayhab, whoever is driving the van chooses the music. I often seem to end up with a counselor who loves country music (which strikes me as odd for an orthodox Jewish guy from New York). He will sometimes defer to me and put on an "oldies" station. (I remember when "oldies" meant the 1950s, but whatever.) One day, we reached our destination, but he kindly sat in the car while I sang along to Werewolves of London.

Monday, September 28, 2015

visit to Loisaida and Chinatown

Barry left his phone on a bus yesterday, so I ran out and bought him a new one. He's in the middle of a 2-1/2 day shift (Succos duty) and can't live without his phone. He's on it a lot of the day, mostly looking at Facebook and YouTube music videos.

I went to deliver it today; I would have done it yesterday, but they were doing weekend work on the F train and the trains weren't stopping at our station (which is why Barry was on a bus yesterday).

The residence where he works is on the lower east side of Manhattan (aka Loisaida). I'd never been there before, so I visited for a while. Got to meet a couple of the counselors there, plus I got to see two of the clients who come to my dayhab (five men from Barry's residence come to my dayhab). The residence is really nice, his coworkers were quite nice, and it was good to see the two Maxes outside of dayhab. They are both very sweet guys and my hands-down favorites from the East Broadway residence.

The neighborhood is very mixed and kind of cool. It used to be heavily Jewish (Barry was actually born there), and there's some Jewish left, but also a lot of Hispanic folk, a lot of Chinese (since it's right next to Chinatown), and some hipsters starting to colonize.

Since I finally got an anti-glare screen put on my phone when I bought Barry's yesterday, I can now actually see my screen when I was outdoors, so I walked down Canal Street a bit (which is where Chinatown starts) and took a couple of photos.

Beautiful Chinatown building:

Chinatown firehouse door:

I also found a Chinese store that sells nothing but jerky. I'm a fan of jerky but am never happy with those expensive little bags, with all of the chemicals added. I was once in an all-jerky store in Jim Thorpe, PA, but it was all "artisanal" and expensive. This place was a lot cheaper than either, so I bought a quarter-pound each of spicy beef and regular pork. (They also had chicken, and shrimp.) Absolutely delish, much softer than regular jerky.

It was a lovely day to be walking around, and I hadn't been in that part of town for years.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

where to begin again

Recovering, then unemployment running out, then job-hunting was rather nightmarish. Job-hunting was particularly bad. With 30+ years of office experience and several finely-tuned resumes, I couldn't get arrested. No offers, even for plain old administrative assistant jobs paying $24K. I applied to every single analytic institute in the area, since that's such specific experience. Two interviews, no job. (I did find out later on that one had hired from within.)

So I made a radical change. I am now a Direct Service Professional, working at a day habilitation center ("dayhab") for developmentally disabled men and women. I work for the same Jewish non-profit as Barry, except that he works overnight at a residence for men, and I work days.

We have about 60 clients and close to 20 counselors. (The clients are properly called "individuals" these days, though in the past they were called "clients" or "consumers," and a lot of us use "clients" because it's easier. And we say "DD" for developmentally disabled. We counselors actually have the title of "Dayhab Trainer," but we are called "counselors." "Direct Service Professional" is our profession - in the past, it was called "Direct Care Worker" or "Direct Care Professional.")

Our clients range from low- to high-functioning. The activities range from education to entertainment; puzzles, math worksheets, walks outdoors, cooking and baking, shopping, Jewish learning and Hebrew, dance and exercise, computers, etc. The idea is to help improve the clients' lives in at least some small way. Some already have part-time jobs and some are preparing to get jobs.

All of the individuals and most of the counselors are orthodox Jews of some stripe. Everyone is very tolerant of everyone else, although some of the clients can't quite wrap their minds around my being Jewish but not being religious. So I get asked a lot if I'm going to shul or fasting on Yom Kippur. Cooking is a big activity, since some of the clients may eventually move to independent living situations. We have a big kosher dairy/parve kitchen (parve meaning neither dairy nor meat), and make things like cholent, challah and kugel.

OK: cholent is a slow-cooked vegetable stew, traditional for Shabbos since it can be prepared on Friday morning and eaten Friday night, since you can't cook on Shabbos. Challah is a traditional braided bread, also eaten on Shabbas. Kugel is a side dish, sort of a baked pudding, usually made with noodles and eggs, but there's also potato kugel (and I've made sweet potato kugel as well). I never made or ate cholent before I worked there, and it's kick-ass delicious, made with beans, potatoes, barley, and just about any kind of seasoning you can imagine. It can also be made with meat. We make it on Thursday in a huge slow-cooker and serve it for lunch/snack on Fridays. (Did I mention that we only work until 2:00 on Fridays? I also lucked out because my therapist was able to give me a Friday 4:00 PM session; my job is in Sheepshead Bay, deep in Brooklyn.)

But these are the details. After three months, I find I enjoy working with the clients. It's low-pressure and satisfying, for the most part. Most of the clients are quite nice and understand us well, for the most part, although some have very limited communication skills. Some don't speak at all, while some could pass for non-DD. I haven't looked at the diagnostic logs yet, but there's a lot of autism and OCD going on. We have maybe five Down Syndrome clients, and they're all pretty smart (and a couple of them are rather devious).

They also get very attached to us, since they spend most of their days with us during the week. They all work with all of us, but each counselor certainly has a little fan club.

It's set up like this: there are AM and PM groups (45 minutes each) with the same counselors and the same clients every day. (I have GED in the morning, which is basically 1st-3rd grade worksheets, and writing/journaling in the afternoon. The afternoon group is kind of a bust: we only have four clients, two of whom never want to participate; one is a good writer but prefers to stay in the computer room. The fourth is a Down/OCD guy who generally writes the same stuff over and over, and has to be watched very closely because he steals food and is a choking risk.)

There are then 2-3 other activity periods during the day, with rotating counselors and clients, and a lunch break in the middle. Both the set groups and the rotating groups have 2-3 counselors and 4-9 clients.

It took me about a month to learn everyone's name. I have a harder time learning less-familiar names, plus there are a of names that are very similar. We have four Davids and a Dovid; we have an Aryan, Aryeh, and two Ariels. We have a Chana Rifka, a Chaya Brunchy, a Rivky and a Ruchy and a Rochel. We have two Yaakovs. I even mixed up the counselors for a while; they're mostly in their 20s, and there are about five women with long dark hair, and two skinny guys with short hair, yarmulkes and similar glasses. Maybe five of us are older, around my age.

It's nice not to sit on my ass in front of a computer all day. And I can dress any way I want - basically, a tee shirt and shorts or jeans. Even printed tee shirts are OK, unless they're offensive.

The most frustrating thing is probably when five clients want to talk to me at once. I say, "Please don't interrupt, I'm talking to Moshe." (We have two Moshes.) That doesn't always work.

The counselors are just plain wonderful. Which is a good thing, because I had zero training before I started. We got a little talk on clients' rights and what's considered abuse and how to report it. But I got a call on a Monday to start on Tuesday, and I had to hit the ground running. I'm still learning the little quirks of the clients and how best to handle certain situations. Some of it I've learned by experience but most I learned from the counselors.

The pay is terrible but the benefits are great; most of the bennies are about to kick in since I'm days away from the three-month mark. We work 9-4:30 and 9-2 on Fridays. We have paid time off for tons of Jewish holidays. I wasn't paid for the recent ones since I was still on probation, but will be paid for them retroactively.

Apart from work, there isn't a whole lot of change or news. Barry broke his foot and needed surgery in the spring of 2014, and I spent most of the summer keeping him off his feet - meaning all of the shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc. I did manage to visit Jannah twice and go to the beach with Robin twice. None of that this past summer, though. I missed most of the summer events this year, due to low income and other factors, such as bouts of depression. Last fall, we visited my aunt and uncle, who live near Princeton, for a long weekend, and they spoiled us rotten: put us up in a very nice hotel, took us out for fantastic meals, and we went to Philadelphia to see the Barnes Collection. The last one was my choice; I don't go to museums much lately, but I'd seen a documentary about the Barnes and was very anxious to see it.

My friends are not very available of late. I recently cut my brother off, after yet another year of his not replying to texts, emails or phone calls. I've also cut off my aunt, who had a heart attack some months back. I visited for two days in a row, and on the second day, she was extremely mean to me. I realized that she's been extremely mean to me for about 20 years now, and I cried for a whole day. I talked about it with my therapist and psychiatrist, both of whom said, "You don t have to see her."

My dad is in extraordinarily good health, and about to hit 85. He and my stepmother left today to fly to Amsterdam, then cruise to France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. I only see them on Thanksgiving, since they're way too far away for a day trip (about three hours each way on the subway and LIRR), and their two guest bedrooms are to cluttered with the stuff they moved from their New York apartment when they gave it up to live in East Quogue full-time. When it was still a weekend house, I stayed there a lot.

My health and weight could be better, and once again, I need to stop smoking.Our landlord wants us out by December 1, which is going to be fairly impossible, since we're still catching up and bills and don't have a spare dime.

But overall, life is pretty good. Having an interesting, do-gooder, pressure-free job is a big part of that.

I don't think I've missed anything major in this catch-up, but I will try to post more often.