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.