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.

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