Monday, May 29, 2006

Nesting Instinct

Part of the Balabusta and fella's four day weekend was taken up with experimentally looking around for new housing.

Our lease is up at the end of June. The current house has a few basic flaws, ie, it is expensive, for where we are, very damp in winter, and occasionally overrun with ants. We worked ourselves into a frenzy in which this meant we HAD to get out. Because we are thirtysomething Bay Area types, I went to Craigslist.

We determined that we would pay no more rent than we currently are, and would like to pay less. We also decided to stay in El Cerrito, or the immediate El Cerrito area. This is both amusing and confusing the Balabusta's mother, who had until a year ago never heard of El Cerrito. She now suspects that we will stay here for years to come, that the fella will become the mayor, and that they will name a park after us. Not sure I'm that invested in El Cerrito, but now that we've had to move out of San Francisco, it's a place we both know, are all right with, and is easily accessible to most of the places we might like to work. Finding a whole new section of the East Bay seems exhausting and scary.

So we began to look around on Craigslist.

In order to fully appreciate the complications of the Balabusta and the fella moving anywhere, you need to understand that we are looking for totally different things in a house. Actually, we are looking for totally different houses, in totally different neighborhoods.

My fantasy: a big flat on second or third floor of a building in San Francisco's Richmond district. The sounds of conversation in Russian and Chinese fill the air, the smells of fifty cuisines float on the breeze. The bus lines run straight downtown or out to Stonestown, and who CARES what lies beyond the City? Everything I need is contained in one three-mile radius, or can be reached by bus in forty-five minutes. Little Odessa, Chinatown West, the Great Geary way--HOME!

His fantasy: a castle. You know, made out of stone, with a moat, drawbridge, towers, arrow slits...also lots of parking, and with easy access to big box stores.

Anyway, his key requirement was that it not be an apartment, because he says, he is done with apartments forever. This complicates things, or at least raises the price. But I tried.

First I found a really cute little cottage, and we applied, but they never called us back.

Then, this weekend I determined to show the fella a triplex, because I had a feeling that he might be more amenable to an apartment in a building with a limited number of units. When we got out he said "It's an apartment," but he agreed to look at it.

It was a very cute unit, which was about to be vacated by two young men who had just graduated from UC Berkeley. You could tell. The couch was covered with a sheet. They had ramen stacked in the kitchen. One boy actually had a foam pad on a futon frame, but the other was apparently sleeping between a couple of quilts thrown on the carpet. There was hard alcohol everywhere. I mean, bottles of rum casually left by the bed. A sort of minibar set up on a milk crate. It was pretty funny, to the nearly thirty-three-year-old ex-college kid.

The unit was OK,also cheap. But they found another renter.

I made about six calls. No one called back.

Later that day, I proceeded into Berkeley to look at a duplex, but the neighborhood was just too...Berkeley. No go.

Late last night I found a desperate posting from a woman who's abandoning her lease, and trying to find new tenants. Three bedrooms, just down the street from us. But she wants someone to move in a week from now, and may be crazy. We passed.

Anyway, now we're considering staying, at least for a few months, and I am considering reorganizing the living room.

Maybe we need a couch. Or some bottles of rum.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

America's Future, Aged 12

We have passed Fingers and Toes Day. Fingers and Toes day is a little-known international holiday celebrated by teachers--the twentieth day to summer vacation.

How am I doing? I'll tell you how I'm doing. In a vain attempt to get my students' attention today I turned off the fan. They did not stop talking. I stalked purposefully toward the open window.

Sweet Korean Kid #3 (all names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty) rose to his feet and shouted "Ms. Balabusta, no! DON'T JUMP!"

I CLOSED it. They didn't stop talking though, not even when I began to turn up the thermostat. They're not real bright.

Sweet Korean Kid #3 is actually very bright, and also funny. He plays tricks on me--normal pre-teen gags, like dabbing his finger with red ink and pretending to have stapled it, and the like. He has, for some reason, decided that the cutest, smallest girl in my class is the source of all evil, and regularly accuses her of all sorts of malfeasance.

"Ms. Balabusta, I know who pulled the fire alarm."


"YES! It was...ANGELIQUE!"

"Ms. Balabusta, do you know who beat up Jimmy yesterday?"

"No, hon, I don't."

"It was....ANGELIQUE!"

We now have a sort of comedy routine based on it.

Me: #3! Who knows where Jimmy Hoffa is?


Me: Who took the Lindberg baby?


Me: What was Jack the Ripper's REAL name?


No, he has no idea who any of these people are. But he appreciates having a partner in his one-man comedy show.

Anyway, while we're having fun..."#3! Who killed the Princes in the Tower?"...the school is self-destructing. Our teacher staffing has been cut down to 25.5 teachers, due to student hemorrhage and district stupidity. In response, our administration has cancelled French, most Spanish classes, drama, journalism, and the noontime sports program. Math Intensive Care With Jojoba Extract and Rote Reading, New, Improved, Now With Hand Signals will continue as scheduled.

To quote the guy from "Man of La Mancha", "thank God I won't be there to see".

The school I am working at is in an unfortunate position. It's smack-dab in the middle of town, sandwiched between two other middle schools. One is in the affluent part of town and has highly involved parents. The other is in the projects part of town, and gets special federal funding, because their kids are in dire need. We just sort of sit and molder. There is no librarian. There is kind of a library in the sense that there is a room with many books, most of them older than my parents, on shelves on the wall.

Even if I'm answering phones in the fall, it will be better than this situation.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Memory of Muffins

My friend's husband died. Around one A.M. or so this past Shabbos, the doctors sat everyone down and made it clear that they had lost the fight. They got her permission to shut down life support. An hour later he was gone.

I did not know him all that well, really, but this is the story about him I always remember, and tell people. If we have a wake, this is the story I will want to hear. So here it is:

Shortly after the wedding, my friend and her husband were young (she was twenty, he somewhere close to that), broke, and in need of work. They got a job together at the closing shift at Bakers of Paris.

At the end of their shift, one day, they were ready to close up, except that there was a pair of women eating muffins and drinking coffee by the window. When asked to go, they said they'd be ready soon.

So MF (my friend) and HH (her husband) loaded the dishwashers, and wiped the racks, and did all the other closing-up things they could do. Then they went back, and again, nicely asked the customers to leave, since it was now well past closing time.

One of the women laughed in their faces and said she would leave when she was ready.

MF bursts into tears.

Consider HH's emotional state. He's a very young man. His wife is crying. It's late. They want to go home. And this horrible woman is laughing at them.

He picked up a muffin and smooshed it in her face. Crumbs all over. The whole nine yards. The muffin equivalent of being pied, if you will.

Suddenly, she's not laughing, she's calling the cops, who arrived, and informed her that she could press charges for battery with a baked good if she wanted, however he expected that in that case the young people would press charges for trespassing.

Somehow, it never went to court. Unfortunately, in the process, the chassan's outstanding traffic tickets did come up...that was one heck of an expensive muffin.

Worth it, I've always felt...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bitter and sweet

My friend's husband is not doing well. Despite his incredible resiliance, his liver is apparently very badly damaged, and the doctors are not optimistic.

When she married him, thirteen years ago--my mom corrected my math--I thought she was much too young to be getting married, and in any case had only known him a few months. (Way 231 you can tell the Balabusta is not haredi...) Now, all I can think is that she is much, much too young to be a widow. I keep expecting a miracle. This isn't quite sinking in yet.

All the way around on the other side of the wheel...

My paraprofessional-for-Monday's daughter had her baby, after a week of dilation, crankiness, and worry. The baby weighed nine pounds and fourteen ounces (WOW!), and is a girl. Mother and child are doing fine.

I should have the class make a poster for them, or something.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

This is the part of 'illegal' I understand...

We are sitting in a public school classroom, the mother, the translator and I, at an empty desk, at seven-thirty in the morning. They are here because I requested a conference about the daughter, whose English is not progressing like that of her classmates.

The mother is worried. She tells her daughter all the time that she needs to study. It's hard. She has a job, taking care of a house for some people who live three hours away. She only has Sundays off. During the week, her daughter is being taken care of by her oldest child. The older girl is nineteen, a new mother, and works as a housecleaner too--she and her mother have a small business, complete with cards. The older girl, I am told, is not so shy, and she speaks very good English. She is enrolling in classes at the community college.

She will call every night, she tells me, to remind her daughter to study. They have a family friend who has been in the country for years, and speaks excellent English--he will come and tutor her daughter if she asks. I can write him notes in English, and I can call her older daughter any time. They will help, any way they can.

My student has been telling her classmates that she wants to go back to Mexico and attend high school there. Is that an option? I ask. Maybe it would be easier to learn English in a Spanish-language school, and try again when she is older. Are there relatives she could stay with?

I know I'm treading on delicate ground here, but the mother shakes her head and explains to my translator. No, there's no way. The daughter talked to her about this, too, but it's too dangerous. Where they came from, a young girl can't walk the street safely any more. The drug dealers rule the streets. Relatives don't want to take her daughter in, they want help to get out. She sends all the money she can spare to her own mother. She cries because it isn't more.

We shake hands. She tells me I am a good teacher. I thank her for coming in. She tells me to call her oldest daughter any time.

We don't talk about the fact that she doesn't have papers, but everyone working at the school knows. There's nothing to say, really.

This is a widow in her forties.

Nothing will happen to the people who hired her if this comes to the attention of INS, only to her.

Her daughter is taking care of a baby and a younger sister, working, and trying to go to school.

The younger child, my student, may have a learning disability, but they don't diagnose those at the emergency rooms that are choked with illegal immigrants getting their hangnails checked.

You cannot apply for refugee status to prevent your daughter from being kidnapped off the street and raped in a rough neighborhood.

Immigration issues are complicated. I don't think many of the people trying to make it simple by stereotyping illegal immigrants as freeloaders have sat across a table from people like my student's mother.

Six Weeks To Go

June 15 is the last day of school with kids.

Currently on my mind:

1. JOB! I'm doing interviewing, but have not been as scrupulous as I want to be about sending out apps or updating my online stuff--I'm so damn tired! And one of the Jewish schools I would love to work for has an opening, but only half I'm thinking about that.

Last Tuesday, I spent six hours in transit, there and back, getting to a job interview. I want a car and a laptop. NOW.

2. MONEY! Have developed concern that I didn't understand the lady at payroll, and maybe will have less over the summer than I thought. Must call tomorrow.

3. WHIPPETS! OK, that's an odd one. The fella and I are dogsitting this weekend. Two whippets are involved. It's kind of nice, like babysitting in high school except you're allowed, nay encouraged, to bring your boyfriend over. The baby of the whippets is a total wiggleworm. I spent about an hour this morning, just lying around and being jumped on by dogs.

4. Paxil. Do I want to stay on it? Not having panic attacks is so nice. But it's WEIRD.

5. I hate job hunting. But love the idea of having a new job. Seems like a chance for a whole new life.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Scary news

Found out today that the husband of one of my high school friends is in the ICU, badly injured. He came off his motorcycle on Thursday, landed all right, and was struck by a hit-and-run driver. His helmet protected his head, the rest of him was not so lucky.

He wasn't expected to live the night when they brought him in, but he's holding strong. I truly don't know what the chances are right now. His sister-in-law asked me to pray. If you are in the habit of saying Tehillim, or are off to Mass in the morning, or just are putting in a good word to God--please make mention of the guy who's married to the Balabusta's friend.

I danced at his wedding twelve years ago last week. He's a good guy.

I want good news.

Starter Equine

Yesterday I (blissfully) took the morning off my horrible work to go to a job interview, and I had some extra time, so I bought a copy of the Ladies Home Journal and went and had brunch at Denny's by myself. It was lovely.

Anyway, I began reading this 'My Life As A Mom' sort of column, by a woman I assume is around my age, and I read along, entirely able to picture myself in her shoes in about five years. She has two daughters. They are adopted from China. One is called Anna, and the other Sasha. Sasha has a speech-process disability. I read, with perfect identification, about Anna's decision to become 'Princess Kitty Cat Butterfly', and Sasha's fourth birthday party at McDonalds.

And then they returned home, and the narrator gave Sasha her present, a miniature donkey. Which she described as a 'good starter equine'.

I cannot, I find, imagine myself living a life where I would ever think to give a four-year-old a ministure donkey. Where I would ever think to give ANYONE a miniature donkey. Or where the words 'starter equine' make any sense at all.

The Balabusta is strictly urban, folks. Even if she currently lives in the 'burbs.

It's Not Easy Being Green

My job hunt is in full swing now. I have done three interviews, am lined up for more, and have a number of people I'm talking to by phone and negotiating with for face time. I am back to the world of getting dressed up and then taking bus, BART, Caltrain, taxi, prop plane, rickshaw, camel, and riverboat to wherever I need to go, consulting my TransitInfo directions as I go.

I wish I could drive. I wish I had a car.

When I express this wish, people often tell me I'm better off, and discuss the expense of car insurance and the high price of gas. They have no idea. First, public transit ain't so cheap. Secondly, public transit, if you're in the East Bay, ain't so convenient.

I am sick of taking hours to get places. I am sick of standing in the rain and freezing cold at bus stops. I am sick of not being able to move stuff around in my car. I am sick of being a pedestrian. Note to self. Learn to drive!

Any suggestions? I am kind of nervous, but I can move a car around. I tried working with a very good firm of driving teachers, but they are EXPENSIVE. I just can't afford $150 for a two-hour lesson. Any one got a fairly cheap driving school in the Bay Area to recommend, one that has a good attitude about thirtyish ladies who are sure they're incapable of driving in traffic? Or other advice?