Thursday, July 31, 2008

Kindness of Strangers

Found another typewriter, on a street corner with a bunch of stuff that didn't make the cut in someone's last move. It's a lovely little Remington Portable, and the pamphlet that came with it isn't dated, but does say, "The first Remington Portable--brought out in 1921--revolutionized the world's writing habits. But the new one--recently launched--with many new features--is the last word in beauty, speed and ease of operation. Here it is, ready to serve you. . . ." Based on the machines featured on Richard Polt's site, I'm guessing it's from the early 30's.

But I found it on a corner near 28th and Ash, and I live near 45th and Hawthorne. This wouldn't have been a problem--it is portable, after all! and one of the smallest most truly portable old typewriters I've seen--except that the handle on the case is missing, and I was already running late to get home and meet Laurel. A woman walked by as I was looking at the typewriter, trying to fit the case together. She commented on it, and I said I wanted to carry it home--she said, "You should!" and I said, "Except I live at 45th and Hawthorne!" She said, "You shouldn't!" but then about halfway down the block, she came back and said, "I live on the next block, I'm walking home from work--I can run you home in my van."

And she did, leaving her dog whining in the doorway.

I don't need any more reasons to love Portland right now. I guess I should stockpile them for winter rain.

Brooklyn to Portland, continued.

I'm still reading Grace Paley's Collected Stories (not wanting them to end), and something in her story "Friends" unexpectedly hit me hard. It's a story about three women saying goodbye to a dying friend, and the narrator describes her first meeting with one of the women this way:

I remember Ann's eyes and the hat she wore the day we first looked at each other. Our babies had just stepped howling out of the sandbox on their new walking legs. We picked them up. Over their sandy heads we smiled. I think a bond was sealed then, at least as useful as the vow we'd all sworn with husbands to whom we're no longer married. Hindsight, usually looked down upon, is probably as valuable as foresight, since it does include a few facts.

- - -

This was the part that hit me hard, though, in a way of thinking about the kids I'll teach this year and the kids I won't be teaching. Thinking about what I'll do as a teacher in suburban Portland and about what I did--or tried to do--as a teacher in Brooklyn. What will be the same, what different, and how it is all related. Also thinking about parents and community and working with/around bureaucracy, and the ways we can make things work or maybe not help things fall apart:

. . . Selena pressed her lips together, ordered her eyes into cold distance.

I know that face. Once, years, ago, when the children were children, it had been placed modestly in front of J. Hoffner, the principal of the elementary school.

He'd said, No! Without training you cannot tutor these kids. There are real problems. You have to know how to teach.

Our P.T.A. had decided to offer some one-to-one tutorial help for the Spanish kids, who were stuck in crowded classrooms with exhausted teachers among little middle-class achievers. He had said, in a written communication to show seriousness and then in personal confrontation to prove seriousness, that he could not allow it. And the Board of Ed. itself had said no. (All this no-ness was to lead to some terrible events in the schools and neighborhoods of our poor yes-requiring city.) But most of the women in our P.T.A. were independent--by necessity and disposition. We were, in fact, the soft-speaking tough souls of anarchy.

I had Fridays off that year. At about 11 a.m. I'd bypass the principal's office and run up to the fourth floor. I'd take Robert Figueroa to the end of the hall, and we'd work away at storytelling for about twenty minutes. Then we would write the beautiful letters of the alphabet invented by smart foreigners long ago to fool time and distance.

That day, Selena and her stubborn face remained in the office for at least two hours. Finally, Mr. Hoffner, besieged, said that because she was a nurse, she would be allowed to help out by taking the littlest children to the modern difficult toilet. Some of them, he said, had just come from the barbarous hills beyond Maricao. Selena said O.K., she'd do that. In the toilet she taught the little girls which way to wipe, as she had taught her own little girl a couple of years earlier. At three o'clock she brought them home for cookies and milk. The children of that year ate cookies in her kitchen until the end of the sixth grade.

Now, what did we learn in that year of my Friday afternoons off? The following: Though the world cannot be changed by talking to one child at a time, it may at least be known.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


At Ikea today, a little girl, maybe six, was singing softly to herself: "Never-ending stoooore!"

Monday, July 28, 2008


Two text messages received:

From Claudia: Been watching the most wonderful scene on the subway of a man and his 7 year old daughter, one or both of whom is deaf, playing some elaborate game involving grabbing each other's hands.

From Emilyn: This little boy just walked past with his mom and all I heard was "everybody shakes his weiners."

& two sent:

To Emilyn: 3 boys and a dog playing croquet in laurelhurst park.

To Megan: Grandma w 2 braids & skull print messenger bag buying 4 tiny travel size containers of hand sterilizer on sale 1 cent each at staples.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cross Country

Simply in the interest of documentation, here are the text messages Tammi and I sent Mike as we entered each new state, along with a few photos I took with my phone. A rental truck is big, but the cab isn't so big, so Mike didn't get to come along, instead just experiencing our trip vicariously through text messages. We mostly sent the texts as we crossed the border, immediately after Tammi tried to take a picture of the state sign. (I don't think any of them turned out.)

July 12, 1:11 pm
Just entered Pennsylvania!

[Text from Miriam, July 12, 2:53 pm: Not too late to turn around!]

July 12, 7:30 pm
West Virginia!

Our truck in the parking lot of the little strip mall where we stopped for dinner in West Virginia.

July 12, 8:14 pm

July 13, 12:49 pm
In Indiana!

July 13, 7:07 pm
In Illinois!

July 14, 12:11 pm
In Wisconsin yeah!

July 14, 7:18 pm

[It doesn't really start to look like this until you're close to the Dakotas--I decided on this trip that the forests and hills in Minnesota and Wisconsin, also western Oregon, are my favorite landscape in this country. My own personal favorite.]

July 15, 2:27 pm
South Dakota!

[The Badlands are so cool.]

July 16, 12:39 pm

July 16, 4:23 pm
Yeah we are in Montana.

July 16, 8:44 pm
good night--talk tomorrow--still driving through endless Montana

July 16, 9:47 pm
Continental divide! El 6393 feet!

July 17, 10:41 am

July 17, 11:54 am

July 17, 3:36 pm
We are in Oregon!

July 17, 6:27 pm

Thursday, July 24, 2008


In Portland. Overwhelmed and happy. As a sort of update, so that I will feel as though I can start being more random again, here is a simultaneously expanded and abridged version of the email I wrote Sam this morning (except I mostly fixed my capitalization and punctuation [if not the inconsistent tenses or the clauses within clauses within clauses] because it was driving me crazy as a blog entry, though it was fine as an email). I have a ton to say about my and Tammi's drive cross country, but we'll see if and when that happens. Moving forward.

So I got to Portland, and here is (was) my itinerary:

Thursday the 17th: Arrive.
Friday the 18th: Unload the truck, buy a car. Six words, about three weeks worth of work. But I just wanted the damn car shopping over with, plus I wanted to have it so I could do what I needed to do in it...
Saturday the 19th: Since about 2/3 of what was in the sixteen foot truck was Megan's (because I didn't have a lot of furniture in Brooklyn and what I did have was lousy, plus my new Portland apartment is probably twice the size of the old Brooklyn apartment), Tammi and I go garage saling (saleing? sale-ing?) and to Ikea, get a lovely old green armchair, a wooden rocking chair that the previous owner is anxious about parting with ("It's been in my family forever, it was my grandmother's, but I just don't have room for it--I want it to have a good home!" and half-jokingly, I say, "What are you suggesting, lady? I'm not a good home for your rocking chair?"), and a dark brown couch--a brand new couch, my first new couch ever, especially lovely after someone at a garage sale was telling me and Tammi a story about mouse droppings in a used couch she bought... also Saturday, my sister comes down from Seattle, and Tammi goes back to New York.
Sunday the 20th: Moved slightly slower. But not very much. Unpacked a ton, made like three trips to Fred Meyer's ("Freddy's"--the local Target, with the nearest one four blocks from my house), returned the rental truck and my sister was excited about driving my car (a tiny little BRAND NEW [also the first new car I've ever owned] Toyota Yaris, a good blue color, named Bobbie, I think).
Monday the 21st: Em left, I unpacked still more... got a library card... turned thirty-two.

Yesterday, Wednesday, I went to my new school (my classroom is HUGE which is not surprising, I guess, since space is not at such a premium in the Portland suburbs--it has great windows too, which we know has its pros and cons) and talked for a long time to the assistant principal who was really helpful--she'd been sort of the dean to the seventh grade last year, so really knows the kids I'll have as eighth graders this year--was telling me what kind of behavior problems to expect, that they're almost all really good kids but last year they were sort of immature as a class, acting young and needing more guidance and direction than a lot of seventh grade classes do--she's smart and I like her. Plus it's an established, stable school. With two media labs and a cart of computers that travel!!! And every teacher has a computer in their classroom, plus some classrooms have additional computers for kids! There's an awesome huge library with a full time librarian! We're not working for the NYC public schools anymore. I panicked because there aren't really classroom libraries, but I realized that in a school with an actual library, maybe--just maybe--I won't have to spend as much of my own money on books! AND--I'm part time, teaching four periods instead of five, and the AP said she thinks my schedule will have me teaching periods 2,3,4,5, and I can come late if I want, and/or leave early!!! Which I probably shouldn't do, but hey. & I'll have an advisory, but advisory is attached to the 2nd period class (how smart is that) so it's not like I'll have to be there early then have my 1st period prep. Of course this could change but--!!!

So, yeah. Been walking around a ton, though I haven't spent enough time in parks yet--only one, with my friend Donna and her mom (though Laurel and I did hang out in her back yard, under her magnolia tree, and I have been sitting on my porch a lot). I also haven't cooked anything yet, though my gas is now turned on and I did a huge Trader Joe's shop so I have just about all the staples, such as olive, canola, and sesame oil; rice, apple cider, and balsamic vinegar... brought it all home in my car... weird. Plus I've been to a friend's co-op (not members only) and my sister and I went to a great little neighborhood farm market Sunday, out at 92nd and Foster. So even though I haven't cooked yet I've been eating at home, those random summer snacks and meals: a lot of peapods and cherries, yogurt and granola, tomato basil goat cheese sandwiches. Plus Laurel and Seamus have fed me twice. I'll be feeding them soon.

Yesterday I started trying to write in the mornings, establish a routine and redefine myself as a writer before the school year starts and I am a Teacher again. This is my second day of it, and I'm already breaking my own rules by emailing during my writing time, but yeah. Trying to settle everything in, you know? And this is part of it.