FOR TWO YEARS, our daughter was bullied in school. The school didn’t notice and our daughter didn’t complain so we didn’t know. Finally a mom saw and told us. After that, things happened quickly. One result is that we changed schools.
During those first two years, our daughter shut down emotionally and psychologically from the moment the bell rang in the morning until school let out at night. Maybe this shutting down was a reaction to the bullying. Maybe there were other causes. What’s certain is that she didn’t learn. She didn’t learn the kindergarten stuff. She didn’t learn the first grade stuff.
The old school noticed the learning problems and provided support programs that helped, but did not close the gap. The school warned us our daughter would probably flunk kindergarten, but in the end they passed her along to first grade. The first grade teacher worried, but in the end passed her on to second grade.
Now she is in a school where they pay attention, in second grade, lacking skills her peers learned in kindergarten.
Catching her up takes hours of extra homework a week. It takes patience and cunning as we work to cool a fear and dislike of learning that’s been baked into her soul for two years. Some days I want to cry. But for her sake I smile.
In which I unwittingly befoul an otherwise fitting tribute to the late, great Mr Jobs
“SHARE YOUR MEMORIES of Steve Jobs” read the email from Faith Korpi, producer of the 5by5 network to which I contribute a podcast. I thought she meant memories of actually interacting with the guy. I had one such experience: Steve fired me from a freelance project. That being my only “memory” of Steve Jobs, I responded to the assignment by telling that story.
5by5 created a beautiful audio tribute to Steve Jobs. The other contributors, who understood the assignment correctly, carefully crafted personal tributes to Steve Jobs and his legacy. Listening to this series of heartfelt recollections, you get a sense of the contribution Steve Jobs made to all our lives. The testimonials of my colleagues make me feel awe, wonder, hope, and terrible sadness.
A little over twenty minutes into this love fest for a giant of our time, my little story comes along and quickly sinks like a stone. I didn’t write it out in advance (no time, I was chaperoning my daughter’s second grade field trip) and I didn’t record it in my pristine podcasting studio (same excuse). The gist of it is, Steve Jobs fired me and another guy from a project before we did a lick of work, paid us anyway, and afterwards, for nearly ten years, Apple hardware and software that worked perfectly well for everyone in the world misbehaved for me — as if the aborted project had left me cursed.
I admire and marvel at Steve Jobs every bit as much as my better spoken, better prepared colleagues. Not only did he understand that computing is about people, not technology; he also had the will to unapologetically demand perfection from the human beings who worked for him. If I live to be one thousandth the creative director he was, I will tell myself, “Well done.”
Ten Years Ago Today
On 27th Street, a couple is passionately kissing. Behind them, the sky is filled with white smoke.
Everyone has left work. It’s like the Fourth of July. And then again it’s nothing like the Fourth of July.
At 33rd & Lex, a woman in an electric green dress squats down to take a snapshot of the Chrysler Building, standing tall and unaffected to the north. I catch myself thinking they haven’t bombed that one yet.
A STATE of emergency has been declared, but it’s a magical day in New York City. Any grownup who can do so is playing hooky to bask in the perfect sun and gentle breeze. Death, damage, and flooding are expected. We’re preparing for days, maybe weeks without power or water. Any fool could make a fortune selling flashlights today. But while we go through the motions of buying flashlights and stockpiling bottled water, somehow on this blue-sky golden day the threat seems unreal.
You’re a draftee during wartime and it’s your last night before shipping overseas. You’re on the porch, kissing your girl’s neck, but in 48 hours you’ll be smelling blood and gunpowder. The nearness of war makes your girl feel unreal, but your girl’s hair and perfume make the war seem like some strange practical joke.
So today in New York: a glorious Autumn day we glide through without quite seeing, because our minds are in Hollywood disaster movie mode, our carless bodies weighed down with water bottles and flashlights. It’s like that clear blue sky ten years ago, minutes before Hell flew out of it.
LISTENING to Coltrane. Taking a break after assembling American Girl doll bunk beds. The tuxedo cat has appropriated Ava’s American Girl doll tent as his personal summer house. Ava is making up a song about wishing on a star. End of summer. Happy.
Don’t Be Evil (Wink).
WHILE VIEWING STATS on TweetMeme, I noticed a banner ad that said, “New York—explore it again like you used to.” Intrigued, I clicked the ad. It took me to the web page shown above. (Click to view full size.) At the top was a message thanking me for subscribing. Ouch! I had not subscribed, I had merely clicked a link. Opt-in subscription without notice or warning is about as dark as a user experience pattern can get and still be legal.
Beneath the notice was an ad for a women’s strip tease class. I don’t think I’m the intended demographic. Facebook would know that. Why doesn’t Google?
The offer had a time limit; the script on the time limit froze my browser, prompting a force-quit and restart.
If “Don’t Be Evil” is still Google’s slogan, I wonder if folks who work there say it with a straight face.
Downtime at Disney World
DAY TWO, mid-day, taking a breather in our hotel room. Listening to my daughter play with her tiny new Disney figurines. In the distance, the gull-like shrieks of children in the hotel pool.
My week on narcotics
THE DREAMS YOU HAVE when you’re withdrawing from narcotics make David Lynch look like an After School Special hack. How I got on narcotics was outpatient, noninvasive surgery on a double hernia. I got the double hernia from a mistake I made in the gym, or maybe I slipped in the bath and caught myself funny and ripped open my abdominal wall in two places without knowing it.
Doctors dump all this useless data on you and tell you nothing you need to know. Before the surgery I was given a 40 page disclaimer about my privacy rights and how hospitals use and share my medical information. I reckon I was given this because someone sued someone else once. Flash to the medical community: I want you to share my info. That’s what databases and XML and the internet are for. If I fall down a staircase in Katmandu, I want the emergency medical team that rescues me to know I’m allergic to penicillin, and I want the doctor who attends me to know what medicines I take. Thank you for the lovely 40 page disclaimer.
And no thank you for what I left the hospital with: a prescription and nothing else. After all that upfront paperwork, the hospital didn’t even bother giving me my surgeon’s name and phone number. (I had to look them up on the web when my painkiller prescription ran out.)
Here’s some information the hospital could have given me: your peas and carrots are going to swell up and look more like eggplants and cauliflower. That’s normal and you don’t need to call in. For at least five days, you’ll feel like someone just cut you open with a street knife. That’s normal and you don’t need to call in. Your sleep will be fitful, with wild dreams. You’ll wake up at 2:00 AM and 5:00 AM, unable to sleep. If you take the prescription pain killers, your sleep will be even more disrupted. The pain killers don’t so much take away the pain as move it slightly off-camera. You’ll want to take more than we give you and your digestive system will resemble that of a hardcore junkie within two days. All of this is normal. After five days, we cut off the pain killers and provide no way for you to get more. But you’ll still be in terrible pain. This is normal.
If they had told me that in the hospital and written it down somewhere, I wouldn’t have worried so much when parts of my body started resembling clubbed baby seals and seemed to be undergoing racial transmutation. While they were at it, they could have left me a card with my surgeon’s phone number and asked me to call in after four days for an evaluation.
They wanted to evaluate me next week, but I’m taking my daughter to Disney World next week, so instead they’ll see me when the surgeon returns from vacation on August 15. Meantime, I guess I muddle through.
I’m not on narcotics today and the pain is bad but manageable with Advil. I haven’t had that shit or any shit in my system for nearly 20 years, and I don’t like how close it brings me to the old days. I can get my prescription refilled by begging the surgeon’s answering service until eventually he calls the pharmacy, but I think maybe I’ll stick with Advil.
Saw Cameron Diaz on her way to the gym. I was wearing the shirt I’d slept in, walking my dog, holding a bag of shit.
Now, here’s the rest of the story:
My dog, a mangy old rescue Shih Tzu named Emile, had finished his business and was investigating a sidewalk gum wad. He loved sniffing filthy things on the street, and Midtown Manhattan was always happy to oblige. As was my routine, I monitored his activities closely, partly out of horrified fascination, and mainly to make sure he didn’t choke or poison himself.
Typically this activity required my full attention, or at least that part of my attention that wasn’t lost contemplating family and business anxieties, petty resentments, and the recollected snippets of imagery, music, and dialogue that pass for thought. But today, for some reason, I looked away as Emile tackled an apparently sumptuous abandoned cigarette filter. As if spellbound, my eyes crossed two streets to hone in on a couple that was briskly heading my way.
The man in the couple wore gym clothes, and seemed to be speaking quickly, with huge animated arm gestures. But it wasn’t the man who had made me look up from my dog’s debauchery.
At least a head taller than her companion, wearing skimpy gym clothes, the woman appeared athletic and radiant, even from this distance—too far away to see faces. Instead of moving on to discourage Emile from his sidewalk shenanigans, I stood rooted to the spot, waiting as the couple came closer and closer. A fancy gym was nearby, I knew—not from going there myself, but because a friend did, and it was a magnet for activity on this block.
As the couple came closer, the woman lost none of her allure, and I became self-conscious about staring. Not because I felt fat, old, dirty, and tired—a middle-aged man holding a bag of shit, walking an ailing Shih Tzu with a penchant for street turds and candy wrappers—but because it’s rude to stare. It’s rude to stare at the unfortunate: their hand-me-downs, their hopeless haunted eyes. It’s also rude to stare at the genetically blessed, the gorgeous, the toned, the fertile, famous, and wealthy. I still had not recognized Cameron Diaz, but she radiated fabulousness.
So I did what any eldest son raised by my late mother would do: as the couple came closer and closer, I focused my attention on the man. So as not to make the lady uncomfortable, you see. (From this fragment of mental DNA, you should be able to reconstruct me completely.)
So here they were, now on my block, now halfway up the block to me, now almost within arm’s reach.
And there I was, with my dog and my shit bag and my eyes firmly trained on the male half of the couple.
Who was either a gym buddy or personal trainer but definitely not a boyfriend, I gathered from their body language with respect to each other, and especially from his smiling quick speech and big sweeping arm gestures, which vibed “consultant meeting an important client” and perhaps Italian-American and maybe also gay. If I was right about that last bit, my staring at him for the past five minutes didn’t worry me, but it might be freaking him out. At any rate, that was my cover story to myself for what I did next.
For the couple was now an arm’s length away, about to pass out of my sight forever. And while I had been working hard to respect the lady by not telegraphing waves of hopeless lust, if I didn’t steal one more glance right now, I would never see her again, never even know what she really looked like up close.
My eyes slid toward her of their own accord, and as they landed, I saw that her smiling, knowing, superior but also playfully flirtatious eyes were locked on mine. She had been watching me studiously avoid looking at her, waiting for the inevitable collapse of my will, the moment when I could no longer resist. “Busted,” her eyes said. “You didn’t fool me for one minute. Yes, it’s me. Nice meeting you. Bye.”
And then, with a taunting but also pleasing smirk, she was gone. And two things hit me: