Archive | Life in the Big City

Dress rehearsal

Today, right now, there is a march and rally outside the GOP retreat here in Philly. This was last night, before the official march:

I love my sanctuary city.

Begging in the rain

Times Square 168

I’ve gotten so hard from living around here, and I wish I hadn’t. I went out yesterday to get some tissues and cold medicine, and there was this kid standing outside the Walgreen’s — dirty fingernails, but otherwise pretty clean. Mixed Asian kid with freckles, clearly gay. He started in with a long, convoluted, hard-luck story about how he was stranded with some other kids from his group home, and when I pressed him, he said “I’m not supposed to be here.” Then he said he was taken away from his parents and send to the home when he was 13 (I doubt Bucks County is sending their kids here) and finally, I just stopped him.

“Look, every drug addict in this neighborhood has some story like yours, and it’s always very smooth and polished, and I just don’t believe you,” I said. He started to cry.

I explained that I had my own problems, and he needed to take responsibility for his. “You weren’t supposed to come here, right? Now you’re trying to make it my responsibility to help you. Sorry,” I said.

The funny thing is, not five minutes before, I gave money to a homeless guy who was standing in the intersection, begging for change. I didn’t think twice about it; I guess I just figured, “At least this guy’s really working for it.” Because it was cold, and pouring down rain.

I don’t feel the compassion anymore, and it really bothers me. I’d like to get back to that.

Goodbye to a bookstore

10232014 Barnes & Noble

Books were my ticket out of my neighborhood, the key to a different world. So I understand exactly what these neighbors mean:

Every day after school, 4-year-old Nicholai Rose demands that his mother take him first to the park then to the Barnes & Noble in the Baychester neighborhood of the Bronx. There, they snuggle in a corner in the children’s section and, each time, read “I Need My Monster,” his favorite picture book.

In a few months their ritual will end — permanently — when the store closes for good, leaving the Bronx, a borough with nearly 1.5 million people, without one general-interest bookstore. For residents, the closing carries a painful sting the borough knows too well, of being long underserved and overlooked, which persists even as the Bronx is experiencing a renaissance.

“How am I going to tell him that the bookstore is going?” said Nicholai’s mother, Shauna Rose, 29, as she sat in the store on Wednesday, the monster book on her lap. “And there’s nothing else.”

With 50,000 titles in its inventory, the Barnes & Noble opened in the Bronx in 1999. Two years ago, it nearly closed after the landlord sought to raise the rent. But it remained open after a public outcry, and after elected officials stepped in to assist in the rent negotiations. It has withstood the economic crunch that shut down smaller bookshops in the borough over the years. While there are a few bookstores in the Bronx attached to various universities and some stores that sell religious texts, the Barnes & Noble remains the last of its kind, until it closes in January, because of a rent increase. It will replaced by a Saks Off 5th store.

The decision has provoked another round of outrage, laced with deep resentment and a sense of loss.

Christina Tipiani, 23, a student who lives in the Soundview section of the Bronx, bemoaned the closing as she browsed books with her daughter Gabriella Padilla, 3. “We have enough clothing stores,” she said. “What do you want to teach your children? I want to teach my child actual values.”

This is life and death in my city

Roof Lines

Every damned day, because of the damned guns. If you get shot, you want to go to Temple, because they handle more gunshot wounds than anyone else. So this routine happens at Temple U. Hospital more than anyplace else:

Philadelphia — First you get your coat. I don’t care if you don’t remember where you left it, you find it. If there was a lot of blood you ask someone to go quickly to the basement to get you a new set of scrubs. You put on your coat and you go into the bathroom. You look in the mirror and you say it. You use the mother’s name and you use her child’s name. You may not adjust this part in any way.

I will show you: If it were my mother you would say, “Mrs. Rosenberg. I have terrible, terrible news. Naomi died today.” You say it out loud until you can say it clearly and loudly. How loudly? Loudly enough. If it takes you fewer than five tries you are rushing it and you will not do it right. You take your time.

After the bathroom you do nothing before you go to her. You don’t make a phone call, you do not talk to the medical student, you do not put in an order. You never make her wait. She is his mother.

When you get inside the room you will know who the mother is. Yes, I’m very sure. Shake her hand and tell her who you are. If there is time you shake everyone’s hand. Yes, you will know if there is time. You never stand. If there are no seats left, the couches have arms on them.

You will have to make a decision about whether you will ask what she already knows. If you were the one to call her and tell her that her son had been shot then you have already done part of it, but you have not done it yet. You are about to do it now. You never make her wait. She is his mother. Now you explode the world. Yes, you have to. You say something like: “Mrs. Booker. I have terrible, terrible news. Ernest died today.”

Then you wait.

I came to San Francisco to change my life: I found a tribe of depressed workaholics living on top of one another

San Francisco Skyline

I might have been trespassing up there, but I would often go to the 19th-floor business lounge to work and study. Located on the top floor of the a luxury high-rise in the SOMA district of San Francisco, the lounge was only accessible to residents of the building. Yet for a while I found myself there… Continue Reading →

Whirlpool program put washing machines in schools and made a huge difference in attendance


I’m not surprised. Lots of schools do this — if they can afford it:

When you think about kids in middle school who have attendance problems, it can be easy to blame the parents (or the kids themselves), shake your head, and throw up your hands at a problem that is too big to be fixable. But what if all some of these kids need are clean clothes to wear to school? Whirlpool has taken on what could be dismissed as a minor issue and seen tremendous results.

Last year the good people at Whirlpool created the Whirlpool Care Counts Program and donated seventeen pairs of washers and dryers to school districts in St. Louis and in Fairfield, California. The schools then invited kids with attendance problems to bring in their laundry to be cleaned while they were in class.

The results were astounding: over 90% of participating students increased their attendance that year, at-risk students attended almost two more weeks of school, and each student got approximately 50 loads of laundry done at school. This year, Whirlpool will expand the program to twenty more schools in five more districts.

When compared to factors like economic opportunity, unemployment, and institutional racism, laundry seems pretty inconsequential in the fight to keep kids in school. But while that might be the case for their parents, for a ten-year-old who already has the odds stacked against them, having nothing clean to wear to school could be the deciding factor in whether or not they want to face their classmates that day.

Compassion deficit

I went to the movies this weekend (Ghostbusters — I liked it, but not as much as I hoped I would). Anyway, I ordered a burger because I hadn’t eaten lunch yet, and stood off at a side counter to wait for it.

Meanwhile, a junkie who’s high as a kite is trying to decide what size popcorn to buy, and she’s got her kid with her — he’s maybe four or five years old. She’s speaking like a tape where they slowed it down, it sounded bizarre. Anyway, she finally gets her popcorn, pumps the bag chock full of the hot yellow grease that’s supposed to simulate butter, than grabs a big handful of the greasy mess and shoves it into the hands of the little kid. The kid looks baffled, and is trying to hold onto as much of the popcorn as he can.

Mother of the Year says, “Don’t lose any of that. You can’t be taking all of mine.” I don’t think she was kidding. I guess it’s a point in her favor that she was taking the kid to the movies.

I hate that I think of junkies as subhuman, but I kinda do. It makes me feel bad, but they’re like zombies who only approximate people. It’s why I hate drugs so much.

So sick of guns. Just sick of them.

I am so glad the Dems are going toe to toe with the NRA this year. When Erica Smegielski, daughter of the slain Sandy Hook principal, looked around the hall and said she wanted to be home watching the DNC on TV with her mother, that she would give up every day she had left for one more day with her mother — well, I about lost it. Because every damn day, someone in my city gets shot and killed, and it’s time we stopped it.

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