As you can see, the gym is working out. I’ve lost two pounds, and I’ve mastered the elliptical machine. I’ve read that sufficient sleep will help you lose weight, so that must be helping too.
I’m going to see my friend Robbie today after my class.
I teach English part-time at an urban technical college, which I’ve always wanted to call Wilbert Wannabee Technical College (WWTC for short.) As part-timers, we have no office; we are forced to use public places like the library, or the cafeteria, to prepare our lessons. A full-time instructor, Robbie took me under his wing when I first arrived at WWTC and allowed me to share his office. Robbie and I hit it off immediately because we liked each other’s fashion style. Robbie always wears impeccable suits to work, and his ties or scarves are always striking, some would say flamboyant.
When we see each other, which is three or four times a month, we have tea, and conversations about the finer things in life, like art and, of course, fashion. In a ledger Robbie keeps in his desk, we make lists of guilty names under fashion flaw titles such as “Lycra Lied to Me” and “Color me Blind”. Though we also note the times (rare) when we see a lovely outfit, which Robbie usually describes as “fetching” or “smart”. Yes, Robbie is over fifty, but he has an excellent eye and appreciation for style. We do not take pictures, as that could get us in trouble, but drawing is a skill we both share and we use it freely. Neither of us is bold enough or rude enough to give unsolicited fashion advice, but when you have a sharp fashion sense, there must be an outlet. The ledger is ours. Robbie would weep if he met Dr. G.
For tea, I bought a cake from the bakery next to my second part-time job, which is tutoring ESL (English as a Second Language) to a family of recent immigrants. Very enthusiastic about learning American English, they meet twice a week for lessons. I feel pretty sure they keep a goat in their apartment, and equally sure the landlord is unaware, as every time I ring the doorbell, I hear whispering and scuffling, bleating, loud music and a door slam shut. As soon as I’m in, they turn the music off, as they seem to sense that I will not report them. And they would be correct.
I might as well mention here my third part-time job, which is writing menus for a small chain of restaurants. It does not pay well, but they give me food, and I do share some of the work by turning it into writing assignments for my WWTC students; they get to practice their writing skills, and everyone wins.
The class today was Creative Writing, a class which I got by luck, when the full- time instructor fell down a flight of stairs in the middle of last semester, and took an early retirement. Today, the first short story was due, and of course only half the class was ready. I sat and listened to the excuses.
“I left mine on my parole officer’s desk. He asked to see it. He wanted to know how I was doing. But I’ll get it back when he comes to work on Monday….”
“Mine’s on my flash drive. I tried to print it here, but the computers here are… different.”
And the inevitable,
“Miss Lafollette, can I have another copy of the assignment? I lost mine.”
In a weary voice, I repeated the policy about losing half a grade for each day the paper was late, whatever the reason.
Robbie was nowhere when I got out of my class, and he didn’t answer his cell phone either. Then I found out that he was absent today. There have been more of these disappearances since his partner became ill with cancer three months ago. Every now and then he gives me an update on Patrick, whom he calls Pooky, but only when I ask him. I sent him a text to say that I missed him and told him to call me if he needed just to talk. I sat down and began to read the assignments. The first one was full of malapropisms, one was that the writer’s character was “curled up into a fecal position.” This would have brought a smile to Robbie’s face.
At home, I saw a heart-wrenching commercial sponsored by an organization that specializes in helping refugee children for $5.99 per month. Now, this is something I can do, I said to myself. In addition to practicing gratitude, I have been reading a lot lately about charity and generosity and the connection between them and receiving benefits in your own life, and this looked like an excellent opportunity to do that. Some of the children are lucky if they get one meal a day, the announcer said. With tears in my eyes, I called the number and said, “I’ll take two of them.”
I am now the proud sponsor of one child from Somalia and one from Syria. I am posting their pictures below, so you can appreciate the position I was in.
Sukina – Isn’t she the cutest thing?
And Sami – adorable…..
To tell you the truth, neither of them look malnourished to me, but photographs can be deceiving.
Feeling exhilarated from my newfound philanthropy, I jumped in my car and headed down to the bakery to buy bread. It was true: being generous does cause you to feel good about yourself, and about life in general. I rolled my window down, despite the damp weather, gave my scarf an extra wind, and breathed in the cold air. I remembered there was a new Half Price Bookstore beside the bakery and I had a crateful of books I wanted to sell in my trunk. I parked and took the crate out and headed for the bookstore first, where I saw the stupid sign that said, “Closed. Grand Opening April 3rd.” So, I stepped into the bakery next door with my crate and bought my bread. Back outside, I almost bumped into a ragged, homeless-looking guy, who asked me, “How much do you want for your books?”
“Well, how many do you want?” I said.
“Oh, you can have that for nothing,” I said.
I put the crate on the parapet on the side of the building and he picked a thick, heavy volume of American Literature. I was feeling quite pleased with myself for having contributed to the literary uplifting of a homeless man and happy that he took the heaviest book… He headed into the alley, where I spied an open, junk-filled, parked van. Back in my car, I noticed I did not have the bread. I walked back to where I had stopped with the man. Nothing. I didn’t remember putting the bread down, and thought I may have left it in the bakery. But I remembered smelling it while I carried it out. I walked to the homeless van, which was still there. Inside was the man, with a woman now, just as ragged, sitting at a three-legged table, the fourth corner of which was propped up by two bricks, an oil tin, and American Literature II.
“Did you see a loaf of bread when you got the book earlier?” I asked.
“No, no,” they both said, very quickly.
I looked more closely at the woman.
“Are those breadcrumbs on your scarf? Wait, is that my scarf?”
I never cease to marvel at how paralyzed people can become when they are the ones who have been violated. I stood there, dumbfounded, while I watched the woman fling her leg over the seat into the driver’s position and the man reach up without a word and roll down the back door of the van in my face. For several seconds, all I could do was watch the license-plate-less van rip down the alley in a cloud of smoke.
In a daze almost, I walked back to the bakery, where luckily, there was another loaf of country white wheat. Thoughts about the theft flooded my mind. At what point did the scarf leave my neck? They appeared to be able to afford gas for their van, so how hard up were they that they had to steal bread? And why did they hang around after they stole it? Was he too stupid to figure out that I would suspect him? Or were they just too hungry? That is terrible, to think that they were so hungry they had to eat right away. And there I was again, over-analyzing something that I could not change. I resolved to not think about it at night before I went to sleep. All this waste of gray matter for a simple loaf of bread and a scarf that’s older than Adam. Would be nice if I’d read Dr. G’s breathing exercises more carefully… Enough, Francine! I thought. At least you can afford to buy a second loaf. And I was grateful for that.