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8/28/13

A Small Miracle

I’ve written this piece in 2007, based on a recording I made during a work-in-progress rehearsal for a show called Fifty Sons and Daughters that gathers my college teaching experiences in New Jersey. I preserve for now its loose structure, because it intrigues me.
 Okay… [Laughs] Today it was a miracle day. It just came out of nowhere. The bottom line is that I teach in New Jersey, so this college is like an octopus college, has a campus in Westchester, New York, two campuses in New York City, one in Newark, one in Woodbridge, but they call it Middlesex, so I don’t understand… but the train takes me there, so it’s alright, but the bottom line is that we had a faculty day that happens once a quarter, once a term, when we get together and talk. Only the adjuncts, like I am, don’t get to talk! We don’t get to talk. We just listen to the full-timers. [Laughs] But the full-timers from Newark, not just one of them, but all of them were in an uproar that it’s just terrible there because it’s a new campus and it’s in a building that, especially for those who teach in the evening, there is no security there, there’s no staff, there’s nothing, and one of the teachers was in such an uproar she was trembling, that students cursed her and said fuck off and go fuck yourself and fuck and fuck and the woman said she needs to have a phone in the classroom, she needs to have somebody on that floor because it’s really our of control and you’d ignore her, thinking that she is just another neurotic teacher like myself, but another guy who thinks he is a macho guy, he presents himself like that, he has a pony tail, otherwise he is balding, but he’s a hippie, whatever, so he also said the same story! That these guys don’t show up to class and when they show up they expect to pass without pulling their weight because probably this is the way they were handled in high school!
I have proof it’s true they expect to pass: one of my students, today, this week, it was conferences week, that is I had students come with their portfolios, which they posted on the Internet on the Blackboard, this is a software for teaching for those of you who don’t know, you can put there everything, you can put their essays there and the machine tells you how much they copied from another website and if it’s over 30% that means they are plagiarizing and according to the college policy they are expelled, out they go, but they don’t because we want their money. Not me, the college.
Anyway, so here is this professor, I don’t know, he has a P in his name, Phifer, Phifer, the hippie. He says it’s a problem, and there have to be drastic changes! There have to be drastic changes! And what’s up with the parking cost, he said. We are full time people, we were told that when we go there they pay for our parking, but there is no parking lot, so each time I go to work to teach, I pay $12. This is not fair. I was not told this from the beginning! Something has to be done.
And I am singled out. I, a mere adjunct! There are a hundred faculty there and my chair of the department, singles me out, the humble adjunct who ass-kisses him, he says, but Peter why are you complaining about? For example Ella, and here I am, it was my lucky day that I freshly washed my hair that day otherwise they were looking me who is this pitiful creature sitting next to Tom, Tom is the Chair. [Laughs] He says, Ella, for example, pays $200 every month to come to work. What is the difference? Well, the difference is that we were told at the beginning that we will be paid the parking and here we are and we are not paid and it’s not fair and bla-bla-bla!
Well, I say to Tom, [Whispers] Tom, it seems these people don’t want to teach in Newark. I want to go teach in Newark! Because I had a breakthrough with my so called obnoxious students, I had a breakthrough, I turned them into gentlemen and I’ll tell you how and I really want to not commute for two hours to West Patterson, I’d like to commute for half an hour. Send me to Newark! And they sent me to Newark. From 1st of April I’ll be in Newark.
Now, I was afraid that maybe they’d shoot me, maybe it’s dangerous, but it doesn’t matter, I go to Newark, but the thing is that all of a sudden I was so popular, all of a sudden I had three classes to teach in Newark, because nobody wants to go there, then somehow one of the classes didn’t come thru because it was too early, and I get a class in Woodbridge, Middlesex. What is this name? Middle Sex? I do not understand, but it doesn’t matter. The problem is how am I get myself from Newark to Woodbridge to New York City and how much is this gonna cost?!
It so happened that I had another matter to tend at the New Jersey Transit Customer Service window, Penn Station. Exactly a week ago I was waiting for my train in Paterson around 1:30, sleepy, I wake up at 5:45 a.m., so here I am the wind blowing on the platform. In New Jersey they didn’t figure it out to make some shelter for passengers to sit during winter, so I have to kill ten minutes until the train comes. I have the ticket to get on the train, but wanting to do something during those ten minutes I go to the ticket machine and I punch in two tickets round trip to Paterson off-peak hours, so give me four tickets, and give me a receipt because I want to tax deduct it. The machine says give me $18 dollars. Well, should I charge on my debit card? No, I’d rather insert a bill. So I insert a $20 bill. I’m sleepy. I hear the machine making weird noises and I should, like any normal person, I should just pull the bill out, but no, I watch how it rumbles and I watch how my $20 disappears and then to my disbelief I watch how it does nothing! And the screen says again NJRail and no tickets! And welcome to New Jersey Rail! Do you prefer English or Spanish?! [Laughs] No receipt, no nothing, and here is the train and I ask the conductor look, what happened. He tells me to go to the customer service window when I get to Penn Station and complain to get my money back, they’ll ask for a ticket booth number. What is the number here? There, in the corner, 479. Okay, off I go with the train. I get off at Secaucus to switch trains, wait, here comes the train, then I get off New York City, I go here, no, you have to go there, then there, and there, finally here I am at the customer service window.
A very polite clerk, unbelievable handsome on top of it, anyhow it doesn’t matter because I’m not into it right now, but [Laughs] he was really impressive that I told him, Listen, the machine got my money! Believe me, you are not going to get away with it. This time I’m gonna follow thru. Last time when the train just passed by us saying it goes to Hoboken instead of saying it goes to Suffern and I complained, and other five travelers complained, and you guys didn’t do anything about it, and I eventually let it pass because I said I’m stressed out, but now, even if I am stressed out, believe me I’m gonna come here again and again until you solve it! Please!
He asks, Where do you come from? I say, I’m from Romania. He says, I’ve been there! And he says a few words, very bad accent. Ce facii? You don’t say ce faciii you say ce faci? But he thinks he speaks six languages! Why do you need to speak six languages? Because I travel a lot. I’ve been to Portugal, I’ve been here, there. Fantastic, but I really didn’t care about it, though he was so handsome and his hair was all styled with jell to look disheveled, very not New Jersey Rail, so I thought. For sure he’s an actor and models and blue eyes and sun tanned, he just came from the beach from somewhere. And a kind person. And he takes the data down, a I told him also about the Hoboken situation, you know the train whistling by us, and bla-bla-bla! and he writes it down too. I want my $20 back! He said for sure the machine was full. We gonna follow thru. I’ll get you a number for the complaint case and I’ll e-mail my boss about it.
But it seems he wants to talk about Romania, and I don’t want to talk again about Romania, how nice and hospitable are people there, and how beautiful it all is. I’m just amazed how nice is this person, why can’t I find such a nice guy who is also sane and doesn’t have any problems?
Anyway, today it’s been a week, he didn’t call back, I’m going there. He gave me his name and number at work, his name is Dutch! I just got rid of this gay Dutch guy who was leading me on! [Laughs.] No, I’m not kidding. His name is Dutch! So Dutch is there and I tell him do you remember me, and my complaint bla-bla-bla? He goes to check in the back office. Meanwhile I trouble the other clerk to find out how much would cost me to commute from Newark to Woodbridge to New York City and back. Is it more than two hundred, because then I need a raise.
Dutch comes back and tells me that this is my complaint number and while waiting for the resolution would I want, listen to this, would you like to have two tickets within the state of New Jersey, wherever you want to go? It doesn’t click in my mind that this is a miracle. I am suspicious, does he just want to get rid of me? because he won’t get rid of me, and I say I want four tickets to Paterson and back, that’s all I want! No, he says, look, would you like to go to the beach or to Six Flags? or something where we go up and down on the roller coaster, have inane adventures. I say, No, I would not like to go. Now, I changed my mind, maybe I should go. He says again, Look, you can have two tickets, and each ticket price is $36 and I can give it to you as a gift, two tickets to the beach. We have beautiful beaches in New Jersey. What do you think?
I think, well, maybe he doesn’t play a dirty customer service trick one me, maybe he’s really gonna give me those tickets. And he asks for some ID number bla-bla-bla, and he brings me two tickets and then I realize: I piggyback on the hospitality of my Romanian folks, who probably bestowed their kindness on this Dutch guy. When you go to Romania they baby-sit you around. If they catch you, they baby-sit you around, they feed you, they put you up for the night to sleep. They love foreigners to death. So he tries to be nice to me, and I said, Well, that means that God wants me really to go to the beach now!
And that was my miracle. I was impressed, you know, I told him you are my New Jersey Transit angel. You made up for a lot of crap that I went thru in New Jersey. He said he just was sorry I had been put thru this, and he looked sympathetic. That’s not why we are here. I said I’ll give you a Romanian fairytale book I translated, so you can brush up on your rusty Romanian, but then I realized since I translated it, it’s in English…
Anyway, my angel just came out of the blue. It will be adventure. He got to know my country, so he returned the courtesy and wants me to know his country. Unless he works on getting good PR for NJTransit, and saw I wouldn’t give up until I got my tickets.
So then I wanted to give him a poem by Mihai Eminescu, I don’t know why, what is going on in my head, but here is the Romanian poem, it’s roughly translated: “Children…” If you yawn again, I’ll stop it. So, “Children We Were…” Now Eminescu is a famous romantic poet, Our National Poet. Do you have National Poets here? You have, but you update them. Well, Our National Poet, for the last three centuries stands in front of the Opera House in a loin cloth, shivering in wind and cold winter, he’s always there Our National Poet, and he is a homophobe and a pig chauvinist and a Jew-hater, but he’s THERE!

I’m conflicted because I love his poetry. On top of it, Romanian is not my real mother tongue. Romanian language is my ethnic-cleansed-shoveled-down-my-throat mother tongue, which I grew up with, and I loved without knowing that it was ethnic-cleansed-shoved-down-my-throat, so here it goes:
Children We Were the Two of Us, my brother and I. From walnut shells we made oxen-pulled carts and we harnessed it on old snails with horns. I know snails have feelers, or antennas, but in the poem is horns and you can’t say horny snails. So ox snails… And he was reading Robinson, and retelling it to me; I was building the Vavilon Tower… that’s the Babylon Tower… out of playing cards and I’d wedge in a silly word or two.
Often we went bathing in the wood’s eye… in the glen of the forest, arriving at its large pond and swimming to its middle, to the green island.
I built out of clay and tall, thick reeds a proud fortress with tall tin towers, surrounded by walls.
And my brother, being the Emperor, made me his Envoy Extraordinaire. Unyieldingly I went to the frogs to call them to war--to see who is the strongest.
And the Frog Emperor with a mighty proud oacaca consented, and ordered his armies to stir the pond and we went into the battle.
Alas, we caught loads of frogs--I think even the King--and we locked them up in the Black Tower on that Green Island. Towards sunset we vanquished them.
Then we let the frogs free. They jumped with joy. They plunged deep into the pond, never to surface again. We ambled home.
Then I asked for my reward for my mighty deeds--and my brother bestowed on me the Northern Kingship over the Indian people.
The white tomcat was my treasurer, Mînzac, my one-eyed Minister--when I ask him for my dues he meows sinisterly. Cordially I shook his paw.
And the most magnanimous Emperor gave me also a consort, a broom, his daughter with lascivious laugh, stiff and full of come-ons named Tlantaqu-caputli.
I thanked the Emperor with a humble bow--wearing a mantle made of a kitchen towel, and I went to my wooden mistress residing in a corner behind the clay stove, at the saintly monastery.
And oh and wow! she was so dear to me! Gently I spoke to her but she was not responsive and full of spite I threw her into the fire.
And we romped on the barn roof, over its reeds and straw and imagined we were on top of the mountains, marching side by side on the drumbeat.
And my paper helmet swelled in the wind. A handkerchief tied on a stick was our battle flag. We sang: Trarara!
Oh, you went away dreams, away you went! Dead is my brother. No one closed his eyes in foreign lands. Maybe they're still open in his grave. But often in my dream his large blue eyes shine, a smile of two purple stars wakes my soul up. I? Do I still have my childhood heart?
Oh, often as if I hear an old song. As if it's ringing-echoing sweetly in my ear: World, world and world again! [Sings a Romanian folk tune.]
Lume, lume şi iar lume!
Thank you.


It is still not clear what the piece says. Besides the small kindnesses it speaks of ethnic politics and writers, caught in the hatreds of their times. Then it is a nostalgic piece, missing Romania, missing childhood. When I wrote it I didn’t realize it but the Dutch guy looked a bit like my blue eyed brothers, the younger one dearly departed.
 
 
 
Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, witnessing democracy, freedom of speech and faith, and engineering social change thru art being some of them, I’d be grateful.
 
New York
August 28, 2013
 

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