Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

the soundtrack of my life, part V

the soundtrack of my life series

She was only in juvy for a few days this time, and a social worker came to drive her to a group home. She didn't even know till then what was going to happen. That was typical of the system -- don't let the kid know till the last minute...less time for them to freak out.

Citadel, the group home was called. It was in Browne's Addition, to the west of downtown. Originally, that part of town was where the wealthier people lived when the place was being settled. The addition was full of those old, three-story homes that eventually were made into apartments because no one could afford to take care of them properly.

This home was still intact, hadn't been partitioned off for apartments. It stood on the corner of Pacific and...she couldn't remember that either. Maybe Cannon. Imposing, that house was. Intimidating. The little alcove to the right off the front door was probably initially for the side table that would hold a tray for people to leave their calling cards. Now, it held the only telephone available for about eight girls.

Just behind that was the stairway on the right. Going straight ahead through the foyer would find you in sort of a rec room, complete with an old shag carpet that had to be raked when the girls cleaned. To the left of the front door was the living room/tv room; walking toward the back of the house, next was the dining room. There was a doorway from the dining room into that rec room, making a complete circle. Behind the dining room was the kitchen, beyond which was a small room converted into a laundry room, next to the downstairs half-bath.

The second floor was the bedrooms for the girls. Two rooms with three beds, and one with two. And a third bedroom that a college student lived in. Her name was Ruthie. She was supposed to be a sort of casual counselor/helper to the group home 'parents,' but even looking back with a fairly objective eye, the college student was pretty ineffectual. She had very few actual counseling skills, at least in terms of working with teens. And she was smug and judgmental to boot, which didn't endear her to the girls. There was one bathroom on that floor for all eight girls and the college student. And at the back of the house, a small open area with sofas for hanging out. And a door leading to the requisite fire escape that had been added to these old buildings.

The third floor belonged to the house 'parents' and their two little girls. None of the teens was ever allowed on the third floor for any reason, so of course there's no description. The 'parents' -- she could still remember their last name -- Gross. No lie. They had no training for dealing with teenagers either. And, it seemed, very little parenting skills in regard to their own kids, as those two little girls were spoiled rotten holy terrors who quickly learned that they could lie to their parents and get the teens in trouble as the parents would take their word over the teens every time. So some of the girls wickedly plotted ways to catch the little ones in their lies and relished watching them get in trouble, even if it didn't last long.

She had to go to school while she was there, but it was a different school, so she didn't know anyone. She hated it, lost in that big high school, skipping lunch because she had no one to sit with. She didn't think she'd ever been so fucking alone as she was there. She lasted a couple of days before the anxiety threatened to overwhelm her and she just hung out downtown instead.

She and the other girls got along for the most part, although of course there were serious knock-down drag-outs from time to time. They formed into smaller pairs and trios, girls occasionally moved out and more in, and they spent most of their time hanging downtown, since it was within walking distance. Her time there became a blur of late nights and and hangovers. There was a curfew, of course, and supposedly consequences -- although those were not meted out fairly, but more harshly on those the 'parents' didn't care for. At first, they would sneak in and out by way of the fire escape, but eventually the 'parents' got wind of it -- thanks to Ruthie -- and they would wait for the girls to sneak out and then lock the door behind them.

Why, you might ask, wouldn't they just lock the door before they left. They seemed to love watching the girls come crawling home, forced to ring the doorbell to be let in. Ruthie, on the second floor, would ignore the bell until it woke up the 'parents,' who would take their sweet time coming down, and sometimes wouldn't open the door but would leave them outside. The girls then learned to leave the laundry room window slightly cracked. Not enough to notice, but enough that it wasn't latched and could be pushed open from the outside. Not all the girls could get in that small window, but at 98 pounds, she was one that could. Eventually the 'parents' discovered the window, but not till after she had left.

Her strongest memory of that home was a particular television show that all the girls were careful to be home to watch. Sunshine was the short-lived series, and it opened to John Denver's song Sunshine on my Shoulders. The girls would be milling around taking care of personal things, but when they heard the theme song, they came running and remained glued to the tv till it was over.

The show was about a guy who was taking care of his step daughter, whose mom/his wife had died. So, she wasn't really his daughter, but it didn't stop him from treating her like she was. The dad was a musician, rode a motorcycle, and was generally considered cool by all the girls. But of course what really drew the girls to the show was the dad/daughter relationship. Here were a bunch of teens, who either had dads who'd abandoned them, or dads who'd beat them, or dads who molested them. None of them had a functional relationship with their father, but they seemed to know one when they saw one. And watching this dad, who didn't even really have to take care of his stepdaughter, but choosing to, and willingly and lovingly...well, it held the girls attention every bloody week. They wanted what the girl in the show had -- and so did she.

But she caused a lot of problems at this group home. She just couldn't keep her mouth shut, called the 'parents' and Ruthie on their bullshit a little too often. If it was wrong, or unjust, she let them know. To know inside that all she'd ever tried to do was get away from the egg donor, and that all she'd gotten for her effort was this fucked up group home, just made her crazy. She was so angry at this point, it came out in so many ways, most of them self-harmful. Smart assed, fuck you attitude. Major drinking and partying. And those 'parents' didn't want her there causing trouble anymore. So they called the cops and told them she was a danger to their little girls and they wanted her gone.

She'd never, the whole time she was there, every said or done anything that could conceivably hurt those little girls, no matter how angry she got. But that didn't matter. When she heard they'd called the cops, she lost it a little bit. The injustice, the lie, was more than she could handle with her limited emotional resources. She did threaten them verbally then. Not the little girls, the 'parents.' Which of course played right into their plan. When the cops showed up, she was the angry one, while they seemed like the injured party. They were too much like the egg donor.

So the two cops took an arm each, lifted her off her feet, and carried her out to their car and put her in the back seat. She would have bruises on her arms later from the strength of their grips. She'd been in that group home for about a month, give or take a few days. Now she was headed back to juvy for the second time.

If I had a tale that I could tell you
Id tell a tale sure to make you smile

Sunshine on my Shoulders:

And back in '74:

the soundtrack of my life, part IV

The soundtrack of my life series

She sat on the bench at the station, staring at the building across the river. She could see the lights in the windows, and reflected on the water, tonight. In the summer, the huge trees in front of the building obstructed her view; but in the winter the trees were bare.

No music from her zen tonight, as she'd managed to screw up turning it off when she got to work that morning. She thought she'd done it, but apparently hadn't kept the button pressed long enough and it ran all day, until the battery died. So her music tonight was the sounds of Marble Hill -- faint voices, traffic, and the sounds of the number 1 as it crossed the broadway street bridge. And in the occasional moments of quiet, the sound of the river flowing, the wide, flat patches of ice twirling around the edges as they were pushed by the visibly swift current. The east river ran north along the east side of manhattan till it hit the bronx, and then curved west to join the hudson.

As she watched and listened, she was thinking -- stressing really -- about selling her soul to Dell for the new laptop and wireless printer she'd charged at an outrageous interest rate. But then her mind ran to the past again -- back to those runaway years.

She'd tired of trying to run to someplace, and decided to simply 'hang out' around town the next time she left. There'd been a lot of so-called spending the night with friends, but really hanging on the streets, so she sort of knew the ropes.

She could always get places to sleep at night if it got cold. There was the time she was partying with some guys, for example, and they let her have a bit of floor in the cheap hotel room they all shared. One of those kind with only one bathroom on each floor that everyone used. She needed to pee badly in the early morning hours, but they wouldn't wake up and show her where it was, and she couldn't find it. By the time she found a gas station with a bathroom on the way home the next afternoon, she hurt so bad she almost couldn't pee anymore. And after that, she had some serious bladder problems for most of her life. But hell, even that was better than being at home.

So one day she decided she just wouldn't go home at all, and she hung downtown for a day or two. Riverside was the place for the kids, especially at the ONB building. It had big, deep window sills outside, big enough to sit in and low enough to get up to. She was sitting in the window one afternoon when she saw her younger brother running over from across the street. He had a crooked smile on his face, and right behind him was the egg donor. The little fucker. He'd given her up, led the woman right to her.

That's the way they were, her brothers and her. They didn't have the 'all for one and one for all' attitude that some siblings develop when facing a common adversary. No, each one of them would give the other one up in an instant if they thought it would save them from hell. They'd all turned each other in at various times throughout their lives. Willingly, eagerly, happily. OK, perhaps not so willingly and eagerly. Or happily. They each felt a deep guilt when they had escaped to their bedroom, but had to listen to the other one's agony. At least she did, so she assumed the other two did as well. But that guilt didn't stop them from giving each other up, over and over.

The woman approached, and she gave a performance worthy of an oscar right there on the sidewalk. The begging, teary-eyed. Please come home, why do you do this? She had all the attention, pleaded innocence to her own crimes, and the kid came off looking like a loser. Again. So she got up and walked away from them both. And it wasn't but a few minutes later that the cops showed up. Because remember, running away was against the law back then. And in a midsized town like that, they picked up runaways if they knew where they were.

They escorted her to the back seat of their car, and drove her to juvy. Juvenile detention. She'd never been there, and her heart beat nearly out of her chest in trepidation. After all, she'd seen the tv shows of kid detention centers, the violence there. She was expecting the worst. And found nothing like the telly -- this wasn't NYC, after all. It was clean and quiet. No one screaming or threatening or whacking anyone around.

She was briefly checked and changed into...damn, she's completely blanked out of what they made the kids wear. Couldn't remember. But she did remember they made her take out her earring, looked for any other jewelry, put everything into a box and put her name on it. They took her to...again, it's a blank. Was this selective memory? She can't remember what the rooms looked like. Were they small cells with only a couple of beds, or a larger room like the jail in the small town. The memory just wouldn't come.

She did remember they had private bathrooms, with semi-communal showers. At least she didn't have to pee in public. They showered every other day. The facility supplied some cheap-assed shampoo that made her already unruly hair even worse. A female guard had to dole out shampoo, soap, and toothpaste/brushes a little to each girl, just enough for that shower -- they weren't allowed to have supplies of their own. They would go into the shower room, wet themselves down, then reach around the wall and the guard would squirt shampoo into their outstretched hand. They would lather up, then get back under the spray to rinse off.

She remembered a large rec room where they spent most of their time. There was a tv, and a foosball table. There may have been some books. She didn't like big groups, but she did know a couple of the kids from the street so it wasn't at bad as it could have been. But she spent a lot of time just laying on her bed, staring at the ceiling. Or sleeping, if she could get away with it. But they frowned on sleeping during the day and would kick her ass off the bed if they caught her.

But mostly she remembers the empty echo of the place. You know the sound your footsteps make on a cement floor in hallways that have no carpet or wall accessories to absorb the echo. Like a place not really lived in, despite the number of people there. She also remembers one of the guards. The woman's name is lost to history, but who she was will never be forgotten. She was one of those incredible people who try to get kids back on the straight and narrow, keep them moving, get them feeling better about themselves. Let them believe that someone out there actually cares about them.

On the day she left juvy the first time, the guard took out her checkbook and tore her name, address, and phone number off a deposit slip and gave it to her. Told her to call her anytime, day or night. She didn't do that with all the kids; maybe that's why this kid remembered it so vividly. Maybe she really thought the woman did care, at least a little bit. She would have an occasion a couple of years later to be there with a social worker picking up another kid, and she asked about the guard. They said she'd died about a year ago. Cancer. Couldn't have been more than about 30 when she went. The kid never forgot that. And felt badly that she'd never contacted the woman, even to say thank you.

She couldn't be released from juvy without a court hearing, so she found herself one day standing in front of a judge. Of course, the egg donor was there, giving what was unarguably her most oscar-worthy performance to date. And again teary-eyed, she told the judge she'd given up on being able to control the kid. The kid was uncontrollable. Incorrigible was the word the court used. All a parent had to do back then was declare the kid incorrigible, and the judge would make the kid a ward of the court. Then the court had jurisdiction over where she went.

Of course, there weren't foster homes for teenagers. So the judge decided she should go to a group home. She didn't even know what a group home was. But she would soon find out.

I'm young, I know
but even so
I know a thing or two
I learned from you

Love Hurts, Nazareth:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

get a good job with good pay and you're okay

put this under fucked up beyond all recognition

I have two outstanding parking tickets in NYC. One from August 2005, one from April 2006. My fault. I'll say that up front and take responsibility. Both tickets are for expired meters, which in NYC goes for $65 a pop. We won't mention the fact that both tickets, months apart, were from driving into the city to meet fellow bloggers coming in from out of town. ;)

We only have 10 days to pay the ticket, and if we don't, an additional $60 fee is added to the original $65. Which of course makes total sense -- I mean, if I can't pay the $65, surely I can fork out $125. So, I forgot about them. Ignored notices, ignored the judgment. I mean, it's not like it was a moving's just a parking ticket. And not even a ticket for a no parking zone, or handicapped zone. Just expired meters. And they won't boot/tow the car for two lousy parking tickets. Right?

Well Monday I received a letter from the city of NY. Seems I've ignored the notices until the original tickets, added fees, and interest totals $311.82. And they've discovered that I am a city employee (as a prof in the city university system, I am, in fact, employed by the city of NY), so my case has been turned over to the NYC Department of Finance's 'Operation CityScoff.' Yes, yours truly is now a scofflaw! *snort*

The letter threatened "judgments against [my] non-exempt personal property" if the amount isn't paid in seven days. Among the many directions on the back of the letter was this: "To establish a payment plan or inquire about an existing plan call..." I wasn't exactly worried, since I own nothing of value; but what about garnishing wages...would they do that?

So, I called the number. After being on hold for 25 minutes, someone with a rather pronounced accent finally picked up my call (I only mention the accent because it was difficult, over the phone, to understand him, which didn't help the following conversation--which is a shortened version of the actual conversation; there was a lot of 'what?' and 'could you repeat that please' going on).

NYC: How can I help you?
ME: I need to get a payment plan for a couple of parking tickets.
NYC: Your license plate number please?
ME: W-----.
NYC: I'm sorry, you are not eligible for a payment plan.
ME: But I have a case number. I received a letter. It says I can call to make a plan.
NYC: What is the case number?
ME: 004------.
NYC: Your total balance is only $312. It is not enough for a payment plan. You must owe at least $500 for a payment plan. You must pay the whole amount due.
ME: What if I can't pay the whole amount?
NYC: Then you can go online and pay for one ticket now, and the other one later.
ME: There is no web address on the letter anywhere, or any instructions to go online.
NYC: www.---------. You can pay each ticket there.
ME: But what if I can't pay for one whole ticket at once? That was the problem in the first place.
NYC: Then you can pay part of a ticket online.
ME: How is that different from a payment plan?
NYC: If you are on a payment plan, the city cannot tow your car.
ME: You mean, because I don't have a payment plan, the city can still have my car towed while I'm making payments?
NYC: The city can tow a car if the tickets, fees, and interest are $350 or more. If the interest on your tickets takes your total amount from $312 to $350, your car can be towed if it is in the city.
ME: And if it is towed, how much to I have to pay?
NYC: You would have to pay the amount you owe in full, plus the towing costs.
ME: And this makes sense to you? Because it doesn't make sense to me. Is there anyone else I can talk to about this?
NYC: No, that is the policy. There is no one else to talk to.

A word of caution -- if you owe between $350 and $500 to NYC for tickets, you are one seriously screwed dude.

So I am logging on to the city's website now to make a partial payment on each ticket. And while I fully admit that the tickets are my fault...well, this thing is still a money-making business -- a racket, if you will. Gotta love the city!

UPDATED TO ADD: I just paid $25.00 on each ticket to bring my balance down. And guess what? The city charges a $4.00 convenience fee for 'allowing' me to pay online. It also requires an email address.

And by the way...the city never sent anything that suggested there were limitations on a payment plan, or what the guidelines for towing a vehicle are. And the dude I spoke with, who told me to go pay online, never told me there'd be a fee, either.

pink floyd, money: