15 April 2019

Notre Dame is Burning

Notre Dame is burning. The full extent of the damage is yet to be known, but my gut tells me it is devastated to such a degree that it will not be fully restored during my lifetime.  Like many, I hold Notre Dame in a very special place in my heart.  One memory in particular kept floating to the surface today as I learned the news, first from a friend’s text.  My phone proceeded to blow up with texts from others, and many people came by my classroom today to share the developments and their grief.  

When I was twenty, I lived in Paris for a summer with an American roommate, Sandi, and a kind and welcoming French family.  What Hemingway said is true – that if you live in Paris when you were young, it will stay with you, for Paris is a “moveable feast.”  I’m not sure that this is unique to Paris, or if we are able to romanticize any beautiful place we’ve lived in that was integral to our coming of age. Regardless, Paris is a magical and beautiful city – redesigned in the early 1800s by Haussmann at Napoleon’s request, it is a city intent upon making an impression.  After a while though, it also reveals its warts, which are mostly the same as any large city:  too many people in too small a space, pollution, trash, and the filthy sidewalks due to the Parisiens’ apathy about cleaning up after their dogs.  

Ask any city dweller where to go for respite, though, and they might reveal their secret.  New Yorkers might have a special location within Central Park; or the Bay Area residents’ affinity for their trails along the coast.  And while Paris boasts a surprising number of lovely parks, Notre Dame was my refuge:

It is Sunday afternoon in June 1989, and my roommate Sandi and I take the Métro north to Saint-Michel and walk across the bridge toward Notre Dame for the free weekly organ concert. We’ve been to the cathedral before, our course instructor gave us his personalized tour a week or two before. It’s a hot and humid day, the kind that makes our host, Béatrice, stand by the open window, fanning herself and saying, “Quelle chaleur!”  (What a heatwave!)  The sun is bright and the smog and noise of the traffic add to a growing oppressiveness.

As we enter the cathedral, our senses are overwhelmed.  First: the darkness of this vast cathedral, whose stained glass windows are high above and don’t permit much sunlight. The coolness of the walls holding in the chill of eight hundred winters envelopes us and we soon are on the verge of shivering.  Next, the smoky scent of incense, lingering from the recent Mass, permeates our nostrils. And finally, the hush of the audience as everyone takes a seat.  Already, I feel somewhat overcome by a sense of peace and calm.  The quick tempo of our language and history courses every morning, followed by afternoon excursions at the fast pace of our instructor, on top of the struggle of immersing ourselves in another language, culture, and family – all of it is too much.  In later years, I will come to realize that this experience has imbued me with a deep sense of empathy for immigrants and refugees and all displaced persons.  But for now, it seems like this is the first time I have just sat quietly since I dragged my jet-lagged self off the plane. I’m not trying to figure how to say what’s on my mind, I’m not being rushed to the next sight, I’m just sitting quietly.

And then, the organist begins to play.  The massive pipes of this organ seem to snake up the entire wall at the back of the nave. The music, filling the air, vibrates throughout the huge enclosed space.  It’s loud, very loud, and on top of the sensory overload I’m already experiencing, my face is wet.  Tears stream from my eyes and at some point I realize that audible sobs are emanating from me.  The music swells and builds, each beat filled with the infinite trills and ornamentation that define  French Baroque organ music.

By the end of the concert, I pull myself together, but I am utterly spent.  I remember Sandi leading me from the darkness of the cathedral into the afternoon sun.  My journal tells me that we ate at an Italian place around the corner, but I don’t recall the rest of the day.

And now Notre Dame lies in shambles – the only solace is that it appears that no one has been killed in the fire.  The efforts of the brave firefighters surely have saved the cathedral from utter ruin – and hopefully the injured first responder will recover completely.  Notre Dame will be rebuilt – Macron has already pledged an international fundraising effort to fund it.  It is truly the heart of Paris, indeed of France, with Kilomètre Zéro in its square.  To me, it will remain a place where I, a young and weary traveler, far from home, found an overwhelming sense of peace on a Sunday afternoon.  

02 April 2019

A New Focus

This blog has been radio silent for several months now.  I am revising and rechanneling this website and repurposing it so that it can serve as a Global Education Guide for my Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellowship, in addition to continuing as a mode of self-expression.  I learned in August that I was awarded this prestigious fellowship.  Throughout the fall I was committed to an intense and rigorous course to learan all things related to Global Education and this revised website will serve as my capstone project.  This June I will travel with a small cohort of teachers to Peru to explore and learn about the school system there.

Ultimately this website will serve as a resource to anyone who is interested in learning about Global Education and implementing it into their lives, classrooms, schools, communities, etc.  Wanting to share the world with others was and remains a huge reason for my becoming a teacher.  Being part of this program has opened my eyes to the huge potential of what that can truly look like.

I spent three whirlwind days in Washington DC in February, completely missing the Blizzard of '19, which envelopped my community.  I met my amazing Peru Crew cohort -  a total of ten fantastic teachers with whom I will travel and work with this summer.  We experienced several incredible workshops to prepare us for our international field experience and to help us implement global education into our classrooms, schools, and communities.

While I still intend to write regularly and share those pieces here, much of my energy and focus will be on creating a platform to share the resources and experiences regarding my global education journey and to invite you along with me.

07 November 2018

Before and After

Nora popped the leftovers into the microwave, entered the time, and pushed start.  Her mom was working late and she’d have the apartment to herself tonight.  Without the commotion usually caused by her mom and Joseph, the new boyfriend, who was decidedly wrong, Nora would be free to do as she pleased, which in tonight’s case, would be to dye her hair.  She couldn’t wait.

She’d spent three afternoons casing the drug store, learning where the cameras were and how to avoid them. In her room she’d practiced again and again dropping a hair dye box into her overcoat pocket.  She’d found the box and bottle in her mother’s wastepaper basket, had reassembled everything, filling the bottle with water so that it would match the real thing’s weight.  She practiced until she could drop it into her pocket perfectly while pretending to scan the shelves.

She’d grown her thumb nail long to peel off the anti-theft device attached to the bottom of the box. The heist, as she liked to call it, had gone off without a hitch.  And tonight, finally, she would dye her mousy brown hair “Midnight Blue.”  Oh, how she hoped it would truly have some blue in it. Her mother would be floored – seeing her reaction in the morning might be the best part of it all, honestly.

The microwave beeped, signaling a job done.  Nora brought the food to the table and took a too-hot bite of a tuna casserole. Inhaling to cool it off, she ceremoniously opened the box of Midnight Blue.  Extracting each item from the box, she laid them carefully on the table, took a swig of milk, and then flattened the instructions next to her plate.  She read them through three times while eating, making certain she understood the steps and times.  She did not want to mess this up, like Cindy Armstrong had done.

Cindy’s hair was fine blonde hair to begin with, but after a botched dye job, it had turned a strange shade of orange, became brittle and broke off.  Cindy looked like a prisoner whose crew cut was growing out awkwardly. There were even strange blistered bald spots where the dye had burned her skin.  Obviously, Cindy hadn’t followed the instructions well, and her mother had been so livid that she refused to allow Cindy to wear a hat or wig, telling her she’d have to live with it.  That seemed a little cruel, but it was also kind of funny because Cindy never followed directions.

Nora intended to avoid those pitfalls.  Again, she read through the instructions, this time, highlighting the times for each step. Nora popped the last bite in her mouth, chugged the remaining milk, and stood up.  She took one last selfie with her hair the way it would never be again, not if she could help it.  She would do a before-and-after post.

Stepping to the sink, she arranged all the items she’d need around her, including the instructions. She pulled the rubber gloves onto her hands and began.  

03 October 2018

Job Hunting

Prompt:  The Robbery | Word Count:  1493 | Genre:  Fiction

Dustin pulled up to the curb at Donnie’s and honked twice.  It was almost dark.  He fiddled with the knobs on the AM radio, then pushed the cigarette lighter in wondering if Donnie would emerge before the lighter popped out, red hot.  

This was supposed to be a solo job, breaking into the back office of the Duffy Butcher Shop, where everyone knew Easy Joe O’Halleran received the weekly pay offs.  Rumor was they were left overnight in the deep freeze, wrapped and bundled in ten piles, a thousand smackers each.

Dustin had been riding along on jobs for a while now, sometimes helping to smash a lock or even kneecaps, more often standing guard or driving the car.

A solo hit on Duffy’s would definitely move him up in the ranks.  

And with Christiana knocked up, he needed money.  A lot more money if she decided to keep it this time.

Pop!  The lighter clicked out and still no Donnie.  Dustin thought about honking again, but felt too antsy to sit any longer.  Exiting the Chevelle, he noticed the bad Bondo job again.  Maybe with his cut, he could also afford to fix it up and paint it. This Chevelle could be a thing of beauty.  All it took was money.  

Dustin rang the bell, and then knocked.  Donnie was supposed to have a gun for him.  A small pistol, numbers filed off and untraceable.  Just in case.  He could ditch it if he had to, but if he needed it, it was easy to conceal.

No answer.  It wasn’t like Donnie to leave him hanging.  Maybe he was over at Yvette’s?  Easy enough to check.  And if Donnie wasn’t there, Yvette would probably know where he was. She kept him on a short leash.

Back in the car and on the way to Yvette’s, Dustin went through the steps of the break-in.  At each one, he paused, considering all the possibilities or obstacles potentially created.  At each, he broke down the subsequent choices and the ramifications of each.  He’d never had to do this on his own, but he’d sat with Donnie playing out scenarios like this.

“Visualization,” Donnie had said, a dreamy look in his eyes.  “The difference between the champion and all those losers.”  At the word “losers” he’d elbowed Dustin in the sternum, almost knocking him over.  Dustin wasn’t a loser.  Duffy’s would prove it.

Almost to Yvette’s, a police cruiser going the opposite way on Spruce Avenue flipped a U-turn and switched on the lights and siren.

“Crap,” Dustin shouted. Perhaps too abruptly he pulled into a gas station.  He realized how grateful he was that he didn’t have Donnie’s gun on him and tried to calm his breathing.  Dustin could see the officer emerging from the vehicle to approach him.

“Do you know why I’ve pulled you over this evening?”

“No sir, uh, why, sir?”

The officer leaned in close, beefy forearms folded on the bottom of the window opening.  He sniffed, then stuck his head inside sniffing more.

Dustin kept his eyes facing forward, trying to hold his breath to keep from smelling the officer’s rancid exhales.

“Turn your damn lights on, son!”  And with that, the officer slapped Dustin’s shoulder and laughed, walking back to his vehicle.  

Dustin watched in the rearview as the fat policeman pulled up his pants, still laughing.  He could feel himself quaking, a thousand thoughts racing through his head.  First of all, he couldn’t afford a single mistake, like not having his lights on. Dustin knew he needed the gun, second. It wasn’t like Donnie not to be home at a scheduled time.  Getting pulled over was bad luck, definitely.  Dustin hated superstition, didn’t believe in it, finding it a lame and ridiculous excuse for poor planning.  But he’d be lying if he said that he wasn’t feeling uneasy because of these two events, Donnie not being home, and the cop pulling him over.

Hands sweaty and shaky, he restarted the Chevelle, pulled the knob to turn on the lights and put the car in gear.  At Yvette’s he didn’t even bother to stop.  All the lights were out and no cars in the driveway.  He continued on his way.  Without the gun, what were his chances?  How likely was it that he’d need it?  Again he played out the scenarios, but this time without the pistol.

Twenty minutes later, he was parked a block from Duffy’s.  He’d driven down the alley – a calculated risk, he knew, but he wanted to check if lights were on inside the building, and they were.  It was less of a risk than walking down the alley and having someone able to identify his face.  The Chevelle was ugly enough to be unnoticed.  Not so ugly that it would stand out.  

Dustin drummed the steering wheel, wondering what he was doing and knowing there was no way he could pull this off.  He sat with this weight in his belly, the lights on the street glowing against the overcast night sky.  What did it mean to not do a job?  How would he be viewed? Could he explain that he’d let his level-headedness rule?  That his thoughtful calculations of the situation might lead him toward a different kind of role in the organization?

The decision made not to hit Duffy’s, Dustin felt the adrenaline leaving his body.  He was exhausted and worried.  Rolling down the window, he gulped the cool night air. Instantly he felt better.  He opened the door and stepped out into the evening.  Walking up the block, he turned the corner and broke into a slow jog.  After a few blocks he stopped in front of an ice cream shop.  There were no customers.  One girl worked inside.  She looked bored, sitting behind the counter, her head propped on her hand, a dark hair braid cascading over her shoulder.  

He pushed the door open. It buzzed and the girl snapped to attention.  Silently, she stood and waited for his order.  He scanned the choices of ice cream.  The display freezers were empty except for vanilla and chocolate.  

“Pretty slim pickings,” he joked.  She didn’t react.  “Chocolate milkshake, please.”

She made the milkshake without comment, adding the ingredients and blending them in an old machine that whined and then sighed as it was turned off.  She was pretty but not much on customer service, he thought.

She handed it to him and turned away.

“How much?”  Dustin asked.

She scanned him. “Oh.  You’re not with…”  her voice trailed off.  Then she cleared her throat.  “Three fifty.”

He gave her a ten and couldn’t help but ask, “Who did you think I was?”

“Nevermind, I was wrong.” She blushed and handed him his change, which he dropped in the empty tip bucket.  She was suddenly busy, sweeping the floor and turning away from him, her braid swinging across her back.

“Is it the O’Halleran’s? Do you think I work for them?”

She turned.  “Do you?”

He shook his head.  

“Are you a cop?”

Again he shook his head. “What makes you think that?”

She looked around, nervous. “We don’t actually get many customers here,” she whispered.  She gestured at the shop.  “This isn’t really an ice cream shop anymore.  I hate it.”  

Now Dustin turned on the charm.  He pulled a stool over to the counter and leaned in.  “Are you talking, like real gangsters?”  he whispered, taking a pull on the straw.  He made his eyes big, as if in surprise.  

“I’ve worked here for a year.  It used to be fun.  But they’ve chased away all the customers.  My boss never comes in anymore because she’s afraid of them. She pays themand theyuse heroffice.  It’s so unfair.”

“Wow.”  Dustin didn’t know what to say.

She went back to her sweeping.  Dustin sat quietly, thinking over his milkshake, hatching a new plan.  The O’Hallerans must have become nervous about Duffy’s getting hit – somehow they must have heard rumors – and moved their operations here.  

“You really thought I was a cop?”  Dustin asked.

“Not really.  But I hoped so.”  She kept sweeping, not looking at him.

“Why don’t you call the cops?”  

She shrugged.  

Dustin smiled.  He wasn’t sure he could trust this girl. “You want to bust the O’Hallerans?  On a school night?”  

How she took that joke would tell him what he needed to know.  She stopped sweeping.

“It’s not funny.”  She turned and he could see the color rising in her cheeks.  She was furious, not with him.  

Dustin raised his hands. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it.”  He smiled.

She leaned on the broom and raised an eyebrow. “If you’re not a cop and you’re not with the O’Hallerans, then what are you doing in this neighborhood?”  She leaned on the broom.

He raised the milkshake as if making a toast.

“Fair question.  What if I told you I was looking for a job around here?”

04 September 2018

Like They Never Existed

Prompt:  Delete |  Word Count: 1244 | Genre:  Fiction

What if she hit the ‘delete’ key?  She knew those files were dangerous.  This idea came to her from out of the blue, almost as if this ‘delete’ key had suddenly, miraculously appeared.  

Inez leaned back in her swivel chair and rocked gently.  The trees outside the window were barren.  It would be another month at least before the green leaves emerged, filling in the negative space now occupied with grey sky.  The sky wasn’t grey in Barbados, that was for sure.

Her boss, Mr. Carmichael, didn’t know about the files on her hard drive.  She knew he’d already deleted the same ones from his hard drive and the cloud server.  Jimmy from IT had been involved in that, describing to Inez last Wednesday how he’d scrubbed out the shadows left behind.  Mr. LeGros didn’t seem involved in this business, or at least, not yet.

“Not a trace,” Jimmy had said.  “Like they never existed.”

She’d been so worried that he might suspect she had copies of those documents.  But Jimmy liked her, she’d realized, and suspected her of nothing.

It was clear that the investigation into Mr. Carmichael was deepening.  Inez, at least, would be interviewed.  But lately she was wondering, noticing more details that made her suspect Mr. Carmichael’s claims of innocence were false.  She loved the job – it was fast paced and the tasks and projects she was given as administrative assistant to two senior vice presidents illustrated their trust in her.  But she had misgivings about the ethical side of things.  Maybe it was insider trading, like she’d read about in the Weekly.  Regardless of whether these types of crimes were “victimless,” as Jimmy insisted, there was something about the whole scenario that didn’t sit well with her.

The pay was great, though, and her holiday bonus had included company stock options.  She owned stock!  Pretty good for an immigrant girl from Guanajuato.  And Mr. LeGros had invited her to Barbados next month. He was divorced, she knew, and lonely. She was lonely, too, although she had yet to give him an answer.  But she couldn’t help wonder how her life might change if she went.  Plus, the whole investigation was a bit exciting, she had to admit, like in the movies.

The phone rang, disrupting her thoughts.

“Offices of Mr. Carmichael and Mr. LeGros.”

“This is Agent Mulvaney from the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Is Inez Guerrero available?”

Inez swallowed. “Yes?”  Her voice was too high.

“Ms. Guerrero, your phone is tapped.  This conversation is being recorded.”

Her mind raced, wondering what she’d said to Mr. LeGros, recalling his invitation to Barbados over the phone.

“Ms. Guerrero, we’ve noted some irregularities in your visa paperwork.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been double checking some things for us.”

“What?”  She struggled to grasp the meaning.  “What seems to be the problem?”

“Some minor issues. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed. Can you meet my partner and me for lunch?  At Guapo’s? 12:30?”

Forty minutes later, Inez entered the restaurant.  It was one she went to regularly, although usually not dressed for work as she was today. Paco waved, lifting a tray as she walked by the hostess.  Mulvaney and his partner were easy to spot – the only two suits in the dive Mexican restaurant frequented by day laborers who likely didn’t have the papers for legal jobs.  Both men stood as she approached.  

“I’m Mulvaney,” the taller one said, extending his hand.  

Inez didn’t shake it. “I have nothing to hide,” she bluffed quietly.  “I’m certain my paperwork is in order.  What is this really about?”

Gesturing with his extended hand, Mulvaney indicated his partner.  “This is Wilkins.  Please sit, Ms. Guerrero.”  

Inez stood.

“Please.”  This time it was Wilkins who spoke, gesturing toward the bench seat.

Inez looked at her watch, then sat.  “You have fifteen minutes.”  

“You’re correct.  Your paperwork is fine.” Mulvaney spoke.

Inez felt something cold and hard in her stomach melt at this confirmation.

“It’s your boss. We’re investigating Carmichael.   He’s dug himself a deep hole.  He’s likely betting on your assistance to help him out of it.  You and James Robinson from IT.  James has been busy lately, deleting files like mad.”

Inez couldn’t help but gasp.

“In addition to the phones, we’re watching the entire network.  But what’s brought us here, to you, today?”  Here Mulvaney paused.  “You’ve got an interesting folder on your computer.”

Both men were staring now, seeming to watch her every inhalation.

“But if that folder were copied, say, onto this drive,”  he continued.

Here, another pause, and Wilkins slid a small manila envelope across the table.  “Your visa irregularities would go away.”

“But you just said that everything was in order.”  Inez hated how her accent became stronger with her frustration.

“Sometimes problems come up. We’d hate to hand you over to ICE. In fact, we’d hate for ICE to have to raid this entire establishment.”  Mulvaney looked over his shoulders.  “These people seem like hard-working folk.  It would be a shame.”

Struggling to keep her thoughts in order, Inez wasn’t going to be bullied.  “Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but you’re threatening me.  You’re threatening everyone here.  I don’t even know what folder you’re talking about.  How am I supposed to know what’s going on here?  If my boss is doing something wrong, then arrest him.  Why do I have to be involved?”

Mulvaney smiled as if she were a child.  “Inside the envelope are instructions.  Do as they say.  It’s all there, what files, how to copy them.  What to do once they’re on the drive.”

The three stood to leave just as Paco, the waiter, arrived.

“Hola Inez,” he smiled. “You are leaving?” Paco looked concerned.

“We already ate.” Wilkins laughed.

Back at the office, Inez felt shaky.  What if something was amiss with her visa?  What if this demand for information was only the beginning?  The envelope was in her satchel.  It was light, but the burden of it weighed on her as she clocked back in.

“Hey girl,” Jimmy smiled, leaning on her desk.  “Listen, I need to run some updates and check for some stuff on your computer.  You mind?”

He was already coming around to her side of the desk.  She noticed he had that same small piece of motherboard he’d had when she’d let him into Mr. Carmichael’s office for what he’d called the “cleaning.”

“Can you give me a moment?” She coughed.  “I’m in the middle of a merge.  Maybe an hour?”

“Sure thing,” he walked down the hall.  

Mr. Carmichael had taken the rest of the afternoon off, and Mr. LeGros was in a meeting with the bank, promising photos of the Barbados condo later.  This was probably the longest stretch of time she’d have without either of them interrupting.  She searched in her bag for the envelope, then slit it carefully with the letter file in her drawer.  

Inside the padded envelope was a tiny flash drive.  She’d never seen one so small.  Unfolding the paper inside, her hands were shaking so much she nearly dropped the flash drive.  She read the instructions, which were simple and clear.  Truly, she had no choice, even if all was well with her visa.  Or did she?  What if she went to Barbados and never came back?  What if Jimmy deleted it before she could copy it?  Trembling, she held the drive in both hands, like a prayer.