Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The "the"

I just found out from reading Wikepedia (which, by the way, is having a fund drive to support the website) that the most common word in the English language is the "the." Maybe that's why it's used so much by us, and by immigrants, not at all.

 The "the"

First by us: The one good thing about having one's daughter home for Thanksgiving is that I suddenly become aware of how much comic relief I'm able to provide solely by my use of the "the." For example, when I let slip "the google" or "the facebook," which inexplicably pops out when she's around, she laughs hysterically. Oh, isn't it funny how older people, especially parents, call facebook, The facebook, and google, The google? I can't explain my use of the "the" in these instances, i.e. in her presence; I'd never use an article in front of an indefinite noun otherwise.

I noticed when I was down in Philly attending a relative's fancy wedding, one of the Republican cousins used the "the" when talking about gays. "The gays," he said. "I wouldn't mind if my son or daughter were gay, not at all, but the gays are asking for equal everything, equal marriage and that's just not possible." Even my more liberal cousins were against "the gay marriage," for reasons I couldn't fathom but they explained it like this: Why use the word "marriage" when that's between a man and a woman. Use another word. I hadn't realized it was a problem of semantics.

R. Crumb's Adam and Eve, the first straight marriage
(doesn't look so straight if you ask me)

My Farsi, Thai, and Korean students this semester never use "the" or "a/an" in front of a noun; it's always "I go supermarket, he buys car, Lady talk a lot." I try to explain that the article, like the "the," is used to point out a particular one— which lady, what market, etc.... As Wikipedia explains it:  
Every noun must be accompanied by the article, if any, corresponding to its definiteness, and the lack of an article (considered a zero article) itself specifies a certain definiteness.
No wonder they're so confused.

I have my own "the" problem at school:

 "The troublemaker"

I know she looks sweet, well groomed and as handsome a woman as you could find in a night school that welcomes refugees, new immigrants and those that have been in this country for 30 years, but she's a rebel rouser, a stubborn mule, a determined fanatic; how else can I explain her actions?

Yafa N came to our school from Iran a little over two years ago, about the same time I arrived. She had no formal education, but she was always on time, never missed a day, kissed the mezuzahs as she passed through the classrooms, but was incapable of learning English. She repeated level one, two, three and four, three times each and still, was failing. With this track record you'd think she'd give up, but she was determined. Also, she was motivated by the fact that if she stayed in school she'd continue to receive food stamps, which is the way these things work with refugees. She needed food stamps, what with a family of six, an out-of-work husband, an economy that was dying, a hard-to-navigate-city without a car, and a newly married daughter. When it came time for her to take the final that would determine if she passed to level five, she received a D, by one percentage point. Which meant she was coming into my class— Advanced English. 

I knew she couldn't speak a word, but I didn't know how bad it was. If I asked her anything, the answer was "Yaw." How is your husband? Yaw, How was your weekend? Yaw, How was the expensive wedding? Yaw. Everything, Yaw. I could see this was going to go nowhere, so between the three teachers, we decided she should sign into my class but go to a lower level, back to level one. But when we told her, she carried on so you'd think her dear old mother had died. She cried, she slobbered over the mezuzahs, she yelled at the school administrator, complaining that she was being ignored, kicked around, that we didn't want her. She was a force to contend with, which eventually broke us down. I brought her back into my classroom where she stammered and failed, but tried as hard as any human possible. After a week, she gave up and returned to level two, signing into my class every evening to make her attendance official. 

 A colored coordinated Mezuzah at the Google

Then last week, the deciding hour: the Advanced final. The administrator whom she'd yelled out wanted her out, said if she made an F or even a D she was gone. I struggled with how much I would help her on the test: should I tell her the answers, or ignore her pleas for help? I ended up doing neither. When she asked me if an answer was right—pointing to the correct answer on her paper—I nodded yes, otherwise I said nothing. She must have figured it out because she made a 60 on the final, which was more than passing, and with a little adjustment on my part for her Oral, she came in at a C. Passing with flying colors.

Now we greet each other every evening. I tell her she must work hard, she must learn the English. She starts to shake her head in submission, "No, I can't," she says. I stand firm. "YES, you will." And the troublemaker smiles.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Just like that!

 Just like that
An awesome sign in Silverlake

Just like that
 Two dogs are better than one

 Just like that
 We're back in Hollywood
(photo credit: Tom Harjo)

Just like that
 It's sunny and everything is beautiful 

Just like that
 Discovering someone's outdoor living room

Just like that
"Out of work artist" is out of work again

Just like that
Local junk truck is full of junk today

Just like that
The old pet rat is playing again

Just like that
 What seemed like the END... was only a road sign

Just like that it's November
(How'd that happen?)
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 15, 2010



Excuse my indulgence. These were the shoes I didn't buy in NY. for $350.  They were beautiful but I couldn't bring myself to spend that much money, even though they were made in Germany and comfortable as hell. The saleswoman, whose sympathies about the Nov. election won me over, told me their name was Bold. "Time for a change," she kept insisting, "I can tell you're ready for it." 

Ready, but not ready enough.

When children leave home, the first year is painful but the paradigm hasn't shifted; things are relatively the same, except, that is, for what's not the same: no crazy kids running in and out, grabbing food or money or explaining in mono syllables where they've been or where they're going, while giving you a whirlwind kiss or pat on the head. But by the second year it starts to sink in: Oh my God, this is it. They're never going to live with you again. Their lives are beginning and yours is starting to resemble daylight saving time: dark by 5. You slap yourself (gently); Okay, you say, gotta get my shit together, can't keep thinking they still need me, which of course they do, but not officially—officially they're poised to move on, to be independent. You feel lucky when they call or talk to you about anything that's not the weather. If they ask, and even when they don't, you give your opinion, which doesn't always go over especially well. 

 "How are you? Where are you? What are you doing?"

No matter how you've figured it, your life will change. You can't go back to where you were before you had kids, because, well, you're different now, and anyway, it'd be pretty silly doing some of the things you used to do. 

(photo credit: Louise Steinman)

You've got to find a way to identify yourself anew, because let's face it, there's very few tasks left you can attribute to motherhood. Oh my God, for the second time, what kept you? In your defense, you trust a late start won't be so terrible— you'll write a book or join the Peace Corp or write a book about the Peace Corp... although you like your bed and don't want to sleep on the ground for two years. But maybe that's the answer; to throw yourself to the wind and see where it takes you. You'll need some luck and a little encouragement. You'll need to be bold.

I knew I should have bought those shoes.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Getting ready to leave NY tomorrow and I'm already missing it. I love this loft, I love this neighborhood, I will miss my son and daughter. Leaving NY is like those acupuncture suction cups they place on your back—it takes a lot of oomph to pull away from this much energy.

Before we left for the weekend to go to Philly, Maya and I walked around the East Village on our way to, where else, Veselka's, and stopped inside this nondescript antique store on Ninth Street. 

  Archangel Antiques on 9th St.

Inside, a curmudgeony old man wandered out from the back as if he'd just woken up from a seven-year nap. Maya asked if he had any small taxidermy animals, and without missing a beat, he replied he'd sold all his little ones. But as a matter of fact, he had bigger animals— a lion and a deer. I wasn't quite sure I'd heard him correctly, although Maya didn't flinch. What the......? A lion? Isn't that illegal? And where does he keep the deer? In the back storage room where he naps? It was all rather bizarre or maybe obscure, as we found out later: Obscure on Tenth St. is the place to go for small taxidermy animals. The other place is Evolution in Soho.

Welcoming mounted raccoon at Evolution with penis bones for only $8.

On Evolution's first floor is a hodgepodge of touristy taxidermy stuff—iridescent butterflies, humongous beetles and bizarre walking sticks, pinned between glass. Upstairs is the really interesting stuff, much of it museum quality, for those who have a thing for colorful birds (probably illegal) or smiling squirrels for viewing in their library.

Small smiling mounted animals. Oh please, stuff me!

What is it about taxidermy that intrigues? Obviously a lot of people want to buy it (enough to support a store in Soho), but what is it exactly that they like? Is it the grotesqueness and oddness of having a dead animal on your mantel, or a way to prolong life forever, perhaps the life of something you've love? Maya and her friends find taxidermy really cool, but she made it clear she'd never do it to a pet. Could I ever stuff our pet rat Malka when she dies? Many questions but not enough time for answers. Leaving tomorrow. Goodbye New York until the spring.