West vs. East – Part IV – A New Hope

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I’m a hopeful person. I try to see the good in people and situations. But that has led me to being taken advantage of, to not seeing people clearly who were troubled or narcissistic, or worse. It means that I grate against cynics and half-glass-empty people.

When I moved from San Diego, California to New Haven, Connecticut with the girlfriend, it was with high hopes of something new and better. She was off on an adventure, a new chapter in her life, and I willingly took a supporting role with the hope of forging a new path for myself as well. After a rough few years in San Diego, a change of scenery was just what I needed.

But my first 15 months in New Haven, Connecticut have been more of the same. I’m trying to evaluate everything evenly, not jump to conclusions, take things as they come, not attribute any malevolent force to the universe. I don’t consider myself a hard-luck case. But it’s becoming harder and harder to find an advantage, to forge that advantage, even when I put my best self into the world. Here are examples of what has happened since I’ve moved to New Haven – a list:

  1. Landed a job teaching at Southern Connecticut State University, as I drove across country without a job.
  2. Once in New Haven, I looked for more teaching jobs and was turned down for one I had been angling for for 6 months back in San Diego. I landed a different assignment at Norwalk Community College.

    (Those were the good things – sort of. They at least provided monies to help me get started. But then the world shifted on its axis.)
  3. Commute to Norwalk turned out to be 90 minutes to go 30 miles at 9:00 am. The last 5 miles took 30 minutes in Fairfield County, CT – New York bound traffic. It sucked!
  4. Teaching position was a glorified babysitting position with an unfair curriculum the didn’t allow students to learn. Director was an egotist who didn’t help when true problems arose (such as, I didn’t have access to the faulty intranet for the first month, and he wouldn’t take the time to help. Such as, evaluating students without a rubric, saying “I just don’t feel it.” How professional is that?)
  5. Teaching position at Southern CSU was better, but I had one posse of three students in one class who were disruptive and a hostile student in another class. The institution would not back me up with regard to the hostile student and let back in the class. Absurd and dangerous.
  6. When parking one day near my apartment, a guy was crossing the intersection as I was waiting to turn right into that street. He was looking over his shoulder away from me, eating a sandwich from a wrapper. When he turned and saw me waiting for him, he yelled “fuck you, buddy!” Really? Welcome to New Haven. I should’ve hit him.
  7. On my commute to Norwalk CC one morning, I behind a car that hit a deer. Traffic screeched to a stop. No one was hurt, but the deer sat in the road, its legs buckled under it, while one of its hoofs dangled at the end of his broken leg. Heartbreaking. I regularly saw about 5 deer carcasses each morning on my 3 day a week commute.
  8. The teaching assignments were so awful that I developed chest pains, trouble breathing, anxiety, and vertigo.
  9. I had a work injury to my thumb, which I reported the day I left California for Connecticut. It took three months to get approval for physical therapy, and when I finally got to PT, I had trouble arranging a visit with the orthopedist. Two cortisone shots later, my thumb was not improved and it was decided I needed surgery. It took another three months to get through to the worker’s comp office in California to get approved. Once approved, I had a job that I couldn’t leave to have the surgery as the surgery would have taken me away from work for more than 2 weeks for healing. If I had gotten that approval sooner, I could’ve had the surgery while I was unemployed. Fortunately, my job at the library helped my thumb injury. While it’s not completely healed, it is better than it was while I was getting PT.
  10. I had to pay for my health insurance (1/3 of my monthly earnings), from which I would receive 70% back 3 months after I stopped that health insurance coverage. I found a doctor who didn’t really listen to me about my worries and prescribed me Ativan!
  11. Christmas break in California with the girfriend, meeting some of her family for the first time. It went well, but I was sick most of the time.
  12. I was down to one class (earning less than $500/mo) in the Spring 2019 semester, waiting for my health insurance refund, and applying for unemployment. I was denied for a special appeal based on an extreme change of income. Found out 5 weeks later that the appeal was denied, but that a regular unemployment disbursement was approved, but no one had told me. I started receiving some unemployment compensation.
  13. Because I lived in California part of the year and Connecticut part of the year, my taxes were complicated. I barely made any money and still had to pay an exorbitant amount, almost a third of my income for the year for California taxes. They billed me later and I’m on a payment plan. I still think they miscalculated.
  14. I got Husky Health, Medicaid, because I had practically no income. I had a battery of tests done and everything came out negative. I am fit as a fiddle – stress was the major issue.
  15. Once I got unemployment figured out, I no longer qualified for health insurance. Unemployment counts as income and priced me out of any form of free health insurance. And the lowest costing plan, even with the Affordable Care Act, was too much for how much money I was bringing in. So I couldn’t afford health insurance for a while.
  16. I applied for a job as an Assistant Manager with a luxury pet kennel company, looking for a change of careers. I had two interviews, which both went very well. I called when reviewing the job terms, and found out that they didn’t offer medical insurance. They would pay for half of it – you present a bill each month and they write you a check. A tax professional said what they were doing is illegal, for them, not for me as a potential employee. My experiences fit exceptionally well for this job and I was excited for this opportunity. They complained in the interview about past candidates being offered the position and then never following up with them, just disappearing. After my interviews, they said they’d call me the following week. I waited…and waited…and waited. They ghosted me.
  17. I signed up for a job placement service at New Haven Works, which takes some follow up to get enrolled in. After the initial sign-up and conference, one is assigned a job coach. My job coach seemed active and engaged, and I had high hopes of being placed into a temporary position rather quickly (I have 33 years of higher education experience in management type jobs, as well as classroom teaching in college.). I even found a typo on their PowerPoint Presentation materials, which impressed them. But then, my job coach missed three straight meetings, one of which I walked to their office over a mile in the snow to attend. On the third missed meeting, I waited almost a week and then called my job coach. She answered the phone, “Oh you. What?” I was astounded. SHE should have called me back and apologized for missing and tried to reschedule. But evidently I was an inconvenience to her. We were in the middle of revising my resume based on recommendations from Employee Services/Recruiting at Yale University, and a month had gone by. I was livid. I wrote the executive director of the company and explained the situation and requested a new job coach. They wanted to mediate a discussion between me and the previous job coach, but I declined. There was no need to try to continue working with someone with that level of contempt. She had her chance.

    17. I got a temporary 6-month appointment for a very physical job at the Yale University library. I love it. My appointment was changed to a limited duration appointment, which qualifies me as an internal candidate. I have applied for a few jobs, but I haven’t landed anything yet, though I don’t know why. I’m waiting to hear back on a promising position for which I had an interview on Nov. 12. This job is perhaps the lone good thing that has happened since moving to New Haven, other than getting our dog, our now 1 year old Dachshund named Herman. While it’s certainly not a career job, I have the best boss I ever had, a work environment that values me, an inspirational place to work (Sterling Memorial Library), and no grading to bring home at nights. My time is my own, and I can write before or after work. I’m surrounded by books every day! My appointment ends at the end of February. I am still looking for jobs and hope to land something permanent before I lost my internal status.

    18. I had a major car accident that has left me with a car for the first time since I was 16 years old. I walk to work, about 0.3 miles, and I live downtown, so everything is within walking distance. If we have to drive anywhere, the girlfriend has a small car that we can use. But my beautiful Toyota RAV4, the first car that I negotiated with and fully bought on my own without a parent or spouse to help, was totaled at the stupidest freeway onramp ever. At the top of the ramp is a yield sign and a road coming from over the driver’s side left shoulder. A car was stopped at the yield sign, and I remember saying, “you gotta go! you gotta go!” and before I even reached him, I was rear-ended so hard, and then pushed into the stopped car. The person behind who rear-ended me hardly had anything wrong with his car. The person in front had back bumper and gate damage, but both cars were drivable. Mine was smashed in front and back and had to be towed away. It was a total loss, for which GEICO paid everything off in a week. Fortunately, the girlfriend and I were completely unscathed, though we were curious as to why the airbags did NOT go off. We were lucky – so losing the car wasn’t such a good thing, but one good thing is that we weren’t hurt.

Am I a magnet for bad luck? I don’t think so. Do I think the world is out to get me? No, not at all. I do think there is a great difference between living in California and living in New England, and I can see where a more cynical person could drown in New England. The beauty of the fall scenery is not enough to make up for the incompetencies and outright awfulness of many of the people.

I’ve done what I can on the job front, I’m revving up my writing career with a blog here and on Medium.com. I’ve made great progress (250+) pages on a memoir over the course of a year of writing. I’ve got a great girlfriend, a fantastic puppy dog, an enjoyable job that allows me time to live my life, my health, a centrally-located apartment, and enough money to pay my bills and food to eat. But this is still life on the edge.

I take care of what I can everyday, and I don’t overly worry about the future. There are times when I worry, when I can see that I’m not getting anywhere substantial, and I’m not getting any younger. But as long as I keep focus on my integrity and not doing anything to betray myself and my values or to hurt those I love, then…….. every day is a good day, I hope.

West vs. East – part 3 – Hostile Student

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I started teaching college English in 1986, as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of New Mexico. My world changed. I was a good teacher, inspired in my own scholarship and interests as I strove to do well for my students. I immediately embraced teaching as a lifetime career choice. But what gave way was my first love – writing. With the heavy load of grading, I couldn’t afford the time commitment for my own writing. And thus, a dream deferred. But here we are.

The many experiences a teacher goes through is enough to fill, and has filled, many books. Some of my experiences were extraordinary, some outrageous, some run of the mill, experiences that most teachers have. One of the last experiences I had as a teacher helped me make the decision to switch careers and leave teaching for good.

I had moved from San Diego to New Haven, CT, leaving behind an Adjunct Professor position that paid my health insurance and gave me a stable part-time income that I could supplement with online teaching and other Adjunct teaching assignments. I landed jobs at two schools in New England, one at a community college, which I wrote about in West vs. East – Part 2, and one at a state college, two sections of freshman composition with a focus on argument writing and analysis of op-eds.

In one section, I had mostly first-year freshman, but with a contingent of disruptive students that proved more headache than not. In the other late afternoon section, I had a group of mostly older students, non-traditional students returning to school. In this section, one particular student took an immediate dislike to me. She self-identified as a veteran, and she was often late and unprepared. She didn’t understand my “academic jargon” and would wrinkle here nose and ask her classmates, “What did he say?” And they’d “translate” for her and she’d say, “Oh, that’s what he meant! Why didn’t he say so?” – All said during class and right in front of me.

Then near the middle of the semester, this student became hostile three days in a row. First, she turned in a single sentence as a “draft” of a major essay. When she placed the paper on my desk, I said, “this isn’t a draft,” and she got verbally hostile – “it’s MY draft. Who says this can’t be a draft? ….” a diatribe that went on right near the end of class as students were filing out. It was disconcerting to say the last. The next class period, she didn’t show up. As I was leaving class, she shows up with her book in hand and said, “I have the assignment. I’ll be right back.” And then she turned around to leave, saying something about the copies being broken at the library and she had to print out her assignment. I said, “class was over and the assignment was late,” which set her off. She starts yelling through the empty hall toward me as she’s practically running the other direction! I waited for a few minutes and then thought, “wait, what? No…she missed class. She can turn her assignment in like any other student during class.” And I left. She placed the assignment into my mailbox later that day. On the third day, she was late and didn’t have time to finish the quiz. She wrote on the quiz a single sentence – “I’m here not because I want to be but because I have to be.” Having worked with many students who were veterans, I understood that many of them weren’t invested in their studies but took college courses so they could receive their base housing allowance. During class, she bad-mouthed me to her classmates during group work. After class, I asked her about her quiz, and she merely repeated the sentence she wrote and then said, “I don’t like you.” I told her that was plain to see, and that I didn’t appreciate her bad-mouthing me to the other students, that if she has something to talk with me about, she should talk to me directly.” Well, that set her off.

She went into full angry mode, wouldn’t let me talk or respond and wouldn’t calm down. I put a desk between me and her because she was getting awfully close and looked like she was going to hit me. In over 30 years in the classroom, I’ve never had a student become hostile like this, especially three days in a row. Her friends tried to calm her down and escort her out. One student took video of the encounter because it was out of hand. One of my students emailed me after class to ask if I was all right because it was clear that I was upset by the encounter.

As the professional I am, I did my best not to personalize the encounter but it was clear that she had a negative influence on the class and was out of control. I contacted the Office of Student Conduct. I spoke with the Chair of the department and the Director of the writing program as well.

The Office of Student Conduct took my statement, said she was clearly out of line and would be kept out of class on the next class period, which was a Monday. He said he would keep me in the loop and contact me and let me know what he found out and what would happen going forward.

The student wasn’t in class the next Monday, but I also had not heard from the Office of Student Conduct. On Wednesday, I received an email an hour before class saying the student had been cleared to return to class. I told the director, “Absolutely not. She is not allowed back in the class.” He heard that I was serious, and he had me cancel class and contacted the Dean to see what our options were. In the meantime, we set up a meeting with me, the Chair, the Director, and the student that would occur after the next class meeting.

Before that class meeting, the Director communicated that the student would have to be allowed back in class because she had paid for it. I thought that was absurd. So I prepared to have her back in class.

She indicated that she wanted to speak with me before class. There were two minutes before class. She was immediately confrontational – “When have I ever been disruptive in class?” she asked. Sensing the unwinnable question – it’s kind of like “when did you stop beating your spouse?” – I deferred and said, “I’m about to teach class and can’t really have this conversation right now, but I’d be happy to make an appointment with you to talk about this issue.” She refused to let it go. I had to tell her three times that I couldn’t answer her question right then. She stormed into class and grabbed her books and said, “This fuckin’ Professor won’t even answer my question!” and stormed out. The entire class was witness to this latest outburst. Everyone was quiet that day, and I let them all go 10 minutes early.

The student had contacted the Chair, who showed up 5 minutes later but had missed me.

The next week, we had a meeting set up with the Chair, the Director, the student, and me. We all showed up at the appointed time, except for the student.

The Chair and Director and I, all seasoned professors, talked shop a bit, and then they told me that I had to let the student back in the classroom. I was livid. They said if I didn’t agree with this determination, that I should go to HR and file Hostile Workplace report, which I did directly following that meeting.

The student never showed up in class again. And I waited. And I waited. The semester ended.

Not once did the Office of Student Conduct nor did HR ever contact me about this issue. Never. I taught the next semester to a class that was largely mute. I kept looking over my shoulder in the halls for the student. I never saw the hostile student again. I also never saw the Chair nor the Director again, nor did they follow up with me at all.

The spring semester went by with very little in the way of drama, which was fine with me. But still, the entire situation felt unresolved.

During the summer, I decided not to teach for that institution anymore. They didn’t have my back. Inevitably, teachers will have problems with the occasional student. But in all the places I have ever taught, I’ve always had the full support of administration. Classroom instructors are in the trenches, and most administrators have once been instructors themselves and understand the hard work it is to deal with so many different personalities. And whenever a problem occurs with a student, there is a concerted effort to resolve the situation in a way that also supports the efforts of the teacher, as long as the teacher has not egregiously abused his or her position. Which I had not.

I wrote a letter to the President of the University, the Dean, the Chair, and the Director, decrying their lack of institutional support in this instance and explaining that they are opening their institution up to potential violence. I reiterated that I did not feel supported because NO ONE EVER CONTACTED ME from the Office of Student Conduct nor from HR.

The weak letter I got back from the Dean indicated that they had clear the student as a threat and that was that. He never addressed the lack of follow-up.

So I’m glad to be done with that institution. After almost 25 years of classroom teaching, and well over 100 class taught, I feel free from the shackles of teaching. No more grading. I now have time to write and pursue the dreams that I first had when I jumped into this profession.

I’ll find another way to support the efforts of students, I’m sure. But at this point, I’m enjoying my newfound freedoms.

West vs. East – part 1

Some differences between living on the West Coast vs living in the East. A West coaster sounds off.

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As I start my long-delayed career as a writer, I’m struck by just how different the West and East (coasts) are. To be fair, I don’t live on the East Coast. I live in New Haven, Conn., home of Yale University (and famous New Haven pizza, and the controversial home of the hamburger). As a West coaster, anything from New York eastward was the East coast to me. My extended family lived in Ohio – in the Eastern time zone, even though Ohio definitely aligns more with Midwest flavors. I was told upon arriving in New Haven that New York is not New England and it’s not the east coast – it’s New York, (or New Yawk, or Neu Yowk depending on who you tawk to). Be that all as it may, after a little over a year in New Haven, I’m here to detail some of the differences between the West and the East.

I consider myself a West coast writer. The obvious bias in publishing still favors the East. New York is the publishing capital of the world and has been for well over a century now. The sheer amount of Ivy Leaguers making it in the publishing field is astounding and does not give credit to the vast creativity of those who live in the West.

Sitting in my small apartment, I was day-dreaming and looking at a loaf of bread on the counter. The emblem looked the same, but on closer inspection I saw the word “Arnold” within the shafts of wheat. What is this foolishness? I’ve been buying Orowheat bread for years in San Diego. Certainly this is a mistake. Turns out it’s the same bread but branded differently. A quick search on the Internet reveals that Orowheat started in California in 1932 and Arnold started in Connecticut in 1940 and Brownberry, a third variety started in the Midwest in 1946. All three are owned by Bimbo bakeries as of 2017. That’s one small difference between West and East (and Midwest).

Southern California is as much car culture as anywhere anybody can live in. Los Angeles traffic is infamous and nothing is improving much even in sleepy L.A. suburb San Diego. But other than in the rare rainy times when Southern Californians lose the capability to drive as if their driver’s training is completely forgotten, southern Californians are really very good drivers compared to all other places I’ve driven (New Mexico, Kansas, Connecticut – representative of Mountain, Central, and Eastern time zones). In Connecticut, people cannot drive, or do not drive well. Forget driving rules and laws. I’ve seen people cut across 4 lanes of busy traffic to exit the freeway. Left turns on surface streets – drivers gun out quickly and turn left BEFORE traffic goes when a light changes. They routinely flip off whoever is in front getting ready to go straight through the intersection. Because the lights are hung on wires across intersections instead of on light poles, one can’t line up in the left turn lane to wait for traffic to stop before turning left because you can’t see the light if you pull out. So you have to wait in the left turn lane for a left arrow or wait for the next light. Or you can do like the locals and gun it for a left turn before the flow of traffic starts.

People walk across intersections whenever they want or can. Pedestrian walk signs don’t align with the flow of traffic. Rather, there is a “walk” period in which traffic is stopped in all directions and the walk signs allow pedestrian crossing. That means, of course, that pedestrians walk diagonally into across the middle of the street too. Because of that, and due to the number of one way streets and No Turn on Red signs, pedestrians walk whenever they want. It’s the wild west out there in the East!

There is an attitude on the part of pedestrians too, the same brash New York/New Jersey attitude seen stereotypically on television. I found a place to park my car a couple blocks from where I live. One day, as I was approaching the small one way half circle street, onto which I must turn right off of a one way road to my parking spot, some guy was walking across the intersection. He was eating a sub sandwich wrapped in paper, and looking back over his shoulder. In other words, he didn’t see me as I stopped before turning right otherwise I’d hit him. So I stopped and waited with my blinker on. He turned and saw me looking at him as he was nearly across the street. His immediate reaction, through a mouthful of food was to say “Fuck you!” and flip me off. All because I didn’t run him down! That’s a nice introduction to the East.

Even the homeless population are much more brash in the very hot and humid summers and bitingly cold winters here in the East. In San Diego, there is a large homeless population, able to live on the streets year round due to the weather. Other than same creative signs – Need Money for Booze or Need Cash for Weed – the homeless people in New Haven are always on the move. One particular gentleman cries out “Sir! Sir! I won’t touch you” before asking for money or declaring “It’s my birthday! Can you help me get something to eat?” His birthday occurs several days during the week, rain or shine. Another doe-eyed young woman who can turn on the waterworks instantly (maybe a drama school drop-out?) approaches with a story – “Hi,” she says timidly, “can you help me, I’m seven months pregnant and …. ” She’s been seven-months pregnant for the 15 months I’ve lived here and the many times she’s approached me for help.

I started this journey as a teacher, my last year teaching freshman composition and development English at a University and Community college. Both jobs proved crazy-making, with lack of institutional support, something I never encountered in San Diego. That’s the subject of part 2 of West vs. East.