Restaurant Rights and Race

Last weekend, I met up with Margie and Suze at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square. We’ve been friends since we all started at our first jobs at Simon and Schuster on the 16th floor of the Gulf and Western building, now a Trump building, in Columbus Circle 1987. We still talk several times a week and meet up in the city as often as we can get away from our families.

The routine is always the same. We meet up at a bookstore and then roam through the neighborhood stores talking non-stop and then eventually end up in a restaurant for more non-stop chatter. It’s good to have old friends.

It was a blustery day, so we ended up in restaurant quickly after brief visits to ABC Carpets and Fishes Eddy. As we settled into several plates of dumplings and scallion pancakes at a Chinese restaurant, a commotion broke out around us. A guy who was working outside the building got into a shouting match with the restaurant owner. He wanted to use the bathroom without buying any food. The owner blocked his way to the bathroom and said that the bathroom was only for customers. The worker yelled that he just wanted to use the toilet and leave. After lots of yelling, the worker finally left.

And because race and restaurants are in the news, I have to say that the worker was African American. The owner and the customers were white or Asian.

We got into a debate at the table. One of us thought that the owner should have let the guy use the toilet. He was in a construction outfit. He was clearly not a homeless guy. She felt that the worker’s race was one of the reasons why he was shuffled out of the restaurant.

Another friend said that restaurant owners never let non-customers use the toilet. Anybody who is in New York City knows that you can’t use a toilet in a restaurant without buying anything, and you have to know where the open-use toilets are, like the second floor of that Barnes and Noble.

Who was right?


Not a Neat and Tidy Life

Things feel entirely out of whack around here. This week is the last crunch to make the kitchen habitable. Countertops are due to arrive any minute. The backsplash goes in this afternoon. Then plumbing and electric. The workers are pounding in the molding just a few feet away, as I type away at my computer which has been relocated to the bedroom.

Chaos just twelve feet away has become the new normal. After feeling cramped in our basement and bedroom spaces for a few weeks, now it’s okay. It would be quite easy to downsize to a two bedroom apartment, when Ian finishes school.

Tomorrow, I’m heading down to Newark to do another round of interviews. I spent most of yesterday clearing things with a new editor and getting the schedule for the day. The opportunity came up, so I jumped. Unfortunately, it was also the same day as Ian’s IEP, which couldn’t be rescheduled without inconveniencing a dozen people. So, Steve took the day off from work, which inconvenienced his people, and has been given a laundry list of issues to discuss. Steve has new responsibilities at his job, so he’s been working too hard.

We’re in the midst of trying to craft a long term plan for Ian. It’s complicated and requires lawyers and money and research. I’ve started attending evening talks on the subject. We’ll take away all his rights when he turns 18. This is quite complicated when the person is highly intelligent and verbal, but does not have the social-emotional ability to care for themselves. We’ve already created a special needs trust for him. He can’t have a cent to his name when he turns 18, so he can collect social security and be eligible for various government programs. He’s excellent at computer programming — his teacher says that he’s gifted – but he would have trouble in a typical workplace. We think. We don’t know. We are planning for the best and worst outcomes.

Anyway, the school district is semi-responsible for helping us make that transition, so that’s one of the things that Steve will have to discuss with the district tomorrow.

And somehow, Ian’s after-school activities have multiplied like bunnies. He does two activities every day after school — speech, swim, Kumon, drums, keyboard. He love-hates all those activities. He complains about them, but when we stop one, he tells me that he misses his teacher, which kills me, so I sign him up for more. We’re paying nearly $1,000 per month on after school activities. And I spend two hours every day reading books or answering e-mail in the hallway outside of all these activities.

In the midst of this tumultuous home, both Steve and I are trying to pretend that we’re normal. Just like other people. Who have nothing to worry about except work and golf on the weekends. It takes a lot of work to cover up for the fact that our lives are not normal. Sure, the workers will leave in a couple of weeks and I’ll vacuum up all the clouds of dust, but we have an added level of chaos that will never leave and is very hard to explain to people.

I’m Back

Hi guys. I sort of abandoned y’all for two and a half weeks, I know. We had a perfect storm of head colds, construction, and multiple deadlines. I did interviews with contractors banging away upstairs. Then my cold turned into a sinus infection from all the dust in the air. We’re living in the kid’s playroom, while the second floor of our house in uninhabitable.

The electricity is done. Tomorrow, we get insulation. Thursday is inspection. Friday is day one of sheet rock. We’re a good three weeks away from cooking in a kitchen again. In the meantime, we’re living off of frozen food, take out burgers, and mom’s charity. It will be worth it, but the misery levels have been very high lately.

I have to finish edits on one last article and then I’m taking a couple of weeks off to regroup. I have a couple of blog posts in my back pocket. Let me spit them out.

Glad to be back!

Is Florida’s School Shooting a Failure of Schools?

Today we’re going to hear a lot of punditry responding to the latest horrific school shooting in Florida. Some may have even had their articles written even before this happened and are just plugging in the new details. The school shooting happened because there were too many guns. The school shooting happened because there are crazy people out there who should be locked up.  The school shooting happened because of cell phones.

I have to admit that I checked to see if the shooter displayed any autistic symptoms, bracing myself for the inevitable witch hunt against autistic people.

There is nothing wrong with those sentiments, except maybe the cellphone explanation and the criminalization of mental illness. Let me add another wrinkle. Let’s talk about how schools handle kids with behavior problems.

Schools handle behavior problems by either expelling the students, placing them in horrible private programs with other kids with behavior problems, or ignoring the issue all together. Students with behavior problems are supposed to be handled with the same care and support that schools offer kids like my son who has autism.

Yes, I’ve complained about special education many times on this blog and in IRL. They could be doing much better in that regard, but if you know the system, special ed students can get what they need. Kids with behavioral issues do not have those same legal protections.

It’s obvious what kids like that need. They need therapy, medication, follow through at home, and a structured school environment.

All that costs money. And like special education, schools try to get the private insurance companies to cover those costs. Private insurance companies want schools to pick up the tab. Unless there is a parent who devotes their life to demanding help from both of those entities, nothing happens.

We can get rid of guns, but we also need to support students with behavior and/or mental health issues.


Last night, as we were driving back from an exercise class for special needs kids at the Y, I noticed that Ian looked very serious and was tugging on his hair.

“What’s up, Ian? Why do you look so serious? What’s the matter?”

“I have some concerneries.”

“Concerneries? What’s that? Oh, you mean that you have concerns or worries. Okay, what are you worried about?”

“When is the world going to end?”

“Oh, not for a very long time. The scientists keep an eye on these sorts of things and they tell us that we’re safe.”

“Is North Korea going to nuke us?”

“No. Their bombs kind of suck. They blast off and then plop in the water.”

“You mean they’re bootleg?”

“Fake, you mean? No, they’re real, just not very good. And if they do get good at making bombs, then China, Russia, and the US will march in and take them away from them.”

“Are the terrorists going to invade?”

“No. There aren’t very many of them, and they’re mostly just crazy. They do random stuff instead. The CIA is keeping an eye on them and putting them all in jail.”

“Are the aliens going to invade?”

“No. There are no such things as aliens.”

“Yes there are. They in New Mexico.”

[Note to self: tell Steve to stop watching X Files with Ian.]

“That’s just a myth.”

“Is Earth going to get hit by a meteor?”

IMG_4833.jpgNo, because the scientists are keeping a very close on the skies with powerful telescopes, and they tell us that the coast is clear. And if one does get close, then they’ll shoot it with a nuclear weapon, so it explodes before it hits the earth.”

“You mean it will explode in the sky like fireworks on the Fourth of July? Hey, that rhymes!”

By then we had pulled in the driveway, and he was racing into the house to go back to editing his computer games. (What does that mean? I don’t know. He watched some videos on YouTube about it and he messes around with the code. It’s pretty cool.)

So, I have some concerneries. I’m concerned that South Africa is running out of drinking water. I’m worried about the impact of online porn on teenagers. It freaks me out that we’re growing immune to Donald Trump’s insanity. I’m worried that there won’t be job opportunities for my kid, who is disabled and super smart at the same time.

But the mixture of truth, white lies, and outright falsehoods that calmed Ian from his concerneries won’t work with me. Good thing there’s wine.

When Work is Done

I’m done. Poke me with a fork. Finished.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I did a rush-job article for the Atlantic, which basically involved siting at my desk for 24 hours straight. Some of the time was spent writing. Other time was spent waiting for edits, responding to edits, and fact checking. But all it involved lots of seat time and screen time. And then there was dealing with the response to the article on social media and compulsively checking to see where I was on their “most popular” list. I peaked at number two. Woot.

I was just happy that I had the opportunity to use the word “wanker” in an article.

While all that was going on, I did two interviews for a possible article on Newark Public Schools. So, lots of work. I’ve decided to cool it for the rest of the week, and just do mom and house stuff.

We’re starting work on a new kitchen and family room in two weeks. It’s official now. Two weeks. So, now I’m selling off some of old stuff on Craig’s List. The old wood burning stove went for $250 to some Russians who came in from Brooklyn to pick it up. That sold pretty quickly. I was surprised. It’s from the 1980s and had a little rust on the top. But it went quickly. I want to see if I can unload our old dishwasher next.

I picked out most of the items that we need, but haven’t bought them yet. We’ll do that this Saturday. We’re doing wood-grained tile on the floor, white subway tile on the backsplash, grey quartz countertop for part of the room, butcher block on the other side of the room, and black knobs and pulls. It’s a basic farmhouse kitchen, nothing fancy or original. I just need a change from the dark, dirty, and increasingly broken kitchen that we have right now.

The family room is just getting reorganized and cleaned up. We’ll get a newer wood-burning stove, because Steve is a pyro.

I’m in super-girlie mode now, after two or three weeks of non-stop work. I’m getting a manicure tomorrow, for sure. I went out shopping and lunching with my sister this afternoon and picked up some fun things at William Sonoma — Chilewich placemats, a new meat thermometer, and some new utensils. Then we drove over to the new Wegman’s to explore. Yes, checking out a new supermarket is super weird suburban mom fun. Don’t judge.

I’m going to continue the girlie vacation tomorrow with a spin class, trips to Ann Taylor to check out this dress and Target for these purses, time with Lightroom to fiddle with my photographs, and lots of pop culture reading (check out this interview with Quincy Jones).

When To Walk Away

One of my worst character traits is that I am unable to stop persuading people that I am right about something and that they should like me. When people disagree with me, I think that I simply haven’t explained things well and if I only just explain again using better words, they will see the logic of my argument and want to be my best friend.

This sort of reasoning often leads to one’s head banging up against a brick wall.  Unpleasant, indeed. I had two instances like that yesterday. I’ll tell you about one.

So, the school district commissioned a report on the special education system in town and found it lacking. After living in this town for six years, I have 100s of anecdotes from our own experiences or others that go beyond the scope of the report. Let’s just say that there are kids in dark places in the school building who are being babysat and not taught.

Now, my kid isn’t one of those kids. He’s in a really nice school. Whatever that other school doesn’t provide, I do. I hire tutors. I drive him to activities. I connect with other parents to find the best programs for him. I would like the district to provide him with extra reading help and after school activities, but in the whole scope of things, he’s okay.

So, while my kid is fine, others aren’t. So, I keep opening my mouth and complaining at school board meetings in front of cameras. That doesn’t make me popular with local school leaders. And it doesn’t benefit my kid. I really need to stop talking, but I can’t. Incompetence and inequity drives me crazy. Like I said, it’s a character flaw.

Alright, let me hint at problem number two that led to further head banging yesterday. So, I have a good story about an urban school district. I know it’s a good story, but I’m having a hard time convincing other people that it’s a good story.

One of the issues, I think, is that it is about urban schools. So, I’ve been writing about education for six years now. If I write about middle class suburban parent issues — School sports: Good or Bad? School Report Cards Suck: A Plan to Get Rid of Them — I get lots of hits and links on Facebook. If I write about city schools, there are crickets. No love whatsoever.

Why don’t people care about city schools and the millions of children that are educated there? I suppose it’s for the same reason that it took so long for people to care about the lead in the water in Flint, Michigan. Those kids look different from the middle class people, who read the articles in the magazines that I write for. They are far away. Their problems are different. And their problems seem too monumental to change. People don’t want to read sad stuff.

But I’m really committed to telling this story about city kids, so I’m going to do a little PT Barnum on it and keep selling and selling and selling. Because that’s what I do.