The Cheap Assholes in the Subway

Most days a week, at some point, I take the A train. The station for it is literally underneath my building; In a pinch, it takes exactly one minute to get from my kitchen to the platform if I don’t trip over the cat on the way out, if I dash down the stairs and don’t wait for the elevator.

You get to know all the characters who panhandle there; where they get on and off, and what their tactic is.

One guy walks barefoot with disgusting feet and asks for money for shoes.

One guy asks for money in a singsong voice, and repeats this little song: “🎶 Can you please spare a dollar for the homeless….. for the homeless..”🎶“.
(And then you get it stuck in your head).

But most have a story about their hardships, and then they ask for help. They prefer money, but usually will accept food, too. They have varying levels of success, depending on the time of day and the collective mood of the car. They’ve gotten their technique down.

However, a new addition to the A train is this guy who glares, brusquely asks for money, and then chastises everybody in the car about what cheap assholes they are. He hasn’t gotten his technique down.

There are people in the car who get insulted and offended. I get neither insulted or offended. Surely, his fundraising tactic is not very effective, but I always felt the presence of panhandlers/homeless people says more about a systemic problem than it does about them. And if lecturing us for being cheap assholes makes him feel better, I won’t begrudge him that. His situation is much worse than mine or that of most of us.

There are many stories about how how people perceived as homeless have a a very elaborate scam going, and are actually living a life of luxury. People love to cite that as an example. However that is the exception rather than the rule. Perhaps the story they have is not 100% accurate, but I am not going to conjecture that it is 100% false and they are playing us. Generally speaking, as a rule, I would believe that a person who is panhandling on the subway has a situation much worse than yours or mine. And the outrageous anecdotes about the Tribecca Lofts and the fortune somebody made on the subway from panhandling; I’m not saying they’re not true, I’m saying they are very much the exception. NYC has 60,000 homeless people; that’s half the population of Albany. And because a few have a racket going, does not negate this issue. The economy is rough, the assistance programs are rife with red tape and caveats, many homeless shelters are dangerous and many of the homeless are mentally ill, lacking the mental faculty to navigate all this. Panhandling on the subway is a simpler and more immediate solution, especially if they believe their situation is temporary.

When faced with the narrative of the supposed panhandler living in luxury, I always like to employ what I call the “Magic Fairy” scenario. If, when conjecturing the supposed luxury of the panhandlers, a magic fairy appeared and offered you the opportunity to switch places with the panhandler in question, most people probably wouldn’t. Even if they seemed so sure they were running an elaborate and profitable scam. Deep down inside we are pretty sure in the vast majority of cases, again, their situation is much worse than ours.

Which brings us to another interesting dynamic. While we have a system that does not meet the needs of the homeless, are we enabling by giving handouts? I think on a theoretical level perhaps, but I don’t think giving a homeless guy a dollar is going to excaberate the problem significantly, especially since it is already there.

From a personal standpoint, the metric of whether I give ie extremely arbitrary. In theory, my rule is this:
If somebody asks you point blank for help, and it does not cause you significant hardship, you should help them in the best way you can.
Do I always practice what I preach?

In practice, when asked for a handout or donation, a number of x factors come into play. Do I have any loose change or small bills in my pocket? Are they easily accessible? Do I already have plans for that change or $1 bill? Will I be able to access that change/$1 bill without displaying larger bills? Do I have a power bar or granola bar on my person? And sadly, it also depends on what kind of mood I am in.

I go out to brunch with my wife every Sunday, and I buy toothpaste that is supposed to “whiten my teeth”, and food that makes ridiculous nutritional claims. I live in a nice, bright apartment in Manhattan. I never worry about whether I am going to eat, or whether I have a comfortable, safe place to sleep.

Panhandlers make us uncomfortable because they should. They remind of us an unresolved systemic problem. Conjecturing the life of luxury they supposedly have, or giving them a dollar every now and then might make us feel better, but the problem is still there.

And while I do not like being confronted, so I probably wouldn’t give anything to the guy who lectures the subway car for being cheap assholes, I do hope his situation improves, because that will likely improve his attitude. Venting frustration and resentment because you feel you are in a world where nobody will help you is very understandable.

I don’t hope he becomes a better panhandler. I hope he finds himself in a situation where panhandling is unnecessary. Because as long as there are people who find it necessary, there is always room for improvement.

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Only Trailer Trash on Welfare…

TEMP: I’m thinking of disconnecting my landline. I mean, I have a mobile phone.

ROB: Do it. I did it years ago. I also cut the cable line. We just have super high speed wifi instead, and we stream everything through the Apple TV.
Is there any vital purpose your landline is serving?

TEMP: Nope. It’s doing absolutely nothing except costing me $40 a month.

ROB: Get rid of it. What’s stopping you?

TEMP: My mother.

ROB: Your mother? How is she stopping you?

TEMP: Well she says only trailer trash on welfare don’t have landlines. But she also used to say that only crack dealers had cell phones.

ROB: Well, do you think that’s true?

TEMP: What?

ROB: Did you start dealing crack when you got your first cell phone?

TEMP: No!

ROB: Were your friends with cell phones dealing crack?

TEMP: Of course not.

ROB: Well, there goes your mom’s first theory. Do you live in a trailer?

TEMP: No, I live in an apartment in Bay Ridge.

ROB: Do you do trashy things?

TEMP: Like what?

ROB Things your mother would describe trailer trash as doing, exclusive of disconnecting your landline.

TEMP: Ha ha, no.

ROB: OK, are you collecting welfare? Not that there is anything wrong with that, and you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.

TEMP: No, not collecting welfare.

ROB: So, if you disconnect your landline, will you move to a trailer, do trashy things, quit your job and start collecting welfare?

TEMP: Of course not.

ROB: Where does your mother live?

TEMP: In Florida

ROB: You have this thing that is costing you $40 a month, contributing zero to your life, taking up several cubic inches of space in a New York apartment, and you are retaining it because of some weird theory your mother, over a thousand miles away, has, and was wrong the last time she floated a theory like that?
I’d have gotten rid of it, like ten years ago.

TEMP: My mother doesn’t even call my landline. She calls my cell.

ROB: Ah, your crack dealer phone. All the more reason to get rid of the landline. And by the time your mom finds out about it, whom I assume isn’t paying your bills anyway, you will have already lived as a fine upstanding citizen without the benefit of a landline, thereby debunking your mother’s theory, just as you did before by not dealing crack from your cell phone.

TEMP: I guess so.

ROB: And you’ll be $40 richer every months. Multiply that by twelve and you could take a mini vacation in a year.
In my experience, anytime I hear a theory about an action exclusive to a subset of people, it is immediately suspect, and almost always 100% false. Politicians like to employ this tactic. It is kind of a pack mentality/stigmatization technique, but really it only is a shortcut from using your head. People don’t get enough practice with this as it is.

TEMP: That’s true

ROB: Way back in the olden days, when I was a freshman in college, I got my ear pierced. My roommate said, flat out “Only homosexuals get their ears pierced”. Which was funny, because he knew I was straight as an arrow.

TEMP: That’s a weird thing to say.

ROB: It sure is. What’s even funnier was that the girl who pierced my ear for me became my first college girlfriend.

TEMP: Was that before or after she pierced your ear.

ROB: Well after, but that makes my roommates statement even more ridiculous.
But he was an odd guy. He was thoroughly convinced if you played a recording backwards it would summon up the devil, if the artist had “impure thoughts” while he had made the recording. He was literally terrified of somebody playing Ozzy Osborne or Alice Cooper backwards.

TEMP: He was seriously afraid it would summon up the devil.

ROB: Yeah, like he’d open the door of the room, and find the devil walking down the hall. Or he’d walk into the bathroom, find the devil taking a whiz; “Oh my God! Somebody musta been playing Black Sabbath backwards!”
HE had a list of albums that could summon up the devil if played backwards. I had a few of them. He was not comfortable with that.

TEMP: That’s crazy!

ROB: He was an odd guy. He used to drink Pine Sol, too. No lie. He had a bottle of Pine sol, would pour himself a little in a shot glass, drink it, smack his lips and say how good it tasted. I thought he was putting me on until I smelled it, and yep. Pine Sol. When I said it was poisonous, he claimed he had built up an immunity.

Luckily, he wasn’t my roommate for very long. He transferred out after the semester. We went to a state university, and I think he ended up transferring to s small Christian college.

TEMP: So you let a girl pierce your ear?

ROB: Yep.

TEMP: Where did she do it?

ROB: In her dorm room

TEMP: What did she do it with?

ROB: A needle.

TEMP: Did it hurt?

ROB: Not as much as you might think. But I had been drinking.

TEMP: Did it get infected?

ROB: Yep.

TEMP: So it didn’t make you gay, ha ha!

ROB: No. What an interesting social phenomenon it would be if the presence or absence of a little hole in your earlobe dictated your sexual orientation.

TEMP: Do you still wear your earring?

ROB: Rarely. You know, it doesn’t make half the statement it made thirty years ago. When you have sixty-five year old bankers walking around with earrings, it has become very mundane. Truth be known, I don’t even remember to put it in.

TEMP: Well, I have a lip ring

ROB: I see that.

TEMP: Watch this.
[takes out lip ring, takes a sip of water, puffs out bottom lip and shoots a stream of water twenty feet]

ROB: My mother used to say “Do you have a hole in your lip?” if you dribbled your drink.
You actually do have a hole in your lip!
Only people with holes in their lip have their lips pierced!

TEMP: Yeah, but that’s actually true!

ROB: Next time I see you, I’ll show how to construct truth tables! It will do you good!

TEMP: What’s a truth table?

ROB: Well, for one, it will debunk your mother’s logic once and for all!
Disconnect that landline. Make $40!

The Wanker on the Train

TIRED MOMENT ON THE A TRAIN:

I look up an notice a woman across the car is reading a hardcover book.

I look at the cover, and notice the title of the book is “The Wanker”

Got me wondering, was it a fiction, or was it a biography?

Was he a A: wanker in the literal sense,
or was he
B: a wanker in the figurative sense.

If, A: Who caught him red handed (pun absolutely intended)? Was it the author of the book? Was it the wankers mother? Where was he caught? Under what circumstances?

If B: What did he do to deserve the title of “Wanker”. Who had he wronged? The author?

Perhaps the wanker was the protagonist of the story. Maybe he wasn’t really a wanker, but he got tired of people calling him that.

Or maybe he enjoyed his identity and wanked proudly…..

Maybe it was an autobiography

So I took another look at the book cover. And realized it was written in script and the title was “The Wonder”.

Yeah I think I need some sleep…..

All that speculating for nothing.

The Privilege You Have, (Whether You Like it or Not)

Yesterday I ruffled a friend’s feathers for not denying she was privileged.

It got me thinking how “privilege” has become a very loaded and often misunderstood term.

Often when we hear of somebody who is “privileged”, in our minds we construct someone born with a silver spoon in their mouth, who had everything handed to them on a plate.

Perhaps we think of someone who was able to waltz right into prosperity with minimal effort or struggle on their part.

We might think of aristocratic families who summer in Newport or Nantucket or the Hamptons. Who send their children to prep schools and finally to Ivy Leagues with a high paying, cushy nepotistic job at the other end.

Worse, we might think of someone who has been able to get away with criminal behavior because of their privilege: perhaps as a college athlete or even as a member of society that might view them as above the law.

I can understand that someone who worked and struggled for what they had might take issue at being compared to any of the above scenarios.

However, there is a different context for privilege: that is being one of a dominant and prevailing demographic. That benefits a person. Sometimes it benefits in ways that might not be immediately obvious, especially if you have accepted it as the status quo.

I does not mean you have had everything handed to you on a plate.

It does not mean you have not worked hard for what you have in life, or worked less hard.

It doesn’t mean your accomplishments are worth less.

It is not meant to dismiss or make light of your struggles, disappointments or hardships.

It’s not to say you had an easy ride through life simply because of your demographic.

It certainly is not coming from a place of “Stop bitching, other people have it worse.” That’s mean spirited and counter productive.

It is simply to say that those who are in a demographic that is NOT the prevailing and dominant demographic have some struggles that are unique to them.

That’s what privilege is, at least in this context. Not to be confused with the other context.

I am going to give you a little example, using myself as a guinea pig.

I am a 42 year old straight white guy. I was born in the US. I speak English. Came from a middle class background. College education, which I did not have to struggle to fund.

Any of these factors give me a certain privilege; The aggregate give me a lot.

Here are a few examples of my privilege:

A: I have a reasonable assurance I won’t be hassled by police officers wherever I go. Even if I find myself in an area with a troubled racial relationship with police and citizens, I have a reasonable assurance I will be safe.

B: I can talk about my education, my alma mater, jobs I have had without anyone implying I achieved it through exploiting affirmative action or other programs.

C: I can go into a store without the first assumption being I am there for criminal activity.

D: I can talk about my Irish/Italian heritage all year without having to limit it to February. I can talk about it without people making assumptions about my ancestors or assigning them a country of origin.

E: I can walk literally anywhere with a reasonable assurance I will not be groped, catcalled or otherwise sexually assaulted.

F: Nobody second guesses my sexual orientation.

G: Within appropriate parameters, I can show affection to my wife without someone accusing me of “ramming my lifestyle down their throat.”

H: I have never been afraid of police officers. The vast majority of interactions I have had with them have been positive. The few interactions I have had with them that resulted in a summons; that summons was well deserved and given on the basis of nothing other than them observing me in the process of the transgression.

J: Nobody has ever threatened me with deportation.

K: When I have travelled with my handicapped son, everybody accepted he was handicapped and didn’t assume I was was trying to game a system, or that he was simply a “badly behaved kid”.

K: If a crowd is mostly the prevailing and dominant demographic (white, straight, male) I can blend right into that crowd without attracting suspicion or unwanted attention.

L: Regardless of what way an election will swing, I have a reasonable assurance that my rights won’t be significantly impacted.

I could go on, and on, but you get the picture. The list is not exhaustive.

And a lot of us take these things for granted every day. But that is privilege. It is privilege that can very easily slip under your radar, but it is there.

It does not negate any other struggles or hardships you have had to get where you are, but, all other factors being equal, these were things you didn’t ALSO have to deal with.

Where do we go from here?

I’m not saying you don’t have the right to all these privileges and more. I am saying other people have the right to them too. As in everybody else.

I am also not saying there aren’t people more privileged than you. There are.

Privilege is a continuum. There will always be a group LESS privileged than you, and there will most certainly a group MORE privileged than you.

For instance: You were born in a country with access to clean drinking water and electricity. That automatically makes you more privileged than someone on the other side of the world who lives in squalor and disease.

The old saying:

“I wept because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

Most people have shoes. THis man is LESS privileged than them, but MORE privileged than the guy with no feet.

See how it works.

Privilege in this context is a relative term, but it is also a metric of inequality.

So the next question is how we deal with it? As privileged beings (and if you are white, you are privileged. If you are male, you are privileged. If you are of the dominant and prevailing group in any larger set, you are privileged)

Do we have to wish the hardship on ourselves?

Do we offer to trade places with the less privileged?

You don’t have to do that.

You don’t have to wish the footless guy your feet. Wish both of you feet and both of you shoes.

All you have to do is wish the privileges you enjoy (consciously or not) for the less privileged.

You get it, they get it too.
It’s not a zero sum game.

It’s all you have to do.

The next step here is try to make that happen.

Vote for things with that in mind.

Call out and try to stop behavior where those with more privilege try to power play those with less. You see it all over the place, from hassling the single mom with the EBT card to unsavory sexual behavior, to harassment of people based on their immigration or religion. If you can safely and appropriately stop it dead in its tracks, step up to the plate.

Pay attention to what you are doing. Are you unintentionally encroaching on somebody’s rights and faling back on your privilege for justification? I’m not accusing. I’m just asking. It’s easy to do unintentionally.

Always vote with your feet.

Will you miss opportunities to allay this inequality? Every single day. Nobody’s perfect and it is a big project. IT is going against thousands of years of paradigm. But it is the next big hurdle.

Every thing you do to address this is to bring us one step closer to equality. Because performance is a useless metric if the playing field is not level. It’s always going to be a moving target where our reach always exceeds our grasp.

The most dangerous, destructive thing you can do is fail to acknowledge that if you are part of the prevailing and dominant race, gender, language group, citizenship, orientation, you are privileged. It is not something you can dismiss or ignore or deny. The paradigm is here and has been here for awhile.

It is not a reflection on YOUR character or work ethic.

However what you do with it is absolutely a reflection of all three.

COLLEGE ADVICE FROM A REFORMED SLACKER

IMG_3648The summer is winding down and many young adults will be going away to college very, very soon. I don’t think there are too many college grads who don’t wish, somewhere along the line, they had made more of the certain aspects of their time in college. Although I wish I had written this earlier so there’d be more time to digest it, there is no time like the present.
So, in light of that, I give you:

COLLEGE ADVICE FROM A REFORMED SLACKER:

A: LEARN YOUR LEARNING STYLE
The most important thing to learn in college is not the content of your classes. That sounds counterintuitive because it seems that is the reason you are going to college.

The most important thing to learn, the most valuable thing to know is how YOU learn: what is your unique learning style? How do YOU process information? How is YOUR mind wired?

It’s hard to be objective when evaluating aspects of ourselves, but you know this better than anyone. Your parents might view you as one style because they like the idea of it, your teachers may have viewed you as another style because they based their observations on what they knew and experienced. Your friends may have another metric. But the only way you will learn your unique learning style is to pay attention to what you do when presented with different mental challenges. Pay attention to the world around you and how you relate and react. At the end of the day, nobody will know this better than you because you are at the center of your nervous system.

If you go to class without some idea about how your mind processes information and retains it, you will be at a disadvantage, and will not get the most of what a class has to offer.

B: BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF ABOUT YOUR SLEEP CYCLE AND HOW YOU PROCESS TIME
You might like the IDEA of being a morning person. You might like the IDEA of having your classes done early so you can study or practice later. But if you have tendency to go to bed late, oversleep, or if you wake up slow and groggy in the morning, do not sign up for 8 AM classes.

It is also likely you will be late to your first class. It goes without saying that is incredibly disrespectful to the professor, the other students in the class, those who are funding your education (be it your parents, or the scholarship or anything else) but also disrespectful to you. You have missed salient information depending on how late you were, you didn’t give yourself time to to mentally prepare for the class, and now you will be starting in the middle: going from zero to sixty. That is not conducive to success. IF you do that, you are screwing yourself over.

Conversely, if you are a morning person, and nod off at a certain time of day, don’t schedule your classes during that time. A nap may be more productive and worth your time. Sleeping through a class is also disrespectful to both your professor and you: It conveys the message you don’t give a damn about the content of the class, and you are missing out on valuable information. Again, you are screwing yourself over.

This is not high school, you have some control over the time of your classes, and as an adult, paying attention to your body will pay off handsomely throughout your life.

C: DO NOT HOLD YOUR TIME HOSTAGE TO THE FROG:
There is a saying in the business world, and that is “Eat the frog first”. That translates out into “get the most onerous, unpleasant task out of the way first”
This holds merit if you don’t put off unpleasant tasks, or let the unpleasant task sap your energy that you could use for simpler tasks. If you love literature, but find physics grueling, it is not a good idea to hold your literature assignment hostage to your physics assignment.

To wit: the “Eating the frog” technique only works if you do it early. If you inflexibly cling to that technique, procrastinate on it, by the time you get to your simpler tasks, you will be discouraged, lacking in energy and more likely to half ass a project you could have done a stellar job on.

This is another aspect of your own style you are going to have to pay close attention to.

D: WHILE WE ARE ON THE “ANIMALS ANALOGIES” DO NOT BE AN OSTRICH.
My dad was a professor at a community college. He noticed a unique phenomenon. When there was an exam, or an assignment was due, he noticed the ratio of empty seats. These were of students who, feeling unprepared for the test/failed to complete the assignment, decided to not show up for class.

My dad called it “the ostrich syndrome”: akin to sticking your head in the sand when there was danger as though the danger would disappear if you did not perceive it.

It doesn’t work that way and you know it. Many an ostrich has been eaten by a tiger with that technique. Many a defendant is a civil court case has found themselves owing a lot of money because they didn’t show up to court when they were being sued, thinking it would go away and instead losing by default. And many a university student has blown off class on an exam day/assignment day and has failed that class/assignment by default.

Grow up, man up (or woman up), go to class. If you do not have the assignment or are unprepared for the test, apologize to the professor for investing their valuable time on you, but most of all apologize to yourself for screwing yourself over.
Learn from it, do better next time, manage your time better, be more organized.

But don’t be an ostrich. Hiding from your classes or profs is unproductive and cowardly.

D: YOUR MOTHER DOES NOT MAKE YOUR LUNCH ANYMORE.
There is a tremendous amount of truth to the “Freshman 15”. That is the fifteen pounds a lot of students gain within their first semester of college. It has less to do with deliberate gluttony or reckless beer swilling as it does with lack of understanding how your body processes nutrition.

Your mother or father had a vested interest in your diet. They wanted their little boy or girl to be healthy and strong. Now you’re on your own, bud.
You will have access to lots of bad quality and overly caloric foods. You will be controlling the portions. And unless you pay close attention to the nutritional value of the food you put in your body, you run the risk of getting fat and unhealthy.

This is not how you want to be in college. You need to be on your game, in good health so you can be in good mind. There is no getting around this.
Read nutrition labels. Eat your vegetables. Be honest about about your portion size. Take the time to research the food you eat and how it benefits or adversely affects your body. The more you learn about it and adhere to as healthy a diet as you can, the better you will feel and the better you will do.
The longer you wait to do this, the harder it will be. You owe yourself this much.

Mommy and daddy don’t control your diet, so it is on you, now.
PS: This is from someone who entered college at 165 pounds and graduated at 240. It wasn’t easy to lose 75 pounds as a 26 year old adult with adult responsibilities.

E: EVEN IF YOU HAVE NEVER EXERCISED BEFORE, START NOW:
Even if you feel you are in a time crunch, stick to the exercise regimen you have established. Some cardio of your choice, some strength a few times a week, monitor it and find time to do it.
It will pay off in focus for your classes, better overall feeling, and early establishment of healthy habits.

Many colleges have great fitness and athletic facilities, and as a student you should take full advantage (a gym membership in the outside world can cost $150 a month). Even if you don’t have access to those facilities, you can still run, jump rope, ride your bike or anything like that. While it is nice to have a workout facility, a friend once said, “In a pinch, the only exercise equipment you need is the ground and your feet.”

F: PAY ATTENTION TO HOW YOU PRESENT YOURSELF.
That’s a hard sell in the days of “I will express myself how I damn well please”, self centered memes and social media posts, Tshirts with obnoxious, antisocial an inappropriate slogans, and a president who tweets everything that pops into his mind.

But how you present not only establishes someone’s impression of you, it also contributes to the tone of an environment. This is why corporate places have dress codes.
This runs the gamut to walking around in a confederate flag TShirt to showing up to class looking like you rolled out of bed.

I’m not saying you have to wear a shirt and tie to class, but perhaps you should avoid graphic Tshirts or looking poorly groomed. Wear clean clothes, show up to class bathed, shaved or your beard/moustache neatly trimmed. Wear clothes that respect the decorum of academia.

Stand up straight. Don’t slouch. Don’t mumble. Avoid regional slang. Shake hands properly, avoiding fist bumps and high fives except in the most casual of settings. Don’t scowl, don’t sneer. Walk in straight lines and answer questions in complete sentences. Say please and thank you. Hold doors, regardless of gender. Offer assistance if you can.

This not only shows respect for yourself, but also your classmates, your professors, your education and what hopefully will be your alma mater, which is a tremendous part of your legacy.

In the days of practically indelible records, thanks to social media, this is especially important.

G: IN LINE WITH F, RESPECT YOUR PROFESSORS and TAs.
Unless requested otherwise, “Dr. {name}, or “Professor {name}” is the only appropriate form of address towards a professor.
Nicknames, “Doc”, other monikers are inappropriate unless specifically requested or preferred by that professor.

In a culture of almost contrived casualness it may feel odd. You may feel a little awkward. You may worry you may be perceived as brown nosing. It isn’t.
Brown nosing is insincere flattery to get an undeserved result or favor.
A respectful form of address is to show you respect your professors commitment to academia and their educational credentials. It also shows that you take your education seriously and are committed to it.

To that end, you should also avoid overly casual greeting “Hey!”, “YO”, “What’s up.”
Your TAs often work harder than anyone at the university. Not only do they have a graduate courseload, they are also tasked with teaching aspects of certain classes. Be respectful of their time and show them the respect you would show a professor.

H: IT IS EXTREMELY BAD FORM TO ATTEMPT TO NEGOTIATE A GRADE AFTER IT HAS BEEN EARNED.
Don’t do it. If you haven’t presented your best work, and your grade will reflect that, do not try to bargain to improve your grade.
You are not buying a used car and it is hugely disrespectful to attempt to reduce a professor to haggling over a grade.

You read the course syllabus, you knew what the expectations were. You, as an adult, are responsible for your education, and the outcome of what you put into it. By the time you are in phase where that is being graded, the die has been cast.

Additionally, while an empathetic professor is a good professor, s/he is not your therapist. S/he has many students to teach, and lessons to plan and research to do. Do not unload your personal problems on him/her. Worse, do not use your personal problems as an excuse for poor performance in a class or as a bargaining chip to negotiate a grade improvement. That is incredibly manipulative, and it makes you look pathetic.

It should also go without saying, but under no circumstances should your parents try to do this on your behalf. You are an adult. Act like it.

I: DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP:
An easy trap to fall into is feeling that if you ask for help, especially in a competitive and demanding program, you will give the impression you are not up to the game or that you “don’t belong in the program”.  Do not be afraid to ask questions.  Those in class who huff, puff, sigh and roll their eyes if you ask a question they view as “stupid” are immature assholes.  Don’t let the actions of an immature asshole dictate your perception of your potential or fitness to be there.

If you find you are having difficulty in a course, do not be in denial about it. Denial is a huge voice in the human psyche, and don’t succumb to it.
Recognize the difficulty and need for help early on. If you feel uncomfortable asking your professor, check the tutoring services. Get a tutor. It’s usually a free service. Ask a more experienced classmate, if they can or wish to hep you.

If the tutor’s style is out of whack with how you process information, then get a new tutor. You need to grow a set.
Don’t be passive and let the difficulties of the class throw you into the weeds. The further into the class you get, the harder it will be to catch up. The learning by osmosis ship has sailed.

And if, at the end of the course, despite all your efforts, you didn’t do as well as you had hoped, you will look a hell of a lot better than someone who hid from class and ended up writing it off as a lost cause.
Sloth and arrogance (you didn’t study/you didn’t listen) are very easy things to blame a lack of success on, but if you gave no other impression, what choice does anyone have?

J: KNOW WHEN TO HOLD THEM AND WHEN TO FOLD THEM:
Story TIme: One of the few classes outside the music school I had to take was a history class. I chose Modern American History because it was something I was interested in. The class was taught by a professor with a thick Chinese accent.

During the lectures I found that by the time I had deciphered what he had said, I had forgotten it. Therefore, there were huge holes in my notes.
The deadline came to drop the class. I thought it would get better, so I missed the deadline.

Then the deadline came to withdraw from the class. I thought I could salvage my grade. I was dead wrong. (perhaps denial being the loud voice it is)
I ultimately failed the class. Spectacularly.

Had I “folded them” at the right time, I could have saved my transcript from a failing grade, and I would have had the time I spent sitting in class and failing it to focus on the other classes I had.
So let me be the cautionary tale in this item.

K: RESPECT WHO IS FUNDING YOUR EDUCATION:
If your parents are funding your education, you are very lucky. If you go to a state university, the taxpayers of that state are, at least in part, funding your education. If you have a scholarship, whether it is based on need or merit: whoever funded that scholarship is funding your education. If your university waived tuition for you, they made an investment in you, and they funded your education. If you, yourself paid for your your own education, you know what it is worth and you owe it to yourself to respect that.

There is no such thing as a free education. Somebody paid for it, be it your parents, the taxpayers, the benefactors of the scholarship, your university or you.

Every time you blow off class, fail to study or practice, fail to pay attention or fail to take opportunities to improve onesself while at college, it is the ultimate disrespect to whatever entity funded it. It is a slap in the face. It is akin to taking money out of their pocket and pissing it away.

People all over the world would kill and die for the educational opportunity you have, and you owe it to yourself and them to make it a good investment.

L: DON’T DRINK ON DAYS PRECEDING CLASS OR IMPORTANT OBLIGATIONS.
If you are going into univerity as a traditional student, the law on the books says you shouldn’t be drinking at all. However I am realistic and I know there will be a lot of opportunities to drink alcohol. Back when I went to college, you could get drunk on $5 and still can get drunk on $5. I also know that if you are a traditional student (18-20), this will likely be the first time you have had this much access to alcohol.

You’ll come across pressure to drink among your peers, and it is likely you will. That being said, restrict it to Friday or Saturday nights, and only when there is not an obligation the next day.

You cannot be at your peak when you are hung over. That is a fact. You want to spend your Saturday or Sunday morning hung over, that’s on you. If you have classes on a Wednesday, and get soused on Tuesday night, you are letting alcohol mess up your “not free” education and that’s not cool.

And while we’re on the subject, you might find yourself encouraged to drink recklessly or dangerously, or do reckless or dangerous things if you have been drinking. Do not ever feel obligated to do that, no good friendship should hinge on that.

You are doing nobody any good at the morgue from alcohol poisoning.

You are responsible for your actions and you do no one any favors, least of all yourself from sitting in jail because you did something illegal while under the influence.

An important thing you will likely learn while in college is how your body processes alcohol. However, if you choose not to drink, that choice is commendable and yours alone to make, and nobody has the right to challenge it.

M: DON’T HAVE SEX IF YOU HAVE BEEN DRINKING. DON’T HAVE SEX WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN DRINKING.
I cannot stress how important this is, especially if you are male.

If you have sex with a woman who is drunk, EVEN IF YOU ARE DRUNK YOURSELF, you are guilty of a felony, one that merits seriously hard prison time.
You will have messed up your education and your future. You will disgrace your family. You will disgrace your alma mater. You will go to prison. For a very long time.

But most importantly:

You will have messed up somebody elses life. You will have caused a woman irreparable harm. You will have destroyed someone else’s college education. That’s unforgivable.

You will have gone from a university student worthy of respect and admiration to a sexual predator worthy of society’s contempt and scorn.

You are well aware of the need for consent before you enter into a sexual relationship. Alcohol invalidates that consent.

If YOU have been drinking, you may find it hard to gauge another person’s sobriety. That is not an excuse. So it is better to avoid that problem entirely and only do it when you are sober. Good rule of thumb: If would not be comfortable with her driving you home, then you shouldn’t have sex. It’s that simple.

As you learn how your body processes alcohol, you will learn your limits and your perceptions. You must understand you are responsible for your actions, always, even if you have been drinking.

And again, if you choose not to drink at all, that is a good and healthy decision.

N: GET A JOB
Even if you are the rare breed of college student who is not financially strapped, a job will be good for you. Generating a few bucks yourself will keep you in touch with the fact there is a world outside of academia.

Even if it is just a few hours a week shelving books in the library or working in the dining hall, it is still going to be good for you. You will learn your work style, you will learn to be proud of your work ethic. You will be able to demonstrate your work ethic.

It will keep you humble and down to earth. It will allow you to work with people who are not necessarily in academia. Even if it is just a small amount of work you do and a small amount of pay, it will give you satisfaction every time you get paid.

If you do well, you will almost certainly earn a character reference, and may even earn a work reference, and in this day and age, that is a valuable commodity.

O: LEARN HOW TO DEBATE AND LEARN HOW TO DISAGREE GRACEFULLY.
Going to university, you will find many ideas different than the ideas around your dinner table at home, or in your hometown. They may challenge your comfort level, even rattle your identity.

You have two choices: You can remove yourself from any chance of hearing any idea you don’t agree wholeheartedly with, view a disagreement as a personal attack, lock yourself in your room, cover your ears and chant “La la la, I can’t hear you!”.

Or you can listen and present your case as well. I understand certain issues are emotionally charged, especially if they are held dear or close to home.

Learn how to step up your game in debate. The minute it devolves into a screaming match it stops being a debate and becomes an argument. Stop engaging at that point

Pay attention to your logic, your philosophy and be kind and empathetic. Put a human face on it. The ad-hominem attack is one of the cheapest techniques you can use in debate, so avoid it.

All that being said, there are those whose case is not a case, rather an excuse for unkindness and hateful behavior. For instance, were the KKK to show up in white sheets on the campus of Howard University, this is not a debate that needs to happen; they need to be shown the door without the benefit of their soapbox because they had no interest in debate, only intimidation.

Anyone who doing unkind and hateful behavior, encouraging it, enabling it, condoning it, or failing to stop it is not worthy of debate, and you should feel under no obligation to hash through it with them, because they are not in the true spirit of understanding and resolution.

P: INSIST THAT OTHERS RESPECT YOUR BOUNDARIES, AND RESPECT THOSE OF OTHERS.
In a college situation, you might find yourself with a roommate, living a building with people who you just met. When you lived at home, your parents owned that house, and you, as an occupant of that house had certain privileges associated with it.

In college, the space you share belongs to the person you are sharing it with as much as it belongs to you.
You might find that in that situation, you might have to be less high maintenance. But you might also find you have to be more assertive to ensure you are not taken advantage of.

You have to feel around what is reasonable and what is not. It is reasonable to expect your roommate not make a racket at 1 AM on a Tuesday. It is not reasonable to expect reverential silence every day after 3PM.

If you let your roommate use your hair dryer, you have a legitimate gripe if you find her using your toothbrush.

If your roommate gives you a ride, you shouldn’t ask to drive their car around.

Jokes you may find funny, and given in the spirit of friendly amusement may come across as hurtful to others.

You may find an off-the cuff remark made by someone very hurtful.

IT’s a new and delicate social landscape to navigate and you should approach it thoughtfully. Be considerate, but that does not mean you should tolerate the inconsideration of others.

Don’t be a high maintenance brat, but don’t be a doormat either.

And you’ll learn all that with practice.

Q: MISTAKES AND SETBACKS ARE NOT THE END OF THE WORLD:
Everybody fucks up sometimes, and in all likelihood, you will fuck up in college at some point.

You’ll blow a relationship, you’ll alienate your roommate, you’ll not do well in a class, you’ll piss off a professor. You’ll do something stupid when you’re drunk. You might lose somebody you love. You might get sick. You might need to take a semester off. You might find yourself short on money. You might get fired from your job. You might even get kicked out of your program or school.

All is not lost, unless you are willing to write it off as a lost cause.

You reflect on it. If it is your fault, you make amends and reparations. Then you build a strategy to move forward based on what you have learned. You resolve to do better, you resolve to give yourself the tools to make that happen.

If it is not your fault, e.g. illness, death in the family, you take care of yourself, and the best way to do that is to preserve your ability to excel.

It’s difficult, it can be overwhelming, but you’ll be able to do it because you are smart. You wouldn’t be going to college if you weren’t smart.

The trajectory of the future is, in part, dependent on the trajectory of you.
You owe this much to the future and yourself.

Thats all I have, for now.

Today Is Your Performance!

CRAZY DREAM LAST NIGHT:

Dreamed I was in a large rehearsal room. There was about thirty people with musical instruments; most were string instruments. They were each practicing a solo, so it was pretty cacophonous. What they were practicing was really virtuosic material; sounded really technically difficult.

Finally, somebody walked up to me and said, “Today is your performance.”

And I said, ” Wait a minute; I’m not really ready for a performance today”

And the guy (the coordinator) said, “You really can’t put this off anymore. It has to be today”

He handed me a sheet and I said, “Wait a minute….”

but he walked away.

So I read the sheet, and it kept referring to the performance as a recital or a competition or an audition.

It was the guidelines of the performance: It said your performance had to be about 15 minutes, and they preferred to hear sonatas, but not ones that were too “long or boring”.

So I wondered where a singer would fit into all this. So thought of my repertoire and thought of some arias that would fit in the fifteen minute parameters, that would contrast well and could be done back to back. But maybe they wanted to hear something else, like a song cycle or even a solo excerpt from a master work, or…… who knows. And was I going to get an accompanist?

So I went back to the coordinator, and asked him what they wanted of vocalists.

He said, “They want to hear you play violin first, but if they’re interested they will hear you sing”.

I said, “You know, it has been quite awhile since I’ve played violin, and honestly, I have never played at this level.”

He said, “Well, it is very important you give a good performance and make no mistakes.”

I realized I was absolutely fucked, but I took a look at the “Performance Guidelines” sheet, and found this paragraph:

“You will find we are a most difficult and demanding group before whom to perform. If at any time, we are displeased with your presentation, we will decide to vaporize you”

So I went back to the coordinator, who seemed annoyed at all my questions, and shared my concern about that paragraph.

“What’s this about getting vaporized?”

The coordinator answered,”Oh, they only do that to people who are out of practice”.

I told him I was going to grab something to eat before my performance, but what I was really going to do was try to get an emergency coaching session so I could put together a program for the vocal part of the audition/competition/recital; whatever it was.

I figured the string portion of the performance was a lost cause, but perhaps I might be able to save my skin with a few arias, but I sure as hell didn’t want to wing it. As soon as I got outside, I would call every coach I knew and see it they could fit me in last minute.

Once I got outside, I realized I had been in the Academy of Arts and Letters on 155th & Broadway, and the performance was going to be in the underground theatre there. I also noticed there was a big, old-school smokestack sticking up, like something you’d see outside of a mill.

It then blew out this big billow of smoke, and somebody on the street commented, “Hey, looks like somebody was out of practice!”

I realized just how utterly fucked I was before I woke up.

Always Wear Your Short White Coat!

Today I want to talk about the short white coat.

If you go to the hospital, you will be treated by a vast array of people in white coats.

Perhaps you are not paying attention to the length of the coat, but the length of the coat denotes a person’s position in the hierarchy or food chain of the hospital.

Full MDs traditionally wear long white coats. Medical students traditionally wear short white coats. Depending on the hospital, interns usually wear short white coats, but in some hospitals they wear long white coats.

Every now and then an intern who gets too big for their britches will show up in a long white coat, much to the dismay of some MDs. It has even happened that a medical student has done that.

And some full MDs have had a bird. As in: “I have paid my dues and earned my right to wear my long white coat, so who does this young upstart think he is, wearing a long white coat?” You’d be amazed, senior physicians get upset over something so mundane, but some do.

There have been a few teaching hospitals where they put everybody (including medical students) in long white coats. That move didn’t sit well with some of the senior physicians.

My favorite, however, is Massachusetts General Hospital, where it is the tradition for everybody, EVERYBODY, to wear a short white coat. This is to symbolize that doctors are learners for life. To wit: there is nothing you should wear that would convey the arrogant message that you have learned all there is to learn, and you cannot learn more.

In fact, a doctor from that hospital wore his short coat to Beth Israel Deaconess, and was complimented by a colleague because he was symbolizing a doctor was always a student.

This is a valuable lesson.

No matter what discipline we study and work, there is always more to learn. We are always students, and the minute we stop being students we have closed our minds.

Mastery should be a moving target: an ideal within our reach but ever out of our grasp. We should never get to a point where we, because of our level of achievement or knowledge, believe there is nothing more to learn, or more dangerously, that we cannot ever be wrong.

In whatever we do, and whatever we wear to do it, we should always be wearing the short white coat, real or symbolic.

More on this here; it is an old article on this from 2007

http://archive.boston.com/…/doctor_nurse_or_student_consul…/

All the Things that are No More…

I should write a sad song about all my favorite foods that have been discontinued.

Like the Chobani Meze yogurt dip.
Or the Evol breakfast cups.
Or the Amy’s non-vegan breakfast burrito. NON(!!!) vegan.
Or Kashi pizza

I should write a sadder song about the closing of drugstore.com.

A tragic dirge of the discontinuation of Hypno Skates (inline skates where the wheel chassis is detachable from the boot)

A requiem mass for the Scooba.

A weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth laden song about the death of Midwest Airlines, and the impending death of Virgin America.

A 90s grunge whine song about the end of Ban Clear for Men.

A nostalgic elegy for Prell Conditioner

A tearful lament about CBGB

A song entitled “O Garden Cafe, Why Hast thou Forsaken Me?”

OR perhaps I should write a cautionary tale called:
“If You Like Something, You Better Hope Rob Doesn’t Like It Too or It Will Get Discontinued or Shut Down”

Whose Briefcase is that on the Bench?

ROB: Whose briefcase is that on the bench?

(no answer)

ROB: Anybody’s? I just want to sit down.

COLLEAGUE: Just move the briefcase.

ROB: Yeah, I just don’t like touching other people’s stuff without permission. You know what would happen. I would move it and somebody would appear out of nowhere and say (indignant voice), “Dude, did you just move my bag without asking?”

And this begat and impromptu comedy skit:

COLLEAGUE: Yeah. I wanted to sit down. So I put it under the bench.

ROB: (playing along, nervy indignant voice, gesticulating “chopping” motions): So. You. Touched. My. Shit. Without. Asking.

COLLEAGUE (laid back surfer dude voice): Yeah, man. It was on the bench. I asked, nobody answered. I wanted to sit down. It’s under the bench.

ROB: Oh! I get it. You touch people’s stuff. Would it be cool if I went into your house and threw out all your shit? Would it be cool if I rubbed my ass all over your stuff because I (air quotes) WANTED TO SIT DOWN?? (close air quotes)

COLLEAGUE: Sorry man.

ROB: Oh. Sorry. SORRY? Does it change the fact that you put your hands on my stuff? Does that make it ok? So all is right in the world with you just because you said (air quotes) SAW-REE???
Not cool. So totally not cool.
(Indignant sniff)

COLLEAGUES: {Laughter.}

ROB: Everybody’s worked with somebody like that, right?

COLLEAGUE: Yeah. If they got like that with me, I’d start poking them. Like this: Poke. Poke. Poke!

We had a good laugh.

OTHER COLLEAGUE: Hey, that was like a Saturday Night Live skit.

PS: I moved the briefcase. The guy who owned the briefcase was just watching, enjoying the show.