Then add dirt, and stir.

I wrote a check this week.  It isn’t the largest one ever, or anything like that, but for me it was a lot of money.  The car dealership is holding the check until my car is delivered, likely on Monday.  I hadn’t wanted to go the “financing” route, thus I bought a car I could pay for outright.

The sales guy was good.  He was truly a people-oriented human being, and he wanted me to have a good experience…and to get the car I needed with as much of what I wanted as I could afford.  It’s the last week of the fiscal year, and the dealership was just hopping with customers.  The dealership offered “financing” twice.  They had me sign for a credit check (given that I was writing a personal check, I guess I’d have done the same.)  They needed to locate the vehicle I wanted.  It’s at another dealership and they’ll deliver it.

So…deal made. I had to wait for over an hour for the financial portion of the sale to commence,  in the little room with the glass door where I met the Finance Guy.  By this point, it was after 9PM and I’d been at the dealership since before 6PM.  The dealership team had been very solicitous: offering coffee, tea, water, granola bars, fruit …dog biscuits.  I settled for water: what I wanted was to go home, eat smoked trout on rye crackers and read a book.  Then the moment had come: The Finance Guy came to call me into his office….felt a bit like going to see the headmaster, were the headmaster a decade or more younger than I am.  He began his spiel by shaking my hand and calling me by a fairly logical but really unwelcome diminutive of my first name.

Next, he started what amounted to a word salad.  He prefaced his pitch with “People tell me a speak really fast, so if you need me to repeat something just tell me.” He proceeded to try his damnedest with fast speech, flashing papers in front of me, repeating himself in slightly different slant, not making sense, and, most alarming, not letting me see and hold the papers with these fees and recommendations.  He told me there was no warranty, and I ought to buy one…and “this is the most economical over the long-term…”

He recommended a clearcoat (Jay Leno uses this same product on his cars(!)) He recommended key fob insurance. There were other items…but I can’t recall them : he wouldn’t give me the print out.

He tried as hard as he could to sell me more than half again as much as I was spending on the entire car, in these “extras”.  “This is your chance for extended coverage and a bumper to bumper warranty!” he said. One extra was finally revealed as a line item that was just fee the dealership added, and not part of the licensing fee as it was portrayed on the sales agreement, and I tried to strike it.  Finance Guy said  “It makes the insurance cheaper….and blah blah blah.” He ignored my requests for copies “You can see them when the car’s delivered.”

I’d had it by then, but I do need the car….  I pulled out my checkbook.  He said to me “I can fill the check out for you.  It’s a lot of words.” (what the hell?) I did not respond to that “offer”and I wrote my own check.  Soon as we were done,  I fled the little room with the glass door. So glad to go home. Felt good that refused all these “warranties and protections.” Almost.  I still had that line item dealer’s fee in the total.

I dined on smoked trout and buyer’s remorse.  This morning I called the US headquarters of the manufacturer.  Talked to a delightfully honest man who explained that the car has upon my purchase a 3 year warranty, and if I wished to extend it, I can do that any time before the end of the manufacturer’s warranty.  He said the other “protections” are all third-party offers–and it’s all stuff Finance Guy gets commissions on.  The guy at the HQ was very blunt. Finance Guy makes his money and keeps his job by selling this stuff, so he’ll do anything to make a sale.  I said I felt blind-sided.  He said “It was time. Time to just add dirt, and stir.  Muddy the waters and people have no idea what they’re consenting to.”

This guy from HQ will be sending me a rebate after I get the title to my car.  He emailed me a form as soon as we got off the phone.  He reminded me that I can demand that line item mentioned above is struck and I can write a fresh check.

He closed his email:

“I will follow up with you on Thursday if I do not hear back from you.

Please be careful in the finance office.”

And I will be.

Update, 2 days later: Received vehicle.  I was careful in the finance office.  I did demand the line item be struck and I did write a fresh check.  Satisfied, though not enchanted, which is a fine enough position.



I have an old friend from teaching to whom I was so very close, once.   He was, and still is, apparently, utterly invested in making his world entirely about him.  He’s not a selfish man, though he’s self-absorbed and staggeringly egocentric.  It makes me sad–I worked with him some years ago, and  he taught me a lot about myself…and about who I didn’t want my self to be, especially not in the classroom.  He is a good person, kind and moral.
He’s also a person who takes on a new hobby and suddenly is that hobby: take a flying lesson and “Yes, I’m a pilot” sort of thing.  Rather off-putting, though he doesn’t mean it to be.  He’s got talents, but mostly he has just mad drive to master things.  Always, I think, looking for a self.
Whenever one works with people, there are risks.  You become friend, or mentor, or simply a source of a college recommendation. You must give freely of these things, being sure they are about the person who needs you, moreso than about showing yourself as the Source Of All Wisdom And Kindness. For some people, it’s damned hard to recognize that when you absent your ego and focus on the joy of giving to another person: recommendations, or tools to succeed, or simply imparting knowledge, you’re actually a better teacher or mentor.
It can take more from you, for you have to cast yourself a skin of …not empathy so much as a skin of your old, naive self which willingly suspended disbelief…and within your brain you (briefly) become the student. It is exhausting, though the rewards are first hand witness to discovery, to the “aha!”, to the joy of learning. (Which, to be honest, is the true joy in teaching….Good teachers are joy-of-learning junkies.)
But when you experience joy through anyone, you will also experience pain.  Teachers know how fragile the human creature is, though they like to see the growing strong, the stretched wings, instead of apathy and stasis.  Apathy and stasis.  It’s a mask for depression.
Years ago, a former student of mine brought a shotgun out to the woods and committed suicide on DNR lands he’d grown up hiking and camping on.  I will never forget it, or forget Hans.  I can see his face in my mind right now, over 20 years after it happened.  His mother’s stoicism.  His schoolmates disbelief.  It was awful.
My friend had a similar thing happen to a former student just yesterday.  My heart breaks for his hurt, but I am having trouble grasping why he is couching the entire thing as a drama in which he’s playing a major part. It’s the family’s loss, the family’s tragedy. His alluding to himself as having a starring role in this grieves me.  He is simply missing the agony of the commons: the community has been diminished by the tragedy. Putting his own personal pain on Facebook display for likes and sadface emoji diminishes the greatness of the loss, and, to my mind, diminishes my friend.
Sometimes the hardest thing for a teacher to learn is this: It’s not about you.

A lasting lesson in office politics

I worked for a multi-national corporation for nearly 10 years.  I held a half-dozen different positions in that time, but all with the same manager, at least for the first 8 years.  I thought I got along with her.  God knows I tried my best.  I got all the good (meaning awfully difficult, hard to do, really need to troubleshoot, et cetera) projects that no one else wanted to tackle.  I never failed at anything, save having her respect.  There were times when work went poorly (like a stint in San Juan, PR in 2010) and when things went well –landing extra work for our site, accolades from clients and so forth.  Through all of it, she treated me poorly–verbal abuse, mostly, though sometimes just undermining me.  However….I was the earner and the source of all our insurances at that time, and I couldn’t leave my job: both for financial reasons and simply that I had no idea what sort of recommendation she might give me.

I was her second, always, and my coworkers always came to me with issues first: tech stuff I’d just do, other stuff I learned to pass on to my manager regardless of whether it was quicker and more efficient for me to simply do it. She would then pass it back to me.  She was verbally abusive, mercurial, inconsistent, egomaniacal…and would “work from home” frequently because she knew no one higher up would notice her absence–the office ran fine without her.

She had a distinct management style, likely from being involved in political campaigns from a young age.  She worried about things like her “brand” and that she needed to be the “face” of our office.  She tried (and sorta failed) to teach me to “manage up”, a concept that to this minute makes my skin crawl.  She did try.  Not in a brow-beating way.  But it seemed so false as to be worthless.

I learned.  Learned so much about perseverance, so much about loneliness, so much about being careful never to truly trust a co-worker.  I learned that “managing up” as a strategy would only net information about the target. Useful information, like, was he or she susceptible to the ass-kissing, and, if that was so, to tread very carefully and always, always to watch my back.

When my manager left, I threw a top-notch send-off party for her–she later informed me that it was the best day of her life, which was great–she’d opened the office a dozen years earlier and deserved a good “fest”.  I knew her well enough to know what would make her happy and what would make the staff feel as though it was something that we all planned together. (Note: it was a really great party.)

When the company closed our office,  I was the manager, and I had a very different style.  When we closed, we really closed. We palletized and shipped everything 2000 miles to another office.  Took almost a month, and during that time, many of my now former employees came by to visit, say hello, wish me luck.  A number of them wanted to stay in touch, asked what plans were and so forth.  Closing was tough.  I had learned so much working there.  About business, about tech work, about the way to build good teams from disparate people.

And I learned never to trust without hard parameters, set so as to insulate me.  I’ve found that one to be the most lasting lesson, as I start a number of new volunteer positions.  I find it off-putting and anxiety-inducing to meet new people…not the clientele or the students, but the co-workers.  People I meet in passing can’t touch me…people I may have to know? Arm’s length or further is the only safety one can have.  I’m amazed afresh almost daily at my essential fear of discussing myself, and my guilt over being a poor conversationalist or lousy lunch-mate.

Lasting lessons in office politics from such an unwelcome source.  Who’d have thought?

When will memories beat back loss?

It’s fifteen years today that I felt something just…wrong.  I’d tried to call my parents a couple of times from school, but hadn’t gotten them.  I called one more time before my last class arrived.  Got my mother.

 “Mom? Is everything okay?”
“No.  Not it’s not. It’s the very worst.”
“What!  What happened?”
“It’s the very worst.  Dad died.”
I think I screamed.  I was shaking, and one of my students scooted out to get the other biology teacher.  He got what happened, and went for the principal.  I tried to call my husband, but didn’t get him, as my mother had already called him and he was on his way to tell me. I was dazed.  People don’t die from having a medical test. At a world renowned hospital.
The rest of that day remains blurred and confused in my mind.  I remember sitting on my front lawn watching birds, but very little else.   I remember where
I was when I finally cried…in my study, alone in the house, over a year after he was gone.
Fifteen years later, and I wonder where I would live, and even who I would be, had he not died.  I think about that frequently.  I just miss him.

On discovering Plankton isn’t just SpongeBob’s nemesis…

Yesterday and today were boat days.  Again, fifth graders.  This crew was from a little farther afield, and their school is in a difficult socio-economic area, and thus is less well-equipped.  I was teaching a lesson about plankton.  I set the area up with microscopes, and as soon as they sat down, every one of them began peering through the scopes, and complaining that they couldn’t see anything.

“That’s because there’s nothing there. We have go collect some plankton to examine.”

“Are we going to get SpongeBob, too?”

To a group, this is 12 groups over the last three days, there is a SpongeBob question.  It’s truly funny, because they think they’re being such wiseasses and are quite pleased with themselves for this bit of hilarity.  Nice, nice kids…..  nice kids who apparently don’t have ANY microscopes in their classrooms.

We went up on deck to put our plankton nets in.  Over the course of the day, three separate kids told me they’d never been on a boat of any kind….and they were nervous.  But over the course of the day, they had each put in a plankton net, dropped a water quality sampling tube, had a navigation lesson from Captain Paul,  and learned about the sort of pollution that is going into the sea, and tested water for dissolved oxygen, temperature, turbidity, and salinity.  They pulled up plankton samples from three different depths, got plankton on the nets and on their hands:

“Eeeeuuww! What’s this slime on my net?”

“That’s your plankton.  We need to rinse it off the net and into the bottle, so let’s put the net back over for quick dunk and a shake.”

In minutes they were back at the microscopes, frustrated at how hard it was to focus. (If they hadn’t spent their initial discussion time playing with all the knobs and  so forth….)  But once they start to see the beautiful green diatoms, Noctiluca scintillans, larval barnacles, and hermit crab larva, they enchanted these kids.  And jellies.  Lots of comb jellies.

And then not a single one called it slime.





A few years ago, when I first began swimming, I swam mornings at the Over-50 swim at Eastside.  That pool has a diving board.  Not a high one, but still.  I had learned in my swim lessons how to dive…from the side of the pool.  The guard who was usually on that early shift challenged me to go off the board.  “Just jump. You don’t have to dive.”

So I went up.  I may have mentioned before in this blog that the diving board at Eastside has Tardis qualities?  As in: Looking at the board from the water it doesn’t look high at all.  But get up on top? Enter its space?  It could be the cliff in Negril, Jamaica.  Plus it moves! I mean, duh, it’s a diving board, but I have a terrible aversion to standing on things that move.  Even when the movement is generated by the shaking of my own legs, as it was on the Eastside diving board, to the absolute hilarity of the lifeguard, who called over to me that he could see my legs shaking from his stand. (I did jump off the board. And lived.)

Cut forward a few years.  I’ve long wanted to try paddleboarding, ever since my oldest niece spent essentially her entire 13th summer paddleboarding all over the harbor where she lives.  Sounds like hard work mixed with exhilaration…just my sort of thing.  So, when a neighboring city offered a Learn-To-Paddleboard lesson for adults I signed right up.

Last evening, I spent two hours “learning to paddleboard” in the Fife Pool.  Pools are not a good choice for learning this, as my fear was of falling sideways and cracking my skull on the edge of the pool.  I have no  fear of falling off–it’s just water.  The lane lines, though, are sharp and unforgiving (I’ve bruised hand or elbow a few times  while sharing a lane) and the edges of the pool are concrete and tile.   The instructor explained the equipment,  we went to the shallow end of the pool and got onto some very cool inflatable (!) paddleboards.  Yes, they inflate to be a regular, rigid board, but they’re  light, and can be transported in a duffle if you don’t happen to live on the water.

My legs shake like crazy when I stand on the thing (see above).  Confession: my lesson began, as instructed, with me kneeling on the paddleboard. Then I was to stand. Then I was off the board in a spectacular faceplant.  I got right back on.  Falling off was to be honest,  pretty fun, and climbing back on was good exercise.

Fell a few more times, twice when one of the kids (there was a family of four taking the same lesson) ran into me.  Not deliberately–they were just too young for a two hour lesson and would just stop and coast sideways as they became bored or frustrated.  I began to get more comfortable right about when the 7 year old decided to just float sideways or stop moving altogether.  That was followed by the 11 year old working hard to creat epic falls and then would simply swim about, board floating unmanned, until he took it in his head to get back on.  Their parents were doing pretty well at the paddleboarding, less so at the parenting…the father kept trying to generate waves to make his kids fall off.  Fun,  but……

The activity was wonderful.  I am truly bad at it, but it was so very fun to do, and such a workout. I’m pretty good at turning around, as that was most of what I was doing. I would do it again any time, and I hope to find someplace to do it soon.

The lesson itself? It was just ghastly–kids should NEVER have been in that pool.  They need shorter lessons.  The pool is too small for 5 boards, let alone 6 with the guard, then 7 when the pool manager decided she wanted in as well.

I’d do it again though.  Absolutely.


What doesn’t kill me…

I’ve worked on “keeping busy” and worked on having a “meaningful life”, or at least some aspects of one.  Busy is easy and straightforward and oh so dangerous….it’s giving yourself a pass on actively living life.  I will tend to do that…I think many of us do: Mowing the lawn in “zombie mode”;  automatically answering emails you can’t recall reading, let alone responding to.

I’ve been volunteering at a local museum, teaching environmental science.  Perhaps the most wonderful thing about teaching is that you must stay in the moment.  You cannot just be busy…your mind is ever vigilant, looking for the spark, the aha moment when the amber slime floating under the microscope becomes plankton, or, when discussing run-off pollutants, an eleven year old says “But then you can never know who did it!” sparking a turn in discussion, a new angle to my lesson that day.

Despair over a rough sea not allowing proper sampling turns to sheer awe when a harbor seal, plainly curious and likely somewhat hopeful that our net is actually food, swims directly to the boat, not two feet from the hull.  Head and neck fully out of the water, the seal made eye contact with my group of students…and every one of them talked to the seal (ok, it was largely in the sort of baby talk reserved for an adored pet.) But still..they tried to make contact without spooking it.  It was magical.

Still, I can walk for an hour in my forested park and see nothing.  I try to gather the lesson of “remain mindful” ….or your lesson will collapse…and any bird you’ve heard or seen, any smell of damp rotting fir will have given you nothing, though you’ve gone to the woods to be connected to “now”. The peace derived from managing wonder is the greatest tonic to a hurt soul.

As I write, I think of my best friend.  He tends to be very much in the now…grabs experiences with both hands and gets every mote from his activities.  It’s a trait I’ve always admired in him. However, he has a tendency toward placing himself in dicey, or downright dangerous situations, where a moment’s lapse means more than your lesson plan fails.   Maybe that’s intrinsic to being so here and present.  I’ve learned a lot from being around him, though I still struggle with my insecurity and cautiousness.