I Think We’re Done. There’s No More Lube.

May 30, 2008 at 3:41 pm | Posted in The Bucket, Weirdness, Working | Leave a comment

My workplace has turned into a veritable condom fest for a few weeks now.  The kids who have court-ordered community service have been putting together condom/lube packets to be given out as part of AIDS Care Ocean State’s street outreach. 

Some condom-related fun we’ve had:

  • I opened a tricolored one and found out that it looked like the Mexican flag!
  • One girl shoved a chocolate one under my nose and asked me to smell it.
  • My coworker and I opened a Cola flavored one to see what it smelled and tasted like (not good).
  • One of my clients (no community service required) cut school to come here with his suspended friend (who has several required hours to do) and make condom packets.  I got on his case for cutting class again and he responded (while sticking lube into a little baggie) “At least I’m not out smoking weed!”
  • An innocent, sweet 16 year old (with lots of community service hours) asked what the lube was for.
  • The word is out in the neighborhood that we are a condom distribution site (we don’t give them out, we just pass the finished packets on to AIDS Care).
  • Several people have announced “I need like a hundred.  That should last me the weekend.  Maybe.”  (This joke is getting old)

The fun has effectively been suspended until we get more flavored condoms (mint, banana, chocolate, cherry, cola, vanilla, and strawberry).  And more lube.  We just ran out.

Don’t Show Butts, Boobs, or Bellies

May 14, 2008 at 6:34 pm | Posted in The Bucket, Weirdness, Working | 3 Comments

I was expecting 25 to 25 kids aged 14 and 15 today for a job readiness training.  I was also expecting the instructor.  Alas, she calls me two hours beforehand to tell me that she has a dental emergency and can’t give the workshop.  Awesome.  That’s exactly what I wanted to do today is teach a group of kids how to act at their summer jobs.

I haven’t dealt with this age group in a classroom setting for about four years, and only taught adolescents under extreme duress.  Basically, the school I worked for in Cancun said that if I wasn’t willing to teach them, I wouldn’t have a job.  I dreaded those two hours every day.  But the thing was, I was actually really good at it.  Had I been bad at it, it would have been reflected in my class evaluations, and eventually they would have stopped giving me those groups. 

Luckily today I had help in pulling this together since we just hired on someone to assist with youth programming.  And we ran the class together, which was a nice break from being the only one up there.  It was kind of like riding a bike…I remembered how to act, how to joke around with them.  So it was kind of fun.  Not that I want to repeat it.

And the title of this post comes from our Dos and Don’t at an interview list.  The woman who facilitated with me had come up with that for her own job readiness workshops.  So just say no to the three B’s when you’re looking for work!

Another Long Week Over

May 4, 2008 at 2:04 pm | Posted in Self, The Bucket, Working | 4 Comments

Pretty much every Friday night I feel like someone has beaten the crap after me, all week long.  Normally, I just snuggle up on the couch and turn in early.  But this Friday, I decided to tie one on.  I mean, really tie one on.  If I hadn’t been so hung over on Saturday, I would have been able to make my apology phone calls a little more convincing.  But as it was, I spent much of the day lying on the couch whimpering.  I know that I sent a few texts that I shouldn’t have and perhaps even dialed a few numbers.  First thing I did when I was fairly lucid the next morning was delete the evidence so I wouldn’t know who I harassed.  I’m sure they’ll be more than pleased to remind me of it when they see me next,

This past week was fairly miserable, what with the passing of Your Highness’s brother and the aftermath.  The area around my work was like occupied terrtitory, and at one point, I saw no fewer than seven marked and unmarked police cars circling the block.  The park is absolutely empty, and many of my clients have stopped coming to see me.  Everyone and their mother is wearing “Hell Boi, Rest in Peace” T-shirts and there are mini altars everywhere.  Rumors are flying around crazily, but the only thing everyone is sure of is that a)the shooting seal has been broken and the youth of the Bucket and Central Falls are officially engaged in turf wars and b) it’s going to be a very long summer.

Alas, I believe a drinking binge in which I acted entirely inappropriately was totaly in order.

I do know that I need a little light in my life, and not the pinpricks of joy and silliness that are borne from the sadness and anger I see everyday.  But I need a riot of color and crazy waves of positivity without the backdrop of struggle.  Not sure if I can ever entirely get away from the “dark side” though, which makes me nervous.

Part of me thinks I should get out of this line of work, and become a travel agent or a paralegal.  But just the thought of doing something so unfulfilling makes me want to cry.  I know that we’re supposed to work to live, not live to work, but what about when that work you do truly means something?  My heart is so crowded with the people I’m surrounded by (from others who work in the Bucket to the kids) that I can’t imagine doing a job in which I’m not motivated by love. 

I mean, just when I’m about to run off to join the gypsies when the stress gets to be too much, in saunters the CV Prince who subjects me to a medley of Ace of Base songs.  Where the hell else could I find a twenty two year old macho, arrogant kid who thinks that Ace of Base has “some tight shit?”  Or two fourteen year old kids who will sit in my office silently as we try to remove the wrappers from Starburst using only our mouths?

Little things like these make ambivalence the usual state of affairs for me.

The Kids Definitely Aren’t Alright

April 27, 2008 at 4:44 pm | Posted in The Bucket, Working | 4 Comments

Bracelet Boy (formerly known as Home Confinement Dude) texted me last night to inform me that Your Highness’s older brother had died.  I fervently hoped for a car accident or a fatal bout with meningitis, but had the feeling neither of these was the case.

Bracelet Boy told me he “went out strong,” and managed to shoot and kill the kid who shot him first before dying himself.  He was only twenty and died because of some gang-related bullshit “beef” in a park in Central Falls yesterday afternoon.

The park across from my office has been turned into a memorial for the young man.  While paying tribute, fights broke out and the cops pepper-sprayed a whole mess of kids. 

I can only hope that Your Highness and his boys learn from this, and find that “representing” means more than seeking revenge.  But I don’t have huge hopes for this. I wonder what it’d take for them to channel their grief and confusion into ending the violence rather than escalating it. 

May the young man find the peace in death that he couldn’t find in life.

Did I Really Just Say That?

March 19, 2008 at 10:21 am | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket, Working | 3 Comments

Things I never thought would come out of my mouth:

  • “Good luck in court tomorrow!”
  • “Please stop calling me dawg.
  • “Did you just call me your n***?”
  • “Don’t get the kittens high.  That’s cruel.”

I have also been trying to figure out why, without fail, the white boys I have as clients come to me with major attitudes.  Only the white boys.  Everyone else is a perfect angel to me.  They’re usually total pricks to everybody else, but have never unleashed their ‘tudes on me. 

I do wish that these perfect angels would stop doing two things.  The first is telling me the truth all the frickin’ time.  They lie or do something sketchy and then scamper on over to tell me the truth.  I am the holder of various secrets: the plan to slash tires, the undone court-ordered community service, the ass-whoopins and the family traumas.

The second is making me listen to amateur freestyle rap that they and their friends do.  Do I really look like I would groove on raps about bitches and ho’s and Glocks?  Maybe I do, but I really don’t think so.

Which leads me to one more thing I never thought I’d say:

“Perhaps you could switch out the ‘n****’ and replace it with ‘ninja.’  Good beats, though.”

Shedding My Tunnel Vision

March 6, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket, Working | 2 Comments

Now that the weather is getting warmer, it feels like little bits of my brain are coming unstuck.  I’m finding that the path I trace everyday (work, grocery store, home) to be restrictive and I crave open spaces.  The urban landscape that I face every day is not enough, and I’m desperate to frolick in the woods!

I grew up in the ‘burbs, and have spent most of my life in beautiful, natural places.  Places where you can smell the change of seasons, but here in this city, the smells of spring are faint.

As the days get warmer, it’s becoming easier to relegate work and its attendent responsibilities to a corner of my life.  An important corner, but one that doesn’t wholly define me.

I’m amped for the buds on the trees, road trips to climb mountains, and new projects!

Oi Oi Oi

February 17, 2008 at 1:40 pm | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket, Working | Leave a comment

I’ve been feeling pretty oi, oi, oi lately.  My newest stress reliever is to lock myself in my co-worker’s fishbowl of an office and have her crank up “Fuck Her Gently” by Tenacious D.  Usually within the first few lines, I’m giggling hysterically and feeling much better. 

I’ve also found myself listening to a lot of AC/DC and Drop Kick Murphys, which is pretty much a sign that I’m full of tension. 

This past week, I threatened bodily harm to two of the guys I work with.

Your Highness and I took a little field trip to register him for his first GED exam and he was to stick around after filling out the paperwork to take his first exam.  He decided that he couldn’t wait the 45 minutes until the test all by himself, so we argued about whether I was going to take him home for a while.  He assured me that he’d have a ride to get back, but I was doubtful and told him that if he missed the test then I’d “hunt him down and murder him.” 

I then said that I might just book it out of the office, run to my car, and take off, leaving him at the testing site.  He laughed and told me that he’d hunt me down if I did that.  He reminded me that, after all, I’m the one that works in his ‘hood.

Another guy seriously tested the limits of my patience (a long, long story) and I told him that I wanted to scratch his eyeballs out.  Later on, when we weren’t as combative, I amended it to threatening to remove his vocal cords because he talks so damn much.

Before you decide that I’m psychotic and possibly violent, please understand that I’d never really inflict serious bodily harm on anyone.  Years ago I did pounce on a friend and earned the nickname Wolverina for that episode, but he definitely provoked me.  We’re still friends, though.

My week of tension and annoyances ended nicely, although I did have to flee my office a bit early because it turned into Romper Room for teenagers.  I decided to leave when I realized that the following activities were happening all at the same time in my immediate work area: one kid was playing the piano, four or five girls were listening to beats on a laptop and rehearsing for a performance, Your Highness was online chatting with his “ladies” while his friend listened to hip hop on YouTube, and five people were gathered around the foozball table.

We must be doing something right if all these people choose to hang out where I work rather than on the streets, but man, are they noisy!

A Convo with Your Highness

January 27, 2008 at 11:26 am | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket, Working | 3 Comments

In any given week, I have to hassle this one client of mine innumerable ways.  Since I’ve started working with him, I’ve said the following: put your hair in cornrows, nobody hires a kid with a gigantic Afro; take off the do-rag; pull up your pants; don’t say the N-word; stop pissing off the GED teacher; take off your headphones, and on and on.

But last week, I had a conversation that I never thought I’d have.  Your Highness was amped because he was coming to get his taxes done for what he earned at his summer job, and he made me promise I’d be at work to receive him.  We do free taxes for low-income residents of the Bucket and our first night was this Wednesday.  He sauntered in just at 8:30 and there were about ten kids from his high school there just finishing up a meeting. 

Your Highness was incredibly ripped, and the first thing I said to him was, “Dude, open your eyes!!”  He tried to open his bloodshot eyes a little bit, but with the combination of the bright, fluorescent lights and the fact that he probably had half a blunt’s worth of smoke in his lungs, his attempt was half-hearted at best.

I partly found his state hysterically funny, but I was also somewhat annoyed that he chose to get cartoon-high just before showing up where I work.

I presume that my proper “social worker lady” role is to denounce any and all forms of drug use, no matter what my personal take on the matter is.  But I can’t in good conscience take the “Just Say No” stance on pot-smoking, no matter what my professional responsibility is.

So first thing the next day, I went to visit him where he takes his GED classes.  He had ended early, so I offered to drop him off on the way to my office.

My “social worker lady” talk went horribly awry in the first few minutes.  I asked him if he realized that he smelled like he went swimming in bong water before coming to the center, and just before I said bong water, he chimes in with “swimming in a reefer pool?”  Yes, Your Highness…swimming in a reefer pool is an excellent analogy, especially because I don’t if people even use bongs anymore, what with the prevalence of the Dutch Masters. 

I brought up the fact that many employers give drug tests before hiring, and we talked a bit about drug tests.  I asked if he smoked daily, and he told me: “No, not daily, but just about everyday.”  Um, Your Highness, daily means just about every day.  He giggled and said I was right. 

He told me that he’d thought about quitting, but that there’s nothing better to do and pot is everywhere.  I suggested that he perhaps cut down a bit, if only to be able to pass a drug test, rather than stop altogether. 

By now he’s looking at me like I’ve just sprouted horns. 

I conclude my half-arsed anti-drug talk by suggesting that he hydrate himself well in the event that someone requests that he pee in a little cup.  I shut myself up before telling him that the people who work at medical clinics that do drug tests tend to find it suspicious when someone’s pee is as clear as tap water, and that one needs to do some fast-talking to explain why. 

I wonder what he took away from this little convo.  I’ve no problem with telling someone that crack is whack or that crystal meth rots your teeth and makes you want to steal car rims, but I can’t do the same for reefer.  Hell, most of my friends piss seeds and stems, to paraphrase my beloved David Sedaris.

How could I have handled this better?

Elusive Solitude and Minutiae

January 20, 2008 at 11:38 am | Posted in Life in the US, Nonprofit, Quirks, The Bucket, Uncategorized, Working | 7 Comments

If any of you are only children, or know only children, you will understand that many of us can spend long stretches of time alone and be perfectly content.  In fact, it’s almost necessary for our survival.  I can’t remember the last bit of time that I was completely alone for any length of time, and this lack of solitude is making me batty.  I wake up in the morning gritting my teeth, knowing that I will not get a moment to myself. 

People take it as an affront when I express my desire to be alone.  But I’m really my own best friend, and I haven’t spent any quality time with my best friend in some time.  I’ve only seen myself through the lens of others recently, and I’m slowly losing my mind.  When I’m alone, I really don’t do anything substantive or productive, yet I’m the happiest girl alive.  I putter, I write down my thoughts, I reread passages from books I have on my shelves, I daydream, I plan. 

Let’s hope that I can find the space to do these things before I go postal.

On another note, I’m loving my job.  It’s inspiring, ridiculous, hectic, and hysterically funny.  Everyone I come across is wonderful and supportive.  The youth I work with really want to be good people, and I hope that I can help move them towards that despite their past records, challenges, and traumas.  I haven’t laughed so consistently and hard since I taught low-income mothers English.

My most recent bout of hysterical laughter was this Friday, when I spent a few hours doing intake at a group home for boys with behavorial problems.  Most of the kids were younger, but there were a couple of older ones who are living in more independent housing.   They had to fill out reams of paperwork, and some were getting tense and angry, and others confused because they just didn’t have the ability to comprehend some of the questions. 

I often have issues with the ethnicity portion of this god-awful eleven page questionnaire they must complete because some kids just don’t fall into any of the ethnic categories.  Most of my clients are Cape Verdean, and there is no box for African, despite the fact that Pawtucket has a huge population of refugees and immigrants from Africa. 

So after a brief argument in which three kids yelled about what continent Cape Verde was on which ended in a “fuck you, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” one small white child asked what Indian meant.  He was just acting up and being silly, but being my teacherly self, I asked if he meant Indian as in Native American or Indian as in from India. 

He looked bewildered, and I realized I missed the boat with this explanation.

So an older kid translated for me: “She means are they feather-in-the-hair Indian or dot-on-the-forehead Indian?” 

I can’t think of any response more un-PC or more on point than this little gem, and I think a little pee came out I was laughing so hard. 

The ethnicity portion of our convo ended with someone screaming “Are you a mother fucking Eskimo?” to a query about whether one kid was an Alaskan Native and then moved on to a rousing debate on whether you had to check yes to the any arrests or convictions box if your charges had been expunged.

I can’t think of any better way to spend a Friday afternoon.

Of course, even the most perfect job has its challenges and mine (and all my other co-workers’) is my boss.  This ain’t just your run-of-the-mill “I hate my boss” talk, this man is truly incompetent and out of touch.  He will surely drive our organization to the ground if someone doesn’t step in and stop him.  Perhaps I’ll find a way to rant about the situation here without being too descriptive and having it come back to bite me in the ass.

It’s That Non Part of the Nonprofit I Don’t Like

January 8, 2008 at 7:15 pm | Posted in Life in the US, Nonprofit, The Bucket, Working | 2 Comments

I spend a good portion of each workday whirling like a dervish on meth, collecting paperwork, making copies, and prying into my clients’ lives.  But the part of working with youth and helping them to get their lives together that I love best is when I can just sit down and chat with them. 

I talked with R., one of my favorites, for a while last week about the type of work he was looking for.  He’s smart, funny, and driven to get a job, but he applies everywhere and gets no response. 

I asked him what he thought of doing work for nonprofits, as I could see him working as an overnight group home staff member.  He then asked me what exactly I meant by nonprofit and wanted to know to whom or what the non part of the nonprofit applied to. 

I think his two questions where: does one actually make money working for a nonprofit? and why the hell do people spend their entire workday helping others?

Both valid questions in my mind. 

I almost swore off nonprofit work during my four-month long stretch of looking for work.  No benefits for Homeboy, and most positions I applied for wouldn’t have even covered my modest living expenses. 

But a fin de cuentas, I am incredibly ill-equipped for working in an office setting or in a corporate environment.  I’d really rather learn to install dry wall.  I don’t even know how to present myself to for profit companies.  I don’t know the language, the mores, the culture. 

And I can’t imagine having a job in which I don’t get emotionally invested in the work and those served by my work.

Which reminds me, this R. I mentioned…he spaced on a meeting that we had yesterday and his cell phone got shut off.  I’m trying to hook him up with free classes towards a skilled trade that excites him, so I think some stalking is in order. 

Quote of the Day from another kid: Ain’t no honeys in Cumberland to hook up with, so I’m fixin’ to find a place to play b-ball.

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