Young Man Went East #9: The Return

It has been almost two years since my last post on YMWE. I had considered my brief stint as a blogger finished. A large part of that had to do with my living situation: since I no longer live alone, I feel no urge to share my experiences online because, well, I share them in real life. This blog started as a way to let other people know what I was doing and thinking and feeling. When you live with a partner, however, you do that instantaneously, without a computer. So, while living with my fiancee is fantastic for my own life, it’s anathema to this blog. And I’m okay with that.

This should inevitably lead you to wonder, So then, what are you doing writing again? Is everything alright at home? Are you and Jenn … ohmigod … don’t tell me …

Don’t worry, Jenn and I are fine. I’m writing because I’m a teacher and it’s summer and I can’t just watch Netflix all day . . . though I’ve been trying. Furthermore, Jenn and I recently got back from a fantastically-planned and -executed trip across Europe, giving me something to write about (because it’s not like any other life changes have happened to me recently **cough**first year of teaching**cough**cough).

I don’t even want to attempt to go into detail about everything we did during those three weeks in Italy, France, England, and Spain. Not only is that an overwhelming task for someone trying to revive a blog, but it’s already being done by Jenn on her blog jenNYdreams.com. I cannot compete with her passionate recollection of our trip, broken down by location. She’s almost done with Italy, so catch up with her posts on Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Southern Italy!

Instead, I made pictures. Enjoy!

In the world of emoji, here's our trip in graphics and a few words.

In a world with emoji, this is how I’m supposed to explain our trip, right?

Point of Origin Color Coding Yellow = Spain Green = Italy Blue = France Red = England

Point of Origin Color Coding
Yellow = Spain, Green = Italy, Blue = France, Red = England

Additionally, I’m going to leave you with an excerpt from an email I was writing to a friend. He was wondering how my trip went, what the highlights were, and what advice I’d give. My response kept going and growing until I thought to myself, Man, I should really post this somewhere. This is that somewhere.

Highlights and Advice, excerpts of an electronic correspondence from A. Ramil to one I. Villanueva, MMXV:

I don’t know if this counts as a highlight, per se, but the sheer audacity of the trip was what made it so fun. Four countries, four languages, over a dozen cities, countless forms of transportation. It was amazing what Jenn planned out. Further still, it was amazing what she was able to buy/book ahead of time: plane flights, train rides, buses, museum tickets, and all of our hotels and airbnbs. The locations of our hotels were great (especially in Positano on the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy), usually pretty central to everywhere we wanted to be, so we could spend our time exploring [those places] instead of just trying to get there…. Not only were our various locations steeped in history that I know well, they were completely different ages of history, too (Ancient Rome, the Renaissance, the French Revolution, etc.), some of which I taught. It was really exciting to see such iconic places and landmarks in person.
As far as advice goes, first and foremost, have Jenn plan it out. Unlike most people, she loves doing hardcore research about where to go, how to get there, where to sleep, what to see, and–most notably–what to eat. And despite the heavy planning, we still had plenty of opportunities to wander aimlessly and rearrange the itinerary when we felt like it. [Having] few plans is relaxing when staying in a big place with plenty of time, but if you have a short amount of time in multiple places, it’s good to plan.
Secondly, even though it might cost a little more, finding a place to stay near the [the center] of a city will save a lot of travel time (and might even balance out financially). You are able to explore a little more and stay out a little later without having to worry too much about when and how to get back to your place at the end of the day. Oh yeah, and make sure your place has Wi-Fi because it’s better to spend an hour or so each night uploading photos with fresh memories than to have to sift through thousands of them at the end of your trip.
Thirdly, buy as much as you can in advance while making sure the tickets will still be valid once you get there. It saved us a lot of time and headache[s] to enter various museums and whatnot with advanced tickets. It was great waltzing past the longer line of unprepared tourists. However, for a museum in Paris, she bought our tickets so far in advance that they had become void by the time we got to it. It only happened once, and it was a place that we were okay with missing, but I would have been devastated if that happened at, for example, the Colosseum.

I’m sure there’s more I can say about this trip, and maybe I will later. Otherwise, I have this intriguing idea of starting a teaching blog. I’ve been told it is a good idea to journal about teaching experiences since it allows one to reflect on teaching practices in order to repeat what went well and improve on what didn’t. I didn’t journal during my first year of teaching and wished I had. Maybe come September, you’ll see Young Man Went East: Teacher Edition!

Or . . . Young Man Went East: A Portrait of a Young Teacher

Or . . . Young Man Went East: Which Kid Annoyed Me the Most Today?

Suggestions?

This was the balcony of our room in Positano. You think you can get a room like this as a walk-in guest? Book in advance, people!

This was the balcony of our room in Positano. You think you can get a room like this as a walk-in guest? Book in advance, people!

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Young Man Went East #8: Resurrection

Amanda! This is such a great film that really shows what a sweet panosrelity you have! I love it! Also, did I spot a Loktah album in there? Awesome! Can’t wait to work with you again this year.

 – A comment on YMWW #35: Playing House received  sixteen months after its posting.

By the time I got the twenty-first notification for a spam post comment that had nothing to do with my writing–and even less to do with me–I knew it was time to take back my blog. Though my New Year’s resolution to write once a month (ha!) is marked with failure, very little else in my life is.

Here’s what you’ve been missing.

When we last saw my love Jenn, she was working for a patent translations company in Midtown Manhattan. She very quickly had to switch gears, but found herself in LIC, Queens, working as an office assistant at VOICE Charter School. This was right up her alley, as she now plans to pursue a career in education policy. That’s right, we’re double-teaming the education system! Jenn loved out-smarting the teachers, hanging out with fifth-graders, and functioning as a classroom spy.

But this job, too, came to an end. Not because they had no need for her–on the contrary, they loved her and never wanted her to leave–but rather because she had a calling from a higher power: the City of New York itself! Like a phoenix rising out of the fire, one of the random job applications she dispersed all over the Internet came back in the form of a job offer from the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation. My lovely little Bunny is now a Policy Analyst for all the Manhattan borough parks, prepping her for the “policy” component of her “education policy” dream. Even better than the location of her new office, which is just two blocks north of Columbus Circle near the southwest entrance of Central Park, is the fact that her job comes with a salary. SA-LA-RY! To a young, transplanted couple, acquiring that is tantamount to winning the lottery.

That extra cash could not have come at a better time, now that I am only working weekends at Bubba Gump. I have no time for serving shrimp to foreigners during the week because it will conflict with my CLASS SCHEDULE. Undeterred by my rejection from NYC Teaching Fellows, I applied and was subsequently accepted to Teachers College at Columbia University–a step up I’d say. Starting this Fall, I will be working toward a Master’s degree in Social Studies Education and an Initial Teaching Certificate. I will observe/lead middle and high school classes during the day, and take college courses during the afternoon. I hope to become a high school history teacher (because adults don’t listen when I tell them cool facts about the past). Thankfully, this program is only a year long, meaning it will only cost an arm or a leg, but not both.

So here are: a salaried government worker and a forever-indebted grad student. Wish us luck.

. . . finally.

Hey look! They’re becoming adults!

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Young Man Went East #7: Admission

As discussed in my previous post, I applied for the NYC Teaching Fellows program. Part of the application process involved responding to two essay prompts. Below are my responses, both of which, I believe, helped me get the interview.

1. Nearly all Fellows are hired to teach in ‘high-need’ schools that are located in low-income communities. Why do you want to teach specifically in a high-need school in New York City? Why do you believe you will be an effective teacher in a high-need school?

With brutal honesty–and tremendous risk–I admit that when I began my application for this fellowship program, I did not want to teach in a high-need school. Not “specifically,” anyhow. Though I was not averse to teaching in such an environment, it was not my priority to aim for it. I had spent years searching for a career path; the mere realization that I wanted to be a teacher was enough of a personal breakthrough. Although my initial intentions did not align perfectly with those of the program’s ideal candidate, I began this application anyway.

In my first drafts, I filled spaces left void of actual experience in high-need schools with distracting declarations about the woes of the uneducated poor, proclaiming it was my duty to right those wrongs. I preached about the injustices of the public school system, and of society in general. I made a desperate attempt to convince you why I could not teach anywhere but a high-need school. However, in doing so, I started to convince myself.

The more I tried explaining why I would have a greater effect on students in a low-income community, the more I realized I actually could. Middle- and upper-class students will still reap the other benefits of their already-privileged lives to ensure a successful future, even without awe-inspiring teachers. On the other hand, such a teacher in a high-need school could be the very reason for someone’s successful future. Although the words I wrote in my initial draft came not from a long-held passion but instead from a necessity to impress you, the beliefs behind them turned out to be sincere.

What ultimately led me to discard my first essay was a conversation I had with my father during this process. My father was a teacher, one of several in my family. I have spent many a family gathering listening to them talk about the difficulties of motivating their middle-class students for whom graduation, college, and careers were all but guaranteed. In a recent conversation, my father contrasted those sentiments with stories of teachers he knows that love teaching at inner-city schools. The children at those high-need schools grew up with an intimate understanding of unstable living and the innate knowledge that hard work can help escape it. This comparison had reinforced my aforementioned epiphany.

My father also reassured me that despite my lack of specific experience in high-need schools, I do have experience adapting to new communities quickly, including low-income ones. I spent a summer in college studying at a university in Mexico while living with a host family. I spent another summer driving around the country, befriending strangers, and sleeping on their couches. I relocated to Honolulu after graduation with neither a job nor a residence for the sake of learning how to start a life in a different place. After I had settled in and created a new home-away-from-home, I started all over again in New York City. My father reminded me that my ability to adapt to new environments and connect with different people would make it easy for me to find my niche in a high-need school.

Although applying to this program is what led to my desire to teach in a high-need school, instead of the other way around, I am an ideal candidate nonetheless. The challenges of connecting with students in a high-need school might be plentiful, but they are challenges I now feel ready to accept, having realized both the potential for a more rewarding experience and my ability to adapt to new environments.

2. What is the greatest challenge you expect to encounter in raising student achievement in a high need school? What do you believe would be your role, as a teacher, in addressing this challenge? Explain how your past experience informs your response to these questions. If applicable, please include relevant personal, work, or volunteer experience with high-need communities.

Attempting to raise student achievement in high-need schools will be tremendously challenging without first dispelling the idea that certain people can only amount to certain positions in life. We must raise the bar set low by society to raise the achievement of the students affected by it. If, for example, a lower-class minority was taught to believe that she can do no better than becoming a manager at a local store, why then would she care about learning anything unrelated to such a path?

My role as a teacher will be to show my students that while what they learn might not be relevant to the futures they expect, the act of learning is useful in itself. Not everything we teach them serves merely as direct career preparation. For example, learning the history of Tammany Hall can prepare an individual against modern-day schemes aimed at the uneducated and impoverished. Understanding how people in different times and different lands overcame oppression can inspire those from low-income communities to see their own lives in a new light. How are they the same? How are they different? How might they overcome a similar problem? While a teacher cannot force students to find the War of 1812 interesting, he or she can find a way to make it relatable. If I can change how they see the world, they will change how they see themselves within it.

Though my experiences with mentoring children–volunteering at an orphanage in Mexico and being a counselor at a Juvenile Arthritis camp in California–are limited to only a handful of summers, I believe my undergraduate degree will be equally useful in preparing me for the teaching world. The Film Studies program at UC Berkeley is closer in curriculum structure to an English program than it is to a traditional, hands-on, filmmaking school. I did not passively watch films, I read them closely to comprehend history, society, artistic theories, and even philosophy. Films were, in short, an educational tool. As such, I would be able to utilize them as a way to introduce subject material to a classroom in an innovating and relatable manner. For example, I recently rewatched broadcast footage of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Although I knew that a great number of people were present at the speech, the sheer volume of the crowd was not apparent until I saw the footage. Visual representation of the crowd conveyed the momentousness of the event more concretely than reported numbers ever did. Film is a part of our everyday life and, thus, is a feasible way to lure students into unfamiliar subject materials with relevant film clips, sparking discussion based off what they saw.

Some might say you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. My father, a lifelong educator, expanded on this, saying that it is a teacher’s duty to create a thirst in his students. By finding innovative ways to present subject material to my students, I could create a thirst in pathways they never even considered, hopefully creating a wider realm of possibility for their futures.

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Young Man Went East #6: The East Coast Building

In the movies and television shows I watched as a child, it was normal to see school scenes take place completely indoors in one giant building: classrooms linked by hallways, multiple stories linked by staircases, water fountains linked by double-rows of lockers. It did not occur to me until later that none of the schools I attended were like this. My suburban Californian classrooms were divided among separate buildings spread out over blacktop, concrete, and grass. I never had to go up stairs until high school, but even that was a rare occasion. Whenever I was not at a desk, I was under a clear, blue sky. I realized that the single-building model of movies and TV, even if they took place out West, were recreations of what the writers/producers/set designers brought from the East, where space is limited and weather severe.

This past week, I had a chance to see not one, but two single-building schools, one in Brooklyn and the other in Manhattan. I smiled with curiosity as I climbed echoey staircases and waltzed down locker-strewn hallways. Old wood was everywhere. It was just like in the movies! As an adult and a transplant, I can enjoy the charm of old buildings, but I cannot imagine being a young student trying to learn in those dim-lit rooms.

I know what you are thinking, and it’s not, “What other intriguing observations have you made about building designs and how they change throughout time and location?” (Although, if that is what you are wondering, I do have other observations!) No, what you must be wondering is, “What were you doing meandering around New York City schools?” The short answer is this: They’re where I see myself in the near future.

Here’s the long answer:

After moving to New York with Jenn, securing an income, and finding a place to live, I started to think about my future and what I wanted to do with it. I always saw personal fulfillment, not money, as the key to a successful career. That being the case, I have victoriously avoided desk jobs since graduation; following a passion is the other side of that coin, and the more challenging one. I studied films in college, but I did not want to get involved with that industry. I discovered a knack for writing, but I could not live a life of so little structure. Eventually, I realized that thinking about, learning about, and talking about history was the true backbone of nearly all my interests. I browsed museum job opportunities for a short while before finally admitting to myself that teaching history would be my only fulfilling path.

After a lifetime spent subconsciously avoiding the inevitable, I started down the road to becoming a teacher. I always knew I could be good at teaching, and it was the de facto family business. I guess I never trusted that the most obvious career path would be the right one. I regret nothing, though; if I hadn’t dabbled and traveled for the last half decade, I wouldn’t be as sure about teaching as I am now. I have found my passion; now begins my journey.

Desperate for teachers, New York City offers what they call the NYC Teaching Fellows. The program trains its fellows for seven weeks during the summer, then throws them in front of a low-performing classroom at a high-need school for two years. During those two years, fellows will simultaneously be taking classes at a university in order to obtain a Master’s degree and a teaching certificate. The hook is that tuition will be subsidized by the salary the fellow will receive. A livable wage, a degree and certificate, and no student loans?! Sign me up!

The application consisted of two essays, asking such questions as why I wanted to teach in a high-need school and how I plan to be an effective teacher. (I will post one or both of those essays in the following blog post.) The biggest hurdle of those essays, for me, was explaining my way around my lack of direct teaching experience. For the essay, I got creative, but I wanted some actual experience should I get the interview. I began searching for volunteer tutoring opportunities. I browsed around the usual hunting grounds: YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club. However, I ended up volunteering with the Arab American Association of New York. Through NYC Service (seriously, New York has the best government resource sites!), I discovered that the AAANY needed volunteer teachers for their children’s after-school program called Kitaab Club. One awesome cover letter later and I was having my picture taken for my Kitaab Club Teacher badge! At least once a week, I venture out to Bay Ridge in Brooklyn and help Arab children with their homework at P.S. 170, one of the single-building schools I mentioned earlier.

But even before my first day of Kitaab Club, I received an e-mail from the Teaching Fellows inviting me to the interview event. So, while I was teaching Mohsen how to round to tenths and Tarek how to multiply fractions, I was also preparing for a writing exercise, a math assessment, a teaching sample, a group activity, and a personal interview. Like I said, it was an interview event. Since my essays were good enough to get the interview, I was not worried about how I would perform during it. The only thing I really had to prepare for was the teaching sample: a five-minute lesson about anything I wanted, aimed toward any classroom of students between first and twelfth grade. I devised a humorous lesson about pronouns in compound subjects and compound objects (“My friends and I went to the park.” “She spoke to him and me.“) that used popular yet grammatically incorrect song lyrics. Jenn had me practice with her about twenty times until I got it down to just under five minutes. I had so much fun practicing with Jenn that it became the one part I was looking forward to the most during the interview event, even though the site referred to it as the most daunting.

My interview was on the morning of February 9th, the day of the heaviest snowfall brought by Blizzard Nemo. While Nemo buried the rest of the East Coast, New York City escaped havoc-free. I walked through dirty snow piles and under sunny, blue skies to Washington Irving High School, just east of Union Square. This was the second single-building school I ever entered, and it was beautiful. Stone carvings, wall murals, and wooden railings kept me occupied while I waited in the lobby with the other candidates.

I was relatively calm throughout the day. The writing and math portions were simple, and my teaching sample went off without a hitch, just like I practiced. The other students’ teaching samples were. . . alright. Mostly, they just boosted my confidence in my own. I felt like I stumbled and mumbled through the 20-minute personal interview afterwards, but I know it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was at the time. Since I got out earlier than expected, I met up with Jenn and we ventured over to Central Park to play in the snow. The interview event already left me feeling good, but getting to sled down the snow-covered hills of Central Park with my love made the day fantastic. We ended our adventure with an impromptu prix fixe dinner at a French restaurant on the Upper East Side. (I know, I know. Job interview, sledding, prix fixe dinners: my internal age is doing cartwheels.)

Whether or not I get the fellowship, I at least now know where I am heading: I am going to be a teacher. I am going to work in these old, single-building schools. I am going to make history so interesting, these East Coast schoolchildren won’t realize they’re sitting in dim-lit classrooms.

My little Snow Bunny on the "sled" we found. Who knew fast food trays were perfectly adequate snow toys?

My little Snow Bunny on the “sled” we found. Who knew fast food trays were perfectly adequate snow toys?

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Young Man Went East #5: Glorified Status Update

My first few months in New York were filled with long nights on friends’ couches, anxious phone calls to shady realty agents, and an uncertainty about the viability of finding a place to live. It was also filled with a handful of blog posts.

Five months have passed between this post and the last. I can imagine readers of this blog could have only come to one conclusion: my apartment-hunting venture was a failure, my friends kicked me out, and I’ve wound up sleeping in subway stations using a powerless laptop as a pillow. Despite how many interesting stories that turn of events would have produced, I can assure you that that is not the case. Jenn and I are living comfortably in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, just south of Prospect Park. That fact alone is somewhat of an anecdote.

For some time, Jenn and I were subleasing a bedroom in an apartment in Queens while trading progressively less-courteous e-mails with a realty agent about a certain place that was possibly definitely ours. Then, out of the blue, Jenn received a message from a college friend of hers. That friend had been living in Brooklyn with her boyfriend, but they were moving to Rwanda and–familiar with our situation–offered that we take over her lease. The unusual fact that they were gallivanting off to Africa was overshadowed by the surprising fact that they were offering a better place than we were hoping for, at the exact time we needed it, for less than we thought we had to pay. With much gratitude, we had arranged to move in the day before Halloween. Hurricane Sandy pushed that back another day, interrupting our holiday plans, though a costume cruise didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.

A miraculous offer. An end to a search. A historic hurricane. How could I not motivate myself to write for five months?

Simply, I thought I had peaked. My last post–a psuedo-sociological observation inspired by my girlfriend in style and subject matter–was a home run. It was deeply personal and broadly relevant. It also made everything came before it look like trash. Any time I had a slight inclination to write a follow-up post, I quickly dismissed it on the idea that it would be nothing more than a glorified status update. As I settled into my new abode, I grew comfortable not writing.

Eventually I admitted to myself that I can’t just sit around and wait for another awe-inspiring idea. They don’t just appear. I have to throw a few mediocre posts out, I have to just keep working it, until, one day I’ll find myself writing another home run. That’s why they call it creativity, because you actually have to work at creating something.

I could probably expand this idea of working hard and whatnot into a broadly-relevant life lesson, but I’m still easing my way out of my lazy phase and this looks long enough already.

More than that, I’ve already decided that this will be one of those mediocre posts I need to just throw out.

This is what else I "create" when I'm not busy writing.

This is what else I “create” when I’m not busy writing.

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Young Man Went East #4: The Cutesy-Tootsy Double-Standard

Last Monday, as my coworkers and I were in the back of the restaurant donning caps and aprons before we clocked in, one of my fellow servers approached me and declared in a voice purposefully loud enough for all to hear, “You and your girlfriend are sooo cute!” She explained how she was behind us on Broadway earlier and witnessed how we walked hand-in-hand, embraced for a beat and a half, then parted with sweet words. “I was going to say hi,” admitted my coworker, “but it looked like you guys were having a super special moment.”

Really? I thought. Replaying the scene in my head, I found nothing out-of-the-ordinary. Jenn and I were holding hands like we always do when we walk down the street. We hugged and kissed good-bye like we always do before I head up the stairs for work. I told her I loved her like I do every time we have to part. What was special about that?

“You should have said hi,” I reassured my coworker (while secretly lamenting the lost opportunity to introduce my girlfriend to a new acquaintance). With feigned nonchalance, I told everyone how she takes the train with me to work in the mornings before heading back home. Their collective “aww” was part admiration, part mocking disgust.

The next morning, as I headed to the back of the restaurant to get ready for another day of slinging shrimp, I walked into a conversation two coworkers were having about me: “. . . and she takes the train with him here every morning and then goes back home!” One of them looked up at me without the slightest shred of surprise. “I was just talking about how repulsively adorable you and your girlfriend are.” Her statement was based solely on the previous day’s gossip; she hasn’t even met my girlfriend. I smiled with pride.

For the rest of the day, whenever I was around, this coworker would turn to whomever else was nearby and pretend to secretly tell them how disgusting I am with Jenn: “It’s weird; he actually likes his girlfriend.” I’d play into it, too: “Yeah, on the train this morning, she rested her head on my shoulder so I could rest my head on her head. It was cute!” It was true, too, but I still enjoyed exaggerating the cutesy factor.

The more I settled in at my new job, the more the novelty of my being a transfer from Hawaii wore off. With great pride, I started becoming redefined as the guy who loves his girlfriend. People adore you when you talk about being in love. They see you as someone who is caring, proud, secure, affectionate, passionate, so on and so forth.

As long as you’re a guy.

(And as long as we’re talking about heterosexual relationships; all proudly affectionate people in a gay relationship are heartwarming.)

Jenn admitted to me that she cannot talk about being in love as openly as I can. To do so would be to brand herself as “boy crazy.” This is unfortunate, but true. If she were as open about her feelings with her peers as I am with mine, she would be seen as a clingy, insecure, anti-progressive fool. That is ultimately what the double-standard is about: progressiveness in gender roles.

The classic male archetype is that of a lone, stoic cowboy. He’s tough, unemotional, and unattached. The measure of this man grows proportionately with the number of women he has courted. And if he’s ever loved a woman, he doesn’t brag about it. Such a stereotype, however, is on its way out. The John Waynes of the world are being replaced by the more emotionally-vulnerable Jason Segels. The ideal man in a progressive society is a sensitive and affectionate male.

The classic female archetype is that of a companion. She’s never just “she,” but always part of a “we,” and in some ways a “his.” Her goal was to be his girlfriend, his wife. She was clingy and dependent on another, the one by whom she defined herself. To separate herself from this aging stereotype, the new woman strives to be independent, defined by her actions and not by her other. Her greatest pet peeve is when her girlfriends gush about their boyfriends, her greatest fear is becoming her nagging mother. The ideal woman in a progressive society is a secure and independent female.

When the Affectionate Male and the Independent Female fall in love, one character is admired while the other is tested. By being in love, both are more affectionate and less independent. The male, therefore, more strongly embodies the progressive man as he bears his emotions. The female, on the other hand, must hide her emotions, lest she draw attention to her diminishing independence, becoming seemingly less of a progressive woman. Though her love may be genuine and non-inhibiting, she would be hard-pressed to find a way to express it without sounding trivial and clingy. Therein lies her test, her burden.

Read back through Jenn’s blog (jenNYdreams.com) and you will find that any mention of me is purely narrative; I am a character in her keen observations of life and society. Read back through this blog and it won’t be long before you find the Valentine’s Day poem I wrote to her about our trip to the Big Island (YMWW #34 Bonus Post). When I started writing about Jenn, I received comments about my growth as a human being. If Jenn were to write similar posts about me, she would be ostracized. Luckily, I know intimately how she feels about me, so I am content with being just a character in her blog, as long as she can cope with my ability to be mushy in mine.

In the realm of the relationship, men and women have traded roles. But if the man always has the upper hand, can we really call it progress?

I only have the upper hand because I’m bigger.

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Young Man Went East #3: It’s Hunting Season in Queens. Apartment-Hunting, That Is.

The cost of living is too high, they said. It’ll be hard to find a place, they said.

Well, they were wrong. But it has been six weeks since my girlfriend and I flew one-way to JFK, our lives stuffed in luggage, and we’re only now resting comfortably in a place of our own. At least, for this month. We were able to find plenty of studios within our price range; that wasn’t the problem. Our unexpected hurdle was paperwork. Obtaining the necessary documents was almost as excruciating as waiting for them to process it all.

Had I known I would need my last half-dozen paycheck stubs, I would have filed them in my cashbox instead of piling them with old mail. Had I known I would need a credit score, I would have spent money I didn’t have instead of saving up for things I wanted. Had I known I would need two months’ worth of physical bank statements, I would have ignored the online updates instead of throwing the unopened statements in with my paycheck stub pile.

But I didn’t know, and for that, I had to call old banks and old bosses for documents proving that I could afford the place, even though they wouldn’t let me have it without a guarantor anyways. What happened to the good ol’ days when a handful of cash would get you anything you could afford?

I went through that process for two different places. The first time was for the very first studio we checked out in Brooklyn. We were so eager to get into a place that we overlooked the small size, sketchy neighborhood, and inconvenient commute. Communication with the agent was suspect at best, so we used her unprofessionally long response times to check out other places.

The next place we found was cheaper, bigger, cleaner, and in a nicer neighborhood in Forest Hills, Queens. It was in a co-op building, explaining how it could be all of those things at once. We dropped communication with the Brooklyn place and started applying for this one. Pretty soon we had an interview with the landlord in his Midtown West office in Manhattan. The landlord, Armand, owned two units in this co-op building, so we’d have to impress him and then impress the co-op. Armand was a nice man who seemed interested in our education and backstory, as well as our opinions about a moist toilet paper dispenser he was inventing. Everyone had smiles on their faces as we left the office.

The interview seemed to go well, but took more than a few days for us to get a response. To be safe, we looked at — and fell in love with — another place in Forest Hills. However, shortly after we filled out the application for yet a third potential home, we got an e-mail from Iris, Armand’s associate, saying that we got the apartment in the co-op building!

You got it!, she said. It’s yours!, she said. All we need is approval from the co-op board. . .

Confusion kept us from getting too excited. How was the place ours if we still needed to be approved? Hesitantly, I walked into the office the following Monday to clear up some of the confusion and, apparently, sign the lease (Jenn couldn’t be there as she was starting her first —  and last — day at her new job. You can read about THAT adventure on jenNYdreams.com). Iris reassured me that because Armand approved of us, we didn’t have anything to worry about with the co-op board interview. We just had to gather more information and fill out yet another application, this time for the co-op’s management company. So I signed the lease and then filled out an application for the same place. Having the latter act follow the former kind of dampens the excitement usually associated with the former.

The days of July crawled by as we restrained ourselves from calling Iris every hour. By mid-July, she responded. . . with news that our guarantor, my dad, needed to fill out an application, too. More paperwork, more waiting. Towards the third week of July, we were getting anxious. Were we dealing with a shady landlord again? Did I just offer up sensitive information and a deposit check to a crook with a nice office? We called and e-mailed Iris half as often as we wished, but that was seemingly too often for her. Her responses began to lack length and pleasantries.

We did some research and found out that Armand wasn’t a crook, but rather the management company is notoriously unresponsive. It’s odd that I was relieved we were dealing with a bad business, but that’s better than dealing with a fake business. Yet, the end of the month was approaching and the co-op board interview was still unscheduled.

Instead of pulling out of the deal and starting the process all over again, we found a sublease in Sunnyside, Queens, for the month of August. This would give the co-op board yet another month to hem and haw over our application while we could finally feel settled, if only for a month.

You’re just now getting settled? you ask. Where were you this whole time? you ask.

The six weeks of anxious e-mails, worried calls, and wringing hands were contradicted by — nay, overshadowed by the generosity of my New York friends. Rigo and Sarah welcomed us into their cool, clean, carpeted Forest Hills apartment the day we landed, and housed us for a week. So as not to become a burden (though they never gave us reason to believe we were ever becoming one), we migrated to Astoria, Queens, where my childhood friend Mary-Grace and her boyfriend Rob offered us a pull-out couch and an unlimited stay. We shifted to Astoria around the time Iris said the place was ours, so we didn’t think we’d be crashing in there for more than a week. That week turned into a month at the behest of Mary-Grace and Rob, who insisted we stay until we secured our own place. I doubt that either couple would have ever kicked us out, but I never wanted to get comfortable enough to test that.

It has been said many times, but never better than by James Stewart’s guardian angel, Clarence, in It’s a Wonderful Life: “No man is a failure who has friends.” This tired phrase may be oft-repeated, but only because it is often true. The hospitality of my New York friends humbled me, overwhelmed me, and — most importantly — kept me and Jenn off the streets. The weight of the apartment-hunting process would have dragged even an optimist like me into despair, but the selflessness of those who housed us lifted us out from that end.

So to Rigo, Sarah, Mary-Grace, and Rob, thanks for the wings.

With my Bunny by my side, I’m feeling set in Sunnyside

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