Monday, February 15, 2016

Empathy for the Invisible

   I was out last Saturday night. I really didn't want to go out, but I had $50 tickets to a jazz concert in Purchase. I took out my heaviest coat and braved the 15 second journey to my warm car. After picking up my retired buddy in White Plains, off we went. Not much of a journey but the walk into the theater was about 5 minutes. The fog on my glasses had actually iced. I started thinking about the homeless living on the streets. What must they be going through on a night like this?

    I have to admit homelessness and the homeless never entered my lexicon before becoming an ATR. Whenever my mother would bring it up, complaining that Bloomberg was hiding much of it, I would shake my head. It wasn't that I agreed, I simply didn't want or like to discuss depressing issues. Then about 10 years ago, at Christmas, I was hiking with my dog in Van Courtlandt Park in the Bronx. We entered near 233rd Street and I got fairly lost. I came upon an encampment of about a hundred tents amongst the tall dead pampas grass. I got back home and was telling my wife and mom. My wife said it must be a movie shoot. My mom said it's a homeless encampment - Bloomberg keeps them off the street, so as not to displease the tourists, and they rightly won't go into shelters. My son agreed saying he always bikes past them. He said some were actually living inside (as in underground) the old aqueduct that runs through the Bronx all the way to Ossining. I put the whole incident out of my mind. I was completely focused on teaching and my family. I really never noticed a homeless person or thought about them in anyway. Incredibly self-centered and selfish, I know. 

   After becoming an ATR, I had to go to a different school every week. Most schools didn't give me
a bathroom key. Many of the schools didn't even have a place for us to wait for our Chuckie Cheese like classes. I'd sit in an auditorium, or stairwell and wait. I had no place to put my belongings, so I dragged them around. I started losing cherished items, so I started traveling light. I had to time eating and drinking to a minimum in order to minimize trips to the restroom. I was in Taft, a couple of years ago (during an autumn heat wave) with another ATR. He passed out from dehydration. He told me afterward that he never drinks water during the day to avoid nature's call. Then there's the people I come into contact with during the day. At best I'm invisible, at worst something to be avoided or eradicated, like a roach infestation, by whatever means possible. The media and many have labeled us subpar and/or borderline criminals (in which charges couldn't be proven). Around the same time I became an ATR, I started noticing the homeless. I noticed how people and the media labeled them mentally ill and/or addicted. They do exist, but I also noticed women with kids, the very elderly or harmless looking people that were homeless. I don't look down on them or feel they did something to deserve their plight. I long ago stopped judging people. 

I want to personally thank Randi Weingarten, Michael Bloomberg and the UFT for making me an ATR. It has made me a much better person. Any teacher can become an ATR and anyone can become homeless.

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Stories herein containing unnamed or invented characters are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.