There I was on the 3 train, minding my own business, reading I Am God, the incredibly funny and polyphonous novel by Giacomo Sartori, and a middle-aged woman sits down next to me, ready to grade papers on her way to Brooklyn. How do I know she’s bound for Brooklyn? Trust me. I can’t help myself, I start reading the papers over her shoulder, or at least glancing now and then, asking what’s going on here, why are these pages so heavy with instructions?
I can’t resist myself, I lean over and say, “Fourth grade, right?” She’s startled, she grips the essay she’s grading as if it might flee to my arms, but then she smiles and says, “No, this one is 26 years old. It’s ESL. I’m teaching them English, and they come from everywhere. She’s Ukrainian. You want to read it?”
“Hell yes,” I say. The question at the top of the page is, Should children have to study languages that aren’t spoken at home? The Ukrainian woman wrote four pages and never got around to the question until her last paragraph. It was nonetheless brilliant, and moving (and her script was like they used to teach in grade school, every letter a little boat on a smooth sea). In the penultimate paragraph, after explaining the intricacies of translation from the Russian, she says, “Parents should study their children. They would learn a lot.”
Jesus of Nazareth and Ralph of Concord didn’t put it any better. I thanked the ESL teacher for the privilege of reading the essay, and for her pedagogical dedication (she’s an adjunct, of course, reminding me of Thea Hunter and the wasteland of higher education we have created).
I stand up at 34th and there’s enough room for a guy to demonstrate his sales technique. “Look, you gotta knock on the door, but then you step back, see, like this, so you’re not in their personal space. [He does a Groucho in reverse, his eyes are now at doorknob level] Makes ’em feel like they’re making the decisions, you see what I mean, they’re inviting you in, you’re not forcing anything on them. You’re the vampire.”