Out and About

I break apart a banana chip. “Good girl! Good boy!” One crumb goes to Dedalus, and the second to Icarus.
“Wooooo,” I say to Dedalus.
In answer, she makes the burbling trill that is the parrots’ approximation of the English “Hello.” So does Icarus, always hopeful for a treat.
“Silly girl! WOOOOOOOOO.”
This time she makes the correct noise, and delicately accepts her banana chip due. Next to her, Icarus starts doing flips, clambering around and around the axis of my finger. Humans like that trick.
“Beggar,” comments cmoore, the owner of the caique parrots.
I take pity on Icarus. “Can you FLIP?”
He does, but pauses hopefully upside down before completing the turn.
“C’mon, you can do better than that. FLIP!”
This time he makes it in one smooth motion, and I give him another piece of banana chip. The piece is a bit bigger (they’re hard to break when the slices are thick), and while he takes it with his beak, he immediately transfers it to his left foot and nibbles it, perfectly balanced on the other foot.
When he’s done, I ask both parrots, “Can you FLAP?”
They don’t always distinguish between flip and flap, but this time both sets of wings flutter for a moment. I treat them both before moving my hand up to transfer them to my shoulder. Dedalus flies off at that point, but Icarus starts “surfing,” rubbing his head and beak against my shoulder and the fabric of my collar. It tickles.

Over the past half-week, I’ve played with parrots, eaten half a mango, examined lemons growing on a tree, went to my first-ever Zumba class, and harvested organic baby spinach (while wishing I’d brought a t-shirt). You would never guess that I’m in Massachusetts — at least not until I look out the window and describe the lingering foot and a half of snow from last week’s snowstorm, or mention that the spinach was grown in a hoophouse. I also hauled my suitcase for more than a block over uneven ice, helped shovel cmoore’s driveway from the snow the night before last, tried and liked tempeh (tempeh is a fermented soy product in the same general family as tofu. I’d had it before, but only in college dining halls, and feel that no food should be judged by how it’s prepared in a dining hall), and went snowshoeing for the first time. (Snowshoeing is awesome. It’s rather unfortunate that Philadelphia mostly doesn’t get enough snow to ever do it.)

I am on vacation. It’s been five days since someone last said to me, “Don’t get smart with me!” (Not that I’m counting.)

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy my job — in fact, two of the main reasons I enjoy it are exactly the same reasons I’m enjoying this vacation: the people I get to hang out with, and the things I get to do. Working where I do, with the students I teach, is an education. (I usually try not to let the students see just how much of an education it can be some days. Doubtless there are people who can pull off naivete without loss of street cred, but I don’t think that I’m one of them.) And not just the students; many of the opportunities we arrange for our students are things I’d never done before, either.

I hadn’t even heard of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology or Esperanza College before getting this job, and now I’ve visited both of them. Last month we went to a trauma center with some of the Healthcare students, and got a really good presentation on gun violence, and the realities of gun violence. (It was a bit gory, but only in the form of a powerpoint presentation, and there was a nice mixture of personal-to-the-audience and this-is-how-it-is and young-man-can-you-please-lie-down-on-this-gurney-and-we’ll-explain-to-the-class-what-we-would-do-if-you-came-in-with-multiple-gunshot-wounds. I found the whole thing fascinating, even the gory parts. Hey, what can I say? I’m a writer. I trade in words, and I trade in information. Knowledge is valuable currency; you never know when it could come in handy.)

A few weeks ago we visited a law firm, and while that presentation was less interesting, the snacks were excellent, and the trip was worth it just for the view of snow-covered center city Philadelphia from an 18th-story window. In March I’ll be one of the lucky staff members who chaperones a group of students to Puerto Rico for a week over Spring Break. (And while I don’t really feel comfortable asking the community for money again when everyone was so generous about Zambia, I do need to raise $400 towards the cost of the trip, and I would be grateful for any of that that doesn’t come out of my stipend. It’s a wonderful opportunity for our students, for whom the trip is almost free. If you would be willing to contribute, the link is here, or I won’t turn down personal checks.)

Which is not to say that I’m not wholeheartedly enjoying this chance to hang out, laze about, and not have to interact with my students for a week.


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