02 December 2009

What Do They Know?


Now it's coming on the end of the semester. The stress is building, as it normally does at this time of year.

I'm still unpacking and figuring out ways to arrange and store things. I won't quite feel settled in until I hang my pictures and the Turkish rug that used to adorn the wall in the bedroom of my old place. It's too beautiful to lay on a floor! Ironically enough, that's the reason I nearly sold it: The man who almost bought it from me has a collection of near- and far- Eastern objects that would complement it much better than anything I have. Even though I'm not a collector and I'm not knowledgeable about Oriental carpets (or objets d'art), I think I'd regret selling it.

Even though I'm not quite settled in, something feels safe and comfortable about this place. Maybe it's because this night is raw and rainy, and I feel ensconced here.

Most of the day was drizzly, as was the early evening. The street lights flickered their reflections in the glaze of rainwater that rippled with the grooves and cracks in the sidewalk as I disembarked the bus and walked down the street where I live. The brick rowhouses--I live in one of them--seem elegant, at least in a petit-bourgeois sort of way, in the soft rain that would sizzle if it were warmer.

My great-aunt's and uncle's house--very much like the ones on this street--simmered in a similar sort of light and drizzle in Jackson Heights so many years ago. Perhaps that is the reason why I have always associated blocks and houses like these with older people. Perhaps the fact that I am living here means that I am now an older person, too.

Then again, when I leave here to go to work, I see lots of young people, many of them Asian. Some are wearing suits; others are in dress-casual garb; still others are in the sort of fashionable outfits only the young can wear. Those trendy-looking people probably work in the media or fashion, or some industry related to them.

No one on this block, save for my landlady, knows me yet. Ironically, just around the corner are people who've known me since the day I moved onto the block from which I just moved. They are store owners, bakers, pizza makers and nail technicians, as well as people who frequent their businesses. Those people may have some memory of me as Nick, but they all relate to me as Justine. Millie and John knew me only briefly as Nick; now they tell me that they don't see me as anyone but a woman named Justine. And, I would think, if I were to get to know people on this block, or the ones around it, that is how they will know me, too.

Today I was one of the ones who wore a suit to work. Although I'm told that I dress well, I don't normally wear suits, particularly a black one. Whenever I wear it, people tell me I look good: I guess the cut is right. The jacket doesn't make me look even broader and bulkier than I am, and the skirt falls right about to my knee. And I wore a button-down off-white blouse with black stripes underneath the jacket, black stockings and a pair of slingbacks woven from strands of black, white and silver leather.

So what was the occasion? That's what a couple of people asked me. Actually, it was something that turned out to be, thankfully, a non-occasion. I had to go to the administrative offices because the legal affairs officer wanted to discuss something with me. She mentioned it about two weeks ago, but she didn't seem in a great rush to see me. I guess I should have taken that as a sign.

It turns out that someone made an anonymous complaint about me. The legal compliance officer said that because of the regulations, she had to discuss it with me. However, she didn't believe what was said in the complaint. I assured her that nothing in it was true. I figured that it might've come from someone who was unhappy with his or her grade, or who had some other grudge against me. She, on the other hand, thought it came from what she called a "culturephobe": that is to say, someone who comes from a cultural or religious tradition that "doesn't approve" of my "lifestyle." She may be right about that. One thing on which we both agreed was that, given the sort of complaint made, and the language in it, the complainer was probably a young (or youngish) male.

Of course, the fact that the complaint was anonymous means that it could have come from just about anywhere--perhaps even from someone who's not connected in any way with the college.

Even though I haven't done anything unprofessional, and haven't knowingly transgressed anyone's values, I still was worried when I went to meet her. I guess if you were ever sent to the principal's office--especially if said principal was a Carmelite nun--you still get the heebie-jeebies when you're called to the office of some authority figure. So, I was very surprised at how she actually tried to get me to lighten up. She "knew" I wouldn't have done the things that complainer accused me of doing, and, since it was isolated, it wasn't "indicative" of me. "After all," she said, "There are a lot of people here who respect you as an educator--and a person."

So you can just imagine how deeply I exhaled this afternoon. But now I'm also thinking about what it would be like to go to a new workplace where nobody knows me. When I came to the college where I work now, there were people who knew me before I went there. A couple were colleagues at LaGuardia Community College; a bunch were students there who, after completing their associate's degrees, transferred to my current college. Word got around, and I did nothing to deny or downplay my past.

There are some who feel--positively and negatively-- as they do about me precisely because of my past--or what they've heard about it, anyway.


The people on this block have heard nothing, except for tonight's wind and rain.

3 comments:

EdMcGon said...

I hate to pick a nit, but...nail technician? That's a phrase I never heard before. I suppose it's not someone who's good with a hammer? :)

Justine Valinotti said...

Believe it or not, I have seen workers in nail salons referred to by that term. I know it sounds more appropriate for a carpenter than a manicurist. Does that last term exist? Manicurator?

Filigree said...

I imagine "manicurator" is the owner of a salon that also features art on the walls?