Monday, September 29, 2014

The Hunt for Boots . . .


Every couple of months we use the excuse of going to the mall to make a family day out of it. We shop till we drop and then go have dinner. Saturday was one of those days. Both of my girls needed new boots for winter. I thought it would be a good idea to get out early in the season so they would have a nice selection in their size. My older daughter has a small foot, so they don’t order too many shoes in her size. My younger daughter has a popular size foot and that size tends to sell out fast. I thought I came up with the perfect strategy to shop for boots before the rest of the world figured out winter was around the corner. We all have a job on this mission. My daughters pick out and try on the boots. I offer some petite criticisms on the boots and the situation. My husband carries the boots.

First stop is at JCPenney, where we have had luck before. My younger daughter finds two pair she likes and wants to try on. I take them up to the clerk. Problem. There is only ONE clerk in the whole department who is trying to get several customers shoes while tending to the cash register. We put the boots down and decide to look elsewhere and/or return later. Off we go to Steve Madden to check out their boots. Both my daughters find a pair they like after four or five sales clerks ask us if we need help. No shortage of help here! As soon as they find boots a clerk is right there to go get them each a pair. My younger daughter is lucky, they have her selection in her size in stock. My older daughter is not as lucky. They do have her size, BUT it’s the display pair which we can clearly see is scuffed up and scratched. She doesn’t want to pay $200 for damaged boots and I would kill her if she did. The salesperson says it’s a popular style and it’s flying off the shelves. She wants to give her 10% off the display pair to make the sale. My daughter says no, it’s not worth it. So the clerk comes up with a plan B. They will call other stores and see if one of them has the boots in stock and then they can mail them to the house. Fine. I mention to the clerk we do not want a display pair from another store. They call around and finally find a store that has them. My daughter hears the salesperson say are they the “display pair?” because the customer has a problem with our display pair being scuffed. Now my daughter is annoyed that they are making her sound crazy and also because I told the salesperson we don’t want a display pair from another store. After twenty minutes the transaction is complete and the boots should be here in a few days, hopefully undamaged.

Now we return to JCPenney, and it seems they have a second clerk on the job in the shoe department. We find the boots my daughter liked and ask for them in her size. The short, black pair fits fine, the tall gray pair seems impossible to get on and the zipper sticks. I talk her out of getting the gray pair. It takes her long enough to get ready for work without spending an extra 20 minutes trying to put on these boots. Besides, I have a feeling the zipper will break in a week’s time, so we leave with the one pair. We will return in a couple of weeks or so and try again. But, seriously, it shouldn’t be so hard to get boots in September!

To complete this “boot” mission, we end up at The Cheesecake Factory, where we all enjoy a nice dinner and some family banter. Then we order a couple of slices of cheesecake to go. Now we are all satisfied.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Reconnecting With A Friend . . .

A gift from a friend

I have been talking to people on the internet from the moment my computer was up and running with AOL back in 1999. So a few days ago, when I was messaged on Facebook out of the blue by someone asking if I was the person they chatted with over 13 years ago, my mind drew a blank. She told me her name and where she used to live and said we had lost touch after 911, but it wasn’t ringing any bells for me. I wrote and asked for more specifics, but she probably felt she had the wrong person and didn‘t reply. I trusted her memory more than mine, so I started to think back. I was getting a vague memory of a young mother, in her twenties, with a son. She was very sweet and seemed to be struggling with something. She needed someone to talk to. Not everyone has someone to talk to. I replied once again asking if she was a young mother with a son. Still no answer. She must have thought she had the wrong person. I wasn’t 100% sure either, but something told me she was right about it being me.

As fate would have it, my brother came over yesterday and a memory crossed his mind which was totally unrelated. It was also something that happened online years ago and I went to get my notebook where I had jotted notes on this incident. On the page next to those notes were the woman’s name, address and phone number! That was all I needed to confirm we had known each other years ago.

I soon recalled how I chatted almost every morning with this young woman. It was hard for her to open up. Then I remembered a gift I had gotten in the mail long ago. It was a small basket with note stationery. I have kept this gift in my kitchen all these years. I even had a few pieces of the stationery left. I took a picture of it and sent one last reply with the photo. I asked if she was the one who had sent me this gift and told her how I still had it.

It was then that I received a reply. She said that she did send it to me all those years ago. She told me I had sent her a Christmas ornament, with a friendship inscription, that she has been hanging on her tree every year. She said the reason she wanted to contact me was to thank me for being so sweet to her when she was going through a hard time and say hello. Her son has grown up and she has moved, but she has often thought about me all these years. We caught up briefly on what has happened during these 13 years and then she said she never forgot my kindness. And with that, we wrapped up our brief conversation.

We may talk again, we may not, but I was very glad to hear from her and to know that she is happy now. You never know what a few minutes of your time and a few kind words can do.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Domestic Abuse: It's All In the Family

Ray Rice is making headlines for abusing his wife in an elevator back in February and being released from the Ravens. I have to wonder what took so long? Is it really because the owner and team didn’t see the entire video? Is it all about damage control and disassociation from the scandal? Maybe something good will come out of this by shining a big spotlight on the epidemic of domestic abuse. It may even save some lives if it causes other women seek help before it’s too late. But it makes me wonder when did it become “acceptable” for men to hit women?

This situation brings to mind a story I have heard over and over again in my own family. My maternal grandfather was an abusive man. He came over from Sicily in the early 1900’s with no money. He brought his wife and children here for a better life. He also brought with him the accepted “right” that men in his culture had to beat their wives and children. I often heard my mother and her siblings tell stories of how their mother was beaten for basically no reason because she was a “saint.” My grandfather would go out gambling and drinking at night. My grandmother would worry and sit at the window waiting for him to come home. When he found her sitting at the window, he would accuse her of waiting for another man. Then he would fly into a drunken rage and beat her for this imagined offense. My grandmother was pregnant fourteen times, but only had seven children. It’s been said she was beaten while pregnant and lost seven babies. In those days there were no shelters and divorce wasn’t an option. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to grow up in a household with that kind of abuse and chaos.

The fact is that my grandfather also beat one of his sons. My uncle worked in a bakery to earn a little money to help support the family. He was very young at the time (maybe around 8 years old). He had to be at the bakery at four in the morning and help stack bags of flour. Often he would fall asleep at the bakery, from sheer exhaustion, after doing his job. He missed school once too many times. The truant officer went to see my grandfather about the problem, causing him to miss work. My grandfather was very angry and beat my uncle, kicking him with his heavy work boots. The other children were too afraid to come to the defense of their mother or brother. My grandmother often prayed aloud for ten years of peace after her husband’s death. She died almost ten years to the day after my grandfather died.

When my mother married my father, a marriage arranged by her mother, she told her mother if he ever touched her in an abusive way the marriage would be over. My father also came from Sicily with his culture and beliefs ingrained in him. One day, during an argument early in their marriage, my father raised his hand at my mother. Before he could lay a finger on her, my mother took off and went straight to her mother to tell her what happened. My grandmother stepped in and talked to my father. Whatever she told him, nothing like that ever happened again.

As for my grandfather’s legacy of abuse, none of his sons were abusive, as far as I know. None of his daughters married abusive men. The cycle of abuse ended with my grandfather. Thank God.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Plagiarism: An Ethical Dilemma

Years ago, when I was taking graduate French classes, there was a student in my class, a young French teacher, who was caught by one of our professors for plagiarizing his paper. The professor had called him up after class and was visibly angry. I couldn’t hear the verbal exchange, but word soon spread as to what it was all about. Plagiarism is very serious ethical charge against a student at a university and it places the professor in a very uncomfortable position. I distinctly recall that this professor made a point of emphasizing that plagiarism would not be tolerated and it was also boldly stated in the syllabus she handed out the first day of class. It’s no wonder she was angry.

The student’s case was still pending when I met up with him again the following semester, in another French class, with a different professor. We were assigned papers once again and also had to present them orally in class. I couldn’t help but be curious if he had learned his lesson or had once again plagiarized someone else's work. Who would be so arrogant to even think of trying it again and jeopardizing their education and job? On a whim I used one of the tools that is designed to find plagiarized work online. Within a few minutes I had found that he had taken an article and claimed it as his own. The article was several pages long and fairly dated, so it wouldn’t readily appear on the top of a Google search. However, I searched for the specific words that he had read in class and was astonished to find a paper that was identical to his. He hadn’t just taken a few paragraphs or ideas, he had taken the whole paper in it’s entirety, word for word. The only things he changed were the name of the author and the date. There I sat, in front of the computer, overwhelmed by a moral and ethical dilemma. I wished I had never done the search because now it placed me in a bind and I was torn about what to do. I knew what he did was wrong, but he needed this degree to continue teaching. I also knew that a second blatant act of plagiarism, with the first still pending, would certainly be cause for expulsion from graduate school and the French Master’s Program.

I agonized over what to do for a while. I didn’t know where to go for advice. Then I thought about Googling “What to do if you discover a student is plagiarizing.” That search turned up a professor’s blog on plagiarism, and he had included his email address for readers. I decided to write to him about my dilemma in detail and ask his advice. I needed an objective opinion from someone who understood all the ramifications any action on my part would have and, at the same time I knew I didn‘t have to take the advice if it didn‘t feel right about it. I received a compassionate reply to my email not long after. He said it was evident that I was struggling with this issue and explained to me how plagiarism affects education and how serious a violation it was etc. He advised me not to get personally involved as the “whistle blower.” Instead, he suggested that I create an anonymous account in order to email the professor the link to the plagiarized work and leave the rest up to him. In the end, after some careful consideration, that is what I decided to do.

I still feel bad about exposing this student’s academic crime and the consequences that likely followed. At the time I felt that he had more than likely been using other people’s work to get through college and that these two incidents were probably not the only times he had done so. Sometimes doing the right thing for the right reasons doesn’t always make you feel good. However, thinking back on it, I feel it was the only thing I could do.