Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Corona- Queens, not the beer...

During my desperate unemployed days, I was answering ads for focus groups and random little things like that. Paul's friend, Nikki, knew I had just returned from teaching abroad and teaches English at a night school in Corona, Queens. She was going to be gone during Thanksgiving week, so she asked me back in October if I would sub for her adult night class on Tuesday before Thanksgiving at a local community center.

Of course, I said yes since it was a two hour gig that didn't seem too difficult, and it sounded like a fun way to pass an evening. Of course, I didn't think I would be working a full time job AND a part time job, so I was pretty screwed. Thankfully the class started at 6pm and I get off work at 5, so I had JUST enough time to get on the 7 train and ride the hour out to the primarily Hispanic neighborhood in Corona. Before then, I never really knew where Corona was (isn't that a beer?) and realized afterwards that even Simon and Garfunkel sang about Corona!
Goodbye to Rosie, the queen of Corona,
Seein' me and Julio down by the schoolyard

Armed with vague directions and a loose lesson plan, I walked down from the elevated train tracks and found myself standing between 41st Avenue and 41st Avenue, looking for the "grocery store with lots of signs and the stairs that go up next to it". I was confused enough about the two streets with the same name and couldn't figure out which direction to go when I felt a heavy wet drop on my head.

I realized that I had been standing under a huge tree full of burbling pigeons and the ground around me was pickled with white pigeon poop! Argh!!! what luck!! I finally saw a set of stairs wedged in between a McDonald's (that would've been a great landmark) and a deli with a bunch of signs written in English and Spanish (ahhh, the "grocery store"). I ran up the stairs as the 6:00 bells started ringing and burst into the little community room. There were about 6 or 7 people already there and they turned around to see me rush in, wiping bird poop out of my hair.

I broke the ice by telling them the bird poop story and we all got a good laugh. The community center was kind of run down and old but seemed adequate and safe. I set my bag down next to a table that looked like it was covered with wet mylar balloons or something and wrote my name on the whiteboard. Nobody really called me "Laurie" the whole night anyway- I was always referred to as "Teacher".

Anyway, although this was an adult English class, their level was not much different from my Japanese high school students. The class is pretty dry- we were teaching them the basics of English grammar, practicing the "subject, verb, object" pattern of sentence structure, but there were a few students who just blew me away. The class is offered free to the community for recent immigrants and I was amazed to see how motivated they were to be participating. They were wedged into those little desks with the built-in armrests and everyone was eager to call out answers. It looked like many people had just come from work- at one point, a dude walked in wearing a sombrero and a guitar slung over his shoulder. Couldn't figure out if he came in from a gig on the subway or a restaurant or something?!?

The director stopped the class about a half hour before the class was to end to announce that there was going to be a turkey raffle because it was Thanksgiving week! He pointed to the table of "mylar balloons" (oh, didn't I feel stupid- I have never seen a whole frozen turkey) and said that we were all going to get a chance to win one of the turkeys! He passed around these raffle tickets and insisted on giving me one but I resisted, feeling that I wasn't really a part of this community... Then the whole class got in and insisted that I join because I was the teacher and I had come all the way out there to teach their class. So I gave in and took a ticket. Then they had me pick the first winning ticket out of a bag. The trepidation and excitement on everyone's faces was contagious- I practiced my Spanish and read out the numbers... As I read out the last number, one of the guys shouted in and everyone cheered and clapped.

I passed the bag to him and told him to choose the next winner, and so it went for the next 4 turkeys. But, the crazy thing was, I WON one of them! I really felt bad because at that point, I was like, hey, it's just me, and these people all have families and aren't doing that well- I feel terrible. When they had picked all the winners, the director snapped a bunch of photos of us, and then steered us to the table of frozen turkeys. He handed the largest turkey to me, "the Teacher" but I put my foot down. If I was to join in this raffle, I would get the smallest turkey because I live alone and don't deserve a huge turkey. They conceded and so that's how I ended up carrying a 12 pound frozen turkey on the train home that night. Maybe what they say about getting pooped on is true... maybe it is good luck!!

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