08 April 2010

Free Parking

Recently, the city of Grand Rapids decided that Cherry St. needed to be straightened out. Before, it would be interrupted by our building; Cherry St. ran straight east into 144 South Division, and then continued next to it. It was a bit of a traffic mess, so construction workers re-designed the street so it curved southward before it hit Division, making it possible to continue straight ahead, next to our building. The southward curve cut out a bit of the parking available on the southwest corner of Division and Cherry, so I assumed that the space created on the other side would be used for parking. But instead, it was made into a park:
Two intersecting multi-leveled circles of benches and bricks and shrubs, crowned by a bus stop. It's beautiful! And all winter, it was left empty, because it was cold, and because there were rumors that the police installed cameras and microphones, somehow, in the bricks. But the sun and 60 degree weather pushed out the paranoia, and recently, the park has been packed.
Now, I overheard someone say,
"It makes me so mad that they are filling up that beautiful park!" And I could not help but say,
"Why? it's a park! It was made for them!"
"For homeless people?"
"For people."
Most of their day is spent being kicked out of places because they aren't theirs. Finally, here is a space in the neighborhood that isn't pre-owned. A no man's land is the closest thing some of them have to a home. So why would that make someone uncomfortable? That "they" are using this park?
Maybe because you relize that you can't claim it, own it, or make them leave. Maybe becaue you are getting a little taste of what "they" always feel--that it's not yours, and you're not exactly invited, but I suppose you can come.

07 April 2010

Doing The Math, with Robert Robertson

You know, I have a calculator, right in the "Start" menu of my computer desktop. So I'm the go-to person for calcualation... of monthly benefit amounts and subsidized housing percentages and how-much-do-I-owe-that-guys. I've got that stuff down. So when Mr. (he has this beautiful Latin American name, but he refers to himself as) Robert Robertson came in with a math problem, I whipped out my Windows Caluclator. Bring it on, Mr. Robertson.

He gave me something really complex; something that didn't seem to have anything to do with rent or debt or bottle deposits... and when I finally finished it, he just looked up, looked down, looked up again, and said: "Good Job." Not, "That's what I thought," or "Oh, that's not good," or "I can handle that," but "Good Job." He was quizzing me. "No calculator next time."

It took me until my fourth math problem (I would get them about twice a week, when I didn't appear to be busy) to realize that Mr. Robertson did all of these problems in his head, and graded me based upon his own mental calculation. Some of them, I would spend a brain-bending 15 minutes on, giving him back a scrap of paper full of scribbles with an answer circled. He would look at my work for a while, and then give me his oral review.
"Good Job."
"Oooooh veeery good job."
"No! You make way too hard! So easy! Look different!"
The last one was factoring a quadratic function. Where does he get this stuff?

So we're keeping score now, and it's currently
Anna: 7
Mr. Robertson: 3

But he's stepping it up, now. I think he's going to even out the score. Behind that greying matted hatted hair and stretched-out Florida t-shirt, there is quite a mind. We'll see if this college grad can keep up.