Monday, February 27, 2012

A Lasting First Impression

It's either sunrise or sunset, I can't tell. A mid-sized, blue car is parked outside what is probably our apartment. We're on the ground floor. I can see our back door from where we're standing in the parking lot. I'm in Mom's arms as she circles around and around the blue car. I'm crying. We're being chased by Dad, although I can't see him because my face is buried in Mom's shoulder. There is a lot of screaming. I spot blood stains on Mom's sleeve, but it's definitely not my blood. I spot her clothes and jewelry scattered all over the ground.

"Stand clear of the closing doors. STAND CLEAR! DO NOT BLOCK THE DOOR!"

I'm on my way back home from school and I've fallen asleep on the subway. I do that a lot. I wake up a stop before I'm supposed to get off, calm and refreshed. The subway always puts me to sleep after work. The gentle rocking of the train combined with chatter is New York City's version of a lullaby. During my fifteen minute nap, I've dreamed about the earliest memory I have. And it sucks.

For years, I've been trying to squeeze more out of this memory. It's clearly not positive, but I want to remember more. A part of me wants more from it. When this happened, I was at most four years old, but probably younger. Before moving into a somewhat decent house, my parents and I lived in a sketchy, gang-infested apartment complex called King Arthur Court (pictured below). As you can probably tell, this is where most of the hedge fund managers of the neighborhood lived in.

The King Arthur Court Apartments via Google image search.
I think my memory captures one of the first times both my mom and I were thrown out from our residence by my dad under the influence. My mom's English was pretty bad at the time, and calling the police on her husband was simply not an option for her. Not because of her bad English, but because that just wouldn't be right. So when something like this happened, we'd be on our own. My mom only had one friend in the entire apartment complex, so I'm pretty sure we went there.

I don't remember my mom's friend's name, but from I do remember she was very nice and helpful. When we would show up unannounced, she would comfort my mother, but their conversation was very limited as both of them did not speak English fluently. Her apartment wasn't exactly clean and orderly, but hey, she gave me Coke with ice in a proper Coca-Cola glass, so I liked her. She would frequently provide shelter to us in this way. I can't remember if she was married or had kids, but I hope someone is taking good care of her.
I spot blood stains on Mom's sleeve, but it's definitely not my blood.
I wasn't sure if the blood was my mom's or my dad's. In his drunken rage, my dad was very stubborn and physical. This used to shock me as a kid because my father was a pretty big fucking pushover when he was sober. Alcohol allowed him to channel his frustrations and regrets through verbal and physical assault. At the age of my earliest memory, I didn't understand why he would resort to beating the living shit out of her. He would shove her into a corner and start choking her with one hand. Then he'd let go and look down at me pulling at his legs. He'd say, "Don't worry son, I love you, but I just hate her." I never got that, I mean logically if you love me, why would you hurt someone you know I love? A child using logic and reason with his parents: this could've been a Kodak moment.

My mom eventually grew a backbone and began to defend herself from my dad. She would throw things at him, pull his hair and use her nails. That's why I can't tell if the blood is hers or my his. I'm going to guess it's her blood though, because I was very young and at that time, she didn't have the courage or experience to defend herself properly. I motivated her to grow a pair and venture out into world, but that wasn't until I was much older.
I spot her clothes and jewelry scattered all over the ground.
He usually unloaded my mom's drawers and closet if we left the house to escape, throwing everything outside. My mom would retaliate by doing the same to his belongings, although my dad really wasn't attached to much except his booze. No one dared to touch my video games or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That's power you can't buy, bitches.

In retrospect, I can probably trace my dislike for mess, disorganization and chaos to these events. Every time my parents would fight, there would always be a huge mess around the house we'd have to clean up. I see now that I grew up picturing chaos as the end result of a bad thing. Plus, I would rather spend my time playing video games than help pick up clothes around the house - what a bad deal for me. Now, I would rather pick up the clothes first, although I wouldn't classify myself as a "clean freak" since I don't mind clothes all over the place, as long as they're in neat, orderly piles and properly folded of course. Go ahead, laugh.

There really isn't much else to add, that's all I can really remember about the first impression in my life. Nothing else comes to mind, which is kind of depressing because I really thought this post was going somewhere. I guess this isn't a happy ending where everyone learns something and ends up together. My dad is still an alcoholic, but he isn't physical abusive anymore because he's an old man who looks even older. My mom has grown stronger; she now commands the house, but her earlier oppressed lifestyle has made her extremely bitter, emotional and controlling. She doesn't talk to me anymore because I think she believes I betrayed her by moving away and making something of myself without her.

As broken as they are, my parents are still married and living together. Somehow, my house hasn't ended up on the news for a murder-suicide tragedy. Given this small success, I'm really thinking strengthening their marriage by entering them to be participants on Wife Swap. Thoughts?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mmm... Pi(e)...

This was too funny not to repost. Obviously, 3.14 is a simple approximation for pi. Here's pi to million digits. Memorize that for the quiz on Friday, bitch.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I Want a Job in Investment Banking

Sometimes, I miss investment banking. Well, not really, just some aspects about the job. The paycheck was nice, and so were some of the perks, but what I really miss is the ridiculousness of others trying to get into the business while I was working there.

As a college graduate from a state school, I really had to differentiate myself throughout the investment banking job application process. I had to create an amazing (amazingly ridiculous, more like) story about why investment banks should hire me. The competition was cut-throat: each bank put candidates through two or three rounds of interview "super days." A super day is a day-long session of interviews with anywhere between five to ten interviews. That means that if you received just one offer from an investment bank, you very likely went through at least twelve interviews to get it. This rigorous selection process may be part of the reason why this job appears to be so glamorous.

Exhibit A: A rare instance captured on film: an investment banker standing in the office. Clearly constipated.
I nearly spent the entire month of October of 2006 traveling back and forth between my university and New York City, on the bank's expense of course, interviewing with nearly every major Wall Street firm. By the end of each super day, I felt like I was a contestant in The Bachelor: either I got the "congratulations" phone call at night, or I didn't and felt like a complete piece of shit. A total rejection. A waste of space on Earth. An incompetent dick who majored in finance and got into the most competitive business-engineering minor program from a top-ten engineering school.

When I received a rejection e-mail or phone call, I often felt so worthless that I would imagine how dreadful life would be in a few months, doing corporate finance at a regular Fortune-500 company that wasn't investment banking. How boring. I cringed. A fire began to grow from the deepest part of my heart. I couldn't let this happen, I'd come from nothing and worked too damn hard to let this drop. I wanted prestige. I wanted to work where the "best" worked.

My hard work eventually paid off, as it typically does. I pushed through the interviews and finally nailed some full-time offers. By August of 2007, I was living the investment banking dream. And it was not everything I'd imagined it to be. As days in my cubicle become weeks and weeks became months, it became increasingly clear this gig was trying its best to keep me miserable. This certainly didn't feel like it was the most-super-awesome-high-flying-job in the history of ever. Looks like I got "got" as they say.

In my misery helping rich people get even richer, I did manage to laugh sometimes at other peoples' expense. I laughed when other college students would send me their resumes and cover letters telling me how fucking amazing they were and how they craved to be in an industry that was glamorous, prestigious and fast-paced. I would go to college career information sessions and laugh my ass off in my head when I would get surrounded by 20-something ivy league undergrads, male and female, asking me anything and everything there was to know about me, what I did, and what I did to get where I was.

"So tell me about the analyst role, is it really as exciting as they showed in the movie?"
My secret, mental response: "Yes. I'm working on some super exciting paperwork and I get to have ridiculous amounts of sex with all of the not-so-hot female secretaries. It's just like the movies man, maybe even crazier. You have to apply!" Not.
"Yes, please do tell. Do you work on live deals? Or just pitches? Have you ever made a financial model that was used for a live deal? How many live deals have you actually worked on?"
I'm thinking, "Here's a deal: shut the fuck up and stop being so annoying. You aren't even good looking, shouldn't you be like, you know, trying harder?" Banking brought out a real ass in me sometimes, I'm not proud of it.
"Is it true that you really work 80 hours a week or more? Is it as exciting as they?"
"Yeah man, don't even get an apartment. Why pay rent for a place you'll never be at when you can impress your managing directors by being at the office before they even get there?" That's really what I should've done.
"You know, as president of the finance club at [insert university here], I designed a finance case study competition based off a deal your bank executed."
"Uh... That's not even a fucking question, bro. Seriously, are you just going to talk about yourself during this whole session? You realize I'm not the one who hires you right? Wait, no, I am. Go get me some coffee - whole milk, one sugar."
I loved meeting super-excited undergrads. I loved it when my firm would hire these bastards as summer interns, they were great: hungry for bitch work and not a peep of a complaint if I tell them to make 30 color copies of something I could easily print from my own printer. I would often put these interns in charge of an entire project while I worked out at the gym. Hey, it didn't matter what sort of work they did because in five days the entire presentation would get shat on anyway by an overly ambitious VP looking for a promotion. Why bother?

A few weeks ago, a managing director forwarded the cover letter below to his analysts. Now, it's making its rounds across all of the banks and has even made it to some newspapers. The writer of this cover letter is an undergraduate from New York University seeking an investment banking job.

You made my day, future miserable asshole.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Little Off-Topic

I'm standing in front of the class, spinning around a meter stick in one hand and holding a marker in the other. I'm using neither of these things: the class has gone off-topic and I'm okay with that. It's good to use these times to learn what my kids are interested in and what sorts of observations they make. Today, we're talking about the Mayan prophecy regarding the end of the world in December of 2012. I teach algebra by the way.

"Yo, this blowin' mines. If this shit is real, that means I just spent my whole damn life in school," Bryan, a student who barely comes to class remarked.

We've only spent about two minutes on this top and I'm already bored of this topic. "Seriously, Bryan? You seriously believe in that crap? Remember the priest last year who predicted the world would end in May? And yet, here we are, not dead. These things are basically idiotic theories created by people with an agenda. Fools spread them and idiots accept them. Someone's always making money off things like somewhere. In this case, it's probably Hollywood."

"Listen Mista, it be dem Mayans, they like, wrote it down and shit! Their calendar ended! There ain't no money in this, it's ova in December my G!"

"Relax, buddy. So, you're telling me that you believe the Mayans could truly predict the future? You're telling me that they will be correct in their prediction?" I asked.

"Definitely. We peacin' outta planet Earth in December."

"Okay. So if the Mayans could predict the future, then why didn't they foresee the end of their own vast empire? Why didn't they do anything about it?"

A long silence followed. "Alright, Mista, you right. I ain't think about it like that before."


"But still, we'll see who's right in December Mista."


My students are extremely interested in money, and so I usually tie a lot of the mathematics I teach in class to money, economics, and finance. After teaching them the exponential growth formula, I started explaining how one can earn money simply by keeping large sums of money in the bank to accrue interest over time (this obviously isn't sound advice for combating inflation - baby steps).

Emily, a student who barely comes to class (another one of those) seems to have something to say, "Yo Mista, why when I cash my check using the check cashing place they be like givin' me like, folded up and messed up bills and shit? I like ma bills crisp, that's why I use the real bank ATMs, not them fake-ass deli ones, they wylin."

"Uh... what?" I asked. That question was all over the place. I really shouldn't have even said what, because this poor kid has no idea what the fuck we're learning in class and I'm probably doing her a disservice by carrying on with this nonsense. 

"I'm jus sayin', like, I hate people that be foldin' their money. That's mad dirty, like you a dirty person if you do that. If you can't even take care of yo money, I don't even wanna know what yo room be lookin' like!" I could tell this topic was important to her because at this point she was yelling. I had to investigate.

"Dude, who the hell cares about what kind of money comes out of the ATM or who folds bills and who doesn't? Don't most people have folding wallets?"

"Imma ask you a question, okay? How you sposed to roll a j off a crumpled note? You can't do it, it's not right! It needs to be crisp, fresh. If you ain't usin' a fresh dolla, then that tells me somethin' bout you. Damn right it does."

"And now we all know something about you..." Class dismissed.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

An Offer I Can't Refuse

Over the past three years, I've felt some pretty positive things as a NYC high school teacher. Sometimes my students say something to me or do something so amazing that I can't help but feel a warm sense of happiness oozing out of my chest. It's quite disgusting. These are the things that put to ruin my theory that I am capable being in control of how I feel all of the time.

I frequently receive these "warm and fuzzy" feelings from Arnold and Della. These kids aren't the typical high school sweethearts (I've written about Arnold before, you can read it here). For one thing, they're not that annoying couple that can't seem to get their hands off each other in class and then break up one week later. You people are the reason why bands like My Chemical Romance exist.

Anyway, I've taught both Arnold and Della, and they are a pleasure to have in class. What's amazing is that they actually motivate each other, both in and out of school. What further separates them from the rest is their beautiful one-year old son, Elijah, who motivates both of them to give it their best.

Over time, I've unofficially become Arnold's mentor. It's evident he lacks a male role model at home and to fill this void, he's done what most good-natured students in his position tend to do: attach themselves to a male teacher. For Arnold, that's me. We've been shooting each other texts and Facebook messages more and more frequently. He's a good, young man, and only seven years younger than me. Sometimes, it's tempting to consider him a friend of my own age and treat him like one, but I know I need to be something much more symbolic to him. Someone without weakness, someone who he can look up to. It's this type of positive shit that gets me into trouble and led to what happened next.

A few weeks ago, Arnold and Della asked, "How would you feel about being my baby's godfather?"

My original reaction: "Holy fucking shit balls!" Thankfully, this question was posed online, so the only person who heard my reaction was probably the girl running on the treadmill next to me. My head would probably have exploded from trying to maintain a poker face if it were asked in person. I was simultaneously honored and horrified. Honorrified, if you will.

Mista Godfather. Me? At the time, the only thing I knew about being a godfather was that it involved killing vast amounts of people and being referred to as the "Don." Of course, instead of completely relying on the movies for my education, I immediately ran a Google search for "godfather responsibilities." I was pleasantly surprised a real godfather does not traffic drugs or kill cops. Unfortunately, I wouldn't be receiving the "Don" title either. Life is all about compromise.

From my research, I learned these days being a godfather has more to do with acting as a moral compass than religion, which is good because I'm not religious. As I did more research, I realized this was something I could handle, and in fact, something I would enjoy. I discussed the opportunity with my wife, who seemed proud of the fact that my students selected me. More warm and fuzzy feelings.

I messaged Della on Facebook and told her that I would be honored to be Elijah's godfather, but wanted to know what she thought about Arnold picking me. I wanted to know if she was cool with it and I didn't want to rule out the possibility that it could be weird having your math teacher as your godfather, despite how cool math teachers are. Della responded, "I'm more than happy he chose you and not an irresponsible friend." You read it here folks, apparently being "irresponsible" doesn't earn you trust from others.

Yesterday, Arnold and Della came over to drop Elijah off for a few hours. This would be his first time alone with my wife and me and it was brilliant: we went to the park, I took him down slides, changed his diaper, and I caught all of his apple-vomit before it got on his shirt and my couch. My speed in that last act even surprised Della. Overall, it was an amazing day. This whole "rent-a-baby" business is pretty damn cool.