newyorksubalien has evolved. New city, new life, new blog

newyorksubalien has evolved. New city, new life, new blog.

Yes, I’m still socially-insecure and still deemed too primitive a life form for a bank account. I still can’t say ‘water’ correctly and voice-recognition software still doesn’t understand my number 8.

Meanwhile Superalien is still as super (at least in my eyes), Male Mini-Me is taller than all of us and Mini-Mum has returned to the home of the Mini, only popping back from London to sleep, be fed and help balance out testosterone levels.

But in my new home of Chicago, I can at least lay claim to my own subgroup. I’m now Chi-rish as in Chicago Irish. Apparently the hyphen is important so as not to be confused with Chinese Irish or the town in Armenia. But I’m trusting my readers not to be churlish and to forgive these, my (hyphen-less) Chirish chatters…..

Friday, January 17, 2014

Giving back rather than kicking back on MLK Day

We’re about to enjoy the luxury of a three-day holiday weekend over here thanks to MLK Day. For those of you not in the know (like me five years ago), this stands for Martin Luther King Day and honours the civil rights leader whose birthday was on January 15.

With many workers in the US amazingly only given 10 days’ paid vacation a year, any additional public days off are usually a cause for huge celebration. But perhaps it is too soon after “the holidays”, with memories of packed airports and weather-related delays, or perhaps the January credit card bills are beginning to roll in – either way, MLK is probably the most low key holiday weekend in the vacation calendar.

Perhaps in the light of this and keeping in mind Martin Luther King’s mission, the idea emerged in the 1990s of encouraging people to use their day off to volunteer in their community and the King Day of Service was born. Giving back instead of kicking back.

Now I have some experience of volunteering USA-style, as, thanks to my socially insecure status, the only people happy to let me into their offices or schoolrooms are those who don’t have to pay me. 

And as always in our current abode, you are spoiled for choice even in your volunteer possibilities. Want to work with kids, old people or dogs? No problem. How about dogs AND kids (when the little ones read to a dog) or even dogs and old people when you take dogs and cats from shelters to “visit” in a seniors’ residential home. You can even play Wii games while you are there with the same seniors so that could cover any kids and old people preferences.

I’ve begun to suspect from the various orientation sessions I've attended that signing up to be good-hearted in a metropolis might in reality be another way of seeking to be “happy-hearted” given the subtle checking-out around the room. Since actually taking part in projects, I've quickly realized I don’t quite fit the profile of the average volunteer. Let's just say that if I did ever help out in a seniors’ home, there might be some confusion on the part of my fellow volunteers as to which “side” I was on.

This coming Monday will be our first in Chicago, a city where Martin Luther King’s legacy is particularly relevant given it is still regarded as the most racially segregated city in America. Chicago was however the first city in the US to name a street after Dr King, with Martin Luther King Drive spanning 14 miles through predominantly African-American neighbourhoods in the South Side of the city. 

Last year’s MLK Day marked also the public inauguration of President Barack Obama, former Illinois Senator and Chicago home-owner. The timing was a happy coincidence as the constitutionally mandated date of January 20 fell on Sunday so the public ceremony was pushed back a day. Appropriately, Obama paid tribute to Dr King by using one of the civil leader’s bibles at the swearing-in ceremony.

Given the enormous impact Dr King has had on modern American history, it may come as a surprise to learn it took four years for the proposed federal holiday to be approved by the US Congress. It may also come as a surprise to many on the opposite side of the pond that the campaign for the holiday was greatly helped by a song specifically penned for the purpose. The artist? Stevie Wonder. The song? “Happy Birthday”.

As the Alienettes will tell you, I'm all for having MLK days throughout the year in the form of practicing Many Little Kindnesses. And I am not apparently alone despite the reputations of some of this country's citydwellers.

Superalien often tells the story of how he was accosted by a very gruff local in New York who spotted him studying a street map. His indignant tone was not because Super was blocking the sidewalk, but because he hadn't asked him for directions. I've also seen an elegant female Wall Streeter, striding womanfully and purposefully down Park Avenue, only to check herself, turn right round and go back and ask the very lost-looking Japanese couple a block away if she could help.

And in our first days after landing in America, some kind, anonymous stranger took the effort to bundle up, trek to the post office and no doubt spend many hours in a queue just to send Male Mini-me’s brand new school blazer, left in a cab in the usual post-arrival daze, back to his new school with a little note wishing him well for the academic year.

I've still a few random acts of kindness of my own to perform before I pay that one back. So it's Wii Fit with Fido for me  - and I'll finally get to find out whether my fellow volunteers see me in the Senior category or not!