Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Road to Harvard Starts in Commack

One of the advantages of going solo, especially in the beginning when things are slow, is that you get to spend time with your family. You get to do “family things.” This is also one of its great disadvantages. Let me tell you about one my recent forays into fatherhood.

I returned home from work at 7 last night after having a nice busy day and I was greeted by, in order, a “daddyyyy” and a “daddyyyy” and a “you remember you have Emma’s pre-school registration tomorrow, right?” To which I replied, “Honeyyyyyyyy.”
I actually remembered it and even scheduled time for it in my practice management scheduler, though I did feign ignorance. Not only was I not looking forward to it, I was actually dreading it. My wife and I debated about who should go and after several minutes of back and forth, we decided to compromise. Since I went last year, I would go again this year.

My experience the following morning can only be classified as an example of one of those “only in New York” things, like the block-long queue in the Village for chocolate brownies or the NY Subway Diet Fainters or the high pressure pre-school interview/application process. This particular one was in the pre-school registration category. My child’s pre-school yearly ritual happens in a tiny neighborhood of Manhattan called Commack, in Suffolk County Long Island.

For last year’s registration, I strolled in at 7:15AM, on my way into work, and I remember thinking, “I’ll probably be around number 5-6 in line.” I didn’t even make the top 100! Only this year, the stakes were higher since there was only one 3 year old class that fit my wife’s and my transportation schedule. The pressure was on! But, hell, I eat pressure for breakfast. I’m a surgeon, right? I set the alarm for 6 AM.

Due, no doubt, to a problem involving an enlarging middle lobe of my prostate, I awoke a 5 AM—to micturate. Hey, I’m up! I’m gonna get a jump on the competition and leave ahead of schedule. I didn’t even shower. Like a thief in the night, I stole out of the house into my light blue minivan. It was 5: 15AM.

The school was only 10 minutes away at this ungodly hour. As I sped there, I kept hearing someone mocking me. Somebody with a high voice. He, she, IT, seemed to be saying either “nahhh nahhh nahhh, nahhh” or “lahhh leehhh lahhh leehhh lahhh lahhh.” What the hell is that, I thought to myself. I looked around. It was Po. Goddamn tubbies. Ignore him, her, IT! Just drive.

As I rounded the second-to-last corner before the school I noticed an open Duncken Donuts to my right and a 35ish year old woman in an SUV on a cell phone to my left. She looked at me, I at her, and in that instant the 2 of us shared a silent question; “what class are you gunning for?” I really wanted the coffee, but I hit the gas. The race was on!

Those damned SUVs are fast. She smoked me! As I pulled into the parking lot, I saw her, and her friend, entering the building. Oh well, hopefully it won’t matter. Then something amazing happened. She stopped to talk to another friend. Holy shit! Is she crazy! What a rookie mistake! I sauntered right by her and on into room 10, the pre-registration holding room. At least 50 people were already there, to my astonishment. What the hell is wrong with these people? They are soooo! aggressive. I’m glad I’m not like that. I sat down in one of the chairs, off to the left side of the room. I acted detached, nonchalant. I don’t give a shit. It’s only pre-school for Christ’s sake.

The woman from the SUV and her so called “friends” entered the room and then sat on the right. What the. . . I turned to a man by the door. “Where does the line start?” He gestured to the right. “Over there.” I was horrified. And pissed. What a rookie mistake! So I moved over, smiled at the SUV lady, weakly in defeat, and sat down. It was 5:30AM.

The next 90 minutes are somewhat of a blur and interestingly, very few people actually came in after me. During that 1 ½ hours I learned many things, like the number 6 and 7 in line arrived at 4:30AM. Losers! Actually I was jealous. I also learned that Commack has 2 high schools, North and South, and that I was competing with a little 3 year old named Noah for a precious slot in my class. And Noah’s dad was number 14 in line!

At 6:45AM another slew of people arrived. Ain’t no way are they getting their choices, I smirked, smugly. Then 1 woman did something amazing. She asked me, “Is someone sitting next to you?” and pointed to my right. My throat closed. I didn’t know what to say. I stuttered and stammered. I answered, meekly, “no.” Then she put her jacket down on the chair to my right.


Who the hell does she think she is? I goddamned got here at 5:30 in the goddamned morning. Where the hell does she get off? I’m going say something. I’m going to tell her off, or at least explain to her that the line starts over there. I’m gonna lose it!

“Get a hold of yourself,” I told myself. I calmed down and decided to say nothing. She’d have to live with herself for what she did, if she can. And she would always know that I knew that she cut the line!

So 7:00AM finally rolled around and within minutes we were all given our numbers and told to return at 9 AM for the actual registration process. I was #51. The woman who cut the line actually did not cut it. She turned out to be very nice and was just standing near me. Who knew?

I came back at 9:10 AM and re-entered room 10. It was ordered chaos. The tension was palpable. People were talking, laughing, drinking coffee, some even just staring into space. One woman was crying. Apparently her daughter was “locked out” of a 4 year old class. And she was number 27. In another case, I overhead the school director consoling another distraught mother whose child didn’t get a desired class. “The fact that you’re upset upsets me,” she said. And I believe her! Wow! This is stressful.

As the numbers, like in a deli, ticked off, my own stress mounted. Another woman walked over to me and began to chit-chat. She told me that she sent her husband here last year, but spared him the agony this year. She said she felt bad for me. I didn’t mind talking to her. She was number 65. As she was talking, I couldn’t help but see her enrollment card. What the. . . She crossed out every class but the one she wanted. I circled only the class I wanted. Oh my God, I’m dead. I didn’t follow directions. I screwed up! All of this for nothing.

“Fifty One” came over the bullhorn. Like a man walking to the gallows, I approached the director. I handed her my card and tried to say something witty, like “Is this where the road to Harvard starts?” She ignored me. “Ok, you got it,” she said.

That was it. Easy.

Next year I’m going to schedule something that is not quite so stressful, like a surgery, for that morning.