Sunday, February 6, 2011

the happiness of chickens

Every culture has its' own set of unspoken rules governing interaction in public space, norms dictating how close you can walk behind someone, how many people can comfortably fit on/in the motorcycle/minibus/train car, and what circumstances justify interaction with a stranger. In New York, this last one involves a lot of non-interaction. Lots of trying to not make eye contact on a crowded train. Lots of waiting silently on subway platforms. Lots of passing people on the sidewalk without even looking up.

From my observations it takes something special to make a New Yorker engage a stranger - a particularly cute baby, an especially good book (like the exclamations I got while reading Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle recently), shared frustration over some shortcoming of public transit (okay, so maybe that last one's not so special, but commiseration is still nice).

I find those moments are especially few and far between in neighborhoods like the ones I live and work in, where differences in language and race and the tensions of gentrification further inhibit conversation. So one of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary week (lots of tax clients + freezing rain + working every day), was reading this story from the NY Times. Set in Bed-Stuy (the neighborhood I work in), it involves not only one of those rare opportunities to break the code of non-interaction, it also features chickens.
And what's not to love? There's something intrinsically happy about a chicken. The name: a little hiccup in the mouth. The shape: a jaunty upswing of feathers, a grin. The ceaseless bobbing, scratching, pecking. It's nearly impossible to feel melancholy in the presence of chickens.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


In high school, I used to have math nightmares. I'd wake up anxiously trying to figure out a difficult trig problem, and it would take me awhile to realize I was in bed and relax enough to fall asleep again.

I had my first tax nightmares last night - same format, but with a filing statuses and 1099-Rs where quadratic equations and matrices used to be. They're the product of very full work days, of learning a different language (tax law) and trying to explain it in another foreign language (Spanish).

Nightmares notwithstanding, it's great work. After months where the best I could offer my clients was a list of documents they'd need for appointments at yet another office, it feels good to be able to actually provide a service. And to know it does something.

This video highlights the economic impact of the most significant tax credit we help folks claim - the Earned Income Tax Credit. Watch out for Yanira Rodriguez -- she's interviewed here as an EITC recipient, and she's another one of the tax preparers at my site!