Wednesday, May 19, 2010


In which we see Ms. Bradstreet choose a course

The Maria Chronicles, #56

"So," Jack Casey says, reaching for one of the few remaining Nachos on the table. "Not long ago, you feared you were going to be out of a job. Now you have two. I dunno, Maria, maybe you should break your foot more often."

"I was told my job was in jeopardy after I fell down the stairs," Maria reminds him. "Would have been happier with one good job and two good feet rather than the other way around."

They're at Tomatillo, a Mexican restaurant in Dobbs Ferry they first visited almost five months ago on what Maria considers their first date. At the time, she was convinced it would be their last; one of Jack's old Bear Stearns cronies came and reminded her of Jack's buccaneering background. The associations were unpleasant enough for her to reject his suggestion they come here tonight and lead her to make a counteroffer of a good Greek place in Irvington. But Jack had insisted -- "we're going to defeat the bad karma from last time" -- and she relented. The memory of the margaritas had tipped the scales. She signals to the waiter that she'll have another.

"Tony says he there were lots of good candidates for the job at Covello. But that he and the committee agreed you were their first choice."

"Well, I was impressed with them. I think it's very exciting what they're doing."

The waiter returns with Maria's second margarita. She knows she has to answer his unasked question.

"I'm really very conflicted at this point. The job at Hudson is very appealing to me. In a way, it's almost too appealing."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, it's something that I feel like I understand. It's teaching. I mean yeah, sure, I'll be developing a new interdisciplinary curriculum, but it's doing stuff that's familiar and which I think I'm good at."

"So then why would you even think about Covello?"

"Because maybe I need a challenge. I've never done much administration because I never imagined I'd much like administration. But maybe I need to give it a chance. And there's such a sense of mission over there. This sense that they're at the start of something big."

"Yeah, well, charter schools always start that way," Jack says. "But they get pretty conventional pretty quickly -- and that's when they actually survive, nothing you can take for granted." He's in devil's advocacy mode. He doesn't really believe this, Maria thinks.

The waiter is back again with their dinner. Chicken fajitas for Maria. Jack is having some fancy salmon dish.

"What about the money angle?" he asks, reaching for the Tobasco.

Maria bristles. Is he asking her to divulge salaries? She supposes it doesn't really matter. Still, she isn't going to say. "Covello will pay more. Significantly more. It's more responsibility. But also more aggravation. Supervising people -- not something I find appealing."

"You'd be great at it."

"How would you know?" She asks this playfully, but doesn't mind the perceptible edge.

"I know these things," he says, swirling around the Chardonnay in his glass. "It's why they paid me the big bucks."

"Oh, that's why they paid you the big bucks." she says.

"Well no, not really. I'm just bullshitting. That, in fact, is why they paid me the big bucks. I was very good at it. But I still think you'd be a good manager. But what about the Hudson job? What are they willing to do for you?"

"What they're offering amounts to a raise of a few hundred dollars a month. Which is good, except that most of it comes in the form of a two-year grant. So it might be temporary."

"Well, you certainly don't want to end up with a pay cut. That's something you need to fix."

No I don't, she thinks. Jack's getting a little too imperious. But Maria decides that she's not going to get all prickly and argue with him. She turns her attention to her fajitas.

"Of course, I'd probably end up with supervisory responsibilities at Hudson, too," she says a few bites later. I'd be developing courses that other people would teach. In one form or another, that's going to require leadership."

Jack has a mouth full of rice. He nods.

"Covello has more of progressive mission. That's attractive too. More kids of color. Something I've always felt I should be doing more about."

Jack wipes his mouth with a napkin. He puts it down deliberately before he looks at her. "Well, it sounds to me like you have a bunch of good reasons to go with Covello." He motions to the waiter. "You want dessert?"

"I shouldn't."

"Fried ice cream again?"

"Let's share."

"Done." He tells the waiter to bring it to them with a pair of cappuccinos. Maria knows she won't have much but is glad to have coffee and dessert nonetheless.

"As I was saying, sounds to me like Covello is the logical choice. So why do I have this idea that you're not going to take it?"

Maria laughs softly. "I just don't know, Jack. I just don't know."

"'Just don't know' as in you're sincerely confused, or 'just don't know' as in there's something that bothers you about it that you're having trouble putting aside?"

"More the latter."

"OK then, so what is it? You don't have to worry about offending me or Tony. I just wanted you to return the call when he invited you for an interview. I'm not worried about his finding a good candidate. And I want what's best for you."

"I know that, Jack. And I really appreciate it."

"Good. I'm glad. So what's the problem?"

"You." She smiles.

But he doesn't see it. "Oh Jesus, not that again!"

"No, no --"

Jack looks away as dessert arrives. It suspends the conversation, which gives Maria a chance to gather her thoughts.

"It's the opposite of what you think," she says. But he's still looking away.

"It's not because I disapprove of you. Actually, I think it comes from a good place."

He shakes his head, still not making eye contact. "How do you figure that?"

"I don't want to take something that will complicate our . . . relationship." Maria can't believe she just said that.

Jack looks at her sharply. "Our relationship," he repeats. For a second she's afraid he's going to say "What relationship?" But he doesn't. Instead, he leans back in his chair and exhales sharply, putting his index finger over his lip. "I don't know about you, Maria Bradstreet," he says, finally.

"What? What don't you know?"

"You're a curious woman, you know that?"

"What are you trying to say, Jack?"

He reaches a spoon into the fried ice cream and takes a bite."I guess I'm trying to say thanks. I guess I'm trying to say I'm flattered. I guess I'm saying it wouldn't make any difference to me if you did take the Covello job, but I know it makes a difference to you and I guess I'm just glad that you're thinking the way you are about it. I didn't expect it, or expect it at this particular juncture. But I'm glad we're here." He looks at her, beaming.

"I'm glad, too." The waiter has brought the check. It always annoys her when it arrives unsolicited. But Jack doesn't seem to mind. He pulls out his Amex Platinum Card and places it in the vinyl folder without looking at the check. "Don't even think about it," he says, reading her mind and placing his hand on hers to prevent her from moving to her purse. It lingers there for a moment before he takes it back.

"So we're all set, then," she says.

"All set."