This is Jim
As I entered Verdi Park, I noticed Jim sitting off in the corner of the park reading the New York Times. I stopped in front of him and he looked up and smiled. I smiled back and explained to him that I am photographing and interviewing older people who live in New York City. He said that he would not be a good person to interview because he is boring. I told him I didn't believe that. Often, those who believe they are not very interesting turn out to have interesting stories and things to say.
I asked Jim what he had done for a living. He said he had been a grade school teacher. I told him that was not only an interesting profession but one of the most important professions-teaching our future generations. My mother, sister, and niece were teachers, so I disagreed that he was boring. I bet he had lots of interesting stories about the children he taught. Jim told me that he taught in the South Bronx. Jim is Caucasian and most of his students were of color. He was one of a very few white staff members. He taught in the area that was so tough that it was frequently referred to as "Fort Apache."
Jim is proud of his accomplishments as a teacher. He taught the sixth grade for ten years. Jim then became a librarian in the same school for another fifteen years. While he was a classroom teacher, his students achieved higher scores than any other school in the Bronx. He taught a method called phonics and at some point, the principal found out about it and told him this method was no longer being used.
He was told not to use the phonics method anymore, even with the known positive impact and that the results were better in his class than any other class in the school or any other school in the Bronx for that matter. Not to be deterred, he continued to use it. His principal told him that if anyone asked about it, to remember that she had told him that he could not teach through phonics.
Jim related another interesting story. When he taught, it wasn't an issue as it is today if a teacher physically touched a student. One of his better students did not do well on a test. Jim took him by the shoulders, gently shook him and said " what is wrong? You can do better." One of the students in his class reported to the principal that Jim had beaten up the boy. The principal called Jim and the boy to the office and asked the boy if Jim had beaten him. The boy replied. "Are you kidding? He loves me."
Jim is 83 years old and has lived all of his life in Manhattan. He has a vacation house on the Jersey Shore. His friends and family have tried to talk him into moving there permanently but Jim thinks he would be bored to death. It is okay for a weekend, but he loves and needs the culture of Manhattan. He never married and has no children. He lives with his sister, who is five years younger than him, and she has Alzheimer's disease. He said he gets out every day because it makes him feel alive.
Every morning, Jim helps his sister get dressed and they go to a coffee shop for breakfast. Then she returns home and he continues on to the park to read the newspaper. When I asked Jim what he likes about New York City, he said the people, the culture, the activity of the streets. It all makes him feel alive. When I asked what he dislikes about the city, he had a difficult time coming up with something, and he finally said he thinks it is getting a little more crowded.
Jim is clearly enjoying his retirement in New York City. He is sure to get out every day and looks forward to the joy that the city brings to him. Jim is having new experiences, taking in the vibrancy that the city has to offer. It also gives him new and interesting stories to recount.