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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Numbers and Figures

    Isabel Anna Bencosme thinks in numbers. But she is not a mathematician. Nor is she in any discipline that requires the understanding of complicated algorithms and long derivatives. Instead, she is a hardworking mother who juggles two jobs, three children, two grandchildren and her husband Vito, while the clock ticks away.

    Bencosme works six days a week. In the morning, she is a member of the custodial staff for Stony Brook University; by evening, she waitresses at Peter Pan Diner in Bay Shore, Long Island. Most people become weary and tired after working two part-time jobs. But Bencosme exudes an air of exuberance and friendly energy. “Hey Mami!” she says to a student studying in one of the apartment suites.

    Of medium height and build, Bencosme has short, dyed blond hair. Dressed casually in a white, flowing shirt with small, embroidered flowers, blue jeans, and white Uptowns, she almost resembles a college student. But instead of pens and paper, textbooks and a book bag, the weapons in her arsenal includes brooms and sponges, detergent, and a large, rolling garbage can filled to the brim with cleaning supplies.

    There are 24 miniature apartments that make up West Apartment D. Bencosme is in charge of cleaning the hallway, suite, kitchen and two bathrooms standard to every apartment. She is paid $175 per week for an allotted time of 20 hours of work. This equates to spending about 45 minutes cleaning each apartment. Depending on the cleaning habits of the residents, this job could be either relaxing or stressful. “I work because I have to. I work for my family,” she said. “But I like my job. Stay home too boring!”

    Bencosme says this with experience.

    After the birth of her first child, Valani, Bencosme decided to stay home. She stayed as an at home mom for seven years, raising her children. “Taking care of them is tough,” she said.

    Her daughters are all grown now but they are still a handful, she continued. Born in three-year gaps, their ages range from 23, 20 and 17.

    Her oldest daughter Valani was born on September 9, 1982 at exactly 12 AM. “I was so tired. I just wanted her out. But the doctor was five minutes and exactly then she arrived. A beautiful girl,” Bencosme said.

    In addition to being the first born, Valani is special to Bencosme for another reason.

    Valani’s name is a combination of the names of both parents; V for Vito, her husband’s name, and “lani” for Annie, Bencosme’s childhood nick name.

    In fact, she continues a family tradition of deriving names from cherished loved ones.

    Isabel Anna Bencosme is named after both her grandmother and mother-Isabel from her grandmother and Annie from her mother. (She officially changed Annie to Anna when she received her US citizenship-Bencosme believes that Anna sounds more American than Annie.)

    Her youngest daughter Ronnie was named in the same manner. Ronnie is a combination of Bencosme’s father Robert and Annie. Only Karin’s, her middle daughter, name is unique. Karin was not named for any family member. Instead, Bencosme named her by a different reason. Karin was named after a “sweet” child that she used to baby-sit. “Karin was such a good girl…I wanted my Karin to be the same,” Bencosme said.

    Being a mother of two grown teens, Bencosme understands the attitude, habits and temperament of the college crowd-so she’s not easily surprised by what she finds in some of the student’s dorms.

    On a routine Friday morning, Bencosme enters a suite in the West Apartments. Dirty piles of clothing are strewn on the floor, unwashed dishes and empty bottles of beer are scattered throughout the kitchen and dining room table, and the unmistakable stench of unwashed, male bodies permeated the air.

    Swiftly, she opens a window in the room and says in a matter of fact tone, “A lot of beer. Really too much,” referring to the cartons of empty bottles of beer in the trash and scattered in the kitchen.

    Bencosme starts by throwing away the night’s evidence of the drunken escapade; technically, students are not allowed to have alcohol in West unless they are over 21.

    Hearing the clatter of cans and empty bottles, one student opens his bedroom door.

    “Hello, my baby,” Bencosme says to the boy. “Morning,” he mumbles. “Wild night?” she asks. “Not really,” he says impatiently, as he returns to his room, slamming the door on the way.

    Bencosme doesn’t comment on his behavior. Instead, she continues cleaning the kitchen and starts vacuuming. Except for the droning of the vacuum and a hushed humming from Bencosme, the room is silent.

    Minutes later, Bencosme points to a pair of fuzzy, pink, polka-dotted ankle socks found near the entrance of one of the bedroom doors-strangely exotic in the messy and otherwise, male dorm room.

    “I don’t know,” she says in a playful manner, seemingly unaffected by the rude reception minutes earlier.

    But she continues with her work, only making a slight detour around the dirty clothing piled on the floor.

    Working quickly, she finishes the suite room and starts cleaning the bathrooms. Picking up the garbage, clearing the toilet bowls and washing the shower tub, Bencosme finishes both bathrooms.

    “Bye, loves,” she yells to the empty suite room as she rushes to another apartment.

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