hello, you're not fun.


i've become a volunteering machine, have i told you that? it gave me a reason to leave work early, which i liked. i got set up with a tutoring program, run through a nonprofit. i took the 9 to the link light rail, backtracked a block, then i was at the boys and girls club at rainier vista. this black girl was sitting behind a desk. "you here for ytp?" no doubt. she handed me a binder, didn't say shit else. i looked through the binder, and then, like i was stupid (i am), she turned to the correct section for me to sign. thursday. i signed in. like a child. like a volunteer. like someone who doesn't know what else to do on a thursday night.

black girl buzzed me in. i went through the entrance and stood there, dazed. to my left, a basketball court, to my right, a group of kids sitting at a table. some black folks talking to the black girl. i went back to the black girl. "uhh, this is my first day? i don't know where i'm supposed to go?" "oh, i'm sorry," she said. "go up the stairs, then take a left." i did what she told me, and soon, i was in a small room with small tables and small children. the manager, or whatever his title is, shook my hand, introduced himself. jason. "where's the bathroom?" i asked.

jason said brian was gonna walk me through the whole shebang. from what i could tell, jason was two, three years younger than me, but looked a lot cooler since he had a beard. he had on jeans and a sweatshirt, and i felt like an asian geek, wearing my work clothes, a button-down and grey cords. jason introduced me to jimmy, a vietnamese third grader. jimmy acted like he didn't want to talk to me, and he overtly preferred jason's company. he picked out a stupid looking book called the salamander bed or something.

the three of us took turns reading a page from the book, and jimmy was screwing up left and right. he'd read "grewing" instead of "growing," and he'd make other similar errors. i wanted to correct him, but i didn't know if i should, or just let him keep going. jason didn't step in, so i didn't, either. the book was pretty dumb, and i had no idea what it was about. from what i remember, it was about a boy wanting to turn his bedroom into a forest so his stupid salamander could live in it with him. it just made me think about how retarded some children's books really are. it's just like, hey, stupid kid, here are some words! here are words on a page! read me! and teachers and librarians and moms and nannies all agree this is acceptable because, hey, as long as they're reading, right? am i right? hohohohahaha! stupid fucking children's books.

after we finished the salamander book, it was homework time. jimmy pulled out a fractions worksheet. math isn't my strong suit, so i breathed a sigh of relief when i saw little animals all over the page instead of numbers. the kid started going at it. "i like math!" he said. he just did problem after problem, and i let him be, until i realized he was screwing up again. "umm, hold on there. slow down," i said. this really frustrated him. i tried to explain how he could break the animals up into groups to represent one-fifth, but he wasn't having it. kid just shut down. "you're a bad tutor," he said. "you're not fun."

i didn't know what to do then. i felt like just giving up on him. it reminded me of angel, a kid i worked with in watsonville, who straight up told me one day, "you're gonna be a bad teacher." and at mather youth academy (my one-week stint as a teacher), james, who told me, "you bug me." i don't know why i let them get to me. maybe because i never talked to kids when i was a kid. maybe it really is all about confidence - making that jump shot, asking that girl out, being a good teacher - and i still don't know the first thing about believing in myself. i looked around the room, and i thought, i can quit. i've done it before. i can leave these idealistic fuckers, these barely literate kids, and i could just go home and take a nap. i could've said, fuck 'em all. i've got a 52" hdtv waiting for me. do you know who the fuck i am?

i shrugged off his comment, and i decided then and there that if he wanted to get his math problems wrong, not listen to me, and get frustrated for being wrong, well, that was his problem. i was there to help, nothing more. i thought of the unspoken writing center motto: sometimes, you just have to let them fail. and a part of me (perhaps a sick part) finds it a little funny, thinking about a 3rd grader turning in an animals worksheet riddled with errors, or else a college student turning in a fragmented, barely coherent essay. i think if someone told me when i was younger that i wasn't that special, wasn't that bright, i might be a more well-adjusted human being today. my parents, my teachers, my family and friends should've let me fail more often, should've let me get hurt, make mistakes, deal with disappointment. how else is one supposed to learn?

after the failed math session, we interviewed each other, and he seemed to warm up to me again. he told me he was from vietnam, and i asked if he had ever visited. he said yes. i asked if he liked it. "of course i liked it! it's my country!" he sounded like such a fob when he said it, that it got the whole table cracking up. he told me he liked naruto and johnny test, and i had no idea what the fuck he was talking about. then he interviewed me, but gave up halfway. during that time, brian started chatting it up with another tutor, a cute, tall-ish brunnette. suddenly, i remembered why i was there. girls. idealistic girl tutors who are goody-goodies and who will give socially awkward almost-to-the-point-of-hopelessness guys like myself a chance. i didn't talk to any of them.

jimmy went home, and then i worked with this black sixth grader named gutu. he was much more communicative, and generally, a whole lot more pleasant to work with. kid couldn't read for shit, though. i stopped him about every two or three words, and i had to help him figure out what he was trying to say. we got through a painfully boring science worksheet, and then he went and borrowed a laptop. he was all excited to show me about "jerking." it's this type of dance that has been made popular by a group called new boyz. it was like a mix of popping and breakdancing, and it kind of bored me.

this other black kid (couldn't remember his name) walked up to our table and watched the videos. he'd say shit like, "that's filthy," or "that's hella weak" during some of the jerking videos. overall, the kid found jerking as whack as i did, and he made it perfectly clear. "don't you think this is kind of repetitive?" the kid asked me. i didn't want to offend gutu, since i could tell he was really into it, so i just said, "a little. it's ok." this black kid wasn't having any of it, though. he just told it how it was. "this is just like a weak version of breakdancing," and then he'd turn to me, "don't you think?" and i, not quite knowing who to befriend just yet, responded, "it's ok. breakdancing is cool."

the black kid just wouldn't let up. he just stood there, hating on every video, a true skeptic. and gutu just sat there, loving all of it. at one point, gutu even got up to demonstrate jerking. the black kid just kept on hating. "gutu!" he said, "what are you doing with your life?" and gutu just sat back down, smiling stupidly. he was in love with something, something stupid, and he seemed to know it. but he just kept on loving it, no matter what the haters said.

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