you'll be positive though it hurts.


girl was wearing a khmer, and she had a book with her, something called being muslim. what's that for, i asked. she said she had to write about an issue. stupidly, i asked if she was muslim. she smiled. yeah, she said. i had all kinds of things to say to her, and i wanted to be as typically american as possible about it. did she believe in jihad? did she think wearing the khmer was oppressive? how did she feel about the south park controversy? did she really believe mohammed was a prophet? i mean, really?

i started with south park. she said she didn't watch it, and i felt like it was a cop-out. a lot of my friends watched the first ten minutes, and they couldn't finish it, she said. they were too disgusted by it, she said. disgusted, i thought. the opening scene with mitch connor in saigon was downright hilarious. i wanted to steer the conversation toward censorship, freedom of speech and all that good shit, all that shit that really mattered, but it just wouldn't go that way. girl said, i don't think it's okay to make fun of muslims. she said, all muslims and non-muslims should be treated equally.

i worked with another little kid, and he was like 8. do you have chicken pox, he asked. what? no. then what's that? he pointed to my face. those are zits, i said. we looked over his math homework. it was just one little worksheet that had stupid little clues on it. like, one clue would say, i am greater than fifteen and less than forty. one-fifth of me is five. i tried to help him. i really did. but the idiot would just call out answers. seventeen! thirty-five! no, wait, i said. he rubbed his face and said he didn't know. he didn't want to think about it, and honestly, i didn't want to teach him. because neither of us knew how to do it. eventually, he gave up and screwed around with the other little shits.

these two black kids were messing around on the dell laptop. look, look, one said to the other, if you press shift and then control, it makes that sound. they kept doing it. beep. beep. beep. hahaha. it was driving me nuts. half-heartedly, i tried to stop it. don't do that, i said. they didn't listen. beep. beep. beep. don't make me take the laptop away, i said. okay, okay, they said, we're done. but it was too late. i was already frustrated. why do you guys even bother coming here, i asked. you don't do any work. wouldn't you rather just go home and take a nap? i think one of them misheard me. what, he said. you volunteered for this.

and the way he fucking said it was what did me in. there's a line from some war documentary, i think it was why we fight, and one soldier recalls being told something like, "you volunteered for this shit," or "you guys are fucking volunteers." and the way he said it, or maybe it was just the word volunteer itself, that triggered something within me. maybe i still harbor negative feelings about how i wasted my early twenties as a volunteer, or how i use volunteering even now as a front. because it's just so fucking easy, so inconsequential.

the other thing was this sense of ingratitude i got. like, the kid realizes that i'm giving up my free time to tutor, or rather, to babysit, yet he's still a dick about it. he can't just sit still and do his homework for the life of him, and for some reason, this irritates me. probably because i fucking did it. i kept my goddamn mouth shut all throughout school, and i did the bare minimum. the thing is, i want kids to conform to the boring, lifeless way i went through school, and when they fail to live up to my already incredibly low self-standards, i lash out at them. it doesn't make sense, and i probably shouldn't tutor, teach, or volunteer anymore.

i don't know if that makes any sense. to put it another way, i didn't do shit in school, and i haven't done shit with my life. and when these children fail to do shit like i did shit, then that really scares me. it scares me shitless. or maybe i just don't like working with kids. and it's time to finally accept that.

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