I’ve always enjoyed teaching. Being looked up to and knowing things others don’t feel good to me, and how deeply rewarding my students’ appreciation. The most reliable source of joy in my life at the moment is the pro bono tutoring I do through the Los Angeles Public Library’s adult literacy program.
E****, who recently relocated from Korea to LA with her urologist husband and three sons, loves Sex and the City and the music of Jason Mraz, is extremely smart and frustratingly inscrutable, and effectively refuses to address me by my first name, as doing so feels disrespectful to her. Fair’s fair, as I’m nowhere near pronouncing the first vowel in her own first name properly.
Arouna, whom I’ve come to love like a son, is from Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) in West Africa, and is sometimes almost impossible to understand, as English requires him to make a lot of sounds not present in the dialect he spoke with friends and family when he wasn’t speaking French at the university he attended. The fact of his often being incomprehensible has made it hard for him to find work. If prospective workers only realized what a thoroughly wonderful person he is, and a diligent worker.
The eldest of the bunch, 51-year-old Arturo, grew up in El Salvador stepping over the bodies of neighbors killed in that country’s civil war, and sneaking up to the top of the local Mayan temple with his girlfriend (later the mother of his three children, and later still the breaker of his heart) to get high and fuck to the music of Pink Floyd. I originally thought Art a cholo (a thug), and he had indeed spent too many years abusing substances and alcohol, but he proved as sweet a person as I’ve ever been known, implacably buoyant in spite of myriad awful problems, not the least of which is chronic insomnia. I would like to go the hospital where he works as a switchboard operator and punch in the nose all those who give him a hard time for his accent.
Can you imagine the satisfaction I derive from his having recently read both The Old Man and the Sea and Of Mice and Men, and enjoyed both? If he’s still trouble with periods and commas, his punctuation isn’t much worse than that of many of the smug little yuppie attorneys whose words I processed 29 years ago when my little girl was very little, and I felt duty-bound to bring home a steady paycheck..
The other day at the beach, to which Arouna had accompanied me before I helped him apply for serving jobs in Japantown West, he asked why I do so much for him. I explained that I actually do none of it for him, and all of it for myself. In the words of Elvis Costello, “sometimes I almost feel just like a human being.”