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Tale of the Tutor

November 19, 2003 Columns No Comments

Roddy’s Rant: The Tale of the Tutor

by Chris Roddy

“That isn’t how you spell caveat, Carl” I said. I flung my notebook off of the desk with a horrible melodramatic high school intensity; Luke Perry would’ve been proud of me for perfecting a moodiness that took him until age 34 to get right.

“Remember the process for trying to figure out the spelling of a word, Carl?” I asked.

“Uhhh. Yeah. Sound it out. Take it apart. Put it back together.”

“So why in hell do you think that caveat would be spelled with a Q?”

Carl stared at his hands with defeated focus, maybe thinking that a small elf would magically appear and give him some sort of warning (or caveat) regarding the spelling of the word in question. To him, it was just a questionable word.

“Look, man. I ain’t a good speller. I ain’t a good writer. I just play ball and that’s easy for me. All this other junk, I just don’t get it.” Carl flipped his long fingers, curved to snugly hold a basketball, flat onto the table. His “q-a-h-v-e-e-t” was a no show. And neither was the elf.

He leaned back in his chair. “Sides. Coach told you that you were supposed to help me enough to pass my class and that’s it. So who cares if I spell kah-feet wrong?”

I turned around and looked him in the eye, which was kind of hard to do considering he was probably two full feet taller than me. Luckily I was standing and he was sitting, so it was pretty close. “I care, Carl,” I said softly. “I care because I don’t want you to be just another stupid basketball player.”


I woke up with a little bit of drool joining my mouth to my textbook. Dennis was sitting to my right, furiously trying to write down every last piece of information he could remember and translate into English. He spoke out loud to himself as he wrote, “D’en de Wevolootionarys come back to Lexington to fight. But dees isn’t where dey stopped. Dey keep fightin and fightin until dey win.”

I sat up and tried to remember exactly what I had to next and then it hit me. I had to go and tutor the college’s star player. Carl was supposed to meet me in the library after his third class of the day.

“Dennis, you want to come with me over to the library?” I asked, anxious for company. Dennis couldn’t speak any better than a retarded Speak-N-Spell machine and I was hopeful he would jump at the chance to go somewhere with a real live person.

“Dey were tired frum fightin’ so musch, that dey juss sleep right dere in the field,” he continued, on a desperate mission to understand the intricacies of American history, warring with people we don’t like or understand.

I got up and started my trek to the library. It was windy outside. The kind where you walk and walk and then BAM! You hit a wall of wind, leaving as quickly as it came. I stumbled forward and nearly fell on my face to the delight of the 300 spectators sitting in the quad.

Was there any way I could get out of this I wondered?

The only scenario that seemed plausible at the time involved a lot of hiding out in the science lab and I wasn’t too anxious to live on formaldehyde fumes for the remaining seven weeks of the semester.

So to the library I went.

After swiping my card through security gate, I puttered over to a couch to wait for the big-shot to arrive. I was a jaded man. Here’s a kid with talent just swishing out of him with every step he took in his warm-up pants and every jumper from 7-13 feet outside the key. Yet, he couldn’t tell Beowulf from Oscar the Grouch.

Luckily for me, he was late. I had a liberal allotment of time to fantasize about my own prowess as a misunderstood genius who never used the phrase “parlance of our times” when talking to other exiled intellectuals.
I was in the middle of constructing an eloquent debate between myself and Freud when he arrived:

FREUD: Yah. I am very much in agreeing with you.

ME: I mean, you really might want to tone it down a notch on the whole mother-son love versus sexual attraction thing. People might think you are some kind of sick bastard. You dig?

FREUD: I dig. Oh yes, I dig very much.

ME: You dig what I am saying or you dig your mother?

FREUD: Oh yes. Very much so with the digging.

“Hey,” said a sotto voce voice.

“Just stop telling people you think they should want their mom, that’s all I am saying,” I said dreamily.

“What?” Carl stood in front of me and looked pretty puzzled, which was a very natural way for him to look.

I got up from my daydreaming slumber, shaking my head to clear my mind of Freud (Yes! Dig!). “Let’s go,” I said to Carl.

We walked over to an empty table in the corner, stopping every three feet so someone could give him a high-five or wish him luck in the game tonight. Meanwhile, I received no accolades or words of encouragement for my evening’s highly competitive game of Dark Lords: Dungeons and Dragons Return. Could Carl defeat a third tier warlock with a difficult to execute Wall of Thunderbolt spell? I think not.

“Come on, you’re not the only one with stuff to do tonight,” I muttered under my breath.

Carl laughed as he signed a disgustingly cute freshman girl’s hat and tossed his books on the table in front of me. He flipped the chair around to straddle it; the guy absolutely reeked of coolness. I, on the other hand, reeked faintly of fabric softener from my super-sized bottle of detergent.

“What are we covering today?” he asked. “I really need to get over to the gym early to work on my new post move.”

“I’ll post you in the -” I started, quickly stopping from fear of the giant across from me. “Let’s go over your English assignment. You have the syllabus?”

He pushed a half crumpled paper in my general direction and sighed. Carl hated his English class. And he hated me teaching it to him since I would always engage him in a Socratic dialogue of nonsense, questioning his answers and questioning his questions.

“Look,” he said, as he began the same speech for the billionth time. “Can’t we just skip all the questions and you write my paper for me? Coach thinks I should really just concentrate on the plays.”

I looked at him and I felt my dream coming back, even the drool was still sweetly kissing my taste buds. “Sure, Carl,” I said, surprising myself and him. “I’ll write it. Good luck with your game tonight.”

I am still not sure what my plan was or why I thought this would be a good idea. First of all, it would possibly interfere with time I had set aside for working on my cape for the Dark Lords match. Secondly, I was letting him off the hook, the very thing I despised about star athletes.

“Thanks, dude. You rock,” he said, ruffling my hair condescendingly and swish-swooshed off to the gym.

I looked at the wrinkled syllabus for the assignment.

Week 5 Assignment (1 page limit): Write about something you’re scared of.

There isn’t much else to the story other than the paper I wrote for Carl. It was the first and last paper I wrote for him. I quit the tutor program after I deposited the one sentence essay into his professor’s mail box.

Carl went on to play basketball and was very good. But he graduated just like many other really good basketball players who never even see an NBA court, as player or spectator. I don’t know where he is now. And in retrospect, I should have tried to make him take his academics more seriously. Then again, maybe that was part of his life purpose; he was blessed with skill but not foresight. He had to learn that there was more than this game. Carl needed to learn to take himself seriously. So did I.

Carl Swelton
English: Writing 204
Prof. McCabe

I am scared of accountability.


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