Assaulted Spirit

August 26, 2008

In a series I call with some effrontery my mini Canterbury Tales, I have described meeting a man paralyzed in a youthful accident involving street racing, meeting a woman brain-damaged in an industrial accident, and had a tale related to me about a man brain-damaged in a bungled contract killing attempt.In this tale, I relate a story about a person who has suffered not physical damage, but severe psychological assaults.
It takes some set up.

I use a lot of humor in my teaching. Over time, I have developed routines that work pretty well, both in making students laugh, in getting them to relax, and in conveying useful concepts, such as the desirability of arriving on time for a class. My humor is edgy; although I am fairly careful, occasionally I make a mistake. If I realize I have done so, I apologize profusely. Most people seem to take it in strike; they just say, “Oh, that’s Random; he’s an elderly idiot; don’t mind him.” One day, a student will shoot me because I offended his or her culture.

I meet a lot of people from around the world. I encounter names unfamiliar to me in spelling and pronunciation. I ask how to pronounce their name and practice saying it a few times. I ask where the name comes from. Generally, people are happy to tell me. I never know where this is going. A few weeks ago, I encountered a name that struck me as unusual. As usual, I asked him how to pronounce it and where it came from. He told me that it came from Nepal. I said (this is true), that a friend of mine had gone trekking in Nepal. She and her guide fell in love, even though he spoke little English and she spoke little Nepalese. They are now married, living in Portland, and have two children.

In the next class of that day, the gentleman from Nepal sat down; evidently I had not offended him so much that he avoided taking a second class with me. A woman with an unusual name sat down next to him. I asked her the usual questions. “I am from Nepal,” she said.

I asked (in some astonishment), do you know each other? I do not get that many people from Nepal in my classes; the odds against their taking the same class and randomly sitting next to each other strike me as great. They immediately began chatting in Nepali.

I asked them, “Do you both speak the same dialect?”

They said, “Yes.”

As I have no tact, I asked, “Are there any clashes or feuds between different groups in Nepal I need to worry about, or will you get along fine?”

They told me they were fine, so I left them to their conversation. For all I know they are married by now, or have decided never to have anything to do with each other again, or both.


In the same class as the brain-damaged woman, a woman sat in a back row with a scowl on her face. I notice scowls at the beginning of a class and watch the scowler carefully. The computer she was trying to use was malfunctioning and refused to let her log in. Her scowl deepened. I moved her to a computer in the front row and helped her log in.

Her name was unusual to my eye. I asked her how to pronounce it, practiced a few times until she said I was getting it correct, and then asked where the name came from. She scowled even more at me and said, “Asia. That’s enough; leave it at that.” I figured I was in deep doo by then.

Nevertheless, I continued with my introduction and with telling jokes. All of sudden, the scowling woman laughed uproariously at one of my jokes. Surreptitiously, I looked at her with astonishment. It was as if a switch had been pulled; she was now cheerful and engaged. I breathed a sigh of relief. About that time I became aware of the problems the woman who had lost much of her short term memory and stopped worrying about (..) as I shall call the woman from Asia.

[To be continued]




7 Responses to “Assaulted Spirit”

  1. The human drama in your line of work never ceases to amaze me.

  2. pandemonic Says:

    That’s so interesting. You sound like a great teacher.

    I’m terrible at pronunciation. I am trying to learn Japanese right now, and my tongue can’t get around the “r” – “l” thing.

  3. modestypress Says:


    Mommy said a month or two ago about Random Granddaughter, “She’s such a drama queen.”

    As a grandfather, I have inherited drama queen characteristics from my non-genetically related granddaughter. My classes seem to be very popular; I attribute the popularity to the constant soap opera/human drama/”if it burns or bleeds, it leads” excitement of my classes.

    On any given day, I am ducking as gunfire ricochets off computer monitors, EMTs are performing CPR resucitations and tracheotomies on the floor of the rooms where I teach, and I am engaging in a hostage release negotiation and teaching how to use an Excel function at the same time.

    While I exaggerate a bit for dramatic purposes, my least favorite student, a person who has been stalking me for about eight years (not for romantic purposes but because she thinks I can teach her enough computer skills that she will get a job), did in fact have a dramatic asthma attack in one of my classes so severe we did have to call an aid car to revive her. (That part is true.)

    pandemonic, thank you for comment. There is a reason this blog is titled “Vanity Press.”

    Also, my brother, B, who majored in lingistics and became fluent in Germna, French, and Wolof, owns and operates a business that does a lot of business with Japan. So he started trying to learn Japanese, and told me he found it quite difficult. I don’t know which letters and sounds are throwing him.

  4. Mr. Random- I’m only sorry that I’m too crazy not to appreciate you as much as you deserve. That said, I wish I could take one of your classes.

  5. Pete Says:

    I think all of us should show up at one of Mr Random’s classes and have a little fun with him. We could all have strange names athat can’t be pronounced and speak in odd dialects. I want to be from nepal!

    Random, with the fun you have, I say take all the crap you have to from the powers above you and stick it out until you retire. It makes for great writing fodder.

  6. modestypress Says:

    waxing, in some odd sense, you are already being crazy in one of my classes by reading and commenting in my blog. I thank you.

    Pete, just about everything you suggest people doing to me in a class has already been done to me in a class. I am not making this up. For example: I had a bullet come through a window where I was teaching; a burglar alarm go on that could not be turned off; a woman faint in class; a whole class of people who deliberately traded names just for fun; a pair of women from out of town who led the class to believe they were about to get drunk and do who knows what; several crazy people (I mean seriously mentally ill, not just a little crazy like me) in classes; and so on.

    Once the head of a large university department (for which I worked) showed up in a class with no advance warning. This was less disconcerting than when my wife told me she would sit in on one of my classes.

    Then there was the airline pilot (for a major airline) who would periodically say in the middle of the class (in the generic “West Virginia airline pilot drawl” so well described by Tom Wolfe in The Right Stuff) “Oh, sh*t.” Of course, we all wondered if he was in the habit of saying that during a cross-country flight.

  7. ireneintheworld Says:

    looking forward to the next instalment. great stuff. x

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