Written by Graham von Carlowitz
I work as the sole German tutor for my university. I do think I am qualified for the job, but always in the back of my mind during my sessions is the idea that no one else applied.
“They were forced to select me,” I think to myself. “I’m the only German tutor for miles.”
I’ll be considering my iffy hire as the student I’m tutoring is waiting for my to answer a simple question about German grammar.
“You know, since my name is Graham, I’m almost overqualified to be a Grahamarian,” I’ll tell some of my students, each of them cringing at the pun. My one-on-one sessions often produce these cringeworthy situations, so it’s no wonder many of my students are one-and-done. I’m not the comedian they might have hoped to be.
However, I still can’t wrap my head around the concerning number of students that cancel their appointments on a weekly basis. On the one hand it’s a nice break, as I get a head start on homework and get paid minimum wage to do so. On the other hand, my subconscious tells me that something suspicious is going on. I’m not offended that Kyle and Qin Shen have cancelled their appointments three weeks in a row, or that Katheryn-Lynn has made it to three of her 12 sessions, or that Samuel James has scheduled and cancelled four times before actually coming in.
No, I’m not offended. Just, why? Is it my awkward sense of humor used to ease tensions? Have I accidentally bumped feet with my students too many times, forcing them to think I am playing footsies? Are they put off by my fake laugh? Does my breath smell bad? By the way my students strain and bend their necks away from my approaching breath, I’d say that’s not far from the truth.
I once had a student tell me she had graduated from tutoring.
“Yeah, it’s just…” she was struggling for an excuse. “I just, you know, feel like I can handle this on my own now. All thanks to you, of course.”
She said this last part in one of those voices that implied something was up, as if honesty was never an option.
“Yes,” I thought, “this is because of bad breath. No, it’s worse than bad breath – it’s my poop breath.”
It all started with an innocent visit to the dentist the winter before my senior year of high school. Sure, I had to lie when the assistant asked if I brushed my teeth twice a day, but I’ve handled teeth brushing negligence quite well my whole life. Whenever my mom would give me the spiel about how disgusting I was for going a few weeks without brushing, noting that I would “rot in hell” for such behavior, I knew that the threat wasn’t too serious. I was only a few days and a handful of Hail Mary’s away from her forgetting my sins.That, and I had to make sure she saw me with a toothbrush in my hand by morning and by night.
The dental assistant, however, confronted the situation a little bit more literally. When she said the word “rot,” she was referring to the four cavities in the back of my mouth. Oh, and I had a cyst, thankfully benign. Along with the decaying teeth, it would need to be excavated via open mouth surgery the following August, just before senior year started. She handed me a prescription for a toothbrush, a none too vague slap on the wrist. That bugged me, but from one passive-aggressive to another, I had to admire it.
So, I waited in dental purgatory for eight months, brushing my teeth now more than ever but aware that my neglect had already taken its toll. August 2 came around. My mom drove us to the hospital at 5 in the morning: she was cranky, I was dazed, no one was prepared for the olfactory onslaught that was still to come.
The surgery went swimmingly. I laughed at the bare-butt gown they told me to wear, made it all the way to 5 in the anesthesia countdown and even got away with accidentally punching a nurse while I was still under the command of anesthesia. Before I left, one of the unharmed nurses noted that I should avoid using straws, as any sucking could undo the stitches in my mouth and lead to a surplus of unwanted blood.
My mom and I found this funny, as neither of us were normally labelled as straw-users. It was not funny, on the other hand, that the nurse — possibly still upset about her broken-nosed coworker and looking to dish out just desserts — forgot to tell me about all the blood I should expect, regardless of straw-usage.
I was drugged! Sorry!
A few days later, I returned to work and made it through an uneventful shift. Afterwards, I spotted my sister-in-law Allie’s indigo Saturn and got in the front seat, sending my other sister Kerrigan to the backseat.
“Hey,” I said. “Thanks again for getting me. They say I shouldn’t drive on the medication.”
“Graham, you don’t even have a license,” Allie responded.
From the backseat, Kerrigan moaned like she was in the middle of an evil stomachache.
“Oh, God, Graham? Did you step in poop? Man, what is that?” she asked.
We waited until we got to the house to examine every inch of my shoes and, when that yielded no results, we rummaged through the car, trying to locate the source of the smell … one that I did not pick up on.
We gave up looking and wrote it off to a mutated skunk smell. Then Kyle, my brother, approached me and, with a burst of energy, retreated.
“My God, are you leaking?”
This is how the rest of my family handled the situation, diving out of my way when close by and deeming me a walking stink grenade, bound to explode with oodles of bad smelling breath at any moment.
A few weeks into the nightmare, after my family had grown tired of recycling the “what smells like shit in here” line, school started up. At the same time, I let my guard down, thinking that it had been enough to brush my teeth with every toothpaste and baking soda paste around, to swish a dangerous amount of the extra-strength mouthwash, to spray my mouth with “Fall Harvest” potpourri, to pray to God almighty indeed for some fresh breath.
As Allie noted, I had always been without a license, instead choosing to play the role of the nice guy who could always use a ride from his friends. My ride to school senior year came from Keith, a football teammate and a polite kid. Yes, very polite, extraordinarily polite. Holy crap, so outrageously polite.
He would let me choose the music every now and again, we’d talk about anything and, perhaps best of all, he never heckled me for gas money. What’s more, each day, as we pulled into the parking lot, Keith would offer me a piece of gum. In my head, the bad breath had abated and this was simply an act of charity. Also in my head was this grand idea that I could simply pocket the stick of Extra gum and stockpile for a little bit. After all, I had my own stash of gum from, well, from the dark days.
Perhaps this was an episode of wanting to have my gum and chew it, too — nothing foreign to me. But I started to pick up on something fishy when Keith began offering me two sticks — one at the beginning of the ride and the second for the arrival to school.
“Could my breath still be that bad?” I wondered.
“Yeah, of course it is,” my brother Tucker explained. “That stuff doesn’t just go away,”
No, it does not. Eventually I broke into my hoarded gum to counter the smell and hope for improved relations with my friends, who had all been too nice to say anything and sacrificed the comfort of their neck in doing so, arching it always back and to the side when conversing with me. This is one of the routines you notice when you have poop breath.
It’s been four years now since my mom’s friend, a nurse, revealed to me that what I actually had was a nasty case of dry socket. I dealt with this by using a syringe to wash out all the nauseating aspects of a mouth surgery, including but not limited to uniquely-shaped shards of enamel. That syringe became my best friend over the following week, and it deserves some alternative name that highlights its redemptive powers, like the cylindrical purifier.
It’s been four years, and still I fear that an unknown stink disperses from my opened mouth, that it has happened again. How else am I to describe the flocking students I tutor, that is, the consistent influx and subsequent “outflux” of students who exhibit the same craned neck so prominent among my polite friends?
Yes, that posture could be used to look at my sideways handwriting, and yes, the nine cancelled appointments could be due to this hectic time in the semester.
I don’t know. Maybe I should just ask for some gum.