As I sat in the dingy, old classroom, it took everything in me to not get up, walk over, and punch the middle-aged Chinese woman in the face. Normally I didn’t daydream of such violence. But time began running out and the all the reasons I came here were slowly slipping from my finger tips.
Back when I decided to try and make a living off my writing, I had the unfortunate realization that I’d also have to become a business. Alas, I don’t have an entrepreneurial bone in my body. Math hurts my brain and I can barely remember to write things down in my calendar. Most paperwork stays on the top of my desk rather than in the filing cabinets and I haven't even checked my PO Box since I got it.
However instead of feeling all road blocked and self defeated (like most of the time), I decided to take a more proactive approach. I skimmed through the catalogue of a local adult education center to see if they had anything that could help. In no time, I found myself signing up for all sorts of classes: taxes for the small business owner, copyrights and trademarks, google analytics, iPhone photography, and how to get good sleep.
Those last two might not seem all that related to business. But I figured it couldn’t hurt to bone up my game on Instagram, as well as not lay awake all night thinking about all the various ways I could fail. Oh, which reminds me, then there was the class on how to not fail under pressure.
The iPhonephotography course came first. Except when I walked in the classroom, I realized I might not have paid close enough attention to the course description. Out of seven students, I was the youngest by about 30 years. To give you further perspective, I am currently 35 years old.
When the teacher went around the room and asked what brought them to this class, literally each of them said they wanted to learn how to take better photos of their grandchildren. One woman was tired of accidentally getting pictures of her feet all the time. It was actually all kinds of adorable.
When the teacher taught us that, in order to save time, you can simply swipe up from the lock screen to quickly find the camera icon, then I knew I had taken the wrong class. Some people didn’t know this? I so badly wanted to raise my hand and say that you can also get to the camera by just swiping left from the lock screen. However this information might make their heads explode, and I didn’t have time to clean up all those elderly brains.
Next came the class on how to get good sleep. However, the day before, I got a phone call from the school saying that it would be cancelled. Since I was the ONLY person who signed up, they didn’t have enough students enrolled to put it on. You win again, insomnia.
Finally the class on Copyrights and Trademarks arrived - something I could actually sink my teeth into when it came to business. I was the first one to get there. When the teacher arrived, he looked like that crazy, disheveled uncle who would use a time machine to go back in time and simply get his haircut in the 1970s. As goofy as he looked, he introduced himself with 23 years of copyright law experience.
The next student who arrived seemed like Mr. Rogers’ illegitimate son. He began handing out smiley face pins that we could hook to our shirts. “Everyone can use a smile!” he said with a grin so sweet that it automatically meant he had to be a serial killer. The teacher was delighted. I played along.
Then walked in the Asian woman - the person who, for the next hour and a half, would be the bane of my existence. I don't know what it was, but I could tell she would be trouble right from the start.
“Aren’t there supposed to be two of you?” the teacher asked her, wondering the whereabouts of her husband.
“Ah yes, he in tha cah,” she said. “He much slowah than me.”
Now, before I continue on with this story, let me apologize for my poor attempts at phonetically writing out her Chinese accent. My liberal side feels like I’m being slightly stereotypical (and therefore slightly racist) for doing this. But this is literally how she spoke. Her jutty English knew no R’s and were replaced with an “h” or “ah” or occasional “w” sound. If you're wondering why I didn’t just swap “L” and “R,” well it’s because that’s the Japanese accent. Now who’s racist?
After waiting a few more minutes, the husband still didn’t come in. Since the woman didn’t seem to be all that concerned, the teacher went outside to find out what was going on. When the teacher came back, he informed us that the husband was just sitting in the car, not attempting to get out or come to the class. Finally the woman got up to grab this man and bring him in.
Melanie and George Chow were the owners/publishers of a free, state wide newspaper for the Chinese community. Melanie clearly ruled their marriage with an iron fist. George practically didn’t speak unless she gave him permission. I didn’t know if this was a cultural thing or not, but typically I’d appreciate a powerful woman. However in this case, her power began to dominate the entire class.
During our introductions, which should typically take no more than twenty seconds, Melanie deemed it necessary to take twenty minutes to explain their situation. Like all free publications, they made their income from the advertisements. They hadn’t ever thought about copyrights until recently when another publication stole one of their ads without their consent. Melanie wanted her questions answered immediately. It became clear that she hadn’t come to the class to learn, she had come for some personal legal counsel. To her, no one else existed in the room.
To make matters worse, the teacher actually decided to answer her questions rather than just move on with the material (hence the twenty minutes). You could tell he attempted to do this in a way that educated the rest of us, but it only helped in the slightest. I needed foundational knowledge, not specific scenarios. Before I knew it, the clock suddenly said fifteen more minutes had passed.
Each time the teacher did move on with the course material, it’d last for about five minutes before Melanie would burst out with more irrelevant questions. He had enabled her for all this one-on-one attention. And she seemed to have a lot of problems. What if she played copyrighted music on her one hour program at the local Chinese radio station? Who would be at fault? Then of course she wanted to know what to do about the time some hooligan stole all of their papers from a newsstand.
It often gets said that a watched pot never boils. However when it comes to watching a clock, our brains always seem to heat up at a rapid pace. And here in this classroom, my brain began to bubble in no time. All of the irritability was making my squirm in my seat. I could tell that even Mr. Rogers Junior was getting tense.
“How we going to sue the person who take ouh papah?” she screamed, wanting revenge on these Chinese-newspaper-stealing-thugs.
I checked the clock again. We were closing in on an hour of class. Surely the teacher wouldn’t answer this. How was it even related?
“You can’t sue them,” he said. “Your newspapers are free. You deemed the value of your product at zero and therefore the worth of what they stole is also at zero.”
This logic seemed clear to everyone except her. Thus the answer didn't satisfy her in the least. So Melanie began to argue her desire to sue people from all different angles.
“So what if we sell papah for twenty-fi cent and tell stoh employee to tell customah that it weally fwee,” Melanie suggested.
With only thirty minutes left in the class, the teacher actually started answering this one too and suddenly, my brain began to boileth over.
“OH MY GOD!” I let out an involuntary whisper scream. This was the kind of “oh my god” that said “oh my god, are you kidding me with this shit?” or “oh my god, please, for the love of God, just shut the fuck up!” I would seriously rather kick a bunch of rabbits with my bare feet than deal with this anymore.
The teacher caught on to our frustrations and tried to rush through the rest of the course content in the twenty-nothing minutes remaining. But it was too late. I would be walking away with probably 40% of what I should have learned. I would most definitely be calling the school tomorrow to ask for a refund or freebie to the next class.
When the teacher handed out the forms to rate the class and his performance, I realized that in order to get my refund or second chance, I’d have to be honest. Although I explained why, I rated the class poor and his doings as average. I knew he would see them, but I didn’t care.
Seeing as how Melanie and George left first, Mr. Rogers Junior and I decided to corner the teacher and ask him our last ditch questions. It was the least he could do. To our surprise, he didn’t just apologize for everything, but he stayed for nearly a whole additional ninety minutes longer to talk with us. Not only would I walk away with 100% of the course content, but I’d learn so many specific items to my own journey as a blogger/writer/public figure. He even offered to help fine-tune some legal paperwork for me pro-bono.
Suddenly, I felt terrible for writing him that poor review. I stared at the envelope which contained them and wondered if there was a way I could steal them out of his hand and re-write mine. But alas it would be impossible. The school staff would read it after all the good that this guy unexpectedly did for me.
When clocks cause our brains to boil, we can easily become shortsighted. I let my temperament with the situation get ahead of me and in that, I misjudged the very man who would offer to be some of my greatest help. When I got home and told my partner about all of it, he… well he first asked why in the hell I had a smiley face pinned to my shirt. And then he suggested writing an email to the school to correct my review, and also give additional gushes of the teacher’s sudden, extensive help.
The next day, I sent an email to the teacher with the paperwork that he promised to review. The longer it took to get a response, the more I began counting time again with the passing days. To a new disappointment, I never heard back from him. And with that, there was only one thing I could do: still send the school that email telling them how much I appreciated his work. Because instead of letting my brain reach yet another boiling point what didn't come through, I chose to remain thoughtful of what did.
Edited by Glen Trupp
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