My Arabic tutor text-messaged me at 9:02. "Hi. Where are you?" she asked. I was en route. Two minutes late. My tutor is a dictator, man. Which is what I like about her. Lesser, sissy tutors baby their students, telling them it's okay if they're late and it's okay if they cancel and it's okay if they don't have time to study. My steely tutor does not know the term "baby." Her kids must have emerged from the womb as platoon leaders.


I learned her style last fall, after a couple of months of twice-weekly lessons, when I entered her house one morning for my lesson:

(This is all in Arabic) Tutor: "Joey."

Me: "Tutor."

Tutor: "Why are you still bad at Arabic? Why don't you study?"

Me (somewhat taken aback at her painful assessment of my linguistic impotence): "I'm very busy." (My Arabic is pretty limited; I express a lot with my body language -- like when I kick you it means I'm frustrated, and when I pull your hair it means I want you to come closer because I have a secret to tell you).

Tutor: "Joey, why are you wasting my time?"

Me (somewhat taken aback at her forthcoming manner and painful revelation of how she views her time spent teaching me): "I'm very busy."

Tutor: "I have many other students who study more than you. If you don't get better, I'll teach someone else instead of you."

Me: [Crying]

Tutor (to herself): "I wonder how the Americans ever got to be the world's only superpower?"

I did feel better though when one of my Jordanian colleagues strolled past my desk one day at work and noticed the Arabic article I'd worked on that morning in my tutoring session laying on the edge of my desk.

"What's that?" she asked, her eyes probably attracted to it by all the yellow and pink highlighter marks that indicated words I didn't know.

"I don't know. I can't read it," I only half joked.

She picked it up and squinted at it for several seconds. "Neither can I. This is pretty obtuse. Most college-aged Arabs would have problems with this."

Now, I was beyond "having problems" with this particular text. It was metaphorically kicking me in the groin every time I picked it up, jumping on me from the turnbuckle, pouring tabasco sauce on my wounded body, lighting me on fire, and roasting weinies over my burning corpse. Even so, I felt pretty good for the rest of the day after learning that I was only kind of a moron for not getting it. So good, in fact, that I greeted one of my Jordanian colleagues, who was arriving for evening shift while I was heading home, in Arabic. Usually, you see, I head home in English. Or sometimes in Hindi, just for fun. Okay, enough fun with dangling modifiers.

"Good evening!" I gushed in Arabic

"Good evening," he replied, somewhat taken aback at my confident exuberence. "How are you?"

"Male dancers who do female roles are wonderful!" I exclaimed in Arabic.

He arched his eyebrows and continued to his workstation, leaving me to figure out on my own that I'd mispronounced the word meaning "I feel" as the word meaning "male dancers who do female roles" -- to my credit, both words are fairly similar.


So, at 9:12 I entered my tutor's apartment, braced against the inevitable incoming verbal abuse. "Joey," she said, in Arabic. "Why are you late?"

"My wife," I whined, in Arabic. "She need ride. Gas station. Before, I eat. Long time. Spill juice on bicycle. I mean, old woman. Spill juice on old woman."

"Okay Joey," she sighed. "Come on, let's read." So I reluctantly climbed into the methaphorical ring, put on my singlet, and subjected myself once again to pummelling.