Being an assistant to a blind English teacher definitely had its ups and downs. It was a desk job without being a desk job. Unconventional, yes. Sometimes boring and… sometimes not so boring. I had my good days as well as the bad.
I worked after school hours out of Henry’s home. He lived with his wife, a small Korean woman, who spoke very broken English and couldn’t even read or write English. Hence his need for me to help pay bills, read mail, and attend to other personal assistant tasks. All tasks I knew the Los Angeles Unified School District would be appalled to learn they were paying me to do. According to their guidelines, if it wasn’t school related, I wasn’t supposed to do it. But, I didn’t say a word. I had a job and was getting paid. Hell- if I was getting paid to wander around Petco searching for the right dog food for his seeing-eye dog, so be it. I’m not exactly a fussy person.
When I first started working for the man, he had me situated at a secondary desk in his home “office”. His “office” was a small bedroom located down the hall of his house, next to the master bedroom. Even though it was already small, it was made even more cramped by the two desks, chairs, computers, printers, Braille machine, and the piles upon piles of books, papers, and boxes containing even more books, papers, and other miscellaneous items. They were stacked in columns and it seemed like there were stacks upon stacks. I was always so amazed at how Henry was able to blindly maneuver around each stack. Yet the thin layer of dust shrouding the columns confirmed that they had been there for quite awhile. I surmised that it was easier to learn the layout of a room when it hasn’t been moved.
One of the perks of working for this blind man was being able to make faces at the incredibly rude or bigoted statements he would make and not get called out on it. It’s so much easier to bite your tongue or answer, “Sure”, when you’re able to make a disgusted face. I think it would have been harder for me to agree or bite my tongue if I wasn’t able to twist my face into an expression of how I really felt about “Godless people who don’t go to church and will go to hell”. I felt I was still being true to me and my beliefs by giving him a look of “What the fuck?” while he giggled at his own racist comments.
Henry also had a habit of falling asleep in his desk chair. He would give me a chapter or two of a textbook for me to retype; but instead of reading his assignments that were reprinted in Braille, he would fall asleep. Hands folded in his lap, head lulled to one side, and mouth gaping open; a soft snore would be my soundtrack for the next hour. During this time I was able to sneak in a little reading of a book I was currently enthralled with. I would switch off between typing out a description of a picture graph from his textbook, and reading a couple pages of Stephen King. Sure, I was being a little lazy with my job… occasionally… but do you really want to sit for hours on end rewriting things in a textbook, describing pictures, and making sure the words you typed would be interpreted by the Braille machine? Don’t answer that. The answer is, no. It was boring and tedious. Which is probably why I welcomed the occasional trips to the store, bank, post office… pharmacy for hemorrhoid cream… Yeah. That happened.
I hated that small office sometimes. The walls bore an 80s patterned wallpaper with cartoon silhouettes of children riding on skateboards, roller blades, and surfing. It annoyed me for some reason. Its outdated pattern mocked me. Even though I couldn’t ride a skateboard, surf, or rollerblade (not very well, anyway), I still wanted to be doing things that were fun. Instead I was listening to him snore and creating lesson plans for children he made fun of and set up to fail. On top of the derisive wallpaper, the windows’ blinds were always shut. I wasn’t able to look outside which saddened me. My creativity felt stifled.
Then one summer, he moved my workspace to the den area of their house. The den was in the center of their home and it had glass doors all around that would close it off to the rest of the house. It was like being enclosed inside a glass cage. I was told that I had been moved to this space because I would be working there when Henry wasn’t home. Therefore his wife could ‘keep an eye on me’. It was an odd arrangement as my desk was a glass coffee table and a dining room chair. The layer of dust was even thicker in this room and I found myself constantly sneezing due to my allergies.
“You told me you weren’t allergic to dogs when I hired you,” he scolded me one day after a fit of sneezing. I knew it wasn’t the dog. The den was hot, stuffy, and had a very musty odor. I presumed that the fireplace in that room hadn’t been cleaned in over a year. The scarlet felt of the pool table located in the center of the room had turned pink from the mask of dust covering it. I also noticed scores of termites on the stacks of the old books scattered around the room and on my coffee table.
Ick, I thought to myself. I seriously hope I don’t get sick.
It was dismal and uncomfortable in that room. I did have the pleasure of my solitude and didn’t have to endure Henry’s commentary or snoring. The best part was, the den had a perfectly clear view of the yard. I was able to see outside my glass cage and daydream as I stared into that backyard. I would pretend I was lying beside their pool, next to the large tree, and conversing with little woodland fairies that lived in its large boughs. Since it was summer, I longed to be out in the sun instead of in my jail smelling of dirt and the staleness of a stagnant life.
Sometimes, on that ancient laptop, I would write stories of my daydreams. He had taken away my access to the internet a long time ago. If I wanted to escape from the mundane, I would write. I wasn’t able to read my book because, after all, his wife was ‘keeping an eye on me’.
Henry was a very stubborn man. I learned not to argue with him and if I wanted something, I had to play into the type of person he was. I learned how to deal with him and because I learned this skill, he began to allow me to do all the grading on his students’ assignments by myself. But honestly, I think he allowed this because he was lazy. But because of Henry’s stubbornness, he had a habit of wanting to do many things by himself, with no help from anyone. Many things you wouldn’t recommend a blind man to do… Heating something over the stove, organizing cutlery, trimming the trees with giant shears. You seeing a trend, here? Yikes, man. Yikes.
One day, after Henry and I had gotten into a small argument about a student’s grade on an essay; he decided that he wanted to go clean the pool. I noticed he often did this when he was frustrated. It worked for me because he was out of my hair, I could make faces at him, and flip him a good ole’ middle finger or two. Before he wandered outside, I called out to him, asking if he needed any help. He grumbled back, “No,” and grabbed the doorknob hard in his hand. I stuck my tongue out at him as he turned the knob and opened the door of my jail cell to the yard. I watched him for a moment while he felt his way to the pool net and picked it up. He began scooping things unseen to him, out of the pool. I turned around, back to the computer screen.
I whipped my head around to the sound and realized that Henry, upon his OCD cleaning ritual, had fallen into the pool. The metal pole of the pool net started sinking to the bottom of the pool. I noticed a shoe floating to the other end as he splashed his way toward the perimeter.
With my hand over my mouth and eyes wide, I tried to stop the laugh that was building up within me. I couldn’t help it.
My blind boss just fell into the pool, I thought to myself. And I’m laughing at him. I must be going to hell. Yet, I still laughed to myself and watched a little while longer. After I regained my composure, I finally got up and went outside when he began pulling himself out of the water and onto the concrete.
“Oh my goodness! What happened? Henry, are you ok? Can I help?” I asked as sincerely concerned as I could. I didn’t want him to get mad at me for laughing at him. I wasn’t exactly sure how he would take that! I didn’t want to get fired, of course.
He started laughing.
“Oh, I fell in the pool. Haha! I think my shoe is still in there. Can you help me get it?” He chuckled even more in embarrassment.
I grabbed the pool net that was bobbing in the pool and used it to fish his tennis shoe out. Needless to say, it was a pretty eventful day. I mean, how often can a person say that they saw their blind boss fall into the pool? Don’t answer that question either. We all know the answer.
Overall, it was a good day at work. But I have to wonder… would anyone else have laughed? Would you have laughed? Now, that is a question I want you to answer.
Like I said, being an assistant to a blind English teacher definitely had its ups and downs. For me, this day definitely had an “up”.