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What is Appropriate to Say?

Sunday, November 27
When we walked back into his hospital room after the nurses removed Richard from the breathing machine, we watched the small point in his stomach pulsating, small bursts that decrescendo. Kristalyn looked over her mother, while Ryan looked over her. Steven watched over Robin and Tom—he watched over all of us. I wrapped my arms around myself and held my coat closer to my body. It was a sad attempt at holding myself together.

Some of us shed a few tears, and when I say that—it’s not as if we didn’t care because we didn’t cry hard. I think all we could manage was a few tears, because if we let go, if we bought into the idea of hysterical crying, bawling, we would have broken down and never recovered. A few tears, a runny nose, and some red eyes—it’s all we can manage to give now, because there is still so much more for all us to do. We can grieve later, privately—I’ve never known us to be public with our feelings.

I’m staring and wondering—what’s appropriate to say? Do I recap a man’s life so now you can know what type of man that the world lost yesterday? Or do I tell you about how mourning Richard makes me feel guilty, because I want to believe he is in a better place and no longer suffering, but part of me wishes he was still here to enrich others. Neither seems right, but I will share something about my feelings for Richard—I have epilepsy like Richard, but mine is ever so slight compared to what he had to endure, but I felt connected to him because of it. I knew what it was like to have an attack in public and be embarrassed. I knew what it was like to have your life hampered because of it. I knew how important it was to make your life seem as normal as possible because of it. And then to spend your entire life to be a better and bigger person than your ailment, to be so self-defined, so dynamic, so concrete that there was no room for the ailment to define you. And for that, I will always admire him.

Strep, Gyllenhaal, and Vietnam Music

Wednesday, November 16
I went to the doctor and he said, “Well, it’s either mono or strep throat. Let’s hope it’s strep throat.” So I sat at home and logged in some hours on Madden, and put Terrell Owens on the Atlanta Falcons to see how that would feel, and after one game, I couldn’t stomach throwing him the ball—I still hate that guy.

I also took in a matinee yesterday. I saw Jarhead. I have to admit that I’m a big fan of Jake Gyllenhaal; loved Donnie Darko, The Good Girl, and most importantly Bubble Boy. And on a shallower level and proof that commercialism lures me in the same way the scent of a stripper does—that Kanye West song, “Jesus Walks” just made the commercial for that movie look that much better.

With that said, it was a movie about war, without the war. There was some great cinematography and some good lines that talked about a soldier’s or a sniper’s relationship with his gun. And there are things that he didn’t want to tell you, and his memory became physical and this door kept shutting on his secrets, and the door opened up to the things that he was comfortable talking about. But as much as it felt like it could be, it felt like it feel short just because I didn’t care for any of the soldiers, no relationships felt forged, felt honest, felt real, and by the time someone did die—didn’t matter and you couldn’t feel for the characters. If it was the intension to make you feel numb to war, I did. If it was its intension to make you feel empathy for anyone, I didn’t. I wish it was better. It had room and the stage to be great.

Best line: A chopper is flying by playing “Break on Through” by the Doors, and Gyllenhaal stares up and is irritated, and says, “That’s Vietnam music. Can’t we get our own music?”

I’m going to see “Walk the Line,” the flick about Johnny Cash and I’m hoping that sits with me better than “Jarhead” did.

Why Are You Being So Negative

Tuesday, November 15
So she said, “Why are you being so negative.” I could tell her that I work there and she doesn’t, and because of that she simply doesn’t know any better, but I’d be lying. She knows me better than I know myself, and if there is anyone like that in your own life – you can understand how much that can piss someone off.

She’s right though – there are moments when you’re helping someone [as a teacher] and then they get it, they understand. It’s a good feeling to be present during their epiphany. It’s probably a greater joy than teaching at college, not that there is anything wrong with university educators, but there are a number of college students that come in thinking that their smart, too smart to learn that is thus thinking that their shit doesn’t stink, and each day with them becomes a battle of wits with a retard that mistake’s intellect for an Autistic child’s ability to memorize large amounts of facts. How can I learn something from you? It’s what they think if they believe they’re smarter than you. And then you ask yourself, how do I function as a teacher against the massive ego created by Academic Challenge Bowls, National Honor Society, AP results, IOWA Test Scores, and the nurturing of a mother who is three kisses and two hugs away from being labeled a kid toucher. I say “fine, be brilliant, you don't need my help. That will leave me more time to concentrate on someone who actually needs my help.”

But there are a few moments, non-academic, like she said that I don’t talk about. For instance, the guy who stole 140 plus cars taught me “his handshake in his hood.” I can now probably rep W. 25. He refers to me as “fam.” And to add, a number of Puerto Ricans and African Americans refer to me as “Their nigga.” I’d like to believe that this is my way of enhancing Asian Race Relations with the community as a whole. I might be the first Vietnamese man they've met that has neither served them food nor manicured their nails. Score one for me.

I’ll leave you with this moment: We’re talking about the importance of Rosa Parks, and how integration is now part of their life, and how it is a great thing. They agreed, and then I asked this question to a half Black, half Puerto Rican male student, and that’s why it’s all right for you to bring home a white girl, right? Caught off guard, he said no, smiled and understood that we haven’t moved as far as we think we have. Then another student, female and half Black, half Puerto Rican said, well, sometimes you date who you want to date. That’s why I don’t date Black men. Then another Black student said, “Ain’t that always the bitch, one nigga fucking it up for the rest of us. Damn. Oops, sorry Mr. Tran.”

Where Have You Been Tran?

Friday, November 11
It was so much easier updating the blog when you’re unemployed, and because of that – I’m sure my readership is down to 3 regular people, and that’s being kind.

Work has been keeping me busy – I’m an English teacher at a charter school designed for “high risk” students. On my first day at work, a Puerto Rican student came up to me with a doctor’s note which said please excuse “so-and-so” due to his gunshot wound. Later that day I noticed a female student wearing a GPS on her ankle. These are my students: hustlers, a few drug dealers, and two strippers that I’m aware of. Some of these students have parole officers and that is usually followed up by their weekly visits to anger management classes.

Some of them can’t read. It shocks me that someone can be 16-20 years old and not know how to read. Didn’t someone down the road catch this earlier? But it was explained to me that when a student from the grades of K-8 is marked to fail, only with the parent's permission can a student be retained. Even if a teacher fails a student, a parent can veto that recommendation and the student can still graduate to the next grade. So it is possible to be a fuck up until the eighth grade because until then your grades obviously don’t count. So I’m sounding out words with students, an unsaid ESL teacher, and a part-time Special Ed teacher.


I’m Asian in a school that is predominantly Black and Puerto Rican, and again I was the Chinese teacher. Some of them call me “Jackie Tran,” and I call them “Chipotle.” It’s tough having to educate people about yourself each day, everyday.

- No, Vietnamese and Chinese people aren’t the same.
- No, I don’t understand Chinese, but I do understand Vietnamese.
- Of course it’s offensive, how would you feel if I called you, Mexican.

I drink more these days. You kind of have to sedate yourself, because their stories are so painful. You want to save them, but you realize this is about all you can do. A student told me that she had gotten into a fight, and then later that night some people that had known the girl that she had brawled with, took shots at her. She wasn't hit but she did have to drive her friend to the hospital because she was shot in the arm. Another girl, who is 19 with two kids and pregnant with her third one, has heavy learning disabilities, and her husband used to beat her. Another student came in with cuts on his arm because the night before he ran from the police and had to clear a fence that had barbwire. Another student told me he was taken into custody because of curfew, and then he had to spend the night in jail because they couldn’t contact his mother because she worked the late shift. And lastly, another student asked me, “If you have drug trafficking on your record as a 17 year old, and then when you turn 18 is it wiped clean from your record because you’re not a juvenile anymore?”

I told him I didn’t know.