by Tadhg Hoey
The Tutor receives a text from his supervisor before walking into Student B’s apartment building in the West Village. Student B is having a bad day. Student B answers the door, rolls his eyes, and without saying anything, disappears down the marbled hallway into the bathroom. Unpacking his bag by the living-room window, which looks out over Sixth Avenue, The Tutor notices a bottleneck of pedestrian traffic as people slow down and try to navigate around a homeless man who is lying face down on the sidewalk. In the bathroom, Student B is playing trap music on his phone.
Over Skype, The Tutor explains to his grandmother that he’d gotten a job tutoring the children of Manhattan’s elite. She said that it sounded very glamorous, that his life must be like something off Sex and The City. To his knowledge, his grandmother has never watched Sex and The City.
Sometimes, it feels like The Tutor arrived in this city from another planet, having nothing interesting or useful to say, speaking only the quiet and unprofitable language of awkwardness.
The Tutor asks Student A if there’s something wrong with the dog. Student A shrugs. The dog wanders around the carpet in circles, its head and body tilting inwards. With each circle, the dog moves closer to the centre of the carpet, until it gets there, unsure of which way to go next. Student A tells The Tutor that his mom says his little brother jammed a crayon in the dog’s ear once and it made him weird.
The dog lets out a whimper and lays down on the floor, its head resting on its paws.
Behind Student A, through the thirty-second-floor window of the apartment, blinking planes float through the night sky towards LaGuardia, and the grid of orange lights that make up Queens pours into Brooklyn.
Student C’s mother texts The Tutor ahead of their meeting. Wait in the corridor plz. When he arrives, she is panicked. She has two iPhones in one hand, and a tiny poodle nestled in the crook of her arm. She has a list of things they need to work on to prepare for an upcoming admissions exam. The best Catholic school in Jersey, apparently. His father had gone there. When The Tutor walks into the apartment, Student C is lying on the couch, playing Fortnite. Trap music pours out of his phone’s tinny speakers. A brown paper McDonald’s bag rests against his flank like a tiny, loyal dog. He ignores The Tutor.
The Tutor goes on Linkedin to look for jobs. He has six months to find a job that will sponsor a work visa so that he may stay in the US. The number one recommended job for The Tutor in Manhattan is Equities Specialist. The number one recommended job in Brooklyn is Horse Whisperer. The Tutor spends the evening watching The Horse Whisperer.
The Tutor spends five minutes looking for a pair of socks, and another five trying to find a pair without holes in them. He gives up, spends a minute, without breathing, emptying all of his socks into a bag which he leaves on the street, next to the other rubbish, so that he will never have to look at them again.
On the train to Student B’s apartment, The Tutor thumbs through pictures and updates of his friends from college, all of whom live in places like London, Barcelona, or Australia now. Some in places with strange names in Canada. Few stayed in Ireland. He and his generation have been scattered across the globe like the people who tried to build a tower to God.
In his local laundromat, The Tutor is reading a book when he notices what the old woman beside him is looking at on her phone. At first, it looks just like a photo of a sunset, but as he leans forward slightly, he notices that it is a video and there is a couple having sex on a balcony in the left foreground. In it, the sun is setting over Manhattan, and it all looks beautiful, like a place he has never been to. The old woman’s eyes flicker in The Tutor’s direction and she tilts herself away from him.
At 4am one morning, The Tutor finds himself standing in his boxers, staring into the holy light of the refrigerator, eating the remains of a tub of coleslaw with a plastic spoon. Chatter and blue light from his house-mate’s enormous television seeps out from under her door at the other end of the kitchen. He eats another mouthful. Cold and gummy. He wonders if maybe he should have never come to this country.
At The Tutor’s other job, in one of the administrative offices of the university he has just graduated from, with a Master’s in unemployment, a co-worker tells him about a date he had gone on the night before. Fourth one this week, he says, smiling and slapping The Tutor on the back. ‘Four, bro, and it’s only Wednesday.’
The days begin to feel like grains of sand passing through an hourglass, each unique in their own way, but identical when viewed from afar. The Tutor has used up almost half of his allotted post-graduation work visa. If he does not find a job soon, he will have to return to Ireland. It is increasingly unlikely that The Tutor will miraculously fall into a job which will want to sponsor him, or that he will wake up some morning and become an “alien with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry.” He reads the stipulations over, looking for any loopholes, for any wiggle room in between the airtight clauses. He thinks he might ask his students for references.
Waiting in the lobby of Student B’s apartment building, The Tutor receives a call from his supervisor. Student B collapsed in school so today’s lesson will be cancelled. The supervisor reminds him that they have a fifteen-minute cancellation-policy so The Tutor won’t be able to bill for today’s lesson. When The Tutor asks if Student B is okay, he’s told that he’s fine, he’s just not been eating.
The Tutor often tries to draw comparisons between life in the city and life back home. The list is short.
- Some days you don’t speak to anyone at all.
‘Where in Ireland are you from? Dublin? Galway? The West? Cork? Wicklow?’ Student A’s mother asks. ‘My grandfather was Irish. Do you speak any of the Gaelic? We were over last year in Dublin and Galway, visiting cousins. Student A had a great time. Didn’t you, sweetie?’ Student A, unpacking his books for the lesson, nods without looking. ‘Where did you say you were from?’ The Tutor tells her he is from Small Border Town. She looks disappointed. ‘Never heard of it.’
In a quiet corner on the second floor of a McDonald’s on 13th St., The Tutor inhales 20 McNuggets and downloads an app that will guide him through a ten-minute meditation. He receives a text from Student B’s father. Just had his parent teacher meeting. Worse than I thought. Just focus on homework with him today. He’s full of shit but go easy on him for now. The Tutor takes a sip from his Coke and begins the app.
Close your eyes.
The Tutor tries to imagine moving back home and his mind becomes vast and empty, like the fields he grew up surrounded by. Home is a gnarled word. He cannot verbalise or explain away the emptiness he feels whenever he thinks of it. He then considers New York, which, according to a famous Irish actor he once saw give a speech at the library on 42nd Street, is a city full of those who have outgrown where they are from, a place for placeless people. The Tutor is learning that it is possible to both hate something and to want it to never end.
Here’s our view. If I had not spoken with The Tutor directly, he would have continued to go down the wrong path with Student B. We expressed certain concerns and expectations with you during the summer and these were not being followed. From my prospective, there was a communication breakdown on your end.
I work hard for my money, and this is the first week that I feel like we got what we wanted from your service and have a positive outlook about the go forward.
Please call me on Monday to discuss.
Student B’s Dad
The Tutor reads the email over and over again, debating whether or not he should respond and correct the misspelt ‘perspective’.
In between Chambers and 14th Street on the 3 train, a man, who had been lying asleep across four seats, wakes up, realizes he has missed his stop, and begins pissing all over the subway doors. A group of four teenagers with sports bags giggle and scream, make their way to the next carriage, allowing the door to slam behind them. The Tutor decides to wait it out.
From Student’s C living room window, the towers of the Financial District, lit up at night, look like huge batteries, recharging, preparing for another great assault on the world of capital the following morning. When The Tutor snaps out of it, Student C is staring at him. The Tutor looks at the sum Student C is struggling with. It is a simple fraction sum. The Tutor should know how to do it, but he doesn’t. Who are you? Why are you here?
The Tutor makes a list of resolutions for the upcoming new year.
- The year of the Salad
- The year of Finding A Job with The Possibility of Visa Sponsorship
- The year of Running in the Park
- The year of Treat Fridays
- The year of Exploring the Other Boroughs
- The year of 100 Crunches
- The year of Less Beer
- The year of Organic
- The year of Taking Some Photographs
- The year of Less Staring
- The year of Fashion
- The year of Learning A Second Language
- The year of No More Dating Apps
- The year of Less Apologizing
- The year of Less Popeye’s
- The year of Making an Effort with the Roommates
- The year of More Calls to Parents Back in Ireland
- The year of More Meditation
- The year of Less Panic Attacks.
In a three-way conference call with his supervisor and Student B’s father, The Tutor listens in silence as Student B’s father tells the supervisor to never again send him, Student B’s father, an email that is more than a paragraph long. He is the CFO of a major fucking company. She shouldn’t waste her fucking time because he won’t ever read them. Does the supervisor understand? Student B’s father asks. ‘Yes,’ replies the supervisor. After the father hangs up, The Tutor expects to speak with his supervisor, but the line is dead.
On the Coney Island boardwalk on a rainy afternoon in early December, The Tutor, tired of looking for some insight from the ocean, and unsure why he had come out here on such a cold day, wanders into Nathan’s and orders two hotdogs, fries, and a large Coke. He eats, looking off at Manhattan in the distance, which looks like a series of letters from a language he cannot read.
In a crowded Q train, trundling over the Manhattan Bridge, The Tutor places the book he is reading face down on his knee and takes out his phone. Student B’s father is calling again. The Tutor thinks for a moment and places the phone deep into his bag, burying it among all of the other things he has decided he no longer wants to think about. He stares out at the widening city, listening to the roar of a passing train. The sun is coming down on the other side of the island, disappearing between the glass, towards the Hudson. The Brooklyn Bridge, the silver towers of the Financial District, and the East River which flows into the bay, all of it flickering in and out, appearing and disappearing behind each of the bridge’s pillars. He feels as though he is taking snapshots of the city to remember because he knows that he will have to leave it soon.
Tadhg Hoey is a writer living in Dublin. His writing has appeared in Dublin Review of Books, BOMB, Headstuff, and the Irish Times.
Image: Robert Tudor/Unsplash