In March of 1997, I met a new albino. His name was Jeff, and he was so short and skinny that a gust of wind could have blown him across the street. Similar to Mike the Gay Albino, Jeff had pink eyes and white hair. But this slender little man was quite filthy. For instance, his jeans had dirt stains and his denim jacket was covered in dark blotches. He was also wearing an unwashed flannel long-sleeve shirt, giving him the appearance of a tiny grubby lumberjack.
When I first saw him, he was relaxing in the nice half of the office building. I had just put on a suit and tie because I wanted to look nice on my first day of work. His appearance shocked me. He reminded me of Pigpen in the Charlie Brown cartoons.
I extended my hand. “My name is Buffalo. Do you live here, too?”
He stared at me intently through the thick lenses of his glasses. He wasn’t being rude. It was obvious that the guy had severe issues with his vision.
He eventually took my hand. His flesh felt sticky. “I’m Jeff. And to answer your question, I don’t live here. However, I work for the same company. I just choose to rent my own place. Too many people crammed into one spot can lead to fights.”
I noticed that there was a book on the coffee table right in front of him.
I said, “What are you reading?”
“The Metamorphosis by Kafka. I never read it in college.”
“Are you enjoying it.”
“Sort of. I’m legally blind, so reading has always been a task. I have to hold the type as close to my eyes as possible.”
I quickly changed the subject. I didn’t want to embarrass him. “I’m very nervous. This is my first day teaching in Korea. I hope I don’t make an ass out of myself. Maybe you can give me some pointers.”
He smiled. “Don’t sweat this job. We’re not really teachers. We’re more like dancing monkeys.”
“That’s right. We provide an afterschool service. The mommies view us as English-speaking babysitters.”
Scotty the manager and Mike the Gay Albino entered the room. Scotty held a large paper bag that was filled with flashcards in his left hand.
He said, “Are you guys ready for your big moment? We’re off to Wulpyung Middle School to say hello to the principal. After that, you’ll meet your new students.”
I pointed to the bag. “Are those the materials?”
“Is that going to be enough for a full class?”
Scotty laughed. “Don’t worry. This is just the first day. Relax.”
“OK. I trust you.”
The manager patted me affectionately on the back, and I could see a scornful expression etched on Jeff the Blind Albino’s face. He had no respect for our boss.
We took the elevator down to the ground floor and crowded into a van. The traffic was murder. It took us thirty minutes to arrive.
The principal seemed nice enough. He was a short little man who looked wonderful in a suit. He spoke Korean with Mr. Song. We foreigners were relegated to twiddling our thumbs while sitting around a large wooden table. We were given tea and cigarettes.
The principal kept pointing at me.
Scotty said, “He thinks you’re very handsome.”
“Tell him that I said thank you.”
But here’s the truth. I’ve never been very handsome. It’s just that I look great if I’m sitting between a gay albino and a blind albino. And who wouldn’t? I was definitely the best-looking foreigner in the room.
After the meeting, I taught a class filled with 12-year-old Korean girls. Their English was terrible, but my teaching wasn’t much better. I just kept repeating the words on the flashcards that Scotty had given me. To their credit, the students had a nice attitude. They giggled a lot.
I saw the manager later that evening.
“I think we need to develop more materials. These flashcards aren’t going to do the trick once the novelty of a new teacher wears off.”
He chuckled. “Don’t worry. They loved you. You’re going to do great.”
Scotty simply wasn’t a educator. In fact, he was a college dropout from Las Vegas who got the gig because he spoke both languages fluently. Our jobs would soon turn hellish—in a weird kind of way.