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Biscuit (Noun) : A person who is willfully ignorant and almost certainly incompetent

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The Bitter Failing of Tammy Corn

I must have been a senior in high school when our government and economics teacher, Mister Clements, approached me one day and asked if I’d be interested in tutoring a student who was not doing very well in class.

This after school duty would pay the princely sum of $5 per session and each session would last about 30 minutes.  Since my job at Pizza Hut was paying me a mere $3.50/hour I was glad someone finally was going to pay me what I was worth. For those of you don’t know me well yet, that’s some pretty high-level sarcasm.

Then he told me that the student was a young girl named Tammy Corn.  To say that Tammy didn’t run in any of the usual popular cliques, including most that I belonged to, would be an understatement.  I knew who she was (I knew who everyone one was in the entire school, it wasn’t that big) but I didn’t know much about her other than she was, well, “slow.”

In today’s world we clearly know much more about people with learning disabilities which, in hindsight, she clearly had.  Of course, my immaturity and narrow worldview didn’t help me in understanding that a bit.  I don’t even think I was familiar with the term in those days.  Frankly I’m not sure at the time that the teachers did either or that my small school had the proper resources to help someone like Tammy.

Not being a total asshole and frankly needing the money I happily took the assignment and didn’t really give much of a shit about any of my friends giving me grief about it.  Most of them knew I’d kick them in the balls if I got irritated enough so nothing was really said.  Also, at the time my girlfriend was 21 and could buy us beer, and none of them wanted to fuck that up.

So Tammy and I got together for her first session after school one day. She eagerly got out and handed me a $5 bill.  Cash money!  No way was the IRS going to find out about this!

 I honestly don’t remember what the specific topic was, but I’d taken one chapter from the book and broken it down into three important “themes” that I figured we’d spend ten minutes each on.  The approach seemed to work, and I attempted to spend extra time on some of the points I sensed she was having trouble with.  Our teacher made us do these long study guides and I helped her with that and how to use them to focus in on what might be on the test.

She was incredibly shy, was not even remotely popular (try to remember we all thought that was important back in the day) meaning her social skills were basically nil and so I did my best to get her to ask questions.  She finally did ask one at some point and I at least felt like that was a start. 

When the session was almost over, I asked if how we approached it had seemed helpful.  She clearly felt it was and gave me an enthusiastic shake of the head.  Hindsight again, but I’m pretty sure she was just thrilled that a senior, a football player none the less, had agreed to sit down at the same table with her even if she had to pay him $5 to do it.

My failing memory again plagues me as to how many times after that we would meet.  It was at least four, maybe as many as six.  She seemed to be doing well in what was my way of thinking and we had a test coming up.  The tests were fifty questions worth two points each (I think).  I have to say I was somewhat excited to see how my ongoing sessions with Tammy would affect her scores.  Would the great tutelage of Chance bring her up with the rest of her classmates?

The test came and went, and Tammy and I were going to have a tutoring session before the grades were to be handed out after school the next day. 

At this point I will say that one of the things I was probably most oblivious about in high school was the socioeconomic status of most of my classmates.  Some were obvious, one of my best friends was the son of the town’s only real doctor and we all assumed doctors were rich.  Some of my friends their parents bought them nice cars.  Some of us had Chevy Monza’s with no air conditioning.  Ahem.  Everyone else I had no clue or gave much of a damn about.  I was more focused on putting gas in my own car and having enough cash to go the movies every now and then.

Hindsight now being a blinding 20/20 – pretty sure that Tammy and whatever her family did they were not living high on the hog.  That day I was standing at my locker talking to Big Lar when she came around the corner and walked up to us.

She had a really sad look on her face.  I was momentarily worried she was going to tell me someone had died or something.  “I’m sorry Chance,” she said, “but my Mom told me that she cannot afford to keep paying you $5 to tutor me so we’ll have to stop our lessons.”

To this day I’m not sure what went through my head at the time.  I don’t know if it was that some of my other friends were around, or I just had my mind on other things, or I was daydreaming about my college girlfriend coming to see me.  I’d kind of like to think it was the way she approached me with an attitude that the lessons were over but my response came out sounding soothing and certainly devoid of any real pontification of the matter.  “That’s okay Tammy, I said, “I understand.”  I think I even patted her on the shoulder.  Being in an area that I’m sure made her feel like she was in shark infested waters, she hugged her book to her chest and walked back down the hall and around the corner.  I’m not sure I ever spoke to her again. If I did I honestly don’t remember it.

Yes, right then and there I had a shot to be a good guy.  Thirty minutes of my time once a week was not going to kill me – Christ I was a teenager who didn’t ever do homework I had plenty of time.  Right then and there I could have ran Tammy down and told her that the money was no big deal and would have no problem getting together with her still to do our lessons.  And I didn’t fucking do it.

Not even sure when it hit me.  Way too late obviously.  But a day came somewhere along the path of my maturation to a man when that story came into my brain one day and the sudden bitter regret I felt stung me badly.  I’m writing this thirty-two years later and I will freely admit that it still bugs the hell out of me that 17-year-old me missed that opportunity.  Swing and a big miss.  Damn it.

I’m not sure whatever happened to Tammy.  I’m sure some of you who read this will know.  Honestly, I’m not sure I want to know.  The day after I walked out of her life over five bucks, I saw Mister Clements and asked him how she had done on her test.  He told me her score.  She had failed miserably (in my mind). 

Even thirty years later I’ll spare telling you what her exact score was, but let’s say it was higher than 20% and lower than 50%.  I had scored 94% on the same exam.  and I think he recognized right away that I didn’t understand what he had really told me.  “Chance, you clearly had a positive effect.  That score is double what she had on her previous test, a 100% improvement.”

Remembering that part of the story doesn’t make me feel any better about it.

So to wrap this up I’d like to ask you all today, now that most all of us are far smarter and certainly wiser than a knucklehead senior once was at Cambridge City Lincoln High, have you missed any opportunities to serve someone else lately – for any reason? Trust me thirty years from now when you’re staring down life’s end you don’t want to feel the way I do every time I think about how I failed Tammy Corn.

12 thoughts on “The Bitter Failing of Tammy Corn”

  1. Hopefully your story will inspire others to be helpful to someone who needs it. In today’s world sometimes all someone needs is for someone to listen to them. Looking forward to more stories.

  2. I do everything I can to help anyone who needs it and this story reminded e when I was in business school and a fellow struggling classmate needed help but was there on a grant and couldn’t afford a tutor. Her and I worked over the phone and internet for her to understand what the teacher was trying to explain. I worked with her twice a week until she got it.

  3. Nice job young squire! I remember Tammy, actually a lot of the Corn’s. I helped Jimmy with his reading but didn’t cash in on the Corn Tutoring Enterprise, damn it! I remember i think it was McShirley’s health class when he had to read aloud, not great but much improved. I still remember feeling good that i helped someone improve and felt gratified at that. Thanks Mom and Dad for bringing me up right! I also think Clements was smoking crack for those damn study guides, but was thankful to blast through them while i scheduled tanning bed appointments for prom! Thats where the real money was! Lol!!!

  4. This could not have been a better opening salvo in the Chance Bunger Blog Chronicles. Well written my friend, and kudos for your honesty. We could all be better and maybe this will help us wake up and pay attention to REAL NEED when it’s right there in front of us! Again, well done!

  5. Awe, Chance your are definitely a good guy that has helped many I am sure. Looking back on our younger self’s, we all have a “Tammy” I am sure, very humbling. Good story, as a good reminder of who we want to be today.

  6. Chance, I remember Tammy very well. I remember in gym class when picking teams to play ball that Tammy usually was always picked last. I decided when it was my turn to be captain that wouldn’t happen. She was my first pick everytime. I only hope that helped her be more confident which would have seriously helped through her high school years. I understand how you feel but I’m more than sure she has never forgotten the help she did receive from you. If my memory serves me correctly Chance Bunger was always willing to lend a helping hand to anybody.

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