Introducing Wilfred

Dear Kathy,

What’s up?  The tutoring center just hasn’t been the same without you.  Everyone said to tell you HI.  (I think Sallie would feel better about your safety if you were still here at WHHC.  She wanted me to ask you about your stock of pepper spray.)  On that note, how’s JMU?  We lowly community college tutors have missed you, but know the world will be a better place when you get your degree in law.  Imagine what the Supreme Court will think when you get up to present your case and we announce you as “Hopscotch Nancy”?  🙂  And you thought we forgot your nickname.  No, it will be with you forever.  You’ll be getting 75th birthday cards addressed to Hopscotch Nancy from Renegade, Skippy Kippy, Falstaff, Meeko, Pistachio Man, Dark Eyes, and well, me—the one without a nickname.  And yes, we still bicker about the color marker used for our appointments on the schedule.  Anyways, enough of that, any chance you’d be taking summer classes at WHHC?

Well, I guess I should get around to why I’m writing this letter—Wilfred.  I shouldn’t have mentioned him during our phone call…especially if I’d known the reaction I would get from the words “our new invisible tutor.”  Actually I always seem to get that reaction.  Anyways, since I’ve opened this can of worms, I may as well fork them all out.

It all started the second Friday we were open.  The first week was insanely slow—Dexter even brought eggs and boiled them in the coffee pot to make egg salad.  But of course, by the second week we were swamped with anxious pre-nursing students struggling with biology, funeral services folk baffled by chemistry, and our usual crowd of frantic developmental math students.  For the entire week, we passed out forms faster than flat-screens on Black Friday.  In the flurry of answering phone calls, giving directions to the records office, and tutoring world history, I’m afraid none of us even noticed the people who came for tutoring interviews.  We knew another tutor was needed—someone who could tutor all those obscure classes you were so good at.  But I had thought little about it.

So you can imagine my surprise when I got to work Friday morning to find the office open and the lights on.  Sliding my bags behind the filing cabinet, I tore off Thursday’s schedule and tossed it toward the trash can.  And, as usual, I missed.

“Watch it,” a voice said.

At first, I saw no one.

“Over here,” the voice repeated.  And the wadded-up schedule flew back through the air and hit my knee.  I looked over and leaning against the wall was a tall guy in a brown jacket.

“Excuse me,” I said, “who are you?”

“Wilfred, the new tutor.”

Before I could respond, Ethan came in for his algebra/Spanish appointment.  So I hardly thought of Wilfred until 1 o’clock when I had my first break.  I pulled my chair up beside Sallie and said, “So how’s Wilfred on his first day?”

Finishing her latest discussion post, she turned to me, frowning.  “Wilfred?  Wilfred who?”

“Wilfred,” I said, pointing to the new schedule.  Highlighted in lime green were the words:  “Attention:  Wilfred starts today.”

She examined the schedule, as if trying to identify a forgery amidst the green ink, before saying, “I don’t know who he is, but I haven’t seen him.”  The phone rang fortuitously and our conversation ended.  All the time I could see him sitting in the corner, engrossed in a paperback Indiana Jones novel from the 80s.

Then the afternoon shift came in—Spencer, Marcos, and Dexter.  The Center had started to calm down a bit.  We alternated appointments for the next two hours and I waited for a better moment to ask my colleagues about Wilfred.  The drama died around 3:30.  And as Sallie was on her break, the meeting of the minds had gathered around the farthest computer.  Spencer, Marcos, and Dexter were joined by Ty and Drew (Thursday morning’s crew) and all were discussing different scenarios starting with “If you were on a train traveling at the speed of light…”  After that, it ceases to sound like English.

“What’s up?  You look like you just finished tutoring T. S. Eliot to engineering students,” Spencer interrupted my musings on the incomprehensibility of Tesla and Einstein.

“I wish,” I muttered. “Have you met Wilfred yet?”

“Wilfed?  Isn’t that one of Santa’s reindeer?” Marcos said confused.

Spencer rolled his eyes.  “Not unless Rudolph got replaced.”

“I haven’t seen anyone new at all,” inserted Drew quickly, eager to return to the fascinating conversation about photons.

“He’s right over there.”

All five guys looked to the corner where I pointed, but showed no reaction.  “Is he in the computer?” Spencer asked slowly.

“Ha ha, Spencer,” I said dryly. “He’s sitting by the printer.”

“If he’s by the printer,” said Ty slowly, “then he must be invisible.”

“Never mind.”  I left the conversation quickly without allowing any more questions.  Sitting down at my desk, I tried not to think about why no one else could see him.  After about twenty minutes, I lifted my head from my reading to see Wilfred in the door, carrying a handful of papers.  He slid them onto Sallie’s desk and went back to his corner and to his paperback novel.

Moving over by Sallie, I said, “So what do you think about Wilfred?”

“Honey, I have yet to see this man you keep talkin’ about.”  She pushed her lollipop back in her mouth and continued typing.

“He brought you the copies you asked for!”

Sallie picked the copies up and thumbed through them, frowning.  “Well, these are definitely the ones I asked for.  That doesn’t mean some invisible tutor got them for me.”

“I am not crazy,” I insisted.  “Come with me to the computer lab.  Surely someone else saw him.”

Let me assure you, Kathy, it was not easy to convince Sallie to come with me.  But at last we found ourselves in the computer lab…alone.  “Rats,” I said aggravated.

“I always knew your mind was a little messed up,” Sallie teased.

“Can I help you?”  We turned to see Sabrina Mitchell, computer lab monitor and art conoisseur extraordinaire.

“Sabrina,” Sallie said, wasting no time, “have you ever seen Wilfred?”

Sabrina frowned slightly and shook her head.  “Not that I know of.”

“Did you see a tall guy making copies for Sallie?” I interjected.

“In a brown jacket?” she said perking up.


“Of course, I saw him.  We talked about early existentialist art.  He knows quite a bit about it, but kept trying to tell me that Beatrix Potter was a secret member of an existentialist literary society.”

We were quiet for a minute before Sallie shook her head and muttered, “Nutty as a fruitcake.”

With at least Sabrina believing me, I felt somewhat more sane.  We returned to the Tutoring Center where Wilfred was sitting at the edge of the physics discussion.

“What I want to know is,” Marcos was saying, “why pretzels are shaped the way they are.”

“You ought to know, pretzel baron,” muttered Wilfred with a smile.

“Did you seriously just say that…aloud?  That had nothing to do with physics,” Spencer said, hitting Marcos on the back of his head.

“Unless you’re discussing the intermolecular forces of dough,” Wilfred returned.

“But that’s chemistry,” I said.

The conversation stopped.  “What’s chemistry?” said Drew.

“The intermolecular forces of dough.”

“Who said anything about that?” said Spencer.

“Does dough even have intermolecular forces?” Marcos queried.

“Good grief!  Guys, were you not listening to Wilfred?”

They looked at one another confused.  “It’s because I’m invisible,” said Wilfred calmly, taking a bite of an apple.

“What do you mean you’re invisible?” I asked.  I was beginning to think I needed Sallie’s pepper spray.

“I’m invisible,” he said breezily. “Been that way for a couple years.  That’s what happens when you have a run-in with the CIA, a radioactive toothbrush, and a really weird vacation at Disneyland.  And the secret of cold fusion.”

Sallie was right.  He was nuttier than a fruitcake.  “Radioactive toothbrush and the secret of cold fusion?”

“Wow, Spencer.  She is crazy,” Ty said under his breath.

“That’s classified information,” Wilfred answered me through a mouthful of apple.

“Classified information?” I nearly shouted in disbelief.

“Your craziness has never been classified,” Spencer responded.

“Stop it,” I said frantically, “I’ve been talking to Wilfred and don’t you dare say a thing about his not existing because he does.  He’s on the schedule!”

Marcos and Ty leaned over to verify my claim.  “Hey,” Marcos protested, “how come the new guy gets the Lemon-Lime Surprise marker for his appointments?”

Wilfred chuckled, “You can only see me with your imagination.  I told you I’m invisible.  It’s in the contract.”

Ignoring Marcos, I pulled open the drawer where the contracts were kept and rifled Wilfred’s out.

“Read the bottom line,” Wilfred instructed.

I cleared my throat, “’William Henry Harrison College does not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, or visibility.’…What?”

Drew stood up and shook his head at me.  “That’s officially the most random thing you’ve ever said…It’s a consensus.  You’re crazy.”

“Actually, everyone’s crazy,” Spencer said. “It just depends on where you are on the spectrum.”

“I’d say she’s between loopy and bonkers,” added Dexter, “what spectrum specification does that make her, Spence?”

“I’m not losing my marbles!” I shouted.

“Marbles!  That’s exactly where you’re at,” Spencer said, seizing a banana.

“Hey, Marbles, you have an appointment at 4,” Marcos called.

I walked across the office–past Sallie furiously typing, past Wilfred calmly taking notes on everyone’s behavior and muttering about our lack of imagination.

And that, dear Kathy, is how Wilfred came to the tutoring center.  And how I got my very own nickname.


Yours truly,

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Wilfred Takes a Vacation | In The Chrysalis

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