I had a pretty strange interaction with one of my students yesterday.

In the middle of our tutoring session, he put me on the spot. “Hey,” he said, “when we’re done, I want to talk to you about something.  I think it could be a great opportunity for you.”

At first I gave it little mind, and just kept going with the session, explaining strategies for choosing and analyzing evidence for a body paragraph.  But as the minutes wore on, I started to wonder.  I thought that was weird. It was a little unnerving; my tutoring style isn’t authoritative, but for the most part I’m used to being the guy with the advice.

We finished going over the student’s draft.  Motioning at my coworkers he said, “I’d rather not talk to you about this in front of all these people. Can we talk in the hallway?”

Weirder. We moved to the hallway.  I was hungry, and I let him know.  “I’ll be quick,” he said.  “I know you gotta get to your lunch.”  I braced myself.  I’ve walked enough sidewalks to know when a sales pitch is on the way.

He said, “Ok.  If I offered you a Ferrari, would you take it?”  I told him I would—I like Ferraris.

He kept going.  “I work for a company that sells things that people want.”  Don’t all companies do that? “Anything organic, we sell all that, all kinds of organic stuff.”

I started to worry.  We were talking in secret about selling organic substances.  “What do you do?” I said.  “I’m gonna need you to get to your point.”  I said it with a laugh, but I was serious.

“It’s an 8 billion dollar a year industry.  You can make a lot of money.”  He was faltering.  I couldn’t tell if he was nervous because of the nature of his work, or because he just hadn’t memorized the playbook yet.  I told him that I was worried he was doing something he shouldn’t be.

“It’s not illegal,” he said.  “Hey.  You seem like an ambitious guy, am I right?”  I told him he wasn’t right, that I was quite content to stay exactly where I was.  I sort of felt bad, because I could tell this threw him off.  This obviously wasn’t in the handbook.  We’re in the land of opportunity—it should be in our nature to reply in the affirmative.

He changed tacks.  “We sell other stuff.  Cell phones, iPods, laptops, that kind of stuff.  We sell it really cheap.”  Less weird. I started to form a picture—either this kid was working selling stolen goods, or this was probably one of those pyramid scheme things built to suck in highschoolers and college freshman wed to their handheld devices, and too naïve to resist the dollar signs and bolded “FREE” in the email subject heading.  “There’s a meeting tomorrow,” he said.  I didn’t ask where.

I went to the time-honored evasion technique.  “I don’t have much time to spend doing whatever it is that you do,” I said.  He was ready for me.

“That’s the great thing—you make your own hours.  You do it whenever you want to!”  Do what, exactly? “Give me your email and I’ll send you the info?”

“Okay,” I said.  “I’ll be honest.  I’m probably not going to do this.  I’m kind of worried for you, actually.  Unless you’re breaking laws or working as a spy, you should be able to talk about your job.”  He gave a nervous laugh.  “You know,” I said, “Dunkin Donuts in Ruggles station is hiring…”

This poor guy.

He shouldered his backpack.  “Well, let me know if you change your mind.”

This poor, poor guy.

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