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Why does Mr. Pendanski seem to have a grudge against Zero?

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Mr. Pendanski harbors a grudge against Zero, displaying an uncharacteristically antagonistic and sadistic attitude. He belittles Zero's intelligence and mocks his illiteracy, while encouraging potential in the other boys. Pendanski's behavior seems to stem from Zero's vulnerability and his own desire for control, leading him to single out Zero for ridicule and verbal abuse, contrasting his usual facade of a compassionate counselor.

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Mr. Pendanski's behavior in regard to Zero is completely contrary to his usual demeanor as the camp counselor. While he treats the other boys with at least some compassion and respect, he seems openly antagonistic and at times outright sadistic toward Zero. While he encourages the other boys to think of their potential and consider what they'd like to do when they leave Camp Green Lake, he insists that Zero will never make anything of himself.

In particular, Pendanski likes to belittle what he assumes to be Zero's lack of intelligence due to his quiet demeanor and illiteracy. Pendanski makes a habit of spelling out words and mocking Zero when he doesn't know what they are. He does, however, receive his just desserts when Zero attacks him with a shovel before fleeing into the desert.

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Mr. Pendanski always likes to come across as a nice guy, someone who respects the boys at the camp, yet his behavior towards Zero tells a different story. For no apparent reason, he constantly subjects Zero to what can only be described as bullying: verbally abusing him, belittling him, and singling him out for ridicule.

Perhaps Pendanski has it in for Zero because he's an easy target. Unlike the other boys, he isn't physically strong or aggressive in any way. Bullies like Pendanksi can sense such vulnerability from a mile away like a shark can smell blood. Like just about all the adult authority figures at the camp, Pendanski also appears to be on a massive power-trip and loves nothing more than to exercise control over someone he knows won't talk or fight back.

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