Nine months have passed since I decided to get sober. Some would say I am going through recovery. The recovery I am going through is the realization that what I thought was alcohol related clumsiness is in fact just clumsiness.
On the Yangtze Cruise, somehow, I am not sure how, I whacked my forehead on the side of the bunk post when I was getting a container of noodles out of my stash of groceries. A bump swelled up on my forehead. When I got back to civilization, two weeks later, I walked into the door when I was walking out of the bedroom. A bump swelled on the same place on my forehead. When I was a toddler before I could walk, I am told, I would scoot across the tile living room floor on my Tonka Jeep – which was not made to be ridden by the way – and stop myself with my forehead on the brick fireplace. Once a week, my mom had to take me to the doctor because I would have a big bump on my forehead.
A week ago, I bought a lovely china tea cup and steeper combination. When I bought it, I wondered how long I would have it before it broke due to my inept handling. Less than a week later when I was pouring water onto the tea in the steeper, I had the lid in the other hand and dropped the lide on the tile floor. Although it did not shatter into a thousand pieces, the underside chipped.
For many today would be the weekend, not in China. Today, Saturday is business as usual. I have the Shanghai90210 for the 7:45 am class. I told them they do not have to attend. I go to the garden in case they are there. I take yesterday’s newspaper. My stomach is declaring mutiny; I hate getting up early. Today is a beautiful summer day. The garden is peaceful until a gardener - not the gardener with the kind, strange eyes and silver shock of hair – starts noisily sweeping leaves next to me. I read part of an article and get up and go back to my apartment. My next class – 9:30 am – is another class with the Shanghai90210.
At my apartment, I go into the bedroom and lay down. My stomach is still giving me fits. I decide to have tea but then when I pour a cup of water from my water dispenser, I realize I need another jug of water. The water dispenser spits out less than a quarter cup of water. I will have a cup of tea when I get to the office. I take a shower; put on my brown pair of Club Monaco cords and the pink t-shirt (with the silhouette of the horse that I got on my Yangtze cruise); I grab my guitar and Beatles reissued ‘Yellow Submarine’ CD (Chinese Pressing); and I head to class. I do not make my bed.
This 9:30 am class with the Shanghai90210 is a double period. What we are doing today, I have not exactly decided. Probably, we will keep practicing ‘Boys Keep Swinging.’ Armed with a couple of day’s worth of newspapers; if we get bored with singing Bowie, I may assign each student an article to discuss with the class.
Yesterday, we started to learn ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.’ We sang it up past the first refrain. We learned the song without the accompaniment of the guitar which made it sound a bit like when you walk in on someone doing a vocal take in a recording studio. All you hear is their voice because the rest of the mix is in the headphones.
When I get to class, they tell me that Max came up to the building during the time when we were to be in class earlier this morning. Elizabeth wanted to know why I was not holding class in the classroom. Allen told her Max forgot that we were having class in the garden. I tell them I was in the garden in case they decided to show. They did not show so I went back to my apartment.
I tell them tomorrow we will have our 7:45 am class in the garden if they want to come. At this point, I have decided to make it non-mandatory. Miko says we should have it in the school library instead. I ask her where the school library is. She tells me it is the red building. I look out the window and I see the rooftop. I ask her if the rooftop I am pointing to is the library. She says yes. I tell her that’s fine; we can have our early morning class in the school library. I wonder to myself if I can bring coffee.
Now, we are going to continue learning songs. We go through ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ a few times. Everyone is bored. They tell me they want to do the other song. We sing ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.’ I then play the CD. Miko tells me my voice is much better. I tell her my voice is definitely not better than John Lennon’s. I am not sure how to explain the Beatles to them. After we do the song a few more times, I try.
I tell them that the Beatles, more or less, started a cultural revolution in England and America. They came along at a time when the teenagers needed heroes. I ask the students if they understand. They shake their heads yes but I know they don’t understand. They have Avril and the Back Street Boys. How can they understand?
They want to hear the Beatles most famous song. All I have with me is the ‘Yellow Submarine’ CD. I play them ‘All You Need Is Love.’ This does not click with them. I understand because this is a lyrically heavy song which may not hit non-native speakers.
After I play ‘All You Need Is Love,’ I try to delve deeper into Beatles mythology. When the Beatles became popular, they could not go anywhere because people loved them so much they would get mobbed. After three years of this, the Beatles decided to become another band. They then decided to be ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ They were still the Beatles but for one album, they decided to have alter egos. Of course, I knew this would not be understood. The students look at me blankly. I play them the song, ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ Tess asks if I can sing as high. I tell her the singer (I do not want to go into all of their names and such because it would be useless) is really pushing his voice. He is practically screaming. This she understands. She tries to sing like Paul.
They want to learn another song. We start working on ‘From Me to You.’ This one they really like. I play it for them once. I ask them if they are ready to tackle it. Miko says it is very difficult. I tell her we will take it line by line (like I have been doing in the other classes.) After working we work on it for 15 or 20 minutes, the song sounds pretty good.
When we finish running through it, Miko says Jennifer was at the door listening. I ask the Shanghai90210 if they would like for Jennifer to hear the song. They say yes. I run out and ask Jennifer if she would like to hear them sing their song. She says yes. We play the song for her. The students are shy at first but by the time it gets to the ‘I got arms’ part; they really put everything in to it. When they finish singing, Jennifer claps. I ask them if they would like to sing the other song for her. They say yes. We launch into our acapella version of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.’
Jennifer claps. She then tells them they could do a paper on all of the imagery of the song – ‘newspaper taxis,’ kaleidoscope eyes,’ ‘rocking horse people.’ I tell her that is a good idea. Miko asks if she can use my computer to look for downloadable Chinese operas for us to learn. I tell her yes. While Jennifer is in mid-sentence, the whole crew leaves the room and heads for my computer. I feel bad. I apologize to Jennifer. I tell her I told Miko she could use my computer. I didn’t know they were all going to immediately bolt out of the room. They, as much as I love them, are spoiled children.
The computers on campus are offline. The Shanghai90210 are not able to download songs for me to learn.
Bird Flu comes in to class. She is excited about doing a puppet show. Today, the students are painting the scenes. They will be used for backdrops. I leave.
Waking up early makes me perpetually tired. I drift back to sleep in my bed at my apartment.
My computer at my apartment is offline. I would like to email some cover letters to a few places I saw when I was surfing last night. In Ningbo (which is a seaside town), a five star hotel advertising for an entertainer from the West. The ad stated the hotel is looking for a pianist or ‘other.’ I assume I fit into the ‘other’ category.
Someone knocks on my door. Jennifer is standing there. She asks me if I have plans for the tutoring session tonight. I tell her I do not. She says she will take all four students if I would like to take them next Saturday. (We are working two Saturday s in a row.) I tell her sure. She tells me Maureen did not know she had to teach her Songjiang Public School students so she did not go to class. (We only got a schedule for the international school.) I am stupefied. The whole reason we are teaching on a weekend is because public school is in session. That is the whole reason we are teaching. We all knew that and had discussed it at length. Jennifer told me she sympathized with Maureen and then she thought about it. After she thought about it, she did not sympathize with Maureen.
I do not know how Bird Flu could be that stupid. Now we are the Golden Girls. Bird Flu is Betty White. I am - a less manly - Bea Arthur. Jennifer is the other one. Jo, the older senile Australian, is the mother.
After singing ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ with the Shanghai 90210 without guitar, I decide to sit down and figure out the chords. I have the harpsichord part going through me head (or what I believe to be a harpsichord). I pick that out and then I pick out the chords. What I thought would be complicated is not.
For my Saturday night fun, I watch an old French movie –Port of Shadows - which I bought on DVD for less than a dollar. The bootleg DVDs are sometimes good, sometimes you get what you pay for. As in the case with the remake of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ the disconcerting shadows that keep flitting across the screen, I realized are people in the front row getting up to use the restroom.
After the movie, I trudge through more of Moby Dick which starts to move along a bit faster. Stubbs has just harpooned a whale which I assume is not Moby Dick because the book would be finished if the whale he killed is Mr. Dick.
The alarm clock rings. Today is Sunday. We are following a Thursday schedule. I lay in bed for a bit and then I finally rouse myself. I make coffee and I quickly eat a crescent. I do not imagine the Shanghai90210 will be in the library this early but I go anyway. I am anxious to see what the library looks like. I imagine a typical library with a reception desk, long tables with chairs around them, file cabinets, and rows and rows of books and periodicals.
I think back to my high school days at College High School in Bartlesville. When I quit marching band my sophomore year mid-semester because I was less than enthused about 7:30 am marching practice, the school authorities had to figure out what to do with me. I had a fairly untarnished record. I was a student with a B average. Somehow I became the librarian’s assistant which turned out to be really cool because I think she was very nice. Although, at this point, I do not remember much about her. I think we just stayed out of each other’s way. That was when I was still painfully shy. If she tried to talk to me, I am sure I was too scared to say much. My job was to reshelf books that came into the library in the morning which there were usually not many to shelf. The rest of the time I could browse the shelves and work on homework. I browsed the shelves and pulled out musty titles by Bronte, Poe, Hemingway. Sometimes, new books would mysteriously arrive such as ‘Fear and Loathing,’ ‘I’m Okay, You’re Okay,’ ‘Go Ask Alice.’ The reading room had rows and rows of long wooden tables with sturdy wooden chairs sat around. This is what I thought the Songjiang Public High School NO.2 would be like. When I walk into the Songjiang Public High School NO.2 library, I am surprised. The first floor has a few tables and chairs scattered around and a sprawling circular staircase up to the second floor (where I spot loads of bookshelves). The first floor looks more like a ballroom than a library. At this early hour, only a few people are studying at the small round tables.
I read the paper for fifteen minutes. When fifteen minutes are up, I head back to my apartment and back to my bed. My next class is at 10:20. This will be class 5.
I shower and have a cup of tea. At 10:10, I start off to class. Again, I take my guitar and the Beatles CD.
I get to the classroom before the bell rings. I quickly write the words to ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ on the board. The bell rings. I tell the students we are going to learn another song. On Thursday, I realized Wolf Bark – who I had been worrying about because I had not seen him for a few weeks – got a buzz cut. He had Menudo hair which he wore adorably. Now he looks leaner and adorable in a whole different way because his facial expressions are more pronounced. When I spotted him in the back of the class, I asked, “Wolf Bark?”
“Yes?” he replied.
“I did not recognize you,” I say, “I wondered what happened to you. When did you get your hair cut?”
“Two weeks.” He replied.
“Two weeks ago?” I reply, “No wonder.”
Wolf Bark is adorable. He is grinning ear to ear during our entire conversation. I wonder if he thought I was snubbing him.
Today, I put the CD into the player and play ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.’ I tell the class this song is very famous. I decide to not go into the LSD reference. I may, however, with class 11 when we learn the song on Monday.
We begin to work on the song. Before we do, I go from desk to desk. I make the students shut books they are reading or math they are doing for other classes. I play the first verse. I ask the students if they are ready to try. They look at me blankly. I tell them we will take it line by line. I sing ‘Picture yourself in a boat on a river.’ They then sing it. We sing it three times. By the time we get to ‘Cellophane flowers of yellow and green,’ the class is getting into the rhythm of the song. The refrain is easy I tell them. They like this part. We do it twice and then three times because they have mastered it. “Lucy in the sky with Diamonds…. Lucy in the sky with Diamonds…. Lucy in the sky with Diamonds….Ahhhhh!’ We sing the chorus in a high register to begin with. I then tell them we can sing it lower. The song is experiencing a wonderful Chinese rebirth. The windows are open. The doors are open. Two students are walking along breezeway. They walk into the class.
“You too loud,” the two students start, “you disturb our class, too loud.” They leave.
I tell my students you know the song is a success when the neighbors complain. They do not understand. I am amusing myself…again. We shut the door and all of the windows and go through the entire song one more time. The bell rings. I tell them I will see them next Sunday. From what I have been told, we are off the next two Wednesdays and Thursdays.
I head to class 9. This class has some troublemakers. Eight students are missing during the eye exercise. I tell the class monitor I would like their names so that I can turn them in. The class monitor confers with Barry. Barry - who often tells me I play guitar ‘most beautifully’ - tells me in broken English the students will return. They are at the toilet or getting snacks at the cafeteria. I tell him okay. I know my job is maybe not to be an authoritarian which I do not mind.
This is the class with Tony Smith, Isaac, Freedom, Ray, Gavin. Freedom is talking to his neighbor when the bell rings. Over and over, I say his name. He does not seem to hear. Everyone around him tries to get his attention. He does not pay attention to them. At this point the whole class is staring at him. He finally looks around and sees someone nodding my way. He looks up and sees me staring at him. I say his name. He stands up. I ask him if he is ready to hear the song. Flustered he asks a girl who is okay with her English to translate what I said. He says yes. I tell him he may sit down. I put on the CD.
The other student that perpetually talks in class is Ray. He is a true brat but I still love his brattiness. I ask him if he is ready. He says yes. We start to learn the song. I am sitting on one side of the class on a wobbly short stool. On the other side of the class, I notice a student with his head planted in a book. The book is under his desk and he is completely absorbed. I sneak over to where he is unnoticed by him. The whole class is watching in amused anticipation. As soon as I get close to him. I put my face down near his. He still does not notice. I scream “ARE YOU READY!”
The payoff is fantastic. I have never seen anyone jump so high. He looks as if he does not know whether to laugh or cry. He grabs his chest. The class is in an uproar. I cannot help but laugh maniacally.
Tonight, when I was negotiating my dinner tray onto my bed, I had no problems. However, I dropped my can of Pepsi from the nightstand onto the floor. Fortunately, the can was not open. I tapped the lid to keep it from exploding before I popped the top. Of course, when I popped the top a Pepsi geyser ensued. The Pepsi geyser sprayed all over my new cloth topped summer color baby blue plaid slippers which I had wondered how long they would stay nice before I clumsily messed them up. Recovery? Fuck recovery!