Sometimes, everything falls apart. You are going along. You have no problems living the sober high life in Shanghai and something somewhat catastrophic happens. Something that makes you freaked. You cannot eat; your mind races. You are afraid you have really messed something up.
You know, for a fact, that someone is now out to get you, to bring you down. They are afraid you are being considered for the promotion for which they are being considered. You have not messed up this bad in several years. This is big and bad and you try to predict the outcome but you can’t. You wander what will happen. You feel alone and scared. You are in China. You have no one to call. You have to be a big boy, a big boy, a big boy.
You realize how, strangely, time has passed. Seven years ago, you lost your mother
This is how it goes down. At 9:35 pm, the phone rings. No one but Brain Transplant calls you on the landline at this time of the evening. Frankly, no one calls you on either line anytime of the night or the day. The sound of the phone ringing is unnerving, like when the phone rings in a suspense movie. (Don’t pick it up. Don’t pick it up.) You pick it up. ‘The movie was moving as planned.’
Elizabeth is on the other end.
“This is Elizabeth.”
“Did you give the students the same art final exam as you did for the mid-term?”
“It was similar.”
“Well Maureen, said you gave them the same exam and they finished in five minutes.”
“It was similar.”
“Well, we want to see their progress. I want you to give them a different exam tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Comes out as if you have been kicked in the nuts. The conversation which was most likely less than five minutes seems as if it lasts for two hours with heavy pauses and stammered responses. You do not defend yourself. You say okay. That is fine. While this is happening, your reasoning has vacated your brain. You do not think. You do not remember why you did what you did. This is how murders go down. The reason is immediately forgotten.
Before when you were ratted out, you thought there was no maliciousness to it. Now you know there is a conniving rat in the barn. After you hang up the phone, you just collapse. You have never had someone so aggressively try to nail you. You cannot think. You can barely breathe. What in the hell are you going to do. You try to remember what you have taught the students that they have a vague chance of passing. Nothing comes to mind. How do you get out of this? This is one of those sorts of situations that Lucy gets into that makes Ricky so angry, so Cuban. Was he Cuban? Babaloo.
Paranoia takes over. You question yourself. You get mad at yourself. Every reason, for giving the same exam, flies out the window. You feel as if you are guilty. You might as well admit it. Come clean. You have screwed up worse than you ever screwed up drunk. The Brightside, you think of the Brightside. What is the Brightside? They cannot kill you, you do not think.
But then you think of the recent headlines, the drug headlines. The drug dealers here in China who have been sentenced to death for selling heroin, cocaine, marijuana. They are sentenced one day and the next day, they are taken out to a remote location and shot in the head or they are executed publicly in front 3,000 people at a sports field. Can this be done to a teacher who gives a final that bares a striking resemblance to a midterm? Can that teacher be taken to the middle of the Songjiang No. 2 High School sports field and be shot in the head?
Still, you are stuck. Your mind veers away from your execution. You think of your allies now. Do you have allies? Jennifer has been in your corner. She has become a true friend in a short time. You will ask her what to do. You go knock on her door upstairs. There is no answer. You hope she is your friend. You then think she may be playing the ally card but she is really a spy for the squat of an Australian.
All of the drastic scenarios play in your head. You do not know what all is assumed or questioned at this point. This may be your demise. ‘I worry whether this is my last life…overboard and down and strung out twice.’
You hear voices. You creep out of your apartment and walk to the foyer. When you look out the window, you see Jennifer and the Vindictive Crazy Aussie walking to the apartment. When you hear them coming up the stairs, you open the door. They are both ‘tra la la’ happy.
They have been at the international building overseeing the cleaning of the student’s classrooms. Jennifer says that Allen had a huge stack of papers that needed to be thrown out. Allen had the most paper.
The crazy – seemingly innocent – Aussie makes a nasty face and talks about the smell - she loves to talk about foul smells, not making it to the bathroom, construction workers ‘piddling’ on each other – the smell of the classroom. The students had old noodle buckets that had ripened in the foulest sense of the word. Jennifer talks about paper. Big Bird Butt talks about foul smells. You are embarrassed for her. She is an embarrassment.
Big Bird Butt unlocks her door and opens it and starts to walk in. Jennifer starts to make her way upstairs but then stops and says “How did your interview go?”
“Let me tell you about it” You open the door, she walks in. This is almost like some film noir, student film noir. The blonde bomb shell plays you like an upright player piano in a circus tent filled with dancing midgets and slow gin fizzes. (What? He didn’t say that.)
You tell her the score. You have never experienced this sort of maliciousness. Why would someone do this to try to ruin you? Jennifer is very sympathetic, too sympathetic. You wander if she is part of this knuckleheaded Amway type pyramid scheme to bring you down and get a promotion at the same time. You then wonder if people still sell Amway.
She cannot believe it when you tell her. She cannot believe the boss called at 9:35 at night on your landline. Why would she call? Big Bertha Bird Butt had to have emailed the boss or something. She would not have called unless she was alarmed to the fact.
Jennifer consoles you. She has become a beacon during a dark, dark moment. She understands. She tells you that you are self-deprecating. You are not a bad teacher. Do not admit to screwing up. She tells you, you did not screw up. You start to believe her. You start to feel better.
You then start to remember something an important clue, a clue that could help you. You are not sure what you are remembering and then it is gone, but then it is back, but then, it is gone.
Jennifer gives you a piece of information that starts to fill in the puzzle, something you did not know, something that fills a lot like a knife and if feels a lot like it is going right through your heart but then fortunately it does not because you happen to have your metal plated Groovy Ghoulies membership card in your pocket protector that is in your breast pocket. Instead, the information ruins the membership card. Suddenly you think of Telly Savalas and Sally Struthers. You think they may have eaten tuna casserole together at Cantor’s in Los Angeles but that’s not important now.
Bird Butt, when you were gone on the interview, tells Jennifer she is afraid that Edgar is giving the job to someone else. She has been waiting to hear from Edgar about the head teacher job at Songjiang, a job you absolutely do not want. She knows you are off to an interview with him. She thinks this is unfair. She is more qualified. She is more qualified. She is more quali…
You remember the clue, what you had forgotten, and the important piece of your missing alibi. Now you remember why you did not change the test. Tess and Miko were gone last week. You were not told in advance. Last week was to be the review week. That is what you always do with the last week of classes. You do not feel it would have been fair to Miko and Tess, to review with only Max and Allen.
You ask Jennifer if she would help you brainstorm and put a study guide to give to the students in the morning and give them a test tomorrow evening. She says sure. She is going to be up anyway. She is a night owl.
This is like the part in Sunset Boulevard when William Holden and the young upstart writer start moonlighting, writing a script while he believes his keeper Norma Desmond is asleep. You wonder if you will get two shots to the stomach and one in the back and fall in the pool, student film school noir.
You throw in some Renaissance information, some Impressionist, Expressionist, Cubist, Surrealist, a hodgepodge collage of information. Action Painting, Pop Art (In the future, everyone in the world will be famous for fifteen minutes.) You like it, Water Lilies and Chairman Mao, Sunflowers and the Scream.
Jennifer goes back to her apartment. She tells you to email her the study guide when you are finished and she will look it over. You almost think you need not have her look it over but then you reconsider, she had a job as an editor after all. She could proofread, which would be nice at this late hour. She jots down her email and heads to her apartment. You cut and paste random facts that you have discussed in class and send it to her.
You go back to watching the movie you were watching before the boss called. You cannot get into it, a Naomi Watts thriller. You have your own thriller unfolding. Every few minutes you stop the movie to see if Jennifer has emailed the study guide back. She has not. You think maybe she just said she would help but does not intend to help. You start to worry. You almost feel as if you are developing an ulcer, having a heart attack, dancing with wolves. Later, you will dream Kevin Costner is your uncle but he insists on being called David. You decide to call him Uncle Mike. He becomes a spoon with no soup bowl to rest his new stainless self.
You watch a bit more of the movie. Years ago- this is true - you gave Ryan Gosling a ride in your BMW after a Counting Crows concert in Atlanta. He and Donald Faison were both shooting that football film with Denzel Washington. Donald sat in the front seat and you talked to him for the most part because you loved and still love Clueless. When you asked Ryan what he had acted in, he told you nothing you would have heard of. Now he is in this movie.
You look once again to see if Jennifer has emailed you. You wonder if she will. You start to worry. Time is starting to pass. What you have will work but you hope that she comes through for you. You are restless. Your mind is still racing. What if you are forced to write another geography final? What will you do?
You talked about the Great Depression in class. The students watched Wizard of Ozwhich takes place during the Depression. You read Maus or read most of Maus. The Nazis rose to power because of the depression in Germany. You watched North by Northwest. You could segue into the cold war from World War II. This makes sense. Yes, you could construct another final for the geography class if Bird Butt is squawking and ruffling feathers.
You go into look at your email one more time. Eureka! There it is; the email from Jennifer. She writes to tell you she has done some revising. You can do what you like with it; keep it, change it around, whatever. You open the file and you are stunned.
In 30 or 45 minutes, she has done what it would take most people several hours to do. The study guide is perfect. You are thankful. You kiss her feet in hyperspace somewhere. You are feeling much better. The bird is no longer the word.