Browbeaten by the sixth graders, I retire to the teachers’ office after the lecture on Oklahoma. As soon as I walk back into the office, Athena asks me how the class was. Fairly horrendous, I tell her. The little fat idiot is hanging at her desk. She points to him and asks how he behaved.
Most of the time, with most students, I would lie and tell her “Oh, he was fine.” “He’s okay.” “No problem.” This time, I do not do that. I tell her he was one of the most horrendous students in the class. She says something sharply to him in Chinese. She then leaves the teachers’ room. I assume she goes back into the class room.
Spent, I walk to my desk and sit down. Mary is back. I have not seen her in a week or more. Her father passed away. He was sick. She did not know how sick he truly was. She debated flying back to Singapore a few days before he passed away but she was worried about having no money. It is not my place to advise. Lamely, I told her she could earn money later if she needed it. Maybe she should fly on back. If she was a close friend, or if I had known her more than a week, I would have told her to fly back at any cost but this is not my place. His state of health, I just knew from her.
Her niece called and told her he was not eating. Mary did not know what to do. She had spent the last of her money on the deposit for her apartment. She got back last night late.
Today is the first I have seen of her but I am having one of those days. She asks me how the class was. I do not unload but I tell her it was very difficult. Kindly, she tries to give me advise but I am really not listening I am so beaten. I tell her I will talk to her later. I know she is really going through a rough period but I am so drained. The muffins this morning, I realize, are the only food I have eaten today. No wonder I am beat, I have no energy supply. Maybe I should just whip out an eight-ball and snort it in the teachers’ office; tell everyone it is American - Chlortremeton, Advil, Tagemet.
Quickly, I put the quiz together for the reading class in the morning. This takes less than ten minutes. I rearrange the study questions and add a multiple choice element to the vocabulary. Everything is déjà vu these days. Have I done this before? Or am I remembering something I will do in the future?
After I have done this, I look out the window. Joker and two of the other eighth grade boys are playing basketball which suddenly sounds like a lot of fun. Sadly, today, I feel as if I am too old, too much of an adult. Something brainless and energy expending would be good for my head, for the part of me that wants to stay young.
Although, I am wearing my dressy hard rubber soled pair of Miu Miu, I decide to go down and play. Suddenly, I have energy. I run down the four flights of stairs and out to the court. When I get close enough for them to see I slow into a casual stroll. Joker sees me first. He smiles and waves. I ask if they are playing ‘Horse.’ Probably, they do not know what ‘Horse’ is. They just shake their heads yes. They probably think that we call basketball ‘Horse’ back in Oklahoma.
Joker asks me if I want to play. I say sure. It is Eric and Joker against William and me. William is bigger than both of them. I am a bit taller than Joker and Eric. William and I are about the same size. Why they put me with William, I am not sure.
Although William is a bigger kid, he is one of those sweet kids with kind eyes and eyes and eye lashes that flutter like butterflies or little animated birds out of classic Disney movies – Snow White, Song of the South, Dumbo. He and I kill the other two. We make basket after basket. Eric and Joker only get one basket. I get two baskets but I prefer to pass the ball to William. He does beautiful lay-ups. The four of us play hard for fifteen minutes.
At that time, I feel as if I am about to have a heart attack. Maybe I need to bring aspirin with me for such emergencies. The heart attack factor, I am able to mask. I limp off the court. I tell the others I have to go. I have some work to do (the catchall adult excuse when you want to get out of something. “Oh I would love to but I can’t I need to do some work that weekend.”)
Back in the office, I am in a better mood. I chat with Michelle my liaison. Celia comes in, I chat with her. I want to ask her about some of her students, the students that I know. However, the Chinese teachers – most of the time - only know the students by their given Chinese names. Only I know the secret English selves locked away inside these students.
After sitting around my apartment working on my lesson plans and such, I decide to get a prepared refrigerator dinner at Buddy’s convenience store which is behind the apartment complex. First, I look for a small yuan size bag of ice. The ice here comes in these small packages that will provide enough ice for one or two drinks which is an odd concept. I like to get them because it seems so 1970s decadent, like I would be bringing it back to an apartment with a white fake fur rug and a mod orange couch. Oops, I guess I do have the mod orange couch.
I try to remember the word for ice. It has an ‘ing’ in it. I think it is bing. The clerk does not understand. This is a stroke of genius. I take a can out of the cooler. I pretend that I am pouring it in the glass. I then mock crunching something with my mouth like I am crunching the ice. Now, the cashier knows what I want but they do not have it. Oh, well, I grab a can of Coke out of the cooler. A swinger grabs a big Suntory beer and takes it to the counter. I buy the coke and a dish of cold noodles with beef and some strange green vegetable.
The man walks over to the microwave where there is a condiment bar to set drinks and food. As I am walking out with my purchase, he makes a commotion. He points to my bag and then to the microwave. He seems to insist we do this. We put my cold noodles with beef and the odd green vegetable into the microwave. He offers me a cigarette. He lights it for me. He asks me something but I am not sure what he is saying. I then realize he asks me where I am from. I tell him America. He says something and laughs. He is definitely some sort of swinger. He and the cashier say something as they look at me. He is sizing me up. He points to his beer and says something. These are the magic moments. The day can have a disastrous affect but when I walk out into the night, everything is alright, when I walk out into the night smoking a cheap Chinese cigarette.
Always on the mornings of my early classes, I wake in a panic assuming I have overslept. The first time I wake this morning, the time is 6 am. I roll over and drift back to sleep, dreaming those lifelike dreams that at some point I realize are dreams and I wake myself. This time, the time is 7:30 am. I get up in a fluster. I need to be at school at 7:30 am to prepare. Fortunately the clock by my bed is fast by about ten minutes. I throw on a polo golf shirt, some light brown light weight cotton pants; I brush my teeth and wash my face and hurry out the apartment.
I walk into the school at the same time as a line of students. A large chorus of ‘Good Morning Teacher!’ is directed my way from the students. I say a hearty hello as I brush through and past them. A man is seated at a table with a list. He stops me as I walk past to ask my name. Flustered, I tell him Tyson. He hands me a box of eye drops and a rose. Today is teacher’s day he tells me.
As I am climbing the stairs, I look at my mobile for the correct time. The time is 7:30 am. The reading class is at 7:55. I have 25 minutes to prepare.
The seventh graders are taking a quiz today over the Anne Frank reading. Franticly, I type up a quiz for the sixth graders over The Prince and the Pauper. This, I will give them if they are not well behaved. This is a back-up plan. If they do not want to do their reading, I will give them the quiz that I had planned for Monday. If they are well behaved, they will continue reading The Prince and the Pauper.
Typing up the quiz, printing it, and copying it within –now- 20 minutes is a bit mad I know. My computer takes a few minutes to boot. I pull up The Prince and the Pauper study sheet and reconfigure it. The short answers, they stay the way they are. The vocabulary, I must add a multiple choice element. Microsoft Word does not seem to want to cooperate. I am in bullets and numbering and panic mode, trying to add the alphabet. Copying and pasting and retyping seems to work best in a clinch because every time I hit the return when I am trying to create the alphabet section it defaults to another numbered entry. As usual, I take a few deep breaths and I try to stay calm. I may be doing this at warp speed for nothing. They may behave. I may not have to give them the quiz.
With a few minutes to spare, I print the quiz. My boss’s office is unlocked. I am able to retrieve my documents from the printer in her office. I rush to the room where the copier is kept. The room is locked. I run back to my boss’s office to grab the key out of the key drawer. I run back to make copies. One of the eighth graders needs to get into the eighth grade classroom. It is locked. I hand him the keys. Rushing, I dash into the copy room. My breath is held as I make the copies. Please copy. Please copy, I tell the copy machine. I pray to the copy machine god on high that my quiz - that I may or may not give - copies. The humming of a happy copy machine commences. The copies are being copied. All is good.
And I was so pleased to be informed of this; I ran twenty red lights in his honor. Thank you Jesus! Thank you Lord!
Grabbing the copied copies, I rush back to my office to grab the quizzes for the seventh graders. The students are all in the classroom. The sixth graders, I tell to read The Prince and the Pauper, Chapter two. After they get their books out and start reading, I hand out the quiz to the seventh graders. After I hand the quiz to them, I ask if they have any questions. They do not. Good.
As I am doing this, I look over at the sixth graders. Of course, Oscar, who is the kid who perpetually misbehaves, has another book under the table that he is reading. Kevin looks at me with that look, that look that says, ‘Boy he IS a dumb-ass.” I am not mean. I tell Oscar he is to read the assigned book. Nevertheless, I do move him away from Kevin. I sit him by himself at the end of the table where I hope to hell he will not bother anyone.
With this settled, I go back to the seventh graders to see if they have any questions. Jonathan wants to know how many examples he is to list regarding the restrictions put on Jews. This time, one example is fine. On the exam, I will want more.
All of the seventh graders had the same question. With the question answered, they, once again, focus upon the quiz.
Scanning the room, I notice that Kevin is looking off into space. He is still on the first page of chapter two. I sit down with him and quietly read aloud and explain what is going on. The pauper is standing outside the gates of the palace. I tell Kevin the palace is the same as a castle. He understands. I use the school gates as an analogy. I tell him it is if he did not go to this school and he watched the students from the gates. And if he got to close the school guard would grab him by the back of the neck and throw him. This is one of those amazing points, those points in teaching that my friend Sally told me about, those points when you feel the machinery in a student’s mind clicking into gear. As I am reading, I explain a few words but overall he understands. His eyes become focused. I feel as if I have actually done something. After I have read a page, I ask him if he can read on his own. He shakes his head yes with that innocent confidence only a child possesses. This is the reason I am here, albeit small, this is the reason.
In between classes, I decompress. The eighth graders whom I usually like have the design class next.
To the eighth graders, I try to explain what I want for the autobiography cover. No one really seems to pay attention. They all talk to each other. They do not listen to me. This bothers me. Joker tells me to pound on the desk. Sometimes, I feel as if they just want to hear me babaloo on the desk. (That last comment was in no way meant to insult or demean Babaloo Aiye, the Orixa or deity of the Lukumi tradition - sometimes known as the Santeria tradition.)
Over and over, I try to explain what we are doing. Everyone gives me a blank stare. Joker is talking to Kevin and Alexandria. I show the example of the mock-up that I did. Joker tells me the picture is cool. He says I look younger. In the picture I do not have my beard. The picture was taken at the beginning of the summer when I still shaved. Maybe I have aged twenty years since then.
As in the other classes, I explain why I have an M&M wrapper, a Queen of Spades, Greta Garbo postage stamps and a Mr. Donut receipt on the cover I have done. I tell the class they need to explain why they chose the materials they chose.
During class, I show them examples of autobiographies, the cover I am designing and examples of punk rock lettering - again, I show Never Mind the Bullocks. No one is listening except for Judy who sits in the front row. She is less than half interested it seems but she does seem to be listening. Maybe they are not listening because today is Friday.
Most of the colored paper has been pilfered by the other classes. The students fight over the last of the colored paper like Liz and Zsa Zsa fighting over Richard Burton or the last helping of oyster salad goulash at Red Buttons’ All-Night, All Nude Octogenarian Birthday Bash. The students who do not get colored paper get white paper.
A box of scissors is waiting on my desk for the ones who are interested. Eric, William, and Joker come up to the desk. They look through the packaging that I have in a little CD sized plastic shopping bag. In the bag, I have put Chinese business cards that were handed to me on the street, a cut up Lipton Tea box (Chinese) and a receipt.
Joker passes the receipt to the other boys. He wants to know what I bought for 24 yuan. I try to remember what luxury item I bought for 24 yuan ($3). They pass it around. The receipt has ‘cp’ printed near the price. Now, I am obsessed. I must remember what I bought for 24 yuan.
Cathy or Diana, I am not sure which of the two, shows me a piece of wallet sized promotional memorabilia with three folds of Dirk Nowitzki. William takes it from her and kisses the picture of the German basketball star. Joker tells me William loves Nowitzki. Somewhere I had read Nowitzki hums a David Hasselhoff song when he shoots his free throws. Probably, none of these kids know the voluptuous horror of Hasselhoff so I do not go into the humming of his song.
Ben tells me Yao Ming is super.
“Sure,” I agree, somewhat noncommittally. “He is super.”
“No, not super. Stupid,” he repeats to me.
“Oh,” I nod my head in understanding and then I add, “A stainless steel coffee cup.”
“What?” Joker asks
“I bought a stainless steel coffee cup to carry to school,” I say. “That is what the receipt is for.”
William stands behind Joker with his arms around Joker’s waist. Joker is talking while William –behind him - is swaying to and fro. Joker wants to take my guitar class but he thinks that it may be full already. Eric cannot take it because he is too good in math. He has to take a math class as his extracurricular fun class. William wants to take the class too. They ask me if they have to have long nails. I tell them they do not. Out of my front pocket, I produce a pick. This is what we will use I tell them. Then, I show them how to hold it.
He's the droplets
He's that droplet on my truth
He's the spangle
He is that spangle maker
And the rest made sure it's the droplet.
As William sways – and Joker talks, the Cocteau Twins play in my head. William, he is that spangle maker.