Friday, September 15, 2006

Someone Controls Electric Guitar

Mary’s okay. As I am walking up the sidewalk to the school, I hear my name called. I turn around; Mary is there. I tell her I have a meeting with Percy today after school. She tells me to not let Percy load me down with anymore responsibility. I tell here I will not. We tell each other we are only arriving at 7:30 am now because we are excited about the school. We say this to assure ourselves that we are not being pressured into doing something we do not want to do. Are we being pressured? Yes we are.

The reason I came in early today is because I have a mystery class period that has not yet been assigned. If it is the first period, I would like to be prepared for it. We grab our milk for which we have to sign and head on into the school. For early morning conversation, both of us are strangely, surprisingly alert.

At my desk, the secret class is revealed to me. Yes, I am teaching the first period – Language A, sixth graders. This means dealing with Oscar. That is okay. At this point, he is as entertaining as he is annoying.

This morning, the talk seems focused on the guitar lesson. The Indian twins ask if they must have a guitar. I tell them yes. The girl says in India guitars cost at least $10. I tell her here they cost 500 yuan which is closer to $60.

Sometimes Kevin spells his name with an ‘l’ – Kelvin. Today, the homework that he has not finished he has left the ‘l’ out of his name. I ask him which way he wants to spell it. He tells me he does not know. I pronounce the two names. He wants to be Kevin. From now on, we will leave out the ‘l’.

After we discuss the spelling of Kevin’s name and the guitar class, the students work on their homework for The Prince and the Pauper. Oscar stares into space. I ignore him.

After class, I come back to my desk and write my list of grievances in case Percy has the nerve to say I am not working hard. Without a doubt, I am prepared to tell her how it is. This is something I do not want to do but at the moment, I do not have a life because I put so much time into my lesson plans. Again, I am not complaining, I just will not allow myself to be pushed around. I work very hard. I know I am good at what I do. Thus, I will not be pushed around.

As I am writing my plan of attack, the little sixth grade Indian boy comes in to tell me I teach them art next period. This week’s art quota for sixth graders has been met by me. I do not teach them. He is insistent upon this. He tells me that Kevin is the one who told him. This makes me wonder why Kevin did not come get me.

I take my slip of paper with the added class and go to my boss’s office. She looks at the schedule she has taped to her wall. The schedule is so complicated that she cannot really figure out what is going on. She tells me there is an English class now. I tell her I have taught the English class. She looks again at the schedule on the wall. Oh, she says, the next class is a math class. She then looks again and says it is not a math class. The next class is art. I tell her I have taught them art for the week so it cannot be mine. She tells me, no this is Chinese art. At this point a teacher who sits next to me goes by with a load of Xeroxed art in her hand.

I peak into the class. I tell a few of the students ‘hello’. Vivian smiles at me.

At my desk, I work a bit more. I go home for lunch. I have another ham sandwich with some orange juice. I take a bath and put on a suit. I grab my guitar and head to school.

Sometimes I do wear a suit to school. Today, since I am meeting Percy, I feel as if I am better armed in a suit. This morning I wore my Imperial Teen T and a blazer and cords.

Back at school, I surf for a picture of a guitar with the notes marked on the neck. This takes me two seconds to find which is interesting because I have played guitar for, embarrassingly, 26 years now and I have never learned the notes. Teaching the notes means I will be learning the notes. Again, this is good for me.

Selfishly, that might be what I like most or one of the aspects I like most about teaching; I like to learn while I am teaching. Funny I was never crazy about learning when I was in school.

Somehow the 25 minutes I had before class begins have vanished. The bell rings. I run to my seventh grade readers. Neisha is still in the hospital. We talk about the homework that we did not make it all the way through yesterday. Jonathan broke his glasses. Jacky forgot the front page of his homework. I ask Jonathan what he would like to do. He is a good kid. He stays in class. I think they like me.

At one point, I look over at the Chinese magazines - as you know, I wish life could be Swedish magazines – Placebo is on the cover of the Chinese Rolling Stone. I ask them if any of them have heard of Placebo. Every Me and Every You? Pure Morning? 36 Degrees?

They look at me blankly. None of them have heard of Placebo or their songs. We thumb through the pages to the Placebo spread. Jacky asks me if the person with the long hair and make up is a girl. I tell him no that is the same guy as the guy on the cover of the magazine. They do not really understand.

They know I was in a band. I tell them I once had long hair. Jacky is surprised.
“You had long hairs?” he asks.
Yes, I tell him. I do not tell him I heaved on stage or that I wore ripped up wedding dresses when I felt too virginal to wear prom dresses. Five minutes are left of class. They want to search the web for stuff on the Kittens. We put in a search into a Chinese search engine. Most of the pages we hit do not come up. Finally a page does come up. They see a picture of me in the Pop Heiress era.
“You are cool.” Jacky says. I am not sure in which way he means this but I take it as a serious compliment since several of the younger students seem to think I am in my 60s or 70s.

In forty minutes, I have my first guitar class. When I came back to school after lunch no one was in the teachers’ office so they did not see me put the guitar in my locker. After I make copies of the notes on the neck to hand out to the 16 students that are enrolled in the class (here is where I ask for help from anyone that might have experience in teaching that many beginning guitarists at one time), I pull my guitar out of the case and start fiddling with it.

Michelle, my liaison, immediately makes a big deal over it. She tells me to play a song. I keep hedging. Over on the other side of the room, Athena and Oscar are having some sort of confrontation. I keep looking over to see if she smacks him. He is one of those people to whom I would really like to get through. Since this is going in another section of the room, I tell Michelle I will go practice a song and play one for her at some point down the road. She wants me to play ‘Hotel California’. She may have a long wait on that one.

I go into the conference room and figure out Modest Mouse’s ‘The world at large’; this seems like it would be an easy song to teach 16 guitar players at once. Somehow I magically hit the opening point straight away. I figure it out in about a minute. In my head, I hear the whole gaggle of students performing it. While I am in the conference room, I decide to play a song for Michelle. I hope the other teachers do not mind.

I take my guitar back into the office. Four or five teachers are sitting doing work. This is when it becomes something like a movie or a music video. I hit the first chord – I am not making this up – Michelle literally shrieks and swoons. That is one hell of a magic chord at the beginning of ‘Feel Like a Drugstore’.

By the time I start singing, other teachers have crowded into the room. The whole time they are talking but I know they are listening. They are overawed perhaps because this is so much like rock and roll. None of them have experienced this. It is such a cool feeling because I know that I am truly appreciated. At the end of the song everyone whoops and hollers and whistles. Athena asks me if I can play ‘Yellow’. The whole group has a powwow. Athena then announces that I am to come to the pub with them on Friday. Okay I say. I do not plan to do this but I might. Who knows?

Soon, fifteen guitar students will descend upon me. I go back to the conference room where I am to start the class. Today, we are walking to a guitar shop which is not close but not far. I want them to look at guitars. Some of them have not bought guitars. They have to have guitars to be in the class.

The first ones to come into the room are the Indian twins and Kevin. The guitar is magic. They stare at it and watch me play. I try to show them the fingering but that is a mystery to them. I try to tell them how it works, how it makes the different notes. I try to show them but they are too excited. All of them want to hold it like a baby brother brought home from the hospital.

The little Indian boy asks me questions at the same time but not necessarily guitar themed questions. He wants to know if I ever had a dog. I tell him I had a dog when I was his age. He wants to know what kind of dog. I have to tell him twice because he asks me twice.

More kids filter in. One of the girls can actually play. I am not sure what to do about this. I will somehow try to make it fun for her. Michelle comes in. She tells me all of the students have arrived. It is now time to march to the guitar shop. Michelle lays down the law. She yells they have to march in single file. She discusses something with a few of the students. They are talking in Chinese. I ask if we need to wait. Are we missing students? That is not the problem. We have 17 students instead of 15. Somehow, we have two extras.

We walk out of the school and off of the grounds. The kind guard with the mole at the base of his nose smiles at us as we pass. As we walk along the sidewalk, I point out all of the found art – wonderfully colorful Chinese cigarette packages; here ten year olds smoke - to the little Indian boy who has attached himself to me. He tells me that is rubbish. I tell him it has the making of found art. He tells me it is dirty which reminds me of the other day when the seventh graders were piecing together their biography covers. Jacky scored a very cool coffee package that I had brought into the classroom. Since I did not wash it out, when he cut into it Folgers crystals went everywhere. He looked at me. I told him, the coffee adds natural color. I know that is what my dad would have said.

“Teacher, how far?” echoes through the ranks as we walk to the guitar shop. I point to random buildings on the horizon and tell the students the music store is there. As we are walking, the little Indian asks me who the prime minister of the United States is. I tell him George W. Bush is the president.
“Impossible,” he tells me. “He is too old.”
I tell him that was his father. He then tells me that is not possible for a father and son to have the same name. He asks which province I come from. I tell him Oklahoma. He says it over and over. He asks me if I had another dog after my dog died. I tell him no.

When we arrive at the guitar shop, I ask Michelle if she could ask the owner of the shop how many students can come into the shop at once. I tell everyone to wait. She goes in and comes back out. She tells me that all of them can come in. At this, I just shake my head and laugh. The shop is the size of a small bedroom that would barely fit a queen sized bed. The owner does not mind if 17 squirrelly, spastic teens are loosened inside, the boys being the most rough hewn and excitable.

The girls are silent. The boys are not. Every few seconds another boy grabs my sleeve to show me the guitar that he wants. The owner tunes one of the guitars for my little Indian attachment. He strums it. It sounds fine. The price is 300 yuan, around $35. Today, they do not buy. Today, they look. Excited about the prospect of getting guitars, the boys go outside to talk. The girls stay inside. They have not said anything. I ask them if they have any questions. They shake their heads no.

Michelle and I go outside with the girls. The boys are horsing around. Michelle yells them into order. Everyone lines up. Before we start back to school, I ask if anyone has questions before we leave the shop. No one does. We walk back.

On the way back it starts to rain, the students start howling about this travesty, this crime against humanity. By raining, I mean I feel a total of 5 drops of rain. My little Indian attachment tells me that on the television last night there were 3 drops. I asked what that meant.
“Oh, teacher, a big rain.”

The big rain did not come.

An electric guitar is brought in to a court of law
The judge and the jury (twelve members of the jury)
All listening to records
This is a crime against the state
This is the verdict they reach:

Never listen to electric guitar….


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