Friday, finally, but then actually, the week goes by really fast. Sitting at a desk all day crunching numbers, I could not imagine doing. The week goes by so fast because I can take breaks during the day. This is rough but still not what I imagine putting in 40 hours of menial work at some conglomerate would be like. This is in no way as excruciating as working at Grey Worldwide. At least, this does not steal your spirit. If anything, these students make me more spirited. This said I do not want to get up. I look at the clock. I have overslept. The time is 6:50 in bedroom clock time. I jump out of bed and begin to start my day.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have really let my apartment become disordered. Soon, I hope, the cleaning lady will come and put my life back in order. At this point, I have no clue what has become of her. The last time she came was in September. Where could she be? Has she been kidnapped by the opium drug trade? Kidnapped and sautéed by the Ningbo Dragon Lady?
Tonight, Percy has invited the foreign teachers to dinner. We are to meet at 7:30 in Xia Ja Hui. Everyone I have talked to has tried to get out of karaoke. No one wants to go to that. In this case, I am glad I made it known up front that I hate karaoke. Now, if anyone asks, I can always say no. It is known now that it is something I despise doing.
Coming into the school, on the stairs, I see the boy who introduced himself yesterday who told me I am handsome. He calls hello to me. I say hello. He did not tell me his name or if he did I do not remember it.
Today, I am reading the 6th graders the story about Blackbeard. We have not had a vocabulary test for a few weeks in the class. Before class, I skim the story again and type up a list of 14 vocabulary words. They have the Tell Tale Heart worksheet to hand in from yesterday. At this point, I can usually predict that Oscar will not have his homework done. These sorts of things I must let wash over me. I cannot let this bother me.
Joker and 8th grade Kevin walk into the teachers’ office. Joker has chewable grape Mentos. He gives Michelle and me one. He and Kevin talk to Michelle in Chinese and then go off to class.
With the 8th graders I have realized if I leave the room for a few minutes, they do not know if I have gone to get my boss their homeroom teacher. This is good to remember. Before class, they will not do their eye exercises. I cannot get them to settle down. Off I march to my boss’s office. I tell her the situation. She tells me they are excited because it is Friday which is fine but they will not settle down. She tells me one of them is in charge that student is to make sure the other students are doing their eye exercises.
Armed with this information, I go back to the classroom. As I am walking into the classroom, Kevin and Jack have run out into the hall. Kevin is about to throw a pencil at someone in the classroom I ask who is in charge. No one speaks up. Back to my bosses office I march. At this point, I am sure they know I have gone to get my boss. She follows me back to the classroom which I really hate doing because I know she is busy doing administrative chores in her office but I feel as if I have no choice. We come back to the room and now of course they are seated doing their eye exercises. My boss comes in and yells at them. She knows precisely who needs reprimanded. She yells mainly at Jack and Kevin. Naturally, she knows they are the ones who are the worst behaved.
Again, they have no reason whatsoever to listen to me. This class is not important. Once my boss goes back to her office, the students especially Jack and William and Kevin begin to talk but this is more than talking. The talking I do not mind. They yell. Jack actually yells. Kevin yells. They are loud.
At this point, I hand out the assignment, design an invention. Since they are so awful, I have decided not to talk to them. The instructions I have written on the board. Eric works on other homework which I do not mind as much. Of course, I will still give him a ‘0’ for the assignment but I do not mind that he does not do his work. He does not bother me.
A few of the students actually put some effort into their idea. A few have no clue what I have assigned. Ten minutes into the lesson, Jack blurts out that he is finished. I point to the board where I wrote – This should take the entire period.
“Peery ode?” Kevin asks. “What is peery ode?”
“Period,” I say, “the entire class time, 40 minutes.”
Again, Jack tells me he is finished. I tell him he will receive a ‘0’ which does not bother me if it does not bother him.
While class time creeps along, I make notes in my notebook. Parents’ day is coming soon. My boss wanted me to turn in a sheet of what text book I have been using in the English class. I almost laughed but I didn’t. Fortunately, I like her. Of course, I have no text book. There has never been a text book. If I had a few fucking text books, my life would be so much easier but I don’t so I have to make due with downloaded crap from the internet that I try to pass off as educational. While the 8th graders are being their shitty selves, I try to spin my text book or lack thereof into something positive to give to the parents on parents’ day.
I am back in the teachers’ office typing lesson plans. A man, whom I have never seen before, has two large water jugs balanced on each end of a bamboo pole. He is delivering our water. Occasionally, I can hear Joker talking in the 8th grade classroom. His droning voice carries through the hallway.
The 7th grade readers are working on a list of 25 vocabulary words from Masque of the Red Death. Out of nowhere, Jacky asks me about Oklahoma. Is Oklahoma fun? It can be I tell him. Is the food good there? Yes, the food is very good there. What sort of food is there? Hamburgers, chicken fried steak, barbeque, and steak mainly, I tell him. Are the hamburgers big? Very big I say. I then talk a bit about chicken fried steak. I tell him how it is made and how delicious it is. Of course, now I am hungry for a hamburger.
As soon as the bell rings, I drop my things at home and walk the back way to McDonalds. As I am walking, I think of where I would get hamburger if I was in New York City. For a cheap burger, I would probably go to Polonia on 1st Avenue or I might walk over for a Bistro burger on the West side. In Bartlesville, naturally, I would go to Murphy’s. However, if it happened to be on a Monday - when Murphy’s is closed - I would go to a Lot-A-Burger. In Oklahoma City, I would naturally go to the Hungry Frog. In Los Angeles, I would go to Hamburger Hamlet. As I am crossing the road, I am thinking about Ponca City and where I would get a burger in Ponca City. I will have to ask Aunt Connie, Aunt Genice, my friend Aaron.
As I am thinking about burgers, I am crossing the street. The light is green. Here vehicles turning right have the idea that they have the right away so not only should you look both ways but you should look behind too when you cross the street. Momentarily, I forget this. And, I almost get hit by a bus. However, it is not the 43.
And Death, as realized by Ingmar Bergman in The Seventh Veil, seems to be following me at a somewhat far away close distance as imagined by Wim Wenders. My quick thinking saves me, I duck into a gate and let Death pass but he sees me. He turns around and says something to me which should freak me out but strangely it doesn’t because the tone is not imposing; the tone is somewhat comforting. Nevertheless, I do not understand the words. The language does not seem to be Chinese. It has more of a European lilt to it. Oh, Death is talking to me in Swedish. I tell him to leave me alone; I have this life to lead. Death understands all languages. He gives me a shrug that is more Mel Brooks than Ingmar Bergman and he walks away.
As I am walking thinking about the near miss with the bus, I see a familiar face which is odd. I look twice and then thrice. The block that I have hit seems to be mechanic row with the oddity coffee shop that is not open when I want coffee – in the morning on weekends. Standing beside her silver Honda is my boss. She is about to have her car washed. This is not like an American carwash. This is like an old garage where your uncle might take his old ’66 Dart for a ring job.
This is an odd place to see her, Friday, before lunch. I am a bit surprised or even shocked to see her. I tell her hello. She looks up. Her English is poor but she is so nice. She tells me we should take advantage of these beautiful days. I tell her yes and that I am heading for McDonalds. I will see her later.
The film, the film version goes in and out of my head, so many cinematic thoughts fueled by Godard (Jean Luc), Bergman (Ingmar), Leone (Sergio). The opening sequence – I am being dangled by the legs over the side of a high-rise; no, make that a precipice or crag above a rocky surf; no, no, no, make it the top of a pagoda; yes, that’s it; no, no, no, no, no, no, it has to take place at the top, the top lookout point of the 500 meter Buddha in Wuxi. Start with a close up, roll back to a shot that reveals I am being dangled from Buddha.
Yes, that is perfect. Bumbling Chinese gangsters – one has a Fu Manchu – these gangsters are dangling me over the side; no, I have a better idea – a group of students have me gagged with my hands bound. This group - a real angry mob - of students is dangling me over the side. No, I think it should be more mysterious, more understated. A man and a woman are dangling me over the edge of the Buddha. One has each leg. They are shouting un-translated Chinese. This should somehow be reminiscent of the opening (?) sequence in the original Lolita when Peter Sellars gets offed. Or does that not happen until the last sequence? Doesn’t it start with him begging for his life?
As I am being dangled by my Prada clad feet, my Chinese life flashes before me. Or, more cinematically appropriate, my Chinese life unfolds in sequence in Technicolor splendor. The flashback starts with a shot of me on the plane. Or, even better, the flashback starts with Sina and me in her car on the way to JFK Airport.
When we turn into the airport, I tell her she can just drop me off at ticketing. The camera cuts between us as we are talking, sometimes, lingering on one of us while the other one is talking.
“Tyson, you need help with your bags. I can go with you to the ticket counter to check your bags. Really, I don’t mind.”
“Sina, really you don’t need to,” I say. “I can manage.”
“Really, Tyson, I don’t mind,” Sina says.
“Mom, I can see myself to the gate by myself. You can let me off here.”
At this point the camera cuts to my mom (with her kind wrinkled face) in the driver’s seat.
“Really, kiddo, I don’t mind,” she says. “I can wait for you to get on the plane. Really, I don’t mind.”
“Ahhh, Mom, I’m okay. You go ahead and drive home.”
“I don’t mind waiting. I really don’t.”
“No, Mom, really, that’s okay. I’ll call you when I get back to Atlanta.”
Cut to Sina and me walking into the airport with all of my bags that I am taking to China. The camera zooms in on my face, silent.
Montage – Younger Mom (with no wrinkles) and me as a preschooler. Together, we are dancing to the Supremes’ ‘Love is like an Itching in my Heart’ – Mom is singing along, most of the words are incorrect. Me, a bit older getting off the school bus -a typical April day - with a look of surprise, the camera follows my eyes to a bike – a red sparkle Schwinn with a banana seat; a big white bow is tied to the handlebars. I run to it dropping my school books and the jacket that I am carrying. Mom comes out of the house wiping flour off of her hands onto her apron. I run and hug her. Next, young middle school me starting to cry, Mom telling me she knows I don’t want to leave California; I have had a fun vacation but we must go back to Oklahoma; I am trying not to cry but I cannot help it; she then says “I tell you what, if you do good in school this next year, and you don’t run away from home; I’ll tell you what I’ll do, next year I will send you out to see your uncle on the train…by yourself.” The camera pans to a young me. “Is that a deal?” she says. I shake my head yes and smile. The camera cuts to a train pulling into Ponca City. Mom is running to the place where the passengers are disembarking from the train. Dad is strolling casually behind her, not a care in the world. Me, in California clothes - circa 1977 – I climb down the steps of the train. As soon as my feet touch the platform, Mom has her arms around me, she’s crying. In between sobs she tells me - “I never thought I’d see you again” Party scene, a band is playing. I am singing. 100 kids are stuffed into a large room. Mom, older with a few wrinkles, is bobbing her head to the music in the corner. “Feminism of Television” is the song being played. Mom and I at a restaurant, Murphy’s, she is talking - “Kiddo, I think that ‘Feminism on Television’ song is a hit. It is one of the catchiest songs I have ever heard. Why don’t you guys record that song?”
Me- “Well, to make a record, we would need money.”
Mom – “How much would you need?”
Me – “I don’t know, probably about $1,000.”
Mom – “I can loan you the $1,000.”
Me – “Mom, you don’t have that kind of money to loan, besides you need to get a newer car.”
Mom – “The car can wait. You need to make a record with that song and some of your other songs. People have got to hear them. You and Todd Walker have written some hits I tell you.”
The phone rings, Mom picks it up. She is sitting on the couch in her old ramshackle mobile home.
Mom – “Hello.”
Me – “Mom, Mom, our record is number 1 on a radio station in Los Angeles. My friend called me and told me they play it all of the time. One of the Djays said the name Defenestration sounds like a kind of pasta.”
Mom – “That is so exciting. I knew it all along. I knew it would be a hit. I told you it would be a hit. Oh, I am so proud of you.”
Cut to Sina and I, she is telling me goodbye. I hug her and walk off to the security check. I have tears in my eyes.
This next scene happens at a rapid clip. I am on the plane eating a meal with chopsticks. The plane is relatively empty. I am going through the Shanghai Pudong Airport. I am the only non-Chinese person in the long line going through the passport check. The room is a large open cavernous room the size of a fair building or a concert hall. Cut to me getting my bags and trying to negotiate my bags to the spot where my company representative picks me up. I am going through the line, herded like a cow through a human corral. On the other side of the corral, a mob holds signs with passengers’ names – Bob Smith, Harry Crump, Dan Johnson. I am searching for my sign holder, my connection, my Chinese guardian angel. I see my name. I shake hands. From behind me, another man comes and takes my other bag. I try to get it back. I half-heartedly wrestle with this man in a pink polo.
“It is okay,” my greeter tells me. “He is the driver.”
We are in the car driving the strange landscape away from the airport. We pass a Hooter’s. In the front, the driver and my greeter are carrying on an un-translated Chinese conversation. We drive. We pull into a tollgate, not that different than an American tollgate. We continue to drive. We pull into a police station, with a big open foyer with clerks behind bullet proof glass on both sides of the entrance.
“All foreigners must register their residence here with police,” my greeter tells me.
Cut to us driving into the school gates. This is cinematic. The school gates are imposing. There is a watch tower at the top. The gates are two massive wooden doors like you would see in a Chinese epic when the concubine in training is taken to the palace for the first time.
We pull up to an odd institutional building. The car is put into park. Both men get out of the car. I follow suit.
Then I snap out of the daydream, and I am hanging by my feet from the ledge of the 500 meter Buddha. Then, I snap out again and I am standing in front of a classroom of 25 students with my guitar. We are all singing ‘A Day in the Life.’ I love to turn you on.
Today is a beautiful day. Yesterday was cold and rainy. In my apartment, I shut my windows to prepare for winter. But today, today, the sky is blue and clear and definitely wonderful. Perhaps summer will last a bit longer.