Thursday, November 23, 2006

And the executioner’s face is always well hidden

Okay, my lessons for parents’ day are coming together. For drama, I will have two students at a time do a short simple scene. This seems easy. Vincent is microwaving rice. The microwave is here in the teachers’ office I tell him to sit in the chair next to me. We face each other in our chairs. I tell him we are going to do a scene together. I have the dialogue on my computer screen. I go first.

Me - Good morning.
Vincent -Good morning.
Me - Please pass me the milk.
Vincent - I'm afraid we've run out.
Me - Has the paper come?
Vincent - It's right in front of you.
The way he does it in his herky-jerky English as a second language way is brilliant. I tell him he is very good. I will call my movie friends and tell them about him. At the moment, I have no movie friends tell him. Nevertheless, if I make some movie friends I will tell them about him.
The next student to stumble by my desk is Kevin. I tell him to come over.
“What do teacher?”
“We are going to do a scene.”
“Yes, right now.”
We hobble through the scene. Surprisingly, Vincent was much better than Kevin. This is surprising because Kevin is in my Language A class, Vincent is in English as Language B. For all intents and purposes, Kevin should be better than Vincent in his reading skills.

At this point, I have completely stopped worrying about my hobby group. Last week, we catastrophically tried to learn ‘She loves you.’ This was everything but pretty. This week we will tackle ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.’ The way we will learn it, the entire introduction will be in C and the last word of the introduction we will walk to G. Today, there is a possibility that we might be able to learn the first part of this song.

Armed with the song, I go to class. Actually, I am looking forward to today. Sure, I do not expect much these days but that is probably okay.

Parent’s day is tomorrow but at the moment I am not worrying ‘A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall’ occupies my mind. And the executioner’s face is always well hidden. Strangely, Dylan means more to me now than he ever has. As a youngster, I was not really a fan just ask Todd Walker. But now – with love from China – he means something to me. Yes, I always loved the idea of Dylan, his presence in the 60s, his unkempt hair, his impossible eyes but his music escaped me unless of course Joe Cocker or Nico was covering a song.

In class, I tell the students we are going to learn a song, a famous song. The way we will learn this song will only involve three chords. This seems to make everyone happy. Kevin tells me his mom has agreed to let him take private guitar lessons. This really is good news. He seems to be embarrassed to tell me. How can I tell him that I am flattered? I am not really sure. He explains it with the gentleness of a parent. He tells me, we only meet once a week. He wants to devote more time to it. I tell him that is really great. He will learn faster now. This is the reason I am teaching this class. It is just an introduction.

I plug in the ghetto blaster in the plug that Xiao Ma pointed out to me last week. Out of the pocket of my gigbag, I pull out the pirated Dylan CD. Jacky looks at the cover. He pronounces Dylan - Die-lin. How odd I believe it is that he does not know how the name is pronounced. Bob Dylan is not the household name as he is elsewhere in the world. Maybe this is just me, maybe in the United States middle school children would not know who he is, how to pronounce his name.

Before I play the song and after I hand out the lyrics to everyone, I tell the students they will enjoy playing this song because it only has three chords and it is six minutes long. I press play. A few of the students pay attention, most of them do not. Sabrina and Kevin are the only ones that truly read the lyrics as the song plays. If two students are paying attention, maybe that is enough.

After the song is over, Kevin looks at his watch.
“Teacher, you right,” he says, “the song six minutes.”
“It’s six minutes?” I ask surprised that I am right.
“Yes, yes, Teacher.” This, of course, he says as if he is Peter Lorre. Sometimes, when he speaks, I have to stifle my laughter because his voice reminds me so much of Lorre’s.

Now, I play a bit of the song on my guitar. I play it up past the first and it’s a hard, hard, hard, hard, it’s a hard rains a-gonna fall. I ask the students if they are ready to learn to play the song. Incidentally, a few of the students conveniently forgot to bring their guitars. I tell them to go to the library. Maybe I should be more of an authoritarian but I have decided this will be as pleasant – in its hopeless misery – for me as I can make it. The last thing I want are kids mucking around the class who do not even have their guitars with them.

Jacky’s clique is playing chess. I tell them to go to the library to play. He tells me he wants to stay and listen. This is flattering in a really pain in the ass sort of way. Yes, I know I will regret letting him hang out but I let him stay. Eric forgot his guitar so he plays chess with Jacky. Max and Ken watch Eric and Jacky play chess.

Now, we are starting to learn the song. The way we will learn it will start in C. I ask if anyone remembers how to play a C. Well I just had to laugh. I saw the photograph. All of these darlings show me the chord. None of them are correct. One by one, I go around the room and place their fingers in the correct positions. This I do not do gently. I do tend to stretch the fingers within legal limits. While I am doing this I sing mock-opera which entertains only me and seems to annoy all of them. By the time I start toward Jacqueline (who looks and seems a bit older – and cooler – than the others) she holds her hand up to stop me.
“I remember. I remember,” she says stopping me from coming any closer. The others laugh.
Now that everyone knows the chord, of course most of them are not in tune. Sean hits the first chord and I hit the first chord. Sean is more advanced than the others. He gives me a sour face. Jacky has tired of playing chess. He has come over to where we are. Sean says something under his breath. Jacky tells me Sean says I am not right. Sean says he is. I am a bit offended. I am in tune I say. I hit a C. And, of course, I do the stupid Martin Short bouncy C routine. Again, this is just to entertain myself. The students look at me with a bit of a worried look. I have to admit it’s getting better it’s getting better all the time.

So the first forty minutes, some of the students can almost, almost play a C. This is like Groundhog Day. Every day is Groundhog Day. I am Bill Murray. I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in. It stops my mind from wondering where it will go.

During the break, I screw around on my guitar. I tune Kevin’s guitar again. Students from other classes wander into the room. I yell at them to get back in their cage. My students look at me; again, they look worried. I smile and laugh maniacally.
The second period of our hobby class, I spend in the back of the auditorium with Max and Kevin working on the song. I tell the others if they want to sit around in a circle with us and try to play the song they can. They do not have to. No one else joins us. That is completely okay with me. Two students out of sixteen, I am not complaining.

Headway is made with Kevin and Max. We are almost jamming in a really stunted sense of the word. We make progress when I realize we should just stay on the C for awhile. I decide to count off in waltz time – 1-2-3-2-2-3-3-2-3-4-2-3-C. I continue the count as we play. When we have played a few measures, I count us into G. By the end of the class, they can almost go to G. Baby steps, we are taking baby steps.

Those beautiful clear days are gone. Now the rain, the spitting rain, is here. Maybe it is here for the duration of the winter. From the dumpling shop, I watch the rain as I try to ignore the smell, the urine smell that wafts from the wet mat. The odor, I pretend is bacon cooking.

The young chef’s helper keeps smiling at me, showing off and smiling. He reminds me of Paul – no, not 28ifPaul, the other Paul from Songjiang, small Paul with the dancing, smiling eyes. These Chinese guys with dancing smiling eyes, these Chinese guys with dancing smiling eyes make me happy to be alive. Yeah, I don’t worry about the executioner’s face.


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