Monday, January 21, 2008

As usual the naughty boys sat in the back.

My last class for the term was a week ago, Tuesday to be exact. I had one class in the morning. The week before,(I teach each class once a week.) I told the class we could have a party. I had visions of cooking a cornucopia of baked goods in my new toaster oven. This did not happen.

Instead, I stopped at the store and got Oreos, white rabbits, frosted wafers and bizarre rice cakes in a bag marked Roughage Party. The party took place from 7:45 am to 8:25 am. In my rock and roll days, this would have been an after after after party and would have, without a doubt, included some serious substance abuse, or actually would have been fueled by some all night serious substance abuse. Thank the lord those days are over. People ask me if I miss those days and I say without pause – NO! I like having my afternoon tea, my walks in the park, my functioning brain.

However, to try to make it somewhat rocking, I did wear my new silver Christian Dior stretch slacks. Actually, this did not add much rock and roll to the festivities but I did feel festive anyway. I felt so ooh la la Dior.

Jerry, who I think is one of the more adorable students, handed out the Oreos to the 40 plus kids. After he handed a few to everyone, he had a row of Oreos left. He informed me that no one probably wanted these and so he would have them. Of course, I just smiled and told him he could have them.

As usual, the naughty boys sat in the back. One of the naughty boys told me that his parents had yelled at him all night the night before because of his bad marks. I tried not to laugh but I did anyway. Jane, one of my favorite teachers, has told me a few times that I am a very popular teacher with the students, the naughty boys like me especially which gave me a bit of a perverse thrill when she told me this.
As the students studied for their final exams, during the party, I tried to explain The Magic Red Monkey Television Show to them which will be put together by the afterschool club I am forming - The 21st Century Unalterable Mind Expanding Television Club. I failed. My roughage party did not convince them. Give me 3D vision and the California Blues.

I told them I know that there are a lot of very talented students in the class. Jerry is actually a published photographer. He has been snapping photos since he was like eight years old. How do you explain a kitschy show that might make continual references to Doris Day, Milton Berle, Ed Asner and Seals and Crofts? How do I explain this? How do you say its okay to an answering machine?

Now, I have a month off before classes start again after the Chinese New Year. We will go from the year of the pig to the year of the mouse.

The cold wet weather has been more than a little depressing to say the least. I try not to let the constant rain and cold get me down. I drink a lot of tea. This morning, I decided I really needed to have a proper teapot, one made of bone china. This gave me a fun little errand this morning.

I went to the house-wares store where, in the recent past, I have bought plates, glasses, candles, vases, silverware. There, I found a teapot which I think will work out nicely. It is one of those fat little white teapots that I imagine Alice using during that crazy Wonderland period, or maybe I am thinking of Iggy, or maybe the Lizard King had teapot like this. Alice at that time just drank Budweiser and Jim Beam. GB just shot up. Me and GB, we ain't ever gonna confess.

Yesterday, the rain rained and rained and rained all day. Today, it is just cold, not rainy. The sky is dark. The mood is grey today.

Nevertheless, last night, in the evening, the rain let up for an hour or so. At that point, I decided I needed to get out and tromp around in the wet, cold evening. That is when I first went in serious search of the bone china teapot. As I walked, I thought of Atomic Rooster and then as I walked farther I forgot that I thought of Atomic Rooster at all. I had no further thoughts of Atomic Rooster. Atomic Rooster only now figures into my thoughts sporadically. Death Walks Behind You, especially if you happen to be a rooster on the streets of Shanghai.

However, as I walked, I had one of those literary moments, which may be the best way to describe it. There was nothing truly exciting happening, no one being murdered, stalked, butchered or anything like that but I did feel as if I was a character walking around in a book, in some sprawling novel. Maybe I was the character that the murderer or thief or main hooligan sees and spares; I don’t know. I did, however, feel as if I had been transported in some indescribable way.

Nevertheless, this happened when I ducked into an alley and found myself in a neighborhood of winding lanes and old Chinese houses that have stood there for probably over 100 years which in Shanghai these days is quite a feat since neighborhoods are disappearing daily, hourly.

The chill and dampness of the evening suddenly did not bother me. I strolled around. Some of the doors and gates were open which enabled me to see right into these homes, into these lives. Mostly, I spied old ladies washing up - dishes, laundry and such.

Nonetheless, briefly, I felt as if I was stepping into someone else’s skin. This was more than not belonging; I was certainly out of place, but there was something remote and intangible about how I felt as I walked. Maybe it was just the sudden collision with the past that made me feel that way. In as much, there was something comforting about having that feeling of remoteness, the unexplainable feeling of being a stranger in a strange land, always that feeling of being a stranger in a strange land but this time amplified.

Today, as I mentioned earlier, was not a wet day. Today was a cold, dry day. This afternoon, I walked to the Buddhist Temple gift shop and bought incense. By now, they know me when I drop in. The shop is wide with a glass counter that makes a fat U around the shop. The only wall that does not have a glass counter is the wall that hosts the entrance. Today, when I walked in, several ladies were there in their blue smocks that make them look more like chemists than Buddhist gift shop sales clerks.

They always smile at me and make one sided Chinese small talk which I enjoy but do not understand. I handed a woman 6 rmb and she handed me 6 packages of incense. When I go there, I like to stock up. Sometimes, I stay a few minutes and look at the meditation pads and the Buddhists CDs.

When I walked back to my apartment, the guards at the gate motioned for me to come into the guard house. One of the guards – there were two of them – walked out of the guard house and went on about his business. The other guard started looking through the electric bills and phone bills that arrive at the guardhouse which the guards disperse to the tenants of the apartment complexes. There is more than just one complex that the guards guard. This guard was not successful in finding my bill. The bill that I thought might be mine, he responded by shaking his head no. This is not that big of a problem but it is a problem. Little things like getting my bills and paying my bills are much more of a bother than they should be.

Finally, he called for the guard who wandered away to come back. He came back and looked through the pile and handed me a couple of bills that I am really not sure if they are mine or not because the address printed on them is not the same address that is on my lease. This seems a bit suspect. Later I will go and take my old bills to show them which might shed some light on the whole bill mystery. Ah, this is a romantic life indeed.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Where’d you park the Car?

Okay, I know some people – some naysayers - out there are going to just shake their heads and say – “Oh, no, this is going to go badly.” I hope to prove those people wrong, I really do. I think this is going to have a happy ending, a happy Shanghai ending, not that this is the ending by any means, far from it, far far from it. This is a new beginning.
Let’s go back a few weeks ago. Okay, I know those same naysayers are already saying “This sounds chillingly close to the old Billy Wilder picture Sunset Boulevard. Will Tyson wind up with a bullet in his back floating in a swimming pool that belongs to a silent screen legend? Oh the humanity!
First of all, I am not William Holden, nor am I a down and out screenwriter, nor do I live anywhere remotely close to Sunset Boulevard, not that I know of anyway.
So, I suppose, this all started a few weeks ago when I was in the school coffee bar with Markus, the other foreign teacher and Fifi, the Chinese psychology teacher who is married to a Frenchman who does not like to wear his wedding ring. I told her that maybe it is uncomfortable for him. Jewelry is uncomfortable for some. She told me that he told her he has been married before and he does not like to look like he is owned. I then told her with that comment that he is totally on his own. Markus laughed.
That, actually, really does not have anything to do with the story really. And the other thing that does not have anything to do with the story really, is that on my way to school this morning, I saw two chickens - and remember I live downtown – during what I think was to be the last few moments of their lives. I passed these chickens squawking being carried by the necks about a block a part. Yes, it is that chicken killing time of the year again.
However, that’s not important now. Let’s go back to the coffee bar with Fifi and Markus. Fifi is very active in school activities. She has a lot of spare time because her husband lives in France. Now, does it make sense why he does not like to wear his wedding ring?
With a group of students, Fifi is putting together a model UN. She would like to enlist Markus and me to help. We both said yes. I will tell you right now this was a dire mistake.
The next thing I know, I had to proof read six two-page political toned papers. The students are dear; the students are dedicated but, after reading the papers, I really wanted to take a bunch of drugs, a bunch of drugs. Drugs that send you into that void, that void where Bobby Sherman is baking a cake for Barbi Benton; where Zsa Zsa Gabor is whipping up a nice soufflé, where Baa Baa Black Bush is just simply whipping himself.
Again, I would never want to discourage the students because they are so kind and hardworking but these papers – Lord Almighty!
But I digress, as we were sitting talking, Fifi mentioned that there could be other clubs on campus if someone had an idea. Of course, my mind started going about a million miles an hour slower than a quick thinker but I did start slowly mulling over the possibility of having one more cup of coffee.
Nevertheless, I have wanted to do a radio show since I have been here. Maybe we could do a really cool radio show. Fifi told me that the school had all of the equipment in the television studio to do such a thing. Television studio?! This really put my mind into interstellar overdrive. A television show?! Yeah. Why not?
We drank our coffee. I did not say anything about the television show. Markus mentioned that it might be cool to do some sort of television program. I agreed. That is as far as it went at that juncture.
A few weeks passed. I went about my business. I got sick. This time it could very well be consumption. To pass the time, I gave the students a more in depth understanding and – I hope – appreciation for nachos. I bought a toaster oven. I did, however, not make them nachos, I just told them of this food of the Western Gods.
But, again, that is beside the point. I bought some silver Christian Dior pants. I bought a shiny bronze faux leather Comme Des Garcons jacket which has, what I assume is, a rabbit collar. Seeing chickens being killed daily in the streets has hardened me a bit to the crimes against the animal kingdom, I suppose. I bought some divine custom made brown leather shoes. Sporadically, I thought about Laurie and Keith Partridge. Life happened.
Last night, during the spells and mania brought on from my current bout with consumption, an idea came to me. I was thinking of Mr. Zing and Tuffy, which I believe went off the air when I was in the first years of primary school.
Why Mazeppa Pompazoidi - of whom I was more of a fan – did not enter my mind, I am not sure.
This really probably does not matter. I do not even know how much my sleeping sickness really matters. And, I do not even know how important it is that I have been listening to Radiohead’s Morning Bell over and over lately. Maybe that doesn’t really matter. Maybe nothing really matters.
Last night, I was tossing and turning with no Fifth Dimension songs going through my head. And out of nowhere, that is when I thought of Mr. Zing and Tuffy, as I previously mentioned. That is when the idea struck me. There was not a notepad by my bed. I knew I would forget the idea in the morning since I was in the throes of consumptive dementia. Well, if it is that good of an idea – I thought – I will remember it.
Where’d you park the car?Sometime, probably around 3 am, or – to make the story more dramatic – 6 am, I fell asleep and slept peacefully. I did not dream of Cathy, nor did I dream of Heathcliff.
This morning I woke. I felt hot. I thought about Black Oak Arkansas for two seconds and got up.
I did all of the usual rigmarole to get ready for school which is actually not much of a rigmarole at all. I made coffee and toast (love that toaster oven!); took a shower; shaved; went to school. I saw one scooter boy at the scooter shop on the way. The other scooter boy was missing in action. I had no idea how to find out where he had gone. And, as previously mentioned, I saw two chickens during what I suppose was the last few minutes of their poultry lives, not to get all Chicken Run on everyone.
Now during that consumptive dementia last night, of which I just spoke, the idea came to me – The Magic Tuffy Show. I love the playfulness of it and the ode to Mr Zing and (namesake)Tuffy. But then, the more I thought about it. Mr. Zing and Tuffy was really for an older generation. It did not speak to me like Uncle Zeb’s Cartoon Camp.
I could not use a name that was void of meaning that was just a cool sounding name but had no real mystical quality to it.
That is when the real name hit me, but that is not really important at this point. I went to school armed with my idea. I went to lunch. I had lunch with Jane. We ate noodles. She slurped hers up with no problem. Mine were much too spicy. Her wealthy daughter who works in Hong Kong is going in on a flat in a high-rise with Jane. Jane retires in June.
I told her my idea. She told me that she made students do little performances as well. This is a good way for them to develop their English skills. I agreed wholeheartedly.
We walked back to our office. On the way, I saw Fifi. She thanked me for correcting the papers that the UN Model students wrote. I told her it was no problem. I then sheepishly told her that I doodled some verses on the papers which puzzled the students. She laughed.
Back at the office, I saw Qi Min (tooth savior). I told her my idea. We would have a 30 minute student variety show which, depending on student involvement, would run once a week or once every two weeks. I tried to explain my plan. She listened. She has always been incredibly supportive. I was afraid she would tell me that the students have no time for such nonsense. Instead, she told me she thinks it is a wonderful idea. This will be really good. I told her we could invite bands to the school that are in town. She loved that idea. For a minute, I thought I was dreaming.
“We will exploit you” – she said. I laughed.
The possibilities are endless.
First up, the students are going to practice saying ‘It’d be a lot cooler if you did.’
Welcome to:
The Magic Red Monkey Show.

Ethel Merman watch your back!