2. Teach Yourself Japanese

(Here begins the manuscript believed to be written by Eddie Trombone. This is brought to you through the tireless efforts of Mrs. Doyle and Mr. Kikuchi, and at the cost of making America slightly more dangerous due to these recently distracted staff members’ slipshod processing of travel visas. -Ofc. Dirkins)

 

Teach Yourself Japanese

by

(author’s name once obscured by some unknown white substance now illegible thanks to Mrs. Doyle’s overly enthusiastic attempt to scrape away that substance with Mr. Kikuchi’s souvenir letter opener –Ofc. Dirkins)

 

There is a spot of grass on the North Side of Chicago that somehow manages not to die, sitting as it does surrounded by the busses that lumber along Lincoln, Montrose and Western Avenues belching black smoke and particulates so substantial that children home from school are kept at the door by their parents and given a good shake. It is a miracle, this grass, or maybe plastic. But no, walking across the soft, green turf, I could see it was probably real. Too green, though, practically shimmering, and maybe this is because it was one of those first really beautiful spring days at the end of March that seem to make everything shimmer. Maybe it was the late afternoon sun, the way the light came at the blades of grass sideways. Or maybe it was because of the Koreans yelling at me.

From the class before. Four hours of yelling, and I found a bench to sit down on. I had been subbing for an ESL teacher at church in Korea town. A student came to the front of the room and pushed a book into my hand. He opened it to a page, then went and joined the other 40 students sitting patiently in neat rows, waiting for something. I looked at the open book in my hand and read a sentence out loud, then jumped when all 40 students yelled back at me sort of what I had just said. And there followed in this wake absolute dead silence. After a moment, and against my better judgment, I read the next sentence, and was a little less surprised when the assembled yelled it right back at me.

Four hours of that, and the grass was positively blinding. Four hours, broken up by a 20-minute coffee break during which I managed to horrify this group of South Korean Christians by smiling enthusiastically and saying that, yes, I loved comedy, which I do, but they had in fact asked me if I liked communism, which I probably would not embrace quite so enthusiastically before a group of Korean Christians in their very own church, in the shadow of one of those Jesuses on a cross that always makes me feel a little nervous anyway. Bewildered by their looks of dismay, and still under the impression that we were speaking of comedy, I panicked and became more energetic in my expression of love for communism. I assured them that I in fact absolutely adored communism, at one point actually giving a big scary grin and a double thumbs up. We arrived at Nowhere fast, and someone finally opened a dictionary. I’d like to say we all had a good laugh in the end, but we didn’t, and I think they had as a group determined that I possessed either an unacceptable level of political tolerance or a freakishly unnatural enthusiasm for comedy. Then our break ended, and we went back to yelling at each other in the other room.

But that was all over, and the park could not have been more peaceful. Until a 16-inch softball came crashing to earth behind me. Hit the mud around home plate just as a guy wearing a shirt with the name of a tavern on it grunted at the end of a slow, clumsy swing, missing the enormous orb by a full second in this slightly odd Chicago version of softball. I watched the next pitch rise nearly 20 feet into the warm spring air then begin its fiery reentry toward a spot just behind home plate. Whoosh-thud-grunt. Nothing to see here, and I turned back around and looked up at the dark, heavy building before me, remembering why I had come here in the first place.

I had 10 days to learn about Japan. I had to learn about the culture, the people, the language. I also had to pack, quit two jobs, and sell my motorcycle, so any books I got would have to be both comprehensive and not too long. Inside the library now, I looked up from the skinny wooden drawer full of soft-edged index cards just in time to see the 16-incher reach its zenith outside the second-floor window of the library. I had found my book—“Teach Yourself Japanese.” Whoosh-thud-grunt. Yes!

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(Judging by the frantic ringing of the bell at the visa application counter, it seems the staff is back at work reconstructing the rest of this manuscript. Mr. Kikuchi claims they will be able to post some of the text every week, but Mrs. Doyle rolled her eyes when he said that. I think. She wears very thick glasses, and it is sometimes hard to tell when she is rolling her eyes and when a subtle shift in angle has caused her eyes only to appear to roll or otherwise rattle about in her head. My guess would be every week to two weeks. Stay tuned. –Ofc. Dirkins)

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