Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Professional’s Guide to Semi-Appropriate Self-Diversion at the Office

Sometimes I have nothing to do at work. Literally, nothing. And although there’s significantly less 100% Free Time On-The-Job as when I first got here – you know, back when I spoke zero Japanese and was re-familiarizing myself with the fundamentals of English grammar; that year-long period when other English teachers would rather not seek my counsel about anything ever, because they got tired of watching and waiting while I googled their queries, verbatim – I’d say there are still 6-8 hours per week during which I’m at school and I must remain at school and there’s nothing productive/significant for me to do/contribute. Or else it’s a Tuesday morning and I’m really hung-over and I can’t be bothered to do anything I don’t absolutely have to. Like walk. Or eat. Point is, sometimes I get bored at work.

The following is a manual for all decent, diligent employees who frequently find themselves sitting at their desks, not talking to anyone, temporal ridge throbbing hardcore. Sometimes our bosses/managers/supervisors/administrators/chieftains just don’t appreciate all we do. Agonize not. There’s teaching, learning, self-amusement and self-actualization to be done. Here, introduced via some very important quotations, are my suggestions:

My school. My office. My dungeon. My mistress. My sanctuary.  
1)      Shakespeare says:
“All the world’s a stage;
And all the men and women are merely players.”

Jake Sensei says:

Translation: Invent stuff. Just make it up. Your body and your mind and your heart and fire and earth and wind are merely instruments here. By their powers combined, you can fabricate some really absurd shit. It doesn’t matter what falsehoods you concoct, but, please, challenge yourself. Your primary objective is to convince co-workers/students/yourself that a basic non-truth is, in fact, an obvious, categorical truth. You can propagate a series of small fibs that, collectively, help you achieve a more comfortable and convenient lifestyle. Or you can lie about immaterial things for no  reason other than at least it’s something to do on a Tuesday morning. Just remember, in the immortal words of Wyclef Jean featuring The Rock: it doesn’t matter. These are your co-workers. They are not family and they are not friends, so – major logical deduction – they don’t care about you enough to investigate. Just pick your lie and go with it. If you sell, they will buy.

Tip: The more physical/psychological syndromes you can incorporate into your lie, the more persuasive your lie becomes. And also, it’s just more fun that way.   

My examples:
a)      Everyone at school thinks I still have a Spanish girlfriend. Why do they think this? Because I constantly remind them that I still have a Spanish girlfriend. I tell them my Spanish girlfriend and I talk every day, on the internet video interface device thingy. I tell them she visited the USA with me over Christmas. I detail all the delectable holiday cakes we baked together, all the ice-skating we skated together and all the wonderful presents she made me (yeah, that’s right, my fake girlfriend knits A TON. She definitely knitted me those Technicolor wool gloves that also metamorphose into super snug mittens. Yeah. My fake Spanish girlfriend totally made those) for Christmas. Why do I do this? Why do I lie? Because it makes my life easier. I don’t have to Japanese-explain the origins of romantic collapse and the affliction of personal heartbreak to anyone (and no, I will not English-explain it here either. Shut up. I’m trying to teach you how to lie). Instead, I just compose a series of really adorable anecdotes about two people basking in the mutually-affirming type of In-Love. And then, whenever I want to skip out on some tedious late-night, school-sponsored social function, I claim to have an internet interface date with my fake Spanish girlfriend. And then I take a cab home and drink sangria and watch TV and wear re-gifted, manufactured-in-a-Chinese-textile-factory wool gloves and I am, for the most part, happy. 
I really do snowboard. I swear.
   b) Last month I seriously injured my knee in a freak, dare-devil, late-night snowboarding smash-up. I was doing X-Games type-shit in some treacherous conditions. It was bad. The Slope Safety Squad was summoned, with their snowmobiles and sirens. Ligaments everywhere. I had to limp around school for two weeks, grimacing nonstop, because the knee, it was severely injured. Except that it wasn’t. It was flexible and sturdy and medically flawless. I just didn’t want to spend a weekend with my school principal and his family. He’d invited me, yet again, up to his house for a weekend of... I don’t even know. But I did not want to go. So I lied. I hobbled and whimpered for two weeks. I received lots of sympathetic looks and multiple offers to be chauffeured to the nearest hospital, ASAP. It was pretty fun. And the weekend I was supposed to spend waking up at 5am to accompany an old man as he slogged through two feet of snow with his historically ugly pet, I spent doing, well, I don’t actually remember what I did. But there were no mangy pets and no 5am wake-up-calls delivered by my shirtless boss. So no regrets.
c)      I’ve become friends with the other basketball coach. She might have a Occidental-Men-Fixation and she’s definitely uncomely, but she’s a real friend (that’s not the lie, that’s truth, and having an actual friend-my-age at work is awesome. I cannot emphasize enough how fucking awesome it is). Her name is Sekijima and we talk about everything: school, girls, boys, parents, drugs, cultural differences, sex-toys, whatever. So anyway, Sekijima recently confessed to me that she too suffers bouts of excruciating, workplace-related boredom. My logical rejoinder was to inform her that, in the USA, when we’re bored, we do the Chicken Dance. Like, it’s a national thing. Everyone does it. Why did I say something so preposterous? No good reason. But now, twice a day, my best friend in the office performs a covert, considerably flawed, Chicken Dance. And I become a little less bored.  

2)      Oprah says:
“Let your light. Shine within you so it can shine on someone else. Let your light shine.”

Jake Sensei says:
“You’ll never know whether or not your light is actually shining, unless other people constantly remind you that your light is really fucking shiny. That’s the only way. So do everything in your power to make other people compliment you, relentlessly.”

Translation: Play the Kakkou-ii Game. The Japanese word “kakkou” translates to “appearance” or “form.” “Ii” means good. “Kakkou – ii,” therefore technically denotes “good-appearance/style.” However, the most accurate English language equivalent, at least in terms of colloquial usage, is “cool.” In Japan, Kakkou-ii is a signifier of appreciation and admiration and a sense of Goddamn-that’s-just-really -cool. It’s a good word. It feels good when people call you kakkou-ii. So encourage them. See how many kakkou-ii’s you can collect in one day. See how many consecutive days you can be called kakkou-ii at least once. See if you can get your boss/chieftain to call you kakkou-ii. Do whatever you have to. Just keep the accolades coming.

Tip: Identify your audience. The things Japanese people consider cool differ drastically from things us Americans distinguish as cool. Cynicism and insouciance and drugs are NOT cool here. T-shirts featuring hammy illustrations of wild animals are legitimately cool. Michael Jackson is legitimately cool. The Macarena dance is on-a-whole-other-level of cool. Remember, this isn’t about you. It’s about the masses worshipping you. Indulge them and, I promise, they will reciprocate times ten.

Here’s a list of those maneuvers which have, so far, produced the most notably positive/negative kakou-ii reactions. Also, I’ll include an arbitrary 0-infinity point-scale recompense based on a totally non-scientific equation: the efficacy of the maneuver + the personal satisfaction of performing the maneuver itself. Again, these ratings are subjective and serve no purpose. Just like this whole instructional manual. You’re welcome.

The Good Gambits (ie- the ways I successfully alter/prostitute myself, in search of cool):
a)      Dancing: Yes, the physically dancing with my own body brand of dancing. Two-step, Finger-Snap, Shoulder-Lean, Soulja-Boy, Riverdance, Robot, Chicken-Noodle-Soup, Raise-The-Roof, Sprinkler, Tom-Cruise-Risky-Business-Underwear-Slide, Michael-Jackson-Crotch-Grab, Shopping Cart, Lindy Hop, Lean Back, and obviously The Macarena. It all works. (+500 billion points. Dancing never fails. Dancing is fun. Dancing is cool. Dancing is dancing. Any questions?)
b)      Clothes: I’m probably one of the least stylish people I know. But the kids and teachers here can’t grasp that; they see a foreigner and they presume a modish idol. And you know what? Their sanguinity is contagious. I’m starting to agree with them. My Goodwill-bin sweater-vest collection cannot be matched! My hair is preposterous, but in a good way! I have so many hoodies1! Boxers or briefs? Boxers! Boxers are for strong men! Anyways, here are a few examples of especially cool clothing articles I rock in an especially cool manner, according to thirteen year old Japanese kids.

·        Suits. Yes, I only have one suit and yes it’s from Men’s Warehouse and yes, it’s the color the sky gets right before a tornado. But still, cool. (+ 500 points. I might look good in a suit, but they make my sweat glands go haywire.)
·        Sneakers. Are those Air Jordan’s? No. They are ten year old Jordan’s so beat to shit that they leak unidentifiable shoe material all over the hallway. Cool. (+ 3 million points. I mean, they are Jordan’s)
·        Hats. A red wool winter hat with tons of moth-holes? A baseball cap featuring a tenaciously inflexible brim? A cowboy hat with rhinestones? Cool. (+5,500 points. Just because my cowboy hat is indisputably awesome)
·        Headbands. OhmyGodisthataredNikehead-bandwiththeNikeSwooshupside-down!? Yes, it is. Jake Sensei totally meant to do that. He meant to wear the Nike Swoosh upside-down. It’s not upside-down because it’s 8am on a Saturday morning and he’s hung-over/maybe still a little drunk. It’s not because he hasn’t looked in the mirror yet today. It’s because upside-down Nike Swoosh’s are cool. It’s because Jake Sensei is cool. (+300 points. Headbands. I wear them. I’m sorry. But they work.)
·        Sweater-vests. I refuse to deconstruct/mock sweater-vests. Students think sweater-vests are cool. Teachers think sweater-vests are cool. I think sweater vests are cool. That’s because sweater-vests are fucking cool. Rick Santorum has absolutely zero effect on the coolness of sweater-vests. That’s how cool they are. (+Infinity awesomeness perfection points, no doubt)

c)      Chapstick. Before I came to Japan, I might have hoarded a multi-flavored assortment of USA Chapstick-brand lip moisturizers and I might have transported them here in my suitcase. I might re-stock my USA Chapstick collection whenever I go home. My mother might send me USA Chapstick care packages every few months. But this only happens because I have a legitimate psychical problem/physical dependence. I don’t do it because Japanese children like sniffing USA Chapstick and proclaiming that possessing it, the USA Chapstick, makes me cool. All things considered though, coolness is not the worst addictive-related byproduct in the history of the world. Just ask cigarettes and Kurt Cobain. (+100 addiction/commitment points and an extra + 50 points, for always having moist lips).
i)        Basketball. Give me the damn ball, man. I will awe you with my skillz. BRAUN IS SO STREET. (+ 20 gangster points (60 million normal points). Sorry, but gangster points > normal points because this is, after all, a cool competition. And if you’re dubious about basketball being “gangster,” go listen to the Space Jam Soundtrack and then get at me. Yeah, I said it. Get at me. HIT 'EM HIGH).
j)        Hair. I can’t even pretend to justify this. My scalp is a tutorial on completely erratic fertile zones. Fecund forelock vs. famished upper-peripheries vs. mullet-inclined stern. I hate it. But I’ve heard, at least a few times, that it’s cool. (+3 points. My hair sucks).
k)       Beat-Box. Beat-boxing is that thing where you reproduce hip-hop-rhythmic-bass-cadences-with-your-mouth. I think it caught on in The USA like twenty years ago. And was denounced nineteen years ago once it was discovered that 96% of all white suburban USA high-school football teams hosted beat-boxing competitions in the school parking lot, after The Big Game. Anyway when I beat-box, it sounds like someone with hyper-active saliva glands is stuttering. Apparently in Japan, that’s cool (+ 1 point. I don’t like the part when my face gets all wet with spittle).
l)        Speak English into a cell phone. It doesn’t matter if there’s someone listening on the other end. Usually, for me, there isn’t. All that matters is that you speak in the most languid, dramatically modulated accent you can muster. (+.05 points. It works, but it also feels elitist and racist at the same time).
m)    Speak a foreign language that no one else will understand even a little (in Japan that means anything other than English).
Sample dialogue:
Student:                            Speak Spanish!
Me (in Spanish):                Why would I speak Spanish? You can’t understand anything I’m saying. For example, if I say I hate you, you won’t understand. And that’s good. Because I seriously do hate you. I would shit inside of your whore mother. Not because I hate her. And not because I enjoy shitting inside of her. Just because that’s how much I hate you. You son of a bitch. I hate you.
Student:                             What did he say?
Other Teacher:                  What did you say, Jake Sensei?
Me (in English):                I said that everyone must study English very hard! I studied Spanish very hard and that’s why I can speak Spanish!
Student:                             Cool!
(+ 2 million points. Good Spanish practice. Good Cathartic discharge. Good times).

The Bad Gambits (ie – the ways I creep kids out/make them weep, in search of cool)
a)      Señor Valentino. There was this one time in high school when, on Valentine’s Day, I dressed in all pink and tossed chocolates and mini-stuffed animals at classmates and teachers. Señor Valentino, the patron mascot of February 14th, was an instant hit. Freshman girls giggled. The librarian smiled her gosh-darn-these-kids-today smile. S.V. was featured in a full-page yearbook photo. And S.V. continued disseminating Valentine’s Day good vibes once he made it to university. Bookish students, hunched alone in Butler Library on a Saturday night, were granted stickers and the temporary belief that maybe they weren’t condemned to a lifetime of social damnation after all. Random boys got chocolates. Random cute girls got balloons. Random less cute girls got Sweetheart confectionaries engraved with personalized I’m-blatantly-not-flirting-with-you messages. Even though some pedestrians on Broadway were suspicious of the non-individually-wrapped chocolates, overall, Señor Valentino remained an annual icon of all things saccharine and tawdry2. But apparently in Japan, wearing crimson outfits and throwing fake plastic roses at students is bizarre and menacing. Who knew? And there I was, temporary romance-themed tattoos plastered all over my face, fluffy pink bunny ears protruding from my head, just trying to spread the love. (+100 points. I’m pretty sure “gross” and “scary” are antonyms of cool. But you have not seen the last of Señor Valentino. No, you have not).
b)      Singing “My Heart Will Go on” by Celion Deon. I’m a terrible singer. It’s a terrible song. Titanic is already dated. The music video is painful. I get it. I’m sorry, Japan. Won’t happen again. (0 points. Everyone loses).
c)      Telling Students that the entire population of New York City falls asleep daily to a chorus of gunshots. 13 year old Japanese kids find this tidbit of misinformation so terrifying that they resolve, on the spot, never to travel to America, ever. And no, making your hands into mock-pistols and waving them wildly while shouting “Pop! Pop!” doesn’t improve the situation. I know you were wondering about that. I promise, it doesn’t help. (0 points (-1 million gangster points. For being a fraudulent gangster). As if Japanese people needed another reason to vacation in hordes of 50 or more people).

Final Kakkou-ii Stats:
-         Record for most consecutive days called cool at least once: 23
-         Record for most cools received in one day: 9
-         Coolest Day: 4 student cools + 2 school Principal cools + 1 school Vice-Principal cool.  

3)      Ernest Hemingway says:
“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

Jake Sensei says:
“Hemingway is a god. If he learned a great deal from listening, than your average non-genius can surely learn even more from listening. And if I’m a teacher, and my job is to make students learn, it logically follows that I should talk a shitload.”

Translation: Living in the mountains of an archipelagic foreign country can be a severely desolate and solitary existence. There are days I wake up and go to school and come home and go to bed without participating in a single face-to-face, personal, coherent and true conversation. Southern Nagano is a rural badland. Japanese people are a reserved lot. I don’t speak Japanese well. Standard, basic human interactions, physical and emotional, are often totally absent from my daily life. And while I may be misanthropically-predisposed, I am no sociopath/troglodyte. I have thoughts, feelings and experiences too. And sometimes I want to carp and whine and boast and communicate, like a normal person. Luckily, I can talk to my students. I can plop down next to any kid with an unoccupied desk adjacent, and I can disembogue all sorts of really personal information. Insecurities about my future. Remorse for romance gone-to-shit. Shame over my crippling lethargy. Trepidation that maybe I suffer from some sort of legitimate chemical defect that prevents me from, you know, actually caring about anything Big. Crushes on cute teachers. I can share literally everything. It’s a monologue of maudlin and private stuff and it feels so good. Plus, you know what? The kids are really good listeners. They maintain eye contact and I can tell that they care. They really care. Of course they don’t understand a single word I’m saying, because I’m speaking English at a quick clip in the middle of an English class, when they should be filling out a worksheet on irregular present tense verb conjugations. But still. They totally care.

Tip: Be honest and real. Force yourself to confront all the things you really don’t want to confront. This is basically a free therapy session. Take advantage of it, otherwise you’re just wasting your time and the kids won’t listen. But if you bare your true self, the torment and self-loathing will devour your face. Then the kids will listen. And maybe they’ll even learn something.

I was planning on providing a sample confessional, but then I realized that it’s unnecessary. I don’t need the abreaction and absolution of sharing myself with you, my reader/immediate relatives. I’ve got my students and my students have taught me to appreciate myself, flaws and all.

Watch out, world.

Still though, here’s a basic outline for how it works. Apply this framework to your own life/circumstances. Be strong. Goddess-willing, one day, you too can evolve into a supremely well-adjusted and upright individual. 

Me (getting comfortable next to an anonymous student ): “Hey, man.”
Student frowns.
Me: … (Insert in-depth, self-reflective English language declaration of really personal information here)
Student (in Japanese): “I don’t understand.”
Me (standing up and walking away): “But you do. You sort of do.”

4)      Samuel Beckett says:
“That’s how it is on this bitch of an earth.”

Jake Sensei says:
“Sometimes you just have to threaten little children.”

Translation: Sometimes you just have to threaten little children.

Tip: Smile when you threaten the children, but I’m sure you already knew that.

Here’s a list of actual exchanges I’ve actually had with actual students. Go ahead and judge me. But first ask yourself; have you ever been able to say stuff like this to anyone’s actual face, with absolutely zero repercussions?

a)      Student (in Japanese): “Why are you wearing gloves?”
Me (in English):            “These are the gloves I wear when I choke people. Criminal gloves, for strangling little kids. Like this.”
I reach for his throat and he sprints away screaming.

b)      Student (in Japanese): “What did you do last night?”
Me (in English):            “I got wasted and looked at photos from when I was in  high school. And I cried. What did you do?”

            c)   Me (in English):             “Do you think Shoumura Sensei likes me?”
                  Student:                       “Shoumura Sensei?”
Me: (in English):            “Yeah. I'm feeling her pants today, if you know what I mean. Do you think she likes me?”

d) Elementary student (jumping all over me):    “Jake Sensei! Jake Sensei! Jake Sensei!
    Me (in English, peeling the kid of me):             “You aren’t even a human. Look at you. You’re like a little cockroach. Leave me alone or I will fuck you up.”
   Elementary student (jumping all over me):      “Jake Sensei! Jake Sensei!
   Me (in English):                                                “How old are you? If I have kids, I hope they are never your age.”
   Elementary student (jumping all over me):       “JakeSenseiJakeSenseiJakeSensei
   Me (in English):                                                 “I hate my job.”
            e) Student (watching an NBA game on TV):                 “Is that Will Smith?”
    Me (in English):                                                         “No, that’s a different black
    Student (pointing at the TV):                                     “Terrorist!”
    Me (in English):                                                         “Yeah. Probably.”       

f) Me (looking at a student):                             “Your teeth make me sick.”

5)      Hunter S. Thompson Says:
“Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.”

Jake Sensei Says:
“Entertain yourself, by any means necessary.”

Translation: Every single thing in your office/workplace has the potential to be parodied and distorted and exploited. If you’re bored, it’s your own damn fault.

A quick list of some of my most reliable On-The-Job diversion pastimes.

-Flirting: pick a subject and go all out. I selected my subject a few months ago and my school life has been significantly more engaging ever since. She’s a 32 year old science teacher. She speaks no English. I gaze at her from across the teacher’s office, like a borderline caitiff. I pass her secret get-well packages when she has a cold. I gifted her the mini-stuffed beaver/bear that Señor Valentino kept tucked in his breast-pocket on Valentine’s Day. I coordinate my aimless hallway peregrinations with when she has classroom stove-heater inspection duty – and then, when we totally fortuitously bump into each other, alone in an abandoned classroom, I make muddled, desperate Japanese-language overtures. Basically, I get my creep on. It’s fun. It might not be fun for her, but since when is flirting about mutual enjoyment?

Sekijima and Shoumura doing the Soulja Boy dance. I teach cultural differences. I definitely don't flirt. 

-Gossip: One of the primary advantages of having a really good friend-my-age at work is that she, Sekijima, divulges all sorts of unscrupulous data about the other teachers. I won’t get into it, because it’s trivial and petty stuff and you obviously don’t care. But the conclusion is patent: absorbing and proliferating hearsay is fun. Also fun? Owning the nickname Gossip Boy.

-Dub Over Inter-Employee Dialogues: My friends and I used to do this in high school, when we were on drugs3. We would watch dull/educational TV shows and mute the volume and each assume the role of a certain sitcom character/real-life Sub-Saharan animal. And then we would string together some disjointed dialogue that was just barely germane to the on-screen action. It was pretty fun, for like five minutes. Or at least until microwaving pop-tarts took precedence over everything else in the entire universe. Anyway, the stunt works here too. Unless I listen with total mental application, Japanese remains an indecipherable, blur of alien noise. And mental application is super exhausting. So usually as I observe two teachers talking, I contrive an elaborate, intimate, earth-shattering conversation. As far as I'm concerned, it is the conversation that they are undoubtedly having. And let me tell you, the teachers at my school are fucking depraved.

And this concludes my comprehensive guide to avoiding work-related ennui. If you’ve read this far, I assume it’s only because you’re at work right now and you’re basically dying of boredom. Shame on you. You have no one to blame but yourself. Stop reading! Fetch a costume! Select a flirt-subject! Start a rumor! Harangue a child! Or go read another blog, like a big fat bored loser.

See you next time.


Gossip Boy


1. Note to self: avoid inappropriate hoodie joke. The NRA is crazy. The US media is crazy. Sometimes it’s really nice not to live in America. No joke.

2. There was this one time in college, sometime in April, when an unfamiliar male student with silky blonde hair approached and handed me – the normal non-Señor Valentino version of me that I am the other 364 days a year – a home-baked pastry. He said that he thought constantly about what I'd done on Valentine’s Day and had been seeking me out ever since. He said I was too sweet. He really wanted to get to know me. I accepted the pastry and acted like I had no idea what he was talking about. I told him that he was referencing someone named Señor Valentino, a man whose existence had yet to be confirmed. That was Señor Valentino, with the chocolate and the sweetness, I told him. That wasn’t me.  

3. Hi, Mom and Papa. 

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