Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Minotaur Man

I am frothing. I am seething. I am so furious as I finish class and can do nothing but walk all through the lunch break, down past the vegetable markets where the women pluck live chickens and cut off their heads with cleavers on wood stumps, past the river canals that empty into sewage ponds bubbling in the heat, through the maze of streets to the park benches beneath the pagoda eaves in the shadows of the old men pushing stale chess pieces across the boards.
She had no right.
She had to know better.
She boasts that she’s been a teacher for 30 years.
And she hadn’t a clue what she did was wrong.
Some days just unfold funny. You wake up and have notions and preconceptions, but no one knows how they will end any given night, where the twists and turns the average day will take them. Monday I gave the kids Dave Barry’s “Staying at a Japanese Inn” with an eye toward discussing the importance of exaggeration in humor, but instead spent most of the class describing the ancient art of cormorant fishing, even sketching on the chalkboard the jagged hilltops around the village of Yangshou, China, and what it was like to swim in the Yi river alongside naked children and bamboo fishing sleds, one of the coolest moments of my life, only to wake up two days later with ringworm all over my body.
Tuesday I gave the kids Erma Brombeck’s “Can’t We Have an Apartment of Our Own?” in an attempt to show how dialogue is used to move a humorous theme along, but instead got lost in a youtube clip of an Australian news reporter trying to tell a joke to the Dalai Lama. It goes something like this… and the reporter is sitting face to face with Mr. Buddhism himself, apologizing profusely before he even gets to the joke. Both men sort of giggling as he begins…
“The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza parlor and says, ‘Can you make me one with everything?’”
The news reporter is shamefully wincing now. He’s crawling under the sofa, repeating over and over again how his seven year old thought it was funny, so… apologizing for the joke’s bomb.
The Dalai Lama just laughs, looks over at his translator, “What is pizza?” he says.
Wednesday I gave the kids this Wagner Opera called Loengrin, about the wandering night Percival who saves this distressed damsel from ruin. It’s German and full of breathy arias and big busted women with winged hats. Opera kills me. That people pay to sit through it.
I’m taking the girls to Rome and Athens this summer and we’ve been reading about ancient classical life, how the citizens used to lay on the floor to eat. I feel music concerts should be done the same way. Just lay and nap and if you wake up and the fat lady is still going… well, snooze some more.
Thursday was all about the myth of Theseus, which over the years has become my favorite due to the Minotaur. I don’t know why esactly, but I love the Minotaur, this bloody beast that is born into pain. Here’s a line from the text, “It happened that Pasiphae, the wife of King Minos, went mad and fell in love with a bull. With him she bore a child that was half man and half bull and the child was named, the Minotaur.”
Nobody does bloody truth like them Greeks.
I read this story to Xian and Rebekah at night while Kinu is already cooing fast asleep. I tell them that the Greeks understood pain, that longing and loss and death are a part of all life, that some characters, like the Minotaur, are born to be slain.
They understand. They don’t understand. It doesn’t matter.
Their father is a literature teacher.
So then I tell them about Marcus.
Marcus is a kid in my Rock N Roll Romeo and Juliet play. Yes, once again Hartenstein asked a very talented and brilliant young boy to dress in drag and ham it up, and yes, once again it worked to perfection. Marcus killed! He was absolutely hilarious. He brought the house down. Everyone remembered him.
After the play I just was so proud. Marcus and the others had memorized Shakespeare in a second language (Wow, that should be the name of a book), they had acted, taken criticism, improvised, worked on blocking, taken direction from peers, practiced, learned music, performed in front of an audience. They were amazing. Amazing!
So then today it came to my attention that my old nemesis. Another educator from the Chinese department, called Marcus a homosexual epithet during math class.
She said, “The reason you were so good in that role is because you are really a woman inside. You’re a sissy. A faggot. Everyone knows it.”
Then she had the gall to ask the class. “How many of you think Marcus is really a girl inside of a boy’s body?”
The class had no idea what she was doing.
This is one of the heads of the Chinese department ridiculing this boy, openly mocking him in public, questioning his sexuality in front of his classmates at school, and there is nothing I can do about it.
The administrators have checked out. My superiors don’t want to cause a scene. Her peers are afraid of reprisals. I am alone. If I even begin to opening confront her I could lose my job.
The thing is, Marcus is the best kid in the 8th grade. He won the speech contest and the spelling bee and starred in the Romeo and Juliet play and is leaving Taiwan for America this summer. He’s spectacular. He can take it. He listens to her and laughs it off.
But not Jacob.
Jacob is the poorest student in the class and sits right next to Marcus. The one all the other kids shy away from because he’s awkward and clumsy. Jacob who is creepy and slouchy and screams when you toss him a basketball and instead wants to sit in the shade with the girls and talk handbags and memorize Elton John songs.
That Jacob. You get it?
You dumb, stupid, lunatic windbag.
That Jacob. You insensitive loud mouth bully. You ignorant, close minded ninny!
That Jacob.
I don’t care what anybody says. Teaching is not for those who can’t do anything else. Teachers are supposed to be the best we have. The brightest. The smartest. The ones among us with the most love, most compassion, most daring, most imagination, most willingness to sacrifice sanity and power and accolades and financial incentives and sweat and blood because we believe in what is right.
But this teacher failed today.
You failed, you understand?
You failed Marcus, you failed Jacob. You failed me. You failed all of us.
I’ve blown it before. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve crossed lines and paid prices, but not like this. Shame on you. You ugly, ranting, horrible monster.
Shame on you for us all.
So I walked. I walked halfway to the city’s edge and back. I returned to school in time for a lesson on the Quechuan Indians of the Bolivian Andes who live on sat flats that stretch up to the horizon in the thin, barely breathable air. I brought in their poetry and even a video.
I wanted to show barren landscapes. To prove the need for laughter. For love. For understanding. For humor. Hold my hand, Marcus. Take my other hand, Jacob. Let me tell you a funny story about what happened to me on my walk today back from the edge of the city. In the center of town I met a monster crying that he was born with horns and that no one would ever love him. You know what I told him? I said, “Make me one with everything.”
And he smiled, because he understood the impossibility of dreams.

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