To: newsletter
From: "Peter M. Rivard"
Subject: Crushes and English


Hi, all,

      I'm continuing to win friends and influence people. Or maybe I'm just continuing to corrupt minors. I take the former view, of course. I'm on a bit of a high because I'm suddenly feeling popular again. Yesterday, I got two "I love you"s from third year students, and I've had a few other sweet encounters lately. One "I love you," from Betty--the girl who had earlier written me a note asking me to go out with her "when I will be twenty years old"--was just her usual flirty joke, because I had told her I could always understand her English. I told her not to say that--"too dangerous!" She's probably the most popular girl in school, and what impresses me most about this school is that all of the most popular kids--boys as well as girls--are really great kids. She's a leader; kind to the gawky, weird, and shy kids; assertive; and self-assured. Fortunately, she's also too grown up to have a real crush on the teacher. We teachers were talking about students at a party a few weeks ago, and she is everyone's favorite. The other girl slipped me a note in the hall outside the teachers' room. It didn't say more than "Dear Peter, I love you, from Wilma," but she had drawn a nice Halloween picture on the back. I would have thought that was a joke or a misunderstanding, too, but I'd noticed already that she'd been acting noticeably weird around me for about two weeks. She'd come up to say something to me, then be too shy to get anything out, or when I would talk to her, she'd stay there awkwardly, with nothing to say, past the point when most kids figure to move on, and she'd be goofily animated when greeting me--as an example of all three put together, Monday she called out to me from a second floor window while I was sweeping the courtyard with some other kids. She was bouncing a little bit, blushing, and waving energetically, and after I waved back and shouted "Hello" and wanted to turn back to my sweeping, she wouldn't look away from me--wouldn't release me, in a sense--although she couldn't think of anything to say and we were fifty feet apart. She just shouted "hello" again after a minute, so I waved again and smiled, as a "bye bye," and went back to work. The boys I'd been talking to chuckled a bit, and I tried not to smile. Two days later, she gave me the note. To be honest, I hadn't really noticed her much until she started acting strange, so her little crush didn't grow out of any great interaction we'd had. She doesn't understand much English at all, and because she's a third year, I hadn't spoken much Japanese with her. I really knew her only as the short shy girl who seemed to hang around in the background when I talked to a friend of hers whose English is great (oddly, although Wilma acts like a twelve year old, her friend Akiyo has the bearing of a thirty year old: she's smart and popular, and a tremendous natural leader--I love watching her take charge of something and seeing how even the wise-ass boys take it as perfectly natural to do whatever she tells them to). In fact, I hadn't even known Wilma's name until I got her letter.
      In another crush-related event, I was talking to some boys at Go-chu when I noticed four or five girls dragging one extremely reluctant (and quite strong, it seemed) girl toward me. They shouted out that she liked me; she turned beet red and denied it, and when she broke free she ran and hid behind a door. I was pretty sure that this was just the other girls' teasing her, because I had had only a little interaction with this girl beyond "how are you" pleasantries and classroom exercises, so I joined in a little bit. I told them, in her hearing, that I think she is cute, but that she is too young for me (I hadn't known that her nickname is "Auntie," because she looks like she's thirty, which is almost true, so the "young" remark lead to even more teasing of the poor thing). When I ran into her with other girls a few times later in the day (it's a small school) I gave her goofy little "hello" waves as a tease. By the end of the day, though, everything was normal, confirming my instinct that she didn't really have a crush on me. Also, today, as I was helping kids in a first year class at Manyo write something, I saw something cute in the notebook of a girl I had talked with a little bit two weeks ago and who had asked me a lot of questions--even some innocently teasing questions. She had drawn a non-satirical picture of a guy with glasses and written my name in katakana under it (transliteration from katakana is why I have to remind first-year kids every few weeks that my name in English is not spelled "Pita"; one of the special joys of katakana is that if I leave out a small accent mark, my name becomes "hita," which of course is Japanese for "heater"--always good for a laugh in elementary school). I'm sure she doesn't have a crush on me, though--she just likes to tease me.
      Of course, I haven't been ignoring the boys. There are a few boys I wish I could ignore--well, maybe not. It seems strange to me that a lot of the kids I like aren't particularly enthusiastic students--some of them are kids I would have hated when I was their age. I've mentioned that the first year boys at Go-chu are all basically monkeys, very physical and fond of what they think is dirty English. I inadvertently encouraged some boys at Manyo who are more like the larger apes (indeed, the worst of them looks far too much like a lowland gorilla). One of a group of kids yelled out something to me a week or so ago--I forget what exactly, but something along the lines of a friendly taunt. The group had been chasing and wrestling each other, so I shocked them--I was wearing my good running sandals--by charging him, and when he ran, tearing off after him at full sprint. I even managed to gain a little on him on the straightaways, but I lost it on the corners (a big guy in sandals doesn't corner as well as a fourteen year old in sneakers). Also, I started to slow after one lap of the third floor and several grand leaps to the first, but the boy could have kept that pace all day--and even when I did gain on him on the straightaways, he was probably letting me. However, the old guys do have a few advantages. I found him back in his classroom a few minutes later, and when he shot out the front door and down the hall, I just reached out from the back door and clipped him as he ran by. I put him in a headlock and taught him the word "noogie," then laughed and let him go. Apparently, this was enough fun that he wanted to try again, and his friends all wanted to try, so the next day after school they tried to come up with the dirtiest things they could think of to get me to go after them. The standard wise-ass question in English is "Do you play sex?" I love that wording, and it seems wiser not to suggest a more correct verb. I didn't answer. More questions. "Do you like a big bust?" (Someone's got a big brother taking college English, because I'm sure that's not in the JHS dictionary.) Unfortunately, from some of the other questions, I gather that there's a lot of katakana English in Japanese porn. While I don't answer these kinds of questions, I sometimes do turn them back on the student or give obviously facetious answers. I know kids too well to encourage them by getting upset. I think they're already losing interest. It's too bad, in a way, because the lowland gorilla got out about a dozen complete if completely filthy sentences in English, and I'm pretty sure I'd never heard him come out with even one in the fifteen months he'd been my student before this.
      And, to close out this letter, a bit of cute English. My fifteen year old fiance Pebbles, who's been writing to me for about a year now, slipped me another note to me today. She doesn't have a crush on me anymore--I'm not sure if she ever did. She's been slipping into adolescent doldrums for the last six months, enough so that her homeroom teacher is concerned about her slipping enthusiasm for schoolwork, so I've been trying to encourage her. Unfortunately, her good English only comes out when she's writing to me, not when she's taking tests. I love dictionary words, especially from dictionaries put together by people who don't themselves speak English naturally. Sometimes the odd words sound so funny that they create a tone perfectly--of course, a tone completely independent of anything the writer is trying to convey.

The ellipsis is hers. "What an impudent younger brother!!" is my new favorite sentence. I was pleased by the letter because I had talked to Pebbles about the Leonids meteor shower a few days before the event, and she wrote about talking her family into staying up to watch it and how much they loved it, so I found her as she was leaving and showed her the couple of pictures I'd taken that had come out well (I'll post them soon). This ended up boosting her stock at home because when her mother stepped into the entryway to retrieve her, Mom found her actually having a conversation in English with the foreign teacher. When Mom saw me, she was terrified that I might try to talk to her in English, so she snuck up on us, tapped Pebbles on the shoulder, and jumped away. I never saw more than her hand. Sometimes, the adults are almost as cute and weird as the kids. (To be fair, the parents are usually pretty shy and deferential around teachers in general, not just me, though I am clearly the most terrifying teacher at Manyo. At parties and staff/PTA meetings, I become much more approachable as parents' blood alcohol levels rise.)
      You can see I'm still having fun. I hope you are, too.

O genki de

Peter

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