I’m at my other school this week. Away from knife-wielding students and back-stabbing teachers, away from Junior Yakuza and office Menage a trois. I’d love to say it’s a relief, but I love it at the other school if for no other reason than it’s ripe with writing material, enough juice to satisfy my writing jones.
Here? Well, the 3rd years students are busy testing, and the 1st and 2nd year students are busy as well, so for the past two days I’ve been sitting around waiting for a story to bite me on the ass.
Then, just when I was about to throw in the towel and call it a day: Ouch! Right on the keister.
In my office, most of the teachers have school-furnished laptops on their desk. I don’t. I have my neighbor’s (Nakahara-sensei) shit on mine. Since I’m gone two weeks at a time, during my absence he spreads out and I come in monday morning to profuse apologies, as he bulldozes loads of papers and books, soft drinks and baseball equipment (he’s also the coach) off of my desk back onto his own overly cluttered desk. Sometimes my own documents get mixed in with the bulldozed stuff. Things I had spent hours looking for only to discover it was on the bottom of a stack of shit on his desk.
But, he’s not even the story…not today, at least.
There are also two computers for general use located in the rear of the office. Teachers not so fortunate as to have a laptop provided to them by the school, like myself, use these two relatively archaic machines. I’m not complaining. I have done quite a bit of quality writing on these machines, and without them (like on those occasions when they’ve been down for maintenance) I would suffer cold turkey.
Usually I’m alone at these computers. Occasionally, though, other teachers would use them for expediency sake. And, sometimes, the computer tech / computer teacher, Ozawa-sensei, would come over and do techie stuff in order to maintain these two relics. Ozawa is a really nice guy. He’s about retirement age, and it’s really impressive to me that one of the oldest guys in the office is the most knowledgable about computers. He could be a hacker. I even brought in my computer one time and he de-bugged it for me and he can’t even speak or read English well (my OS is in English.)
The only thing: well…how do I put this? He suffers (thus everyone in his vicinity suffers) from chronic halitosis. Natto would be an improvement. The smell is not unlike feces. I’m not trying to make a joke out of this. I have a friend who suffered thusly and it turned out his halitosis was symptomatic of something much more serious. And Ozawa sensei, for all his charm and intellect, is a very sickly looking man. His skin has a pasty powdery-whiteness, like he put on make-up in the dark. And, I think I know what has caused it: it’s his nearly rotted teeth. They are these cruddy, blackening, spackled looking things. And another thing that places this in the tragedy category for me is that he is well aware he reeks. Even if he tries to mint it, Scope it, Listerine it away…these medcations don’t stand a chance. They are about as useful as mint garnishes on a stool sample; merely decorative.
He wears a mask. Everyday. All day. About two years ago he started wearing it and not a day has gone by that he hasn’t. The mask filters the smell somewhat but only a bit. Like your pants might filter a fart. But, he’s old and so every trip up and down the four flights of stairs leaves him heaving and snorting and blowing that miasma of his in all directions. The entire area around him has this smell, and this area, this perimeter, follows him wherever he goes, like Pig Pen’s cloud on the Peanut cartoons.
It followed him to the seat beside me today as I sat at the terminal reading my favorite blogs. He’s really considerate though. He turned his back to me and tried to breathe that way. But, the smell has long since saturated his entire being: his clothes, his skin, the masks he never removes…it’s merely a courtesy on his part. Like someone fanning a fart away.
But, like the other teachers in the office, I have been enduring this smell for so long that it’s become just another unpleasant yet unavoidable fact of life, like Takahashi’s hazing and Mika-chan’s manic behavior…
When he finished his business and returned to his desk, taking his effluvium with him, Yoshida sensei came over and sat at the terminal beside me.
“Konnichiwa,” I said to her. I had made our lesson for this Wednesday already, per our discussion two weeks ago, and she was overjoyed with the results. ‘Much better than mine,’ she’d said.
“Konnichiwa,” she said, through a smile so strained she looked as sickly as Ozawa-sensei. “Are you busy?”
She peeked at the screen, saw the blog I was reading, ascertained that it was not pertinent to my duties here and gave me a look. A look I couldn’t read at gunpoint. She had a laptop on her desk, so I knew she’d come to speak to me about something. I turned to give her my undivided.
“Nope,” I said. “What’s up?”
“Welllll…” she began and my “oh FUCK!” meter went off. “Do you smoke?”
“Remember at the christmas party 2 months ago, when you asked me what was that I was smoking?”
“Well, that’s what I smoke…cigars. Why? What’s up?” Where are you going with this?
Oh geezus, spit it out will you????
“Do you smoke in the school?” I almost turned my head to the side when she said it. All of the teachers who smoke, we all smoke inside the school. There’s a tiny little maintenance room wayyyyy off in the back where we huddle around a coffee can filled with water and enough ash and butts to make me consider quitting every time I see it. But, was this common knowledge to the non-smoking teachers? I wasn’t sure…
“No…” I said. “I go outside, why?”
“Oh no reason…only one of the teachers said you smelled like smoke so…”
I just looked at her. She looked back. This look lasted for almost a minute.
“Okay… I smoke, and I smell like smoke, and…?” I asked. “Is that it?”
She smiled like she was dying of embarrassment. For a second, I didn’t care what she was dying of, I just wished she were…
“Well…Ummm, anyway, well, I’m so, so, sorry I disturbed you and…,” she said, and made to get up and leave it at that.
“Should I stop smoking???”
“Well…no, of course not…but…”
“I should stop smelling like smoke?” I asked. Ozawa sensei got up from his desk just then and walked out of the office, taking his stink cloud with him. I wanted to say, ‘if I smelled like shit, would that be acceptable to this mysterious teacher with the sensitive olfactory receptors?’
Yoshida smiled a smile of death, not much different from the smile she had two weeks ago after she spoke with the BOE Lady behind my back. The way you might smile when you know that death is inevitable so you might as well go into that dark night bravely. Maybe something in my face or in my eyes made her think about her own mortality.
“I’m so sorry Loco sensei,” she said, turned, and walked away.