Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Weekend Update

I spent most of Friday writing and studying my Japanese. After a decent start, I’m beginning to worry about my progress. I know I’ve only had two lessons, but it just doesn’t seem to be sinking in. My brain has become a dried-out sponge that seems incapable of absorbing anything new no matter how much beer I throw at it.

Saturday’s class was embarrassing for me. I wasn’t the dumbest, most bumbling student in the class, but I was in the running. My college career was not like this. I did no homework beyond what was required, I skipped classes, showed up drunk and late and slept through most lectures and filmstrips, and yet I still graduated with honors – magna, not summa (I would have gotten a perfect 4.0 if my bastard teachers didn’t deduct points for my lack of participation). Now I’m motivated and studying almost every day and even practicing out loud, yet when sensei calls on me my mind goes blank and I get tongue-tied and manage to blurt out something which is almost right but just far enough off that she has to correct me in front of the class, which I hate. Granted, I tend to blank and get tongue-tied even in English, and granted, most of the other students in the class have more Japanese experience than I do (which is to say, none at all), but I’m used to being one of the smartest people in class, or at least the one with the highest GPA to study time ratio. Yes, I have considered reinstating my college work ethic, but I really don’t think I’ll learn Japanese any faster if I drink more and study less.

I’m beginning to develop an Ed Gein split view of my nihongonosensei in that part of me appreciates her pretty face, kind corrections, and friendly teaching methods and wants to treat her well (i.e. have sex with her), while the other part of me looks at her tiny little body and wonders how many hamburgers I could render from it. Of course, she has the body fat of a #2 pencil, so I’d have to buy some lard to cut with the meat to make it palatable. And some Worcestershire sauce. Or should I use wasabi and soy in deference to her ethnicity?

I’m kidding, of course. I’d never grind sensei into chuck patties. I have no room in my freezer. Since I felt stupid for struggling in last week’s class, I checked with the institute to see if I could take some private classes. They cost three times as much, but I’ve decided to schedule an hour a week with the same teacher (it’s really not her fault I’m not learning any faster), at least until things are back to normal and I’m complaining that the rest of the class is far behind my level.

Note - I scheduled with the same teacher because I don’t want conflicting dialects to make the learning process any harder, and she really is an excellent teacher. I don’t have yellow fever. Sensei is cute, but also married and I don’t have any real interest in her beyond the class. Besides, I’m still in love with my dentist.

Speaking of whom, I wonder if it’s too late to fake an accent and give her a big hug the next time I see her and tell her that’s the way we greet our medical professionals in my native country, Afganipakisaudiranislavistan. Just a thought.

Anyway, class ended (not soon enough) and I returned home to pout. Somebody knocked on my door, which I’ve learned is never a good thing, and I opened it to find one of my building mates (I’ve grown to hate the word neighbor), a middle-aged black woman who gave me a quick but efficient sob story about needing to get somewhere and her husband was at work and couldn’t leave and she needed twenty bucks for cab fare and would pay me back the next day. Yeah, right. Still, I’ve always made it a policy to give everybody one chance to disappoint me and I didn’t want to stop with her, even though at $20 the rates had gone up. I gave her the money and she quickly thanked me and left.

With the way my building is designed, all the doors face the same hallway so you can hear whenever somebody knocks on somebody’s door. After she left, I thought about it and realized that she didn’t bother to knock on anybody else’s door; out of the eight apartments in the building, she made a beeline for the one white guy. Okay, technically the three people in one of the other units are whitish (the trash subspecies), but they’re not the translucent variety like me, especially if you count the color of the guy’s neck. I don’t think she was out to fleece me because she hates my snakebelly skin, I just think she entertained the popular misconception that all white people live lives of wealth and easy comfort. The fact that we live in the same building should tell her something about our respective income levels, but whatever.

It reminds me of years ago when I worked on a welding line in a factory at night so I could attend college during the day. I worked with a black guy I’ll call D (no, not Ddot). He was a nice, easy-going person and we usually sat together and chatted during lunch. Anytime the conversation led to a comparison of our lives, D always thought I had it better then he did – better car, nicer home, more cash for emergencies, etc. He would smile, shake his head, and give me a toothy grin that said “Man, white people have it so easy.” He wasn’t upset or even really envious; in fact, he seemed happy that his friend had it so well. Since he was such a nice guy, it didn’t upset me that he actually assumed I made a higher wage because of the color of my skin. We solved that one day when we received our paychecks and compared stubs, something most companies don’t want you to do. As with any corporation, they’d harvest our organs for sale on the black market if they thought they could get away with it, regardless of the color of our skin. Like I thought – we were equally underpaid.

One day I pointed out (not unkindly) that the reason I had a better car and house and more money was a difference in lifestyles. My money went straight to the bank, and from there to pay the bills for college and all my stuff, and then, on the rare occasions I had anything left, to pay for booze and movies and other entertainment. His paycheck went straight to the liquor store; by Saturday or Monday morning, depending on whether or not the dice rolled in his favor, he was broke and looking for the next paycheck. He didn’t accept my theory. Despite the fact that we worked on the same line and lived in comparable neighborhoods, he still firmly believed I had some economic edge, like in Eddie Murphy’s Saturday Night Live skit where white people gave each other things like newspapers and bank loans when black people weren’t looking.

Also, this weekend I got a haircut. I cut my hair whenever I can feel it, such as when I look up and feel it tickling the back of my neck like bugs. At those times I get sheared so I don’t have to fool with the stuff. When it comes to my hair, I’m definitely more for comfort than style. I’m kind of like the anti-~deb (in many ways, actually).

Freshly Shorn

It looked much nicer coming out of the barber shop. They always cut and style and comb and run their fingers through my hair (I view getting my hair cut like a nonsexual visit with a prostitute), and it looks nice and neat until I wash and comb it, and then it looks like a grenade went off inside my skull.

Anyway, that’s pretty much it for the weekend, except on Sunday my building mate dropped by to give me a quick thanks and to repay my $20. She didn’t try to chat or explain the reason why she needed the money. I suspect she was embarrassed at having to borrow it in the first place. I’d probably feel the same way. Oh, well. Glad I could help. After thirty-six years, this is officially the first time I’ve ever helped anybody who was apparently in real need (and not just a mendicant) who was grateful for the assist and paid me back when they had the chance. I guess I’ll be seventy-two by the time that happens again.

Evil, out


Mel said...

I was holding my breath for your sentence on how your neighbor, sorry, building mate, paid you back. It's good when people can redeem the human race a smidge, happens rarely but it's nice when it does happen - and look at it this way Grant, now you have a story to tell the kids you lock up in the basement. :)
Ed Gein - shudder!

AVA said...

You should have chosen Spanish, I swear it is MUCH easier.
And I can't believe you only let us see your hair!! come on, we want to see the whole face :)

Melissa said...

Looks soft, the kind of hair you want to run your fingers through. Congrats with the neighbor, my theory is never loan out more than you can afford to lose, that way you aren't left holding the short end of the stick.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the hair comment. I always tell the guys I know that if it is long enough for me to run my fingers through then I am happy.

That Girl

april said...

You've such a lovely head of hair!!

Whether you like it or not, I'm telling you, Happy Fecking V-Day!!

Now bite me, bitch! =)

Grant said...

mel - she borrowed it back tonight. We'll see if I get it back again.

ava - I would have chosen Spanish, but it might not help much when I travel to Japan to collect geishas.

melissa - unfortunately, thanks to my recent promotion, I can now afford to lose more than I'd like.

that girl - it's barely that long on the top. On the sides, you'll need tweezers.

april - consider yourself bitten. :p

Liz said...

Guess all your good deads were not in vain.

I will not comment on the black/white issue so as not to offend or be labeled something I'm not. Nice to see your honesty.

Kira said...

If you've never been exposed to a foreign language before, it's very, very difficult to pick up as an adult. Linguists theorize that there are three blocks of language learning by age that make exposure to language at that time easiest to learn. The first is birth to three years; the second is three years to five years; and the final stage is six years to twelve years. After that point, if one is newly exposed to another language, he or she can LEARN it but never as a native. That is, there'll always be a clear accent and thinking in one's head without translating to the native language is difficult.

In your case, you've chosen to study a language that has a different range of sounds. Asian languages are easy to learn...for other Asians who already have been exposed to those sound groupings. So, a Korean can as an adult more easily learn Japanese than an American. Certain languages are in certain groups. If one knows a romance language like French or Spanish, then learning another romance language is not so bad. You've picked a whole different grouping of languages, and you've never been exposed to the new sounds involved. You definitely will need to have one-on-one lessons if you want to get it. Note the plural on that.

It doesn't mean you are a genius or dumb as shit. It merely means you're fighting against how our brains are set up. A perfectly amazing studly brilliant man or woman can fumble with a foreign language simply because he or she is older than 12 and never had the language before that moment and time. It WILL be hard. You CAN learn it, but it WILL be hard and involve more work than you've ever put into a course in your life.

Damn, I got all teacher-like there and forgot to say something scary or stalkerish. I'll save that for next time then.

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

That's the exact reason I haven't joined a Spanish class....because I am chicken shit scared that I'll not be able to retain anything! Good idea with those private lessons.

And I can't believe you got your twenty back!! That was nice!! You would not believe how many of The PK's "acquaintances" have stopped by, borrowed 10.00 (and promised to pay him back "next week") and then were never seen again!

Lovely hair, Grant! ;)

Melissa said...

Like Houdini's wife told him on a regular basis... "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should."

Seven said...

Since you have an undying and bound love for the dentist...I'm gonna move in on the teacher...unless you give me 20 bucks whitey....

Kerry said...

I just knew the building mate knocking on your door was gonna be psycho guy... but you got me.
You must have 'nice' written all over you. Everyone there loves you ;)

sands of time said...

I think your being too hard on yourself with japanese.Its meant to be fun,maybe your trying too hard instead of just enjoying the experience.
Your hair looks nice as well.

Grant said...

liz - good deeds in vain? That remains to be seen.

kira - thanks for the info. I WILL learn Japanese no matter how long it takes, but I'm glad to know my brain isn't as dead as I feared.

pq - $10 is a good price to pay to know they can't be trusted.

melissa - are you saying I shouldn't be so generous, or go on any more Random Killing Sprees?

rick - $20 is a bargain for sensei, especially seeing as how I'm going to start paying her $45/hour for private lessons. Your check is in the mail. Hold your breath.

kerry - I think I need to nail a dead cat to my door or something. This nice guy vibe is going to be my undoing.

pink lady - learning Japanese is not fun when you've got eight other people staring at you as you fumble for words (by you I mean me). They should have taught us sepuku on day one. It would hurt less. :p

poody said...

I used to live in Hawaii and worked at a Japanese hospital for a while. I had to take Japanese lessons too not just the language but also the culture too. So, I know how very hard it is to learn. Sadly, I have no one in Austin to speak Japanese to and can only remember the bad words now. I had a guy come up to me on day as I was gatting out of my car at home and ask for $20 for a cab. He said he knew my neighbors and called them by name. I also gave him the money but unlike you I am still waiting on him to bring it back. My neighbors were like, I never heard of him. DEVIL!!!

Prata said...

This always works for me, well actually it's just the way I learn lol

Get japanese music (I have a bunch of japanese music of the anime variety on my server I'll give you a link in e-mail if you want) and listen to that. Also, label things in your house with Japanese (kanji or romanji or both) labels so you can continue to use it even after studying. (I don't do this I don't learn that way.) You'll get a little bit more immersed in it. I have a whole jpop directory on my server and an anime directory, unfortunately some of my jpop music in the folder isn't just japanese it's chinese but it's easy to tell apart.

Anyhow, if you want to start having a conversation in japanese via e-mail or somethin' by all means send it my way. I've forgotten a lot but it usually comes back.