Running from the back room of my apartment down a short hallway past my bedroom I hurl, as hard as I can, out into the living room a full glass of ice and water. It instantly bursts smashing loudly on my white ceramic-tiled floor as a vehement curse passes my lips, “Goddamn motherfuckin’ son of a fuckin’ cocksucking bitch!”
Then I hear my downstairs neighbor, a local, a Taiwanese guy, come out of his apartment below. He climbs the stairs up to my front door which is adjacent to a covered outdoor patio/kitchen. I stand in my living room knowing he is outside my door listening, concerned, wondering what has just caused this sudden burst of insanity.
“What about your ‘lightnin’ a cigarette with a propane torch plumber friends?’ What about their simplicity? You love to reminisce about that—revel in it even!”
“No…!” I mutter under my breath walking back down the hallway where my neighbor won’t be able to hear. “You know what?! I’m you…! I’m you motherfucker…! Or you’re me. Or somethin’.”
“OK, you’re me… You’re God.”
“Yeah…, I invented you—in my brain a voice inside my head back when I was strung-out—to deal with quittin’ dope. So just fucking go away now!”
“OK…, but DO NOT drop out of the program. I’ve got a plan for you. Just finish this master’s and everything will be set.”
“In your cover letter you claim to be fluent in Mandarin Chinese,” Jim Scofield from Latos Management Consultants abruptly interrupts me seconds after I begin my self-introduction. “NiweishenmelikaidaluhuilaiTaiwan?” (Why did you leave the mainland and return to Taiwan?) he asks in Mandarin real fast ignoring all the rules of pronunciation for the language.
“Li e kong-oe jin hom-mang. Kua thia bo.” (Your pronunciation is terrible. I can’t understand you).
A little irked, I answer him in Taiwanese, the true language of the island as it seems he is testing me on my Mandarin.
Mr. Scofield doesn’t reply. Most ex-pats here are unable to speak or understand even a word of Taiwanese. And with the whole competiveness thing between ex-pats when it comes to fluency in Mandarin—this most likely being the reason for his rapid question—he is possibly a little miffed if he didn’t understand my answer.
“Six years in China altogether…,” Jim jams a finger into my resume. “I hear a lot of foreign teachers over there are wastoids first and teachers second. Drinking till dawn and regularly not showing up for class. And showing up without a lesson plan when they do go to class… Latos is a very professional company. Can you assure us that there won’t be any sort of behavior like this if we decide to bring you on as a Latos Foreign Language Liaison?”
“I’ve never missed even one class because of a hangover.”
“So does that mean you teach hungover regularly?”
“No…, hangovers are very rare for me.”
“Have you ever taught hungover?”
“Ahh…, Yeah…,” I admit. “A couple times.”
“Mr. Sturm, can you tell me what you know about our organization?”
“Well…, I know that it’s a language school which provides English training to business professionals in Taipei.”
He just sits silently now appearing to be pondering. And I’m thinking by looking at the guy, that he’s the type that might like to go out to a bar from time to time and have a drink with other ex-pats. I’m sitting opposite Mr. Scofield, a large oak desk between us. He’s kind of big. Tall and beefy, wearing a dark-blue double breasted suit with a white shirt and a medium-blue tie. He is completely bald with a bland face neither handsome nor ugly.
Jim seems to be one of those pricks who enjoys putting people on edge in these kinds of situations. He also, with his overall demeanor, has this arrogant thing about him which is a quality that many foreign dudes here are gifted with. It appears to only kick in when they come into contact with ex-pat males they don’t know. A defense mechanism of sorts maybe for these guys, who are damaged goods in many cases.
“Can you talk about why you left Zhengzhou in China and came back to Taiwan?”
“Well…, ah…,” I redirect my thoughts, “I had lived in China for five years before…, and when my friend invited me to come back there, because my friend, I had worked with him in Hunan before and then he invited me to come back to China to work for a real high salary by Chinese standards.”
“Right,” Jim goes sounding bored.
“And I thought that my five years in Hunan would have prepared me for livin’ in Henan but I was wrong I hated it there an’ couldn’t wait to come back to Taiwan also I had applied to a master’s program at the national art university in Ban Qiao and I thought that they had forgot about me and then just before I left to go to Henan I got an acceptance letter from them and I didn’t wanna go to China.” Nervous, I’m talking fast in long sentences spouting out anything that pops into my head related to my relocation. “But I didn’t wanna break my word to my friend cuz ‘e stuck ‘is neck out for me for a job like this once before in Wuhan and I changed my mind at the last second…”
“Right…, ah, Mr. Sturm…,” Jim jumps in, “could you talk about what makes your classroom special?”
“Ah, well…, when I’m up there in front of the class I feel that I am in a special position to help better my students’ lives. I use the recast method. The recast method’s real good cuz it doesn’t put a whole lot of pressure on students when they make mistakes. Also, I learned a lot about communicative competence when I was doin’ my master’s—”
“Can you comment a little on how you define communicative competence?”
I am already sick of this interview at this point. I have been dropping back into my old school white-trash vernacular. If I’m bad at a normal interview with a Taiwanese speaker, I am ten times worse with a native English speaker and can’t quite put my finger on why.
I decide to drop the communicative competence bullshit in an effort at lashing out at the dude, to a certain extent, in response to his arrogance.
“Well…,” I begin, switching gears, “can we back up just a little and refocus on how my classroom is special?” I don’t wait for an answer. “What makes my classroom special is the fact that I hate teaching English so much, that when I’m standing in front of the classroom, I often have the desire to burst into laughter out of the blue. I’ve been told to just let it out. To just start laughing. But my question is, ‘When will that laughing stop?!’ When I’ve been dragged out of the classroom later…? Or even later than that? And as the last school year rolled by, deep in the middle of China, those desires to break out into laughter turned into desires to start shaking. To go into convulsions. To fall to the floor in a full-on fit.” I can see from the guy’s countenance that this job opportunity is out the window, but I just can’t stop. Jim is still reeling from those precious words of truth not quite able to tell me to hit the road yet and I keep going, “Then as the end of the school year drew near, I was frequently seized with a desire to do that Dr. Strangelove thing and strangle myself in front of the whole class with my own right hand. That passed and was replaced with an overwhelming need, as I stood in front of the class, to rip the textbook that was in my hands to shreds with my teeth then shake its remains back and forth like a dog might do with the carcass of a dead squirrel. And there were a few times in which I came dangerously close to biting the book—which was right in front of my face—and begin gnawing on it a little.”
“OK, Mr. Sturm…,” he is ready to wind things down.
“BUT I HAVEN’T EVEN TOLD YOU WHAT MAKES MY CLASSROOM SPECIAL YET!” I don’t let him in and go, “What makes my classroom special is the only way I can escape my disdain for teaching English to people who don’t give a fuck about the language is by teaching the hell out of whatever lesson I’m on! Whatever it takes to entertain these goofs whose rich parents are paying my wages! You want me to incorporate some tap dancing into a Lady Gaga song to get the ‘present continuous’ into some eighteen-year-old’s head who is half asleep cuz he’s been up till four in the morning click-clacking away playin’ a retarded computer game?! No problem! I’m your foreign monkey! And I’ll do a fuckin’ jig, backwards, all the way across the front of the classroom pantomiming the actions of whatever happens to be taking place in the particular construct of the ‘present continuous’ we’re working on!
“And how about the ‘pluperfect subjunctive’ Mr. Scofield?!” I dig in. “I practically go into a fuckin’ trance on that one! Yelling in a face here, ‘If-I-had-gone-to-Japan-instead-of-China!’ screaming into an ear there, ‘I-could-have-continued-playing-rock-n-roll-and-people-would-have-actually-appreciated-it!’ Shimmy-shammying about the classroom I slide in, around and through the seating arrangement—A MOTHERFUCKIN’ SHAMAN IMPARTING ENGLISH GRAMMAR KNOWLEDGE!”
“That fucking language teaching master’s is worthless! Mr. all, ‘Just finish this degree. And you’ll be set.’ I’d be lucky to get a job teaching five-year olds to do the ‘Hokey Pokey’ with that!” I ramble on to the voice in my head as I walk out the front doors of Latos Management Consultants. “All that shit! Fucking hellish second language acquisition presentations. Listenin’ to Dr. Stevenson’s rambling about his cock, about how big it is. Yeah right.
“Scorin’ drugs for the asshole! Goin’ to the psychiatrist to get drugs to sell ‘im.” And come to find out, the dude didn’t want the drugs. He wanted someone to do the lame-ass antidepressants and sleepers, that he already was doing, with.
My back is against the wall. I have to get some kind of a shit job or whatever. Forget about holding out for a gig teaching adults. I have to find work so I can get a residence permit and stay in Taipei. If not, I have to choose between going back to China, or going to live with my family. And if I go back and live with my family, my life will be over.
I’ve been back in Taipei for an entire month now. I’ve had three interviews. Fucking nightmare. I don’t think I could even get a job teaching at a kids’ language school if I tried. I just can’t pull off the energetic, ‘I’m a happy English teacher!’ thing anymore. I could pull that off when I had originally come to Asia, but things were new and exciting then. So, in two weeks I will start looking for work in China. A good thing about getting jobs in China is that you don’t have to do much of an interview with the schools most of the time. Just some shit usually on the phone or over the Internet like, “Do you love teaching English Mr. Sturm?” And lying, I would always answer in the affirmative. Although I have endured some frustration in China, I don’t have any choice. If I end up going home and living with my family, I will definitely go insane. If I decide to go back to China, I’ll be applying for jobs in the northeast of China, which is a pretty good region. Shenyang is in that area and I might end up applying for work there. The place is teeming with tall, beautiful, friendly girls. Also, the northeast has great beer and amazing food. People there are nice, unlike the goddamned backward-ass hateful fucks of Henan and Hunan who regularly referred to me as a ‘foreign dog’ or a ‘scary foreigner.’ And in the northeast they don’t speak any motherfucking gobbledygook dialect like they do in the south, just pure Mandarin.
I’ve been called into see Ms. Hsie, the Foreign Language Education department chair. She turns her computer monitor so I can see it. A high-definition color video starts on the screen. It’s night time in the video and there are five guys and a couple of girls setting at a table in front of the 7-11 at Gong Guan University.
“Is this you Jack?” Ms. Hsie moves the cursor on her computer over one of the guys.
I take a look and recognize that it is, indeed, me. But I have no recollection of the event. I also recognize that the other people at the table are some students from the Czech Republic. Then I see a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka going around the table. It appears we are playing a drinking game taking hits of the liquor then chasing it with Taiwan Beer. I am amazed at the high quality of the video as I can identify both brands of alcohol. But in reality it shouldn’t be that much of surprise as the Taiwanese have surveillance down to a fine art. You can’t scratch your balls in a public place in Taipei without it being picked up on camera and recorded.
“Yes, that is definitely me,” I answer unable to deny, especially with my post-punk spiked pompadour-esque hair style.
Ms. Hsie now switches to another video. This time it appears that I am on the steps of the Foreign Language Education building. I’m holding the now empty vodka bottle by its neck upside down. I am shaking the bottle at the doors of the building while yelling in the same direction. There is no sound, but I can read my own lips and I wonder if Ms. Hsie can also. I can clearly see I’m bellowing, “Fuck all your fuckin’ academic bullshit!” while my Czech classmates laugh in the background. Then I’m puking all over the steps. The timer on the video reads 4:10 a.m. Once again I have no recollection of the event.
“Do you deny that this is you Jack?” Ms. Hsie queries.
“No,” I answer. “That definitely looks like me.”
“The Foreign Language Education Department board has voted on this matter and has come to a decision. And unless you would like to make an appeal denying that the person in the video is yourself Jack, the matter will be brought to an end. Would you care to appeal your identity in these videos Jack?”
“No, I don’t see any need for that,” I respond.
“Then as of today you are expelled from Gong Guan University. You will no longer be enrolled in the Foreign Language Education post-graduate exchange program. However, you are welcome to apply for re-admission for next school year. We have chosen to keep this matter within the department and your employment at the school’s English Language Center should not be affected.”
I walk out of the Foreign Language Education building. I go for a little stroll around the campus and just let the joyous moment, the relief of not being a master’s student anymore, flow through me. Then I head home to see if the England-All Blacks Rugby Union test match is up on the Internet so I can start downloading it.
Later, I’m sitting at my desk at home just jelling out on the computer when my phone rings. It’s my classmate Jennifer. She tells me that my teacher for Research Methods, Mrs. Wang, is wondering why I’m not in class. “Oh ahh,” I laugh, “I had a problem. I’ll send Mrs. Wang an email and explain it to her.”
The next day, I’m getting some lemonade at a local juice stand. For the first time this semester I’m enjoying a free afternoon. Normally, I am either doing language acquisition theory and research homework, in class as a master’s student at the uni or teaching in the English Language Center at the selfsame institution of higher education. Before I get to start in on the lemonade I get a call. It’s Mrs. Wang, she tells me that some strings have been pulled and that I’m officially back in the program. This most likely occurring because someone higher up at the school may have vetoed the Foreign Language Education Department’s decision as the place receives a shitload of money from the government for each and every exchange student.
“You know what…?” I start, barely audible after hanging up. “Fuck it! I’m not goin’ back inta that program! I don’t know what the fuck they’re talkin’ about in those classes anyway!” Now a little louder, “What in the fucking hell is a Goddamn literature review?!”
“No, fuck that! You’re going back to class tomorrow!” the voice comes on inside my head.
“No…! No Way…! Fuck you, you fuck!” I yell spluttering lemonade in my vehemence while ignoring passersby. “Why the fuck did you tell me to come to this fucking place?! Why didn’t you let me go to Shenyang…?! I feel like the fuckin’ retarded plumber who came to grad school!”
“Just forget that. Make sure you are in Dr. Stevenson’s class tomorrow!”
“That fuckin’ Texan?! I think that guy’s gay or somethin’…! He likes me way too much. Text-addict freak sends me like…, twenty SMS messages a day with stuff like, ‘I’m just bopping around the apartment listening to Saturday Night Fever,’ I HATE THE FUCKIN’ BEE GEES...! And I’m not ever gonna fuckin’ graduate! What’s this shit about research?! I thought I was just gonna take some classes, pass ‘em and then, that’s it. I gotta fuckin’ defend my motherfuckin’ research…?! WHAT FUCKIN’ RESEARCH?!”
“I’ve got a plan. You’ll graduate. Just do whatever Dr. Stevenson tells you to.”
“And if he wants to touch my pee-pee…?”
I’m setting across a table from six Taiwanese second language acquisition Ph.D.’s in a job interview at Taiwan Normal University.
“So, Mister Sturm,” one guy queries, “how did you incorporate what you learned at Gong Guan University into your English classroom at Henan University in Zhengzhou in mainland China?”
“Ahh…, well…, I learned a lot there… Ye-ahh…, I put that together with the stuff from my previous teaching experience in ah…, Hunan.” My throat is dry. Feel like I’m listening to a recorded version of my voice. “And ah, also in Yilan here in Taiwan… And put that all together and tried to mitigate anxiety…, mitigate anxiety…, mitigate language anxiety. Learned about language anxiety and tried to reduce it when ah…, did that, that and ah…, liked do that when I was teaching.”
All the bullshit I had been force-fed while getting my master’s: the Krashen, the Truscott, the Ferris, the Dornyei, the van Lier. Ausubel, Deci, Gibbons, Horwitz, Leki. Donato, Storch, DeKeyser, Bitchener… H.D. Brown! Faerch and Kasper, Strauss and Corbin, extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation, field dependence, field independence, interlanguage, L1 interference, zone of proximal development. SYSTEMIC FUNCTIONAL LINGUISTICS! The whole fucking academic second language acquisition circle-jerk is gone. Can’t remember a Goddamn thing!
Back home after the interview, I realize that maybe the fact that I methodically forgot everything I learned in that hellish master’s program the day I graduated was a bit of a mistake.
I still have, in a file on my computer, every document, every research paper, every e-book I had read or skimmed through during my time as a graduate student. I open the file, start going through that stuff working on a quick review of all the shit. Then decide that at the next interview or maybe the next one after that, I will make those motherfuckers’ heads spin when I’m dropping lingo like, “Vygotsky’s socio-cultural learning theory applied to my L2 classroom.” Stuff like that. How I like, “Construct a socio-cultural language acquisition environment in which the learner not only is able to keep her/his affective filter at a low level, but also is given the opportunity to engage in the negotiation of meaning in the target language in a way not unlike that of a native speaker thus allowing students to partake of an L2 acquisition experience rather than an L2 learning experience, which is…” Some real bullshit of this nature will surely impress.
I had done the Foreign Language Education master’s because, as a result of a series of bad decisions made in the mid-2000’s, I ended up teaching English in China and in Taiwan. So the master’s, being a language teaching program, made sense as a way to further enhance my marketability, or whatever, as a teacher.
“So I like to…, use the vibrator on her, and…, ya know, I’m working away still,” Dr. Stevenson relays to me.
“Why is this guy going on about eating his girlfriend’s pussy to me?” I think to myself. “And if he’s got such a huge cock, ‘a broomstick handle,’ as he had called it earlier in the evening, why does he need to use a vibrator?”
I’m drinking at a beer garden with Dr. Stevenson—my thesis advisor. One of my night classes, Language Acquisition Materials Development, has just ended.
We are now halfway through the second semester at Gong Guan University. And Stevenson, early on in the term, one night after my Computer Assisted Language Learning class with him let out, had finally done what I’d dreaded since the start of the school year. He’d invited me for a drink. I hadn’t feared hanging with him as a result of my gut feeling that he wanted to smoke my dick, but because I had become bored silly with the ex-pat social drinking scene while living in China. I felt that eventually he was going to invite me to a bar as I am the only American student in the program.
This is only the third time I’ve been drinking with this guy. But it’s on this evening that I realize I don’t like hanging out with him. I realize that the way the booze frees up his mouth resulting in endless self-centered monologues is almost unbearable.
“Yeah man,” Dr. Stevenson goes on. “Ya gotta try the blue pill.” And instantly I see myself wanking away for hours on end to the Japanese porn I bought at a DVD store out on Beixin Road. I guess the guy doesn’t know I’m going through one of the worst dry spells of my life. Although I did fine with the girls in China, I just don’t get it with Taiwanese girls. And also, if you fuck your students in Taiwan, you’ll end up on the evening news being branded a ‘Black Hearted Professor.’ I know that there is tons of action to be had in Taiwan, but a good deal of that action is definitely disco related—and I don’t do discos.
“So what ya gotta do,” Dr. Stevenson now changes the topic of his ramble, “is go to the shrink at any hospital with your health insurance card, and say you’re a graduate student. That you haven’t slept in three weeks and you think about killing yourself all the time. And they’ll give you some good anti-depressants and maybe some Zopiclone. And I’ll give you like, 3000 Taiwan dollars a month for it.”
“The problem with that is, I like drugs too,” I resist. “I’ll end up doing them all.”
“And then I went to this restaurant and ordered Casu Marzu, which is sheep’s milk cheese that is infested with insect larva. It tasted great, but I ended up vomiting it all over my brand new leather jacket that I had just bought...”
My Conference Interpreting instructor, Professor Zhang, talks about a recent trip to Italy. I scribble notes frantically keeping up with his story while intermittently taking sips of iced green tea. I’ve spiked the tea with just a little bit of rice liquor to help me deal with the stress of this class. It’s a three hour torture session I endure each Tuesday afternoon in which me and my classmates interpret any number of things including, quite often, CNN news reports. The material is normally a bitch for me to interpret into Chinese. Students are randomly chosen by their classmates to take turns at interpretation as each seat has a number along with a microphone and a computer monitor.
“Number nineteen,” my seat is called by my classmate Cherry. I grab my mike, glance down at my notes, take another hit off the tea and begin speaking Chinese paraphrasing the highlights of Dr. Zhang’s trip.
I mash up four sleeping tablets in a pill crusher then dump the white powder onto a small mirror. I start cutting the medication up with a single-edge razor. I continue until I have it all cut down to a fine, fluffy substance. I roll up a blue Taiwanese 1000 dollar note and commence snorting the powder.
The stuff hits me hard and fast. I take a huge gulp of Cragganmore single malt scotch and slump back in my chair watching an episode of Little Britain. I sink way down into the chair high as fuck feeling like nothing matters, numb to everything. I zone out on the TV, the actors recede in a blur. In my state I’m unable to follow what is going on with the television program. So I look around on my computer for some music that moves me. I find Motorhead’s Ace of Spades. I make sure that the bass is turned all the way up on my stereo. Then the music is blasting and I’m feeling the raging rock n roll flow through my numbness.
In the morning, I stumble towards my refrigerator and grab some ice-cold coffee to deal with my hangover. I skull four bottles of Dr. Espresso. Lie back down and let the caffeine drive the pain in my head straight down into my spine.
Once I feel halfway normal, I get up and head out for some breakfast. Moving towards my apartment door, I notice that hot-sauce has been splashed over the walls and floor of my place.
“What the fuck?” I mumble. Then I notice that the hot-sauce bottle and the single malt bottle have both been smashed and strewn about the floor.
When I open my door, I find a note that reads, “Please do not the loud music and screaming at the late night.”
“Can I take all those pills, the sleeping pills?”
“No, just go get some beer and get drunk.”
“Can I take all my sleeping medication and off myself?”
“Get some of that ‘Kona Long Board Beer’ you saw the other day at 7-11 and get drunk.”
“I still have five or six boxes of that stuff. It would definitely kill me.”
“Fuck you motherfucker for makin’ me come to life you fuck you! I asked you like a hundred fuckin’ times if I should stay in that fucking Henan hellhole! Cuz it’d be a good career decision! I asked over and fucking over again, you fuck, if I was lettin’ my Taiwan shit fuck up my life! Now I got nothin’…! I’m a fuckin’ damaged goods ex-junky…! And a motherfuckin’ pill-popper ta boot…! And why the fuck didn’t you just tell me to keep workin’ in the maintenance department in art school back when I was strung out…?! Why didn’t you stop me from leavin’ San Francisco…?! Huh…?!”
“You didn’t ask.”
“I didn’t ask…?! I didn’t ask…! Well ya know what…?! Balaam didn’t fuckin’ ask either! But what did you do there back in the day in the Old Testament…?! You made his motherfuckin’ ass, his fuckin’ donkey, talk to him right outta the blue! Told ‘im what to do when ‘e was about to fuck up! Why didn’t you—on one of those occasions I was huffin’ methyl ethyl ketone in the back of the maintenance shop—make the Goddamn vice open its big fuckin’ jaws up and tell me to, at all costs, finish my master’s in painting there?! Or maybe one night after me and Jenkins were gettin’ fucked up on H in the kitchen. Maybe when I went back to my room to crash, you coulda used my cat! You coulda made the giant ginger-tom, Orange, sit straight up in bed and say some shit in a huge deep voice like, ‘Jack…, whatever you do…, do not quit dope by going to live with your Christian parents.’ You can bet I woulda listened to that shit…!
“I am not gonna fuckin’ find a Goddamn motherfuckin’ job in this place…! I coulda went to Thailand on holiday and fucked like… ten whores a day or gone surfin’ in Bali to help me deal with livin’ in shithole Zhengzhou…! You fuckin’ let thousands of people, every fucking day die! But not me…! I could just take all those pills and I’d be dead.”
“Ok, you can do it.”
“Really…? Cuz I will motherfucker! Don’t fuck with me you fuck!”
“Just don’t forget about your dad.”
“Oh yeah…there it is. Bring up the family. What a cheap shot. People die! Let them deal with it. How many people lose their sons, every fucking day! And ya know what…?! They have to fucking deal with it! But not my family…they’re exempt…! Just let them think it was an accidental suicide or somethin’. They know I’m an insomniac… I am going insane motherfucker…! I swear I’m gonna take every last one of those motherfuckin’ pills!”
I had bought the pills in China. I stockpiled them because they are prescription. I bought them over the counter and you never know when you are going to be able to get your hands on good prescription drugs. So I bought ten boxes of the stuff, Stilnox, at one point there in China. The stuff is great for inducing sleep, and when good drugs aren’t available, can be used for partying. Like the pharmacist on that one sit-com said, “You just don’t let yourself go to sleep.” The side effects are an absolute bitch though. Dementia, paranoia, confusion, rapid/pounding/irregular heartbeat, skin rash, changes in vision, slurred speech, incoordination, agitation, anxiety, amnesia, dizziness, weakness, feeling of drunkenness, euphoria, hallucinations, behavioral disorders, aggression, tremors, nightmares, depression and irritability. A number of these last all day following a night with the ‘Nox. And I’m always all side-effected out while doing interviews. All cotton mouthed, confused, barely able to form words and put them together into sentences. Then when I’m out at the shops speaking Mandarin things get really weird because I sometimes say words that aren’t a part of any language.
So it’s easy in my situation, jobless and stuff, to get into a panic and forget that half of the reason I’m freaking out is the side effects from the drugs. In reality, although I get bent out of shape about not having a job, I have enough money in the bank to live for four months in Taiwan. I just have a problem with my visa expiring in a month.
Walking home from the subway station after Research Methods class I’m feeling like I can’t think because of the meds which, just as predicted, I had ended up doing instead of selling to Dr. Stevenson. And so fucking pissed at God, or whoever, or whatever, that I just start yelling at the voice in my head right there in the street screaming, “Fuck you, you motherfuckin’ cocksuckin’ son of a bitch…! ‘I’ve got a plan for you! I’ve got a plan for you!’,”—mocking the voice. “Yeah sure! You gotta plan! A plan to watch me fuckin’ go insane! Why don’t you just kill me right now motherfucker?! Just fuckin’ kill me...! You know what…?! I want you to step back and let somethin’ kill me. The forces of evil or whatever… I don’t fuckin’ care. Fuckin’ crazy scooter driver. Doesn’t matter to me. That’s what I want you to do motherfucker!”
In the middle of the night, I wake up, and something’s choking me. I don’t know what it is. But it feels like something has its hands around my neck choking me.
“Not I, but you Lord! Not I, but you Lord! Not I, but you Lord! Not I, but you Lord…! Come on…! Say it with me…! You remember back when you used to say that prayer? Back when you were a so called, ‘Christ-er,’ when you were tryin’ not to have impure thoughts?”
“You sound like me. You talk just like me. I’m you. I invented you. Man created God.”
“I talk in the vernacular. Your personal vernacular in this case.”
“Bull fucking shit! You’re a figment of my imagination! A personality disorder! Multiple personalities! But you’re stuck in my head…! Why don’t you come out and take control of me? Like what happens to those other folks with this disorder…! That would be fun!”
“Not I, but you Lord. Not I, but you Lord. Not I, but you Lord. Not I, but you Lord… Say it with me!”
“Not I, but you Lord. Not I, but you Lord. Not I, but you Lord. Not I, but you Lord. Not I, but you Lord.”
“I believe Lord, help thou mine unbelief!”
“I believe Lord, help thou mine unbelief…! Believe in what?”
“That you’re not gonna have’ta go back and live in your sister’s garage! In Orange County, California…! Go to church every week! And worst of all…! Be a teetotaler again!!!”
“I believe Lord, help thou mine unbelief! I believe Lord, help thou mine unbelief! I believe Lord, help thou mine unbelief! I believe Lord, help thou mine unbelief…! Not I, but you Lord! Not I, but you Lord! Not I, but you Lord! Not I, but you Lord! Not I, but you Lord! Not I, but you Lord!”
“Jesus Jesus Jesus…! Jesus Jesus Jesus!”
“Jesus Jesus Jesus…! Jesus Jesus Jesus…! So you’re Jesus. I always thought you were God the father, but sometimes wondered if you were maybe Buddha, or even Satan, or some other deity.”
“Jesus Jesus Jesus… Jesus Jesus Jesus… I’m baby Jesus talkin’ through the Holy Spirit motherfucker!”
Five a.m. on a Saturday morning. My third sleepless night in a row. I threw the sleeping pills all out in the apartment building’s big green trash bin days earlier. I am not going to say that I haven’t been tempted to go digging through the trash. But I am sure that the sight of the only foreigner in the complex rummaging through the garbage in search of drugs would create quite a flurry of gossip amongst the staff members.
At the beer garden near Gong Guan University Dr. Stevenson sits entranced looking lovingly into the contents of an Erdinger Weissebier glass. Then staring off into space he’s asking the air in front of him, “Do you know what the German Beer Law of 1487 required concerning the ingredients of beer…? Water, hops and barley. Not a Goddamn thing else!”
I can tell I’m in for another long night of rambling from the good doctor. So I snatch a Remeron and two Zopiclone tablets from my pants pocket. Throw them in my mouth, begin munching then gulp some German beer while listening to Stevenson.
“Once when I was a foreign exchange student in Dusseldorf—when I was seventeen-years old my parents lied to me and told me I wasn’t going to have to make up the year in high school for when I was in Germany to get me to go abroad and I learned German and shit it was real cool—I was cooking by myself drinking ice cold Grolsch throwing the empties off my balcony just tossing them behind me as I was cooking not even looking to see where they landed…”
He takes a pause and I jump in, “Hey…, you think Professor Zhang is gonna give me any shit when I do my defense?” I am more than a little stressed about my thesis defense, which is coming up soon.
“No man…, you don’t need to worry about Zhang…, he’ll be cool… Nothing for you to worry about there… Just get us, all of your committee members, some of those Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies and a couple of bottles of that Dr. Espresso and Zhang will be so jacked up on caffeine and sugar, he won’t know what hit him… That is ah…unless…he’s having one of his ah…BMW leather motorcycle jacket days… He’s got some attitude on those days he rides in on that beastly bike… And then if he’s on a thesis committee and a student is doing a research defense, he sometimes gets stuck on something and just keeps coming back to it, keeps coming back to it… And won’t let it go… But he should be cool…
“I could decide to be a dick though…, if I wanted,” he laughs. “I could say that your data wasn’t triangulated properly… And then you’d be fucked… You’d have to pay a whole year’s tuition and sit around with your thumb up your ass doing nothing except re-writing your master’s for an entire year.”
It’s times like this when I find it so hard to keep the fake smile on my face and let the look of utter disdain go across it. I’ve had to put up with this elitist fuck, this lawyer’s kid, for two years straight. And there are times when I am being forced to hang out with the guy that I just want to walk away. Run down some alley, throw my Motorola ‘flip phone’—Stevenson’s main channel for harassing me—into one of the shallow rivers that one crosses from time to time while traversing the streets of Taipei, and forget him.
Dr. Stevenson picks up his digital voice recorder, presses its red button, looks at the timer ensuring that the thing’s rolling and starts, “This study reports on a year-long, longitudinal research project of a North American exchange student’s usage of Mandarin Chinese in the engineering master’s program he was enrolled in at a public university in northern Taiwan. More specifically, the study focuses on the focal participant’s language learning strategies, his in-class use of Mandarin and his self-reported meta-cognitive reflections regarding negotiation of meaning in the target language with his classmates, professors and staff members at the institution which served as the research site… Data were gathered (blah, blah, blah...). Results indicated that the focal participant regularly engaged in manifold advanced language learning strategies (throw in some code-switching stuff, some interlanguage shit). Most surprisingly, the researcher, when analyzing the data, which consisted of personal communication, think-aloud protocols, emails, focus group interviews, (etcetera), discovered a heretofore undiscovered language “weapon” which he labeled as Linguistic Dominance Facilitator, hereafter, LDF. The focal participant often unleashed LDFs when engaged in meaning negotiation with Taiwanese interlocutors to ensure that the conversation taking place was conducted entirely in Mandarin…
“Yeah dude,” Dr. Stevenson stops the recorder. “This LDF thing could be big bro. This is Robbie Lin’s thesis, but after he graduates, we could turn this thing into a research paper—publish it in the MLJ. You could just take Lin’s master’s, work your magic on it, send it to me then we could triage on it. Of course we’d have to put Lin on as the third writer. Then…, you never know. We could end up like all the deified linguistic theorists and trick-artists who came along in the field before us. Unload a cache of dreamed up hooey which in no way can be disproved by research. Do a tour of unis, then put out a book. Then maybe…, this stuff’s transformed into a tenet of second language acquisition theory… We just have to weave some claptrap around previous studies, some SLA discourse analysis shit—brush up on your van Lier man. Then interpret it anyway we want and tie in this LDF thing. Use my connections at Yale and Texas A & M. My Ph.D. dissertation advisor made it big in L2 oral error correction, he could help us… Then…, BAM! We’re icons in the field of SLA, get famous, carve out careers touring the globe lecturing about our bullshit discovery. Cash in big-time…”
Stevenson’s rant, his pipe dream about joining the ranks of the second language acquisition master-bullshitters finally ends when he realizes his glass is empty.
Later, the sound of breaking glass fills an alley we’re in as I throw a full, unopened bottle of beer fast and hard straight down into the pavement channeling the spirit of my punk rock past.
“Dude…!” Dr. Stevenson erupts. “We can drink till dawn…, no problem! Party our fucking asses off all night. Mosey over to Da-an park and mimic those old fuckers doin’ Tai Chi at daybreak. But we start breakin’ things up and the cops show up, it won’t be cool! The uni might hear about it, and then you ‘d be called in by the department chair. And you don’t want that to happen…, again!”
We’re in a small pedestrian-only street. Stevenson had bought a couple of beers at a 7-11 after we each finished five or six 1000 CC mugs of Carlsberg following the Erdinger. We both are sitting on the edge of a big planter in which a young tree is growing, one of many that line the walkway. The menacing angry stares around 3:30 a.m. from the staff at the beer garden had coerced us into paying our bill and leaving.
“Yeah…back in the day…in high school…in Texas. Use to hang out with this…, ah…, well,” Dr. Stevenson’s mouth is going again. He fades in and out of my vision slurring his speech while sounding like he’s on an A.M. radio. “Let’s say ah…thisss grranddson of a former pres’dent of our great country…” With the pills and the booze it’s hard for me to decide whether I’m in a dream or reality. “And this fucker was fuckin’ nuts man… An ammunitions lunatic… An’ he had anything he wanted at his disposal… Stuff like hand grenades, M-16s… All sortsa fuckin’ pistols, night vision goggles…even some plastic explosives. And we might be rollin’ along at night in his army jeep…on some dirt two-track out in Texas brush country… An’ we’d come up on an in’ersection where there’d might be some sorta bright street kinda lamp on a tel’phone pole… An’ he’d slam on the brakes…, stand up and yell, ‘I WANT THAT MOTHERFUCKIN’ COCKSUCKIN’ LIGHT OUT NOW!’ Then he’d grab a pistol from his belt ‘n’ start shootin’. Somebody’d throw a grenade in the gen’ral direction of the light. An’ everybody else’d open fire with the M-16s until the light was out…
“Then some days we’d get bored, be out ‘n the country near his granddad’s home. It’d been turned into a tourist attraction… An’ there was always all these fuckin’ white liberals, all these motherfuckin’ southern Democrats gettin’ tours of the presidential home… Some o’ those days when we were bored, we’d be like a half-mile away from that place, the ‘ranch,’ the ‘Texas White House’ for a few years there. We’d set the M-16s up on a barbed-wire fence next’da this one-lane road that ran past the ranch on a high part of a slight incline—and get them leveled… An’ then we’d all kinda just peer down the scopes…, just for the fuck of it, get a bead on a tourist… Follow ‘em around a bit… And then one time…somebody…just mighta went ahead and pulled the trigger.”
I wake up with a raging piss hard-on but when I try to stand to go take a leak, something is holding both my arms firm in place. I open my eyes and first notice that I am in a long corridor. Then I see that I am strapped to a gurney. I notice a throbbing pain coming from my face. There appears to be a large bandage over my right cheekbone. I look up just as a nurse is passing and I call out, “Xiaojie! Wo yao niaoniao! Qing rang wo shang ce cuo!” (Miss! I have to pee! Please let me go to the bathroom!). She walks past ignoring me.
The email reads:
Dear Mr. Sturm,
Congratulations! We have the honor to hire you as our part-time lecturer. Your class is Academic Writing from 4:10 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday. If you have problems to take this course, please let me know immediately! Also, please give me a reply after you receive this email. Thank you so much.
Department of Applied English
Un-fucking believable. This message arrived in my mailbox even before I had gotten home from the interview. Great. They want the high functioning retard to teach Academic Writing. I don’t have a clue how to teach writing, but I will gladly take the work, especially as it is at a university and not some jerk-off language school. I guess they think because I’ve written a master’s thesis, that I am capable of teaching academic writing. It will be interesting to see what actually happens when class starts in September.
About the Author
Robert Vogt was born into a blue-collar/fundamentalist Christian family in the Midwestern U.S. As a teenager he moved with his family to Los Angeles, California. After finishing high school, he studied painting off and on at a community college while working at various menial jobs including: sheet metal factory worker, house painter, theater set builder, dishwasher, artist’s assistant and plumber. He eventually acquired a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts and after graduating ended up going abroad to teach English as a Foreign Language. Changing from manual laborer to educator caused Vogt much regret though he reaped manifold benefits from the career switch.