Hitotoki – Shanghai Zhongxue Guojibu

by Ryan Carter

June 12-13, 2010

I’d like to say it was a test of their ability to deal with genderbending, premeditated, but really no such plan came to my head. I was looking at Renata’s nails lacquered green and needed something to break up the monotony of a seven-day week, mostly for them, because into this week we also had to cram nearly everything. Angel Liu had drifted to the front row and I asked her, for me, casually, “what color nail polish would you have?”  She looked down hard for a minute and then she defiantly as she always does- for here is a woman with a backbone through which you cannot pass your hand, and maybe the only one in her class-” dark pink”, she says. Tomorrow I’ll paint them for you, she says.

Tomorrow comes and we’re in the same room, which always smells like something wrong, and always something different: onions, stinky tofu, toilet cake, rotten fish, rotten crabs, solvents, soot or old beer. Before the bell has rung Angel Liu says I’m going to do this now and I don’t struggle, just hold my right hand out, and she lays on stripes of the paint. I only give her one hand; today, the room smells like nail polish, but we can claim to have made that stink ourselves. It doesn’t stop being very hot, and the bell rings and I, composing my serious face, bark out an order for them to produce their texts. Ben and Tensho lounge on each other in the back of the classroom; Claudia is staring out into the air outside the window. I ask her to laud the bird that has just flown by, but she hasn’t seen it.

We are going to break up into groups and talk about literary elements in Song of Myself. Here I went and had Lundberg guest lecture on masturbation and exuberance, and Whitman’s writing out to touch the reader. Dr. Lundberg asked three of the male students- whom, I don’t know, I didn’t ask- to round the room sniffing the girls, to seduce and be seduced by their perfumes. Only one was wearing. Now, two weeks in, Kaoru still can’t put the words in the sentences together and draw conclusions from it. I approach her group and Yuun’s, and the painted hand falls on the table.

Yuun toots and shrinks back. I yank it from the table and use the left to conduct- “and so with this rhetorical question, since the reader cannot answer the poet back, what’s she or he got to do instead?” Silence. I am right-handed and raise the painted hand to underline the line in question. “Can you use the other hand, please?” But Yuun usually says nothing at all, and gets a hundred on her tests.

“Oh, right.” I am pretending there is nothing abnormal here. I duck the hand under the desk and grow and transfigure, myself and my purpose. I raise the hand to Yuun’s face and she shrinks back again and I, satisfied, say “try harder,” and walk away, over where Angel Liu and Kelly yak with a fever.

“Do we call you he or she? You’re like Lady Gaga over here.”

“If we have to make comparisons between this little thing you’ve done to me here and some master of flash, I’d rather the comparison to David Bowie. Do you know him?”

Both chime in- “nope.” I plug in the iPod and throw Ashes to Ashes up on the speakers. I hold my hand up to my face as a rooster reunited with its crest and turn one way- “now Lady Gaga” then the other- “now Ryan.” I move to float around the room waving the hand tambourine-wise in other faces.

Casper behind his headphones sees it for the first time, hanging out over there with Kelly and Angel and Jerry, the cool cucumbers. Casper wants to go to UNLV, study hotel management and cruise his way into the Bellagio on the finesse of a regular Moe Green. He’s wearing a hat with the blazon, “Y SHOULD WE ENVY,” and lines drawn through the appropriate letters to render him a debtor to the prestige of the yen or yuan, the dollar, the won and the euro. “Mr. Carter, why you do that? It’s so gay!”

If I could say, “well, yes, sure,” it’d be one thing, but that’s beyond my professional opinion. It’s a pang of instinct; instead of a measured reply it brings beads of sweat to my brow and I begin to scratch the polish off my nails. I have the same conversation with Jack as I had with Yuun: use the other hand, please. Angel Liu, as she’s leaving, says, “Why scratch it off? You should leave it. It’s cute.” I mumble something about it being more punk rock.

Later, in the office I am typing and admiring the holes in my fingernails when the director bobs in and says, “Do you have time now?”