I asked my students if they had any news and Rido, who is eighty, announced that oysters are hermaphrodites who change sex at will. Oysters change from female to male, from male to female, as often as every seven days. Rido explained this slowly, blinking constantly through old watery eyes. He’d written down all the difficult words to remind himself. He was terribly earnest. He added that his father-in-law had repeatedly announced his desire to be a woman and everyday had washed his face with expensive creams.
I stood at the whiteboard writing down the new vocabulary. I was frustrated, again, because I couldn’t interrupt the lesson and tell the old man that I adored him, that I’d always love him world-without-end-amen. I didn’t want to make him nervous or self-conscious. You can’t tell your students you love them. It just isn’t done.
Rido seldom joins in the general discussion but he always has a story. Last week he was almost cheated out of two million yen and the week before that he found a dead cat on his roof soaked in cooking oil. He’s explored Parisian public toilets and been accused of bicycle theft. He always speaks flatly, without obvious emotion, and his underlying attitude, whatever happens, can be summarized as ‘my, what an interesting planet’.
Inevitably the talk turned to transvestites. Transvestism turns up in conversation at least twice a month at the Kagurazaka Community Center, where even the junior members are septuagenarians. Last week Kozue sat next to a drag queen on the Yamanote train. Poor Kozue, she’d probably never sort out her verb tenses, but she’d never forget what a drag queen was.
This led into a discussion of androgynous (write it on the board) TV stars and also that Korean soap star who all the grandmothers are mad for, who could be a beautiful woman with just a touch of lip gloss and eye-shadow. Itsunori, who isn’t quite eighty and practically invented ATM machines, shouted out, “He’s a queen!” I asked for details and realized we’d fallen prey to misunderstanding.
So I’m standing at the whiteboard, the vocabulary all written out, explaining to this dear man, “Itsunori, now, every queen is not a drag queen. Let’s review. . .”
As you can imagine, it is taking us years to work through the textbook, but I don’t think anyone minds.