One of my favourite classes used to be at a large company. The students’ English was fairly good and the lessons were quite enjoyable because the students were both willing and able to express opinions on a wide variety of topics. The only downside to the lesson was Mr. Miyake.
There was something about Mr. Miyake that lent him the quiet air of a true deviant. Occasionally bits and bobs of information would slip out and you would start thinking that this was a man with a cupboard full of nipple clamps and butt-plugs. He reeked of deviance, and to be honest, he reeked so badly that I fear some of it must have rubbed off on me, because I’d be teaching him and thinking, “I bet he’s got stockings and suspenders on under his suit!” and that’s not really the sort of thing a teacher wants to be thinking about his students. Well, not the male, middle-aged, balding ones, anyway.
At first I thought he was just a bit of an odd fish, rather than a pervert of grand standing. He was married with two young children but, rather embarrassingly, on our first meeting he described his family to me as comprising his son, daughter and little penguin. Of course, I looked at him blankly, wondering what the devil’s arse he was on about, and thinking that I must have misheard him. But I hadn’t, and he laughed when he realized I hadn’t the faintest idea what he meant. Then he said, “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s my wife! My little penguin.”
I had to just smile and laugh along, but inside I was itching to shake him hard and say, “Oh dear God no! Please don’t be embarrassing yourself like that!” Although I was blushing, however, he seemed quite oblivious and in all the time I taught him he insisted on referring to his wife as his little penguin, seemingly completely unaware of the grimaces and painful winces of discomfort this induced in me and all of his classmates.
After a few weeks of class he started adding lewd to just plain weird. We were doing a simple pair-work exercise in which students were describing various places that they had visited to a partner, who was in turn supposed to ask questions and try to develop something of a conversation. I had paired Mr. Miyake up with Miss Takahashi, a young woman in her second year with the company and the only female in the class. She was quite a pretty woman, chatty and interesting, and was describing the island of Guam where she had spent a week’s vacation after graduating from university. Mr. Miyake was nodding along with her and saying, “I see” at inappropriate junctures, suggesting that perhaps he wasn’t fully concentrating on what his colleague was saying. And then, when Miss Takahashi paused and waited for a question, Mr. Miyake’s breathing quickened a little, a small bead of sweat appeared on his top lip and he asked, quite politely, it has to be said, “Could you please tell me if you were wearing a one-piece swimming suit, or a bikini swimming suit?”
Miss Takahashi was a fairly confident woman and, despite being considerably junior to Mr Miyake in the company, told him directly, but without being rude, that she didn’t think she needed to answer that question. And then, just as Mr. Miyake re-opened his eyes and before he could ask any more questions, I decided it was time to switch partners.
That was just the start. Over the course of the next year, Mr. Miyake revealed more about his life than anybody in the class really cared to know. He told us he loved air travel because he enjoyed talking to stewardesses, and he even admitted to frequenting a website for stewardesses. I didn’t dare ask for further details. And during another pair-work activity, this time designed to practice sales and persuasion techniques, I found him describing in some detail to a bemused colleague a breast-feeding device that his little penguin had used when his son had been born. Lord only knows how he had strayed onto that topic, but it was made worse by the fact he kept referring to his little penguin’s breasts as “hooters”. When his colleague quite naturally hadn’t understood, Mr. Miyake had insisted that “hooters” really meant owls but that was what foreigners called women’s breasts! I had no idea how I was supposed to deal with such a situation and so just pretended to be listening to another pair’s conversation. But I think I know which chain of bars Mr. Miyake frequents when he travels.
Most of the time Mr. Miyake simply embarrassed himself in the classroom, but there were occasions when he could make things really quite awkward for me, too. The first time he did this was the day after a national holiday, on a day when I had arrived in class to find that no students had shown up. I suspected that they were busy catching up with the work they’d missed on their day off and was quite pleased that I might have got an unexpected free period. But, after about ten minutes, Mr. Miyake arrived and I had to get back into teaching mode. I was trying to make small talk for a while, killing time while hoping that another student would arrive and I wouldn’t be stuck chatting to Mr. Miyake on his own for the entire hour. Well, fortunately another student did arrive, but only one other student and that happened to be Miss Takahashi. Of course, at that stage I didn’t know whether anyone else might come or not so I decided to try to stretch the small talk out for a few more minutes and asked Miss Takahashi what she had done on her day off.
“My day off?” she thought aloud for a moment, and then said, “Oh you mean my holiday!” because Japanese students seem to call every day off a holiday. Ask a Japanese person where he went for his last holiday and he’ll tell you what he did the previous Sunday. Anyway, I said, “Yes, your day off,” trying to gently let her know that “day off” was a common enough expression in English. She was about to tell me, when Mr. Miyake interrupted. He said, “Yes, but not your off day!” and started laughing.
Miss Takahashi looked understandably confused, as was I, but Mr. Miyake just sat there grinning at me as if we were co-conspirators in some great secret. I hadn’t a clue what he was smiling about but because Miss Takahashi looked puzzled, I tried to explain as best I could. “Well, a day off,” I said, “is a day when you don’t have to go to work, but an off-day is a day when things don’t go so well. If you have an off-day,” I continued, “you don’t perform as well as usual.” And then, Mr. Miyake said, “Because you are menstruating!”
Both Miss Takahashi and I looked towards Mr. Miyake in a moment of excruciating silence wondering what was coming next. I had no idea what to say and I hoped that poor Miss Takahashi had somehow misunderstood. Meanwhile, Mr Miyake, with a smug grin upon his face, said to Miss Takahashi, “Off-day is a woman’s once a month problem.” And as he smiled creepily once more, Miss Takahashi and I looked at each other with a shared panic in our eyes, and for the first time in my life and in a pitch far higher than any I am accustomed to using I fear that I uttered the word “anyhoo”.
On another occasion I did actually have to teach Mr Miyake alone and he did nothing to dispel my suspicions that he was a committed pervert. Again, I was killing time and asked him what he had done at the weekend. I was expecting him to say he slept or played with his children or played his flight simulator game, as they were what he usually said in front of other students, so it was somewhat surprising to hear him announce with gay abandon, “I had a very nice weekend! I went to Yokohama and played with ladies!” Then he laughed quite frighteningly before abruptly returning to a stony-faced expression and explaining in deep, almost threatening tones, “It is only a joke. I spent time with my children and little penguin.”
I laughed nervously along at his “joke” and we began the lesson proper. We were getting along not too badly and I thought we had moved on when he suddenly interrupted my explanation of when to use the past perfect to say, “Before was just a joke. Really. I was with my little penguin. We went to shopping.”
“Right,” I said, “I know. I understood it was a joke. It was funny,” and I gave a small courtesy laugh. But when I then asked him to give me an example of the past perfect, he said, “Before I said I had played with ladies but it was a joke. I had not played with ladies.”
I gave another nervous chuckle and said, “Okay. Good”, because it really wasn’t too bad an example. And then he looked right into my eyes and said slowly, “So, no ladies!”