Comedy of Runtime Errors

How can the most mundane events in life be so awkward?
So 4 times a month, I tutor 4 delightful girls. When I got here and the job was basically dropped in my lap, I thought it might be a little overwhelming, but I didn’t want to let anyone down. These kids have been tutored by the ALT who lives in my apartment since at least my predecessor’s predecessor, and who doesn’t love a little moonlighting money?
But I’ve learned so much about teaching from these girls. I went from giving them awkward tours of my 2 room apartment and having them repeat various household objects as I point them out…to what I do now — sing nursery rhymes and jump around their house with them, their mom smiling at the fun we’re having while stirring rice in the kitchen.
But there’s still the language and cultural barrier. I also give the mother lessons, which is basically just a fun conversation with a few grammar points thrown in. I did try to make it a little more about grammar (you know me!), but she seemed to enjoy hearing about my life, and surprise! I like talking about it. So it works.
But it has been slowly getting warmer in our little town, and I called Megumi today to tell her I could bike to her place instead of getting a ride from her, which I had always felt a little guilty about anyway. Unfortunately, I seemed to forget that bikes take longer than cars, so I got to her house 15 minutes late. Not a huge deal, although I worry that she schedules dinner around when I leave.
I have a fine class with the girls, and we sing “No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed,” which I highly recommend you try if you have any 7- and 9-year-olds lying around. Actually, that sounds creepy. If you have any 7- or 9-year-olds lying around, please return them to their parents. I play a game of hangman to wrap up what they’d learned that day. The word was “monkey” and I made it more of a hangmonkey with ears and a tail, because that darn “e” is tricky. So I went another 5 minutes over right there.
When it was Megumi’s turn for class, she started asking me about my parents’ recent trip to Japan. She always tries so darn hard to formulate her sentences correctly, so I had no problem slyly sliding my worksheets back into their folder to have a nice conversation.
And then disaster. Okay, not really. So I have an Interpretive Dance performance this Sunday at an Arts Festival in the woods, organized by my Japanese tutor. I’d kind of been keeping it a secret from my friends, precisely because I like to keep the Annoyingly Cheerful “No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” Lauren under wraps in exchange for what I hope is a much cooler “James Dean” Lauren that I show in front of them. James Dean is still cool, right, guys? Guys? Get off my lawn!
But I did want this family to come. They have really taken me under their wing, and invited me to dinner and family sports day (SO fun!) a few times. Only, I can’t remember the name of the Art Festival place or the town, because, you know. Japanese. We don’t have road names here. We give directions to people by saying, “Pass the store with the Buddha in the window, and turn left at the sign with an egg crossing the road. If you see a fat guy riding a red bike, you’ve gone too far!”
So I write down the URL. Megumi frowns. I’ve sent her emails before, but I’m pretty sure they went to her phone. The directions to the actual park are hidden on the website, so I start to draw a picture of the web design, which I soon learn is very futile. I meekly offer to show her on her computer, and she blushes and actually stands up to start pacing around the room. Oh, no. Uh, I don’t have to? It’s in the forest. Just, uh, walk towards the green stuff over there.
She rushes out of the room and returns a second later to apologize profusely. What’s going on? She tells me her house is very dirty, and she only cleaned the downstairs for my arrival. Crap. Now I’m imposing. I backpedal and tell her I’m sure she can find it on her own, bowing, apologizing in the most polite Japanese I know. But she’s already up the stairs, and I’m really not sure on the URL, so I reluctantly follow, keeping my eyes fixed at the ground, so I don’t even see if there’s a mess or not.
I get to her bedroom, and of course it’s ten times cleaner than my place. I’m the girl who often has guests over to my house, and if they have to use the bathroom, I just ask them not to mind the underwear that’s drying in a colorful Victoria’s Secret flower around the sink. Why? Because I don’t dry it outside. Why? Because perverts will steal it.
Anyway, I sit down at her laptop, and as it’s starting up, I hear a strange noise I can’t immediately place. Then I put my finger on it. It’s the Windows Start Up song from when I was IN HIGH SCHOOL. This computer is 15 years old if it’s a day. There’s no way it’s gonna be able to launch this site and a .pdf flyer.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I don’t play computer.” Luckily, I play computer. I have a very high score on computer. When it’s in English. And made in this century. I sit down and launch Internet Explorer. Easy enough, right? It takes a few minutes, and I gulp as I look at the clock. Surfing the net on the company dime is different when the company is an adorable young mom peering over your shoulder.
I type in the address. An error comes up in Japanese. Just a warning, I assume, and click “Okay.” Wrong move, Jack. “Okay,” it appears, opens up a new program in Windows, a program that scrolls through reams of code like I’m Dennis Nedry hacking the raptor cage of “Jurassic Park.” This program also has the cute quirk of being impossible to close. I hit the X, and another error message comes up — one that makes Megumi gasp.
I, of course, have no idea what it said, nor do I know what the last one said, but I’m getting the feeling that my old trick of clicking Yes, No, or Cancel until something works isn’t quite going to cut it here. I want to hit cancel, because it’s always so safe and nice and never let me down before. But Megumi is already on the phone to her husband…at work. I feel awful.
My minute-long jaunt has turned into my sweet friend bothering her husband in the middle of a Japanese work day to fix the heirloom computer I seem to have broken. He doesn’t seem to have the answer, either, after 5 more minutes of time I’ve wasted, so she shuts down, and we try it again.
I realize at some point that the URL I typed wasn’t the right one, and I cross my fingers as I type a second time. It works, inasmuch as it gets me to the site, but the Runtime errors (or “rantaimu erazu”) keep popping up every couple minutes. Ah, runtime errors. That takes me back.
To make a long story not any shorter at all, she was able to get a glimpse of the map before it disappeared off the screen, and I think she’ll be showing up on Sunday to see me. God, I love that family.
I stayed a little longer (to apologize a little more) and to give her a few extra minutes of lesson time, which I thought was doing her a favor, but who knows if I was inadvertently starving her children. I knew for a fact I was starving their dog, because he always gets fed after a lesson, and when I went out to get my bike and bid them adieu, the poor thing was just giving me this look like, “Pack it up and move it out, Uncle Sam. I gots kibble to eat.”
To top off my night, spring, as you know, is the time when a young plant’s fancy turns to pollen, that is subsequently blown directly into my corneas. I don’t have allergies in LA or Pittsburgh, and in fact, I used to make fun of my sneezing mother and brother for having inferior immune systems. But when I moved to Nashville, I learned that I am allergic to things in certain towns, and lucky me, my town in Japan is one of them. I don’t have it as bad as some people. I don’t sniffle or sneeze or anything, but my eyes itch and water and run like a marathon.
So biking back, my eyes are watering so much, tears are beginning to roll down my cheeks. Another unfortunate side effect of spring is that I can no longer hide in my Japanese hooded jacket, and everyone can see me. So I’m trying to keep a distant smile on my face like, “Oh, nothing. I’m not crying. It’s allergies. See? I’m happy. Just a normal person riding their bike, smiling like a goon with tears running down their face. Carry on, citizens!”
And that, my friends, was my night. From 5:15 to 7:30. I don’t have enough blog for all the awkwardness I feel here, but it sure keeps life interesting.

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