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Saturday, Nov. 24, 2007


Ship of roaches: break from the teaching grind

"When my ship comes in," says my friend, "It's gonna be overrun by roaches."

Personally, this would not make me happy. A roach in my house meets all-out war. Rolled newsprint, bug spray, ball bats — anything to get the varmit. It's a case of either me or the roach and — so far — it's always been me.

But my friend is overjoyed to be overrun.

Background: He didn't come to Japan to teach English; he came because he had a Japanese wife. Yet to make ends meet, they both had to work. For her, the job market was open wide. For him, it more or less meant teaching English.

He didn't have a degree, but that didn't matter. Community classes, private tutoring, sing-a-longs at the local kindergarten — somehow he was always able to put yen on the table. The problem was. . . "I hate teaching English. I hate grammar. I hate reading and I hate writing. I even hate punctuation!" This last line he doesn't speak, he exclaims.

But what else could he do? His Japanese skills were minimal. He had no chance for a normal job and the only thing he could translate were words like "Hello" and "Goodbye." Not much market for that.

He thought of peddling stuff via the Internet, but he had nothing to sell that a thousand other sites weren't offering already. He applied to marry people as a phony minister in a wedding hall but lost the position to better candidates, i.e. men who were taller.

"I even considered scribbling out odd commentaries about life in Japan," he says, looking me in the eye, "But I couldn't stoop that low."

"Uh, and so. . ." I run a finger through my collar, "What'd you come up with?"

He said he sat in his kitchen and tried to picture something he had that other people might want. And just like that, the very thing appeared right before his eyes — a roach.

"But nobody wants roaches. And why buy them when most people have too many of their own?"

This, he insists, is all a matter of marketing.

"Look at Chihuahuas. A few years back there weren't enough Chihuahuas here to form a Mexican Quartet. But one cute TV commercial and boom! Suddenly Chihuahuas exploded. Now they're everywhere. Almost like roaches."

"So all I need do," he continues, "is to change the public mindset. Roaches are not slimy and filthy and evil. They're cute, they're cuddly, they're lovable. Like Chihuahuas."

That's not changing a mindset, I tell him. That's changing the laws of nature. Mankind was made to flatten roaches, not dress them in ribbons and take them for walks.

"But listen to what a roach — with a little training (and perhaps some special wiring) — might do."

Find your car keys, for one thing, he says. Or your remote control. Or even you, for that matter, if you were lying under some earthquake rubble.

"Think of them like Lassie, only with six legs."

That's the practical side. Next comes fashion.

"Imagine a knock-out blonde. She's got everything, face, figure, dazzling smile. And there at the top of her cleavage rests a thumb-size roach with its feelers swaying to and fro. What do you think?"

"I think I'm gonna be sick."

"But picture a roach of magenta or gold or rainbow. Then you might see it differently — as a charming accessory that can move right where the owner wants it at any particular moment, on her hair, her cheek, anywhere."

"How about under her heel?"

Of course, the best sales possibilities, he says, are as pets.

"Can't you see a frisky roach racing about your living room, perhaps with a squeaky toy in its mandibles. Then you call, 'Here, boy! Here, boy!' and it dashes onto you lap and eats fresh dung right out of your hand!"

I tell him, no, I can't quite see that.

"Scientists are working on controlling roaches electronically through chip implants. It's only a matter of time before it's common. You watch. One day pet roaches are gonna be bigger than Aibo and Tamagotchi put together."

"Just what we need — bigger roaches."

"I plan to get in on the ground floor and open the first roach outlet in Tokyo."

But how, I ask, will you keep them from breeding? Will you have them spayed? And how will you prevent trained roaches from mixing with the wilder sort? Plus, how will you tell them apart? Roach tags? And won't the same problem still exist? The slimy, filthy, evil roaches will still infest kitchens.

"All right, so the idea still has some bugs. Any suggestions?"

Only one, I say, but a very good one.

Somehow learn to like English teaching.

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