I have three Chinese students — Laila, Tom and Jessie. They are primarily in my class because they want to improve their English. Tom really doesn’t need his GED. He’s already got a year of university under his belt. Laila’s got a similar situation, but I’m not entirely clear about her. Jessie started his freshman year but then left to come to New York. They all need to build their vocabularies, to strengthen their pronunciation and to broaden their knowledge and understanding of American culture, but they don’t need GEDs. I don’t have any problem with having them in class, of course, because they are lovely and funny and smart, and they all get along with Josefina, which pleases me because other students kind of keep their distance from her.
The American culture thing shows up in the oddest ways. We were doing some math word problems the first week of class and one problem mentioned G.I. Joe. Jessie called me over. “What is this?” I told him it was toy, a doll who’s a soldier. He stared at the words on the page a moment longer. “People know this?” he asked. “It’s a pretty popular toy,” I said. And he shook his head and went back to work. I imaged that last head shake came from both bewilderment and frustration at the realization that, even if he could read the words, there was going to be a lot of stuff he just wouldn’t understand.
Tonight Tom brought some CDs to class to play during the break. When break started, I headed for the office (just on the other side of our thin classroom wall) to start collating and stapling handouts for our homework … and then I heard it: “I must’ve been through about a million girls/I’d love them and I’d leave them alone.” Yes, it’s the Elvin Bishop classic, Fooled Around and Fell in Love … as presented by none other than Rod Stewart.
Rod Stewart? Yes. And then there was Crazy Love, Love Hurts and even Bread’s Everything I Own. All sung by Rod Stewart. Really.
Maybe I shouldn’t be quite so shocked, but come on. Rod. Stewart.
I poked my head into the room. Laila, Jessie and Tom were rapt, quietly singing along. Jamila caught my eye and smiled. Desirée gave a tolerant shrug.
Tom reached for the volume knob. “Too loud?”
I assured him that it wasn’t loud at all, said I was just surprised by the selection.
“But I love this singer,” Tom said. Laila and Jessie nodded in support. “In China, he is so famous. His songs are all special, all with ideas about love.”
Ok, then. I’ll just shut my mouth … but it’s Rod If-You-Think-I’m-Sexy Stewart we’re talking about here. I am as caught off guard by this as by the news that Iraqis love Lionel Richie.
Yes. Of course. You’re right. Who doesn’t love Rod Stewart? But I’m talking old-school Rod, raunchy, Tonight’s-the-Night Rod. Not this crooning, I-put-out-an-album-of-standards Rod. Yes, yes. Of course I’m a snob. You didn’t know?
Tom, Jessie and Laila go back to their music. I go back to my office … singing Everything I Own under my breath … ’cause you know, who doesn’t love Bread?
I found the Everly Brothers version, but you know you were waiting for Nazareth:
And for you karaoke lovers …
Tom’s right, of course: full of ideas about love.