Play Dead

Potsy Plays Dead 1/2“So S, how long have you been studying English?”

We are studying the present perfect tense today, and to illustrate a present perfect continuous question, I have asked S the above in hopes that she will simply answer. However, S looks directly at me, yet makes absolutely no move.

I wait, knowing as both a teacher and student of language that one must have a short period of time to register the language.

So, I wait.

S has not made a move. A quick visual canvas of the room shows that the other students have also frozen in position. I feel like Medusa after a temper tantrum at the post office.

I try again. “S,” I say her name and smile, making sure that we are looking directly at each other. “How long – have you been – studying English?” The (–) mark brief pauses to allow for clarity and retention, not the obnoxious loud and slow technique affected by tourists everywhere.

Nothing. S is staring at me. Her ability to remain completely still is impressive. I wave my hand and pace a few steps, I suppose hoping that movement might snap her out of her meditative state. Nothing.

The other students have taken an insanely deep interest in very normal classroom accessories. One student is studying a pen, another looks at a paragraph on the subjunctive case and a third regards his eraser with such unwavering rigidity that I am convinced that the eraser will burst into flames.

Another pass of my hand in front of S’s face reveals that she is not staring at me, she is playing dead. They all are. I proceed with the lesson, just a guy surrounded by dead possums and a whiteboard full of grammar.

Tonic immobility, apparent death, Thanatosis, playing possum or playing dead, there are a few reasons it is used in the animal kingdom; to attract a mate, evade unwanted attention or even as a predatory tool. In this case, it means holy crap, don’t move! This wolverine is going to kill me! Just don’t move! 

I am that wolverine, well, a grammatical wolverine I guess.

How to deal with this? Surely a grammatical question can’t elicit the same reaction of horror as would a stampeding bison or a rabid wolverine. Is this really the best way to avoid a perceived ‘danger’?

With danger on my mind, I get on the tram home. I find a seat in the back, make myself comfortable and dig into my book. It’s not long, however, before I am scanning the people above the book cover. Two American hipsters are loudly discussing politics. Three homeless men are standing in the middle of the tram shouting at each other, swaying back and forth in drunken mobility. There are children, Mormons and, most predatory of all, some of my students.

Danger is everywhere.

I aim my eyes at the book, reread the same sentence and stay perfectly still.

“Hello professor,” I hear from a few feet away. From the corner of my eye I spot three students looking at me. “Hello professor,” one of them repeats. They are staring at me, I am staring at my book. I will not give in.

Don’t move, I say to myself.

Just don’t move.    

  1. #1 by fredi on December 3, 2012 - 5:52 pm

    Priceless! You have an amazingly skewed way of viewing your world. Keep up the good work!

    • #2 by Damien Galeone on December 3, 2012 - 6:48 pm

      That’s possibly the best compliment I’ve ever received. Thank you, Fredi!

Comments are closed.