The Formal Online Education of Spiderman


photo courtesy of comicbookmovie.com

I am in the kitchen working on an article. It’s a pleasant Sunday afternoon, rotating from rainy to raining to storming. The B Monster has recently learned how easily she can jump from the floor to the kitchen table, so she is providing a buffer between me and my computer screen. Now and then she gauges and then makes a ninjaesque leap to the counter from the table. Other than the cat distraction, I look out at the stormy weather and enjoy the occasional Schadenfreudian giggle at someone running through the rain with a bag held over their heads.

Since it’s Sunday I alternate work with Netflix, today it’s The Walking Dead. And I also eat freely. It’s one of the major benefits to working in the kitchen. It’s a pretty nice Sunday.

Burke is in the living room teaching online. She teaches kids in China short English lessons. It’s all done through a company so the lesson is highly regimented to the point that there’s almost a script to follow. She starts out each lesson saying hello and introducing herself in loud clear English (as required by the company, not a version of the American English Tourist Dialect).

And then she says, “What’s your name?”

Since she wears headset, I can’t hear the child’s response, I only hear Burke say “Nice to meet you, Student’s Name.”

The names are mostly Anglicized names; I am not sure if they are given them at birth or allowed to choose them. In the last three weeks I have heard lots of names. Carl. Brad. Vivian. Denise. Torie. Robert. There was a Tiger last week. Of course when I hear the name I wonder about its origin. Vivian? Sort of old fashioned, maybe it’s making a comeback? Brad? Parents love Brad Pitt? Wonder how they felt about Brangelina breaking up. Who knows?

I hear the name used repeatedly for 25 straight minutes (Brad, what color is this? Brad, can you circle the dog? Good job, Brad! Nice job, Brad! Brad, come back!) it’s natural that it preys on my mind a bit.

So today, over the sound of a beloved Walking Dead character screeching as they become living sustenance to the zombies, I hear it. “Nice to meet you, Spiderman!”

I pause Netflix.

It couldn’t have been…

But it is. And for 25 minutes, I hear it. Spiderman, which one is blue? Spiderman, What color does you like? Nice job, Spiderman!

OK, let me first state that of all the kids I have heard one-sidedly taught, I have never wanted to see one of them more than Spiderman. I wondered more than any of them how exactly this name was acquired. Was this a choice of his parents? Did Spiderman choose his own name? Is his bedroom a shrine to the superhero? Is there any chance this is a second language botch-up lost in translation? Like how American college girls keep getting the Chinese symbol for formaldehyde tattooed on their necks because they think it means courage?

After these questions, I am beset with depression. Was Spiderman a choice in the whole name game? I mean, sure, I could go legally change it, but everyone already knows my name so it would be hard to get the word out. Also I’d have to change my credit cards and passport. Czech bureaucracy is a nightmare and plus they are super weirdly anal with names, there’s no way that changing my name to Spiderman (or Captain Marvel or Lex Luther) would be acceptable here. They’d probably boot me out. But still, I have a confirmation name. Why wasn’t I informed that Spiderman was a choice then?

By the end of Spiderman’s 25 minutes, my depression has deepened. This is no doubt due to the fact that it’s being rubbed in my face. Nice work, Spiderman! Great job, Spiderman!

Well, no kidding! He’s Spiderman! Of course he’s kicking ass in his ESL lesson!

When Burke finishes teaching, I only ask: “Was Spiderman good?”

“He was great.”

No doubt.

My mom calls later. I am still in the kitchen, doing dishes now. Just like a boring guy with a run of the mill boring name. I wish her a happy Mother’s Day and we both share a laugh at the suggestion that my dad might cook tonight. He cooks once every 365 days and that one time was a month ago. Eggs and bread. It’s not his fault, I think, he’s not Spiderman for crying out loud.   

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