Monday, April 23, 2007

Chasing rabbits on company time

At every workplace, there are some people who work harder than others and there are some people who hardly work at all. And then there is that one guy who diligently shows up for work but no one really knows what he does. At my office here in Japan, that person is the vice-principal.

The man is a master at doing nothing all day and looking busy while doing it. I have watched him practice magic tricks, catch grasshoppers and chase rabbits, all on company time.

I’m not sure what his official job description is and, apparently, neither does he. Or maybe he just doesn’t care since retirement is right around the corner. But he’s definitely not apathetic about it.

He attacks his pseudo work with energy and enthusiasm. He always has a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. He’s fun and playful and never takes himself seriously. He’s so naturally (and unintentionally) funny that he has the teachers constantly on the verge of hysterics.

He’s the most happily unproductive person I’ve ever worked with. His procrastination techniques are beyond compare. I have no idea what it is he’s supposed to be doing but the work he’s invented for himself is way more entertaining than anything on his official job description.


A few months ago, we went on a school field trip to see a magic show. The magician’s signature trick involved tying a silk scarf around her neck and pulling the ends tight. Instead of choking her, the scarf “magically” pulled apart.

The vice-principal watched in rapt fascination as she performed the trick a few more times before revealing, step by step, how it was done.

The next day at school, while all of the teachers were busy working at their desks or rushing to class, the vice-principal stood in front of the mirror in the staff room with six feet of rope around his neck trying to duplicate the magic trick.

I watched him nearly choke himself for a good 15 minutes before offering to help (I am the second least busy person in the office). We spent a good part of the morning perfecting the magic trick.

Rabbit Whisperer

One of the vice-principal’s most fun make-work projects involved taking me to the local elementary school to meet the pet rabbits.

The vice-principal and I were both sitting at our desks one painfully slow morning. He turned to me and starting talking about the elementary school’s rabbits. He asked me if I had ever seen them. I told him I hadn’t. A light bulb went on above his head.

“It’s very important to meet the rabbits,” he said. “Let’s go!”

So we walked over to the elementary school where we spent a very enjoyable hour playing with the rabbits.

A few weeks later, we were sitting in the staff room when the phone rang. A teacher from the elementary school was calling to say one of the rabbits had escaped. The vice-principal leapt into action. He grabbed his jacket and raced out of the building faster than a firefighter on his way to an eight-alarm blaze.

I watched him walk back and forth along the riverbank behind the school. Amazingly, he found the rabbit safe and unharmed in a small ditch. This must have been one of the highlights of his career because he spent the next two weeks talking about the great rabbit rescue.

Maintenance Man

The vice-principal has taken it upon himself to be the go-to guy when there are maintenance problems at school. He fixes broken umbrellas, he scrapes dried glue off the floor, he fills the portable heaters with kerosene, he sorts the mail, and he reads every flyer that comes into the office (he is especially fond of the flyers for home electronics and has been known to linger over them for hours).

He is also the resident computer “expert.” Although, as far as I can tell, the only thing that qualifies him as an expert is the fact that he sits at his desk surfing the internet all day.

Japanese Teacher/English Student

There are days when I have no classes and I’m as desperate for something to do as the vice-principal. On these days, the vice-principal teaches me Japanese and I teach him English.

He has taught me some of the most useful Japanese phrases I know: “Dokushin desu ka?” (“Are you single?”) and “Kakkoi!” (“You’re so good looking!”) and “Issho ni nomimasen ka?” (“Would you like to go for a drink sometime?”).

In return, I help him with his English. Although, he prefers to stick to the English he already knows rather than learn anything new. He likes to impress me with the phrases he’s picked up by watching Hollywood movies. Like the time he pointed a rusty garden tool at my head and said, “Please give me money.”

He was so polite and non-threatening that my only response was to laugh and say, “Omoshiroi!” (“You’re funny!”).

“Yes, that’s right,” he said in perfect English. “I am funky!”

Working (and I use that term lightly) with the vice-principal is one of the highlights of my day. Even when the days are long and boring, I am never bored.

There are mornings when I wake up and the first thing I think is, “I wonder what the vice-principal will get up to today?” I have no idea what he is really supposed to be doing at work and I wouldn’t want it any other way!

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