Thursday, May 29, 2008


Laughter is a funny thing. There's no better sound than that strange, spontaneous, emotional outburst, especially to the ears of an ESL teacher, if only because it means that you've been understood -- never a given when teaching learners of a foreign language, believe me -- but it also can erupt at unexpected moments, when you weren't even trying to be funny.

Yesterday in class for one reason or another we were talking about video games, and how I played them as a kid, loved them as a kid, even wrote speeches for school about them as a kid, though I haven't played any at home or in an arcade since well before Clinton's second term in office. Thinking of something they could relate to, I happened to compare Nintendo and Sega.

Hilarious juxtaposition, apparently.

Nintendo, still a powerhouse. Sega, I'm guessing not so much.

Upon uttering 'Sega', generous laughter spittled forth from the class. United in their mirth, they were, while your humble scribe stood rather dazedly, in front of them --black-suited, blue-tied, and not sure exactly what was funny. (I learned Sega is not selling like hot-cakes in Japan these days.)

Nevertheless, I plowed ahead. (When in doubt as an ESL teacher, plow ahead.) I mentioned that even before the Nintendo and Sega wars of my childhood, Atari was the video-game console of choice for the discerning game player.

I was expecting much laughter at this 'Atari' reference.


Not a cackle nor a chuckle. Neither a grin nor a smirk.

"Atari?" I said.

Blank stares.

I thought they might have at least heard of Atari.

Then I remembered: These students were born in 1989. 1990. Atari was already dead and buried by the time they were sampling their mothers' teats on a daily basis.

For a little history, I added: "Back then, Atari was so popular that the movie Blade Runner, set in the early 21st century, had the company's logo as a neon sign on a building in the middle of Los Angeles. You guys know Blade Runner, right?"

What do you think the answer to that question was?

There are many, many times when I feel impossibly young -- but that wasn't one of them.