Desk Fan

The C&C Electric Motor Fan, the world’s first home appliance, manufactured in New York, 1887.

“Amerika de senpuuki ga arimasu ka? — Do you have desk fans in America?”

“Uh? Wha?”

I wasn’t really listening. I was trying not to cry. The vice principle had just led me back from my goodbye ceremony, where he’d lined me up in front of my students so that they could sing me one last farewell song like a firing squad. Standing there, wiping my face in the hot gym, I didn’t know if I really wanted to go.

But back in the idle teacher’s room, the vice principle hit me with that question again.

“Amerika de senpuuki ga arimasu ka? — Do you have desk fans in America?”

“Uh… Hai, aru yo — Uh… Yeah, we do.”

He didn’t seem to hear me. He pointed to the broken desk fan behind me.

“Senpuuki. Sen-pu-u-ki. — Desk fan. De-sk fa-n.”

I switched to English.

“Yeah, the fan? Yes, we have fans.”

“Oh! Fan!” His face lit up. He knew that word.

“Fan.” — He pointed to the desk fan again — “This fan.” — and picked up a paper hand fan from his desk. He pointed to it too — “Fan.” — and back to the desk fan — “Fan.” He gave the paper fan a few idle flaps across his sweaty face, thinking how best to communicate the idea.

“Oh!” He hit an epiphany. He grabbed an identical paper fan from the absent secretary’s desk, held it handle-to-handle with the first fan, and tried to spin the pair on an axis between his thumb and forefinger. He dropped one. I reached to pick it up, but he stopped me. “Ah, ii yo — No, no, it’s fine.”

He rolled his chair over to mine to retrieve the fallen fan. He pointed me towards the desk fan again and pressed the two hand fans against its cage, in line with the blades.

“Two fan. Four fan. This.”

He slid the paper fans along the cage to show how the four plastic blades would rotate but dropped one again while twisting his arms around the tight space between me, my desk, and the wall with overstacked outlet stuffed with appliances. He handed me his fan and strained forward in his chair to pick up the one of the floor. Once he had it, he rolled back to his own desk and bent it into a curve, pointing back to the desk fan as if to demonstrate the aerodynamics of the plastic blades. He waved his free hand.


“Um, yeah, ZuuuuuZuuuuu.” 

“Sou, sou! — Yeah, yeah!” His face lit up again. I grimaced a smile along with him.

“Uhhuh, yeah… Amerika de mo fan ga arimasu. — We have fans in America too.”

“Ahhh, hontou?! — Oh, really?!”


“Naruhodou ne — Ah, I see…” He returned the secretary’s fan back to her desk and looked thoughtful for a moment. Then he hummed – “Oh!” – again and pushed the fan he had left on my desk towards me.

“Ii yo, morau yo. Sensei ni — It’s fine, take it! For you.”

“Oh, thanks.” It was cheap plastic and paper, with an advertisement for a retirement account on the front. A representative from the local bank had dropped by earlier to hand them out to the other teachers, though, they were in class then. She skipped over me at the time — “Konnichiwa, sumimasen” — hello, straight into an apology. Just as well, I would have thrown it out. I already have an IRA back home.

I picked up the fan and flapped it a few times. Without the desk fans running, I was starting to feel a little sticky in the teacher’s room.

The vice principle smiled. “Ne! — Nice!”

Uhuh. Yeah, whatever. I’ll just throw it out when I get home. But well, I guess I’m not crying anymore. Maybe even laughing.

But then, what am I doing here, really?


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