By Michael Greco
The name of his new school was called Slop Bucket.
I know you’ve never heard of a school, or any establishment, for that matter,
named after a bucket containing slop (the Japanese pronounce the word as: suro-ppu,
two syllables). But here in Japan it was just a rather ordinary English language
conversation school. It wasn’t a sloppy school, or dirty in any way. And I never saw
any buckets (the Japanese say ba-kke-tsu, three syllables).
So why was it called Slop Bucket (or in Japanese: Suro-ppu Ba-kke-tsu)?
No one seemed to know. And the Ichiban had heard a lot of funny-sounding
names for English conversation schools in Japan—from Apple Pigs to Let’s Chat
With Us! — So, really, why not Slop Bucket?
I followed from above as he located the school on the other side of the train
station, and then I perched outside the window and watched. The school’s logo was
cute—a little blue bucket with lots of colorful English words inside, which composed
the slop: words like hello, and fun, and please, and banana, all in bright yellows and
reds and browns. And I guess the words looked a little like how slop is supposed to
look when it’s in the bucket—cute slop, perhaps.
“Call me Titty,” the young woman with a big white ribbon in her hair at the
reception desk said with a bouncy smile, displaying a crooked upper tooth that jutted
out like a little sword.
The Ichiban, being a normal young man, biologically speaking, noticed there
was nothing one would call titty about Titty. The twenty-something Slop Bucket
receptionist had not the prominence to match her nickname; Titty seemed as flat as
the doors of Happy House. She wore a short dress with a plunging neckline, but the
girl had a lowland chest with no sign below of foothills—just continued prairie. It was
a frilly dress with a lot of pink and polka dots, and white knee socks, and she would
often bend her knees, lean forward, and squeeze her arms together, and then maybe
something resembling cleavage, or a shadow of the fabric, made a momentary
Titty also had the misfortune of possessing thick, stubby legs, which jerked her
out of proportion and made her seem like her middle section had been stretched by a
Under spotlight-bright ceiling illumination, Titty gave the Ichiban a tour of the
school. It took seven seconds. Slop Bucket was a small school, and that meant small
classrooms: eight white, closet-like cubicles, squeezed tightly together, like the
bellows of an accordion against two walls, each cubicle with its little door.
Titty opened one door and swept her hand like a realtor presenting prime
property, and the Ichiban saw a tiny table and two tiny chairs, a plastic hanger on a
wall hook for students’ coats and whatnots; finally, a tiny bookshelf with two or three
English texts, some Japanese fashion magazines and manga. A calendar seemed to
serve as the cubicle’s décor, featuring the days of June underneath an unappealing
picture of gophers, or some such rodents, with unsettling, rat-like tails.
“Each classroom has a library,” Titty preened, bowing, as if in some sudden
rapture, squeezing her arms against her chest and bleating like a sheep. And the
Ichiban, not sure if the girl was in the midst of some seizure, debated throwing her to
the ground and sticking his hand in her mouth to keep her from swallowing her
“I axed you if the pen is on your behind,” the voice of an American male
bellowed from the next cubicle over.
Titty put a finger to her lips—a class was in progress! The partitions didn’t go to
the ceiling, so the voices from the next class, about three feet away, carried over
“So where is the pen?”
“In my … front?” came the uncertain female response.
Titty led him away from the class to an identical cubicle at the end of the row.
“Your facilitator has a certificate in T-E-S-O-L,” Titty chirped in awe, leading the
Ichiban into his official training room. “He’s lingual.”
Above the door to the Ichiban’s training room was the sign: Sit, Listen, Observe,
Practice—the SLOP of the Slop Bucket, he guessed, as Titty quietly opened the door,
where a roundish fellow in a tight, teal-colored suit, jerked up from his tiny chair as if
caught doing something improper. Then, feigning indifference, he closed the Japanese
magazine he was reading, giving the Ichiban a glimpse of the page—preening,
middle-aged women, small chested, all wearing pink frilled costumes and cheery knee
“Slop it!” the teal-suited guy said, as if the words were some kind of official
greeting. Then he stood, mindful of the wobbly table between them, and shook hands
with the Ichiban, his trainee, “This facilitator welcomes you aboard the Bucket.”
In place of a June calendar, an important-looking document rippled on the white
wall from the breeze of the air conditioner that came through the open door, which
Titty then gently closed, leaving the two men in the tiny cubicle.
“Those were a demanding three weeks,” the facilitator said, nodding solemnly
at the document, some kind of diploma. “And they said an on-line course would be
easier.” Then he shook his head as if waking from a nap, “But we simplify the process
here for our new teachers.”
They sat in their little chairs, and the facilitator flipped through some pages with
an official air as the Ichiban waited quietly, wondering about Sit, Listen, Observe,
Practice and what it meant to be lingual.
Slop Bucket had recruited the Ichiban from the city of Los Angeles, where his
interviewer, a Japanese women, who looked a lot like Titty and the other frilly models
in the facilitator’s magazine, had gushed on about the beauty of Japan, the sushi, the
sumo, the geisha. It was a recruiting speech the interviewer had clearly memorized,
though it was largely unnecessary. The Ichiban knew quite a bit about Japan—he had
done his research. He was ready for the contrasting side of the country, too; that it
wasn’t all just temples, and bonsai, and natural beauty like some woodblock print of
centuries past. He was even ready for life in a grimy gaijin house because he’d done
his homework: he had talked on-line to English teachers who had returned from
Japan. The country was a well-worn trail, and the Ichiban had studied the potholes.
Some of them.
“You’re not like a missionary or something, are you?” his facilitator asked,
thumbing through the smeared pages of the Ichiban’s resume that Los Angeles had
“I’d say I’m more a philosophy student.”
The Ichiban’s BA degree was in Theology—the systematic and rational study of
God and of the nature of religious truths.
The facilitator didn’t seem impressed. “Because the Japanese, well, they’ve
burned the missionaries here, I’m just saying.”
“Our product here at Slop Bucket is more complex than the existence of God—
it’s a methodology.” The facilitator paused, allowing the word to sink in. “It’s unique,
and it’s far more effective than any other product on the market—any market.”
He popped up from his chair, fidgeted with his trousers and said with some
fanfare, “You don’t find SLOP—SLOP finds you.”
The facilitator frowned, disappointed at the Ichiban’s reaction and rolled his
eyes as if accessing a Rolodex card in his head. “Any school, or company, that claims
second language instruction must be arranged in a particular way on the supposed
evidence that they’ve conjured up from either linguistics, or neurophysiology, or any
other science, displays a good deal of naivety, as well as presumption.”
The Ichiban sat politely and listened to the facilitator speak, wondering why
someone would buy a teal suit. And the more the man went on about the value of
SLOP Methodology in language acquisition, the more the Ichiban thought he looked
less like a facilitator and more like a giant teal dango—a Japanese dumpling on a
His speech was wooden, something the guy had memorized, like the Ichiban’s
recruiter in Los Angeles. And he spoke in an accent that wasn’t what one would
expect to find in an English school. The American, Canadian, British, Australian—
this was something unrecognizable, altogether different; charming, in a way, but
different, and the Ichiban had a feeling any question about the man’s country of origin
might not be a welcome one.
“Here at SLOP we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, or remarket it,” the Dango said, wriggling inside the suit that he was too fat to wear, “We’re just foot soldiers in the game, courtesans for ESL, back-alley scrubbers, whatever they want. We give our students the individual care they’re after.”
“Individual,” the Ichiban repeated.
“So the methodology is, sometimes, bereft of method?”
The facilitator appeared not to hear the question, and the Ichiban squirmed in
his little chair; he had brought his notebook, but so far had written no notes. It was a
one-day training, a rush job. The Ichiban started teaching the very next day, and he
wanted hard answers to all the questions brewing within him; he wanted theory.
Instead, he got something called Thoughtful Intercourse.
He asked questions about learner comfort zones and frustration levels and good
teacher talk versus bad teacher talk.
Instead, he got Sit, Listen, Observe, Practice.
“We’re more than teachers here—we’re regulators, SLOP intercourse
The Ichiban wrote that down: SLOP intercourse regulators, and the Dango
smiled patiently, amiably.
“I am both a facilitator and a regulator, and I can tell you that it’s a malleable
approach, we’re case-by-case, we service student needs, and we offer flexible, supple,
The Ichiban’s hand froze around the pen. Things didn’t seem to be adding up:
Was he a teacher or an exotic dancer?
“You don’t find SLOP—SLOP finds you.”
Had the guy forgotten he said the same thing only an hour before? It was like
the Dango had some kind of debilitating short-term memory issues, and the Ichiban
was beginning to lose faith and, pretty much, souring on the whole notion of English
language acquisition. But he remained quiet, hoping things would get better, knowing
that during these institutionalized training sessions one either drew a facilitator who
imparted something worthwhile, or one drew a useless, teal-colored Dango.
They practiced with something called picture cards—of either fat-lipped fish, or
children, or predacious, shirtless men in beards. Then out came the SLOP Matrix
Diagram, a poster festooned in purple that the Dango taped to the wall between them
below his on-line diploma. The student ability levels were listed from the bottom of
the rung: False Beginners, or Premature Performer, up through disturbingly named
ranks like French Tickler, and with Lingual Love God at the top of the rung.
The Ichiban sat back: if one eyed the SLOP Matrix Diagram in its entirety, it
looked a lot like some fat man getting a tube up the rectum.
“You don’t find it, suggestive?”
“I know, I know,” the Dango chuckled as if it were all some big joke. But then
he furrowed his small forehead as if recalling something unpleasant. “It’s a bit
overwhelming at first.”
The Performance/Potential boxes, highlighted in orange along the side of the
Slop Matrix Diagram, had elements configured into some kind of hallucinogenic
labyrinth, something the Ichiban might see in a Head Shop under a black light. The
Performance/Potential boxes listed the Key Principles—things like Recognition and
Rewards, and Oral/Aural Penetration.
“Why massage?” he asked.
The Dango’s eyes bugged out, and then he chuckled, as if concealing his shock. “To relieve frustration levels, of course.”
The Ichiban sat tight-lipped. It looked like somebody had copied a Parcheesi
board, and then written in some of the principles of language acquisition, by way of
the Kama Sutra. At the bottom of the Slop Matrix Diagram were a series of yellow
tables called The Defining Rectal Metrics, which then weaved their way throughout
the Slop Matrix Diagram like angry snakes.
“Be cognizant of frustration levels,” the Dango said, pointing at a spot in the
Slop Matrix Diagram the Ichiban figured would be the fat man’s colon area.
“I see.” The Ichiban tried to nod agreeably, but all this SLOP methodology was
a lot to take in.
“Recognize and reward.”
So this was what they referred to as ‘customer care’ in Japan? It seemed so
cultish, like the Ichiban had just been recruited into some lewd Scientology of English
“Sit, Listen, Observe, Practice.”
The Dango opened the door. The training had finished.
The Ichiban could see Titty at her reception desk a few feet over, selling the
school to a prospective student, a young man who stared silently at the school’s little
brochure, as if afraid to raise his eyes. For some reason, Titty used this annoyingly
high-pitched sales voice—a staccato-like siren wail that sounded like a five-year-old
“Just internalize the approach,” the Dango said again, his parting advice, as if
that would help, “Sit, Listen, Observe, Practice.”
The Ichiban nodded.
“Intercourse through SLOP!”
The Ichiban made a big show of gathering up his training manual and treating it
with great reverence, while thinking: Intercourse through SLOP, but which SLOP—
the picture cards? the Wh-questions? The pointing? The snakey thing that went up the
man’s butt? He was overflowing with the intricacies of language teaching
methodology, and he resolved to never-EVER do anymore one-day intensive
He stood there at Titty’s desk, unsure of what to do next. The school exuded—
to him, anyway—the unmistakable suggestion of lewd shenanigans; the place reeked
of repression, of squashed sexual needs—of another dimension with kinky almostsex,
like everyone in the school bubbled over with rampant testosterone, yet with no
understanding of what to do with it.
“You have successfully internalized S.L.O.P. methodology,” the teal Dango
For the Ichiban, despite his misgivings, it was kind of a profound moment. Titty
turned from her prospective student and jumped up, clapping and bowing forward in
her epileptic epiphany, squeezing her arms against her sides, bleating like a sheep,
“Owwww!”, her wayward tooth poking out at a near ninety-degree angle like it had
its own plans.
To the Ichiban, it was a little like being knighted—he couldn’t feel the change,
exactly, but he trusted it. Sort of.
He had become a real English teacher. Kind of.
He was good to go. Maybe.
He should be excited, but instead, as they waved at him from the doorway, he
left Slop Bucket with genuine qualms. His first lesson was the next day, and the
Ichiban remained clueless as to how to teach English.
The Dango and Titty knew the neighborhood, and they pointed in the direction
of his new home (home, of course, being Happy House), the Dango cocking his
fingers like a gun and shouting, “Intercourse Through SLOP!” before pretending to
shoot the Ichiban. And the blue Slop Bucket sign had lit up, the neon glowing like a
He started along the road, one with the little circles etched into the cement,
unaware of his own gentle aura that newcomers possess; an aura that seeped into the
twilight air of Japan, and that would leach into the walls of the little inn called Happy
House; an aura that said:
“I am new. I am safe. I am delicious!”