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"Itchy knee," Ms. Adolf said, staring at me like I knew what on earth she was talking about.
Her Ms. Adolf stood there next to my desk, tapping her foot impatiently. squinty gray eyes peeped out from behind her gray glasses. I could tell she wanted me to say something, but my mind was totally blank.
"What comes next, Henry?" she asked.
What do you say after itchy knee? Rashy ankle? Scratchy elbow?
I wasn't in the mood for riddles. My head was still spinning from the math test I had just taken.
We had just finished our Unit Four math test on fractions, and I don't mind telling you, it was the most confusing test I had ever taken. Math isn't my idea of fun to begin with. And tests, unit or otherwise, definitely don't make it onto my top ten list of "Things to Look Forward To on a Monday Morning." I guess if I was like our class genius Heather Payne, who has never gotten anything lower than an A on any test, I might have a different opinion of tests. But when your highest grade ever on a math test is a D plus-well, that kind of sucks any possible fun right out of the picture.
And fractions, who invented them anyway? Probably the same guy who invented decimal points. I don't get the point of either fractions or decimal points.
I don't get the point of decimal points. Hey, that's not bad. Way to make yourself laugh, Hank Zipzer!
I must have spaced out for a second, enjoying my little joke, because suddenly I heard Ms. Adolf speaking to me.
"Henry," she barked. "Did you hear me? I said itchy knee . Do you know what comes after that?"
I looked down at my knee. Now that she brought it up, I noticed that it was itching a bit. But how could Ms. Adolf could possibly know that? Oh no! Maybe she had invented a secret itch detector device and tucked it in the waistband of her grey skirt. Maybe at this very minute, she was scanning everyone in the class for mosquito bites or patches of itchy dry skin. Wow, that thought gave me the creeps. If there's one thing you don't want, it's your fourth grade teacher secretly detecting your private skin conditions.
Ms. Adolf was still staring at me. Not so much staring as glaring, burning two holes into my forehead. She wasn't going to back down on this knee thing until I answered.
"Actually, I do have kind of an itchy knee," I finally said. "On a scale of one to ten, with one being "no itch" and ten being "it itches so bad that you have to scratch for an hour," I'd say it itches three."
Everyone in the class burst out laughing.
"I can't believe you, Zipper Zit!" Nick McKelty howled from the row in back of me, blasting out a stream of his rotten egg breath. "You are as dumb as a..."
I guess he couldn't come up with the end of that thought, because he suddenly stopped laughing and looked around the classroom in a panic. His eyes fell on a bulletin board with a poster of a grey whale. I could almost see his big, slow brain latching on to that poster.
"You're as dumb as a whale," McKelty said, looking real proud that he had finished his thought.
"That shows how much you know, McKelty," my best friend Frankie Townsend shot back at him. "Whales are extremely intelligent life forms."
"Unlike you, Nick," my other best friend Ashley Wong chimed in.
Ashley and Frankie live in my apartment building and we hang out together all the time. We've been best friends since pre-school. Trust me, no one can say something mean to one of us without hearing from the other two.
Ms. Adolf clapped her hands three times, which she does when we're talking out of turn without raising our hands. If you talk after that, you get sent to Principal Love's office for one of his boring lectures about how great it is to have self control, because without it, you'll spin into outer space. No one wanted to visit Principal Love, so we all shut up fast.
"I wasn't saying itchy knee, Henry," Ms. Adolf said, turning back to me. "I was saying ee-chee, nee . That's counting in Japanese. Ee-chee is one, and nee is two."
Why didn't she just say that at the beginning? How was I supposed to know she was spewing Japanese? Do I look like I live in Tokyo?
"Does anyone know what comes after ee-chee, nee?" she asked.
"Why don't you ask Ashley Wong?" McKelty hollered out. "I'll bet she speaks Japanese."
Ashley pushed her glasses up on her nose and started twirling her pony tail, like she does when she's mad.
"For you information, I'm not Japanese," she said. "My parents are from China. And here's some breaking news for you, McKelty. Japan and China are two entirely different countries."
"No reason to get so steamed up about it," McKelty muttered.
I thought Ashley was going to wind up and smash her fist into McKelty's arm, but Ms. Adolf clapped her hands three times again.
"Pupils," she said. "This is a very good introduction to our topic. This week we are celebrating Multi-Cultural Day. Everyone in school is going to be learning about people in other countries. Our class is going to be cooking foods from around the world for the special banquet lunch."
Katie Sperling raised her hand and shook it like she had to go to the bathroom.
"Yes, Katie," Ms. Adolf said.
"I hear people in France eat snails," said Katie.
"That's so gross," groaned Kim Paulson.
"I've eaten a snail," piped up Luke Whitman, whose nickname in our class is Captain Disgusto. "I liked the slimy part but I spit out the antennae."
"Eeuuuwww," Katie and Kim both moaned at once. "There should be a law against Luke."
You've got to hand it to Luke, though. He's the only kid I know who would tell the two prettiest girls in the fourth grade that he spits out snail antennae.
Ms. Adolf just ignored Luke, like she usually does.
"To celebrate Multi-Cultural Day, we have a special treat in store for us," she went on. I think she actually smiled a little bit, showing a few of her upper teeth. They were the only thing about her that wasn't gray, but they were on the way to being yellow. "Our classroom is having a visitor from Japan. He's in the fourth grade and his name is Yoshi Morimoto. "
A visitor. That sounded interesting. At least, it sounded much more interesting than the stuff Ms. Adolf usually talks about, like spelling and fractions and note-taking skills.
"Yoshi's father, Mr. Morimoto, is the principal of our sister school in Tokyo," Ms. Adolf explained.
I wasn't sure what a sister school was, but I sure hoped it wasn't anything like my sister Emily. She sleeps with her eyes open and flosses her teeth at the dinner table. I wondered if anything that gross went on at our sister school in Tokyo.
"Mr. Morimoto is touring schools in the United States," Ms. Adolf went on. "He's bringing his son and they're coming to spend two days with us at P.S. 87."
"Can I introduce him my tarantula, Mel?" Luke Whitman asked.
"Absolutely most certainly not!" Ms. Adolf answered.
I could see Frankie trying not to laugh. I knew that he was remembering the exact same thing I was. Once, Luke had brought Mel to class for Pet Day. Mel escaped from his cage and climbed up Ms. Adolf's leg. She screamed so loud you could actually see her tonsils flopping around in the back of her throat.
"To make this visit very special, Mr. Morimoto has agreed to let his son Yoshi sleep over at the home of one of our students," Ms. Adolf went on. "He wants him to see how a typical fourth grader in New York lives. We will be picking one of your families to host Yoshi."
My ears perked up like my dog Cheerio's do when he hears my dad's favorite opera singers screeching on TV.
I hope they pick my family. That would be so cool.
I love having guests from other countries. Well, to be honest, I've only had one. Vlady, he's the sandwich maker in my mom's deli, spent a week with us when he first moved to New York from Russia and was looking for an apartment. We had a great time. He stayed up really late with us, singing this wild Russian song called "Kalinka Malinka" and telling us stories about a circus bear named Igor who followed him to school.
The only bad part was when Vlady brought us a jar of caviar to eat. In case you don't know, caviar is fish eggs. Most of the time, they're bluish-black. They're supposed to be a treat, but how can something that smells so, well, fishy be a treat? When I thought Vlady wasn't looking, I slipped my caviar to our daschund Cheerio. When Cheerio thought I wasn't looking, he pushed it out our tenth floor window with his nose. It landed plop on Mrs. Park's air conditioning unit. It stayed there for three days until a pigeon came by and gobbled it up. Bye bye, fish eggs.
"If you would like to volunteer to host Yoshi, please raise your hand now," Ms. Adolf said.
My hand shot up like a rocket. So did thirty-two others! In fact, the only person who didn't raise his hand right away was Luke Whitman, and that's because his finger was too far up his nose to get it out in time.
Even though everyone else in the class was volunteering, I thought Ms. Adolf should pick me. After all, if things got dull, Yoshi and I could sit around and count to two in Japanese. I could do that, no problem.