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In uncertain times, a Rock of comfort
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In uncertain times, a Rock of comfort

From the Our coronavirus coverage is free to read. Find it here. series

In these uncertain times, it’s important to find ways to stay positive and to take heart in the things we enjoy.

Erika Van Ert has Dwayne Johnson. The Rock. Possessor of the People’s Elbow. Chef of whatever The Rock is cooking. Movie star. Inspiration for bald men everywhere.

“I used to watch wrestling, and my mom did not like it all,” the Kelly Walsh teacher said. “The guy I was dating liked to watch the wrestling. At first I thought it was stupid. Then I discovered how handsome (The Rock) was, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m OK with this.’”

Van Ert’s affinity for the former University of Miami football player has bled over into her sophomore English class; she likes to slip The Rock into her grammar examples. Imagine her wielding one of those old-timey wooden pointers and carefully walking through Rock-themed sentences about semicolons and effect vs. affect. “Here’s something to know about The Rock: He is handsome.” “He is someone whom I would like to hug.” “The Rock has affected my life in more ways than can be counted.”

This has not gone unnoticed.

“Basically a few times in English during class, our teacher would talk about how she had a crush on The Rock or something like that,” sophomore Jiayang Liu said. “She always talked about it, his bald head and stuff.”

Liu and Van Ert said her classroom walls are covered in internet jokes (OK, they’re memes, but this is a newspaper). Just before school was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic last month, Liu swapped out the images with Rock-themed replacements. “The look on my face when students turn their work in on time” became “The look on my face when The Rock takes his shirt off.”

Van Ert said the swap was funny, but because the physical classroom was closed, she thought the joke was done.

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Alas, she did not smell what Photoshop was cooking.

The classes moved online. Van Ert recorded a video for her students, checking in with them and saying she missed them. Liu took a still image from the video, in which a picture frame is perfectly situated over Van Ert’s right shoulder. With some careful computer work, Liu cropped out the image that was there before (a copy of the Gettysburg Address) and replaced it with The Rock, striding shirtless toward the camera.

“A picture is worth a thousand words” is printed in black next to him. Indeed.

The switcheroo is so good it’s easy to miss. Liu posted the new image on a class thread and quipped that he liked Van Ert’s poster.

“I thought, ‘Oh, maybe he loves history,’” she said, unaware that President Abraham Lincoln’s seminal speech had been replaced by the People’s Elbow (and the People’s Rest of the Body). “Then I clicked on the picture, and I just cracked up.”

Liu did it again after Van Ert posted another video (this time a session with students). Yet again, a picture frame is positioned perfectly behind her. From the top rope comes Liu, editing in a smiling Dwayne, an image that looks like it’s been pulled from a yearbook in which The Rock was voted Most Likely to Somehow Be The Highest Paid Actor in Hollywood.

“The second one is awesome because — one of my friends pointed it out — it looks like he’s looking at me and it looks like he’s checking me out,” Van Ert said, “so that’s kinda fun.”

Have Liu’s hi-jinks come to an end? Will there be more of the People’s Champion?

“Yeah, probably,” he said.

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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