Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks
Friday, January 16, 2004 ¿Que the Hell Pasa?
Generally I'm not big on New Year's resolutions. I'm terrible at keeping them. Last year, for instance. I quietly resolved to earn a thousand dollars as a writer, and I missed that by a mile. Blew right past it. God! I'm so stupid! I can't do anything right!
But undaunted by my record of failure, this year I'm setting out to learn to speak Spanish as well as someone who took a year of it in high school. I got a set of tapes and a book for Christmas, and I've been studying them assiduously. They're broken up into a series of lessons, or scenes. I spend a total of an hour with the tapes every day on my commute to and from work. To my fellow drivers, I must look as if I'm having an argument with an invisible Ricky Ricardo. And as in any situation where one is abruptly thrown into close contact with others, I'm quickly learning that the people on the tape are really, really weird.
The message at the beginning of the first tape claims that the course is built around the way children learn Spanish (the subtext being that two-year-olds all over the Spanish-speaking world can speak Spanish; what the hell's your problem?). Appropriately, the tapes follow the trials and tribulations of pint-sized protagonist Pedro. People outside the action comment in Spanish, like on MST3K but without the funny and with a lot more verb conjugations. All dialogue on the tapes takes place in Spanish, and the book translates it. As do I below, so you don't have to dash over to Babel Fish to make sense of what you're reading, which in this case would be even less effective than usual. Keep in mind, everything in quotes is actually said, albeit in Spanish.
The tape also claims to promote cultural understanding, but now I understand less about Spanish-speaking culture than I’ve learned from watching people yell at each other on Univision. Observe:
Scene 1: Pedro, who sounds about seven years old, hears the clock strike nine and realizes it's time for school. He has to knock on the door and be invited in by his teacher, Mr. Garcia. Curious. No other students appear. Apparently it's a private school. Very private.
Scene 2: Mr. Garcia asks Pedro what time it is. Pedro answers that it’s 9:15. You know, Mr. Garcia, if the day’s going that slowly for you, maybe you should consider another career. This will not be the last time that thought occurs to me.
The phone rings. Yes, a phone. In a classroom. And the student has to answer it. Pedro calls to him repeatedly, but Mr. Garcia shows no interest until he hears it’s someone named Maria. Apparently she won’t be in until 10:00. Mr. Garcia tells her it’s fine, then sighs passive-aggressively after hanging up. Pedro imitates the passive-aggressiveness. Mr. Garcia congratulates him. Pedro’s a fast learner.
Scene 3: Pedro counts out American dollars to Mr. Garcia. Perhaps he’s paying his tuition for the year. He gets up to six before Mr. Lopez says, “enough.” As the following moments will indicate, Pedro is overpaying.
Pedro performs a few rudimentary mathematical calculations aloud. Mr. Garcia tells him to shut up. Pedro points out various items in the room. Mr. Garcia tells him to shut up. Pedro fucks with Mr. Garcia’s radio. Mr. Garcia tells him to cut that shit out. Pedro identifies a piano and a violin on various stations (although the latter sounds more like a violin being imitated by a synthesizer a queso), while Mr. Garcia struggles to suppress his murderous rage. Finally, either Pedro’s sense of self-preservation kicks in or Mr. Garcia gags him, because he falls silent.
This is simply tragic. Here we have el profesor, too hung over to help shape the young mind in his charge, instead leaving the boy to make sad, abortive attempts to educate himself. It’s a cry for help, really. Yet Mr. Garcia won’t hear it. If this is what happens when class sizes get smaller, I don’t see why everyone thinks it’s such a good idea.
Scene 4: Maria, an adult, finally shows up. She greets teacher and student, then asks what time it is, all innocent-like. “It’s 10:10,” Pedro announces, his voice full of reproach. He knows full well that he’d be flayed alive for showing up this late. Maria apologizes. Mr. Garcia lets it hang there for a moment, but then he lets it go, presumably because he wants to tap that ass. Or perhaps he doesn’t trust himself not to explode in fury at the nerve of this woman, leaving him alone with a student! He’s a busy man! This online blackjack games aren’t going to play themselves, you know!
Then we hear Maria walking across the room. A chair scraping on the floor. Maria begins typing.
What the hell kind of school is this?
Instead of an answer, we hear the phone ring again. Maria answers and hands it off to Mr. Garcia. Which is fine. It’s not like he’s teaching or anything.
The guy on the other end asks for someone named “Nakamura-San.” Mr. Garcia takes ten minutes to politely explain to the even dumber caller that he’s got the wrong guy, then continues his well-established habit of telephonic two-facedness. “Nakamura?!” he sneers, his voice dripping with toxic scorn. “I’m not Mr. Nakamura; I’m Mr. Garcia. I’m not Japanese; I’m Spanish.” He’s insulted that anyone would think otherwise.
Pedro adds fuel to the fire by barking, “I’m Mr. Nakamura!” Maria cries, “Pedro, please!” If we were up to the vocabulary for “You don’t know what he’s capable of! He’s psychotic! He’s borderline violent! He has World War II flashbacks!” we’d be hearing that now. Instead, Pedro blithely charges on. “I’m Mr. Nakamura and I’m Japanese!”
This cataclysmic announcement hangs in the air. Seconds tick by. Tragic banner headlines flash through Maria’s mind.
“No, Pedro,” Mr. Garcia says after a mighty internal struggle, during which he briefly wonders and then remembers why he doesn’t have a bayonet at hand. “You are not Japanese. You are Spanish.”
“And Maria?” Pedro asks. Maria peeks out from under her desk.
“Maria is also Spanish,” Mr. Garcia says. Maria is also happy to be alive, Maria thinks.
The situation continues to defuse as everyone’s roles and nationalities are reestablished. Pedro is a student. Mr. Garcia is a teacher. Maria is a secretary. They are all Spanish.
Wow. They learn more in this school before 10:15 than most people learn all day.
I was thinking that this could be one entry, but we’ve barely started. Looks like we might have a series on our hands. More of this next week, unless my inbox floods with protests. In that case I’ll wait until the week after.
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Today's best search phrase: "Audition acting lists that I can look at right this minute." Boy, I hear that. You don't ride herd on Google, it'll take weeks to come up with your search results.
posted by M. Giant 4:21 PM 0 comments