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Friday, February 13, 2004  

¿Que the Hell Pasa? (Part Dos)

The fastest way to learn a foreign language is, or course, to immerse oneself in a culture where that language is the primary one. Part of the reason I decided to learn Spanish is because Trash and I were considering going to Puerto Vallarta this spring. Obviously a week of vacation isn't enough time to learn much, but I thought I could make the most of it with enough preparation.

Now it looks like we probably won't be going, but that's okay because I still get to drive down East Lake Street every day on my way home from work. I tune the radio to the Espanol station, and that, along with reading the signs, is like a mini cultural immersion right there. Not that I can understand what they're talking about on the radio, but it makes about as much sense to me as what's happening on my language tapes, and I know all the words on those.

To demonstrate what I mean, I present scenes 5-6. (Part Uno of this series is here.)

Scene 5: Pedro sings an insipid song. This will be a vital plot point later. For now, it's merely the jumping-off point for a half-hour discussion of what Pedro is doing and in what language, and who is doing it, for those of you who can't remember that far back.

The real action goes down when Pedro endeavors to count from one to fifty. He gets stuck on eleven, twenty-one, twenty-two, and twenty-nine; the thirties and forties are a veritable minefield. Fortunately he's at school, and thus he has access to the resources that will help him complete his task. So for help he turns to…the secretary?

I'm not kidding. Every time he hits a bump, he asks Maria for the next number, to Maria's growing irritation. Jeez, senorita, don't blame the kid. Blame his "teacher," who is nowhere to be found. It's not Pedro's fault you have to do the job of two people. Yell at Mr. Garcia when he gets back from the dog track.

Scene 6: We hear coins falling. "Is this music?" our host asks. "No, it's money," his counterpart responds, as if the two are mutually exclusive.

This leads into a vignette of Maria attempting to count her money at her desk. Sadly, she is distracted by—you guessed it—that goddamn kid. Pedro reprises his insipid tune until Maria rudely shushes him: "Pedro! Quiet! I'm counting my money!" I don't remember any school secretaries having to say that to me when I was in first grade.

Eventually, Maria establishes that her earthly fortune comprises fifty pesos—about $4.56 US, according to current exchange rates. Pedro is amazed at her fabulous wealth, even though it's less than what he's paying for tuition.

Maria contemplates the helplessness of her situation: left in charge of an ADD anklebiter by an unstable teacher, underpaid, and unable to save enough money to quit. Fortunately, even the lowliest of individuals can always find somebody worse off upon whom to take out her frustrations.

"And you, Pedro?" she asks sweetly. "Do you have fifty pesos?"

Pedro, of course, does not.

"How much money do you have, Pedro?"

Two or three pesos. Pedro doesn't know exactly.

Maria twists the knife. "Then count your money," she taunts.

Pedro does. All three pesos of it, or twenty-seven cents.

Maria's not done making him squirm. "Ah, thirteen pesos?"

Pedro breaks down. "No, I don't have thirteen pesos. I have three pesos. I don't have ten pesos, I don't have five pesos, I don't have four pesos. I only have three pesos." He struggles to hold back tears.

"Only three?" Maria says. "Oh, what a pity." As if she hadn't been tormenting the kid on purpose. It would have been kinder just to knock him down and steal the money, rather than lording over Pedro the fact that she could buy and sell him fifteen times over and still have enough left over for a gumball. But then, that's not likely, because a) that would be an inappropriate way for a school secretary to behave, and Mr. Garcia would probably disapprove when he found out what happened upon his return from the titty bar; b) then she would have fifty-three pesos, and we haven’t learned the word for fifty-three yet.

Today's best search phrase: "Kidney infections and prickly spots." Can't have one without the other, you know.

posted by M. Giant 3:23 PM 0 comments


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