Monday, February 3, 2014
What's Spanish for Annoying Loud Boy?
As we have previously discussed, I have a passing familiarity with a number of languages, including French, Redneck, Spanish and Sign. You name a language and odds are I can say ‘chicken’ and ‘bathroom’ with relative ease and accuracy.
If you didn’t know, my first two years of high school my mother managed a motel called the Nicholson House in Paris, TX. While it had a storied past, we were told, by 1984 it was a jewel past its prime, like Meg Ryan or a '78 Chrysler Cordoba.
Although I was embarrassed to admit we lived there, it was often fun. We had a pool, Centipede in the game room, a Chinese Buffet in the lobby and I got to work the switchboard, which was something like Lily Tomlin one-ringy-dingying; there were cords that you plugged into the board and then dialed the number for the people. You could even eavesdrop. Not that I would ever do that. I have no interest in secrets, dear reader. The fact that the Rivercrest High newspaper staff named me “Most Likely to Tell a Secret” is coincidental at best.
One of the unique traits of this particular establishment was that half of the rooms were kitchenettes that you could rent by the week or month. This was particularly popular with construction crews that were attempting to gentrify the less fabulous parts of Paris proper.
My sophomore year at Rivercrest High, I was taking beginner’s Spanish, but due to a car wreck or something our new teacher, Senora Franklin, had been unavailable and for the first couple of months of school we had a substitute teacher. I got more useable Spanish from Morgan Freeman on The Electric Company, people. Numbers and colors were mastered, do you hear me? Verb tenses, not so much. However, by Homecoming or so, Senora Franklin was no longer ausente (which is Spanish for absent). Upon her arrival, in gauchos, knee boots and a side ponytail, we dove head first into conjugation which sounded dirty but wasn’t. The first phrase I learned, unsurprisingly, was ‘calle te!’ That means ‘shut up’ in Spanish. I learned this the second day of class. Verbosity is my middle name; my last name is control.
One evening, my mother and I were sitting in our apartment either reading or watching Knight Rider, when we heard a commotion in the parking lot. My father had redesigned 6 motel rooms into a semblance of an apartment. The best part was 5 bathrooms; the worst was my parent’s closet as well as mine, were turned into a hallway to access the other bedrooms. Off the living room, there was a large balcony that overlooked the property, so my mother and I decided to investigate. My Uncle Bill (my father’s sister’s husband) was the night watchman but he was hard of hearing and usually asleep.
The sight that greeted us was a large tenant of Hispanic origin who was being accosted by one of our more senior residents, Miss Lucille. Her 92 ½ year-old, bottle-of-wine-a-day vision had led her to believe her fellow resident, wearing only khaki shorts and himself inebriated, was nude and she felt compelled to use her umbrella as the device to drive home her stance that this was, in fact, unacceptable.
My mother, ever the problem solver, decided to intervene and I wanted to watch, but like Bette Midler, only from a distance. My siblings were more entranced by David Hasslehoff. In retrospect anything was better than Knight Rider. In context, most things paled in comparison. And don’t act like you didn’t watch, too. My family did not singlehandedly keep that show in the Top 10.
My mother, upon rebuffing Miss Lucille and redirecting her to her room with the promise of a free egg roll the next day at lunch, attempted to ask the gentleman if he was part of the road crew, managed by a man named Juan.
My mother said, “Do you work with Juan?”
The Man said , “Que?”
I interrupted “Moootherrrrr. He is oooobviously Hispanic and of course I will have to interpret.”
My mother, “I need someone who knows more than colors and numbers, sweetie, but thank you.”
Me, “Mooootherrrr. You know I am almost semi-fluent, right? Riiiight?”
My mother, “Okay, honey. How do I ask him if he works for Juan?”
Me (out loud), “Hmmm. Well trabajar means ‘ to work’ so yo trabajo would be I work so tu trabaja would be you work so it’s a question so say (suddenly very loudly) TU TRABAJA CON JUAN.” Which if shown phonetically and I was being honest probably sounded more like TEW TRAYBAHO COWAN WAWUN.
She looks at me with that look (you know that look) but turns to him and attempts to repeat the phrase and I interrupt her to remind her to trill her Rs, so it’s more authentic. Then I try to demonstrate how to trill one’s Rs. From the balcony. At top volume. It’s a testament to her good nature that I was allowed to reach puberty.
Of course, the entire time The Man was swaying gently and repeating “Que? Que?”
Realizing that neither of us had a knack for languages, my mother decided to mime “work”. All the while I am screaming TEW TRAYBAHO COWAN WAWUN. My mother starts to mime a shoveling motion and he stops swaying to watch her. She keeps repeating, very loudly (it must be genetic) DO YOU WORK WITH JUAN followed by air-shoveling. At one point she pats the ground and, misunderstanding, the man lay down in the parking lot and smiled a triumphant smile.
Fortunately my screaming quasi-Spanish phrases had roused the aforementioned Juan who came out to collect his employee. Feeling quite proud of my bilinguality, I said, “See? I toooold you I could speak Spanish, moootherrrrr.” She replied, “Yes you did, sweetie. Good job.”
And I always blamed my father for her looking tired all the time.