By Tim Hayes
Of all the things my wife does for which I’m so grateful, one of the most important happened even before we got married, while still undergrad students together.
Having both pursued majors within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, we shared a requirement of 12 foreign language credits. Through lucky guesses, the ability to become invisible within a classroom, and sheer dumb luck, I somehow stumbled through Spanish 1 and 2 with marginally passing grades.
But when you got to Spanish 3 and 4, one couldn’t hope to slide by any longer. Things became serious. Actual studying needed to occur. These nutty professors actually expected you to become conversant in an entirely different language. I mean, in what kind of a twisted universe (or should I say university?) does this pass as reasonable or sane?
So, realizing I had virtually no hope of faking my way through two more semesters of this spastic Spanish spectacle alone, I did what any right-thinking college guy would do.
I made sure my girlfriend took the class with me.
See, that way, she would force me to study – plus, we could spend more time together. The classic win-win scenario.
For some people, picking up another language comes quite easily. One of our kids has a friend whose brother speaks fluent Cantonese and is quickly mastering another Chinese dialect. One of our daughters speaks German like she had been born in Dusseldorf or something.
These sorts of people do not inhabit the same space, do not breathe the same air, as dumbbells like me. They have my undying admiration and eternal envy, because that skill eludes me, and that’s putting it mildly. When the Good Lord was passing out the DNA for foreign language, I must have been taking a coffee break or gone fishing. I’ve got nothing in the tank on that score.
This became painfully obvious during those final two semesters of college Spanish. I called on my Sweetie to help, but try as she might, she wasn’t a miracle worker. Anne Sullivan got Helen Keller to speak English, but it was gonna take more than that to get Tim Hayes to speak Spanish.
The textbook was no help, either. I remember the two of us working through a story, translating it from Spanish into English, and looking at each other as confused as could be. This couldn’t actually be the correct translation, could it? Turns out it was. The piece told the story of a man who first lost his legs in a car accident, then his arms in some other gory event, then his torso, leaving him with only his head. But that wasn’t goofy enough. The final sentence translated as, “I am a paperweight.”
Now, what in the hell kind of stupid story was that? Like it wasn’t hard enough translating something that actually made sense? The sick textbook writers had to kick it up to that level of bizarre? “I am a paperweight.” Whut?!
Somehow, with my Honey’s help, I survived college Spanish. Still one of the all-time miracles in the history of my life. All I can say, folks, is: Prayer works.
After completing the final exam in Spanish 4 that beautiful May afternoon, I walked out of the foreign language building, straight to my first car, a great old bright-orange Volkswagen Super Beetle. I placed that Spanish textbook behind one of my rear tires, climbed into the driver’s seat, and backed over that hijo de puta (look it up) at least 20 times.
It looked like a piece of roadkill. And I was never happier to destroy something in my life. Looking back, I should have found some other use for it. Perhaps as a paperweight.
Copyright 2014 Tim Hayes Consulting and Transverse Park Productions LLC