Mrs. Bialyschtock's real name was Bialowicz, (BEE-ALO-WITCH). But because of the end of her name and heavy Eastern-European accent, most of the female students called her "The Witch." Nobody said the girls were wrong because Bialowicz was also hunched over, limped and was the strictest teacher in the school. If that wasn't enough, her raggedy "bag-lady" appearance included small, wart-like splotches on her face.
The boys were less critical. They saw her resemblance to the Zero Mostel character from the 1963 movie, "THE PRODUCERS," and simply exaggerated the Max Bialystock name.
Of course sexuality even for pre-teens, is a matter of personal taste and it seemed that Miss B was clearly every little boy's choice. Miss B was less professional, easy-going and a high grader. She was plainly pretty but her overly buxom figure highlighted by buttoned blouses displaying a hint of cleavage or tight sweaters were enough to keep the male students attentive to every move she made.
I was thrilled to be put in Mrs. J's class. She must have thought I was her most knowledge-thirsty student because she was so beautiful that I would just stare at her. Once she sat on her desk cross-legged and read a passage. My mind was clouded by erotic fantasies...that I understood even less than the Spanish lesson. Then while envisioning her and I in the eraser-cleaning closet, I snapped out of the trance when Mrs. J said in English, "Abraham Lincoln" and "Kentucky," in the same sentence.
Some of the other kids saw the humor and politely smirked. But when the balloon of my confused flight-of-fancy popped, my notebook fell on the floor. Everyone laughed. They really laughed when Mrs. J asked me to stand, to answer a question. I refused to get up because I didn't want anyone to see the dent in my pants. Maybe she sensed my predicament and allowed me to remain seated. Still, I had no idea of what she was asking. Thus began my Spanish career that remained on the grade 70%...forever.
The next year it was obvious that I had no grasp for the Hispanic language. This unfortunate fact was typified during an oral recognition test. My new teacher, Miss M had replaced the retired Mrs. Bialowicz. She asked questions in Spanish and the class had to write the proper response, in Spanish. As usual, I was buried. So, on a couple of occasions, I copied off the girl (JS) sitting next to me.
A few days later, I was proud to have gotten a 79% on that test. After class, Miss M asked to see me privately. She accused me of cheating. I went into denial-mode and lied through my teeth. She said in Spanish, "What did you wear to school yesterday?" I had no idea what she said. When I didn't answer Miss M said in English, "How come you answered the question so well on the test and now you can't?" I shrugged, "Lucky guess?" She said, "You know what else is funny, you got the exact same answer as JS...wanna know what the question was?" After she told me she added, "You know what you and JS answered..." I gulped as she continued, "Yesterday, I wore a blue dress to school."
Somehow, Miss M gave me a 70% that year.
In high school I failed sophomore Spanish. I had to re-take it. The repeater class I was put in was all seniors. They were a collection of juvies (juvenile delinquents), druggies and morons, so little teaching went on. I had no competition. So based solely on putting in a decent effort, in a sea of chaos, I was able to assume the role of the star pupil and score a rare 80.
To my chagrin, in college, I was required to take another year of Spanish. I took a Spanish Literature course and did "C" work. One assignment was to read the short story, "EL HOTEL DEL CISNE," (The Swan Hotel). During the professor's lecture, he asked us (in Spanish) to name other birds. Someone said, "Aguila is an eagle." The next few students answered, " Pollo is a chicken," "Cuervos are crows," "Una paloma esta un pigeon "and "buitre is a vulture." I was thinking that buitre sounded like a cool word when Professor S added in Spanish, "Does anyone know what kind of bird a *pato is?" When I broke out into laughter, S shocked the class by saying in English, "Ah, I see Senor Edelblum has a deeper knowledge of Spanish than he lets on."
*Pato - Is a Spanish slang term for a homosexual.
Professor S and I developed a friendly bond. At the end of the semester, I was rewarded with a C+. The problem was, Brooklyn College did not use plus or minus grades. I even begged him to give me a B--- but my plea didn't sway him...maybe the bond he sought was more than friendly?
During the next semester, my last bit of formal Spanish training was highlighted by a test on the subjunctive tense. An hour before that certain failure, I bumped into FLOWGLO. She was a Spanish major. She said, "They should only teach conversational Spanish. Even if you were addressing parliament in Madrid, the subjunctive wouldn't be necessary." She sat down and drilled the normal grammar for these tests into me...complete with the typical exceptions to the rule.
The 83% I earned on that exam should have been the high water mark of my Spanish career, (the next highest grade was a 71 and nobody else broke 50). That professor (G) threw out the test results and blamed himself. At the end of the year, I got a C.
Today, I can not speak Spanish. But I have probably gotten more practical use out of the language than most of the students who breezed to high grades and immediately forgot it. Down through the years, I have used the little I know to help and/or entertain Latino friends and customers...even at the risk of being laughed at. In Las Vegas, my Hispanic friends at the Golden Nugget nicknamed me El Gato (The Cat)...because even though I bastardized their language, they thought I was, as cool as a cat, for trying.
In Atlantic City, in the early 1990's, I used to say that I only got hired because the administrators were impressed that on my application, I included that I was "mono-lingual." A lot of people thought that joke was funny especially my new Latino friends. Soon I mentioned my El Gato nickname and I'm happy to say that moniker has survived (with a select few friends) down through all the years. One of those friends (J) had been a fly-weight boxer in his homeland, Paraguay. Despite being short, his heavily scarred face and muscular physique made him a chick magnet.
One night (1992?) our "cougar" supervisor (way before the term cougar was in vogue) asked J if he ever played the Vulture Game? I chimed in, "Buitre is the Spanish word for vulture." My supervisor didn't like that I interrupted her while she was conducting the business of hitting on him. But my vocabulary and pronunciation impressed J. The cougar repeated herself and J said, "I never heard of the Vulture Game. How does it go?" She said, "I play dead, you drag me home and eat me." J laughed it off, (these days, he could have made a case for sexual harassment).
|WHAT A COINCIDENCE, ALL THE INTERNET PHOTOS I SAW OF VULTURES WERE FROM SPANISH SPEAKING COUNTRIES.|
This would have made a great, "CANDID CAMERA," moment because when he paused I stupidly said in fluent Spanish, "Si." The man set a fifteen-hundred dollar bet on the table as another man threw the dice. The stickman called out, "Three craps, line away." When I scooped up the man's losing bet, he went berserk. He was so loud and angry that the game came to a standstill until a real translator could be found.
I soon learned that the question the man was asking was, "Am I the next shooter?" And the man only wanted to bet if he was going to throw the dice..to which I confidenly said, "Si." Management took a hard stance and refused to give his money back. They explained through the interpreter that if the bet had won, the man would have been paid. I could still hear the man screaming when he sat at a blackjack table on the other side of the casino.
I have had enough real life, funny and embarrassing applications of Spanish, to fill another blog. Maybe I'll call that one, "SPANISH - 102." My son Andrew took French in seventh grade or should I say French took him. He saw the more practical use for Spanish and requested it. But through a clerical error, he was given French. We found out it was quick fix, but once Andrew saw how many of his friends were in his classes, he decided not to switch.
Andrew did well in French but there were few, if any, real life applications for it. Therefore, he missed out on the potential for funny or embarrassing moments while using it. Now in college, he decided to fulfill his foreign language requirement by taking Spanish from scratch, (Spanish - 101).
Come to think of it, Andrew's was exposed (slightly) to Spanish in first grade. That's when his teacher found out I "knew" Spanish and asked me to make a game for an end of year activity.
I came up with a simple, sound recognition matching game, "Spanish Bingo." The "B" column were colors, "I" was simple vocabulary, "N" was pronouns, "G" was numbers and "O" was animals. So if I called out "O, Gato," the kids would search their "O" column for Gato (which would include in small letters...the English translation).