The 1,763-Day Weekend
Part 9 — And a Happy Anniversary to You Too!

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Puerto VallartaBy the Vallerta trip in late-February ’09, I had completed four levels of Spanish at the YMCA. I still couldn’t carry a full, prolonged conversation, and if someone spoke too fast or with too much Mexican slang, it all sounded like percutive “také pota ka” to me.

If I really concentrated, I could often follow what was being said on TV. But sustaining that level of concentration was exhausting. And it’d be almost impossible with NowEx, not just because I was stressed out for wanting to please him, but because of his temper I mentioned earlier that would flare up when I’d get it wrong or just plain didn’t get it. A patient teacher he wasn’t.

Interestingly, I had less trouble understanding a friend who had travelled with us to Vallerta — damn it, I can see his face clearly but can’t for the life of me remember his name right now, so even if it’s rude, I’ll just refer to him as WhatsHisName. NowEx had told me that he wasn’t university-educated like his other friends and that he supposedly had an odd accent because he was originally from Veracruz. That initially had me worried about how it would be like travelling with him. However, despite (or because of?) the fact he knew perhaps fewer than 12 words in English, he was better than NowEx at speaking slowly and enunciating clearly.

I remember one morning when NowEx let him into our room while I was still in bed. Passing by me as he headed to our balcony, broad smile on his face, he gestured to me not to get up and said, “Estás de vacaciones!” and I immediately understood: “Don’t get up. You’re on vacation!” Another night, he and I were sitting on the rooftop terrace of our hotel and we managed to stretch out a conversation. Granted, I frequently found myself saying, “¿Cómo se dice…?” but he quite often managed to help me find the words I either didn’t know or couldn’t remember.

On the other hand, with NowEx, that trip to Vallarta turned into a progressively worsening nightmare for me. Because I still had trouble sustaining a conversation in Spanish, he mistook that inability on my part as meaning that I was also unable to understand much of any Spanish. So, he began playing this macho schtick with his friends — I suspect those of you who met him are giggling at the juxtaposition of “macho” with “NowEx” — about his slow (and possibly dim-witted) husband. Clearly he didn’t understand that I’d indeed have to be pretty dim-witted not to understand from his gesturing alone, but worse, he didn’t understand that I was then able to string enough Spanish words in my head to understand easily half if not three-quarters of what he was saying. In fact, his not understanding this fact about me turned out to be one of the biggest nails in the coffin of our demise a few months later.

But my Vallarta nightmare reached its climax on our last night in town, at a restaurant where we’d gone already earlier in the week. The food was excellent but the noise inside that place was deafening, and the only table where we could be seated was small and cornered off. (Decryption: things weren’t going NowEx’s way.) Still, once we were seated, NowEx insisted on pointing at utensils and condiments on the table to prompt me to name them. When I couldn’t recall salsa pica despite him having told me a dozen times before, I made a gesture of my hand going upwards over my head to signify, “It’s all going over my head” (and to imply that I was too tired after a long day in the sun to remember anything at this point). Unfortunately — yes, very unfortunately for me — he interpreted my gesture as meaning something else.

He sulked and said nothing to me for the remainder of the meal, which unfortunately had just started, and barely spoke to our travelling companion. When we left the restaurant, paying as always with my money because he never had any, he started walking half a block ahead of me and WhatsHisName and headed not to the nightclub where we were supposed to go after dinner but directly back to our hotel. Our buddy had no idea what the heck was going on, and all I knew is that I had apparently committed such a heinous crime that I would have hell to pay as soon as we got back to our hotel room.

“Don’t even speak to me,” he said as he barged into our room and I followed behind him. “I’m so angry right now, I can’t stand being stuck in this room with you right now. I don’t want to sleep in the same bed as you. I don’t think I even want to be married to you anymore.”

What do you say to that? Fall to your knees in front of him, beg for forgiveness for a crime whose nature still eludes you, and give the best blow job ever to emphasize the sincerity of your apology? I would think not! At the same time I had a moment of panic, thinking about whether or not I would know how to get to the Vallerta airport on my own, beeline to Toluca from where we’d flown, find a bus to Benito Juarez airport, and pay whatever I would have to pay to take the next plane back to Montréal. Then, just as I vaguely remembered that I had managed to get through Mexican customs on my own and entirely in Spanish just a few days back — Mexican custom officials are clearly more patient than NowEx — he started talking again and finally telling me how he’d interpreted my hand gesture, which came as a total surprise to me.

Damn! Had I really accidentally tripped up on the hand gesture that means “Go fuck yourself” in Mexico? But I soon discovered that, no, it was HIS interpretation of my gesture — proof in his mind that I wasn’t really serious about learning Spanish and being able to go about on my own in Mexico.

A bunch of other stuff was said, but after more ranting on his part than I ever care to remember, things simply turned downright silly. I suggested that he cool off by going to the club where we were supposed to go while I would stay in the room to pack, but that earned me a curt “I don’t need your permission to do anything!” He then ordered that we stop talking, to which I said, “Fine! Then let’s stay here and pack so we’ll be ready first thing in the morning.”

After about 15 minutes of saying absolutely nothing and packing, he looked over to me from where he was standing at the other side of the room and asked, “What? Is it going to be like this for the rest of the trip?”

I dropped my arms to my sides with a shirt in one hand, looked at him with what could only have been shock and incomprehension in my face, and said, “But you just said that you don’t want us to talk anymore!”

“Oh, well,” he said, pausing a little. “Now I want to talk.” The look on his face couldn’t have been more pathetic.

Trust me, dear readers, when I tell you that, thus far, I’ve merely selected some of the worst incidents. If with this last account I haven’t yet managed to get you thinking that NowEx is certifiable, then I doubt there’s anything I can tell you that will lead your thinking in that direction. However, I trust you understand better now why I started my Skype semi-revolt once I got back to Montréal in March ’09.
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