Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Lesson

“I’ve been learning to drive my whole life.” – Arcade Fire, “In the Back Seat”

I want to obtain a driver’s license before my five-hour class expires for a third time and, since I haven’t practiced the art of driving a vehicle in several months, I set out to find a superior driving instructor. All of the driving schools back home charged $90-120 a lesson, but here I can get a lesson for $50-60. And how many lessons can I possibly need? I’ve been practicing since I was seventeen years old and sometimes I can even parallel park.

I set an appointment at eight in the morning on a Wednesday to ensure that the lesson would not conflict with my work. At six in the morning I dragged myself out of bed, got ready for work, and went outside clad in an over-sized polo and nametag to meet my instructor.

Unless my instructor was a fourteen-year-old boy in a backpack, a middle-aged man with a lawnmower, or a sentient parked vehicle eager to impart its wisdom, there was no driving instructor to be seen. I checked the mail. I gazed into the eyes of the figure of a plastic owl in a nearby tree. I waited. No instructor.

I went back inside and tried to call the driving school to no avail. It seemed safe to assume that there would be no driving lesson and I was free to waste the next hour per usual. I checked my e-mail. I ate a bowl of delicious lentils. I read a passage of Lolita.

Suddenly the phone rang. I picked it up.

“Hi, Brittany? I’m outside of the country club but I can’t seem to find your house.”

It was the instructor. From this first sentence, I believed she might be more neurotic than I am. I wondered if she was like that all the time or only when losing a potential customer.

“I don’t think I live near a country club,” I explained. “I’m near a cluster of Chinese take-out restaurants.”

“Oh, I don’t know where that is. I looked your address up on MapQuest and I just can’t seem to find your house, but I’m really close.”

“You used MapQuest? Actually, I have to leave for work really soon. It’s been forty minutes and I assumed you weren’t coming…”

“No, I’m coming! I’m really close now,” she said.

“I work at nine-thirty…”

“Well, maybe we could go for a half hour?”

I considered.

“Would a shorter lesson cost less than an hour?”

“Oh, yeah, you only pay for how much time we drive. So we’ll just go for forty minutes and I’ll drop you off at wherever you work.”

“I think I’d rather just reschedule.”

“But I’m so close!”

And then the call dropped. Now I’m reconsidering whether I want to reschedule my lesson with this instructor. The last thing I need is another neurotic person in the car. And do I really want to take lessons from someone who talks on their cell phone while driving? Reflecting on this morning, I'm rather happy that I didn't spend the fifty dollars.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tales from the Leaky Basement

I dreamed that I was in my kitchen and I found a crustacean with an elaborate shell tapping its fingers against the floor. I picked it up by the shell and entertained thoughts of eating it with a hot, buttery sauce and using its elaborate shell to listen to the ocean. Then I heard a sound like a fountain trickling water and wondered if the rest of the ocean was coming with the crab.

When I awoke, I was still in my apartment, cocooned in a duvet and clad in squirrel pajamas. I leaped out of bed in a frenzy, wondering if the source of the trickle was the leak over the window in the living room or the leak over the porthole in the kitchen. It seemed that I had not dreamed up the trickling after all. A cascade of water was streaming from the frame in between our kitchen and living room area, forming a little lake of water that was stretching its arms towards Dave's desktop computer.

I laid out a huge towel and made a run for the landlords upstairs. Olive made a dash for the door, too. She probably was attempting to swim for dry land. 

I burst through the door and cried, "Is your toilet overflowing again!?!"

This actually happened months ago and produced a rather surreal rain shower indoors.

The person who opened the door upstairs did not live there and didn't know the protocol for the leaky basement. She tried waking everyone else up to no avail and then called the handyman, who was an hour or so away.

I returned to the basement, assured that someone would be down to look at it in an hour. The leak had stopped spewing and the towel was soggy from end to end. Olive tried to dash outside again, ready to brave the floods. At this point, I think just about every segment of ceiling in our kitchen has erupted with a leak at some point. Surely this apartment is for the fishes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

You Can Count on Me

A snowy-haired father is dying in his bed, surrounded by three sons. There are cats walking on the headboard, on the dressers, on the carpet. The father coughs and waves over his eldest son.

ELDEST SON: What is it, father?

FATHER: I have something for you…

The father extends his closed hand and the oldest son puts his hand out tentatively.

ELDEST SON: What… is it?

FATHER: It’s a Petco savings card. Don’t lose it. The cats are your responsibility now…

The oldest son takes the savings card.

FATHER: Buy the Science Diet. It’s still on sale….

The father dies. The eldest son clutches the savings card to his heart with a dutiful expression.

ELDEST SON: I love you, Dad.

Fade to black. On the screen, the following appears:

Petco. It’s what your father would want.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Let's Learn Spanish

I want to live in the world of virtual language learning software – a Garden of Eden full of Spanish-speaking families, running horses, and women eating rice. Some of them live in apartments; some of them live in houses. Some of them live near the street and some of them live far from the street. They are all happy, regardless. They play a lot of soccer with children and go bowling with their families. There is no friendlier sub-species of Homo sapiens than the people who populate the world of language learning software. A man can simply walk up to another man who is sitting on the hood of his Cadillac and say, “Hola. You are a man.”

Thirsty people of all ages, races, and nationalities sit around the dining room table together, thoroughly enjoying tall glasses of milk. They relish in each other’s company so much that they laugh in every frame. And let’s not forget the rice. People in language learning software love rice. Nothing gets their horses running quite like it. Bowls of white rice consumed with dexterously maneuvered wooden chopsticks are the social lubricant of their utopia.

If you ran into a man and woman sitting on logs at a camp in the woods – a common occurrence in the world of language learning software – you would casually join them upon that log. They would introduce themselves and tell you they are from Italy. They would give you water. They would give you a bowl of rice. They would take you back to civilization on horseback and many old men on the street would stop and pet that horse and say with great satisfaction, “This is a horse. I am a man” The couple from the woods would introduce you to everyone they know. “This is my mother. This is my sister. This is a police man. This is a Russian. This is a baby.”

You would struggle to figure out what ending you’re supposed to use to address someone new when you say, “Enchanted to meet you.” You would regret leaving your Rosetta Stone lessons to gather cobwebs for five months and mix up the verbs for eating and running. You gloomily recognize that you still can’t make that double-L sound as impeccably as the charming Spanish man who does the voice-over.

But you know it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, you know all of the Spanish you need to thrive in the world of virtual language learning software. The man, the woman, the Russian, and the grandmother will still be smiling when you use the wrong verb tense. If they are aware that you’ve made a mistake at all, they don’t have the words to express it anyways. The world of language learning software is a far simpler one than ours.