I started taking Spanish in junior high School. That was back in 1971. My teacher was Mr. Schermerhorn. He was a tall man who walked with a limp and a cane. When he wasn't leaning on the cane, he was pointing with it. No, I don't know why he limped.
I was a serious student in junior high School. My plan was to be a doctor, and I knew that I needed good grades for that. I told my parents that if I had a tape recorder it would help me to learn Spanish better.
So, they bought me a tape recorder. It was a small reel-to-reel recorder. I used it for school, and I used it for fun. Being able to record my own voice was kind of a big deal in 1971.
Looking back, I remember only two things from Mr. Schermerhorn's Spanish class.
First, I remember he once told a girl in the class that she was vivacious. I had never heard that word before, and neither had she. Mr. Schemerhorn defined the word for the class. In case you don't know, it means "lively and animated, or full of life." The word fit her personality perfectly. English words and their meanings interested me a lot back then.
The other thing I remember is Mr. Schermerhorn explaining to our class that "the demographics" were telling us that America was going to become much more Hispanic in the coming years.
Demographics was another new word for me. It means: 'statistical data relating to the population and particular groups within it.' Mr. Schermerhorn told us that there are people who study "the demographics," and they can sort of "see the future."
When Mr. Schermerhorn told us this 47 years ago there was not a single Hispanic student in the school, and it was a suburban school with hundreds of students in each graduating class. There were no popular Mexican restaurants back then (like Taco Bell). Mexican food was not part of our American diet. If there were immigration problems on America's southern border, I don't remember (and I watched the news on television almost every night). But Mr. Schermorhorn and his demographics proved to be amazingly prescient.
That being the case, I'm always interested in learning about demographic trends, especially as they apply to business and the economy. I take demographics seriously.
After two years of junior high Spanish class with Mr. Schermerhorn, I took three more years in high school with Mrs. Fountain.
Mrs. Fountain was the most vivacious school teacher I have ever known. She was a vivaciousness dynamo. Her vivaciousness was powerful. You could not be in her class without being affected by it. I liked Mrs. Fountain a lot.
When I became a senior in high school, I stopped taking Spanish. Mrs. Fountain had moved to another school district. The new Spanish teacher was not vivacious. Mrs. Fountain was a hard act to follow. Besides that, I was much less interested in school. I no longer wanted to be a doctor. I just wanted to get out of that place!
Now, after 5 years of Spanish class, I recall almost no Spanish at all. If you don't use it, you lose it, and I lost it. I remember a few assorted words but not many.
I do, however, remember one single sentence of conversational Spanish from Spanish class. I don't know why I remember this one sentence. I just do. And one day, many years after Spanish class, I spoke the sentence to a Hispanic person.
I'm sure I won't do that again. Let me explain...
In the beginning of 2000, I started a job working at a state prison here in New York. I worked there for 13 years. There was a large factory inside the prison walls, and my job was to supervise inmates in the production of office furniture.
Every different shop in the factory had one or more civilian supervisors, a number of inmate employees, at least one guard, and an inmate clerk. The clerk was a position of big responsibility. He helped to manage the flow of work, keep track of inventory and, to some degree, manage the inmate employees.
My most memorable clerk was a young man from South America. He went by the name of Chino (it wasn't his actual name). My understanding was that Chino had one body outside of prison, and one body inside prison. That's a nice way of putting it.
Chino was good natured and always respectful towards me. He spoke English perfectly, and he spoke Spanish fluently. We had a good working relationship for the years that he was my clerk.
One day I was standing in my shop near Chino's desk and he was talking fast and loud in Spanish to another inmate across the shop. When he was finished I casually mentioned to him: "You know, I took five years of Spanish in high school." He seemed surprised to hear it.
Then I confessed that I forgot almost all of it, but I remembered one single sentence. He said, "What's the sentence?"
With my very best Spanish enunciation I said, "Pues date prisa que vas a llegar tarde."
Chino looked at me blankly for a second (he was thinking), then furrowed his brow and, with a big smile spreading across his face, said, "I have no idea what you just said."
I laughed, and he laughed.
So, after taking five years of Spanish in school, I got laughed at the first time I tried to speak it to a Hispanic person. But I also got this blog story out of it. So it wasn't a total loss.