My Imperfect Indicative Remembered

By |2015-01-08T09:00:00-05:00January 8th, 2015|Opinions, Parting Glances|

It took me a while to get the hang of learning a foreign language. During my undergraduate study at Wayne State University, I tried Spanish, German and Italian, dropping out after half-hearted samplings of the sounds, vocabulary, nuances, richness of each seemingly unmanageable language.
While in Herr Poster’s German 101 class, I memorized, “Ein Mannlein Steht Im Walde.” (A little man stands alone in a forest.) I learned much later that this famous 1843 song is actually a poetic takeoff on the penis. In retrospect, it makes this dropped course somehow memorable.
My failure at languages is not because I’m tonally dense. (After all, I learned my native tongue without too much effort as a kid.) I was just lazy and didn’t apply myself. But there was no getting around it. To fulfill my B.A. degree, I needed 16 language credit hours.
To take the pressure off myself I decided to take one course, and only one, per semester, stretching my language studies out over a university year. ‘What the hell, it’s taken me eight years so far to earn my degree,’ I reasoned. Who’d even notice or care? Certainly not the Guinness Book of Records.
French 101 was conveniently offered evenings. And the teacher, an attractive Mademoiselle Gatti, proved charmingly excellent. “The French say the fingers have a memory of their own,” she told us. And I took the saying to heart. I wrote each noun, verb, adjective, colorful idiom 15 times each.
I received an A in 101, followed by an A in 102 (again with Mlle. Gatti), a B in 103 and a C in 104. The latter grade was due to my failure to grasp the intricacies of the imperfect indicative – coupled with too much partying after class with my last French instructor, Franco D’Amico.
(Franco, who looked not unlike the famous tenor Caruso, served in the Italian Army during World War II, and was a bisexual who played Don Juan in three languages.)
After class, Frank and I would hit the nearby Del Rio bar, a popular Third Avenue hangout crowded with students, grad assistants, bar flies, retirees who mingled convivially and occasionally sponged off each others bar tab.
The owners were Greek brothers-in-law: Alex, a UFO buff, and George, a former Metropolitan Opera tenor who occasionally burst into song. They dubbed Frank “Count Gamesee” (Count Fuck).
From the Del Rio, Frank and I would move on to the Towne Pump, a gay bar located on Detroit’s once fashionable Park Avenue. Frank had a grand passion for female impersonators and usually gamesee’d after I made necessary intros for him.
I’ve lost track of Franco. (Untenured, he was living chez mama while teaching at Wayne.) And the petite et charmante Mlle. Gatti is now, as the French so delicately put it, “use dame d’une certain age.” Alex and George are co-hosting among heavenly opera buffs, and sadly the Del Rio rang down its tattered curtain many operatic moons ago.
When I visited Montreal a few years back, I thought I’d gain international points by speaking French. It was a waste of time. Cab drivers gave me funny looks. Waiters ignored me. I did, however, meet a handsome beau mec named Luc. We parlez-vous’d and couchez’d remarkably well, even if I didn’t understand why he didn’t spell his name Luke.
Come to think of it: all my body parts these days seem to have a memory of their own. C’est la vie!

About the Author:

Charles Alexander