Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Debbie Downer Day

Today was a bad day!

I woke up with a sore throat and I felt exhausted so I decided to sleep a little extra and get to the second half of my morning class and arrive after the break.

Even though it was ominously grey, I decided that Paris rain is never really more than drizzle (WRONGO!), so I took the bike. It was actually quite nice, how dark it was, the flocks of dark birds overhead, the views. Gothic. But then...

Got lost.

Started to pour.

No left turns.

I was also feeling meek about rules and cops, especially after yesterday's French lesson revolving around breaking the law and the fingerwag I got from the cop on the street.

After riding for 45 minutes, I gave up on arriving at a reasonable hour and just started to doddle. Or toddle. Or doodly doo. Whatever it is those Japanese people do. Oh yes, potter.

I arrived in time for lunch and assuaged Terese and Alexis' fears that I'd somehow died on the way home last night. Reasonable, considering that although I'm often late, I've never missed a class.

I was sad to miss the morning session. Little did I know that I'd feel worse by attending the afternoon. The topic today was "home repairs." I was put into a group with an elderly gentleman we'll call Max. His French is undecipherable. I have the dubious honour of being from the same hometown, although he probably would never believe it, given my face, or to put it more bluntly, my race.

He is insufferable in class because he goes on and on and on in his made-up French, which is neither here nor there although the accent is a perfect blend of faded British and Valley Girl. What I didn't already know about him is that he's a big baby. He needed to be coddled and was inexplicably petulant at every turn.

We were supposed to role-play a conversation between a frustrated property owner and a contractor. You know, enact a conflict. He refused to play along and instead insisted on scripting everything. I am not about to have Old Man Valley Girl write my lines. Plus, as I exasperatedly explained to him, it's an oral class, not a gibberish screenplay class.

Finally, we ploughed our way through a scenario which involved me being angry with him for breaking a pipe in my kitchen while doing renovations. I played my anger with the ferocity of a would-be actor in her first community play. It didn't take much.

A third member of our group was from Russia. After some chitchat which involved us each telling each other our ethnicity ("Je suis coreene") she asked me if I could speak Chinese. I said, "Non, est-ce que tu apprends le chinois?" Why else would she ask me if I speak Chinese? She looked puzzled and said, "Non." So that was our third group member.

Our teacher wisely asked us to present last, as past experience has shown that Max will take up the entire class time with his strange tangents. Unfortunately, time restraints don't really stem that issue.

Halfway through the presentation, halfway to the light at the end of the class, Max brought up an heretofore undiscussed subplot. "My wife left me! My children left me! I am but a poor worker!" At this point, he started shaking uncontrollably. He took off his glasses to wipe his eyes. He was jiggling in his seat at the front of the class, but no noise was coming out. His face had turned beet red.

He was laughing.

I didn't dare look at the class but Max's partners from last week were in one corner, and I could feel that entire corner reverberating with the same uncontrollable laughter. It was contagious. Instead of interjecting to try and save our doomed presentation, I shook with laughter in my own seat. I covered my face. Half the class (students who were acquainted with Max) took the opportunity to laugh out loud with Max, rather than hide it as usual. The other half of the class, new students, were just entirely bewildered, Russian included.

Max recovered. And then he told the Russian (playing a surveyor from the insurance company) that the reason he hadn't performed the contracting job properly was because his wife suspected that he was having an affair with me. He levitated briefly, raising his arm to point at me dramatically. Who knew this presentation could veer SO FAR off the rails?

Max managed to hog the presentation time, as usual, and somehow communicated that he would place a basin under the broken pipe, "Gratuit!" He said "Gratuit!" with a flourish that started in his elbows and ended in jazzhands. I'm sure nobody understood was he was saying but me (Russian included), and the only reason I got it was because he had finally gotten back to the previously discussed plotline. However, this is where I decided to ad lib.

"Bon! D'accord!" To the class: "Nous avons fini. Merci."

I quickly hopped out of the seat at the front of the class and marched straight to the back. The prof smiled encouragingly and said, in French, "But you're satisfied with that solution? To place a basin to collect the water from the broken pipe? You described your kitchen as looking like a tornado hit it! You're accepting a basin?"

To which I replied: "Oui."

I just needed to get the hell out of there.

A final word on Max: he will say really weird things out of nowhere. He will not stick to the agenda, the agenda being class. When I was arduously trying to commandeer the sinking ship of our group preparation, he just looked at me and said, "Et ton amie?" I was confused. I was sadly all too aware that I don't have a single friend in that class. "Ton amie!" He pointed to the other Asian girl in the class. I said in plain English, "I don't know her." And then in his crazy French, he went on to explain that he thought we were friends and he also thought we were the same person. Normally, one would forgive his terrible French and assume he means one or the other but I actually think he meant the two things as he expressed them. That's Max.

All afternoon in class, I stared out the window as it rained cats and dogs, or as the French say, "Il a plu des cordes." I thought of my bike. It kept raining.

I had a black cloud over my head by the time afternoon class was done. The one bright spot today was that I met with Alexis for a drink and she took me to a great bar in the Marais called "Le Perle." The entire place was filled with uber-hipsters except for 2 slimey suits. Guess who came over to engage us in conversation until we finally high-tailed it? Let's hope tomorrow is better.


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