Romance Languages. Definition. Any language derived from Latin.
I loved the idea when I first heard of it as a kid. It sounded so…romantic. And for a guy who dreamed of becoming a writer it seemed the logical thing to do, learn a romance language. I started with Spanish and Latin. I thought it would be cool to talk to chicks in Latin, impress them with my mastery of the language of poets and priests so I concentrated on that.
Then I met Aida.
Aida was our Mexican housekeeper. She didn’t speak a word of English. The family communicated with her through me.
Aida had long dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin, a true Spanish beauty. I could sit and listen to her for hours as she talked in her native tongue while preparing the evening meal. There was something exotic about the way she moved. When she sang Spanish lullabies my heart went pitter-patter. All of the sudden Spanish seemed way cooler than Latin.
Maybe the fact that I was failing Latin also had something to with my sudden desire to focus on Spanish. And living in Texas, close to the Mexican border, it seemed the logical thing to do. Lots more girls spoke Spanish than Latin in Texas.
One day I told my Spanish teacher I was pretty sure I’d become fluent because I’d started thinking in Spanish. He smiled and shook his head
“No. Even a donkey can think in Spanish. The day you will know you are becoming fluent is the day you begin to dream in Spanish.”
Made sense to me. So I waited. Had I known it would take thirty years I might not have bothered.
July 2005, South Padre Island, Texas. My life was a smoking ruin. I’d bankrupted my film company in LA to the tune of $250K. I’d shredded my writing career. Fleeing to Dallas, Texas with little more than my intellectual property and my manhood intact I thought it’d be a good idea to hook up with an ex-stripper who couldn’t stay off the hooch. When that blew up in my face I fell all the way down to South Padre Island at the border of Texas and Mexico where the Rio Grande meets the Gulf Of Mexico. SPI seemed like the closest thing to the end of the earth for me.
I took a job managing the biggest restaurant/club/sports bar on the island, Louie’s Backyard. Most of the employees spoke Spanish and if I was going to successfully navigate a shift at Louie’s I needed to polish my old romance language. So I set about speaking to everyone I could in that sweet tongue I heard Aida sing. But South Texas Spanish was different with it’s own idiom. And the main characteristic of valley Spanish revolved around the verb chingar…too fuck.
Chinga tu madre…Fuck your mother.
Necesito la chingaladero pendejo cabron…I need that fucking thing you goat fucking bastard.
Chingao! Jesus Fucking Christ you fucking idiot I can’t believe you just fucked that up!
And none of them cared that I was a manager. I asked for a recook on a steak, Chinga tu madre. I needed some help carrying shit to the buffet, Chingate. I dropped something in the kitchen, Chingao! But the fact that I cussed right back at them and addressed them as best as I could in their native language earned their grudging respect. That and my beautiful blue eyes. Mexicans, especially the women, are obsessed with blue eyes. They wanted their kids to have blue eyes. They thought my DNA might do the trick.
It was a difficult time on the island.
One night after a particularly hellish shift I dreamed I was trying to get a steak recook out of Ricardo the grill impresario. There were thousands of people in the restaurant and I felt as though I was walking through quicksand. I just couldn’t catch up. I walked by a table full of Monterrey Mexicans and they cussed at me demanding their recook. By the time I made it through the quicksand back to the grill Ricardo would hold up two fingers and tell me just a couple of more minutes. Round and round I went all night. Finally I demanded the steak. He held up a bloody, charred human foot and said, “Chinga tu madre.”
I awoke with a start and realized I’d dreamed the whole nightmare in Spanish.
Fluent at last.
Chinga tu madre.
Fuck your mother.
Language of the Romantics.