Roof Poopin’

It was a terrace Saturday and maybe we were just basking out there but Savi looked over the kneewall separating us from the neighboring rooftops and there, furtively picking a path between the terra cotta tiles, crept a little orange kitty. Being an experienced kitty rancher on the order of the Bubbles character from Trailer Park Boys, I proved once again the time-honored truth that cats will swallow their fear as long as they can wash it down with delicious, delicious meat.

At first I’d set a strip of jamon serrano on the knee-wall to see a little orange paw flash up and claim it. Maybe I’d dangle a strip of bacon or some chicken skin and let him war with his instincts and lose. Little by little, with constant persuasion-by-protein, the kitty gained the courage to leap onto the terrace. A bowl was set for him and on it the usual meat scraps or else a little white milk puddle for the lapping. Soon his skittishness became persistence and on a fateful day, he stepped through our door.

Last night he wedged himself between us in bed (no doubt the warmest spot in the house). He knows how to open our living room window and worse, the refrigerator door. We once were alerted to his presence by a quiet scratching from inside the fridge; he’d opened the door and under its own weight it’d shut on him, casting him immediately into cold darkness for we don’t know how long. We buy him cat food and give him pens to play with. He disappeared for a week and lately returned sans his male equipment, so he’s got owners several rooftops over who care for him. We’re thinking of buying flea collars in several different colors so as to fuck with his real parents big time. Of course his name is Kitty, the same as all of the cats who’ve leapt in and out of my life. The rooftops are his toilet and hunting ground, and as we’re in an arid climate rather than receive the sort of gifts given by temperate-weather cats (birds, mice, moles, rabbits) we get halves of lizards and bats. The lives of kitties are mysterious and wonderful.

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The Language Forge

In terms of the “just go” experiment, I can’t say I’m doing poorly. My most recent survey has revealed that I entertain 31 students over something like 22-25 hours per week. That’s running on almost no plan, coming here fresh and unknown to a 17,000-person town. The phone is still ringing from anonymous numbers, people looking for “huecos” (gaps in my schedule) and by now I’ve passed off several students to other Americans as I can’t possibly field another failing Spanish teenager. In essence I’m making what I did in the US in just over half the man-hours in a country where unemployment for my age range hovers around 40%. The weeks fly by.

My Spanish, which was also rudimentary on my arrival, has since grown and improved steadily. I can hold conversations with anyone about any topic which might come up on an average day, from global/national issues to the day’s weather (an absurdly popular topic here). I have failed to study earnestly, and so am behind my goal of not reading and writing Spanish like a child. Also, I make regular mistakes in conversation but nothing which bars my meaning from coming across. In the interest of keeping it polished I’m thinking of turning to old lucha libre films and/or original literature and SpanishDict.com for support. Maybe South America comes after Thailand for us, so I’d like not to land there green as I was that October day in Madrid.

 

Slippery People

I woke up this morning with “Slippery People” by the Talking Heads in my ears and sure enough, today has begun to take funky turns and shake its booty as if it were as loaded as the backup singers in “Stop Making Sense”. For reference:

On the face of it, no one’s having more fun than those onstage and to be sure, I’d have given anything to up there in some other life. Sometimes when you whip your tail in funky splendor, though, there is shrapnel: we made sounds this morning, the girlfriend and I, which indeed were funky but of the discolored variety which, admittedly, lend relief to the lush sounds we’re capable of. She intends for me a potential disappointment which she’s suffered this year and feels unwilling to suffer next year. It’s about work, about where and what hours, and it’s ugly. Working in a high school and normal hours has jaded her against working again in that capacity in Thailand; rather, she intends to split her time between very tiny children in the late morning and extracurricular work later in the afternoon/early evening, leaving me to work a regular day with 9-11 yr old children at a regular elementary. Maybe not too hard to savor, but for me it is and let me explain why.

Let’s pretend that we’re dancing the night away together at a Talking Heads concert at CBGB’s. Let’s also pretend we’re the same sex, and likewise are attracted to people of a common gender. You turn to shake awhile with someone and after a while, turn back to me a little turned off, with a sour look on your face. You plead with me to dance with that person who, granted, I may have danced with anyway but given your point of view of the situation, knowing that you yourself wouldn’t do it, I’m given to feeling that I’m expected to wear a mantle you would pass up should it appear again before you. You plead with me to dance with that person because if I don’t, you’ll be made to dance with them again.

Thus the funk falls in glops and gloops all over us and jams up our eyes and ears. A good wingman would fall on the grenade, wouldn’t they? What gives me pause is the feeling that I should owe it to her to do it because “it’s my turn”…to do what? To be disappointed? To become jaded? Perhaps had I known we were taking turns being broken on the wheel, I’d feel less suspicious. Perhaps if I could imagine myself asking someone to do something I’d sooner scorn, I’d feel less suspicious.

I sense envy lurking in this argument. I sense it has to do with the cold day, the early rising which runs contrary to her nature, the hostile atmosphere of her teacher’s lounge, the regularity of her dread for the workday…or am I selfish? Do I covet my mornings? Have I become dependent on the schedule I’ve built? Is my mind closed to a new experience? From the bottom to the top, we’re confounded in our towers.

 

The Radio

In an hour I’ll be on my way to Bar Ramirez, a great brown building made of wood, to meet Elena. She’s a ranking teacher at the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas next to Suarez Figueroa high school. Each week she does a radio program and this morning, she’s asked me to join her to talk a little bit about the US and Spain, and the whole thing’s going to be given in Spanish. Should they ask me why I’m here, I’ll have to lace some untruths through the facts but of course, to remain undetected is a bit easier as a foreigner who may have (or may not have) misspoke.

I can’t help but marvel a bit at how far my Spanish has come in just over a year. I went from stabbing blindly at vague memories of odd vocabulary words to giving a Spanish radio interview in what feels like very little time. Immersion is the only way to learn a foreign language.

Here in the full swell of winter the clouds have cleared off and the laundry’s drying well on the line. It’s colder in the apartment than it is outside, and the baked potato soup is on the stove.

Orange Warmth in Winter

(Preface: In addition to writing on my own, count this as post one in an endeavor to to talk about the scattered ends of life here, once daily, in digestible bits. These are time capsules for future me.)

They sit outside in the depths of winter which, granted, aren’t deep but keep us in coats and scarves and when it comes to eating out, eating inside. Particularly striking is the new Cafeteria España. The waiters in the morning set the tables outside on the sidewalk, against the building, under little iron arms bolted some eight or nine feet up onto the brick façade. These little arms indeed are heaters, their long twin elements feeding from the restaurant’s power and so much that the smokers below benefit enough to enjoy their morning papers in seeming comfort. All day this warmth rolls out from beneath the café’s great brown awning and at night, the customers sit bathed like metalworkers in an intense orange light.