French Class Follies

This past summer I took the equivalent of French 111 and 112 at a name-to-be-withheld North Carolina state university. The courses themselves were actually very informative, but it is hard to concentrate on the lesson when there are really atrocious dolts (and I’m talking about the pinnacle of incompetence, really) surrounding you.

In my case, these included:

Badly-Aging Man with Terrible Mustache. This was a weird mousy looking man who had that kind of prematurely aged skin that made him look like he could have been anywhere between 25 and 60. At first he seemed to have some semblance of competence, but this was shattered when the professor asked him any given question. He would contort his face into expressions familiar to anyone who has ever been constipated as he “tried” to “remember” answers.  When he would finally speak, he would also flail his hands around as if he was trying to swat at invisible gnats.

Fat Dumb Mullet Lady. This was a doltish woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man, but with an upsetting mullet instead of a hat. She had the tendency to ask the professor to repeat anything that had already been said (at minimum) thirty thousand times. After a while I started to try to figure out how to kill her with my pencil and notebook.

Socially Oblivious Pubescent Boy. This dumb-looking guy sported a wispy “pube-stache” that looked like it might have actually been cobweb remnants stuck to his lip. Besides just being ugly, he was so socially awkward that you felt sorry for the school janitor that I’m sure he ate lunch with all through elementary school.  For some reason, he seemed incapable of speaking to the professor without simultaneously pressing the left side of his nose with his index finger.  In addition, a class period couldn’t go by in which he didn’t mention Star Trek.  The awkwardness was compounded when, one day, he announced to several of the girls in the class that he was there in part to “meet women.”

On one particular day, I overheard Mullet Lady talking to a classmate.  “I done sent my kids off to day camp to-day and done made my husband mow the lawn… and I ain’t did nuthin’!” she chortled, her multiple chins undulating with glee. I was delighted to hear this, by the way–I was genuinely happy to hear that this disgusting woman was able to sumptuously wallow in her crud-encrusted single-wide trailer, where her idea of a luxurious day would likely include the consumption of an entire box of store-brand chocolate-covered cherries from Rite-Aid and all-day reruns of “Match Game 74.” Mullet Woman inadvertently confirmed these suspicions later by plainly stating that her house was filthy and that her mother (more likely, the health department–since that’s so much less embarrassing) demanded to come over so she could clean it.

I still don’t quite understand why she was even taking summer French classes at a state university to begin with.  Individuals who wear nautical-themed sweat clothes that look like they’re from the Richard Simmons line at Walmart have no place trying to learn, especially when they refuse to try.

For example, I don’t think I heard Mullet Lady ever try to actually pronounce new vocabulary words when they were introduced. Instead, she would spell them back (using the English version of the alphabet, by the way, not the French) to the professor as if they were perverse. She’d lean her revolting Jabba the Hutt-like body forward in her desk with her palm facing the front of the room as if she was trying to dance in her chair to “Stop! In The Name Of Love.” I assume this was her way of “raising her hand.” Once she was recognized, she’d “um” and “uh” and finally sputter out something like “What does A… V… E… C mean again?”  She would twist her face into a rictus of disgust as she would utter each letter, as if she was envisioning them as molded from human feces.

I thought I had died when, on one random day, Mullet Lady acknowledged her own stupidity aloud to no one in particular.  “I don’t know what made this old lady think that she could come back and take classes,” she remarked while we were supposed to be doing a worksheet quietly. “I should go to my advisor and get a refund,” she concluded, before returning to labeling a picture of a living room with badly misspelled and also entirely incorrect French words. She remained, though, probably because she was informed at some point that academic advisors do not handle school finances.

A few days later when Mullet Lady was asked (in French, of course) “When did you leave the university yesterday?” she responded, word-for-word, “Ma mère[1.]… grocery store.” She then launched into listing off various grocery items in French that she had apparently memorized for some reason. The professor was impressed, though I’m not sure if it was because she actually formed a semi-valid sentence in French all by herself, or if it was because she was entirely oblivious to what the original question was.

But alas, summer session is over, and we’re all back here at old Wake Forest. Be glad. At least here no one has an unkempt mullet.

—2001

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  1. This means “my mother,” though most of you–even non-French speakers–probably figured that out on your own.[]