So it's the last class of the day, twenty minutes to go, right? I'm dashing around the room trying to keep the deflated conversational beachball aloft. I learn all about Magdalena's dead hamster and the specifications of Piotr's washing machine. Then this smiling, blushing obese kid tells me to call him "Finger Boy" from now on. He is twirling a pencil between the fingers of his left hand.
"Because of that?" I ask.
"No," he says, "because of this."
He holds up his right hand to reveal a gnarled triple- or quadruple-jointed thumb that he proceeds to wrap around his wrist several times.
"Okay," I say, stifling a dry heave. I take out my attendance chart and mark it accordingly: "Finger Boy."
I start to sweat. There are ten minutes left and I can't make fun of Finger Boy for all ten of those minutes. I reach into my bag of shitty questions and ask if everyone likes the local soccer team, Korona Kielce.
"Um, yes." Shrugs, puzzled grunts.
"What other teams do we have here in Kielce?"
"Viva Kielce is handball team," volunteers Krzysztof.
"We have wallyball team," says Adam. "Fart Kielce."
I blink and clear my throat.
"Yes," shrugs Adam, "Fart."
I take a deep breath and try to slow my galloping heart. Easy, Petit. These Poles have a way of clogging everything with consonants. Fart = Szfrzyrzt.
"How do you spell this Fart?" I ask, scrawling an "Sz" on the board.
"No, no," says Krzysztof. "F."
"Okay. Then what?"
"A," the class chimes.
"Yes, yes! And then?"
"And? And?" I bite my lower lip.
And I lose it. I spray a confetti of nostril fluid all over the whiteboard. I don't pee my pants but I'm not far off.
"What means fart?" Adam asks when I have regained verticality.
"Well," I sniffle, "when you eat too many pierogis – "
I draw a bent-over stick figure with a smoke cloud emanating from his behind. The class and I both dissolve into hysterics for five minutes. Finally, I summon enough of my voice to ask what "fart" means in Polish.
"Lucky," says Finger Boy.
Five more minutes of insane laughter. Then class is over.
I perform a Kramerian slide into the teacher's lounge and grab the first Pole I can find. I launch into my tale with the sort of mundane preface that is the meat and potatoes of the American work anecdote: "So it's the last class of the day, twenty minutes to go, right?"
"Yes," she says.
"And I ask the kids what sports there are in Kielce and – "
"Yes," she says, "I think the students are really like sport in Kielce, I think. They are like football and wallyball and tennis and handball."
"Right. Anyway, this kid tells me that there's a volleyball team – "
"Yes, wallyball is very popular in Poland," she says. "It is something like national sport."
She wanders off to make some tea. Defeated, I slump down into my chair at the formica table and wait for someone else to come, but no one else comes. The bell rings. I pick up some cheese slices on the way home. Later, I overcook myself a grilled cheese sandwich. Then, around 10 PM, I climb into in the bathtub with Noam Chomsky and we have ourselves a nice, long sulk.