Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Illegal Raëlian

He came to Earth on a Tuesday. Pedro found him and brought him to class for show and tell.

I remember it was a Tuesday because Pedro only came to class on Tuesdays. He was a busy man, Pedro. Head accountant at the one and only luxury hotel in Zamora de Hidalgo, Mexico - not exactly a lightweight. He was away on business half the time, and on the verge of being fired the other half. So who could blame him if he only came to class once a week, and thirty minutes late at that? I certainly didn't.

Around 8:00 in the PM, there would come a knocking at the wood-plastic door and Pedro would peek his head in. Teacher, can I come een? No matter how late he was, Pedro always had a seat saved at the head of the table, like he'd phoned in beforehand to make a reservation. On the way to his rightful throne, he exchanged fistpounds with everyone in class. Very-very sorry, teacher. I just have the meeting with the fok-hink boss!

Pedro was in his late 40's when I taught him, and is probably in his mid 30's by now. The very portrait of youth, Pedro, but almost comically bald, with more hair to his felt-tip mustache and bushy black eyebrows than he had up top. A pair of yellowish buck teeth gave him a rodentlike but charmingly boyish appearance. He wore his pastel dress shirts unbuttoned low enough that you could infer his nipples. And nestled amongst plenty of old-growth chest hair was a solid gold crucifix. Pedro, like most Zamoranos, was a devout Catholic, though clearly not of the superstitious set. He grinned during his in-class sermons. Teacher, I just give all the thanks to my God - here, he would point and gaze up towards the yellow-stained Styrofoam ceiling tiles - for give me strength to not be fire from best fok-hink hotel in Zamora, okay? And in the next breath, he was lamenting his estranged ex-wife, who had hooked up with some pinche Sancho from Guadalajara. Then he was regaling us with tales of nudist gringo bacchanalia at Hotel Casa Velas in Puerto Vallarta. Then he was speculating on the potency of his teacher's seed, and the global distribution thereof.

"I know you have the childrens, teacher," he would say, with the same perverse grin he wore when kissing his crucifix. "All over the fok-hink world. America, Canada, een pinche China, too. Everywhere, they are callink for you. They are waitink for you, teacher! Waitink for you with open arms! Waitink - for the rest of their fok-hink life!"

Like all the other TEFL academies I've worked for, the academy in Mexico warned me about getting tight with my students. You are their teacher and not their friend - this was school policy. But I've never been very good at making the distinction between student and potential drinking buddy, and seeing how the teenagers I taught in the afternoon reviled me as their mortal enemy, I had no qualms about making friends with my adult night class. Anyway, I had no say in the matter. They befriended me first. As soon as the bell rang, Luis was nudging me and tipping back an invisible bottle of Indio, or Pedro was escorting me out to his Cadillac Escalade for an all-expense-paid tour of the little-known ritzy side of Zamora.

My adult students were well beyond their language-learning years. Poor Alejandro in the back literally could not speak a word of English, said for yes and a heavily accented no for no. Pedro, a Chivas fan, called soccer "football-soccer" and I corrected him every Tuesday for four months, in vain.

"Pedro, my man," I would say. "It's either football or soccer. You have to choose one. It can't be both."
"Okay, teacher. We watch the Chivas football-soccer after class, okay?"

But futile as my efforts sometimes were, my oldsters took notes, asked me good questions, even did their homework - and they learned English the way all languages should be learned: through off-color remarks about their teacher's virility. Awash in a sea of spoiled adolescents, my adult class was the lone bright spot of my teaching day. All that semester, my high school students called me a maricon behind my back and eventually to my face. They egged my house on three separate occasions, always during my afternoon siesta. But at the end of the day, when I slumped into my night class like a burlap sack full of hurt feelings, my non-traditional English learners would give me fist pounds, compliment me on my relatively youthful looks, and ask me about my girlfriends. But what cheered me up most of all were those rare Tuesdays when I found Pedro there, on time for once, seated at the head of the table, leaning over his yellow legal pad, bearing a nauseating amount of man-cleve, and as I set down my books and took my place at the whiteboard, he would say, grinning perversely, "We have been waitink for you, teacher. Waitink for you with open arms. We will wait for you for the rest of our fok-hink life."

Enter the Raëlian. It was a Tuesday, around 8 in the PM. Pedro was absent, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. Over the weekend, I had taught myself the four English past tenses, how to distinguish them, and how to teach them, so I was very excited to share this newfound knowledge with my adult class. I sketched Pedro's balding visage on the board.

"So, let's say Pedro is watching football-soccer. Suddenly, his estranged ex-wife calls from Guadalajara. This is the past continuous, followed by the simple past: Pedro was watching football-soccer when ... "

I was teaching the past continuous when the Raëlian arrived. There was a knock at the door. Pedro peeked his head in.

"Very-very sorry, teacher. Can I come een?"

But this time, Pedro was not alone. He exchanged fist-pounds with his classmates and me and assumed his usual place at the head of the table. And behind him came an emaciated man of a greenish hue who smirked at me as he passed. The stranger did not exchange fist-pounds with anyone, but kept his arms crossed over his chest and his hands tucked into his armpits. He slid a chair to the far right corner of the room and there he sat, smirking at me.

Pedro took out his legal pad, put on his bifocals, and began copying down what I had written on the board.

"What will you show us today, teacher? I mean, what will we see today?" He squinted at my Pedro cartoon. "Teacher, that ees me?"

I, meanwhile, was squinting at the stranger in my classroom. That smirk. Those eyes. His zombie complexion. If you've seen David Lynch's Lost Highway, this guy was the splitting Latino image of The Mystery Man.

"Pedro, aren't you going to introduce me to your ... friend?"
"Oh. Hmph." Pedro snorted. "He ees not from our planet, teacher. He from space."
Pedro pointed up at the ceiling tiles and resumed writing.
"From space?"
"Yes, teacher. You don't want to know thees man," he said, scribbling irritably. "Thees man have very-very strange ideas."
"Well, that's okay. I'm interested in strange ideas."
Pedro set down his pen and removed his glasses.
"Por ejemplo, teacher. You know I believe in my God, my Lord and Savior Jesucristo," he turned toward The Mystery Man, who was watching me. "Thees man believe in - he believe in other God. Cómo se dice lagarto? Yes. Yes. He believe in leezard God!"

My students had stopped taking notes and were looking back and forth between Pedro and The Mystery Man. I glanced anxiously at the whiteboard. The past continuous had become the past simple. Finished. The arrival of Pedro's lizard-worshiping friend had catapulted us into an unexpected and unpredictable future tense. But my curiosity was far too piqued. I couldn't help but ask.

"Maybe you can tell me a little bit about your lizard beliefs, Mr. - "
He got to his feet.
"Name is Jose," said the man. "I am Raëliano."

It took me a moment to translate the word, but only a moment. No shit. A real live Raëlian. In my classroom. It was as though I'd hogtied a unicorn, or boobytrapped Bigfoot. I had met Scientologists before, Hare Krishnas, even Episcopalians - but this was something new. My very first Raëlian. Mentally, I marked off another square on my Sinister Cults Bingo card.

Then, I played dumb. Because I was interested.
"Raëliano?" I asked. "What's that?"

A radioactive glow spread over the classroom as the Raëlian spoke. His English was impeccable, but stripped of all tone and color. He did not mention lizards, but he did reference UFOs, alien overlords, a French auto racing messiah, and a whole host of other divine beings that you might find in the National Enquirer Year in Review issue. Patricia was glaring at the Raëlian and praying to herself. Alejandro had no idea what was going on. Alejandro 2, a 16 year-old boy who had been placed among the adults for some reason, and who was more mature than any of them, looked positively terrified. Pedro snorted and rolled his eyes.

"Teacher, do not listen thees man. I will wait for my God with open arms and one day very-very soon he will come," said Pedro, "but thees man, he will wait for the rest of his fok-hink life and still, the leezard will not come. Okay? Time for school. What will you show us today, teacher? What will we see today?"

The Raëlian sat back down and was silent for the rest of class, but he watched me with a laserbeam intensity that gave me the shakes and rendered my own words foreign to me. I was relieved when the bell rang. Pedro and the Raëlian got up to leave. Pedro gave me a fistpound. The Raëlian just smirked. I would never learn just how they were acquainted, or why Pedro had brought him to class in the first place. And I still don't know anything about the Raëlian belief structure, whether it involves lizards or aliens or Israelites or race cars or what. I plan to remain happily ignorant in that regard. I'd rather not know. It's like looking into a vortex. You keep at it long enough and before you know it you've got spirals in your eyes.

As Navidad approached, my adult students proposed an end-of-semester Secret Santa gift exchange. I set the bar at twenty pesos maximum, though I knew Pedro would hurdle it. Then, a strange thing happened. Two weeks before the gift exchange and the final exam, everyone dropped the class. Luis, Alberto, Patricia, both Alejandros and a pair of Lupitas. All gone. Everyone had vanished except me and Pedro, and Pedro only showed up on Tuesdays. The week before the final exam, just for something to do, I spent my 7:30 class tutoring a bratty little ten year-old soccer phenom who wanted to improve his grammar, but wasn't much for conversation. No sense of humor, this kid. Then, he disappeared, too. So I would walk into class, find the classroom empty, shut the door behind me and start doodling little Pedros on the whiteboard, blue Pedros, black Pedros, red ones, green ones ...

Then, the day before the final exam, the night of the gift exchange, there came a knock on the door. I erased the whiteboard as fast as I could. The door squeaked open and there was Pedro.

"Teacher, can I come een? Where ees every-bady?"

There was no one to fistpound but me. Pedro took his seat at the head of the table, unpacked his legal pad and glasses.

"What will you show us today, teacher? What are we going to see today?"
"Well, Pedro, my man. We should probably review a little bit. The final exam is tomorrow."
"Ayyy, no! Teacher, I have the meeting with the fok-hink boss in the tomorrow night! I will be late to take part een the exam!"
"How late is late?"
He glanced at his Rolex.
"The eight and thirty!"
"Well, then, Pedro," I said. "I will wait for you. Here. With open arms. For the rest of my life."
"No, teacher," corrected Pedro. "For the rest of your fok-hink life."

That night, Pedro drove me in his Escalade to a place called La Cucaracha. I had told my roommate Nicole to meet us there for the gift exchange, having already hyped up this Pedro character to lizard godly proportions. We found her sitting in the back of the bar with the rest of my adult class. There they were, waiting for me. With open arms, as it were.

I gave them all fistpounds. Then, half-irked, half-delighted, shouting over the intoxicating ruckus of jukebox banda, I asked, "Where have you all been? The final exam is tomorrow!"

"We have been waitink for you," said 16 year-old Alejandro 2, flashing a grin across the table at his bald, mustachioed mentor. "We will wait for you for the rest of our fok-hink life."

But not for the rest of the semester, apparently. The next day, Pedro was the only student to take the final exam. Everyone else failed the class. Pedro passed by a mustache whisker. But the gift exchange was a success. I gave Alejandro 2 an English dictionary, the fruitcake of ESL gifts, but he was delighted with it and wore a brace-toothed smile for the rest of the evening. And Pedro gave me a wallet. I spotted the pricetag: 200 pesos. I blushed. Later that night, I transferred everything over to Pedro's wallet - my cards, what centavos I had left, and an Emiliano Zapato trading card that Eduardo, the only teenager in Zamora who didn't hate me, had given me back in February. I slid the trading card behind the transparent flap where your driver's license is supposed to go and now, whenever I fumble around for some loose Chinese RMB, there is Emiliano Zapato peering up at me with his furious superhero eyes, wearing a sombrero so big that it doesn't even fit in the frame, a mustache like a charred Vienna sausage, a red scarf knotted around his neck, two sashes of ammunition crisscrossed over his chest, and under his portrait, the words "EL APOSTÓL DEL AGRARISMO." And then, at the very bottom of the card, the handwritten words "Thanks Kiwi. Seeya man. -Eduardo" Ah, yes. They used to call me Kiwi back then. I remember now. KIWI: EL APOSTÓL DE INGLÉS.

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