Wednesday, March 6, 2019

From the Archives - Latin [Class] Is for Lovers


Here’s a sad one, from my archives. Enjoy please enjoy.

Latin [Class] is for Lovers – October 19, 1990

I just can’t concentrate on my Latin homework anymore. It’s tempting to blame this on girl trouble, but that would be overstating the case, like saying you have car trouble when in fact your car was repossessed. I just have this empty space, this lack, where I thought I had a girl.

She’s in my Latin 1 class, a freshman. I’m a junior, but on the stunted, naïve side so it feels perfectly natural to be chasing after freshman girls. Besides, just like them, I only recently arrived here in Berkeley, having transferred from UCSB.

Latin class had been going fine before R— caught my eye and became a constant distraction. My god she is fly. Of course, there’s not a lot of mingling among classmates, not with a discussion-style language class of only fifteen students. I passively admired her for over a month before making any moves. (Well, I did rework an old sonnet in her honor, but never gave it to her or anything. I did get course credit for it in my Shakespeare class.)

From Psych 1 I learned that mere proximity can increase attraction, so I took to sitting next to R— whenever I could, which was most of the time. She always takes a chair right up in the front row, where you’re a sitting duck in terms of getting called on. So I’d take the invariably empty chair next to her. It’s a tough price to pay, getting called on twenty-four seven, but well worth it. This one red-haired guy seems to have had his eye on this same girl, but he has never gone so far as to sit in the lethal chair. I’ve had to really focus so as not to play myself. (This is a constant risk for me because I study far less than my peers. I loafed through my first two years of college, and old habits die hard.)

The instructor, Jonathon, is cool enough, I guess. He has this really soft, airy East Coast voice that sort of floats out over the classroom. He likes to remind us how easy everything is while he tackles some obscure grammatical structure most of us don’t even know in English. I think he’d single me out even if I weren’t sitting in the front-and-center death seat, simply because he likes my name. To be more precise, he likes what he thinks my name is: Dale. I don’t know how he managed to misread this on the roll sheet the first day, but he’s sticking with his mistake. And due to his mellifluous style of speech, he pronounces Dale “DAY-oh.” (Is it a coincidence that this is how we pronounce the Latin word “Deo,” which means “God”? I don’t know. It could be that he is making a little joke.)

Jonathan seems particularly prone to call on me when we’re learning some totally new grammar rule. Here is an actual quote from class: “Okay, as you can see, the past-contrary-to-fact construction uses the pluperfect tense of the subjunctive mood in both the protasis and apodosis clauses. This is really quite straightforward. Would somebody like to take a crack at the first example, please, DAY-oh?”

The only thing I have on my fellow students is that I’ve actually used my newly acquired Latin skills outside of class. This won’t help my grade in Latin, of course, but I might as well get some mileage out of it here: I read this rad Sir Thomas Wyatt sonnet for an English class. A guy sees this deer and is so blown away by how beautiful she is that he finds himself uncontrollably and shamelessly chasing after her, and after finally catching her, discovers something that makes all his efforts futile: 
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.”
The footnote in my Norton Anthology of English Literature has this to say: “Noli me tangere quia Caesaris sum (‘Touch me not, for I am Caeser’s’) was inscribed on the collars of Caesar’s hinds which were then set free and were presumably safe from hunters.” After studying Latin I can read the whole thing and could even tell you about how the negative imperative, or prohibition, uses a complementary infinitive, which is then followed by a conjunction and the name Caesar in the dative case to indicate possession when used with the subsequent present indicative first person singular form of the verb “to be.” But I won’t go into that because it’s boring.

Less boring, of course, is my own pursuit of R—. How has that been going, you might ask? Well, a few times we hung out after class, sitting on the lawn chatting. I’m trying out this new form of humor where I basically bag on myself. I’m told this is endearing somehow, and in any event it ties in nicely with the embarrassing behaviors that I stumble into anyway. For example, Jonathan was calling on me in class and—due to a combination of sleep deprivation and this strange college-induced narcolepsy I seem to suffer from—I actually started falling asleep right in the middle of being drilled. “DAY-oh, are you falling asleep?!” Jonathan asked, incredulous. “No, of course not,” I muttered, as the class erupted in laughter around me.

So after class, I admitted to R— that I truly had been falling asleep, which was inexplicable because being quizzed in Latin, far from being boring, is actually kind of terrifying to me. This seemed to really charm her, so I bit the bullet and asked if she wanted to have lunch sometime. She not only accepted, but enthusiastically. In fact, I think she may have even blushed. (Actually, that was me.)

We set our date for Friday after class. The next time class met (Wednesday) I was trying really hard not to play myself by being all perma-smile, and though I probably did a poor job (i.e., was too visibly stoked), she was very tolerant. She mentioned our upcoming lunch, which seemed almost too good to be true. I’d half-expected her to totally forget, or pretend to forget, which would have been awkward. (Yeah, I’m not a natural-born optimist. So sue me.)

On Friday I busted my ass to get to class early, but R— was a bit late. No biggie, of course. But all through class she seemed not only to have her gaze averted, but her entire body angled slightly away. It was weird. I was getting this massive bad vibe off her. I felt like the proverbial elephant in the room.

After class she couldn’t very well avoid me any longer; after all, it was time for our lunch. We walked over to Mario’s La Fiesta on Telegraph, because it’s close to campus, has great food, and is dirt cheap (so I could afford to pick up the tab, and if R— ended up being all modern and saying it’s lame for the guy to pay, I could say, “Come on, the whole bill is under ten bucks, it’s nothing!”). I’d never had a bad meal at La Fiesta, but this was pretty close. R— was just a total cold fish. Where was the laid back, enthusiastic chick I’d been so merrily chatting with earlier in the week? I couldn’t figure it out.

Finally (actually, after not so very long a time, between the chips-and-salsa and the main course) I couldn’t take the stony near-silence anymore and said, “What is up with you, anyway?” I know, I know, this is dating suicide, but what did I have to lose? I was already done for and I knew it. The truth came out: she’d had this high school boyfriend, and they were still really close and talked on the phone a lot. They’d decided when they parted ways for college that it was silly to try to stay together, so they were free to date, which was all well and good until she told this guy about our upcoming lunch. He got all sore, and petulant, and whiny (okay, I’m possibly extrapolating a bit here), and they decided to “get back together.” Never mind that he’s at BYU, which is hundreds of miles from Berkeley.

I was very suave about the whole thing. “So what you’re saying is that he loved the idea of dating hot chicks at BYU but it never occurred to him that you might be more successful at playing the field, and he hadn’t counted on his own jealousy and feelings of inadequacy,” I did not say. “Surely you’re aware that in Utah they practice polygamy,” I did not go on to point out. I did, however, say, “He should make you a collar graven with diamonds in letters plain, so there is written, your fair neck round about, ‘Noli me tangere quia Dickheadis sum.’” No, of course I didn’t say this either. In fact, this third thing I didn’t think up until later. At the time, I just sat there, biting my tongue. I was so, so disappointed because, even when stricken with the awkwardness of the situation, R— was so, so fly.

I went home and played some Simon & Garfunkel. Yes, I’m that nerdy … but it’s not like I had some girl over whom I needed to impress. Besides, I’d thought of just the song for my mood: “April, Come She Will.” It concerns a love affair that begins in April (when “the streams are ripe and filled with rain”), proceeds all summer until June when “she’ll change her tune,” and on into July when “she will fly,” and so on until September when “I remember,/ A love once new has now grown old.” Poor guy—but hey, at least he lasted six months. I only made it six days! And with this realization, I was moved to write my own song: 
Monday, come she may.
The day is bright and filled with sun.
Tuesday, she will stay.
We spend some time just having fun.
Wednesday begins cruel play.
She now seems cold and so withdrawn;
Thursday, my nerves she will fray,
For now I know that something’s wrong.
Friday, I’m pushed away.
At all my pain she is just annoyed;
Saturday, she has gone away.
A love once made has now been destroyed.
I guess the song doesn’t totally fit because my little campaign didn’t erode gradually—it careened off the road in the span of little more than an hour—but whatever. I guess it’s also true that it wasn’t entirely my fault I crashed and burned, though I can’t help but think a savvier guy like Sir Thomas Wyatt would have known just what to do in this situation and surely would have gotten the girl in the end. Oh well … at least now I can sit in the back of the Latin classroom and maybe not get called on so much.

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