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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

Can You Hear Me Now?

Once I got comfortable living in the desert in the mid 70’s, I decided it was time to enroll in some adult education classes at our local community college. Easier said than done. I picked up German in high school – and it was a pivotal skill during my semester abroad in Munich, West Germany. There was very little English spoken there at the time (1970), so when I went out for dinner, ALL of the other 15 students hung on my tail.


I picked up a smattering of Japanese and Korean during my summer there (1965), so I figured: let’s try French. I was already a professional French Fry eater, and I learned all about French Kissing in my early teens, so I figured I was well on my way towards mastering the language. Enrolling at COD (College of the Desert) would prove to be a lesson in patience – something I never studied and had no interest in acquiring as a life skill.


I made the transition from writing to printing in the sixth grade. The Palmer Method that we were taught starting (I think) in third grade, was too girly for me. At 12 years old I decided to strike out on my own and do something different. I could not stand the flourishes of the ‘R’s and the ‘F’s and the other 24 or so characters in the language. So I made up my own. There was no elegance in the way I formed letters – filling out the registration application was an exercise in futility. Somehow I managed to color inside the lines. Somehow I managed to answer all of the silly little questions.


The lady behind the counter at the admissions office looked at me dubiously. When she saw I had not one, but two undergraduate degrees from an east coast university, her ire was raised and directed at me with a furious flourish that made the hairs on the back of my neck snap to attention.


“Can you prove you have these degrees?” My mind started to spin like the crankshaft on a 327 cubic inch Chevy small block engine. I thought to myself: Should I run home and get all my camera gear and dump it on the counter (my primary degree was in photojournalism)? Should I invite her out for a cappuccino and offer my thoughts on why Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the greatest influences in the study of existential phenomenology (my other BA was in philosophy)?


“I can write the university and get certification from them. Will that suffice?” She replied in the affirmative. “But the proof must be delivered in an unopened envelope!”, she added. I don’t believe the Los Angeles Police Department’s chain of custody protocols for crime scene evidence were this stringent. I grabbed my application and cautiously withdrew, walking backwards towards the door to prevent any further attacks to my credibility. I was only a brown belt at this point in my study of Japanese karate, but I was adept at seeing a possible assault forming. Her voice was strained and her pupils dilated. I demurred quickly and quietly.


I did a slow burn on the way home. About two weeks later the evidence required appeared in our mailbox. With the sealed envelope in hand, I returned to the office and completed (or thought I had) my initial enrollment. “You will have to meet with the head of the English Department” she belched at me. The patience I didn’t have was already long gone, and I wondered if I would be arrested or given an award if I lightly slugged her now.


With a map of the campus and instructions on where to find the next step in this ordeal, I walked quickly through the maze of buildings. This was feeling more and more like the bad dream Tom Cruise had in the opening moments of “Risky Business.”


The head of the English Department was a balding, late 30’s, pasty skin, dweeb of a guy. I was not in the mood. Unfortunately, he was. “You’ll have to take an English proficiency exam before you can be admitted”, he prattled. More than fuming, like a volcano ready to erupt, I questioned him on why, as a college graduate with TWO fucking degrees, did I have to prove anything?


“How do I know you really went to college?” Like Linda Blair in “The Exorcist”, my head started to spin around in circles. The apparent disconnect between the administration office and the rest of this pitiful pissant of a college aside, I did a couple of my martial arts deep breathing exercises to help regain control of myself.


“And what does this exam examine?”, I asked.


We need to make sure you can communicate clearly, that you can speak in complete sentences, to be understood”, he responded in a pompous attitude only second to the little bunny at the admin office.


I walked up to him slowly, stopping maybe three feet in front of him. I only wanted to intimidate him a little. “AM I COMMUNICATING CLEARLY NOW?” “CAN YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM SAYING?” “AM I SPEAKING IN COMPLETE SENTENCES?”


His pastiness drained completely. He now had the pallor of a three-day old corpse – a little green around the gills. He quickly signed off on my admission papers. I smiled, thanked him, and disappeared quickly. I returned to the office and signed up for French 101. Hustling back home, I cracked open a new bottle of single cask Wild Turkey, 101 proof.


I think I must have learned how to intimidate people from my father. It’s a nice skill to have – as long as you use it with great prudence.

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