by Carl Foster
“Todos siempre,” I told the man. “Conpermisso.” My first wife was Spanish. Over the years I had almost learned to argue with her.
The man gave me a questioning look. “We are not a Spanish-speaking peoples here, senor.”
Again I tried, conjuring in my mind high school, college, and all the art films I had ever seen. “Auf dem Land, ich habe mein fenster und ich liebe meine Mutti.” I used the moist “sh” sounds of a low-bred German commoner.
The officer raised both his hands to cup his own shoulders: He began to sway with his elbows like a peaceful underwater plant, and this was in stark contrast to the grimace on his face. “No German, please,” said he. Was he drunk at his post, to refuse me with such flamboyance?
I threw up my hands, laughing. Laughter ingratiates, so I smiled and tittered like it was nothing. But inside I was screaming for every time I failed to convey myself in the proper mode, how it was making my passage that much more unlikely. And how time was running out, and how devastated I would be if this hard, hard man should specifically order me to turn around and walk away. Yet I chuckled, I managed tuck my chin down as I shook my head and put my hands on my hips. I clicked my tongue, tapped the end of my nose, and rushed through a whole medley of mannerisms. All the while I was frantically thinking of another language to try. What could they want here? I don’t know anything I haven’t been taught. What if I let go of everything I knew and found out there was another layer beneath? Inside me. Just frame myself, and all this reality around me, as Italian reality, Italian truth. And start to speak it. Cathartically, gushing like a tipped bucket. Simply commence.
Of course I got distracted and slipped up while these thoughts were whirling through my mind. I was working so frantically to translate my soul into Italian that I could not feel myself saying, “Now then…” until it had already left my mouth. And the patrolman’s face went sour.
“You are an Englishman,” the guard bit out in his heavily accented words. “I heard the language of your very thoughts just then.”
His body became a tense wall between myself and that lofty McDonald’s Playplace stretching into the sky behind him. God, how I wanted on that Playplace! “Let me in,” I thought at him with my eyes, feeling a sweat of frustration well up in my hair like a child about to cry. What options were left? Should I just ask, “Lingua franca?” Let me in that Playplace!
It was the only thing I could think to do: Looking at the joyless sentinel one more time, I shifted my gaze to the plastic, colored gates beyond and began walking toward them. Here was my message loud and clear: I am going into that playground. I wanted to cry, but I knew I would be crying harder on the drive home if I didn’t try with all my might.
As I passed the officer he spun to face the same way as me and threw an arm over my shoulder, which was draped in a tan, woolen sweater redolent of summer sweat and movie theaters. I had always meant to wash my sweater, thinking I might exude more confidence with a clean, perfumed garment. Now I only hoped its foulness would deter my captor from wrestling me to the ground.
Nevertheless he brought this face even nearer to my own, and he gave me a friendly squeeze that made my hands lift with discomfort. He told me something I would die thinking I heard in a dream: “In the Playplace we want you speaking only the language of fun, sir. Laugh-don’t speak German. Express yourself by choosing tunnels; on the slides, only with your downward momentum. Now go on, yes, enjoy every second. Please take off your shoes first.”
Carl Foster was born in Texas, educated in Australia. His favorite memory is seeing his brother try to unwrap a gift with the paper glued onto it. He works in national parks and writes for nightlife magazines on the side. His dearest companion is a deaf chihuahua he did not ask for, but who offers a loving, complex relationship.