My self-control also figured in my lost opportunity to study French in elementary school. Newton was in the vanguard in delivering French by TV. The folding walls between classrooms would open, and we would gather around one or two black and white sets to absorb French taught by a middle-aged Madame Slack in a PBS TV studio. This, to me, was French un-immersion. I didn’t respond well to Madame Slack accent as it was not my native Bostonian, and honestly, I don’t remember catching on quickly to the French phrases flying out of the TV set. When Madame inquired “Comment-allez-vous,” I was always a beat behind my classmates in the mass yell back, “Tres Bien, Merci et vous.” Thus, to circumvent boredom or cut my anxiety, I made a clever aside to the nearest classmate presumably like “I’d rather be watching Gunsmoke.”
Maybe I am over-dramatizing, but I do have a vague recollection of my teacher, glaring at me after a “Gunsmoke-like” French class interruption and pronouncing to all my Francophile classmates that I would no longer be taking French. Did I now have to turn in my smart kid badge? And if so, why? For a few minutes I felt like the oddest kid in the grade. What kid flunks TV! Still was it fair? There was no previous warning like “keep your eyes glued to Madame Slack or else.” I really did wonder if I would be on some foreign language black list in junior high with my protests greeted with, “You talked during Mdme. Slack’s show obviously you have no aptitude for languages. We don’t care if you come from a long line of UN interpreters.”
I was exiled me to the classroom next door where the stupid kids, AKA the non-budding linguists, would do remedial stuff like grammar worksheets for 45 minutes while the rest of the 5th grade followed along with Madame Slack. Escaping the boredom did not balance out the humiliation of getting kicked out of a class. Picking out verbs seated at close quarters with kids who didn’t even qualify for French class was de-moralizing. Plus, I was mature enough to sense that the teachers had pronounced me too immature for a grown-up middle-school subject of French. The saving grace was that some of the boys gave me that astonished “man what are you doing here?” question.
As you can imagine, my 5th grade year image-deflating mishaps did make it tougher for me to believe that I could sweep Jean off the dance floor in early 6th grade. It just seemed that like under my desk top, stored with crumbled worksheets, pencil shavings, old leaky pens, and Pez candy containers, I was too messed-up. But, with the theoretical possibility of a girlfriend, I had to give this opportunity a chance.
Anyway, later in the day at Mr. Champagne’s dance class in the gym, I did pick Jean as my dance partner. A few minutes later we were history. I couldn’t keep up with Mr. Champagne’s fox trot instructions. I was always a step behind, stomping on “one two” when I should have been at “three.” Jean gritted her teeth and said, “pay attention.” A few minutes later it was “pay attention,” with a scratch of my arms for emphasis. I’ve forgotten exactly what I said, then, but it was likely a nod and a frustrated, “I am paying attention.” Then there were just more scratches. At the end of that number, I retreated to a neutral corner to lick my wounds, both physical and mental. I was shocked as to how quickly a dance partner had turned into a sparring partner.
It was a true whirlwind romance—one Fox Trot. I just wanted to go home. The waltz could wait. That fall day in 1962 in the school gym in Mr. C’s dance class was the last time I was even remotely in step with my fellow guys in relating to girls. For the next six years of school, I was stuck and dazed in the gym corner, while the rest of the class moved on to other romantic locations and actions from slow dancing in basements, to automobile make out sessions, to anxious sex in childhood bedrooms, accompanied by soulful eyed walks in the woods. By my junior year of college, the gap between myself and my classmates in mastering the whole wherewithal between the sexes was a chasm too difficult to breech. Thus, I didn’t date, didn’t flirt, and actually did not even have a half meaningful platonic friendship with a woman. I was from earth in those years, but all the girls/women were from Mars. They must have had interplanetary ray-guns, because it was as if I had been stunned when trying to relate. It took me 38 years from that day in Mr. Champagne’s dance class to truly understand why I had two left feet in the dance of love.
Stay tuned for part 3!
Hi, I am a 69 year old retired IT professional who grew up when there was no such thing as NLD and thus in school I was sometimes annoyingly quirky and with peers occasionally out to lunch. The enclosed memoir slice tries to capture my predicament.Share your own story