Thursday, January 27, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, Ricky Martin
I have a lot of students. I have a lot of students who get on my goddamn nerves. There is one kid, however, who somehow manages to rise above all others, to elevate the art of driving me crazy to heights heretofore unimaginable.

Jose Ramirez is one very peculiar guy, and I suppose that if he never opened his mouth I might find him somewhat amusing. He does, though, too often, and I do not.

Loyal readers may recognize Jose as the boy who shrieked like a woman from my last post, but that brief snippet revealed only one tiny facet of his infinitely infuriating being.

Jose is not like other children. He is 19 years old for one thing, by far the oldest kid in the class of mostly freshmen, although his mental age is closer to that of a 2 or 3 year old crack-smoking vervet.

He doesn’t dress like the other children either. No oversize red or pink t-shirts, no giant blue jeans adorned with patches, no big, black, Northface, no laser-stiched leather, no fitted cap, no Jordans, no Air Force 1s. Nope, Jose dresses like a Latin Pop star. He slicks his hair back, gooped in gel. He wears skin-tight black or green pants, covered in zippers and cut with a sort-of cup to accentuate the crotch. His shirts are skin-tight as well and always “distressed,” ripped, faded, or paint-splattered, in one way or another. He tops it all off with a big, ugly pair of bug-eyed Bono wrap-around shades.

His pop-star persona is completed by the fact that he fancies himself quite the singer. He’s always singing to himself, closing his eyes and emoting and really looking the part as the sound of cats being strangled pours from his throat. I had him last Spring, and he pestered me everyday for a month to let him sing in front of the class. When I finally acquiesced he stood up, cleared his throat, closed his eyes, snapped his fingers, and froze. He stood there in awkward silence for a good two minutes before leading the class in a tuneless yet riotous version of some Bachata classic.

Jose arrives three or four minutes late everyday.

“You’re late. Again. Every day, Jose. Why are you late everyday?” I glower at him when I open the door, blocking his way for a moment in a pathetic show of false power.

“I no late, Meester.” Jose invariably replies, in direct defiance of reality.

“You’re late. Why?”

“I go the gym, Meester.” While this is technically true, Jose does have gym before my class, and that is the reason why he’s late, it’s still not a valid excuse. The gym is not far away. Neither does the gym teacher keep students late. The problem apparently is that it takes Jose significantly more time than it ought to change clothes after gym. Perfecting the sleazy Latin pop star look is not a quick job.

Inevitably I let Jose in, and inevitably, as he stalks across the room to his desk, someone screams “Ricky Martin!” or “Aventura!,” and the class breaks out in hoots and catcalls. Sometimes if I am in a particularly good mood I will introduce Jose as such when I open the door for him.

“Ladies and Gentlemen… Enrique Iglesias!”

Once Jose arrives the real fun starts. When Jose is working he begins by pestering me for a good ten minutes, “Meester, I no understand,” before he’s even read the assignment or directions.

“Okay, Jose, okay. Read me the question.”


“Read, Jose, read. Leer.”

When Jose reads aloud in English what comes out is only a vague approximation of the correct sounds.

“What was the weather like outside yesterday?” becomes “Wha wa de weed li ousy jestadie.”

It took me a long time to realize that this is not because Jose can’t read, not in the way you would think at least. He’s struggling a little with English, sure, but the problem is that Jose can’t talk. He’s got marbles in his mouth, in English or Spanish. It’s not just a speech impediment though, I’m pretty sure Jose hears things the same garbled way he says them.

“No not jestadie, yes-ter-day. Yes-ter-day. Say it with me, Jose, you can do it. Yes-ter day,” I will cajole, seeing as how the whole y’s-don’t-sound-like-j’s-in-English thing ought to be something he can learn. Especially living in New York and rooting for the New York Yankees.

“Jestadie.” He says it the first time. He says it the second time. He says it the hundredth time. At some point I begin to suspect that Jose is fucking with me, then I look at his writing. A garbled, hastily scrawled, mess of error-ridden and barely incomprehensible chicken scratch, it is a surprisingly accurate representation of his speech. It’s as if the marbles in his mouth – and there are apparently some big old cat’s eyes in there - also clog his ears and even form some sort of barrier between his brain and the outside world.

Jose does fuck with me though, all the time, so it’s hard to tell where his developmental problems stop and his behavioral ones start. On test days he walks in (late) and feigns shock that there is a test going on.

“We hay tesh? No Meester, you no say we hay tesh!”

This is absurd. Of course I told him and the rest of the class that there would be a test. We spent the past three days reviewing for it. No matter, though, Jose persists in his denial for at least 15 minutes, refusing to begin his test and distracting me and everyone else while he does so. Again, I begin to wonder if maybe Jose really was somehow unaware that there would be a test.

Jose is at his worst when he wants something that I am unable or unwilling to give, say for instance the bathroom pass. He asks for the pass everyday. If I’m in a good mood and he’s completed all his work I will let him go. More often than not though, especially with his chronic tardiness, I tell Jose no.

Jose is always persistent. Sometimes he is straight up insane.

“Meester. I nee pash. Ahvul. Ahvul. You know what’s da?”

“Sit down Jose. Do your work. You don’t even have your notebook out. Where’s your notebook?!”

“Ahvul, Meester. Ahvul.” Jose then pulls out a small zip-lock baggy containing a few Advils, and I understand, sort of. Unsure if perhaps Jose does actually need to take his pain-relievers, I allow him to go to the bathroom during the five minute break between the first and second half of the double period.

He returns to class, sits down, begins unintelligibly singing to himself, and soon turns to me.

“Meester, I nee pash now. I go.”

I’ve been handling things well up to this point, taking everything in stride, but this immediately sends me over the edge.

My face turns red. My eyes bug out. Veins on my neck swell and quiver. Now I know he’s fucking with me. I stalk over to Jose, pick up his back pack, take his notebook out and slam it onto his desk, thinking maybe if I choked him I could convince all the other kids to testify that he had it coming.

Jose persists in asking for the bathroom pass, blabbering about being sick, and saying I lied to him. I rudely shush him every time he opens his mouth, and other than that ignore him as I go about trying to get the kids to understand that Martin Luther King isn’t just “for the blacks.”

Jose keeps yammering on about needing his Advil and eventually stands up, crosses the room, kneels down by the trashcan and begins to retch violently. It is a highly realistic performance. His shoulders convulse. He gags. He gulps. He emits the guttural sound of digestive demons.

I’m not buying it though. I’ve had enough, so I let Jose be as he retches and groans on the floor. At some point he stops, still seething with resentment towards me, and returns to his seat.

He approaches me again a few minutes before the end of class.

“Meester, I sing, you hay me sing da class. Is good.”

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