Can I Borrow Your Broom, and a Spanish-to-English Dictionary?

One example of my many bad ideas

One example of my many bad ideas

No, your eyes don’t deceive you. That’s a short, worn-out broom supporting — barely — the tailgate of an SUV. Is that my car? Nope. One of the only problems my Malloper doesn’t have is tailgate struts. The rear door of my Malloper — which my mentor the mechanic calls “coche bomba” — swings out versus up so as long as it doesn’t fall off I’m batting 1000% on that front.

Is that my broom? Also no. Well, who’s car is it and what I am doing messing with it? That’s an excellent question but the answer requires that I back up a bit.

Having spent the better of the last 20 years in days filled with meetings I now find that any time spent in a conference or classroom setting makes me itchy. Akin to a flight attendant who suddenly finds that he can no longer board a plane, I can no longer voluntarily spend hours sitting in a room staring at white boards or presentations.

This new aversion put a real damper on my Spanish classes which were inside, involved a white board and lasted for several painful hours. It also didn’t help that I took these classes with my bride, who is smarter than I am, enjoys grammar and had previously had attained a degree of fluency in French.

I therefore took my Spanish to the streets where I now besmirch and confuse it in a variety of settings. This includes volunteering weekly with a local gardening program where I abuse the patience of my Tico friend on many fronts, but particularly when it comes to gardening and, of course, Spanish. I also spend a couple of hours each week with a local Tica friend who I pay to clean the house with me while helping me practice Spanish (it therefore can’t be considered easy money for her but I do rate fairly high for my janitorial skills).

I find progress with my guerrilla approach to learning another language to be fleeting. Like a freshly waxed surface, Spanish sticks to my brain for just a moment and then runs right off. It could be that I truly do need the structure, support materials and guidance offered by actual classes, but we’ll never know because I’ve decided to double-down on my unique approach and now also volunteer at the local shade-tree mechanic’s shop.

It’s this latest addition to my repertoire (that’s French — not even studying it!) that has me scrambling for brooms to keep from being crushed by tailgates. My rationale for this additional tour of duty is that I spend almost a day a week fixing something in my perpetually broken car. Why not take the suspense out of it and just appear every Wednesday morning at the mechanic’s shop to greet the many people who show up with items as varied as blenders, jack hammers, motorcycles, ATV’s and even cars — and then attempt to dive in to whatever it is they need?

This shop, which is the back side of the mechanic’s house (also shared with some cats, dogs and two loud chickens – though one gave her life towards a meal this past week) is a whirlwind of activity that often involves as much work attempting to fabricate a part with a welder and a grinder as it does actual repairs. In many cases, such as in the case of the radiator I recently retired, further attempts at repair are probably a bad idea (when it got to the point that my radiator sprung a new leak on a daily basis I decided it was time to move on and actually buy a new one — an act that brought me down a few additional rungs around the shop).

So, in addition to several other repairs, I pulled the molded bumper off of the SUV and beat down the metal frame underneath until it was once again possible to open the tailgate. I then, with the help of the broom holding the tailgate off my head, removed the defective struts and watched as my mentor the fixer welded together parts from the old struts as well as the other, equally bad struts from a completely different car the SUV’s owner had found somewhere. I then reinstalled the Franken-fixed parts. Upon completion my broom and I fortunately stood far enough back that when the tailgate came crashing down (parts from two sets of old defective struts do not equal actual support) all I felt was a gentle breeze.

Through it all I confused everyone who showed up at the shop. I didn’t have to understand the 150 kms per hour of Spanish that was being spoken to, about and around me (what’s up with the big gringo?)  to know that I’d truly found a new low in self-confidence. Any shreds of self-esteem I might have retained left after I told my Tica friend, the one that I clean the house with, that I’d be able to weld a new handle onto her broken pot next week if she brought it to me at the shop. She eyed me dubiously and asked what day I’d be at the shop. Wednesday, I stated proudly. She nodded to herself, smiled and said she’d go Thursday.