Mi Scrambled Spanish
May Men’s Room
Tim Bass is coordinator of UNCW’s bachelor of fine arts program in creative writing.
Half-awake in mid-morning, I bumbled into the food room of the hotel in Rio Grande City, Texas, searching for strong coffee and a tasty breakfast. There, I encountered an impressive array of possibilities: fruit, cold cereal, a juice machine, pancakes, muffins, oatmeal, those little cartons of milk I hadn’t seen since grade school, and – ahhhhhh – omelets, all neon yellow and meticulously folded, then stagger-stacked like Rolodex cards, each uniformly sized in the way that only good machines can manage.
The sign on the glass read WESTERN OMELETS, and I thought, Yum – no mere omelets, but Western ones. And why not? I was in South Texas, after all. I figured these omelets must be packed with peppers, sage, and all sorts of other Lone Star goodness. I could grub on a couple of these and pick my teeth with a cactus spine.
Then a question crossed my mind: What, exactly, is a Western omelet? I’d had one before, in the distant past, and I recalled a big and colorful bundle of cheesy, eggy stuff. But the specifics eluded me. And since having that omelet, I’d given up meat. I wondered if these Texans improvised. What did they add to their Western omelets: brisket? armadillo? tenderloin of rattlesnake? I found myself on the longhorn of a dilemma.
Finally, an employee emerged from the kitchen to round up the breakfast fixin’s (and to drop a kind hint for me to grab my chow and hit the trail). I stopped her between the pancakes and muffins.
“Excuse me,” I said, “is there meat in the omelets?”
She just looked at me and said nothing. I nodded toward the omelets, as if to specify which ones I was asking about.
“Do they have meat?” I said.
She smiled and still didn’t speak. I got the feeling that asking about the eggs made me look like a yokel.
Then it hit me: She didn’t speak English. I just smiled back, and she kept smiling, and after a few more awkward seconds, we sidled off in opposite directions, each of us a little confused.
I went for a banana and pondered my situation. Why, I wondered, had I never taken the time to learn Spanish? That’s not to say I didn’t take Spanish classes. In fact I did – two full years in high school. I started in French, but I washed out and switched, signing up long after my Spanish teacher, Miss Beane, had given everyone their translated names. I was the second Tim in the class, and the other one had already snagged Timoteo, so Miss Beane called me Fernando, which always made me feel like a bullfighter. And that’s all I remember about year uno of Spanish. The next year, in Spanish II, I read The Great Gatsby (in English) during class.
It took me almost the whole blasted year to complete the novel because of all the people speaking Spanish around me. In college, I signed up for a year of German and loved it.
To this day, though, the only foreign language I know for sure is the first sentence from my French textbook in ninth grade: “Mangeons dans un restaurant ce soir?” Let me tell you, that kind of talk won’t help you decipher breakfast in South Texas.
As for Spanish, I’m such a fracaso that I can barely order at Taco Bell. And I don’t think they have omelets.