17. Latin (part B)

(Eddie Trombone explains here why he believes Latin is essentially the same as Japanese, leading us to reflect, I’m sure, less on this particular theory of his and more on why we pay taxes to support a public education system that can produce such muddle-headed thinking.–Consular Ofc. Dirkins)


Puella Aquam Portas.

Onna no ko wa mizu o hakobimasu.

The girl, the water, carries.

Japanese is Latin. It’s virtually the same language, just with different words. Japanese, like Latin, places all the objects and people and stuff out on the stage while the listener waits with bated breath to see what is going to finally happen. And that’s just it–it all finally happens. I mean, it happens finally. At the end. When the speaker finally drops in that verb he’s been palming all along. It’s got all the suspense of those three card Monte hustles on the El train. Where’s the red queen, where’s the queen, follow the lady, where’s the lady, and then BOOM, there she is. On the El, you lose $20. In Japanese and Latin, you lose your patience.

So a guy starts a conversation with:

  • my aunt Lillian
  • an olive
  • three astronauts
  • weeds
  • a baseball bat

And you’re there waiting and waiting to see if Lillian is going to hit an olive over the heads of three astronauts and into some weeds, or if they all smoked some weed through an olive-colored baseball bat, or if Lillian caught one of the astronauts taking her olive and then grabbed a bat and . . . well, you get the picture. Or you don’t, until it’s too late and someone’s been hurt.

There are hints along the way. The a at the end of puella and the wa after onna no ko tell you that the girl is probably going to be sort of like the subject or topic of the sentence. The m at the end of aquam and the o after mizu tell you that the water is probably going to be the object of something or other. The speaker will sometimes throw a verb into the middle of the sentence just to keep you from wandering away, but he keeps that main verb face down. Keeps you there leaning over that raggedy piece of cardboard watching his hands for the red queen. What’s going to happen? Where’s the queen? Where is the frickin’ queen of hearts?

Metaphorically speaking.

The red queen, those hints at the end of the nouns, my inability to learn either language. Yes, Japanese is Latin. Same thing, and the solution could not have been clearer. In order to learn Japanese, I would have to first master Latin.

“Logic, right?”

“Excuse me?” Mr. Halkias sounded irritated. Or maybe I caught him during lunch. Japan was, what, 14 hours ahead of . . . no, behind . . . unless it was summer . . .

“Can I help you?” Yeah, he was getting irritated.

“Mr. Halkias. You teach Logic, right?”


“What happened?”

“Replaced it with Religion.”

“They replaced Logic with Religion?”

“World Religions. Got someone from the Branch Davidians coming in next week.”

“And you’re teaching that now?”

“No. They moved me over to Spanish.”

“I didn’t know you spoke . . . “

“I don’t. Some of the Mexican kids are teaching me.”

“Oh. Well actually that’s perfect, because I was going to . . .”

“What’s perfect about calling a taxi driver in Juarez a pig testicle?”

“Uh, nothing, I suppose. I meant . . . “

“Little bastards told me testículo de cerdo meant ‘driver.’”

I watched the orange numbers on the pay phone tick down, my phone card balance steadily slipping away.

“Yeah, well what I meant was, I was calling to speak to Mrs. Goetz. She’s still teaching Spanish there, right? Used to teach Latin . . .”

“I should have known from the cerdo part.”

“Mr. Halkias?”


“Mrs. Goetz. May I please speak to Mrs. Goetz?”

“She’s in Joliet.”

Joliet Men’s Correctional Center (archive by Kikuchi)



“But Joliet is a men’s prison.”


“And Mrs. Goetz is not a man.”


The numbers on the pay phone ticked softly through a long silence.

“Oh, I see what you mean.” It finally dawned on Mr. Halkias, with only 120 yen remaining. “No, she’s not in Joliet, she’s just in Joliet.” The orange numbers ticked down to 60. “You know, at Joliet. She’s teaching English as a Second Language there.”


“By the way, who the hell is this?”


“Eddie who?”

“Eddie Trom-”


Mechanical gears twisted and convulsed inside the large, green payphone, one final jolt finally shaking loose from a bit of yellowed cellophane tape on the side of the phone a card with a phone number and a picture of a 27-year-old hooker dressed in a high school girl’s uniform and red stilettos. She tumbled head over heals, landing finally on the dirty subway station floor, from where she smiled up at me until her face was gradually eclipsed by my spent phone card which was ejected slowly from a slot at the front of the phone. The phone card, with a cartoon of a blue monkey smiling madly and riding through the jungle on the back of a pink hippopotamus, stopped just short of the hooker’s red stilettos, making it appear as if the hippo was wearing the titillating footwear and consequently adding a vaguely indecent quality to the otherwise innocuous, albeit improbable, scene.

“-bone” I finished softly to myself.

Then gathering my courage in that dank subway station, I looked up towards the heavens, or at least street level, and shook my clenched fist. “I will learn Latin!” I exclaimed. “I will learn Japanese!” And the tiny grandmother who had been waiting behind me all this time gave me a shove with her surprisingly sharp elbow. I stumbled, stepping

A subway kiosk (archive by Kikuchi)

directly onto the hooker’s face and sliding on that card nearly all the way to the kiosk, where my foot came off the card and hit the clammy cement floor, the sudden and unexpected traction then sending me hurtling into the side of the little structure, where I spun around and came nose to nose with a woman whose many years working underground selling sugary treats, canned tea, cigarettes, and soft-core pornography had left her pale and irritable. “Fohn kahd o kudasai!” I ordered, pointing to a phone card with the same pink cartoon hippopotamus, this time dancing on its hind legs against a photograph of Kyoto’s Kiomizudera Temple.

“It’s time!” I exclaimed to a subway station full of people who literally could not have cared less. I paid the kiosk lady 1,000 yen, and she dropped the phone card onto a stack of magazines at the front of the counter. I picked up the card, revealing impossibly large bikinied breasts, and, once again addressing no one, announced, “It’s time to call Mrs. Grumplebutter!”


(Your guess is as good as mine. –Consular Ofc. Dirkins)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 17. Latin (part B)

  1. humanagers says:

    Ah, yes, the last refuge of the government lackey – the Grumplebutter card. This was so expected. Ah, has life lost all its ability to surprise?

    For those less interested in the tired old Grumplebutter ploy, check out Japanese is not Latin at Hatakana’s Notebook (IV)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s