Two years ago I moved to a farming town, and while it's good to be free from the honking, there is something I have come to miss: English. Where I live, even the billboards are in Spanish. Neighbors refer to me as "the white guy."
It's okay for my wife Yahaira. She speaks Spanish and English ... at the same bloody time. Have you ever been enjoying a song on the radio when Spanish cuts in? That is the soundtrack of my life.
"Hey, Jude, don't be afraid -- "
"You quiero sentir tus labios -- "
"And any time you feel the pain -- "
"Numero uno en exitos, ciento siete punto UNO!"
My wife is not alone. Barriofuls of people are straddling the two languages, unwilling to commit. Insiders say they may secede altogether and call themselves Spangland.
Here is an actual sentence from a conversation in my home: "You know Maria. Ella es la persona who went to the wedding con nosotros el julio pasado. Remember?"
People ask why I don't learn Spanish, and the answer is easy: peace of mind. Can you imagine how hard it would be to tune out my wife if I understood everything she was saying? When she moves into Spanish, I consider that free time.
Once in a while, though, it backfires. There was, for instance, the day she called from the store to say, "Honey, do you want some ... como se dice ... patita de pollo, you know, patita."
"Um. All right. Gimme two."
That night I ate chickens' feet. Two.
My wife is content for me to stay monolingual. It allows her to talk about me in front of my back. I know when it happens because she speeds up and the Spanish gets more complex: "Jason is situated here beside me, attempting to comprehend our dialogue, so I will convey quickly and in complicated terms the fact that I may, at any moment, insert my foot deep into Jason's derriere..."
And I just stand there smiling. Blah blah blah Jason. Blah blah blah Jason.
Of course, I can barely understand my wife when she speaks English. She started learning the language when her Spanish was only half-installed, and her tongue has not recovered. Yahaira gets down from, not out of, the car; she dreams with, not of, other people; and while other couples spoon in bed, we "scoop" (I'd prefer to fork, but so it goes).
In Spanish, all plurals end in "s," and Spanglish is no different. I have on underwears, the lottery is at 32 millions, and white people eat a lot of spaghettis.
"It's spaghetti," I say, "No s."
"But there are so many of them."
"We'll touch bases about it later."
I've stopped watching TV because it can't entertain like Yahaira. Figures of speech are confusing by definition, but placed in the wrong hands ... Let's just say a little English can be a dangerous thing.
"Come on," she says. "Finish your drink. Jug it down!"
"Oh, I'm just watching old-runs on TV. They're on a desert island."
"Hurry up! The toilet's overfloating!"
"You said you'd go tonight. Don't back up on your word."
"We've got to nip this problem in the butt."
"Does your mom care that we're an antiracial couple?"
My wife always has reasons for her slip-ups and spends a good part of her day chasing me down to explain them.
"I thought it was a peak preview because you're peaking at something."
"Isn't it drug snuggling because they hold the drugs close to their body?"
"They call it tobacco sauce because it makes your eyes red."
"Old-Timers Disease is when old people forget things."
In light of my laughter, Yahaira has given up clichés in favor of making noises. Every item in our house has a sound now. Many of them whistle.
"Papi, have you seen my woohoo-woohoo?"
"My pinza, you know, the jigamathing."
(Yes, gentle reader, I understand that it's "thingamajig," but I don't have the galls to tell her. She might go bazooka.)
I fear that my own English is spoiling by osmosis. I find myself looking up terms I knew in third grade. Was bob wire really named after its inventor, Bob? It's only a matter of time before my language skills are limited to woohoos, como se dices, and jigamathings.
At a restaurant Yahaira ordered smashed potatoes and cold slaw. The waiter chuckled and wrote it down. We were, after all, an antiracial couple. But when I asked for crunchies on my salad, he raised a brow.
"Shall I assume you mean croutons?"
"I could mean just about anything. I'm from Spangland."