At Winter Park High School, my girlfriends and I were hopelessly square, and didn’t go to the kind of parties “you didn’t need an invitation for”, i.e., keg parties. This left us to make our own fun on weekends, which frequently consisted of making prank calls to our Spanish teachers. Remember this was the early 1980s, well before the days of caller ID. We had a series of dialogues that we were forced to memorize in Elementary Spanish and recite so many times that, to this day, they are ingrained in my memory. I will go to my grave pondering whether Lili is indeed la tia de Susana. We used these contrived dialogues as the script for our prank calls.
One evening, we were at my friend Page’s house and called Senora Petrunic. Page was on the phone while Dana and I sat on her bed and egged her on. Senora Petrunic answered. Page began to prattle, reciting the dialogue as we had in class. “Quien sabe quando llega Eva? De los Estados Unidos? Yo Se! Quando, Adela? El Sabado!” giggled Page into the receiver. Then, “Es Lili la tia de Susana?” After prattling on a bit with Senora Petrunic, who was actually a pretty good sport, Page looked horror stricken and hung up the receiver. It seems her mother had picked up the extension in her room and barked, “Page Collins, who are you talking to? Who is Lili?” As my own teens would say, we were so busted. You can imagine how excited Page was to walk into Spanish class the following day.
I don’t know why it was always our Spanish teacher that bore the brunt of our teenage high jinx, but it was. Our senior year, we set our sites on our Spanish III instructor, Hilda Ferrero, who sadly, was not the brightest luz in the chandelier. We called her one evening.
“Hilda?” I screeched, in convincing Spanglish. “You’ll never in a million años guess who this is!”
Hilda, excitedly: “Who?! Who?!”
“It’s Carolina from Miami! Como esta? It’s been so long!!”
“Oh!!! Carolina!! Carolina from Miami!!”
Not knowing what to say next, I lapsed into the memorized dialogues from Spanish I, about when Eva would arrive in the United States and going to the dog races.
“Quien sabe quando llega Eva? Vamos a la carreras de perros.”
“Es Lili la tia de Susana?”
Hilda finally figured out that she was the victim of a cruel deception.
“Wait…I don’t know you,” she charged.
This, of course, became the punchline in our jokes for the remainder of the year. “Wait…I don’t know you.”
Another ruse she never caught onto involved impromptu speeches, which the class dreaded. When it was your turn to speak, you would go to the podium and pick a mystery topic out of a hat. You’d read what was on the slip of paper, and place it back in the hat. Some of them were quite difficult – it was Spanish III after all – things like “Give directions from your home to school” or “Describe a picnic you’ve been on.” However, one of the topics you could draw was “Wild Card” which allowed you to revert to kindergarten Spanish, stringing together anything you could say that happened to be in Espanol. For example, “Me llamo Betsy. Tengo diez y seis anos. Yo vivo en una casa. Es Lili la tia de Susana? ” As I mentioned earlier, poor Mrs. Ferrero was not shrewd to the ways of the American teenager. It didn’t seem to strike her as a statistical anomaly that although there were twenty or so topics in the hat, about 7 of 10 people would approach the hat, extract a slip of paper, and disbelievingly but triumphantly announce “Wild Card, again!”
When I went away to college, I continued my Spanish studies, and indirectly, my torture of the Winter Park High School Spanish department through my younger brother, Geoffrey. One March, when I was home on Spring Break, I helped my brother and his best friend, Lawrence Kolin (now a respected Winter Park lawyer) construct a phone booth out of an old cardboard refrigerator box in the driveway. They were building it for a skit they planned to perform in Spanish class the following day. I told them it would be more authentic if they spray-painted Spanish graffiti on the outside. They wondered what to put, so I spelled out for them some of the Spanish vulgarities I was now learning in college-level Spanish. As you know, though, there are different levels of profanity. There’s mild, PG-level swearing of the H-E-double hockey sticks variety, and then there’s the XXX rated variety. I told them I was spelling out the former, when in reality I was having them paint messages that instructed the reader to do the unmentionable (think Clint Eastwood’s chair’s instructions to Mitt Romney). When the phone booth arrived at school the following day, the Winter Park High School Spanish faculty were not amused. They gathered around the offensive refrigerator box, scowling and tittering in Spanish, and decided that Geoffrey and Lawrence would not be allowed to perform their skit in class and would be given an automatic F on the project.
They didn’t believe Geoffrey’s excuse that his sister had told him what to write.
“I remember Betsy! She was such a well-behaved girl–an A student, not like you! She never would have done something like this.”