Meet Senor Pastrana

August 27, 2009
By IAteTheApple SILVER, Great Neck, New York
IAteTheApple SILVER, Great Neck, New York
6 articles 4 photos 3 comments

I’d like to introduce you to my Spanish teacher, Senor Pastrana. Unfortunately, I don’t always understand what he says. I think you’d see what I mean after listening to him for a while. I can tell from the way my classmates’ eyes glaze over that I’m not the only one who thinks this— his voice seems to have a profound effect, similar to that of Lunesta. But, if you stayed awake long enough to listen to him, to really listen to him— not necessarily to understand his words, but to understand him— I think you’d find Senor Pastrana a fascinating person.

Senor Pastrana has a comb-over and a curious way of speaking. Maybe it’s because he speaks so many languages that he never really bothers to finish a word. The words seem to peter out as they leave his mouth, like the last syllable is caught on his teeth. This would explain why words sometimes are jagged in peculiar places. They get caught and jumbled and accented in the wrong places when you least expect it, so that a familiar sentence suddenly smacks you in the head with a “HomeWOOOORRRRk…” It’s like walking across your living room floor and catching your toe on a lose floorboard that sends you careening down. Sometimes I wonder if Senor Pastrana does this on purpose to jolt students out of their daydreams. Maybe he’s testing if their listening. Occasionally, he’ll punctuate a very important sentence with a smack on the teacher’s desk or a stamp of his foot. When all else fails, he’ll explain a grammatical structure and question a day-dreaming student all in one sentence, so you don’t have any forewarning. This is my favorite. “Sooo, you leave the verb ending ooon in the imperfect forrrrmmmm conjugate teneeeer for me StephanIE!” When Stephanie mumbles incoherently Senor Pastrana will say, “StephanIE! You were not list-en-ING!” and stamp his foot after each syllable.

Senor Pastrana will threaten any number of things, pop tests and death among them, to wake his students up. When they’re awake, they declare Senor Pastrana their favorite teacher, and shout out suggestions for model sentences. Then they promptly fall asleep again. The students bounce around between the two extremes of consciousness and unconsciousness, but Senor Pastrana always stays the same. Whether or not they’re listening, the model sentences roll off his tongue, accompanied by his own frank and candid observations on life. “’Isabella will be pretty when she is older.’ Isabella estaba bonita cuando ella esta meyor. No, Isabelle will still be ugly.” I think Senor Pastrana is aware of what makes his students laugh, but he seems so aloof it’s hard to tell. He doesn’t laugh, he says his joke and moves on. In the computer room, he fixed a set of headphones on his ears and said, “Hello, this is your captain speaking.” The class dissolved into laughter for five minutes, but he continued on obliviously, giving directions for the assignment.
Sometimes, if he’s included himself in the sentence, his students will press him for more information. The information he provides never makes sense, though. The more he’s questioned, the less consistent his answers are. How can a person be married and divorced simultaneously and have two children one day and three another? How did he go from 53 to 56 in a matter of weeks? The only fact that has remained consistent is his home country—Spain, though occasionally he’ll insist that he was born in France.

He seems so far off sometimes, especially when I greet him in the hall. He looks up, confused, and then mutters a barely discernible greeting in my direction. Personally, I think he lives mentally back in Spain and makes brief visits to New York periods 1,3,7 and 9. We’re always viewing him through a window, my classmates and I, as he screeches in on his transatlantic flight. Senor Pastrana lives on the other side of the glass—the Atlantic, even—his world not quite intercepting ours, though visible. It’s funny then, that a man so unreachable is charged with being the bridge between two cultures and languages. He’s always floating out there, in the gray space, his words slightly muffled by the window pane.

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