Madame Duffey was a fascinating woman. She had coiffed red hair, a southern accent and that certain wackiness that all high school language teachers must possess in order to get the job. I suspect that Madame Duffey aced her qualification exams because of the fantastically strong field of wackiness she emitted. Completely off the charts.
In Madame Duffey’s class the very first thing you learned was how to pronounce the teacher’s name.
“Madame” is easy, anybody can do that.
Maaaahhhh-daaaahhhhmmm. Good, you’ve got it.
Now for the last name. She liked for us to pronounce it “Doo-Fay”.
Did I mention this was French class?
The first few days were laugh riots as we intentionally butchered the French language, pronouncing everything as literally as possible.
“Bon Jower, Phillip! Ka Va?”
“Oooo-eeee, Ka Va! Ettt toy?”
“Oh, Komkye Kavah.”
As if Madame Duffey hadn’t seen that routine at the beginning of every French class since the very first time that SHE sat down to learn the language.
One day, Madame Duffey and the Spanish teacher hatched an idea to expand the minds of the entire school by force-feeding us culture. They convinced the principal to allow them to use the school’s intercom system like a Honduran discotheque, piping music in to the lunchroom.
But not just any kind of music.
This was hardcore alpaca sweater weaving music. It was music that drunken Venetian gondoliers would sing after a hard night of pushing honeymooners around the city. It was Mongolian donkey-skinning music, Singaporean goat-wrestling music, Tlinkit whale-butchering music.
It was the world visited upon our school’s cafeteria and OH BUDDY was the world ever so LOUD!
Adjusting to the howl of world music was difficult, it was impossible to have normal conversations. You learned to sit between the people you needed to speak with the most and if you needed to talk with someone across the table it was entirely through hand gestures.
On the third day of World Music Torture I noticed The Girl. She was at the next table over from ours, on the far side of the table, facing me. The reason that she stood out from the crowd is because she was crouched in her chair. By that, I mean that she was squatting in her chair with her feet underneath her… like a baseball catcher.
It was a such a novel way of sitting, especially in the lunchroom, that I thought it worth pointing out to the dude sitting next to me… so I punched his arm and hollered “Hey!!! Look at that girl!” and pointed.
“What squirrel?” he shouted back at me, suspiciously beginning to poke at his chicken with a fork.
I jabbed him again and pointed in the direction of the girl, only to discover that she was sitting calmly in her chair acting as if she’d never been perched in it like Johnny Bench. I started to explain what I’d seen when somebody to my left let out a startled yelp.
I whirled back around and there was that girl again!, but this time she wasn’t squatting in her chair…. no, she was standing on top of her table, facetiously “rocking out” to the catchy Guatemalan toothache ballad currently grating over the tinny lunchroom speaker. She gyrated feverishly, as if possessed… as if every off-key note curdling out of the singer’s mouth was as super-cool-awesome as David Lee Roth* from Van Halen (remember, this was the 1980s, when DLR was actually super-cool-awesome). The Assistant Principal (known as “Radar” by the student population) quickly zeroed in on Dancing Girl and hustled her down off the table and escorted her away, no doubt to some secret work camp on the outskirts of the county.
But Dancing Girl did not mock rock in vain!!! Her selfless act of rock-mockery made the school shut down World Music Week far, far sooner than the language department had ever anticipated. To this day I do not know who she was or how she worked up the courage to make a stand for a nice quiet lunch hour (or if she went on to have a career dancing on tables).
All I know is that I’m thankful World Music Torture Day was foiled.
* it should be noted that in the early 21st century it was discovered that David Lee Roth’s musical stylings were in fact based entirely on Guatemalan toothache music