No high school teacher sticks out in my memory in detail like Mr. Heidler, better known as Señor Heidler, our Spanish teacher. This is because I had him as a teacher in all my three years at Taft Sr. High Scool, 1974-1976. I took Spanish in 9th grade at Wilson Jr High School and then decided to continue when I got to high school.
I liked Spanish. I liked the sound of the words. Spanish and I got along very well, probably because it follows rules very well. I loved mathematics for the same reason – learn the rules and you can perform any problem. Learn the rules of Spanish and you can conjugate most verbs and pronounce almost every word. So I got to sit in Señor Heidler’s classes for 3 years and I was a good language student. I’d have to say that I had the best command of Spanish in our class. This was to play out to my advantage one day in a funny practical joke.
In my senior year, me and 2 other students were enrolled in Spanish IV. Because there were only 3 of us, they placed us all together with the Spanish III kids. Some of the Spanish III kids were juniors and some were seniors. My best friend Joe was in that class as well as my very good friend Rob, both would later one day stand up for me in my wedding party. Additionally there was a funny character named Dave Moore who I plan to write a funny episode about at a later date. Finally there was Jim Weisberg. Jim was relatively intelligent but he had a way of speaking and presenting himself that could make you think perhaps he wasn’t. This characteristic really showed up best if Jim got embarrassed. This had the impact of making Jim very likeable and very funny to watch when embarrassment was playing out.
Señor Heidler, (Joe I think was his name), was an easy going guy who let folks sit where they wanted so we 5 characters all sat near each other in class. Mild mannered Mr. Heidler had no problem with keeping order in class. He had a subtle way of calling out a person when he spotted a need. He rarely dressed anyone down in an obvious manner; instead he would attack with perhaps a difficult question, causing the individual to lose track of whatever they had been doing which might have been disruptive.
I did hear firsthand of one time he ‘lost his temper’ with someone. My sister-in-law Traci told us of an incident from her Spanish class. Traci has propensity for communication, (which is a nice way of saying the girl can talk constantly). From listening to her retelling of the story and my knowledge of Señor Heidler’s tendencies and behaviors, I surmised Mr Heidler had probably had enough of Traci and likely was tired of constantly having to shush her. So one day he tells her that she reminded him of someone he’d seen on television the other night. Traci says really, who? To which he replied “Sybil”. The class cracked up and Mr Heidler had finally found a way to get Traci’s goat. For you younger readers who may not know who Sybil is, she was a character played in a TV movie by Sally Field. The character had 13 different personalities – well played Señor Heidler, well played.
Back to the topic of practical joking, in class we had been reading a novel called Pensativa. Once a week we would get assigned a bunch of questions from the book and then we would all take turns writing out the responses on the chalkboard, in Spanish. On one particular episode, Mr Heidler had the left side of the class beginning with writing their responses on the board. Jim Weisberg had not done his homework. He had counted the class heads and could see which question he was going to have to write the answer to.
I was sitting 3rd in our row, Jim right behind me and Joe behind Jim. Right beside us in the next row was Rob Menzer and Dave Moore. As our Row’s turn to go to the board gets closer, Jim quietly whispers up to me – “Duck” (Duck was one of my nicknames), “did you do the questions?” Me – yeah. “Can you tell me what to write for #17?” Me – Sure Jim, hang on and I’ll write it out for you.
And so I turned around and started to write out Jim’s response for him. After I had it written I held onto it for a brief moment to time my delivery with the point our row was asked to go to the board. Our turn came….we all went to the board and wrote out our responses. As we were walking back to our desks, I whispered to Joe “watch this, watch when it’s Jim’s turn”.
Well the time came for each member of our row to read his or her question and response. The first two of our row went and then I took my turn. Meanwhile Joe had spread the word to the rest of our class clan that something monumental was about to occur. Jim’s turn was here!
It could not have played out any better and I wish I were a better writer so that I could do this scene its justice. Señor Heidler just stood there staring at the next sentence. He must have halted perhaps only 30 seconds, but it was noticeable and for me, the moment is easily recalled in my mind as if it were being replayed for me on Youtube or a movie monitor. Heidler said, “um, Jim?”
Jim – “yes?”
Heidler – “could you please read the question and your response?”
What was that? Did Señor Heidler just now give me a quick side glance?
Jim read off the question and then he read ‘his’ response, the response I was so nice about giving him. I had thrown in a few words that I knew Jim or no one else would know and so the class was pretty ‘non reactionary’ after Jim read his response. Meanwhile, Joe Heidler was being brilliant. He never cracked one smile; he didn’t raise an eyebrow, nothing.
Mr. Heidler’s next move was even better. “Jim, can you please translate your response?” Jim couldn’t of course and his embarrassment was just beginning to peek through. Jim’s response was this – “well…..that’s just how I saw it”. Mr Heidler just shook his head up and down slightly in an affirmative gesture, still not showing any emotion and said – “would you like me to translate it for you?”
Jim smiled and casually remarked, “sure”. Now, for the life of me I can’t recall today what the question was; I haven’t a clue. What I remember very well though was that I had written out a longer and very nonsensical response. The next words to come out of Mr Heidler’s mouth, he deliberately said a tad slower and slightly louder so that there would be no one in the class missing Jim’s brilliant response to the Pensativa question.
“Pensativa had developed a severe mental problem and had fallen in love with a horse’s head.”
You could have heard a pin drop…for about 5 seconds…and then the entire class erupted in chaotic high school laughter. Joe Copas (read me) was laughing so hard he was crying. When Joe gets to laughing so hard, it’s infectious and makes me laugh uncontrollably too so we were all cracking up. Meanwhile, Jim’s face got slightly red. He wasn’t laughing like we were, he was just looking at me with that ‘thanks a lot, Duck’ look.
Mr Heidler let this go on for a minute or so before he proceeded on to the next question. Before doing so though, he gave me a quick glance and just a hint of a smile. Señor Heidler and I had had a moment and I got to tuck away a very special and funny personal memory.
Hoy todavia hablo Espanol, pero no mucho, solamente palabras faciles. Gracias Señor Heidler, gracias por los recuerdos. (Thanks for the memories)
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