Friday, April 23, 2010

Lost. In Translation.

I once found myself at 2:00AM spread eagle with my hands on the trunk of a taxi in Mendoza, Argentina while two police officers in tactical gear took turns frisking me and asking me who I was and where my passport had gotten off to. I tried to calmly explain that I was an exchange student, was leaving the next day to return to the United States, and that my passport was on a nightstand next to a bed in my host family's house a few blocks away.

This didn't seem to satisfy the curiosity of my interrogators. Maybe it was the multiple glasses of wonderful Argentine wine I had consumed in the preceding hours or the way the taxi driver nervously tugged at his jacket and kept repeating, "There's no problem here," but I didn't seem to be getting anywhere with the two militaristic looking policemen holding my Texas driver's license (the only ID I had on me) and my thoughts turned more and more to the horrendous human rights record Argentina had earned a few decades earlier and the thousands of disappeared that have never been accounted for.

Eventually they explained to me that there had been a spate of taxi robberies. They did this as they waved their hands mocking exhaustion and blamed it on The Crisis. Everywhere in Argentina in 2002 all manner of problems were blamed on the crisis. The buses aren't running: The Crisis. The prisoners are rioting: The Crisis. It's unseasonably hot: The Crisis. As they followed my cab they noticed that I had been leaning forward from the back seat and appeared to be having an animated conversation with the driver and assumed it was a hold up.

The officer speaking to me half smiled in apology and I took this as an opening to explain to him what we'd actually been discussing. The taxi driver, finding out that I was an exchange student, had asked me how I had enjoyed my time in Argentina. Feeling emboldened by the wine, I decided to try to be clever (side note: this is never a good idea in a second language). I told him my time in Argentina had convinced me that the world was coming to an end.

"Really, how so?"

"Well, The United States made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup," I said.


"I went to Patagonia to see the whales and there was no wind," I continued.


"And there was the biggest earthquake in years," I finished.

"I see...that's interesting. I have to disagree with you, however," said the driver. "You see, The Bible is very specific about the coming of the End of the World."

"Oh, I know," I laughed, "I was just making a joke."

"I know you were joking, but God's word is very specific. There are seven signs. The rivers will turn to blood, the ..."

It was about this time that we were pulled over and the previous scene was played out to the point where I decided to explain to the policemen what the taxi driver and I had been discussing. As I started in on my "End of The World" line of humor I could see the taxi driver cringe. I pushed on anyway thinking he was just your run-of-the-mill religious fanatic (they exist in every country). When I finished, expecting at least a polite laugh, the policeman I had been directing my stand up routine to was staring at me blankly.

"I see what you're saying," he said. "But The Bible is very specific about the Signs of the Apocalypse."

"That's what I said," exclaimed the taxi driver.

I finally made it home that night a bit cowed by my inability to be funny in Spanish and wondered how, in the span of a few hours, I had gone from wine-fueled joviality to a frisking that led to a theological lesson. I couldn't wrap my mind around it then and I still can't now. Maybe it was The Crisis. I'm feeling a bit like that night these days except The Crisis is much more personal to me and much more complex than an ill constructed sentence in a foreign language or a mis-conjugated verb.

I have a girlfriend I love dearly. To be fair, we're so different I think sometimes we are speaking different languages, but when things are still and the world has slowed down just a little, there's no one else I would rather have wrapped in my arms. The problem is, things have not been still recently and instead of slowing down, the world has sped up for us both. Her sister has just had a baby and mine has one on the way. She just got promoted and either has to sink or swim but hasn't been in her new position long enough to even know how deep the pool is yet. I've been promoted due to a prolonged absence by my boss and am experiencing many of the same frustrations and running up against the same terribly steep learning curve. We've been working opposite hours. There are a whole slew of other complications, fears, and frustrations that really have no business being posted on a blog, but all of them are at least equally as weighty as the ones I've just described. In the midst of all of this I have tried to be a good boyfriend, but my attempts have sometimes come off looking just as cumbersome and addled as my End of the World routine. To make it worse, I feel like maybe my apologies have as well.

In my mind and in my heart I want this period to end the way I had envisioned my interaction with the cops would. I wanted them to throw there arms up in laughter, hand my driver's license back to me, pat me on the back, and wish me safe travels. I want my girlfriend to sigh in relief, hug me, and rest knowing that we made it through all of this together. That in spite of our differences, we are stronger for having them. I'm afraid though that in that moment after it's all still again I'll be face to face with a cop in Argentina wondering how in the world I got there and searching in vain for an answer.

I guess what's really important is that I told the joke not knowing if it would be funny or not. I told it in an effort to connect, with the thought that somehow, in such a strange situation, the taxi driver, the cops, and myself could all willingly wind up in the same punchline. In the end we all did, just not as I had envisioned it.

I think the joke is funnier for it.