AUGUST 2007

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Una Hamburguesa en la Cabeza
By Rob Donald, Jul 24, 2007
In order to graduate from the College of Arts at Vanderbilt University, I had to satisfy a number of required core classes, including a foreign language component. I neglected to take a foreign language my first three years, busying myself instead taking ecstasy and engendering resentment with various co-eds, among other things. Senior year abruptly came out of nowhere (I later found out it follows junior year, similar to high school), and I registered to take remedial Spanish to earn one of my last outstanding core credits. I was the only senior in the class, most students choosing to take the core classes their first or second year to get it out of the way. I was also in Geology 101, to satisfy the science requirement, making my senior year schedule read like an incoming freshman’s. Again, I couldn’t be bothered with such trivial matters as “taking the required courses” because my schedule was already full of “taking the illicit drugs” and “taking away people’s self-respect”. I excelled in these areas.

I hadn’t taken Spanish since the 8th grade, and was surprised at how quickly I picked it back up. By the time I went to Acapulco for Spring Break later that year, I could order beer and other drinks quite successfully (Me gustarian dos cervezas, por favor). Besides the needed core credit, it was all I really wanted out of the class. I’ve always found that if you set your goals low enough, they’re easier to achieve, and consequently all the more satisfying on some type of level. Specifically, a low one.

Conducting our intro to Spanish was our el professor, a young hippie-type that played slide guitar in a local band around Nashville. He was a good teacher and always had an extra cigarette to bum out after class. He also had a rule that we could only speak Spanish in the classroom. This at first seemed a little foreboding, as none of the estudiantes were at all fluent in Spanish, but we stuck to simple stuff like the weather or school and it wasn’t that bad. If we didn’t know how to say the Spanish for an English word or phrase, we would ask, “¿Come se dice en espanol?” This allowed el clase to butcher the language in a way we could all understand.

At the beginning of class each day, el professor would lead us in a 5-10 minute butchering about what we did the night before. On Mondays, we would talk about our weekends.

“Hola clase,” el professor would begin, “¿Como eran tus fines de semana?” El professor would casually go from person to person and engage them in some light banter. The banter inevitably consisted of the words we were learning that week. When el professor asked us about our weekends when we were learning household objects, he would hear responses about our weekends buenos when we slept in our camas and turned the interruptor de luz on and off when the spirit moved us. When learning words of travel, we would tell him that we didn’t go to various countries and our pasaportes were unnecessary. Only once we learned the past tense of verbs were we able to speak of our weekends in the correct tense.

It was a great way to start each class, putting the students at ease and priming our brain for speaking in a foreign language. One particular Monday, when discussing our fines de semana, a girl in the back of the class started to seriously break up. She was laughing uncontrollably and noticeably trying to stop, to no avail.

El professor turned to her and asked, “¿Nicole, que pasa? ¿Por que riendo?”

With much effort, Nicole finally got a hold of herself and attempted to answer el professor. In broken Spanish, she explained that she and her boyfriend were enjoying a nice walk on campus after dinner Saturday night when a most unfortunate event occurred. She relayed to the class, through fits of laughter, that the two of them were walking down the sidewalk hand in hand, when a car slowly approached them. As the car neared, the passenger side window rolled down, and an object came hurtling out towards them.

At this point, Nicole was in tears. She explained that her boyfriend was hit with “una hamburguesa en la cabeza”. El clase and el professor now joined Nicole in her amusement and the room was in an uproar. Nicole added that after the hamburguesa hit her boyfriend en la cabeza, the occupants of the car let out a chorus of cackles as they sped off into the night.

It was easily one of the funniest stories I’ve heard in any language, and I relayed it to a few of my friends, who wholly concurred. All the critical elements of a well-told tale were present: rhyming Spanish words and a guy getting hit in the head with a hamburger by the occupants of a passing car. Nicole’s story left several disturbing questions unanswered. Specifically, who does something like that? Who goes around the streets of Nashville stalking pedestrians with projectile hamburguesas and then speeding off into the night? It seems like a fairly premeditated act, as one doesn’t just have spare hamburguesas sitting on the dash ready for cabeza ammo. Who exactly are these people that perform drive-by hamburguesaing? These questions would be answered, but not for some time.

My senior year marched on all too quickly, and the fallen leaves and hamburguesas of the Fall were replaced with the flowers and rebirth of Spring. About four months after Nicole’s story, I was sitting at my apartment with my roommate, Chad, idly chatting about nothing. Chad was an interesting guy with an interesting take on things. He was born and raised in America, but spent his adolescence and high school years in Brussels, Belgium, where his dad was an arms dealer. Chad had a cynicism about him that was always off-putting to strangers and greatly appreciated among our friends.

When asked his opinion on a matter, he would take the omnipresent cigarette out of his mouth and turn to the speaker slowly and say, “well essentially (his favorite word), it doesn’t really matter Rob. We’re going to blow ourselves up anyway and it’s not like your deformed fucking face is going to help you.” He was like a breath of fresh air to have around and would immediately brighten any room he entered.

I visited him once in Brussels, and the rain-soaked, gloomy streets spoke volumes. To say the least, it took a lot to get Chad excited.

As we were sitting and talking that day, Chad suddenly sprung to life in the most animated fashion I’ve seen him to date.

“Oh, did I tell you what Chana and I did the other day?” Chana was a guy in our fraternity often referred to in conversation as “that crazy fuck Chana”, and the other day I came to understand was four months ago.

“No, what?” I answered.

Chad explained that he and that crazy fuck Chana had bought 20 hamburgers (hamburguesas) from a local burger joint for whatever reason people need 20 hamburgers, and were cutting through campus on their way back home. On their shortcut, they encountered two people walking along the sidewalk.

“Chana said, ‘Quick, throw a cheeseburger at that guy.’”

He said he looked at Chana like he was crazy and said, “No, of course not.” Before Chad could say another word, Chana was rolling down Chad’s passenger window, which was on the side of the approaching pedestrians. Chana then grabbed a cheeseburger and flicked it out the window in the same fashion one would throw a Frisbee.

At this point, I was beginning to make the connection to my old estudiante Nicole’s story from so long ago. Chad went on to explain that as the burger left Chana’s hand and the car, it actually came unwrapped of its paper holding due to the english Chana had put on the burger. Traveling unmolested, the cheeseburger, with the works I was told, hit the guy directly in the middle of his face and exploded on impact. The guy’s face was saturated with ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, and whatever other toppings stuck. I suppose Nicole’s Spanish was not developed enough to describe these events as they actually happened.

Chad said it was probably one of the greatest things to which he had ever bore witness, and his uncharacteristic mirth confirmed this. He said after the successful attack, Chana and he motored off and he was laughing so hard he was in tears. I told him that I could actually independently corroborate his story, and relayed to him how I heard the story told from the standpoint of one of his victims, in Spanish. This of course greatly added to Chad’s amusement.

I now occupied a unique position in the juncture of the two sides of the story. I had heard it from a member of both parties, the assailants (my friends) and the victims. Their recounting of events roughly matched up and whatever gaps existed due to Nicole’s poor Spanish were filled in gleefully by Chad. What stood out the most to me was how both parties, at opposite ends of la hamburguesa, found the attack to be so funny. I suppose this judgment ultimately rested on what role each played in the story. While Chana, the driver, would probably join in on Nicole and Chad’s amusement, I can’t possibly believe that the boyfriend, or the accepter of hamburguesas to the face, looks back on it with any degree of fondness. Most likely, feelings of anger and a deep-seeded thirst for vengeance are awakened when he recalls the incident.

As Atticus Finch suggested, you really don’t know someone until you walk around in their shoes for a spell. Take a walk in the boyfriend’s shoes, specifically a walk through campus hand in hand with your girlfriend after a nice dinner on a nice Fall night. It’s the stuff of pleasant memories that we save to reflect upon when the drudgery and responsibilities of the real world become too much. This particular picturesque memory would of course be forever marred. Namely, by a car full of your fellow students that used your face as a receptacle for their extraneous hamburgers, and who would have laughed in this face of yours, but for the caked on layers of condiments that prevented this direct contact.

I began to really think of the boyfriend’s changed circumstances. His life and relationship with Nicole could be plotted on a timeline that delineated between pre- and post-hamburguesa. How could Nicole look upon him with anything resembling respect when she knew how others in the community treated him? Whenever they had sex and Nicole accepted the boyfriend, how could she be proud of this man on top of her who had too, accepted hamburguesas to the face by passing cars? Every time Nicole giggled to herself, tinges of the occurrence would be stirred by the boyfriend’s self-doubt.

If I were the boyfriend, my course of action post-hamburguesa would be a natural knee-jerk or hamburguesa-to-the-face-jerk reaction that would involve the following: I would have first wiped my eyes clear of the ketchup and mustard, in hopes of catching a license plate number, the make and model of the car, or some defining feature that would allow me to identify my attackers. The next few years of my life would then be devoted to a revenge so meticulously plotted to make the Count of Monte Cristo blush. Trips to the gym would be taken every day, twice a day, in order to build up my body to its peak physical condition, readying myself for the eventual clash with the ruiners of my life. I would also visit the local tattoo parlor and cover myself in ink and Bible verses that spoke of retribution, much like DeNiro’s character in Cape Fear. My left forearm would read ‘vengeance’, and the right ‘hatred’, while the entirety of my back would depict a mural of the scene with all the players present: the car, my assailants, Nicole, the hamburguesa, and of course, my face. Inscribed in Old English beneath the scene, the words ‘Never Again’ or ‘No more hamburguesas en la cabeza, no mas’. That’s just me though.

After Chad finished his recounting of the event, I was still left wondering why he hadn’t told me, his own roommate, of the incident earlier. If I were to see my friend throw a cheeseburger out of a car that connected with a pedestrian’s face, I’d be forced to tell everyone I knew that day. “Hello, Aunt JoAnne, it’s Rob, you won’t believe what I just saw…” I might even get out the Nashville phone book, start in the A’s, and tell everyone about the happiness that had recently come into my life. Who knows, maybe these things are commonplace in Brussels.

In the end, not only did taking Spanish my senior year prep me to speak to drug dealers in Mexico about weights and prices in a conversational tone, it also provided me with half of the funniest, roundabout stories I’ve ever heard. Who are these people that would do harm to passersby with hamburguesas to la cabeza do you ask? Well, my friends of course.

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