Language Arts for a New Millennium

Learning Spanish (for your gardener), Thai (your hooker), Bureaucrat (your scientist friends), and Digital (your enemies)

As the roaring lion of early March mellows into April's balmy lamb, it's time for S.F. gardeners to prepare for another spring planting season: putting in ageratum, cosmos, impatiens, lobelia, marigold, and petunia; piling wet newspapers around the roots of bare-root plants; squishing slugs and snails.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that our upscale, garden-owning readers actually perform any of these tasks. I mean to say that it's time to sign up for the "Brush Up Your Spanish" course advertised in Strybing Arboretum & Botanical Gardens Classes, Workshops, Field Trips & Tours newsletter. There, under the "Gardening Classes," it says garden owners can "Develop a [Spanish] vocabulary for communicating simple gardening instructions. Grammar and verbs will be emphasized."

By April, one can presume, you'll be shouting, "Aplaste los caracoles, joven!"1

Intrigued that such a class might be offered at San Francisco taxpayers' own Golden Gate Park, I contacted Strybing class coordinator Kitty Fisher. "We're saying that, for those people who have Hispanics in their garden, this class will help them," Kitty says.

Mightn't people be offended that city facilities could be used to help landed swells order their Latino gardeners around? After all, Strybing offers no other language classes, and makes no other reference to speakers of Spanish.

"No. No. There's no racial overtone in the world," Fisher assures us. "That's the last thing we want to do. Today there are more and more Hispanics working in gardens. I travel in Marin, and I see more and more Hispanics in those gardens. If you're the head gardener, you need to communicate with them. We can't have any racial overtone in this article. Number one: We have a horticultural Spanish class. Number two: It's so people can be able to communicate better with workers and themselves. That's what we really have. OK, Love? Have we got it right?"

I think so: Can you say, "Kay say vayan a la cheengahdah, peenchays explowtahdowreys."2

If you're not much for gardening, yet are keen on exploiting the downtrodden, there's always Thai Language and Culture for Queer Travelers 101, offered this spring at the Harvey Milk Institute.

Thailand, of course, is notorious as the world's sex tourism capital, a place where streets crawl with toothless German plumbers clutching spandexed waifs, where restaurants offer sex as a menu item, and where the sex industry has been described as one of the cruelest vehicles of human suffering in the world. It's a place where indentured servitude, AIDS, and child sex labor are commonplace. Thailand is best known as a destination for straight prostitution aficionados. But a United Nations spokeswoman assures me Thailand is a full-service sex-tourism shop with ample options for customers both hetero and not.

"There seems to have been a queer travel burst to Thailand, and we've had great instructors," notes Kevin Schaub, executive director of the Institute.

But is this about, um, sex tourism?

"I'm sure it's part of it," Schaub says. "I don't think it's the central thing."

So, students, to review our text so far: The director of the Harvey Milk Institute openly acknowledges it's sponsoring a class attended -- at least in part -- by students hoping to solicit Thai hookers. Some readers may find this appalling; at SF Weekly Enterprises, we're more concerned about losing a potential line of business. Before anyone else horns in on the market, we're launching Thai Language and Culture for Heterosexual Travelers 101.

Lesson one: "Kuun ah yuu tahw rai?"3

Midterm: "Koon pen po chai ru poo ying ?"4

Final essay: "Paeng bpay."5

Currently under development: SF Weekly's Russian Language and Culture for the Marriage-Minded; Malaysian Language and Culture for Sweatshop Bosses; and Swahili for Diamond Mine Owners.

Speaking of travel and culture, those rocket scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories in Alameda County sure know how to get around. The Labs, apparently scornful of pedestrian travel since beginning work on the Hypersoar 6 jet, have spawned a nuclear explosion in automobiles. Nukemville leases 1,260 motor vehicles for use in shuttling its 7,300 employees around a one-square-mile campus. This is 363 more autos than the maximum number allowed by federal guidelines, according to a recent report by the Inspector General's Office of the U.S. Dept. of Energy. The cars are provided in addition to 800 shared bicycles available, free of charge, to employees, a free, on-demand taxi system, and a network of sidewalks and paved pathways where one can actually walk from building to building.

Bi-pedism and bike riding are legacy technologies, to be sure. But imagine the spiffy bomb parts one might buy if one wasn't spending $3.6 million per year leasing government automobiles, $690,000 in excess of what it costs to lease the maximum number of autos allowed under federal guidelines.

I called Lawrence Livermore spokesman David Schwoegler and floated the idea of getting rid of, at the very least, the extra 363 cars. In keeping with the spirit of an organization known for developing new nuclear weapons in possible defiance of international treaties7, Schwoegler wouldn't budge.

"We're using our vehicles appropriately. We have the appropriate number, based on the accounting our contract requires," Schwoegler says, referring to a space-age accounting technique that allows a single trip of slightly less than one mile to Walnut Creek to count as 77 trips. That way Nukemville brass can inflate reported vehicle use, then put in for even more vehicles based on government standards allowing one car for every 9.2 daily trips.

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