Of Julius Scissor and Gary Baldy

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New York in the 1930s, and a new term is starting at the Night Preparatory School for Adults (‘English – Americanization – Civics – Preparation for Naturalization’). The long-suffering Mr Parkhill is confronting the first piece of written work given in by his class, the beginners’ grade – an exercise entitled ‘Fifteen Common Nouns and Their Plural Forms’:

Mr Parkhill came to one paper which included the following:

house ......... makes ..... houses
dog .............. “ ........... dogies
libary ........... “ ........... Public libary
cat................ “ ........... Katz

Mr Parkhill read this over several times, very thoughtfully. He decided that here was a student who might, unchecked, develop into a ‘problem case’. It was clearly a case that called for special attention. He turned the page over and read the name. It was printed in large, firm letters with red crayon. Each letter was outlined in blue. Between every letter was a star, carefully drawn, in green. The multi-coloured whole spelled, unmistakably, H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N.

A ‘problem case’ certainly. For during the following months Mr Kaplan’s heroic struggles with the English language drive poor ‘Mr Pockheel’ almost to the brink of breakdown. How is he to deal with a student who conjugates the verb to ‘fail’ as ‘fail, failed, bankrupt’, for whom the opposite of ‘dismay’ is ‘next June’, who confides that his wife suffers from ‘high blood pleasure’ and who spells the name of the Italian Resistance fighter – hero of Mr Kaplan’s fellow-classmate Miss Carmen Caravello – ‘Gary Baldy’? Always smiling, ever-confident, Mr Kaplan is not easily corrected, and never actually seems to learn anything. Yet there is a demented logic about his mistakes and malapropisms that is so original it has a kind of brillianc

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About the contributor

When Hazel Wood returned from America she became a journalist. She has written several books, none of them her own.

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