One of the books I inherited from my grandmother’s personal library was The Return of Hyman Kaplan by Leo Rosten. It is the sequel to the infamous Education of Hyman Kaplan, which Rosten penned under the sagely-sounding pseudonym, Leonard Q. Ross. I read them both, out of order, and enjoyed them immensely. The Hyman Kaplan duology chronicles the misadventures of an olden day night school teacher whose job is to ensure that his culturally diverse class of immigrants to the United States will have a firm grasp on our strange, native language.
Now, this would be a fairly simple process if not for the presence of a student named Hyman Kaplan, an eccentric fellow and a deep thinker who possesses a highly unique understanding of how English works – or should work. He’s not stupid, you see; his reasoning is surprisingly (almost aggravatingly) philosophical, even if it comes out sounding incredibly silly. Sometimes, his analysis technically makes sense, but when applied to the English language, it simply cannot work. Other times, it simply doesn’t. Either way, the end results are simply hilarious on so many levels.
To top it all off, he writes his name in the most unusual way. With crayons. In multiple colors. And with little stars between each letter. The minimally formatted text of this post simply cannot do it justice.
I was pretty young I read Hyman Kaplan for the first time. Even if I didn’t quite get some of the references to the first book, at my young age, I understood enough of the humor, chuckled at the odd ways Mr. Kaplan philosophically butchers the English language, and understood most of the writing. (“‘Scuse me, Grandma, what does ‘pedagogical’ mean?”)
The books really aren’t bad as books written for adults go, content-wise. Its humor is intellectual and remains that way throughout the book. If you love the English language in all of its idiosyncrasy, you’ll put these books back on the shelf with at least one fond memory to laugh about.
I recently looked through some of my old writings, and my eye fell on this story. I picked it up.
Apparently, at some point, I had attempted to write a fanfiction of Hyman Kaplan, entitled The Employment of Hyman Kaplan. If my memory serves me correctly, it was to detail the lives of Kaplan, his teacher, and his former classmates after they either graduated, quit, or (most likely in Kaplan’s case–) expelled from the American Night Preparatory School for Adults.
“Mr. Parkhill and the T*R*U*C*K D*R*I*V*E*R”
by Allison Q. Rose
It was a dark and stormy … well … evening, as Miss Olga Tarnova – an alumna – would have romantically described it. (Even if it was snowing, or if it was just plain sunny, the Russian-born ballet dancer would have found some sort of dramatic method of categorizing the day.)
The American Night Preparatory School for Adults had just closed down for the night. Adults of varying age and ethnicity clamored through the large glass double-doors, pouring out onto the street in clusters, conversing among themselves in their respective languages. Whether they could actually understand each other remained a mystery.
Mr. Parkhill, a teacher at the school, eyed them all absent-mindedly from the open doorway.
This school (for those who do not already know) was a school for foreigners, new immigrants to the United States of America. Here, they would learn to master the basics of the English language and its culture, by reading, writing and, most importantly, speaking English. Being a rather small organization, the ANPSA held three classes: one being for beginners, the next for those who had mastered – and survived – the beginners’ grade, and another for the valedictorian candidates, who were usually the only students who could make it that far. To most of the ANPSA’s students, the highest grade level seemed as unreachable and elusive as a distant star.
However, the faculty tried to encourage their ambitious charges to work to the best of their potentials, for one day, a rocket ship bearing good grades may one day take these students as far as that distant star. Mr. Parkhill could only reassure himself in futility that this method of transportation was still in commission.
“Good night, Miss Mitnick,” said Mr. Parkhill, saluting the last student to leave the building, as he had been doing to all who had entered and left.
“Good night, Mr. Parkhill,” said Rose Mitnick shyly as she shifted her stack of books to her other arm. She walked down the sidewalk, threading her way through the jumble of other students, toward the bus stop. Miss Mitnick had journeyed into the vast oceans of grammar and civics with Miss Higby as of last year, when the absence of a certain vigorous – but not so rigorous – student had made it possible.
Mr. Parkhill waited for the last of the lingering students to leave the vicinity before locking the doors. The other members of the faculty – Miss Higby and a Mr. Rogers – had long headed home either by bus, train or by foot. Then, he started walking home.
Nowadays, the bus was slower, for the traffic was heavily congested, and as new solutions to cutting down on weight were coming out, he figured that walking was a better way to lose weight than starve one’s self into oblivion.
As he trudged through the rain-slicked sidewalks, Mr. Parkhill thought back to that evening’s class. It had been the final class of the semester at ANPSA, so he had just barely managed to put together a decent but easy to comprehend farewell speech for his students of the beginner’s grade.
“I am quite pleased, ladies and gentlemen, to say -” though he hadn’t truly meant it “- that you have all mastered the beginner’s level of the English language.” The class, which consisted of twenty-odd students, had oohed and ahhed at the notion of mastery. “However, please do keep in mind, all of you, that there is far more to learn about English that can be learned beyond the walls of this classroom.” Such as in Miss Higby’s classroom across the hall.
“Hence,” he had continued, daring to use such ancient and complicated terminology, “I would love to see you all return for the next term in Miss Higby’s class down the hall.” He had forced a smile, one which he had hoped had looked encouraging, and also forced himself to say, “thank you for attending the American Night Preparatory School for Adults this year.”
After this short speech, he handed out little rolls of paper wrapped in red ribbon, which, once unrolled, would show the name of the school, the name of the student, and a short congratulatory passage which lauded the student’s diligence and desire to learn. The message was canned, and the paper on which they were printed fresh from the photocopier.
These little “certificates of achievement,” as Miss Higby had insisted on calling them, were a newly-adopted custom which she had suggested one break period, where she, Mr. Rogers and Mr. Parkhill had huddled together in the courtyard to discuss what Mr. Rogers had insisted would be a “graduation ceremony”.
Of course, Mr. Parkhill had protested their idea, stating the fact: none of his students, no matter what, deserved a diploma. Even if they did, it would make the beginners’ grade class feel too high of itself, and become too confident in its ability to read, write and speak the glorious English language. His stated case had been laughed at, by both fellow teachers in unison. Chuckling, Mr. Rogers had guaranteed Mr. Parkhill that he would still bring up Miss Higby’s “ingenious” idea to the board at the next meeting.
Mr. Parkhill kicked at a pebble in frustration. Whenever he had something to say, it wasn’t taken seriously. Not even Miss Higby took him seriously anymore – not since the day Hyman Kaplan came along….
Mr. Parkhill’s thoughts drifted to Kaplan. The eager fellow had enrolled in ANPSA several years before, and like most of their students, he had started out in the beginner’s grade. Kaplan had vowed to “slafe and loin” without cease, and produced several interesting submissions to Mr. Parkhill’s assignments. A small project on naming simple opposites would come to a lengthy discord on “Naut Caroline and Saut Caroline”, and a simple essay-writing assignment became “A Play!” about one L.X. Hamilton and another Tom S. Jefferson who simply couldn’t get along – or speak English very well, for that matter. But what was truly disturbing about every paper that Mr. Kaplan turned in was his signature: his name would be written in red crayon – all capitals. The letters were outlined in a luminescent blue, and between each letter was an unusually loud green star.
This apparent signature looked so sophomorically confident, the way it was drawn on every paper like a young blood’s graffiti on a wall. It seemed to say, “I wrote this, there is not a thing wrong with it, and even if there is, you can’t do anything about it!” It was almost mocking, and Mr. Parkhill did not care to be mocked.
Of course, there had been a time when Mr. Parkhill’s own name had been emblazoned in red and blue with stars of green, and it had touched him greatly. That had been one of the last papers that the fantastic Mr. Kaplan had turned in before leaving the school for good, possibly to learn whatever remained of the English that could be learned outside the walls of the ANPSA.
It had indeed become quite a dark and stormy night, for rain began to come down at full swing, wetting all of the unfortunate pedestrians who didn’t have raincoats. Mr. Parkhill was one of them.
There were only two more blocks to go before Mr. Parkhill got to his apartment building, and maybe he could get there before the rain started to get really bad, so Mr. Parkhill ran. His patent-leather shoes slipped on the rain-slicked sidewalk, so he slid to a stop before he could fall into anything – in the middle of the street!
Mr. Parkhill remembered the way his own mother had trained him about street safety. “Always look both ways,” she’d say gently. “We look this way,” she’d add, looking right, “and then that way,” and she’d look left. She’d do it twice to make sure there were absolutely no dangerous cars.
“And never, ever, ever stop in the middle of the street,” she’d add. “You don’t want to get hit by a car, do you?” Little Timmy, as he’d been called at age four and a half, nodded his head vigorously. Now, at forty-three years of age, he still felt the same way. The world, however, continues to turn in complete disregard of peoples’ feelings.
A large, red, eighteen-wheeler truck barreled down the street, its lights flashing through the pouring rain and its horn honking loudly. The gap between man and vehicle was closing rapidly. Mr. Parkhill stood there, frozen in fear, awaiting certain death.
But then, something happened. Miraculously, the big truck, brakes screeching in effort, stopped, only a few feet in front of Mr. Parkhill. Before our fortunate unfortunate could let out a sigh of relief, the driver’s door opened.
Two booted feet, attached to two denim pants legs, were visible behind the door, climbing down the ladder. When they reached the solid ground, Mr. Parkhill could see that they belonged to a most important person. The man wore a heavy rain coat over denim overalls, and underneath the wide brim of his baseball cap, his freckled, worry-creased face was undeniably familiar.
“Mister Pockheel?” came the surprised voice from beneath the brim. “You be doink goot?”
Mr. Parkhill had to bite his tongue to keep from saying, “doing well, Mr. Kaplan!” This was not a classroom atmosphere.
Almost hesitantly, his eyes strayed to the side of the truck that had almost come barreling down upon him. A business name – a brightly-colored one at that – was emblazoned on the cab door.
DELIVERY ALL THE TIME!
“You are looking fonny on de truck, Mister Pockheel,” Hyman Kaplan said quizzically. “You are in shack, yes?”
Mr. Parkhill fainted on the spot.
I never did write another chapter to this story, but if my memory serves me correctly, there was to be a discussion of how much real fruit juice is in the bottle if it is clearly marked “20% real fruit juice,” and a story where Kaplan encourages Mr. Pockheel to serenade Miss Higby with a song the former heard on the radio called “Eleanor Higby.” The first names of the teachers, Timothy Parkhill and Eleanor Higby, were my own creation, as I didn’t recall Rosten ever giving them any. I created Mr. Rogers as well.