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. Continue reading →