One thing that I don’t think I will ever do again is get on the evening-class merry-go-round. I have done a few such classes in my time and what’s especially pitiable about this is that I always get really excited about the prospect of them. I lay my hands on a community college brochure and start thinking that I’m clutching the antidote to the futility of my existence.
Now, I have often made the mistake of taking evening classes with someone else. My trouble is that whenever I do anything with anyone, the other person will be better at the activity than I am. This was the case even when my best friend and I collected for the Red Cross. I was twelve, but doing the collecting because I thought it might somehow enable me to find a rich future husband, if my friend and I were particular about in which suburb our manoeuvrings took place.
My attempt to shore up my romantic future had been inspired by the 1979 Rex Smith vehicle Sooner or Later, about a thirteen-year-old girl in love with seventeen-year-old aspiring musician Michael Skye. After she confesses that she’s only thirteen, they agree to ‘take it slow’, although the film does conclude with them kissing in a way that, these days, would see Miranda Devine needing to restock her toner. In any case, no, I didn’t find a future husband, and my best friend always collected a lot more money than I did, which, as she and I operated in a pair, taking it in turns to give the same short speech, with an equal lack of conviction, preys on me to this day.
Anyhow, several years ago, my ex-boyfriend and I enrolled in a cooking class, because, I felt, it would bring us closer. Our teacher took the approach – which I could only applaud – of, to save time and bother, simply doing the cooking himself, so I don’t remember anything of what I was supposed to have learnt. I do remember, though, that one of the other members of the class, Mark, was quite handsome and the class cutup – I’d always hankered after a cutup – and, as I knew from relentless eavesdropping on everything he said, didn’t have a girlfriend! I couldn’t believe it; my boyfriend was standing in the way of a glorious future for me, like he was Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun. Ultimately, and again through eavesdropping, I heard Mark’s views on how ‘the Jews run everything’, which made him a less attractive prospect, but, nonetheless, my first evening class had merely made a bad situation worse.
A couple of years later, though, a friend talked me into signing up for a tap dancing class. Not that she had to work too hard to persuade me; for many, many years, motivated, I think, by That’s Entertainment! and That’s Entertainment Part II, I had had a fervent ambition to give tap dancing a try and, what’s more, was secretly convinced that I would excel at it. Sadly, though, I was unable to master even the simplest step, while my friend was apparently Ruby Keeler raised from the dead. She kindly attempted to rectify the discrepancy between us with external coaching, like she was Kevin Bacon and I was Christopher Penn in Footloose, had Footloose been made in 1932, but I think I somehow managed to be worse at tap dancing by the end of the course than I’d been at the beginning of it.
Nonetheless, a few years after that, I decided that the solution to my world-weariness was to take an evening class in Russian. This was despite the fact that I am no good even at those foreign languages with which English shares an alphabet. Still, I was convinced that I would do extremely well and bought about a hundred books to help me with my studies, in which, I was sure, I would be engaged for the rest of my life. I even believed that I might move to Moscow and be a kind of Eastern European Mary Tyler Moore. Well, of course, I was completely lost within about the first two minutes of the first class; as I usually do in these situations, I had taken a moment to congratulate myself on actually having understood something and so missed a vital piece of information. I spent the rest of the initial class, and every class that followed it, mute with terror. What’s more, I had talked my mother into attending, and in no time she practically had the fluency of Catherine the Great ordering a bejewelled vessel for her favourite horse to eat his hay from.
Still, it was only a couple of years after my failure at Russian that I determined that I would learn to belly dance. This was, first, because I liked the bespangled costumes, and, second, because belly dancing has a reputation for accessibility. I had read so many accounts of how unlike, say, becoming a prima ballerina, it is something that ‘women of all ages and sizes’ can do, that I had assumed that any fool could manage it. Well, it appeared not; my movements had all the fluidity of a performance by Terence Stamp.
The vileness of belly dancing wasn’t helped by the other motif of my time in evening classes – my teacher’s hatred of me. Presumably, these people hate me so much because my being so bad at whatever it is they’re teaching makes them feel that their lives are being lived in vain. I’ve been on the end of this hostility even from yoga teachers, and you expect a yoga teacher to have a good personality, not be like Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase.
Essentially, every time that I’ve done an evening class, I’ve spent the day on which the class takes place feeling as though I’m going to the electric chair at seven pm, an option that I frankly would have preferred. I recall once hearing a loud noise in the office on a day on which I had a class and sincerely wishing that a terrorist attack were occurring. My death, and that of all my colleagues, seemed a small price to pay for me not having to attend Beginners Guitar. I think I have finally grasped that the only real pleasure for me in any further education is in enrolling, when I am dizzy with the possibilities. If, as Phillip Larkin wrote, ‘Life is first boredom, then fear’, evening classes make one’s life a matter of concurrent boredom and fear.