Tales from the Deaf Side: Adventures in Shopping

(All posts imported from Blogger blog http://randomgrey.blogspot.com/   I simply cannot wrangle the formatting properly on WordPress.  Indents, paragraph spacing, et cetera. It’s really annoying.)

There will come a time in everyone’s life when the crushing weight of a vast and uncaring Lovecraftian cosmos will bear down on you.  Like Job of old, your every move will be stymied, your every hope crushed.  If it hasn’t happened to you yet, rest assured – like a particularly vicious game of Duck Duck Goose, it will come to you eventually.

Don’t dwell on it.  Just accept the truth of inexorable fate steamrolling you and have a scone.

Just so we’re clear, the scone won’t help in any way.  It’ll just remind you that you could bought a moist tasty muffin instead of a nasty dry scone.  Then you’ll curse the British for inflicting this fate on you, and cursing the British for their pastries makes for a good distraction from your horrifying future.

See, everything has a purpose, even scones.

Today, my exorable damnation took the form of a middle-aged man ahead of me in the 12 Items or Less aisle at the grocery store.  More specifically, the daemonic form of a middle-aged man carting a muckle of groceries – I didn’t count, but the damned cart was full to the brim – without the slightest consideration for those of us who didn’t want to stand in line until 2019 to purchase a few necessities.  He’d slipped in just ahead of me, practically at a run, barely avoiding clipping me in the process.

Strangulation seemed singularly too kind a fate for such a vile and cartoonish villain.  I only mention this because I briefly considered strangling him in the name of justice and goodwill toward men.  At some point, I knew deep in my soul, this man would cause hundreds of deaths in an orphanage fire because he cut off a nun trying to buy a fire extinguisher.  It just felt inevitable, and keep feeling more and more inevitable as I glaringly examined his cart.

He had easily thirty-five plus items.  While I didn’t actually count, I estimated pretty accurately.  None of them were larger than a box of saltines, and with the cart filled to the top, thirty-five was on the deeply conservative side.  Trust me, I was born in the Mississippi Delta, so I’m quite familiar with deeply conservative.

I, incidentally, had eight.  Yes, the number after seven and before nine.  If there’s another ‘eight’ that exceeds ‘twelve’ that I’m unfamiliar with, rest assured I’m not referring to that one.

I actually counted my own items twice as part of my planned defense to the jury were I to go ahead and strangle the man.  Eight was almost low enough that I could convincingly argue that not only was the strangulation justified, it was actually a moral imperative of the sort that any civilized society would have encoded into law before they ever got to the stuff about killing and stealing and selling booze on Sunday.

Not quite low enough, though.  Seven? probably.  Six? absolutely.  But I wanted every single item in my basket and couldn’t bear to part with even one of them to lower the number to seven, let alone six.  I needed those olives, dammit, for my own unspeakable but highly pleasurable purposes.

Not that any of this mattered.  Eight items is already less than – or, rather, fewer than – twelve items.  Did the math twice, just in case my biases were showing through. Eight items remained fewer than twelve items, even when I accounted for the four separate bananas that constituted the collective bunch I’d picked out.  That came out to eleven, which cannot be construed in any fashion as greater than twelve.

So, heady with the rush of doing some math, I decided to do even more math.  As the man removed items from his basket, he examined each one at length, as if puzzled at how this particular box of laxatives fit into his personal worldview.  I was tempted to explain the connection there, using my cursory understanding of scatology and exactly where his head currently resided.  Instead, I calculated how long this process would take.  My best estimate:  one year, three weeks, two days, eleven hours, and an indeterminate number of minutes.  Then I calculated the average length of a murder two sentence.  Relying on very scanty knowledge of the criminal justice system, I arrived at a figure of seventeen years, four months.  Then I subtracted ten years for the sense of satisfaction I would gain from strangling the man.

Sadly, even after that deduction, violence seemed to lead to the least pleasant of the possible outcomes.

 

The reason I chose this aisle was pretty straightforward.  The cashier knew me from many previous trips to this store. She knew about my hearing loss and that trying to hold a conversation with me would require more time and effort available to either of us at 5:30 in the afternoon during the pre-dinner rush.

Not a big deal, really, at the time.  Her lane was open.  I had an appropriate number of items, and I figured it would simplify my egress so I could go home, put the stuff away, and head to the coffee shop.  So I just took five steps (also fewer than twelve, for those of you who care) forward to enter her lane and get on with my life.

So, quite understandably, I found the Completely Lacking in Math and Basic Human Decency Skills Guy’s behavior even more aggravating than it otherwise would have been.

Nevertheless, I came to the inevitable conclusion that there was nothing to be done for it unless I wanted to go through the bother of a lengthy trial for murder two, and lengthy trials rarely end up like you dreamed they would when you were a starry-eyed child hoping to be acquitted of a very scandalous (but entirely-justified) strangulation event.  I glanced around at the other aisles.  For such a busy time, remarkably few aisles had been opened.  Exactly three, in fact, including the one I currently stood in.  One looked a bit too lethargic for my tastes.  Translation: mostly older sorts, people who were likely quite nice but also likely to insist on balancing their checkbook and possibly exploring the virtues of reverse mortgages while paying for their groceries.  So I took the other one, which seemed reasonably populated by people who’d share my love of getting the hell out of the grocery store with all due haste so long as a basic level of safety was maintained.  Such lovely-looking people, and I’m not just saying that because of the appearance of impatience to get this over with.

Actually, I am just saying it for that reason.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Situational beauty is still beauty, right?

I took my place at the end of the line.  While I cannot now recall exactly how many people were in line – I didn’t know at the time that I’d need to recollect all the details of my little adventure there – I reached the cashier in a little over ten minutes.  My items placed safely on the belt, my basket placed on the other side of the bagging area, my soul stuffed back down in a place where it could be free of thoughts of strangulation, I pulled out my wallet and a credit card and proceeded to look expectantly at the cashier.

The cashier seemed to be new, or at least I’d never seen him before.  A nice enough looking fellow who took care of my groceries with the proper speed and accuracy.  I stood poised to insert said card into the card reader as the cashier scanned the last of my groceries (the aforementioned bananas, if anyone is insanely curious) and pressed some appropriate part of the screen to indicate the scanner was currently evaluating bananas.

I gave him a small, friendly smile as he caught my eye, and started to look down at the card in my hand.

I say ‘started,’ because meeting his gaze had been a huge mistake.  He apparently took that as an invitation to ask me something.

I say ‘something’ because his attempts to ask me a question had been a huge mistake.  He apparently really, really wanted an answer because he simply refused to finish the calculation of the final total until I offered him a satisfactory reply.

I say ‘refused’ because he absolutely would not let go of his question.

This is how it went down:

“I’m sorry, I have severe hearing loss.  I can’t understand you.”

A quite reasonable interjection into the flow of this nascent conversation, I felt, given the circumstances.  My pride at constructing those two sentences on the fly might have been unreasonable, but they were nevertheless appropriate.  Direct, to the point, grammatically sound, and completely free of unnecessary metaphors.

This did not in any way satisfy him.  Not even in the slightest.

Various subtle clues led me to this conclusion.  The most obvious one was the fact that he proceeded to immediately repeat himself.  Luckily, I am in possession of a prodigious intellect, so the significance of this clue did not escape me.  He clearly wasn’t going to accept such a facile and pointless contribution from me to the conversation and just as clearly demanded that I stop screwing around and just answer the damned question.

One deep breath later, I took a quick inventory of the possible things he might be asking.

My grocery items were all firmly bagged in plastic.  I didn’t even see any paper bags as an alternative, and rebagging my groceries at this late point in the game seemed ridiculous anyway.

Unless Earl Grey teabags I bought had been declared a controlled substance at some point in the week since I last purchased a box of them, none of these grocery items required a picture ID.

The card reader took care of asking if I wanted to do debit or credit.  Just so you won’t be surprised by my choice when I describe it later, I would have chosen debit.  You know, had he been kind enough to just finish totaling the price and giving me the option to stick my card into the slot.

I had not given him any reason to ask me on a date, so, disappointingly, that wasn’t likely to be the question.  Granted, I would have turned him down on account of not being gay, but it would have been nice to be asked.

He hadn’t shoved a copy of the Book of Mormon in my face, so it seemed unlikely he was trying to recruit me to take a covered wagon to Utah.

Very unlikely, I calculated.  But still possible.

It would be a cold day in hell before I got into a Mormon covered wagon without so much as a glimpse of all the sister-wives that would be made available to me.  A cold damned day indeed.

So there was only one thing left to say in the matter of Random vs the possibly gay possibly Mormon possibly both cashier:

“I’m sorry, I have severe hearing loss.  I can’t understand you.”

He looked visibly annoyed.  I kept my expression blank, with just a touch of contriteness.

Somehow that gave him all the prodding he needed to ask the question again.  I knew it was the same question because, while I couldn’t quite understand him, the movement of his lips and the vague sounds I could hear were exactly the same as the first two times.

I goggled at him.  He just opened his eyes as wide as he could and waited for my reply.

The standoff seemed to be reaching epic proportions.  Not since Gilgamesh challenged Humbaba the forest spirit had such a resolute (perhaps even foolhardy) conflict of wills taken place.  On one side, a cashier who wanted me to answer what seemed to be a very short and basic question.  On the other side, me and my intense desire to just see this conversation ended so I could get my groceries – which included chilled perishables and dairy products – back home and safely inside whatever repository seemed most appropriate.  Which, I emphasize again, included chilled perishables and dairy products, all of which would be best suited to being placed back inside a contraption of some sort that one could use to keep them chilled.  As luck would have it, I possessed such a contraption.  A refrigerator, some might call it, mainly because that’s exactly what it was.  My life has been so much easier since the invention of this marvelous method of chilling items, but there was a catch – I had to get said items to the refrigerator in order for it to do its intended job.

Unfortunately, for all the modern conveniences of this new world of ours, science has yet to develop a reliable system for transferring items into such a contraption from the site of an impasse in a grocery store checkout line a mile away.

Or had it?  I briefly catalogued all the various and magical things my phone could accomplish that a phone circa, say, 1950 could not.  Perhaps there existed an app, a program, a magical computer fairy specializing in quantum entanglement and teleportation methods that could solve this pressing issue for me.

Okay, no.  That was a deeply stupid hope.

But in the absence of any possible escape to latch onto with all the desperate vim I could muster, deeply stupid hopes were my last resort.

It must be said, and probably has been said, that the number of times I reach the ‘last resort stupid thoughts’ stage in my daily life is quite excessive, if not downright soul-destroying.

Since the distance problem seemed irresolvable at this stage, and the stupid thoughts problem was simply an ongoing condition that had plagued me since my first words (Huh? and Derp, if I recall correctly) and would likely follow me into whatever afterlife I managed to earn, all I could do was repeat myself for the third time.

“I’m sorry, I have severe hearing loss.  I can’t understand you.”

And he repeated himself for the fourth time.  I carefully kept my face neutral as I sighed to myself.  On the Day of Wrath, that Dies Irae where the quick and the dead are judged, they say we will face an accounting and recounting of all the moments of our lives.

If that happens, I have absolutely no doubt that recounting this conversation will put God Herself to sleep on the throne.  Or irritate Her enough to banish both me and my erstwhile cashier to the Purgatory until we find a way to reach an some sort of peace with each other through yelling, screaming, heavy-duty roleplaying, and a melodramatic re-enactment of our battle of wills at the register.

Eschatological thoughts aside, the current situation remained unresolved.  So I tried one more time.

“I’m sorr…” and I momentarily wondered what the hell I was sorry for.

On a basic level, I know perfectly well why I found myself compulsively apologizing.  It’s been bred into me like kicks into a donkey.  Can’t escape nurture entirely.  Also, I’m naturally polite, and you can’t escape nature entirely.  And then there’s the fact that I’m philosophically polite.  Can’t escape…um, something something entirely.  I’m polite not because I have to be, or because everyone deserves to be treated politely, but because I feel it helps make the world a better place.  Sometimes you just have to cater to the really unpalatable types in order to make the day better for those who deserve to have a better day.

Incidentally, despite the fact that I began to engage in lengthy wondering, I completed the reply above:

“…y, I have severe hearing loss.  I can’t understand you.”

Suddenly, after all the headache and heartache, after the long and weary road, after my very own pilgrim’s progress past Vanity Fair and through the Slough of Despond all the way to the Cupola of Disability, after many a lonesome mile, after the cups, the marmalade, the tea, among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me…finally, finally he gave up.  The undisguised look of annoyance on his face didn’t bother me at all, any more than a torturer poking me with a needle while bending me on the rack would have.

Bigger issues, you see.  Bigger issues.

Had I been in possession of illegal fireworks and/or illegal drugs, I would have celebrated the moment in a fashion that the people in line behind me would not soon forget.  Sadly – or, more precisely, luckily – I had neither of these about my person at that exact moment.  So I celebrated by finally inserting my card.

What little dignity he’d left me almost went away.  Luckily, at the last second, I realized I was putting the wrong end in and rotated the card around to the chipped side.

Almost to the finish line.  Almost, almost, almost.

I may have mentally chanted that word a few times.  I won’t confirm I also mentally chanted a few less socially-acceptable words.  You’ll just have to assume I did.  Since you have no proof, I am denying any such thing ever happened and that’s that.

I pressed the appropriate buttons to confirm I wanted to charge it as a debit card.  Then I requested $40 cash back, entered my PIN (why it didn’t ask for my PIN before asking if I wanted cash back, I have no idea), paused for the briefest second to ensure I’d entered the right PIN for that card, and finally ascertained I had, in fact, entered the proper sequence of numbers before pressing Enter.  The metaphorical finish line glowing before me like a band of angels, I looked up expectantly.  All told, the process took approximately 20 seconds from inserting the card to pressing the last number in my PIN.  I could almost smell the sweet, sweet opium poppies of freedom on the breeze.  I waited as the cashier finished up the cashierly stuff necessary to complete the transaction and the register drawer opened.  He reached toward those stacks of cash.  Almost…almost…and he stopped and looked at me.

My internal wail of despair turned into an internal high-pitched screech of incipient madness.

Just let my people go, my eyes begged.  Let us follow our bliss, embrace our destiny, dance in a particularly upsetting rain, chase our fluffy clouds of ambition.

If he had even the slightest talent for translating the prolix motion of eyes into English words, he demonstrated none of it.  His mouth opened and…yep, you guessed, he said something.

Seeing as he’d already demonstrated a complete inability to understand the various nuances of my glares, my eyes replied, Go to hell on the B-train express to the deepest pit.

 My mouth, on the other hand, said, “I…okay, same problem as before.  I’m sorry.  I can’t understand you.”  I took care to emphasize the ‘can’t’ on the off-chance that he thought I was refusing to understand him out of pure irrational dislike for him or his voice.

So what did he do?  Yep, you guessed it.  He apologized profusely, pulled out his phone, exchanged numbers with me, and engaged in a lengthy text discussion of our current predicament, culminating in a point by point explanation of his side of our entire interaction.  Then he clocked out and we went out for coffee and beer together.

(Yes, I am being sarcastic.  Why are we stating the obvious today?  Are we playing a game of some sort?)

He.  Repeated.  Himself.  Of course he did.  This encounter could have ended no other way.  I realize that now.  The universe works according to a plan, and it was sure as hell not going to deviate from that plan just to save me an enormous amount of aggravation.

Then, in one shining moment, I guessed what he said and gave the universe a mental finger.  He was asking what denominations I wanted.  Most cashiers don’t bother asking, so I can be forgiven for not realizing this immediately.

So I said, “Doesn’t matter.  I’ll take whatever collection of bills you can assemble so long as they add up to $40.  Please.”  I didn’t even add the ‘Please’ belatedly.

Even as I realized how snarky that sounded, I tried to keep my voice light and friendly.

I tried to feel bad about letting a bit of my serious aggravation with him slip into my reply.  Instead, I told myself that he could have just given me two $20s on the very reasonable assumption that had I a particular preference, I would have told him so already, for the love of all that is holy.

I took the cash (two $20s, as it turned out), grabbed my bag, muttered a very quick “Thanks” and left the store with as much speed as I could muster without indulging in crazy power-walking movements.

For everyone wondering, and I know you are, I got my groceries home and put away.  Then I got a well-earned cup of coffee and started writing this.

 

When they make the inevitable blockbuster Hollywood musical version of this, and you can rest assured they will, I want to be played by a tousled but lovable civet cat with good motor skills and mediocre fashion sense.  Or Daniel Day-Lewis.  Either will be acceptable.  And because all great heroic epics need one, my love interest (who, and I cannot emphasize this enough, must not be the cashier) needs to be a lovely human brunette female with kind eyes, a graceful walk, and a good sense of humor.  Also, an obvious predilection for civets and/or Daniel Day-Lewis would not be amiss.

You know what?  Let’s stick with the civet.  Daniel Day-Lewis would probably shiv his eardrums out of a misguided obsession with method acting.

~Fin~

Postscript:  I should clarify that I hold no animosity toward the cashier.  Whatever his life experiences had been up until that point, they probably hadn’t adequately prepared him for that situation.  It happens.

Mr. Completely Lacking in Math and Basic Human Decency Skills Guy, on the other hand, needs to have some basic math and human decency skills smacked into him.  That’s just not acceptable behavior in civilized society.

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~Tales from the Deaf Side: Another Brief Interlude~

(All posts imported from Blogger blog http://randomgrey.blogspot.com/   I simply cannot wrangle the formatting properly on WordPress.  Indents, paragraph spacing, et cetera. It’s really annoying.)

~In which I learn that, yes, I am a dumbass and really slow on the uptake….

The story today begins, as a worryingly large number of my stories do, in a coffee house.  My usual one nowadays, a quaint little place off to the side of the local university, staffed mostly by students and catering to the same, plus some professors and an eclectic variety of local color.  It’s a nice place, if somewhat lacking in available electrical outlets for public use.  When the place first opened, back in the early ‘90s, that wasn’t really much of a concern.

I was busy writing, as usual, and caught a sideways glimpse of a young woman in a wheelchair as she came to a stop beside a table near me, maybe 8 feet away from where I was sitting. Nothing to pay much attention to, really.  Just another customer.  So I returned to what I was working on for another 30 seconds or so.   Out of the corner of my eye – for when you’re losing your hearing, your subconscious really starts keeping track of things on the edge of your line of vision – I noticed the woman looking pensively about, as if searching for something or somebody.  She seemed to be in need of some help and nobody else seemed to be paying attention.  So I did what any dumbass who keeps forgetting his current situation would do – I looked up at her and asked, “Do you need help?”

As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized my mistake.  A smarter man than me would have seen this coming a mile away.  Then again, a smarter man than me would probably wait for his Americano to cool slightly before drinking to avoid burning his throat.  I fail to manage that one at least once a week, so it’s probably best to keep any expectations of intelligent behavior from me subdued, if not downright insultingly low.

She replied.  And, of course, I had no idea what she was saying.  As soon as I spoke, I knew I had just committed a major faux pas and I was already formulating my apology because I must have looked like a total ass.  I mean, who offers to help and then immediately says he can’t help?  How twisted can a person be, mocking a handicapped person in this fashion?  What perverse horrors lie in such a man’s past to have turned him into this atrocious and sublimely-petty villain?  And what would Batman have to say about my nefarious actions?

As I rushed to explain myself, she was already repeating what she said.  Or perhaps calling me a slack-jawed dickwhistle.  Either would have been reasonable reactions.   Our exchange had already garnered the attention of others nearby, and I briefly considered making a break for it.  In time, perhaps, the events of the previous minute would be forgotten as the witnesses grew old and died out and perhaps a nuclear holocaust took care of any others these witnesses might have shared this story with.  Then I could return to collect my things and quietly sneak out the back door before dying in the irradiated landscape of this blasted and blackened Earth.

After a moment, one of these witnesses, an older gentleman, came over to move a chair away from the table so the woman could maneuver her wheelchair up to it, bringing an end to what passed for a dialogue between her and me.  I tried one last apology before just returning to my work and hoping that whatever judge awaits me in the afterlife, he or she would have a transcript of my thoughts (or lack thereof) immediately preceding my original question and realize that, no, I’m not an asshole, I’m just really stupid.

My grasp of contemporary eschatology might not set the world on fire, but it works well enough for me.

I’m not sure what to make of all this, really, except that I ought to have internalized my hearing loss by now.  There’s really no excuse for slips like this.  If one wants to move through this world with as much semblance of normalcy as possible, one must learn to tread the line between the unavoidable exigencies of one’s situation and the avoidable pitfalls resulting from it.  While I’ve never particularly cherished normalcy except as a way of avoiding the bother of causing a ruckus, I still find myself occasionally wishing that I didn’t have to always reflect on how my hearing will affect any given situation.  Partly because I’m too lazy to make the considerable effort necessary to compensate for it, and partly because, even after all this time, I’m still not quite used to my new reality.  Maybe I never will be.  Mind you, I accept it just fine.  There’s no sense in dwelling on something I can’t change.

But good God, I need to learn to actually think before I open my fool mouth.

Of course, everything I know about myself suggests that might be asking a bit much of me.  Maybe I should just embrace my dumbassery and learn to make it work for me rather than against me.  That’s possible…right?

I’m just going to assume it is.  Makes the prospect of losing even more of my hearing so much simpler to deal with.

~Fin~

~Clown in the Moon~ (Rambling thoughts)

(All posts imported from Blogger blog http://randomgrey.blogspot.com/   I simply cannot wrangle the formatting properly on WordPress.  Indents, paragraph spacing, et cetera. It’s really annoying.)

~Clown in the Moon1~

Some days, I believe in ghosts.

In a metaphorical sense, that is.  I’ve neither seen nor felt anything in this life that would give me reason to believe in literal ghosts.  So I don’t.   They’re the products of our fears and, strangely, hopes.  We fear death, yet also hope that death is not final, that we survive in some form.  Though few hope to be ghosts, for tragedy and loneliness are generally the attendant themes of such a condition, many hope that ghosts provide proof of the survival of the self, the persistence of the soul.  It’s an odd, if understandable, disconnect in the human psyche.

I’ve never been one of these people, though.

In the end, all ghosts are, whether one chooses to believe in them or not, are the semiotic expressions of who we are.  Symbols and metaphors for longing, symptoms of our inchoate fears of the Great Beyond.  Like metaphors, ghosts are born in imagery, in the need to grapple with a too-literal world.   And in this literal world, death itself is entirely literal.  We create symbols to hold the truth at bay, abstrusions to create the comforting illusion of distance.  None of them are verifiable, nor should they be.  A symbol that can be rendered concrete is useless.

So when I say I believe in ghosts, what I really mean is I believe in the power of the imagination.  In the end, ghosts are real because we are real.  We haunt ourselves, and there’s precious little we can do about it.

When we lose people, it seems we never quite manage to stop talking about what they would have thought, what they would have believed, how they would have reacted.  The more we miss them, the more we recreate them in hypotheticals, like intellectual and emotional ectoplasm forever haunting us at the most unexpected moments.

Or perhaps intellectual protoplasm, evolving inside us at the cellular level, pervasive as the insistent chill of stark memory, and just as difficult to dispel.

But, of course, we’re always talking to ourselves, not them.  Never them.  Even when we believe in ghosts, a part of us always knows they have nothing left to give us, neither advice nor love nor comfort in the wee hours of lonely mornings.  La mort n’a peut-être pas plus de secrets à nous révéler que la vie? They might not have moved on, but neither can they return.  As a species, I think, we stopped really believing in the beneficence of those gone beyond the curtain long ago.  Some still pay lip service to the idea, even when their eschatology specifically contraindicates such a thing.  For example, Christianity, which has no shortage of people who believe in ghosts, spooks, spirits, and all manner of unsavory non-terrestrial creatures:  “And the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1st Thessalonians 4:16), but this means that they remain buried until this moment, at the end of the world.  And ancestor worship has fallen very far in this day and age.

            After *E.A. passed, I stopped talking about her out loud except in the exigencies of momentary need.  In the aftermath of such loss, there’s a terrible loneliness that fights to stay inside you.  You think you want catharsis but what you really want a reason.  Something to make everything seem meaningful, or at least natural.  Just acknowledging that loss and death come for us all accomplishes nothing.  It’s a homily, a truism from some rarefied sphere where we can afford to toss off such observations with the blitheness of someone who has something better to do shortly and can afford to take a bare moment of contemplative logic before being distracted.  When the loneliness of an irretrievable loss hits you, clings fervently to your thoughts, simple words won’t pry it loose.  Catharsis is destruction, it whispers, and pain shared is pain misunderstood.

It’s no secret I’ve always been very careful about sharing even without such whispers in the darkness following losses.  Sometimes I wonder if I should ask *Terri, who has never been in the slightest bit reticent about sharing, for lessons on how to fix that.

Because I’ve always loved *Terri as a person and a friend even when the romantic bond between us was long gone, I talked to *Terri about *E.A. some after *Terri managed to track me down.  That has been about the extent of it.  Even my family, even my closest friends, they knew little, if anything, and I’ve gone to considerable effort to keep it that way.  They know about *M.W., my closest friend, if only a little; they may or may not suspect there are others beside her.  I compartmentalized my life fair tidily in some ways, and think I’m probably happier for that.  If someone asks a direct question that entails bringing her up – e.g. “What the hell have you been up to for the last few years, anyway?” – I’d allude to the people I’ve lost, though only in the barest terms I can get away with while still answering the question.  It’s akin to describing the inner workings of a watch by saying, “Gears plus springs equal time.”

And I tried to stop thinking about *E.A. and *M.W. in any terms but what once was true but isn’t anymore.  I want to move on.  Find someone and something new.  I neither need nor want to be haunted in this life.

I have enough ghosts as it is.  None of them literal; all of them real.

But ghosts don’t require you to believe in them in order to exist, any more than your past requires you to believe in it on order to have occurred.  We can’t escape either.  Endeavoring to do so simply forces us to wallow in the inevitable truth of the ineluctable self.  Our past, and our ghosts, require us, and are part of us, no matter what lengths we go to pretend otherwise.

So the ghosts of friends and girlfriends and relatives lost still whisper at moments inopportune in places inappropriate.  Sometimes in appropriate places at moments opportune, but far less frequently.  One in a blue moon, at the exact right time and place to keep you from doing something stupid, like eating questionable haggis or telling the patrol cop who pulled you over for speeding exactly what you think of him before blowing a cloud of cigarette smoke in his face.

Not that any of these apply to me.  I promise.  Scout’s honor.  I haven’t been pulled over speeding in ages and ages, and genuine haggis is illegal in this country.

Also, I was never a Scout.  That probably needs acknowledging, if for no other reason than my merit badges tend to be for ridiculous things like ‘ennui,’ ‘synecdoche,’ and ‘Cartesian coordinates.’  Though I am particularly proud of my merit badge in ‘Neoplatonic Hylomorphism,’ given that I managed to absolutely disprove the concept by careful application of self-analysis mixed with the objective observation of halter tops.

Yes, halter tops.  If this is a problem, then disprove my disputation.

The impulse to be facetious, flippant, or just plain ridiculous tends to patter in on the heels of such morose moments; it keeps me centered, I think.  Because I’ve always been a fairly happy person, because I’m something of an absurdist, I hold onto humor and try not to think about all the times I want to make a funny observation to *E.A. or *M.W.  Being able to share such things with them provided me with happiness, with the sense that not only did I know the world was a good place, there were people who shared that belief, and did so in part because I was in the world with them.  There’s a certain irony in the fact that being able to share such things with someone close, whether best friend or girlfriend, would be the perfect antidote to the grief of losing someone close.

Irony has been good to me in times past, but I’ve come to realize that Irony can be a bit of a bitch as well.

To come to a full circle (because I’m tired of writing tonight), when you’re haunted, you learn nothing that you didn’t already know.  More precisely (and more cuttingly) you learn nothing that you didn’t already want to believe.  That sense of isolation, of talking to yourself no matter how hard you try to couch it in psychological terms, view it as a form of healing –  it wears at you.  You start to sense the futility of it all fairly quickly.  Or at least I did.  Intellectually, I never fooled myself into thinking I was doing anything other than engaging in rote pattern resurrection; I brought back the memory of things lost and measured my current thoughts against them.

Intellect generally doesn’t have much patience for the emotive.  Though both arise from basic cognition, they diverge fairly quickly.  This truth keeps the shrink (and sometimes quack) industry in business.

Being an eminently – and imminently, for that matter, my intellect always lurking over every gut reaction – sensible sort of romantic, I knew perfectly well that what I was doing didn’t just border on futility; it crashed right over into the phlogiston of the existential void.  The only meaning that existed was the meaning my brain insisted on creating.

Still, as any grieving person can tell you, demarcating the lines of absurdity is a far cry from adhering to them.

In the end, as much as I don’t want to be haunted, as much as I would prefer to move on, find a new best friend, or a new person to love, ghosts that don’t exist can’t actually be exorcised.  Because I don’t believe in ghosts, because I know I’m just inflicting my own grief on myself, the only way to escape them is to let them leave at their own pace in their own time.  Though I can move on – a problematic but achievable goal despite certain circumstances of late – it’s not quite as simple as just forgetting about the ghosts.  If one could banish them so easily, grief and mourning would cease to exist in this tired world of ours.  So it’s not that simple.

But it will happen.  I know this.  My knowledge springs not just from knowing how the world works, but from knowing myself.  I don’t believe in ghosts, and I don’t believe in clinging to the past.  At some point soon, I’ll find myself leaning over to ask *E.A. a question, or tell *M.W. a joke, and they won’t be there anymore.  All that will be left is memory, and memory?  Memory, I can handle just fine.  There are worse things than memory, and staying trapped in that awful moment of loss is one of them.

It’s far too easy to believe in ghosts, after all, when you bring them with you.

~Fin~

1)  The full text to the Dylan Thomas poem of the same name:

“Clown in the Moon”

My tears are like the quiet drift

Of petals from some magic rose;

And all my grief flows from the rift

Of unremembered skies and snows.

I think, that if I touched the earth,

It would crumble;

It is so sad and beautiful,

So tremulously like a dream.

~Man, Interr…Ah, Dammit~ Part III (TGL)

(All posts imported from Blogger blog http://randomgrey.blogspot.com/   I simply cannot wrangle the formatting properly on WordPress.  Indents, paragraph spacing, et cetera. It’s really annoying.)

~New Crowds of Friends, Auld Acquaintances, and a Whole Bunch of People Be Forgot~

[The Giverny Life quod vide]

[Disclaimer:  Since ‘hard-of-hearing’ is just awkward to keep typing out, and ‘HoH’ just seems a bit too jolly and/or insulting to women, many times I’ll probably just to use the word ‘deaf’ as an ad hoc word du jour for all parts of the spectrum of hearing loss.   I’m likely headed there anyway.  In the end, we’re all headed there, really.]

Part I:  The Social Animal

The lady, festooned in flowerprint and mascara heavy enough to break a moderately cheap scale, hovered just to my left and back.  As a deaf person, I’d long since begun noticing everything going on around me, especially in the peripherals.  Normally, some quiet instinct at the back of my mind tells me what is significant and what isn’t.  Most things fall firmly into the latter category; generally speaking, people don’t even realize how many of their fellow human beings their brains dismiss as unimportant without even so much as a moment of sincere reflection on the matter.  Ancillary to this, even fewer of our fellow human beings realize how constantly, and abruptly, they’re being dismissed any time they’re in public with strangers.  The human ego rarely likes to dwell on this natural state of affairs.

In most circumstances, my mind would have considered this lady worth nothing more than a quick note:  She’s there.  She’s wearing a floridly floral dress.  She is of no interest to us.  Also, that much lavender really needs something darker to offset it.  A black full-body burka, perhaps.  Indeed, my mind gamely attempted to do exactly that.  Had somebody approached me from the right with a greeting and, after a beat, asked me who was to my left, my mind would likely have already forgotten the answer.  The area was filled with people.  Strangers, acquaintances, friends, family, and (the clear majority) people who obviously fell into one of those categories but I’d be damned if I knew which.  This lady resided quite firmly in the patchwork quilt of people I couldn’t identify on a dare.  Not that anyone bothered to dare me on that point, and given that my hearing (specifically, the lack of) made closing the knowledge gap stressful at best, I wasn’t anticipating changing that state of affairs any time soon.

But something buzzed at the back of my mind, warning me that this lady was approaching far too fast and far too deliberately to continue ignoring for much the same reason that a military base can’t continue blithely ignoring an approaching cruise missile no matter how strongly they feel about wanting to remain unacquainted with it.

A best-case scenario had her simply offering a sentiment apparent in her expression, or at least as apparent as it could be when her expression had to fight through several layers of make-up to reach the outside world.  She’d say something in the properly sympathetic tone, I’d murmur something back in a properly appreciative tone, and we’d both move on with our lives.

Let me make something clear about what I’ve learned as my hearing slips away – the best-case scenario for a deaf person is like winning the lottery without actually buying a ticket.  The odds ain’t good is what I’m trying to say.  Also, no matter badly you need this lotto win, or its metaphorical equivalent, to happen, you’re likely going to go to bed that night regretting your choices.

As any deaf person can tell you, meeting new people can be a bit stressful.  Given that approximately 99.9999% of the human race can be considered ‘new people,’ that means you’re pretty much guaranteed to encounter such vile specimens at least once during your day.  Assuming you aren’t, you know, shackled in someone’s basement sweatshop knitting cheap woolen knickers for sale at dollar stores.

If you are, well, you have bigger problems than me and much of what I’m writing here will not apply to your situation in any way.  Sorry.

Even meeting old friends can be stressful simply because you care whether you’re inconveniencing them.  Though, if they’re good sort of friends, the sort that doesn’t try to drug you so they can steal your kidneys to sell on the International Kidney and Particularly Vibrant and Colorful Spleens Black Market, meeting with them is certainly nowhere near as stressful as meeting new people.1

Growing up with at least some hearing socializes us to a degree we hardly realize until circumstances force us to deal with the fallout of losing access to this socialization.  It’s a hearing person’s planet, and sound ranks right up there with sight and sensation as an essential tool for navigating the world around us.  So much of what we take for granted in our interactions with others hangs on the slenderest of threads.

Obviously, social gatherings are a pitfall, especially social gatherings involving a mix of friends, acquaintances, and people who never had the chance to become either your friend or acquaintance prior to the occasion.  That last group, more succinctly known as “scary and possibly vulgarly-inclined strangers” (I didn’t say a lot more succinctly) are what truly send the situation spiraling out of control.

In any event, as bad as your average social gathering can be for a deaf person, however, there are some social gatherings that eclipse these minor annoyances.  These events make strong men and women weep, and weepy men and women…more weepy, I guess.  We stare blankly at the endless despair, sigh at the insanity until we go mad ourselves, and, in the right conditions, strip down and race naked through lamp stores at the Galleria.  (Don’t ask, and definitely don’t tell.  Please.)  These gatherings are like the outermost reaches of ancient maps of the Ocean Deep, places of turmoil and terror.  Hunt sic dracones.

I am, of course, referring to bachelor parties.

Actually, no, just funerals, such as the one I attended with the above-mentioned Floral Lady.  But all this also applies to bachelor parties.  I can tell you from no small amount of experience, bachelor parties are horrifying circumstances regardless of one’s capacity to hear.  The ones I’ve found myself at have managed to violate the integrity of pretty much every possible philosophical approach to living, and quite a few impossible ones as well.  I understand bachelorette parties can descend into madness as well, but, sadly, or perhaps happily, I’ve garnered very few invitations to those events.  Apparently straight males are not considered de rigueur items for the guest list.  One assumes the inevitable presence of penises in various edible varieties don’t mesh well with some guy sitting over to the side refusing to place one in his mouth for whatever homophobic reason.2

Moving on…

A funeral gives you the worst of both worlds when it comes to meeting with people.   You’ll be surrounded by a whole bunch of people who recognize you while you don’t recognize them back.  Ostensible friends and acquaintances treat you as someone they’re perfectly comfortable being familiar with you, and once a fervent hug has been engaged, there’s really no tactful way to return the hug and ask:  And just who the hell are you?

I’ve tried several differ approaches.  It simply can’t be done.  It’s like the Thirteenth Labor of Hercules, the one that made him finally punch a wall and retreat to a nice Grecian spa for a rest cure and maybe some erotic experimentation to take his mind off that damned Thirteenth Labor.

To complicate things, not returning the hug at a good old-fashion Southern funeral simply isn’t an option unless you want to shame your family, your friends, and possibly innocent bystanders who just happened to be a little bit too close when you chose not to return the hug.

Now, a decent-sized funeral is a crowded affair, with lots of cliques.  Friends of the deceased, relations of the deceased, friends of relations of the deceased, church friends of the deceased, work friends of the deceased, Rotary Club friends of the deceased, specifically non-Rotary Club friends of the deceased, random people who seem to have just wandered in and have no connection to the deceased whatsoever but are willing to take a chance on love, Funeral Mimes (I assume these exist), and so on.  All of these groups swirling and momentarily unmingling to talk to members of other cliques transforms the entire affair into one massive game of Charades mixed in with a highly-ritualized system of Freeze Tag.  When a member of any one of the groups manages to catch you alone, and they will, you’re trapped in a situation where they’re either completely unaware of your handicap, or they’re absolutely aware of it and take special measures to compensate, such as looking you very sincerely in the eyes and hoping that the words coming from their mouth will somehow become intelligible if they just stare you down hard enough.

In case you’re wondering, this doesn’t work nearly as well as people think.  It’s all quite the tragicomic mise-en-scene, in fact.

Barring going back in time and killing your younger self before you meet the deceased person in question – which can be problematic when it’s a parent involved – your best hope is to have someone willing to follow you everywhere and take pains to ensure you find out who you’re talking to.  This requires a person with one of two abilities:

1)      The prescience to see approaching bear hugs and somehow manage to convey the identity of the possessor of the arms in question before they reach you.  Whatever method they choose should not leave permanent scars on your body;

or

2)      The derring-do to immediately engage the hugger in conversation once the clinch has been, well, unclenched.  By distracting the hugger, the person thus averts any chance the hugger might see the look of utter confusion on your face.  Then, once the hugger has left, your friend can tell you who he or she was at a leisurely pace.  Or at least until the next hugger comes along.  Word to the wise:  these affairs are chockful of huggers seeking huggees, and no-one escapes.  No-one.

The difficulty with this tactic is that anyone likely to have a broad knowledge of all parties involved is also likely to be closely related to the deceased and thus hobbled with his or her own social responsibilities both before and after the ceremony.  They have their own people to meet, their own condolences to accept, their own endless rage to quench with recklessly fortified Wild Turkey.  They’re not likely to have either the time or the inclination follow you around like a Deaf Translator Valet.  Or a Funeral Mime.

No, I’m not letting go of that idea.  I’ve had a right miserable spring – or five years, depending on where you start measuring – and I’m inexplicably tickled by the image of a Funeral Mime.  Anything that makes me a bit happier stays.

We good on this issue?

Don’t bother answering.  I don’t care whether you think so or not.  We’re good and that’s how it has to be.  Tell your friends.  Spread the word.

The culmination of this tawdry parade of incomprehension mixed with sad embraces took place directly after the funeral.  We (the closest relations of the deceased) left the chapel first, as was convention3, and loitered around outside as the rest of the attendees followed.  There were quite a lot of them, sufficient to fill up the church, and I made a point of demurring any possibility of standing in a receiving line.  Luckily, such a line either didn’t happen or happened at a completely different location, possibly another church, so I made a point of wandering off for a quick and necessary cigarette to deal with my feelings about, well, everything that had happened since the beginning of time. And possible at the pre-show leading up to the beginning of time.  Minus the parts I was asleep for, of course.

As I made a good angle for the rear of the church, a significant amount of floral fabric confronted me with a deftness that suggested the wearer of said fabric – for the fabric was not wandering around by itself, in case that wasn’t clear – had experience cutting off fleeing prey for pleasure or gain.

Before I could react, two arms wrapped around me in a hug that seemed unnecessarily forceful in the same way a crocodile clamping down on a wayward piece of tulle would be unnecessarily forceful.

But with more sincerity.  I’ll give her that.  She was way more sincere than your average crocodile, tears notwithstanding.

She said something to me that I couldn’t understand.  Mind you, she said it quite loudly, but even if my hearing weren’t impaired, that much patterned fabric wrapped around one’s face must inevitably block all manner of sound.  It’s just science, right?  Loud colors are the white noise of the oddly synesthesian world surrounding our moments of greatest grief, deaf and non-deaf alike.

If that last sentence made sense to you, I’m very glad at least one other person on this planet understands the surreality that accompanies periods of intense mourning.

Finally, she released me and continued talking.  No matter what sorts of sympathetic noises I made, no matter how confused I looked, no matter what hints I dropped about not being able to hear, no matter how many times I dialed 911 in search of anyone in a uniform and willing exert authority on my behalf, she slogged courageously on.  There are entire railyards filled with Little Engines That Could that hold only a tiny fraction of this woman’s dogged insistence.

Finally, she stopped and swept me up in a hug again.  While I appreciated that she was trying to make me feel better, or share my pain, or check my body for hidden weapons, or whatever (honest, I really did appreciate it because I’m not a jackass), I couldn’t help but wonder how this experience would play out if I could understand a damned word she said.

(Incidentally, just to be clear, I’m certainly not adverse to touching and feeling.  Most of my friendships have been strongly touchy-feely and I quite liked it that way.  But I was a little put off by the lack of any proper introduction.)

I could, however, understand her perfume.  It said, loudly enough to shatter nasal passageways with the might of a mountain of cocaine, that she was damned determined to smell like jasmine despite having no idea what jasmine actually smells like.  It was distinct enough that I could tell it was supposed to be jasmine.  It was also distinct enough I could tell that somebody at the parfumerie’s quality control department seriously dropped the ball at some point along the production process. When they say other senses improve to compensate for the loss of one sense, they’re usually strangely silent of the issue of misguided perfumes.

I can’t imagine how this gets left out of the medical literature on the topic, but it does.

This scene repeated itself more than once over the course of the afternoon.  Most of the instances weren’t nearly as floral and florid as this; still, they left me wondering if I was at the wrong funeral.  Questions abounded, and not all of them rhetorical.

To wit:

Who are these people?

and

How was I going to find a clear answer to the preceding question?

Also, possibly:

What monster devised the concept of tucked-in button-up shirts not made of fluffy clouds and kitten purrs?

That last, admittedly, lacked gravitas but it certainly plagued my thoughts the whole afternoon, especially in light of the 80 degree weather.  I’m a sweater, you see; having lived in some of the hottest, most humid environments in America, the heat doesn’t bother me, but I still sweat.

Crowds of strangers can be particularly stressful for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.  You find yourself essentially relegated to your own circumscribed world – not exactly an anomaly for people with poor hearing, as any deaf person can attest – but the compulsion to adhere to social conventions and mores isn’t easily sublimated.  Especially if your condition wasn’t always that bad.  I’ve spent the majority of my life capable of operating in these situations.  Not always perfectly, but usually adequately enough to have a good circle of friends and a wide variety of crazed keggers in my past.  When you’re used to being able to socialize relatively freely, being forced by new circumstances to unlearn a lifetime’s worth of easy familiarity and casual contact can be wearying at the very least, and downright discomforting a painfully large percentage of the time.

At my core, I’m a Southern boy, born, bred, and occasionally fed.  Being polite, or at least feigning it on occasions when the struggle to feel genuinely concerned about my current surroundings overwhelms my instincts, springs from a deep personal and cultural node in my psyche.4

This proves problematic when social mores dictate you show sincere interest in what the other person has to offer, be it speech, emotion, validation, or off-brand Moon Pies.5   An enforced life on the margins, at the intersection of society and solitude with no comfortable resting place on either side, is a bit precarious.  For every person I shared a moment of genuine mutual recognition with at the funeral, an (apparent) stranger just plowed into me with reckless abandon and apparent life-long yearning for my love and respect.  Because I couldn’t really understand them, basic conversation allowing me to discern their identities while maintaining a façade of knowing exactly who they were all along simply wasn’t feasible.

It’s play-acting.  The fact that deaf people aren’t better represented in Hollywood is astounding given the inevitable necessity of developing significant acting skills if we want to maintain any semblance of normalcy in public.  Most of us, if we don’t want to become hermits fall into a familiar routine in such circumstances.  We play at understanding, dance deftly (and not-so-deftly) around the misunderstandings, and move through this world with endless pretense at being perfectly satisfied with how our interactions went.  Though we wonder if we missed an opportunity to achieve something or failed to learn something we could use, something at the back of our mind keeps our uncertainty hidden.

People don’t like feeling as though they expended all that time and energy in conversation with us to no worthwhile end.  This may not be fair to those of us who have little control over either our personal circumstances or the choices of others in engaging in the conversation in the first place, but it is understandable.  Deaf people don’t care for that either.  Except in our case, most attempts at conversation pretty much tend to go that way.  Tis our cross to bear.

We leave a considerable percentage of our interactions with a vague sense that we simply survived rather than benefitted.  I won’t pretend that’s a pleasant feeling.

Part II:  The Social Vegetable

There’s a school of thought, called Communication Accommodation Theory, that suggests that, in conversation, we tend to either diverge from each other, or eventually converge with each other.  Conversationally-speaking, not protoplasmically-speaking, that is.

In essence, we habitually (and frequently completely-subconsciously) either mirror or oppose our conversation partner.  People with strong egos and self-identification markers will tend to diverge.  They want to establish their own discrete role; sometimes that involves imposing their own personality on the conversation, sometimes it just means a need for a meeting of separate but equal.  Humanity being what it is, the former seems to be far more common than the latter.  This…need, this hunger for distinction drives great learning, and equally-great failure.  We want to be the smart one, or at least the lucid one.  Or we want to be the fun one, the loved one, the interesting one, the one who invites further conversation.  We want validation for being ourselves, so we push for it.  Sometimes too hard, but that’s a matter of judgment, not socialization.6

While the divergence aspect certainly has relevance, especially when I’m generally the only hard-of-hearing person in any given conversation, it’s convergence that interests me here.  Traditionally, convergence is associated with a disparity of power.  One speaker dominates, the other speaker seeks to placate or acquiesce to the dominant speaker.  One half (or more, or less, depending on how many people are involved) clearly controls the direction of the conversation, which leads to the other(s) essentially being sublimated.  Ergo, convergence.

Interactions symptomatic of convergence theory have never been my oeuvre, either as the dominant or submissive partner in a conversation.  While it’s entirely true that I do have a very strong personality, and I can (quite accidentally, usually) intimidate people if I’m not paying careful attention – we all have serious flaws, and that’s one of mine – I feel a genuine and almost visceral distaste for this sort of thing.  I wouldn’t call myself egalitarian as such, primarily because that transforms the ideation into a philosophical concept rather than a purely personal one.7  Nevertheless, I have traditionally had little use for friendships or relationships with people who can’t or won’t challenge me.  That’s not friendship, that’s inequity.

But the nature of deafness almost requires an imbalance of power in interactions.8   Either the person who can’t hear loses the nuances, or even the entire point of the conversation, or the person who can must take extraordinary, and frequently deferential, measures to maintain communication.  Long familiarity can mitigate these symptoms of conversational imbalance, obviously.  But so many of our interactions on a daily basis take place on far less intimate terms.  People we barely know in passing, or service workers, or just random encounters all involve an immediate situational assessment unsupported by any sort of experiential foundation.

It may surprise some, but I find the excessive deference more unpleasant than excessive inability to adjust to the situation.  Best of intentions aside, I can’t escape the nagging sensation that it’s a little insulting.  There’s a reason why the convergence theory isn’t considered a description of healthy implementation of conversational accommodation.  Not to take an overly proscriptivist approach, excessive accommodation becomes fairly problematic in the context of the discussion of meeting strangers and ostensible acquaintances.  You don’t want to come away from these encounters with a sense that you were their Good Deed for the Day.

This is not to accuse them of necessarily being unthinking, self-serving, or malicious in this context.  Quite the opposite (generally speaking, given that there are some real sons-of-bitches in this variegated old world of ours.)  But such behavior emphasizes the inequity of conversational influence, and when a conversation becomes altruism, the conversation essentially dies on the stalk.  Rather than ignore the difficulties of the deaf and hard-of-hearing, the person shines a spotlight on them, makes them central to the power dynamic.

The inherent Catch-22 of what I’m saying isn’t in any way lost on me; my sardonic commentary on the approach of people who aren’t making allowances for a person who has no convenient way to engage in an exchange of information (say, name and relationship to yours truly) undercuts any commentary about acquaintances who makes excessive allowance.  I’m not unaware of how this disconnect can easily become a rather vicious contrariness.

Nevertheless, people tend to be excessively polar when (and only when) it suits them.  Humans aren’t well-equipped psychologically to allow other people the benefit of the continuum of truth.  Either/or argumentation is perhaps the most invidious and dangerous logical fallacies available to us, partly because of its dogmatism, partly because it’s so ubiquitous.

Given that a considerable amount of intellectual territory lies between the extremes of callous insensitivity and excessive obsequiousness, the claim of a logical disconnect between criticizing both approaches is facile.  At best.

At its overanalyzed heart, the question of the communication power dynamic shapes the lives of virtually everyone, handicapped and non-handicapped alike.  Deaf people don’t possess some special prerogative in that regard.  We’re perfectly capable of imposing our own dominance on a conversation, just as any other person can.  We just have certain nuances to consider that most people don’t.9

Is there a useful solution?  Are rhetorical questions annoying and pointless?  Does God play dice with the universe?  The answer to two of these three questions is ‘maybe.’  I’ll leave it up to you to decide which two.

Normally, I’d at least try to synthesize some sort of resolution out of all this, be it a revelation, an understanding, an insight du jour, or just a realization that there can be no satisfactory revelations, understandings or insights du jour to this predicament.

That’s not entirely true.  The latter part is true.  The former part, however, as anyone who knows me well could attest, isn’t.  What I should have said is the normally most people would try to find some sort of resolution here.  That has rarely been my style, let alone my impetus.  But what’s the point, really?  No Great Truths ever fixed a problem.  They just make the speakers of these Truths feel self-satisfied.  Nobody, least of all me, should begrudge them that, of course.  We all want satisfaction in life, after all, and if someone gets satisfaction from feeling smarter or wiser, more power to that person.

I just prefer my satisfaction to be less nebulous in cases like this.  Nothing wrong with the universal insights.  I like them as much as the next human being.  I mean, I don’t have cat posters or anything, but I can still appreciate their ability to stir something within us.  When all is said and done, however, we have to actually live our lives, with all the complications and derivations and occasional mastications10 implied therefrom.

Knowing a profundity doesn’t actually help in dealing with people I can’t understand, after all.

So if you need a Great Truth, here’s the best I can do:  Learn what jasmine smells like before picking a perfume.  Just…learn.   Please.  Don’t be that person who walks around thinking they smell like fresh jasmine rather than like jasmine fresh off a twelve day bender that ended up sleeping it off in Hoboken.

It never ends well for the rest of us, you see. If there’s one Great Truth to be learned – and there isn’t – it’s that we could all stand to be more discerning with our eau de toilettes.

Works for me.

~Fin~

Footnotes:

1)  I pity people who never got a chance to know me, incidentally.  They missed out on some really terrible puns I’ve told all my friends and acquaintances.  These poor people will never know the exquisite joy of hating me and plotting my agonizing death for telling them such an awful joke.  On a semi-related note, I really think I need a less unsettling class of friends and acquaintances.  Any recommendations will be welcome.  Since the only personal information I will hand out – other than this whole damned blog, that is – will be that I live in Greensboro, N.C., and I’m not exactly champing at the bit to get myself murdered by unscrupulous Netizens that accidentally stumble over this, actually tailoring a recommendation to suit my needs might be a bit tough.  But you’re welcome to try anyway.

                Also, the only person likely to ever read this knows exactly who I am and where I live.  So….

2)  I will not bother protesting that I’m not actually homophobic.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m not, and anyone who doesn’t won’t be convinced by the disclaimer.  And, frankly, unless some member of the latter group has the power of life and death over me, I’m not actually all that concerned with their opinion.

I will, however, observe that I’m in that sweet spot of having had enough gay friends that I feel comfortable making jokes about gay people but not so many gay friends that I inevitably know one that would stab me for making such insensitive jokes.  It’s a good place to be, my friends.  A good place to be.

3)  I’m not entirely clear on what this convention is meant to do if we’re not being forced to receive other mourners.  It’s not a place of honor.  The only place of honor at a funeral is in the casket or urn.

4)  I do have reasoned, philosophical motives for being polite as well, which are perhaps even more fundamental to my behavior than the learned aspects.  That’s a discussion for another essay, though, one which I will likely write soon.  “Soon” being extremely relative, and I won’t commit to what it’s relative to in this instance just yet.

5)  There’s no such thing as a good off-brand Moon Pie.  That particular blend of tastiness, marshmallowiness, and utter self-loathing at having eaten such a thing cannot be properly replicated by any other product.  This same logic also applies to sex, no matter how vociferously some of you might protest

6)  Most people like to think they’re fundamentally decent, that the more unpleasant aspects of our personalities do not reflect the Real Us, the person we would want to be treated as before whatever Final Judgment we might find ourselves facing.  At the same time, most of us also do not want to extend the same courtesy to acquaintances and strangers.  We’re a hypocritical lot, we are.

                Some of us like to feel somehow better because we at least acknowledge the hypocrisy.  We’re just fooling ourselves.  Am I better person for acknowledging both the hypocrisy and the fact that I’m just fooling myself?

                This rabbit hole goes ∞ deep.  That way lies madness.

7)  As should be obvious to anyone who’s bothered reading what I write, I have an animus against excessive philosophizing.  Sometimes I think the only reason I went to grad school was to destroy the system from within.  Given that I’m clearly good at the nuances of philosophical natterings, there may be a self-destructive element.  Or maybe not.  I’m going to take a stand against pointless psychoanalysis as well…just because I can.

                And I know friends have found my repudiation of philosophy rather odd, given that I know more about it than 99% of the population, and am quite willing to discuss philosophy.  I just don’t care to actually apply it to my own thoughts unless necessary.  It’s just my own cute little quirk.  It is cute, right?  Maybe?

8)  This phenomenon is obviously not unique to hearing loss.  It recurs in any interactions involving someone with a significant handicap.  I’ve been guilty of being on the other side on occasion, in fact.  But I can speak authoritatively only on hearing loss.  That’s my (generally unwanted) métier

9)  Though a non-native speaker of the common language in an area does have some similar issues to the deaf.  In some ways, this may be the most apt analogy to the predicament of the deaf in society

10)  That word probably doesn’t mean what you think.  Just so we’re clear.  If it does, well, jolly good.

~Tales from the Deaf Side: Waffle House Parking Lot (TGL)

(All posts imported from Blogger blog http://randomgrey.blogspot.com/   I simply cannot wrangle the formatting properly on WordPress.  Indents, paragraph spacing, et cetera. It’s really annoying.)

~Smart-ass in Suburbia~

[The Giverny Life quod vide]

So I was standing outside a Waffle House (yes, a Waffle House, don’t judge me, you judgmental jackass) in North Carolina around midnight, enjoying a deeply loved, cherished, adored and possibly sexually-caressed cigarette right smack-dab in tobacco country while waiting for a friend to arrive.  A chill made the air a tad uncomfortable but not seriously cold.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a vehicle entering the parking lot and turned around, assuming it was my friend.  It wasn’t her.  It was an old pick-up truck that just straddled the line between ugly old wreck and classic Americana.

Which side of the line it would teeter onto depended almost entirely on whether doctors someday invent a cure for rust.

No longer interested, I turned away to enjoy my cigarette in peace without the sorts of unseemly sightlines that cruising almost-wrecks create to interfere with my pleasure.  Unfortunately, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the damned thing had pulled up beside me, the driver leaning out the window.  Also, he appeared to be saying something to me, which I have trouble understanding in the best of circumstances, let alone circumstances involving an overcranked and under-maintained truck engine that found several noisy notes long since lost to history and decency.

Taking a deep breath, I turned to face him with a friendly but not particularly inviting smile.  He immediately started talking, his over-moussed blond hair hair bouncing around as he incorporated all manner of head movements into his attempts to convey that he wasn’t afraid to commit to this little scene we shared.  From the way he kept checking with his passengers and glancing down the road and occasionally pointing toward a large illuminated building a short distance away, I realized he must be asking for directions.

Now, directions I can provide even without hearing the question.  Assuming you’re not fastidiously fussy about where you actually end up.  As I’ve discovered more than once, unfortunately, lots of people are pretty fastidiously fussy about where they end up.  Not to be unkind to this lovely world that has been provided to us, but it appears to be heavily populated with people entirely too obsessed with being where they’re actually supposed to be.

But Owns-a-Wreck was looking expectantly at me.  His expression suggested he awaited some sort of pertinent, if not actually sage, reply from anyone who happened to be standing next to him.

In this case, just me.  I did glance briefly about on the off-chance that someone had sidled up next to me for no good reason.

Nope.

So I looked at OaW and shook my head.  “I can’t understand what you’re saying.”

Apparently my voice did nothing to clue him in, so he doubled down and repeated his gibbering nonsense with such obvious sincerity that I could feel it even if I couldn’t understand any of his words.  Or even most of the sounds he made.

(I assumed it to be gibbering nonsense.  Life gets so much more convenient for someone with hearing loss when he makes a practice of firmly assuming anything he can’t hear is pure blather and should be disregarded as a symptom of the intrinsic madness of our species.)

OaW looked at me expectantly again as he finished speaking.

Clearly we were at an impasse.  So I did the most reasonable thing.  I tapped my ear with one finger and said, “I’m sorry, I just can’t understand.  I have severe hearing loss, you see.”

The driver looked aghast and, because his expression telegraphed what he was about to say, I understood his next words perfectly.  “I’m sorry, dude.”

Without thinking, blinking, or being able to blame drinking, I immediately replied, “It’s okay.  I stopped blaming it on you a long time ago.  We’re cool now.’

Words, or at least my words, cannot describe his expression at that.  Suffice to say, he thought I was completely insane, and he might have had a point.  He opened his mouth as if to say something, then adjusted the brim of his cap, rolled up (and, yes, I do mean actual rolling here because, as I said, the vehicle was practically an antique) his window and sped out of the parking lot.

It seemed like an overreaction, really, when you get right down to it.  I wasn’t considering murdering him and hiding his body at a junkyard or anything.  Had he but asked, I would have confirmed this.

I’m reasonably certain that enjoying that makes me a bad person.  I’m also reasonably certain that the fact that I don’t care makes me worse.

The only thing I do feel a little bad about is the expectations I created, however tiny.  Recently, a store clerk asked me a general question about how deaf people feel about some topic.  Leaving aside the fact that she knew I wasn’t actually completely deaf simply because I understood her question (eventually), I couldn’t help but wonder why she thought I could speak for my ‘kind’.  I’ve never even considered doing something like that.  If I can speak for the general effects that losing my hearing have had on my life and that can be extrapolated, that’s fine.  But I’m not the representative, godhead, PR flack, or Lord of Misrule of people with hearing loss of any degree.

Still, it’s hard to avoid wondering if I influenced OaW’s perspective of people with hearing loss with that exchange.  Would he now expect us to be assholes?  Given that he didn’t recognize the signs in my voice, I can’t imagine he’s had many examples to compare me to.

It’s easy to say, “Screw him if he’s so narrow-minded as to judge everyone from the actions of one.”  True, that’s the very personification of narrow-minded thinking.  Yet, if deafness of any significant degree is a recondite topic for him, it’s understandable that he goes with what he knows.  And I can say Screw him all I want (keeping mind this is all completely hypothetical and he might be the most enlightened soul this world has ever known.)  That wouldn’t change the fact that other hard-of-hearing people could suffer in the future for my behavior.

This quandary is neither new nor fresh.  Black people have dealt with it for a very long time, as have women.  Society at large, and viciously entrenched members of the favored class in particular, does a very efficient job of taking examples of bad behavior and extrapolating it onto the larger group and thus reaffirming their prejudicial ideas and behavior.  At times, it reaches the point of forcing the minority’s hand.  Black people are lazy and criminal?  Well, then, white people are all trying to hold us down! Or Women are weak and emotional and can’t be trusted with power? Then men are violent and sexual predators!  And that isn’t acceptable either, but it’s hard to complain when you forced them into a corner in the first place.

So this is an age-old conflict, humanity’s sad rumination on itself, and hard-of-hearing people hardly get the worst of it, given such examples mentioned above.

The specific problem with hard-of-hearing, though, is the relative scarcity of people with severe or complete hearing loss.  If one black person does something wrong, all you have to do is walk down the street and find another black person doing right by everyone.  Not quite as easy with my condition.  I’ve personally met fewer than a half-dozen people with severe hearing loss from causes other than old age.  That number is being generous, in fact.  My memory can only isolate two; I just assume there were a few others that I’m not recollecting right off.  So I have no confidence that someone else will show OaW a different side to my…kind.  Which is another reason I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of speaking as an authority and representative of the deaf and hard-of-hearing.  Not only do I lack the excessive ego necessary to self-appoint myself as Speaker for the Deaf, I don’t like what it implies about the power I’d have.  If I make a mistake or act like an ass, I’m more the willing to suffer the consequences personally.  I’m in no way willing to let others suffer with, or instead of, me.

Still, I don’t regret weirding OaW out.  It amused me. That’s what matters, in the end, and I won’t hear a single word against it.

Mainly because I’m going deaf.

~Fin~

~Man, Interr…Ah, Dammit~ Part II (TGL)

(All posts imported from Blogger blog http://randomgrey.blogspot.com/   I simply cannot wrangle the formatting properly on WordPress.  Indents, paragraph spacing, et cetera. It’s really annoying.)

 ~Music at the Very Edge of an Endless World~

[The Giverny Life quod vide]

Nemo surdior est quam is qui non audiet

(Yes, I’m still being pretentious with the Latin. It’s a known character flaw)

For years, I’ve tried to recollect a tune that came to me one long summer’s afternoon as darkgrey lake waters lapped over my bare feet and the sun practically bedazzled my eyes even when they were closed and protected by very dark sunglasses.  Far out in the boondocks of the Appalachian foothills, we found a place frequented by only the hardiest of hikers.  Which was just us, that day.  Driven more by enthusiasm than hardiness, we made the trip down deer trails and occasional underbrush unmarred by anything resembling a path.  Sometimes it was slow going; sometimes it was all we could do to keep our balance as we stumbled and jumped down steep hillsides.  Once we finally arrived, we waited scarcely 30 seconds before racing down to the lake’s edge, stripping naked, and walking straight into the water.  Me first of all.  *Hennie and *Luis, who’d known how to find this place, cheered me on as they stripped down as well.  Soon they’d joined me, though, as the only official couple there, they had eyes mostly for each other.  *Mickey, being bashful as a bearcat, and twice as furry, removed his clothes at a somewhat more-tentative pace.  Eventually he managed to strip off the last, celebrating this most personal of achievements with a frenetic dash to the water as fast as he could to manage.  Having concealed his nakedness beneath the surface of the lake, he smiled and waved at me.  I looked around for *Gala1.  She was nowhere to be seen; then, out of the corner of my eye, I discovered her climbing up on a large hanging rock nearby, her black hair in a pony-tail and her skin, her impossibly pale skin, taking a slight golden hue under the sunlight.  She looked beautiful2 as she glanced at the rest of us, gave a giant smile that made clear she couldn’t imagine a better reason to smile.  With a nod and a slight crouch, she dove into the water, as lithe as though she’d been born to do this and had finally discovered her true destiny there on the edge of a mountain lake.

A perfect midday turned into an even more perfect afternoon.  It felt like nothing better could possibly exist.  Maybe, just for that one exact moment at this one exact place in the midst of the infinitely subdivided arrow of human time, this was completely true.

Stranger things have happened, right?

Hell, certain theories in physics require that stranger things happen.  Who am I to accuse highly-educated and possibly overly-excitable scientists, with potential access to all manner of formula for dangerously unstable substances from their buddies over in Chem, of being wrong?

The temperature hovered around 80ºF3, the lake was neither too cold nor too warm, and the foliage would have done justice to the Happy Hunting Grounds themselves.  Because autumn still lay almost three months and about 20 degrees away, green and brown still dominated the landscape; nevertheless, enough incidental colors and rioting splashes of hues filled the trees and undergrowth that it almost seemed like the warmest Appalachian October ever.  We swam lazily around for a bit, just to get a feel for the water and the perfection of such an afternoon.

I want to say we frolicked just because I’ve always wanted to do something that any random observer would describe to friends and family as a proper ‘frolic’; mostly, though, we just idled about on a beautiful warm summer’s afternoon.  Nevertheless, I hold onto the dream that somebody passing by took one look and raced home to inform everyone of this unexpected turn:  “Hey, momma?  best buddy? baby sister?  I was at this lake today and saw some people, all nekkid as hairless cats, and, hand to God, they were frolicking!

My dreams may be small, but they’re all mine.

This isn’t about my dreams, though.  I haven’t gone to all the trouble of setting up the scene just to discuss my occasional indulgences into weird ideas.

It’s about a moment.

Just a moment, understand.   A fraction of time like any other.  Not even a momentous moment.  In final analysis, few moments can truly be called momentous.

Around midafternoon, I was backstroking languidly near the shore, my eyes closed, the pitch-black lenses of my Ray Bans diffusing the sunlight, my mind dwelling on nothing in particular and going a mile an hour in the process.  I could hear *Hennie and *Luis nearby, yelling as they enjoyed splashing water at each other.  At the time, I had little notion of how few years of being able to hear such things remained to me.  Something in their voices, so happy and fancy-free, evoked a few isolated notes in my head.  Nothing I could really string together for a second.  Just a pitter-patter of music splashing around like the lightest drips of rain on the surface of still waters as I relaxed barely on the waking side of a contented afternoon drowse.  Though I was careful not to slip over the divide into actual sleep, I was also careful to swim in water shallow enough to touch bottom with my feet almost immediately if I started to sink.

Then the notes came together.  Still drowsing, I wasn’t really thinking about music, just letting sounds plunk about in my thoughts.  Suddenly, I began humming a tune.  A short one, like a brief interlude between two much more significant movements.  I murmured the sounds over and over, each piece maybe eight seconds in length.  Not wanting to share with the others just yet, I did it quietly, under my breath as I floated around.

This sound, this random little tune that came from nowhere and went nowhere, felt (for lack of a better word) meaningful.  Only a little.  Like trapping a sliver of a moment in a sliver of a song to enjoy on some other lazy summer afternoon, a bit of ice forever frozen inside a crystal.

Just a moment, though.  Not even a momentous moment.

And yet wouldn’t a moment you could capture be intrinsically momentous?  Ontologically-speaking, that is?  Most of them slip away into the past, constantly shunted further and further away by the inevitable progress of time.  They become unreal.  Memory is ephemeral, after all.  That’s the way the universe was designed, and probably for the best.  If we could hold on to memories so easily, how could we ever move forward?

Sadly, I cannot remember the tune anymore.

I am quite cognizant of the ironic disconnect between this statement and my previous ones about memory.  On the other hand, I’m also quite cognizant of the fact that I stated in the very first sentence that I need to recollect the tune in question.  So I think it’s fair to suggest we all share some of the blame for this situation.

Usually, I’ll start with a note that I’m pretty sure occurred at or near the beginning of the tune.  Let’s call it a D-flat major, just for the hell of it, because I have no idea and haven’t read music since middle school.  I’ll hum this D-flat major and try to continue, like giving a broken-down car a push start, and then…nothing.  Or, perhaps worse, something that seems like a parody of the right tune.  It’s like getting a broken toy, one that is almost right and you can’t figure out how to fix it.

(Sometimes, for reasons that I actually know, even if I can’t really explain them intelligently, I end up humming Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire” in the attempt.  That’s a story for another day and another lifetime, though.)

I don’t know where or when I lost the tune.  In the moment, you never quite see how meaningful – albeit in the smallest of ways – something might turn out to be.  After all, I’ve had many such moments as the one there on that lake.  Many happy afternoons, many contented drowses, many well-love friends.  Occasional gratuitous nudity of the sort that accompanies occasional gratuitous skinny-dipping.  Losing the tune formulated in that particular moment isn’t actually all that important in itself.  I have no problem remembering the day.  That is, in a large part, why I set the scene here – to emphasize that the memory itself survives just fine.

(Also, and I won’t deny it, I just like talking about gratuitous nudity.)

It’s not about that day, or those people.  It’s not even about that tune, strictly speaking.  Memory is just memory, and I’ve quite enough of it not to need some idle soundtrack playing along.  I didn’t take the time to write this because I felt some urgent impulsive desire to describe a time that means nothing to anyone not personally involved.

Instead, it’s about something else.  It’s about the world as is, not the world as was.  It’s about questions I’ve recently started to contemplate.

But first:

Later, I found a smaller rock on the shore next to *Gala’s leapin’ rock and lay in the sun.  It was just wide enough to fit my towel, and low enough that I could see everything going on in the water without lifting my head.

*Gala swam nakedly by and waved just as nakedly Hi with an excessive, if quite pleasant, enthusiasm, as though we were seeing each other for the first time that day rather than having spent most of the last 18 hours in each other’s company.  Hell, she’d stolen most of my fries at dinner the night before, and half the bowl of ice cream I’d been eating for breakfast4.  I don’t know much, but I’m pretty sure that qualifies as having spent quality time together.

I smiled fondly – because it was just the sort of day to feel fond – at her enthusiasm.   My lazily raised hand in response just barely qualified as a gesture.  She laughed.  About what, I didn’t know and never bothered to ask.  I smiled again, closed my eyes and hummed that tune, that somnolent sound of an afternoon wisely wasted doing nothing in particular.

The sun warmed, then nearly scorched my body as the day went on.  Even in the foothills, Southern summers can get pretty hot.  At one point I was forced to roll over to preserve some very sensitive and deeply loved parts from incipient sunburn.  The towel beneath me was a ratty thing, so thin I could practically feel each pebble and each grain of the shore’s sand through it.  It was *Hennie’s spare because I’d forgotten my own much thicker, much fluffier towel back at my apartment, hundreds of miles away.  My clothes formed a reasonably comfortable pillow once I adjusted them to prevent the seams from facing upwards; the breeze across the water blew a bit chillier for a moment, cooling my skin like a whisper of uncertainty across my chest.  Smiling, I closed my eyes, hovering just at the edge of sleep as that hint of melody from earlier teased its way back through my thoughts again.  It was an idle sound, a prickling across the half-dozing mind as I heard *Luis splashing around with fervent yells and *Hennie giggling so coquettishly that one would have to literally score a zero on the most basic Turing Test ever devised not to notice they were approximately three seconds away from consummating something quite unspeakable in a place too much in my line of view for comfort.

Given that they were both as naked as me and *Gala and, more furtively, *Mickey, plus whatever prancing dryads were roaming the vasty woods on that day5, I wondered idly why one of them didn’t just grab a pertinent and very available part on the other’s body and carefully explain that they had designs on it and would be ecstatic if said designs were reciprocated.

If I rolled my eyes a bit while listening to them, and I’m not saying I did and I’m not saying I didn’t, I’m sure the universe would understand.  Some people just can’t handle casual nudity with any amount of dignified restraint.  Then, it occurred to me that we’d left dignified restraint long ago, right around the time we started whooping and stripping down to our Edenic glory and shame.  The best we could hope for now was not showing overt signs of arousal.

As *Hennie and *Luis made it to the far side of the lake, they wedged themselves between some rocks as they continued to play with each other.  And, yes, I do mean that in fairly non-platonic ways.  I could no longer hear them, but, then, I probably didn’t want to hear them at that particular stage of their burgeoning afternoon delight.

In final analysis, though, those were momentary – and very hormonal – sounds, of no particular relevance to me. I might have rolled my eyes; still, I honestly kind of hoped they’d manage to hook up6.  It was that kind of afternoon, wishing the best for everyone.

Even those members of ‘everyone’ who were being very silly and tentative in the face of, well, lots of gratuitously exposed flesh.

Nevertheless, I remember the sounds very well.  That’s important to note.  Even when the memory of their faces has faded ever-so-slightly, that sound remains untouched, unmarred.  In theory, that is, given that I can’t actually remember it.

The tune in my head slowly morphed from an idle ditty to something akin to a smoky cool jazz.  While I do not recall the specifics, I do remember thinking it was more Mingus than Coltrane, with some elements of hard rock accentuating the heavier notes.  Addictive, keeping me murmuring it without even thinking.

It was a good song, you see.

Here are the questions that I’ve recently started to contemplate, the questions that made me think of the tune on that random afternoon all those years ago.  Or maybe thinking of the tune raised the questions.  I honestly couldn’t tell you how the causality went.

If (or when?) I go deaf, will I ever manage to find that tune again? 

     And:

Will I forget the music I still hear in my head if I can’t hear it very well out loud anymore?

And, in the occasional moment of paranoia:

Will I forget how to hear music in my head?

I’m not certain if that last concern makes sense to anyone besides me.  On some, likely-irrational, level, it makes perfect sense to me.  I’ve always been good at noticing those rare moments when I’m bordering on irrational.  I can generally pull abruptly back.  That doesn’t mean the original thought goes away, though.

Somehow, one lost tune on a faraway afternoon during a faraway drowsing dream represents the genuine concern that I will lose all music.  It’s the Platonic ideal of that question, you might say.  At least if you were fuzzy on how Platonic ideals actually work7.  The essence of the tune lies in what it could be rather than what it is.

At the time, even when I lost the tune, I always assumed I would find it again at some point.  More precisely, it never occurred to me that I would still be thinking about that lost tune all these years later.  Another good afternoon would come, or another peaceful situation, or even another lifetime, in this world or the next.  And more good afternoons and peaceful moments did come, so many I can scarcely tell them apart anymore.

Time marches on.  Ain’t nothing wrong with any of it.  And, as sure as the sea and right as the rain, I honestly can’t complain.

Yet I still have to confront the question.  Perhaps sooner, perhaps later.  Don’t know yet.  I want to say it worries me, this look straight into the abyss of a music-less world.  I’m not so sure it does, though.  Obviously it concerns me.  The fact that I’m writing this gives testament to that.  Worry, though?  All manner of nuance and misunderstanding of how my mind actually works complicates that possibility.  I’m not a fatalist per se.  In theory, I’m willing to believe – if a little sardonically –  in all those cat posters and parables about changing your path, and rising above the metaphorical muck of whatever metaphorical concept you find yourself sinking into, and any other shallow homilies one can find in the writings of W.E. Henley and Norman Vincent Peale.

Okay, more than a little sardonically.  It takes either the love of a good woman or the airing of a heartwarming Christmas movie to really curb my sardonic outlook.

But I’m not given to excessive thought on the burgeoning inevitable either.  It’s a waste of thought and energy.  While I won’t pretend I haven’t wasted vast amounts of both of these in my time, I take a certain comfort8 in the notion that I rarely waste them on anything meaningful.

So…where goes the message when the medium disappears?

If I can’t hear it anymore, does music still exist for me?

~***~

few years ago, while visiting Raleigh, an old friend – yes, one of those type friends, should auld acquaintance be forgot and some we’ve loved, the loveliest and best and all that rot – asked me an odd question for someone who’d known me for so many years, though, given my various peregrinations over those years, not exactly consistently across the time period:

What kind of music do you like?

Well, he actually had to repeat the question three times before I knew what he was asking.

But that’s the life of losing one’s hearing.  You grow accustomed to it, that unscratchable itch that fades into ambiguity, always lurking as it waits for circumstances to call your attention to it once again.  And circumstances tend to call your attention to it fairly regularly.   Virtually everything happens on repeat, rewinding and playing it through again and again until you understand or give up or, if you’re lucky, the other person is willing to write down what they want you to know.  Unfortunately, giving up happens far more often than the other two options.  The frustration becomes normalized, if never quite accepted with any degree of serenity.  When things taking three times longer than necessary, three times as much of your life is being pointlessly devoured by rote repetition.

When you think about the implications, you realize that, to a deaf person, existence shortens far faster than it should.

I wasn’t thinking such thoughts there at the table, of course.  At least not on any conscious level.  Instead, I was enjoying the three mugs of Guinness Stout in my belly, plowing through a fourth with unabated enthusiasm, and watching my friend as I struggled to follow the conversation with the same ease I did of old.  The motion of the head, the furrowing of brow, the barely distinguishable rise in pitch at the end of the sentence – even a person losing his hearing can tell a question is being asked.  I tried to fight the temptation to just agree or disagree depending on what expectation I could make out in his expressions.  Some days you just can’t bear to ask the other person to repeat himself too often in a row, however, and this was one of them  Instead, I would succumb to the ease of uncertainty, murmuring in manners that I hope will be taken as agreeable to whatever he said, regardless of whether he expected assent or dissent.  A proper murmur with the proper facial movements can mean both Yes, absolutely and I wouldn’t think so, no and I agree, you should feel whatever the hell you happen to be feeling about whatever the hell issue you happen to be discussing, depending on the context.

Though I desperately wished the chessboard – a beautiful beige and dark crimson patterned folding case with very pretty marble pieces cushioned within9 – would come out to allow a certain focus to our interaction, it stayed planted firmly inside his messenger bag.  With chess, we always concentrated and stuck to pertinent observations and chatter about the game in front of us.  Even when I couldn’t understand exactly what was said, I would be able to generally deduce the nature of his comments from what sounds I did catch and what activity had just occurred on the board.  I knew this because I’d actually played with someone else for a bit when I lived in Michigan and it worked out okay.

Unfortunately, he seemed in no hurry to pull the case out, and I couldn’t suggest it without seeming to want to end the current conversation.  And so the conversation grew increasingly uncomfortable for me.  While we quite liked each other in general, having spent many a long weekend afternoon together in our primes, we weren’t the sort of life-long friends that made me feel comfortable with the inconvenience I subjected him to during that conversation.  Very few people actually have that distinction anymore.  Death and distance and the slow decline of social entropy have seen to that.

This, too, is the life of losing one’s hearing.  You frustrate and addle everyone you interact with, and, in turn, you grow frustrated and addled.  There’s really not much way around this.  You find yourself shrinking away from people you once knew well, or avoiding meeting new people.  Knew or new, it all appears to come to the same thing, really.  While I’ve never much cared what people thought of me, I grow ill at ease when it becomes apparent the people around me have become frustrated with my disability.  I’ve always been a very independent person.  It’s who I am.  Having to depend on their generous indulgence and ongoing patience makes me very uncomfortable.

But that’s just how things go, and all the agonizing and recriminations in the world can’t fix it.  So there’s no point in complaining.  In any event, my friend put on a reasonable show of slipping right back into the comfortable suit of old friendship as we discussed various topics with the laconic ease of two people who’d spent many a day doing so over the years.

Just as I resolved to get down on my knees and beg him to play chess (well, maybe not a literal begging, because that’s a bit much and I just suck at the wheedling parts of life), he leaned back and glanced in the general area of the eaves of the diner beside us.  He nodded at something without explaining, and then he asked me the question.  Three times.

For a moment that probably lasted less than the moderate to longish medium kalpa10 it felt like, I actually stared and blinked.  My first thought was that he was feeling particularly random that day.  Other than the occasional unexpected chess move, however, I’d never known him to be a random sort of person.  What I’d always had in rambling digressive lack of focus, he always made up for in, well, focus.  That actually made him a slightly better chess player than me overall.  This theory was therefore quickly dismissed.

Or perhaps he just genuinely wanted to know.  Idle curiosity is not an unheard-of aspect of our species, let alone our cultural zeitgeist.  As he had to come to grips with this new dynamic between us, I suspected, he was wondering exactly what the parameters of my situation, and our relationship forthwith.  Until that day, we hadn’t spoken in years, after all.  Being something of an amateur picker, the subject was somewhat dear to his heart.  While I can’t recall any specific conversation we’d ever had about music in the past, I’m sure we managed a few during our rambling conversations over chess and beer.

Or perhaps it was something a bit more obvious.  Sometimes (or 90% of the time, depending on whether it’s a sensible person, or me, making the search) the obvious is the last place we look.  As we sat outside a casual eatery on a late July afternoon, buffalo wings and tortilla chips and spinach dip and beer mugs emptied almost as quickly as they were filled covering the cast-iron grate table between us, we leaned back during a few moments of silence of the sort we used to share back when we played chess against each other at this exact table, the furthest to the left of the eatery’s front doors.  He cocked his head at the music coming from the PA system, music I couldn’t even hear, let alone offer an opinion on.  Perhaps something in my expression as he glanced quickly at the speakers sparked the question.  Just an obvious question brought about an obvious cue.

And perhaps the fact that he frequently had to repeat himself at least once, and often two or three times, while we caught up on each other’s lives, had something to do with it.  He tried to be patient.  He really did.  Even when I suggested we go to texting, he shook his head, determined to make the conversation work.

Or maybe he just liked the music and wanted to know what I would think of it, could I but hear it.

I suspect at least two of these, and possibly all of them, led to what should have been a normal, innocuous question.

For such a vivid moment, my memory of how I answered is surprisingly vague.  I suspect, with some confidence, that had a lot to do with the two pitchers of Guinness we’d consumed between us.

      If I worried about such things, and I don’t, I’d find it a bit worrisome to realize how many of my less lucid moments in life can be attributed to excessive consumption of Guinness on tap.  Though I no longer drink, and haven’t in years, sometimes I do find myself craving a nice cold mug on a balmy August evening.  Sometimes that craving includes a game of chess.  Sometime it includes a group of friends talking all kinds of nonsense.

And sometime – perhaps even more so than chess and crazy-talking friends – this craving includes some nice jazz or rock playing over the PA system.

Beer aside, though, I don’t recall what I did say.  Odd, isn’t it, that I would remember that moment so well but be unsure of my exact reply?  Perhaps I replied Punk and Jazz and Classic Rock, with a touch of Classical thrown in for good measure.  Certainly those would have been the most likely answer.  But maybe I just gave that answer in my head, shrugged, and smiled noncommittally.  I suspect the beer we consumed before and after played a part in my uncertain recollection.

Doesn’t really matter at this point.

Though I cannot recall whether I actually answered his question out loud, I recall what I had the impulse to say, were I inclined to be completely straightforward.   Like a thirsty man on a hot day grasping at any drink capable of quenching his thirst, my answer would have been:

Any music I can still hear relatively well.

And that just about strikes a nice little ornate dagger right at the uncomfortable heart of the matter, doesn’t it?

~***~

Obviously, the situation is a bit more complicated than that.  This is always true of life and all those messy messy parts of life that inevitably muddle things up.   I’m not sure if he’d have realized the level of intentional glibness in my reply.  Sometimes it occurs to me that my ability to deflect personal questions is entirely too well-developed for my own good.  Frequently, considerable prodding, cajoling, and occasional pummeling are necessary to get me to talk.  Threats of violence or promises of sexy good time might be required if all else fails.

But it’s not about rehashing the moments so much as about finding the right moment to live in when you do rehash them.

No healthy person ever lives entirely in the moment.  That would be a sign of genuine brain damage.  To be human is to remember, measure our present against our past, see the permutations of life unfolding.  We are not momentary creatures, and nor should we be, no matter how momentous the moments might prove to be.

And, as I said earlier, most moments simply aren’t momentous.

So when I hear the word music, I don’t simply cock my head and try to catch some strains of song as they grow increasingly faint.  My memory of music hasn’t gone away, after all.  Old songs still play in my thoughts, mostly unchanged, undiminished, though my memory of lyrics can be occasionally fuzzy.  So when I try to recapture that tune from that afternoon years ago, it’s not just about sentiment.  In a very unexpected way, it’s about need.

I knew this tune.  I could hear it perfectly, and would have recognized it if anyone else had hummed, vocalized, player, or gargled it in my presence.

Revised answer:  Any music I can still hear relatively well or any music I used to listen to because it’s quickly becoming a necessity.

That’s the thing about growing deaf, at least for me. – if I know what’s being said, or remember the tune of what I’m hearing, I can make it out much better.  Some song from the callow days of my youth might become a favorite simply because I knew it back when hearing still seemed certain, if a bit unsteady.  Classics from the ‘90s11 remain favorites, not necessarily because I don’t want to move on and evolve in my musical tastes.  I do.  But losing my hearing proscribes many things, and that includes learning new and interesting music.

Relatively recently, I discovered that I sometimes remember old wrong.  Or maybe I just think I do.  Either way, given what I’ve written about thus far, it’s not hard to see why that wold be disconcerting.

To wit:  a few months ago, I downloaded a song I hadn’t heard since college.  “Drive”, from REM’s Automatic for the People.  Not some beloved favorite.  Had it been, I would have listened to it at some point since college.  Nevertheless, I had certain fond memories associated with it.  So when I happened to think about it one day, I made a point of tracking it down.  Thanks to the magic of Modern Technology, specifically downloadable music, this proved to be an extremely simple task.

I was in my car the first time I got around to playing it because, well, “Drive”.  I leaned back in my seat as I cruised down the highway, and the music started.  I let my eyelids drift downwards, relaxed and smiling broadly, before realizing that I was currently moving at 75 miles per hour and in sole control of a vehicle that had no ability to take over for me if I decided to ignore basic safety.  Under such circumstances, relaxation seemed like an indulgence I would probably need to put off until I reached a less mobile state of affairs.  So – quite wisely, I feel –  I just stuck with smiling instead.

After a few moments, my smile started fading, the corners of my mouth drift down without any deliberate intention on my part.  Something had gone terribly wrong with the song.  I grabbed my phone and paused the music before checking the screen to make certain I was actually listening to what I had intended to listen to.

Much to my disconcertion, I was.

(Well, it wasn’t so much disconcertion as annoyance, but I wanted an excuse to use the word ‘disconcertion’ because I honestly cannot recall ever using it in writing.  I wasn’t even entirely confident it was a valid noun variant of ‘disconcert.’  Mostly, but I had niggling doubts.)

So I reluctantly started the song back up again.  After a few more seconds, I recognized the notes, though in that vague way you recognize a friend you hadn’t seen in many years.

I was appalled.  That friend I hadn’t seen in many years had gained enormous weight and had for some reason chosen to get plastic surgery to make himself much uglier than he was when we knew each other.  In other words, it sounded awful, almost a parody of the song I’d had in my head for so long.

Three immediately obvious choices presented themselves as I switched between watching the road and glaring balefully at my phone screen:

1)                  Conclude that, at some point since 1992, a Cosmic Prankster of no small power and ill repute had methodically changed each and every copy of the song in every format imaginable for his (or her) own perverse reasons and pleasures;

2)                  Conclude that I simply misremembered the song all this time and, ancillary to this conclusion, had absolutely awful taste in music back then;
3)                  Conclude that my copy of the song, my aging phone, my earbuds, or possibly some combination of the four was flawed.
4)                  Conclude that existence had become utterly meaningless and nothing really mattered anymore.  Nothing.  Life is just the piling of the absurd upon the absurd by the absurd and, hey, what would happen if I accelerated to 120 mph up an off-ramp?  Would I fly when I reached the top?  I saw it work on in the credits of that show about the streets of San Francisco.

I decided the fourth conclusion, while potentially valid, suffered from being an overly grim reaction to the relatively mild disconnect of the situation at hand.  That would be throwing the baby out with a small tumbler of apple juice.  The first one, while also certainly potentially valid, begged the question in the classical sense, given that I hadn’t yet proven it true, and likely never could12.  The third seemed a bit more likely, and I tested it by re-downloading the song, since the other three possibly-defective components all worked just fine for the rest of my playlist.  As it turned out, the copy of the song was just fine.  Unless they’re all defective and nobody noticed because a Cosmic Prankster had…but I’ve already dismissed that possibility on its own merits, or at least in the best interest of babies.  Trying to wedge it into yet another theory seems a sure and rather painful path to madness.

So, door #2 it must be.  While not an obscure song by any means, I was at a loss regarding who I might know that could confirm the authenticity of what I was listening to.  None of my friends, family, or acquaintances sported obvious ‘REM LUVAH 4EVA ESPESHLE THERE ERLY 90z STUFF’ tats about their person.

It’s possible they had such a tat concealed beneath clothing.  Though I concede this, I lacked the courage or intellectual resolve to interrogate them along those lines.  See above regarding ‘sure and painful path to madness.’

So I had to ask myself – if I go completely deaf, and if my memory can’t be trusted, how can I know whether I’m remembering music or just idly composing what I think is music?  Of course, remembering a wrong version of a song isn’t necessarily a killer.  Maybe I actually like the wrong version better than I liked the original.  My subconscious could be subtly changing the memories to something even better than reality.

Surprisingly enough, I’m not really okay with my subconscious screwing with me.  If that turns out to be the case, me, a certified Cognitivist analyst, and my subconscious are going to sit down together in a locked room and nobody will leave until we’re all very clear on what appropriate boundaries my subconscious should be observing.

In any event, philosophically-speaking, this entire line of thought is little more than a particularly pessimistic gedankenexperiment.  Intellectually, I always knew it was a possibility, at least in the sense that I would stop hearing it.  Forgetting it, though, seems more problematic.  But I tell myself, in a mental voice as sardonic as it is sincere, that clinging to this issue can only end badly

Living too much in the moment is unhealthy; living too much in past moments is worse.  Nostalgia and regret alike burn a mind out.  They take life’s current and dam it with such brutal efficiency that one is trapped in the swirling heart of the resultant flood.

Obviously – and I assume anyone who is reading this has already muttered Obviously, all you need to do is…. – obviously, there’s a fairly simple solution to this question.  Just find someone who has lost his or her hearing and ask.  Direct, to the point, and, assuming you don’t go out of your way to ensure they can’t understand what you’re saying – say, by asking out loud with a hand in front of your mouth just because you’re a complete jackass– they’d probably be more than willing to tell you about their personal experience, about what happened to music in the transition.

I’m not stupid, generally speaking, though some might argue the point for petty reasons, like thinking I’m stupid.  I figured out the obvious long ago.  But I don’t avoid the obvious out of sheer capriciousness.  Some subjects need to be pondered, worried at, poked and prodded until you have worked things out for yourself.  If I am to lose my hearing, I don’t need blandly sincere reassurances that I’ll still remember music (and feel the vibrations of the louder and occasionally percussionistic types of instruments.)  Reassurances merely give me a reason to stop thinking about the issue, and I need to think about it.

Thinking is my wheelhouse.  Being told not to think on it, well, isn’t.

What I really want to do is remember that tune from back on that perfect afternoon swimming nakedly about first, like a shibboleth, or an answer key.  It’s all mine, you see.  I don’t say this with proprietary or acquisitive intent.  It’s just a sound, after all, and not even a momentous one13  I say this because I know exactly where it came from.  I know the story, the connotations, the denotations, and some of the implications.  It’s pure memory, and once I find it again, I will recognize it immediately and absolutely.

So what kind of music do I like?

Music that can survive its own destruction.  Seems reasonable, no?

~Fin~

Footnotes

1)  That was not her real name, of course but, my God, it should have been and I blame her parents for their shortsightedness.  Not that she was a party girl to any particular degree.  She was just…a Gala.

2)  You wouldn’t pick her out of a crowd for being a supermodel, certainly, and she’d be the first to admit that (which is the only reason I’m willing to say it.)  There was, to call upon the old cliché, just something about her.  Something in the way she stood, and walked, something in that little head-tilt thing she did when thinking, something in the way she smiled without holding anything back, like whatever she was smiling about at that exact moment, it was the smilingest thing in the history of our poor old planet.  I loved her only as a friend, but don’t mistake me – I would consider any guy (or girl, she sometimes vacillated) including me to be lucky to be with her in more intimate terms.  So I say this as a friend – there are all kinds of beauty, and she was at least a half-dozen of them all by herself.

3)  You would not believe how much time I spent searching for that damned degree symbol.  Microsoft was kind enough to inform me that I could use a keyboard shortcut…if I had a number pad on my laptop or a magic wand blessed by the Right Hon. William Gates Messquire himself.  Unfortunately, while my last laptop did, indeed, have a number pad, I chose portability over giant keyboard this time around.

                Also, I use Fahrenheit because Celsius because Celsius is a tool of the Devil.  Says so in both the Bible and the Rig Veda.

4)  Now, some might say ice cream is a horrible choice for breakfast.  Those some clearly didn’t go with us on that trip, because not only did we all eat ice cream at a diner for breakfast that morning, we dipped huge spoonsful of vanilla dripping with hot fudge, strawberry preserves, and walnuts into our coffees.  I think the point I’m trying to make is that coffee was sufficiently breakfast-y to justify any other items we may or may not have consumed.

5)  Said dryads might have been hallucinations or they might have been an authentic remnant of the Old World, but I’m not ready to commit.

                Some might suggest I was just using a rhetorical device and no dryads were ever seen or imagined in this place, but some need to stop looking for logical answers in an inherently illogical world.  That way lies madness.  Or, worse, sanity.  Why risk either?

6)  In case you’re wondering, and I can’t imagine you’re reading this with anything but bated breath, I have no idea if they ever hooked up.  There are just some questions I don’t care enough to ask.  Indeed, there are a whole lot of questions I don’t care enough to ask, many of which a rational human being intent on staying alive should be asking as loudly and frequently as possible.  I’m pretty sure I’ve managed to survive this long despite this, but if I happen to be in a Sixth Sense sort of situation, the baristas at the coffee shops I frequent all have uncanny ability to interact with, and make the order for, little ol’ ectoplasmic me.

7)  I’m not fuzzy on them, though I do sometimes get my Platonism and neo-Platonism mixed up.  Neither do I feel much obligation to be completely true to the original concept.  Everything is mutable.  Nothing is sacred.  Life is a cereal.  Yadda yadda and so on until the end of all things.

8)  Yes, comfort.  That’s the right word.  Don’t look at me like that.  I am what I am, and that’s just how it’s got to be.

9)  He absolutely refused to tell anybody where he’d acquired it.  I couldn’t say whether it was out of a desire to have the only one in Raleigh or because it had been stolen from the scene of a bloody murder and he didn’t want to become a person of interest.

                Probably both.

10)  The concept of a kalpa is central to Hinduism and Buddhism.  It’s a Sanskrit word that means, generally, a long period of time.  It has been defined as (according to every source I’ve seen, since my knowledge of Hinduism is mostly academic) 4.32 billion years.  In other words, a longish sort of time period.  A mediu kalpa…ah, just look it up.  Things get complicated.

11)  That’s right, Baby Boomers, we have redefined classic rock-n-roll to cover songs from when you were middle-aged.  We don’t apologize in the slightest.  Sic transit gloria mundi or whatever describes your hoary hearts breaking.

12)  Technically, as a variant of noumenon, it couldn’t be proven, at under the experiential world as we know it.  Though MS Word insists no such word as noumenon exists, it does.  One of my favorites, even.  Research it.  It’s a great $20 term to amaze and frighten your friends during late night drunken philosophy sessions.  }

13)  Yes, I’m gonna hammer on that point until Judgment Day or February 31st, whichever comes first.  Stop interrupting me with pointless questions so near to the end here.  It is, was, and shall always be not momentous. 

Man, Interr…Ah, Dammit: Part I (TGL)

(All posts imported from Blogger blog http://randomgrey.blogspot.com/   I simply cannot wrangle the formatting properly on WordPress.  Indents, paragraph spacing, et cetera. It’s really annoying.)

~Rambling Thoughts on Learning American Sign Language~

[The Giverny Life quod vide]

~Nemo surdior est quam is qui non audiet

(Is randomly quoting Latin pretentious?  Yeah, it’s pretentious.  I’ll be mocking myself later, in private.  It’ll be vicious, I promise.)

Wednesday night, and the coffee house was a-chattering, to say nothing of a-gesturing, a-quivering and a-fluttering, with all manner of conversation.  Great oaths were being sworn, petty promises were being made, and lots of intermittent rational discussion was being had.

Or so I assumed.  I actually couldn’t understand any of it.

For once, however, I could actually tell the scope of the conversation filling the room.  It was as noisy as a rave, with 83.6% less saturated Poor Decision Making, and yet it was virtually silent even by my not overly strict standards.  Perhaps a vague rustle in the background, the crinkle of paper and clank of mugs against wood and squeaking scrapes of chair legs sliding over hard tile

To avoid accusations of coyness, for coyness I’ve been accused of on occasion, I’ll go ahead and note that the conversation – gestures and quivers and flutters alike – was taking place almost entirely in sign language.  I will go ahead and say ‘American Sign Language’ (AMSLAN) because, although I couldn’t tell AMSLAN from SLAMBAMTHANK YOUMA’AM1 at a glance, this affair was most definitely taking place in America, with thousands of miles separating the coffee house from the nearest foreign country.

I’ve always been excellent at basic deduction.  I’m clearly a genius at figuring out the painfully obvious.  I do not feel the need for humility on that point.

Another thing I’ve always been excellent at is wondering what the holy hell is going on.

Pursuant to this admission, I started wondering what in the blue blazes was happening2 as I looked around the room.  For a long second, I thought the place had been taken over by a particularly emphatic and passionate group availing themselves of every trick in their repertoire, including wild gestures, to get their points across.  Thanks to an impromptu drum ritual and crawfish broil I once stumbled over in a friend’s back yard while searching for an errant kitty one sultry spring afternoon, it wouldn’t be the first time my wanderings led me into the belly of the Overemphatic Beast.

One can argue that I should have realized from the fact that pretty much everyone in the coffee house was waving fingers and hands at each other that sign language was the more obvious conclusion.  One can also argue that I’m a blithering idiot.

Indeed, at least a couple of my girlfriends have made that exact argument, in fact.  Only one of them seemed to be joking.

(To be fair, and to head off lengthy and likely fruitless discussion of my cognitive prowess and/or attention to significant detail, I will note that few people were conversing with any great enthusiasm at that juncture.  Most seemed to be settling in and getting tasting their food and drinks while exchanging subdued signs with their companions.)

By the sheerest razor’s edge of luck, a single table opened up just as I was walking through the room.   I co-opted it with a grim focus that would have led to me shoving intervening people off a cliff (assuming a cliff had been present) in my haste to reach it.  After setting up my computer and paying for my order3 I decided to check the flyers on the outside doors and windows on the off-chance that they were advertising events other than prog-rock and prog-art.  Sure enough, after glancing past a half-dozen events that seemed a little befuddled in theory, if not entirely unclear in practice, regarding exactly what sort of affair they were so earnestly advertising, I found a flyer announcing a gathering for a local ASL group.4

And thus was order restored to my world.  More accurately, thus was a condition of slightly less chaos restored to my world.

~***~

They — that eternal, ubiquitous, and almost always anonymous they of modern folklore and pith – say learning a new language grows progressively more difficult as one ages.  Children and young teenagers absorb the knowledge in much the same way as they absorb every other sort of knowledge before radiating it back into the atmosphere once more, generally with added madcap hormonal hijinks.  In my early twenties, in grad school, I managed to learn one last language, Old English5, to add to my passing knowledge of French, Latin, and the occasional Alcoholic Gibberish.  Since then, I’ve not only learned no new ones, but I’ve all but forgotten Old English (though I could probably recollect the Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet which I studied in ancillary fashion to actual Old English.)  By the time I learned it, I was past the age of truly internalizing them without occasional practice.

Perhaps it was a matter of devotion.  Keeping up with my skills – reading the fragments of Anglo-Saxon texts still floating around, or perusing ‘Beowulf’ in the original from time to time – never seemed to be high on my priority list.  Having long since realized that the events of Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” were extremely unlikely to happen to me6, I had little motivation to keep up with a dead language.  At least Latin, which I could translate passably well once upon a time, still has relevance to the Roman Catholic Church, Vatican II notwithstanding.

In theory, learning sign language should be straightforward enough.  Learn the gestures, the angles and arcs and subtle crooks of finger and wrist.  Attach them to words, transform thought into action.  We do this all the time.  We master the proper turn of a steering wheel to get the desired effect.  We tap our feet to rhythm, or deftly move a full cup of hot coffee.  We walk without falling flat on our face.  Most of the time.  So, in theory, this is nothing more than an extension of who we are as human beings.  We learn the proper motion to achieve the desired result.

Then again, in quantum theory, we should be able to walk through walls.  In physics and eschatological theory, energy cannot neither be created nor destroyed, so immortality is inevitable.  In linguistic theory, nothing really means anything except that which our listeners allow it to mean.  In theory, people should be happy and healthy and content with their lives.

I’ve long since learned not to trust theory any further than necessary.

In the end, theory makes liars of us all.

If you’re thinking that this is all bit of a high-falutin’ digression for a straightforward discussion of a learning experience, I absolutely agree.  Roll your eyes to your heart’s content.  In the end, excessive ponderin’ and easy access to word processing programs that allows for the quick jotting down of pointless cogitatin’ makes pompous twits of us all.

The point is, I hadn’t learned sign language despite having a baby sister and a father who both learned it, either for fun (sister) or for his job (father.)

So there I was in the midst of a crowd beginning to sign with increased enthusiasm as the various sources of caffeine.  My particular table of serendipity was located in a cozy little nook, my back to the wall and half my view blocked by a counter.  I settled in to work,

Generally, I’m reasonably good at blocking out stimuli.  Being hard-of-hearing helps enormously, but the flip side is that I don’t miss much visually.  (I take great pains not to react to things I see at the edges of my vision, but I do see them better than most.)  So being able to ignore the visual stimuli as well is an accomplishment.  That night, however, I became increasingly distracted by all the signing visible.  Even when I stared closely at my screen, the periphery was filled with constant motion.  Finally, I realized something odd – it was getting entirely too loud for me to concentrate properly.

Is this ironic?

I want to say ‘Yes,’ but can’t really fit it into any of the classic categories of irony7.

Having accepted my distraction and bedevilment as inevitable, I surreptitiously watched a few conversations at nearby tables.  Strain as I might to recognize some the signs, though, I found them incomprehensible.  They were too fast, too skilled, too completely unknown to me.  Granted, that last one pretty much sufficiently covered why I didn’t understand, but I had some hopes of at least recognizing a few gestures even if the conversation was several paragraphs past by the time I finally worked them out.

~***~

This wasn’t completely idle hope.  It wasn’t simply a case of me believing I could understand just about anything if I tried hard enough.  I’d taken a preliminary ASL class about a year prior, after encountering a group of deaf people at a sushi restaurant and inquiring (via writing) as to where I could find a good sign language class.  They helped me by naming some resources to check out.  So, after forking over $508 for a couple months, I spent two hours every Tuesday evening learning the basics of sign language.

Note, I don’t say I learned it well.  This is an important plot point in my story here.

From memory, I can, with relative assurance, say ‘thank you,’ ‘I love you,’ and ‘good morning.’  While these are all very helpful phrases when engaged in sexual relations of various varieties, they don’t exactly cover a wide range of conversational topics, and are almost completely useless in most situations.  Certainly I could walk back up to the counter to thank the barista for making my coffee, for instance, but I’m not entirely certain how a ‘good morning’ would come across, given that it was 6:30 at night.  And I rather suspect a subsequent ‘I love you’ would make things incredibly awkward.  While it’s possible she would leap across the counter to embrace me with a mad passion and clinically insane fervor, I rather suspect her reaction would be more accurately described as what the hell? and/or I’ve called the cops and there are a dozen witnesses here if you try anything untoward.9

I could also reliably sign the letters ‘J’, ‘R’, ‘U’, and ‘W’.  I can do the ‘M’ and ‘N’ if you don’t nimd ne confusing one sigm for the other.  If the fate of the world ever depends on a hero who can reliably – if not quickly – fingerspell the word ‘wruj’ or possibly ‘jurw’, I’m your man.

The class itself was, as noted, an introductory one, filled with earnest people seeking to master the ancient and noble art of gesture-talking.  The teacher was capable and sincere.  My classmates were attentive and seemed, to a person, to have laudable intentions for learning.  Some wanted to communicate with friends and colleagues; others sought to better serve the public at whatever jobs they held.  As I recall, one had a deaf relative, while another had goals toward working with the deaf.

Have you noticed what was missing in my description of my classmates?

Go ahead and re-read.  Think about the many possible motivations for learning how to sign.  Note that ‘have nothing better to do with your hands’ isn’t one of them.10

If you still haven’t worked it out, I’ll quit being coy, for coyness I have been accused of on occasion:  out of the dozen or so students, not a single one (myself excluded, of course) actually needed to learn to sign, at least not for reasons of being able to function independently in an aural world.  All seemed perfectly capable of hearing what was going on.

Somehow, it hadn’t occurred to me that would be the case; in retrospect, though, it seems almost embarrassingly obvious.

My situation, while certainly not unique, is along a descending slope of the bell curve.  As far as I can tell, the majority of deaf and hard-of-hearing people are either older men and women, following a known and accepted side-effect of aging, or have been deaf from a young age.  Usually birth or infancy, it seems.  Fewer start to lose their hearing in such rapid fashion I’ve been doing in their early to middle adulthood.

Yes, that makes me special, a unique and lovely snowflake.  There couldn’t be more than a few million in the same boat, right?

I’d order a cake to celebrate but it’s not worth the hassle trying to interact with the baker.

Granted, my hearing was always a bit suspect.  Until a few short years ago, though, I managed just fine.  My difficulties were more annoyances than serious impediments.  Nobody was going to hire me to listen to sonar aboard a submarine, but neither were they forced to mime every conversation with me.

Since miming conversations with me has grown increasingly necessary, I really have few options at this juncture.  So I immediately took the seat directly to the teacher’s right at the beginning of the first class and held fast to that position for the entire run of the course.  Well, almost directly.  A young lady11 sat between me and the teacher, a laptop in front of her.  She would then spend the next two hours typing out what the teacher was saying so I could follow the discussion.

It’s a bit surreal to be in a sign language class designed for people who could hear the teacher, requiring ad hoc techniques for a person who actually needed to learn.

The teacher and the assistant and my classmates all to be lovely people who sincerely wanted to make things easier for me.  I have absolutely no complaints at all.  As I’ve discovered lately, there’s always a certain element of pity.  That’s unavoidable, and, in many ways, it speaks well of our poor, benighted species.  However, that particular topic evokes a complex reaction in me, so it will remain a discussion for another essay, one I’m sure I’ll tackle before too long.12

In any case, the other people in the room gave every impression of being quite honestly interested in just being helpful.  I just found it a bit ironic, an intellectual quirked eyebrow, as it were, to discover that it was more problematic for a hard-of-hearing person to follow the class than one with full possession of their hearing.

If I could offer a more suitable method of teaching a mixed group, I would.  But since all my ideas revolve around group texting, messaging technology, and the occasional bout of metaphysical Twister, I have to admit that they handled it as well as could be expected.  There’s a reason deafness is considered a handicap, after all – it handicaps communication.  If an elegant and simple solution existed, it wouldn’t be a handicap.13

The hard truth of the matter was, I found learning sign language difficult.  For someone who has rarely experienced any particular difficulty learning whatever happened to interest me at a given time, this turn of events could be quite frustrating.  While I completely understood the necessity, and felt a certain amount of fascination with the links between gestures and the words and ideas they represented, I couldn’t muster up the intellectual energy to focus to the degree necessary to master the topic.  Despite the fact that I paid for a class that wasn’t going to affect anything like ‘grades’ and ‘graduation’, I had to focus on being nervous about failing to learn the week’s assignments before the next class.

To avert accusations that this particular lady (of a gentlemanly ilk) doth protest too much, I’m only going to say this once:  I’m not stupid.  Not even remotely.  Nevertheless, I struggled to pick up sign language.

Part of this, I think, was the atrophying of my study skills.  For many years now, since grad school, I’ve read and researched and studied a considerable number of topics.  My knowledge base has continued to expand over the years, often in direct linear correlation with the expansion of the Internet.  I will confidently claim to be better educated now than I was years ago, and I was pretty damned well educated years ago.  But I study topics and subjects that I find fascinating for no other reason than that they just happened to occur to me one day.   I vacillate every which way across vast regions of knowledge, every bit of datum for itself and the Devil take hindmost.

So perhaps another part of the reason I was slow to pick it up was that I chafed under the restriction of necessity.  Learning was a task, a work of rote and goals and all that implies a lack of the freedom of exploration that I value to a ridiculous degree.  I am, at heart, an autodidact.

The more I consider it, the more this strikes me as an even more compelling reason than mere lack of studiousness.

~***~

The complicated conversation amongst the ASL speakers in the coffee house soon grew too fast, too complex for me to separate individual words or isolate the meaningful motions that marked the exchanges.  They appeared to be talking faster than I ever do verbally14.  And yet there was an odd beauty in the control demonstrated with each movement.  A fairly stout blonde boy, no older than 17 or 18 to my eye, moved thick fingers with a delicacy that could thread needles.  Fascinated, I watched him surreptitiously until I could make out most words and the clauses they formed together.  Though the fingerspelling was still far too fast for me to follow, I could at least see their place in the flow of the conversation, where they began and ended.  I even saw a word that I could guarantee began with ‘J’ because the finger placement and motion are distinctive.  Obviously, I had no idea what it was actually about, but I could identify it as a language, as communication.

Across the table from him was a cute girl.   I attempted to watch her instead since, given my druthers (and who doesn’t want to receive their druthers from time to time?) a cute girl wins out when I’m engaged in surreptitious voyeurism.  And I realize that term evokes some unsavory imagery, but what else can I really call it?  I was watching them at angles, between glances, careful not to let on what I was doing.  Pretty much defines surreptitious voyeurism.

The girl’s hands and fingers moved as quickly and frequently as the boy’s, a perfect balance in the dialogue between the two.  But I couldn’t keep from returning my observation to the boy.  The disproportionate thickness and stubbiness of his fingers accentuated the skill and elegance of sign language being used with the same fluency as I use spoken English.  Possibly a bit more fluency, given I tend to go off on pointless digressions and deliberately use words in a manner not strictly in keeping with their lexicographical underpinnings.  One doesn’t expect that sort of fluid motion with pudgy fingers and thick arms, yet there it was.

To call it artistic in same manner one might praise a particularly skilled and mellifluous orator wouldn’t have quite been a bridge too far.  Granted, some of the movements were abrupt and unwieldy, forcing out their meaning, but so, too, is some art.

(Just so it’s clear, I mention this particular speaker’s weight and physiognomy not as commentary concerning, or disapprobation of, either aspects.  I’m merely trying to illustrate how language subsumes its medium to achieve a certain grace in toto.)

My eyes scanned the rest of the group, all deeply in conversation.  Here and there, someone seemed to be making an emphatic point, the signs becoming more pronounced, more periodic.  I couldn’t tell if people were being convinced or not – discerning who was talking to whom proved difficult.  A half-dozen conversations criss-crossed the table as everyone around seemed to be looking at different people as the conversation progressed.  What fascinated me was that the very fact that I couldn’t understand what was being expressed with such skill meant they could be saying the crudest, rudest things imaginable and I’d never know.15

Finally, I gave up.  I hadn’t intended to watch them for quite so long.  My computer had shifted to screensaver16 and my thoughts had started to return to what I was writing.  At the periphery, though, the motion still caught my eye.  A vague sense of motion reminiscent of a flock of birds rising kept my eyes darting up for a brief moment.

I started to shut down my computer.  As fascinating as the scene was, I wasn’t there to people watch, and the distraction pretty much prevented me from accomplishing anything meaningful.  I threaded my way out, careful not interfere with the movements around me.

The next time I was there during a meeting of this group, sitting in the exact same seat, I barely even noticed them.  Apparently, familiarity breeds concentration.

Yes, a bad pun.  Deal with it.

~***~

This is how language works:  it savagely breaks down the vast abstract of the human condition into brittle bits and pieces and crushes them together into a brutal but lucidity.  At its core, language is imposition, forcing the vagaries of experience into concrete symbols, if only for our own benefit.  We channel instinct through idiom, thought through synthesis, self through semiosis.17

It may only be the illusion of control, but it’s a very powerful illusion.

We instinctively shy away from such description of how humans interact.  The implied violence of the process offends our sensibilities.  Can we call expressions of love savage?  What of inspiring speeches?  Are they mere strong-arm tactics?  The harmony of lyrical poetry would seem completely at odds with this analysis of the language paradigm.

I don’t disagree.  And yet I maintain that this implied violence does not contraindicate any of these things.  All expression is violent to one degree or another because all desire to express ourself is an act of breaking free from our inherent isolation.  A body at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.  It’s not merely Newtonian; it’s philosophy, and biology.  Mere existence contraindicates interaction.  What we are is not what we express.  So when we speak, or write, or sign, or share a meaningful gaze, we force mere existence into motion, into communication.  We learn to force commonality to escape isolation.

Language, after all, is about expressing the abstract in a manner others can understand.   Even when we can’t understand the basics, we recognize the attempt.

At its heart, language embraces reciprocation, acts of encoding and code-breaking, exchanging concepts in ways that allow others a brief understanding of what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling.  Every language has a pattern.  That’s part of the way we learn new ones, associating sounds with symbols, intonations with particular acts.  Identifying even the most unfamiliar language isn’t particularly difficult.  That is the heart of linguistics.  A properly educated human can single out a real language out of thousands of false ones simply through pattern recognition.18  Generally, forgeries can be disproved in this manner.  Not quickly, mind you, nor easily, but pattern recognition ultimately works because language and expression are inherently structured.

Any human interaction beyond the tactile and instinctual requires this patterning.  We modify and rehash and contort our instruments of communication until, by some miracle of rare device, our audience grasps some cogent fraction of what we’re trying to convey.  A frisson of truth, as it were.  The infinite fluid imprecision of thought and emotion forcibly bottled up in the phylacteries off expression

And then it’s gone as though it never intended to stay.  We expect more.  We wear the anticipation about us like a long-muted technicolor dreamcoat.  For all our attempts to set things in stone, they fade like mist under a morning sun, and all the psychometrics in the world can only measure what we have learned, not how we learned it.

I’m not waxing philosophic without a point.  We define ourselves through language.  Our self-image is couched in adjectives and predicates and all the thousands of nouns that swirl about us, each a name for some part of who we are.  The self – anima/animus, to go Jungian rather than Freudian – remains undefined in the social context until we take measures to define it.  In order to define it, however, we need to create a continuum.  Not only do the appropriate words change, the words themselves take on nuance and subtle shifts until what we once described as beautiful or tall or pellucid changes because the ideas we encoded in the words beautiful or tall or pellucid have changed.

Language defines the times we live in.  As such, it defines our world.  So, as my hearing goes, my ability to take control of my world fades as well.  I should learn sign language, even if it narrowly restricts the kinds of interactions I can have.  My difficulty is that I don’t think like that, don’t understand the world like that.  It’s not some simple substitution cypher.  I’m generally a very polite person, for instance, but do I say thank you in a voice that conveys that I am, in fact, thankful, or does the act of touching fingertips to chin and gesturing outwards compass my intentions, my sincerity?19

Seems silly, right?

It is.  I acknowledge that.  Hell, as a quasi-absurdist, I’ll even embrace it.  Mere silliness isn’t, in itself, sufficient reason to dismiss something out of hand.

And it’s more than that.  I cling to the spoken word, to the sensation of lilting vowels and brutish consonants, the vibration in the air and the gentle lips against my ear.  In some place, deep inside me, I admit that my resistance to learning sign language isn’t mere inefficiency of study or lack of freedom.  It’s something entirely slightly more profound, and far more petty.  Every happy memory I have with others – friends and family and lovers and those I couldn’t quite categorize but definitely weren’t any of the three aforementioned – comes down to each concrete detail.  Language isn’t an idea.  It’s an enactment, and every nuance depends on how we choose to articulate our thought, make our desires as real as the things we desire.  When I told people I loved them (or, in one memorable case, the person told me I was in love with her and I concurred after a bit of thought20) , the sensation, the sentiment, was carried in words and voice.  I could have just hugged them or looked adoringly into their eyes or sent them a particularly emotive stuffed bear, but the artifact of language can replace all of these.  When someone told me she loved me, the memory of her voice far outstrips the odds and ends, the items that represented the reality of our relationship.

Every moment is sensation.  Every sensation becomes memory.  Once I commit to learning sign language, I’m finally acknowledging that the world as I used to experience will be merely memory.

Even for someone like me, who generally rejects maudlin nostalgia as completely pointless, it’s not quite so easy to accept this as one might think.

As I left, I took one last glance at the ASL group happily signing away, smiles crinkling their cheeks and eyes intent on each other.  In this stew of human interaction, we struggle in our divergence, in our threading path along the twisted interlocking branches of the tree of knowledge.  Trial becomes error, error becomes learning, learning becomes knowledge, and knowledge becomes self-fulfilling futility.

Yes, I am aware of how dark that got, and how quickly it did so.  My point is, language will always be an ongoing process, not just the learning and mastery of it, but what it comes to mean in the narrative of our lives.  Even the mistakes.

Language doesn’t really evolve, after all.  We do, in the quotidian process that we rarely quite notice when it’s happening.

The ASL group merely represents a necessary evolution, both for deaf people in general and for me in particular.  For them, learning sign language was born of the same necessity that learning spoken language was for me, after all.  The linguistic paradigm they created for themselves was every bit as complex and old as the one I’d created for myself.  If I must embrace this new paradigm for myself soon, and it seems increasingly certain that I must, I can at least look to these people for evidence that it will work.

Eventually.  Because I didn’t forget that I blamed my study habits, and no realization in the world can fix chronic laziness.

~Fin~

Footnotes

1)  To save you the trouble of looking it up, SLAMBAMTHANKYOUMA’AM is absolutely a real language, I swear, but hardly one approved by either practitioners of sign language or, indeed, basic decency.  It has only a half-dozen words, all of which revolve around the need to be elsewhere with unceremonious haste the next morning.

2)  A specialized subset of the ‘wondering what the holy hell is going on’ skill.  While I’ve been known to misapply it to situations that didn’t require anything more than a ‘wondering what the hell is going on,’ I feel that sometimes a man has to shake things up by wondering what in the blue blazes is happening just to stay in practice.  Nothing worse than encountering a situation requiring one to wonder what in the blue blazes is happening and all one can muster is a feeble ‘holy hell’ sense of wonderment.

     Aren’t you glad you read this entire footnote?

3)  I suspect I have become predictable, because I didn’t accidentally leave out ‘ordering’ in my description of the tasks I undertook.  The baristas knew I would order a large Americano, two shots, in a mug rather than a disposable cup.  They had almost finished making it by the time I arrived at the counter.  They’re lovely people, it must be said

     One of these days, I’m going to order a triple mocha non-fat butterfoam latke latte with fresh-ground cinnamon and tansy, just to keep people on their toes.

     Then again, given that the order is probably complete nonsense, I suspect they’re more likely to stomp on my toes instead, just to remind me not to be a twit.

4)  Really, I can be forgiven for not noticing before.  Indie and prog-rock groups, especially local and regional ones, tend to have the most random names, so “ASL Group” could just as easily been some latter-day postmodern shoegazer pop group that stood on stage silently waving their hands at the audience for 45 minutes before traipsing off to take some hallucinogens.

     The group also apparently didn’t feel the need for the long-form acronym, and I fully support their decision, especially since there’s no point in doing a weird cross between the acronym and an abbreviation.

5)  Yes, Old English is essentially a foreign language.  So many people are surprised to learn that their nemesis in 10th grade literature classes, Shakespeare himself, wrote entirely in Modern English.  It’s the exact same language we speak now.  Chaucer wrote in Middle English and most people need annotations to understand him.  Old English is to Modern English as, well, German is to Modern English.

6)  Nobody, or at least nobody who didn’t want to be scorned and scoffed at, would describe me as a Yankee at all, let alone a Connecticut one.  In order for the events of the story to come to pass for me, some heavy-duty dialect training and lots of faked documents would be required.  That just seems unlikely.

     Also, time travel, I guess.  But the ‘transforming me into a Yankee’ part just seems harder to believe.

7)  The classic types of irony are verbal, situational, and dramatic.  Even after years of studying and reading literature, I still don’t know why it’s important to differentiate them.  Irony is a pretty simple and straightforward concept.  The divide between expectation and reality, generally with an unexpected or incongruous element.  Though I’m not inclined to do so, I make every effort to assume Alanis was being ironic about about the flawed examples of irony in the song.  A meta-commentary, as it were.

8)  As it turned out, the $50 wasn’t actually necessary in my case.  Apparently these classes were free for those who needed them for reasons of actual deafness.  But I’d paid already, so nothing to do but forge ahead with the knowledge that I had money at stake, which should have been a great motivator.  Unfortunately, I completely overlooked the fact I care almost nothing about money. In general, $50 means nothing to me except lots of coffee and maybe a good book of Hindustani Madlibs.  This general insouciance is good for the soul – lack of greed and acquisitiveness has traditionally been a metric of morality in most religious systems – but bad for the pocketbook and the pocketbook’s usefulness in situations where coffee might be purchased.  But good for the soul all the same.  Even Christianity, the modern politically-induced fervor for rapacious capitalism endemic amongst certain substantial branches of Christian faith notwithstanding.  It’s not that I dislike capitalism – practically speaking, it’s generally the most effective economic system – but I do have to raise an eyebrow at people whose Lord and Savior preached poverty and humility being so gung-ho for such things in the political arena.

     But now I’m pontificating on politics, and that’s very much a discussion for another time and place.  Carry on, brothers and sisters.  Carry on.

9)  Just to be clear, most of the baristas at this particular coffee house give every indication of being perfectly lovely, intelligent, and charming people who would more than likely just smile politely and wait until I was out of view before exchanging baffled glances and nervous laughs with their co-workers.  I don’t want to sully their names, unknown though those names are to me, by suggesting they are prone to overreaction.

10)  Though, in a perfect world, maybe it should be.  The world would be so much more civilized if people who had nothing better to do did something better anyway.  Though, on that lengthy and frequently unsavory list of things one can do with one’s hands, I can think of several equally enticing possibilities.  But let’s not go down that particular rabbit hole just yet.  Perhaps I will soliloquize (possibly even rhapsodize) some day when I have a few drinks in me.  Since, after a wild and wooly youth drinking all manner of concoctions in all manner of places, I no longer drink much, that occasion may be quite a while in the future.

11)  I never really learned what function she performed outside of the class, or what position she held, whether an employee of the department or an assistant teacher or just some stranger who happened to wander in with a laptop, a fizzy drink, and a burning need to transcribe something.

     Actually, there were two different young ladies.  But one was there for the vast majority of the classes.

12)  Until I do discuss the pity aspect of interactions with others, however, I feel the need to make one thing clear regarding self-pity:  I absolutely do not do it in any way, shape, or form.  It’s just not in my nature, and never has been.  Even if it were, I’d absolutely refuse to engage in it.  I’ve had a pretty good time of it, and if a little suffering is a part of it, that’s just how it goes.  Life is too short, and too fun, for me to wallow.

13)  Not to be tendentious (honestly), I refer to my condition as a ‘handicap’ without reservation.  The various less-straightforward terminologies simply do not work for me.  It’s a handicap.  I’m not ‘handicapable,’ at least not in any fashion that couldn’t be easily replicated by someone who doesn’t suffer from hearing loss.

     I want to make this clear, though:  I absolutely do not begrudge anyone for embracing alternative phrasings. Everyone, handicapped and non-handicapped alike, is fighting for meaning in this world, and if a person’s self-image is abetted by calling him or herself ‘handicapable,’ they have every right to embrace it.

14)  The pedant in me requires that I clarify:  technically, ‘orally.’  “Verbal” simply relates to the creation of words, audible or not.  Sign language is as verbal as spoken language.  But ‘orally’ just seems…loaded, as millions of easily-amused middle-schoolers have demonstrated over the years.

15) It was like a friend I had who could curse a storm in French, and she would do so in the most mellifluous tone, taking pleasure in the fact that her listeners couldn’t understand her.  She even avoided merde because that one was too well-known to English speakers.  The day she first encountered me – it was a group dinner at Outback – we became good friends because I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that she was reciting French profanities and obscenities and telling everyone it was Baudelaire.  I called her on it as we both went outside for a smoke and that was that.

     Granted, it took me several seconds to realize she wasn’t reciting a Baudelaire poem because old Chuck could be a pretty profane guy.  He didn’t name his most famous collection Les Fleurs du mal for nothing, with sections such as ‘Spleen et Idéal’, ‘Révolte’, and ‘La Morte’ (I don’t imagine you need translations for any of these.)  He was a rancid nihilistic old bastard.  And a brilliant poet, because there’s no reason why poetry can’t be rancid and nihilist.

16) “Obscurum per obscure” both because I’m a pretentious twit and because “Nemo surdior est quam is qui non audiet” was just slightly too long for the screensaver app to accept it.  The latter quote I’ve reused as an epigraph here.  I’d put a footnote, but then I’d have to go renumber all the subsequent footnotes and that’s just a headache.  In case you’re wondering, and I hope you are because what’s the point of inserting random phrases from a dead language if I can’t be properly beneficent by translating, this means “No-one is more deaf than a person who will not hear.”

     Remarkably, inserting the phrase into Google’s English-to-Latin dictionary gives the exact right result.  I’ve rarely seen these translation services manage to get more than a couple words correct at a time.

17)  I wrote out an entire section discussing modern semiotics, then realized that, despite the fact that I’m quite interested in semiotics, I was bored to death by what I wrote.  If that’s the case, I’m sure you would be too, and I don’t want to contribute to you leaving this mortal coil via fatal dullness.

18)  A properly programmed computer can do so as well, in far less time.  It’s a far simpler matter than teaching a computer chess.

     There was really no need to point this out in a footnote.  At this point, I’m just writing footnotes because I’ve become addicted. 

19)  During the ASL class, the teacher took a moment to explain that the deaf don’t really get sarcasm.  The logic was sound, if not impeccable, assuming my conclusion was what she intended to imply, i.e. that it’s hard to convey sarcasm with hand gestures, given that tone and pitch of voice are both heavily contextual with sarcasm.  I have difficulty imagining giving up both sarcasm and sincerity.

20)  Her name is *Terri and I will be writing about her at some point.  Technically, *Terri is the only person who knows me that will likely be reading this, so…hey, *Terri!