My Generation: A Brief Intro

Important warning for anyone considering reading further:  this bit is very stylistically self-indulgent. It’s neither linear nor written for clarity. While not exactly pure stream-of-consciousness, it’s pretty damned close. My advice to you is to not read it at all. Despite being pretty short, especially by my standards, it’s likely to aggravate you with all the aggravation of a much longer text.    Just so it’s clear, I’m not joking or being self-effacing.  Proceed at your own risk.

As far as impetus goes, I was sitting at my computer at Tate Street and thinking that this current and rising generation of young adults might prove to be the best of us, in the end. For many reasons, both small and great, they will do great things. I’m sure of it. My generation has, or had, many of the same ideals, but we lacked the courage that those replacing us will soon find. This new generation, these scions of the internet and children of scorn (swimming Spoon River and looking forlorn) give me a strange sensation of faith. In what, I’m not certain, but I like to think that it’s in that better world my generation never quite believed in.

 

~***~

 

These are the games we play, the idle whiling away of foolish hours, the half-closed eyes amidst the shared impulsive laughs, the zephyr drifting through as customers arrive or depart, opening the doors to lingering drafts, familiar faces mixed with those of strangers, with a cheerful smile or a soulsick heart bearing paper flowers. Sometimes one will wave at us, or mumble a friendly hellogoodbye; to balance the social spectres, we return the greetings with a friendly murmured sigh. The exchanges slip past like whispers, immaculate in their brevity, barely noticed and soon forgotten during the hidden dangers and zwischenzugs, the paucity of scale in the en passants and sacrificial aftermaths, the whole board contrived in a million forking paths that shift and advance, or break and fail.

And once again the idle foolish hours, the illusion of meaning hiding the truth of levity.

This is what we believed in: not a damned thing that mattered. The Sixties slouched toward Bethlehem. We were just waiting fruitlessly to be born into it.

I’m not sure what we thought would happen if our hour actually did come round at last. In a drab age in a drab land filled with all the drabbery we could handle, we re-enacted the largest flea circus the world had ever known. Winding springs and clinkclank levers, absolved of any call to action, rejecting all the nows-or-nevers, we took the world slow. Steady as grass and equally effective. Grungy flannel kept us dry, but only just. When it came down to us against the world, as it always does for each new generation, the world rolled its eyes, and rightly so.

In a musty murky warmth of all the fogdream seasons, the retreat to the buzzdrone of air-conditioned iterations of rooms, chewing dry bread and mustard greens, convinced the clock could be forgotten, leading neither to our salvations nor to our dooms. A generation of indigobirds nesting in the timeless truths that other generations – and only other generations – had devised.  Nothing ever meant anything if we could help it. We were too cool for that, obsessed with making certain that no-one had cause to think we gave a damn. Without expectations, we could not be surprised.

We found our true courage of our lack of convictions.

Peccatum nostrum. Our unoriginal sin.

Standing astride a changing changeless world atop slippery rocks and ingots covered in verdigris. We had nothing to do and nowhere to be. We grew conservative, not out of spite, but out of that old disbelief in a better world, and with this came the withheld griefs under the battered redlight.

We were not the future that we should have been.

 

~To be continued when I feel the urge to do so, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps the year 2035~

 

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~Regarding *Casey Dee

 

~On the Nature of Love and Affection.  And, Let’s Be Honest, a Fair Amount of Lust As Well Because Love and Affection Are All Well And Good, But Sometimes the Evening Needs To Go In A Different Direction~

[Quick note:  *Casey is actually the person who wanted me to put up my natterings for her perusal.  Since apparently others have stumbled on this little niche blog, I figure this is a pertinent piece of information.  Now, if I ever actually give her the link to this damned thing — it’s been a year and counting — I’ll probably delete this intro before doing so because it would just be odd for her to read this.  In any event, as always, the asterisk indicates it’s not her real name.]

[Quick note 2:  This is likely to undergo significant revision at some point. I’m not sure I’ve gone nearly as in-depth as I should have]

[Quick note 3:  As always, there’s no great lesson here.  Indeed, there’s even less of a great lesson than usual.  I’m just thinking about *Casey because I was busy texting her today  and, well, I figured it was time to write a bit about how we got together instead of working on what I was supposed to be working on.  I’ve been working on a couple things about her in my spare time, but this one was the easiest to just finish up.]

 

Love, the truest and most fatuous love alike, will always find time to be a strange and fickle beast, just to keep you on your toes.

Sometimes you find love through diligence and the occasional expensive lobster dinner.  Sometimes love finds you, usually through blind stupid luck.

And sometimes someone just tells you that you’ve been in love for a while and you, being the clueless idiot that you are, never noticed.  So you nod thoughtfully and decide that it’s nice not to have to worry about the hard work of figuring that sort of thing out for yourself.

No, really.  That actually happens.  It’s a glorious moment for those of us too lazy to think for ourselves.

It was nearabout the end of October, approaching that spooky time of year when candy manufacturers worship odd marshmallow gods at chocolate fountains while otherwise stolid adults irrationally decide that the time has come to wear inappropriate clothing that emphasizes all the body parts they spend the rest of the year keeping on the down-low.  A magical and giggly time, pregnant with all manner of nascent naughtiness and picaresque peregrinations.  That time of year when leaves are changing colors, the drunks are falling, and the Christmas ads are poking their jingled heads out looking for a shadow that means 8 more weeks of wall-to-wall toy commercials.

Spoiler:  they always see a shadow.  Always.

So it was almost Halloween, or maybe it actually was Halloween night itself.  I can’t recall exactly, and it doesn’t matter.  It was a Halloween party being held during the appropriate season in the appropriate sort of place, and *Casey Dee and I were there, though not dressed appropriately.  That is to say, we were dressed appropriately for normal times and places.  I’m pretty sure I was actually wearing a turtleneck, because the creepy malingerings of Grad School Disease1 can sneak up on even the most anti-establishment of us.  But this was a gay Halloween party, and appropriateness takes on many and occasionally disturbing forms at gay parties. And some of these defy any attempts to slap the label of ‘appropriate’ on them no matter how laissez-faire and loosey-goosey you get with the language.

I’ve always been quite fond of my gay friends – they have been, without exception, awesome people – but there’s really no way to ignore the fact that when they have reason or opportunity to dress up in costume, they don’t generally do it by half-measures.  When it comes to sillyfuntime, I’m not even sure they possess a ruler capable of marking out anything less than 3.14 measures.  Sometimes you get the sense they’re trying to live up to expectations, even amongst themselves.  Nevertheless, they manage to genuinely enjoy the process of doing so, in the end.

When you leave your stupid preconceptions and ideologies at the door and just accept people for who they are, it’s really quite a nice experience.  How many racists, misogynists, and homophobes have missed out on genuinely happy moments because they reject people out of hand?

The problem with generalizations that you like is that reality sometimes muddles things up.

In this case, for instance, a majority of those in attendance were actually dressed more or less in street clothes.  This was the post-grunge world, so take the descriptives ‘more or less’ and ‘street clothes’ how you will.  Mixed in, however, were a few Gay Halloween celebrants – army butch, fishnet drag, obscure (and occasionally obscene) fuzzy-wuzzies, and one sizable purple prosthetic penis on a pear tree.  Well, no, it was just a gaudily dressed man who seemed to be celebrating a half-dozen Halloweens and their attendant costumes simultaneously.  But the costume quite festive enough to rate its own carol.  Festive enough that though I only saw him once, heading for the backyard, I remember him perfectly when all the other attendees have faded into the recesses of my memory.

The costume was, in a gay word, fantabulous.

(My spell-check, incidentally, has no problem with that last word.  I can’t, and would never try to, explain why this pleases me no end.)

For the most part, though, the party itself was basically just a normal house party with some Halloween trappings.  *Kathy and *Ginny, who neither dated nor coordinated outfits, to the best of my knowledge, were dressed as standard military-surplus butches, olive t-shirts and camo pants and black boots.  To my untrained straight-guy eye, this get-up looked no different from their normal mode of lesbian attire.  So I honestly had no idea if they were in costume or not.  *Silas was…I have no idea what *Silas was.  He most likely didn’t know himself.   He lived a far more disassociated life than most.  He seemed content, though, and I was as happy for him as I could be given that I never really did understand him past the basics of spontaneous hugging and an endless supply of blueish-purple pills he popped like plum-flavored Tic Tacs while refusing to identify them for the rest of us poor sinners.  At times, I suspected he himself had no clear idea what they were, choosing to just enjoy the mystery.  And the high.  Definitely the mystery and the high.  They made him about as happy as someone who had no idea what was going on could be.  Not that I’m knocking it.  Knowing what’s going on around you can be a depressing bit of business at times.

So there we were, *Casey and I.  I’d brought her here just as a friend, albeit a friend I’d already gotten as far as 42% of the way to first base with.  Maybe closer to 34%, taking into account the metric conversion rate, the current price of silver, and the ambient temperature of North Carolina in the autumn.  Somewhere in that general range.  At the time, she was still very much my tutee.  A more impertinent tutee than most, to be sure, who had little patience for what she considered pointless rules governing the behavior of two legal consenting adults.  Yet still someone whose connection to me was subject to the extensive rules in the University Code of Conduct regarding proper relationships between T.A.s and undergrads.

Somehow, though, I couldn’t bring myself to agonize too terribly much over this minor detail.  Funny what a pretty girl could do to a fine, upstanding, practically saintly beacon of humanity like me.

As noted, we weren’t properly dressed for the occasion.  Or, judging from a couple of the costumes, properly undressed.  The hosts graciously let our lack of participation slide because, well, it wasn’t the sort of gathering where people actually cared that much about such things.  Guessing conservatively, a third of them were likely on drugs, and that’s a Mississippi politics-level conservative estimate.  Another third was buzzed from the booze and possibly doing unspeakable things with antipsychotics borrowed from their roommates.  The last third must have left early, because pretty much everyone at the party appeared to be high or buzzed.

In retrospect, I suppose it would be less confusing to just refer to the high/buzzed groups as two halves.  But I didn’t and I stand by my choice.

We mingled, we chattered, we moseyed about.  All the usual sorts of things one does at college parties.  Noticing a young lady give *Casey an appraising look, I fought the temptation to work out something beneficial to all three of us.

My self-restraint has never been legendary, but it eventually managed deeds too heroic and inspiring to capture in song or myth that night, because I somehow managed to refrain from suggesting anything overly inappropriate.  Our history of reaching 34-42% of the way to first base didn’t seem sufficient to be proposing such endeavors.

Besides, I was enjoying her company.  Why would I wish to share her with some woman we met at a party?

Don’t answer that.  I’m just going to pretend I didn’t even ask that.

So we chattered some more, we wandered through the kitchen, out back the house, back inside where the lovely assortment of alcohol resided, and finally ended up in somebody’s bedroom with a couple other somebodies, doing exactly what one would expect to do in a bedroom at a boozed-up party.

That is, lying down on the sizable, if somewhat careworn and possibly bodily fluid-infused, bed looking at but not actually watching the TV while sharing muted conversation.

To clarify:  well, yes, there are other things people do in bedrooms.  I’ve known about that sort of thing for years, now, thanks for asking.  But, generally-speaking, people don’t do these things with complete strangers or idle acquaintances in the room.

To clarify the previous clarification:  more accurately, generally I don’t do them with complete strangers or idle acquaintances in the room.  I can’t speak for other people in this regard.

To clarify the clarification of the initial clarification:  there have been a few exceptions in my life where I can, in fact, speak for certain other people who have been perfectly happy doing these things with complete strangers and idle acquaintances in the room.  That’s neither here nor there, though.

One last clarification:  one of my favorite memories from my undergrad years was visiting someone who, in true sitcom style, allowed his friends to just walk into his apartment without knocking.  Since I was counted as a good friend, I did precisely that one June afternoon, only to discover he wasn’t in his usual spot on the couch, drunk and grinning like an idiot.  So, after looking about and not finding him anywhere, I knocked on his bedroom door.  No response, so I figured he was asleep.  I was there to pick him up because we were due somewhere shortly.  So I opened the door to go in and wake him up.  As discerning readers have probably already guessed, if for no other reason than I’m telling this anecdote in the wake of my above comments, he was in the throes of sex with his girlfriend, her on top, him lying there grinning like an idiot, though perhaps a little less drunk than usual.  Not actually sober, as such, but we can’t expect miracles from men like him.  As I opened the door, filling the room with light from the afternoon sun through the patio doors, they stopped momentarily to look in my direction.  Before I could back out muttering apologies, the girlfriend waved and said ‘Hi, Random!’  My friend then added, “Be with you in about 15 minutes.”  Without so much as missing the slightest beat, the girlfriend, still looking at me, rolled her eyes and said, “More like five.”

To this day, I’m unsure whether she winked, but the look of unanticipated embarrassment on his face has been a source of many happy memories to comfort me in dark times during the intervening years.  I cracked up, further intensifying his embarrassment, and left with a polite wave.  If all bedroom activities involved someone like this girl, I’d spend a lot more time bursting into random bedrooms unannounced.2

I wish I could be certain of her name, though, just for posterity

But I digress.  Meanwhile, a couple years later, back at a Halloween party in North Carolina….

 

After all this time, I can’t actually recall whether I had been drinking.  If I had, it wasn’t very much.  A beer or two at most, because I would never have allowed myself to get drunk, or even buzzed, if I was driving *Casey home again, especially since the drive back took 40 minutes, give or take, even at that hour of the night.

Besides, I’ve never actually driven drunk.  This isn’t some sententious public service announcement, just an observation that I decided long ago that no matter where I needed to go or when I needed to be there, drinking would never be the best way to get there speedily, accurately, or alive…ly.

I drowsed a bit, though, a murmuring lingering endless endless slipping through surreal evenings of smoke and alt-rock sort of drowsiness where parts of the evening seem like bits of dream in retrospect.  There was a rhythm about the smoky evening, a lingering beat as the world outside this place, this time, became background noise as I lay next to *Casey, whose presence and voice I was acutely, if somewhat drowsily, aware of.  One cannot fall asleep when adorable parts of the waking world demand your attention.

I no longer recall exactly what brought the discussion about.  It doesn’t matter.  The process is almost always a lot less important than we think.  Determinism is just a word.  Whatever ad hoc universal machinery set these things in motion, it became trivial long ago.  All I’m talking about here is the culmination.

We were lying on the bed with another couple, talking amongst ourselves while assiduously not watching the TV.  The other couple eventually moved away (out of the room?  I can’t recall for certain) and *Casey and I took absolutely no advantage of the newly available space to scoot apart as we kept talking about this and that and possibly the other.  Somehow, the conversation veered off and, in response to something I no longer recall – and, as I said, isn’t important anyway – *Casey explained to me that I was in love with her.

Let me be clear here before I continue.  *Casey was (and is, even if she seems a bit uncertain on that point nowadays) lovely as leaves limned a summer sunset, smart as a snap-brim fedora, and as fun to hang out with as…as….well, I’m drawing a blank.  As fun to hang out with as a lovely, smart woman?  A rich Irishman on a bender?  Either one works.  Regardless of my stunted capacity for comparisons, never let it be said I don’t have excellent taste in women.

Every single one of my girlfriends has agreed on this point.  Every.  Single.  One.  While some people of tawdrily suspicionating nature might argue their assessments of my taste in women were biased, I think it’s presumptuous, and not a little rude, to accuse them of such unsavory motivations.  But, then, I’m a true gentleman.

But it honestly never occurred to me, at least not consciously, that I was in love with her.  I was never the sort to just jump straight into that particular emotional cauldron.  Patience, while not always one of my virtues, was certainly one of my vices when it came to committing to such things back in the day.

I like to think I can do much better with commitment now.  But I also like to think the world is secretly run by naked mole rats with a lot of love to give, so who knows?

At the time, *Casey and I had known each other approximately two months.  Given that I hadn’t fallen in love with girls I actually dated a lot longer than that, it seemed reasonable that I hadn’t pondered my feelings on the matter too deeply.  Pondering my feelings inevitably leads to imbibing excessive amounts of caffeine, after all, and given that I already imbibe excessive amounts of caffeine, I reasonably avoid finding reasons to add even more caffeine to my daily routine unless absolutely necessary.

She was assigned to me at the start of the semester, and it was her freshman year.  So we had from late August to late October to get to know each other.  Mind you, I’m not completely immune to being smitten.  I’ve known the sting of unexpected and pleasant smiting (not in the kinky British sense, get your mind out of the filthy Thames) on rare occasion.  Still, in all honesty, I’m generally not the sort to go head-over-heels at first sight.  Or second.  Or third.  Once I thought I was head-over-heels at fourth sight, but it turned out I’d merely tripped on a curb.

My first thought was, and I remember this perfectly:

Oh.  Huh.

A beat.

Didn’t see that coming

I blinked, slowly.  Then:

Really?

Another beat.  Another blink.

I should say something.  I wonder what.

A hint of mammalian diving reflex deep inside, just to keep me grounded and cogent.

Okay, you know what?  That makes a lot of sense.

In addition to never letting it be said that I don’t have excellent taste in women, never let it be said that I’m not tres par excellence in all matters of bemused self-realization.  Especially when said self-realization require someone else prodding me into the realization after my own brain fails to make a basic logical leap.

The fact that she was pretty as hell and I had already caught my brain and other organs sneaking in certain untoward thoughts in certain untoward directions didn’t hurt at all.  I do not deny this.  If it makes me shallow, I’m pretty sure I can live with that.  Still, I’ve had enough dating experience in my life that I’m perfectly capable of telling the difference between love and lust.

Usually.

So, with lust and love in their proper places, my next thought:

Hmmm.  I like that idea.

Glancing at her face, which somehow managed to be beautiful, insouciant, and kind of annoyingly smug all at the same time, I finished with:

Yep.  She might have a point.

While I was thinking these things, I examined at *Casey with a newly piqued (and apparently loving) interest.

The fact that she was informing me what I was thinking and feeling didn’t even get me het up.

Normally it would have, because I am quite clear about deciding such things as ‘my thoughts’ and ‘my feelings’ for myself and tend to get ornery when someone tries to do it for me.  Lucky for her, though, she happened to be right.  In light of this unfathomable correctness on her part, I couldn’t even give her an Annoyed Look.  At least not if I wanted to be fair.

People who speak fairly and honestly should be treated fairly and honestly.  If I subscribed to any easily codified philosophy, and I don’t, this would be a major tenet, just below “People who own Nissan Cubes probably shouldn’t be treated fairly or honestly.”

Though I have not, as of yet, been made privy to her feelings about Nissan Cubes, *Casey otherwise deserved fairness, it seemed,

Dammit.

Hate it when that happens.

 

*Casey wasn’t necessarily my first love, though she might have been my first real love.  I honestly don’t know anymore, if I ever knew at all.  I thought so at the time and nothing has changed to make me doubt it.  Still, as I said at the beginning, love can be a strange and fickle beast, and the more I’ve experienced it, the less I’m convinced I know anything about it.  Anything at all.

Occasionally, in an idle moment, when the mind wanders and eyelids drift shut, the sense that I’ve never actually known much of anything weasels its way into my thoughts, leaving me a bit bemused in its wake.  Because I’m very odd sometimes, I find this sensation pleasant.  I like thinking that the world will always be a strange and uncertain place with all sorts of interesting things to learn.

In retrospect, this suspicion that *Casey was my first real love seems to fit in the topology of my psyche.  It sounds authentic enough.  Or at least sounds like it should be authentic.  When I said I’d been there before, what I mean is that I’m now pretty sure I’d felt stirrings of love – at least as I understood the concept, which wasn’t very well – in relationships before *Casey.   I wasn’t necessarily certain of this back in the day.  I know that I tried to be in love with girls I knew before *Casey.    The obligation to return proffered sentiments like love always lurked about every encounter, buzzing in my ear, telling me that I really should honestly validate the other person’s feelings.  If not for my sake, at least for theirs.

I might even have succeeded in my attempts at reciprocation.  Who knows?   The answers are only as reliable as the one answering.  Given that I can’t even recall the surnames of a few of the girls I dated before her, my memory might not be the most trustworthy indicator.  I’d check my proverbial little black book, but I don’t remember where I left it.   And I’d be worried if I did remember, because I’m pretty damned certain I never actually had one, black or otherwise.

Also, I must emphasize, once again, that one of the great lessons I learned from that Halloween night is that I’m not necessarily the most self-aware person in existence.

Occasionally, apparently, I’m not even the most self-aware person lying on some random stranger’s bed watching some forgettable static of a show on the TV.  Oddly enough, I’ve learned that particular bit of wisdom on more than one occasion.  I’m okay with that, though the tale of the other occasion will have to wait for another day, or perhaps another lifetime.

Any life lesson you manage to escape from alive, right?  Statistically-speaking, though I wouldn’t wager money on it, I must have learned at least a few life lessons over the years.  Damned if I know what they are, but I suppose that doesn’t matter just so long as my subconscious takes them to heart.

But when I told *Casey I loved her, I meant it.  My impulse to flee like a banshee (do banshees flee?  doesn’t matter, I like the rhyme) only nagged at me a little before I told it to hush and let me enjoy this.

And enjoy it I did.  What can I say?  She made an intelligent argument for sticking around.  You know, for a blonde.3

 

This is the nature of things:  the universe slowly pivots and spins on a wobbly fulcrum, with each dip, each return, each shudder as unpredictable as it is inevitable.   As creatures of memory and the moment alike, we never move through life along straight and steady lines.

*Casey wasn’t my last, or greatest love either.  And yet, with one obvious exception, she might be my favorite ex-girlfriend.

Almost certainly my favorite still living.  Like Forrest Gump, though, that’s all I have to say about that for now.

I’ve learned something about love over the space of many a year and the bosoms of many a lovable woman, a couple of semi-lovable women, and one talented young woman who was a damned good erotic masseuse when she was in the mood:

Each new love is necessarily a reevaluation of every old love.

It’s not necessarily deliberate.  There’s no sterile pattern analysis, no lengthy formulaic breakdown of the data.  Instead, it’s predicated on the undeniable truth that life and relationships inevitably tend toward similarities.   Sentimental moments must eventually mirror old sentimentalities.  Each new kiss with each new person echoes other kisses with other people.

We can only say ‘I love you,’ in a few ways, after all.  Language and sentiment both have limits.  The murmurs of affection and promises of the future are repetitions on a very old theme.

There’s no hypocrisy or lie in this, not really.  We believe because we want to believe, and because the truth changes along with you.  If you’ve ever seriously dated more than one person, you recognize this question of how to rationalize past declarations of true love against current ones.  By nature – and tact, for that matter – we tend to gloss over old loves and old lovers.  They become names, still photos, ghostly memories that fade to outlines as the substance of your relationship recedes into the past.  Usually, we even convince ourselves that the past was nothing more than a prelude, a series of events that had little other purpose than to lead to where we are now.  All love becomes determinism if we try hard enough to believe in fate.

This series of rationalizations is completely understandable.  We want each new relationship to be the one that matters, the one that will justify the long and winding path we took to reach that moment when we tell our newest partner that we love her or him.  It may feel like an insult to the ones who came before.

It isn’t, though.  The present can never change the past.

When I look back, the inevitable truth is that, no matter how much I loved her at that time and in that place, and how much I still love her as a friend, *Casey was never meant to be either my last or greatest love, if such a declaration means anything coming from someone who doesn’t actually believe in fate.

Not because I didn’t genuinely love her.  I did, very much.  She assured me of that and I have no reason to believe she was lying to get at my private stash of Halloween candy.  If she was, she certainly committed to the façade far longer than would seem strictly rational.   I mean, once sex and shared appetizers get involved in the equation, you have to ask yourself if you’re really taking the most efficient path to the goal.

And, besides, I would have given her (most of) my candy4 had she but asked, and she absolutely would have.  That’s just how she was.  She possessed few – if any – qualms about making her wishes and desires known.

This straightforwardness was always part of her charm.

Her somewhat unsettling charm, granted, but charm all the same.

Also, she was really cute when she was being unsettlingly straightforward.

 

Perhaps the reason I remember her as my first real love so easily is because I never had time to doubt it.

In college, people tend to be in all kinds of hurry, no matter how hard they try to affect a casual outlook toward life.  Even at their stillest moments, a sense of urgent energy growls restlessly behind the cage doors of their psyches.  Because of this, new friendships and new relationships alike lurk on the threshold of some half-frantic goal, as if they know this new freedom has a shelf-life and they want to pack everything in as quickly as possible.  Or they’re trying to fit in all the things they never got to do freely for the first eighteen years of their lives.

Either way, the future seems so open, so broad, and yet also seems so imminent that the slightest motion will send them stumbling forward into decisions they aren’t yet ready to make.

On some semi-abstract level, I honestly get that.  And I certainly benefited from that attitude.  More than one late night, after the bars and parties and shared joints and endless philosophical circles in smoke-filled rooms, ended with friends and acquaintances peeling off one by one until there were only two of us left to take this fledgling relationship to a natural conclusion by adjourning to the first convenient bedroom in the general area.

And, on one memorable (if cringeworthy) occasion, adjourning to a balcony overlooking a sidewalk crowded with late-night drinkers after a big football win.  For reasons lost to time, weed and really cheap beer (Old Milwaukee, if I recall correctly, and given the nature of that particular beer, I probably don’t, which makes no sense but I’m okay with that), we overestimated the amount of privacy widely-spaced vertical bars no thicker than our thumbs would afford us.  We soon realized our mistake.  Suffice to say, and what I say will have to be sufficient because this is all the detail I’m sharing, I heard far more vocal encouragement of my lovemaking technique than I was used to hearing.  As did she.  Some of it involved language that would scar a sailor.

So I’m not criticizing or judging the inherent restlessness of those years in those places where all the world is young and truth on only the occasional slippery tongue.

But when you’re experiencing real freedom for the first time, it’s difficult to see the unfolding of life in a proper context.  Your bird’s-eye view lacks sufficient scope because you simply can’t attain a sufficient height, not yet.  Every avenue, street, roundabout, deer trail, and Appian Way all seem like an escape of some sort.

From what is unclear.  To what is even less clear.  People might say, The mysteries of our mutual recondite past or the dolorous mundanity of human existence or even all the lies and perambulations of our moribund existence.

They might use less pretentious language, though I doubt it.  Dolorous philosophizing requires the most obfuscating language you can muster without literally speaking in the Pig Latin variant of some long-dead language.  Trust me, I know.  I’ve been there, friend.  I’ve been there.

In any event, all of these can be true; none of them specifically are, not exactly.

You can slap these rationales (reworded, of course, just for the convenience) on the bumper of that old Freedom VW Bus and carry on without much problem.  That doesn’t mean you’re correct.  Just that the actual reasons aren’t actually important in a practical sense, so you can take whatever comfort you want in whatever philosophy makes you happy.  We know the world grows older by the passing femtosecond.  There’s just nothing to be done for it, no matter how hard some people wish there was.  So reasons fall behind, and, in the end, or well before the end, for that matter, they’re never quite as important as they seemed at the time.

In her way, *Casey embodied this compulsion, this drive toward meaning, more than any girl I ever dated.  Though she knew how to relax and have fun (more the latter than the former), she also couldn’t wait to find out where she was going.  Or at least find out how she was going to get there.  Ambitious, smart, and possessed of more energy in any single one of her body parts than I’ve ever considered having in all my body parts combined, including certain parts pretty damned predisposed toward eager action, she approached college, and life, with a restless verve that I found fascinating in the same way I find intricate poetic imagery fascinating.

(Sometimes I marvel at the fact that she settled down, with three kids, one husband, a live-in au pair, a querulous attitude toward incompetent academics, and probably a favorite sexy dessert recipe that you can make from the contents of the larder of a rural Canadian wendigo habitat.  When I think on it, learning that things worked out so well for her might have been one of the best moments I’ve had over the last three or four years.  I don’t care what the cynics say.  Sometimes there needs to be a happy ending to balance the unhappy ones.)

I compare it to intricate poetic imagery because it all seemed like it meant something.  I wasn’t sure what, but I was certain it did if for no other reason than the serendipity of our lives intersecting for a little while.

Most of life means very little, if anything.   People want significance.  They hunger for it, especially when they’re just starting out.  They thirst for some purpose, some reason to be in a hurry.  They tie together threads and build patterns so they can look at what they’ve made and feel like their lives haven’t been wasted.  Most of them never realize that the only real meaning in anything is what you choose it to mean.

So, in retrospect, I definitely believed it all meant something to me.  What it meant to her, if anything, is entirely up to her.  That’s not only the way it has to be, but the way it should be.  We choose our own meanings by ourselves because we have to bear the weight of those meanings by ourselves.

It meant something in the moment, though, not in retrospect or in comparison to other loves.  It didn’t mean anything eternal, of course.  Eternity is the domain of physicists and metaphysicians.  But it meant something in that time and place and through the lingering season or four we shared.  On that cool October evening when she slipped her hand into mine as we wandered the State Fair, or on those warmer evenings when we walked across the campus with neither destination nor purpose in mind, or on that afternoon at her house when she played her recorder as I laid my ear against her breasts and listened.

Had she not told me that I loved her, we might never have been together as anything other than friends with a side of tutor/tutee, so it meant that sometimes life hinges on such moments as gay Halloween parties in large rumpled bed.  Life wobbles about, pushed by the tiniest of circumstances and moments you never thought would be memorable.  It meant that I was capable of being surprised, both by myself and by others.

 

And because each love is both a new love and an old one, and because some partings are inevitable, it meant that we were never meant to last.  For all that we had in common in terms of social mores – that is, neither of us much cared much for the conventional wisdom of social mores – our paths forward were radically different.  I know that.  I knew that even before we broke up, though how honest with myself I was about that truth at the time might be a wee bit less certain.  I certainly never said any such thing to her on the very rational premise that just because the end is inevitable, that doesn’t mean I had to be in any hurry to actually suggest we get it over with or anything.  We got along great while we were together.  Plus – and I cannot emphasize this enough –  I didn’t mind the sexual stuff either.

Just because we weren’t meant to last, you see, that doesn’t mean we weren’t meant to be, if only for a time.   Nothing in life is ever so simple as mere On/Off.   And who would want it to be?

There’s no great wisdom to be found here.  You slip into a long season, your arm around an adorable woman you’ve fallen in love with, find a way to make it last just a little bit longer, and, if you play your cards right, you’ll get to see her quite naked, ready and willing.

Yes, that’s really how I’m going to end this.  I’m pretty sure she would approve.

 

~Fin~

 

 

Footnotes:

 

1)  Grad School Disease:  symptoms include sweater-vests, square glasses, a preference for loose tobacco over pre-rolled cigarettes even if you don’t smoke, and the use of a ten-syllable word when a one-syllable word would be more appropriate and total silence followed by a hasty exit from the room would be even more appropriate.  Also, cold sores.

 

2)  Also, I think I fell a little in love with his girlfriend that day.  I wish I could remember her name.  Tracy?  Stephanie?  Susan?  Sarah?  Sarah.  I think it might have been Sarah.  It doesn’t matter, though.  She’ll always be Perfect-Burn-Bitch to me, the snarky One Who Got Away Even If I Wasn’t Actually Pursuing Her.  Plus, while I’m not certain about her name, I do remember what she looked like.  She was, in fact, a small cute blonde, just like *Casey.  Cute and tart – a good combination even if, *Casey and a couple others aside, I’ve generally tended to gravitate more toward brunettes.  And the occasional redhead, because life needs a few redheads in the mix, if only for the battle scars you can proudly display to your eventual grandkids.

Just kidding – those battle scars will be in places you shouldn’t be revealing to your grandkids if you ever want to be allowed to see them again.   Trust me, though – it’s worth your time and pain.  I speak from experience.

Incidentally, my tendency toward brunettes isn’t because I discriminate — hair color is only a peripheral trait — but because that’s just how it’s turned out.

 

3)  Just so we’re clear, I will only give her a link to this once I’ve established that I can outrun her if it becomes necessary.  Or outwit her, which shouldn’t be too hard because she’s, y’know, blonde and all.

4)  Not the Reese’s Cups, though.  Those are sacred.  Any preacher, priest, mullah, or guru would back me up.

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.

~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, called Tate Street Coffee, 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, that is.  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.

The rest of the parking lot was distressingly free of heroes or heroines coming to my rescue.  Not for the first time, I felt a strain of bitter rage at how the fairy tales had deceived me with regards to how the world works.

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.  In his defense, my claim of not being able to understand him is nonspecific.  If he didn’t recognize the nature of my voice, he had every reason to assume the problem was merely one of momentary miscommunication.  Either way, 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~