Location: St. Vincent & Grenadines

You were driving home in the dark on one glass-slippered heel, window sliced open and bathing in the snowliquor of the night air. We heard you singing, and couldn't bear to wake you.

08 November 2006

No Life on Mars.

This is a true story from about ten years ago, when I was working at a Barnes & Noble in Glastonbury, Connecticut.

I was at the register, bent down behind the counter to restock plastic bags. When I stood up, there was a man waiting silently. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you,” I said, unlocking the register and entering my code. He didn’t answer. I scanned his two books. “Comes to $21.95,” I said, looking at the screen.

He reached into his pocket and handed me a twenty dollar bill. I looked up at him. He waited expectantly. “$21.95,” I said again. He raised his eyebrows, nodded, dug in his pocket and came up with two singles. I handed him a nickel. “Would you like a bag for these?” I asked, my head turned away. He didn’t answer.

I turned to face him. He was making a complicated motion with his hands; his eyebrows were raised. I must have looked blank. He licked his lips briefly, nodded, and whipped out a little pad and a pencil. He wrote, tore out the top page, and handed it to me. It read: CAN YOU WRAP THESE?

“Sure,” I said, and nodded vigorously. He nodded back, smiling. A nodding convention. I walked to the end of the counter and he followed.

The sharp scissors with orange handles sliced cleanly across the roll of wrapping paper, making a clean high sound. He couldn’t hear it; he couldn’t hear anything. I tried to imagine the silence in his life. Everything—his shoes on the sidewalk, the cheesy new age music on the store speakers, the low murmur of people in the café, his own breathing, the slice of my scissors—everything the same.

I heard him take out the pad and pencil again. He ripped out another page and handed it to me. I was subtly excited, as if this were a game he and I were playing: spies, secret messages. The little drama of his deafness.

This page read: DO YOU BELIEVE IN UFOS?

The “U” was sharply written, so that it almost looked like “VFOS.” It took me a couple of seconds to figure it out. Then, because of the little frisson I was getting, along with my innate preference for the unlikely philosophies of life, I faced him and answered: “Yes, yes I do.” And nodded.

He shrugged, his eyebrows high, and his lips moved soundlessly as he wrote again and and handed the note to me.


He shrugged, wagged his eyebrows. The effect was an exaggerated Hey — who knows? It was like what mimes or clowns do. Talking with the face instead of the voice. He looked ready to write again, but then he noticed my gaze over his shoulder. Two women had come up behind him with books under their arms. I wanted to talk with him some more, but they were customers. I had finished wrapping his books, and reluctantly, I handed them over.

He took them, looking the slightest bit sheepish, and opened his mouth.

“Thank you,” he said. His voice was a muted falsetto, strangely high and musical. He nodded again and walked away.


Anonymous Frederika said...

Along the same lines, when I first moved here and became a substitute teacher, I was hired without an interview. I found that this was common practice, because the school district is so big; they just hire by calling all of your references and making sure you are a licensed teacher. They actually don't even talk with you, personally, ever, if you don't want them to. A computer calls you to ask you if you want a job, or you can look for a substitute job, and accept it, via the internet.

Well, I think you see where I'm going with this... There was this substitute, Christopher, who came and worked at the high school where I work, who seemed to be the absolute worst classroom manager anyone had ever seen. He was a very nice guy, always smiling, and he spoke with this kind of funny Swedish accent (or so we thought). Kids in his classes would literally be screaming, laughing, swearing at each other, and yet he seemed completely unperturbed. It was only when someone asked him where he was from, and he answered, "Milwaukee," that we all realized he was deaf! He freely admitted to being deaf, with a smile.

So, and this is where it gets good, there was this special ed kid that was very very annoying, who required a one-on-one tutor for most of the day. He talked in this loud voice all of the time about boring, dumb, gross stuff, and no one could really stand to be with him for too long. Christopher, however, ended up spending almost a year with this kid, and enjoying it. He became a friend of mine over that year, and intimated once that he was learning to play guitar, which of course completely shocked me. "Why?" I asked.
"I think it would be fun."
"But you can't hear it!"
"I feel the vibrations," he said, and made this movement with his hand, like he was holding a guitar.
Sometimes I really miss that guy. He was one of the nicest people I've ever met. He teaches kindergarten for deaf kids, now.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Wesley said...

I love stories like these. There's something magical about them.

6:19 PM  

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