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--- D A N I E L M E L T Z
I'm about to spot him. I know I am.
I'm sitting with my friends in the window of the bar so we can see who's arriving and they can see us. Eladio compares us to dummies in Macy's window but that's just him, making jokes at whoever's expense. Everyone knows you can peek inside and find us. Deaf culture, after all, is half about looking.
So I'm mooning out the window, a little away from my friends, thinking I'll spot him, I know it, I will, just gazing into the street at the people gliding by, like the bar is a bus and I'm on my way home.
My friends are all signing out of the corner of my eye, behind me, toward the beer handles, gossiping and laughing. I catch a stray sign.
And Eladio slants his eyes as me, signing something devilish (he's a fun person, really, except when he's hyper and can't find drugs) but my mind is elsewhere, not on E.
And sure enough! There he is! The one I call Alfred. A dreamboat, a knockout. He's passing on the street. He's gazing inside. His hair is flying in eleven directions. I don't think he combs it. Are those freckles on his neck? He's in khakis and an untucked shirt. He's got a big upholstered chest underneath but he doesn't overdo it. He gets it from planting corn, I imagine, at his farm upstate or from swimming in a lake surrounded by pines. I'd say he's thirty-seven. With this casual unthinking way of strolling through life and peering into windows which shows he isn't worried about looking like a dope while hungrily gaping. Plus he doesn't give a shit about the state of his hair.
I wish I didn't dwell on the bullshit I dwell on (I am overly neat; I clean my chihuahua's asshole with a baby wipe after taking her for a walk) but of course I'm courageous. Ain't scared of shit! People know this about me. How could I forget?
This is the third or fourth time I've seen Alfred passing. I'm certain he's hearing. Most people are. He's slowing down, dawdling. If Alfred were deaf, he'd make no bones about signing at least something.
Then I get it, why he's staring. It sort of just comes to me.
Last time I saw him I had a big swoony feeling that he was looking in here because fate had demanded it, he was looking for me, WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING IT, but that was all nonsense. Talk about foolish. No no no. He's watching us sign! That's all he's up to. He's stuck on out language. Its grace, its gestures, its powerful jolts of feeling. Because his life is so blah. Because he's married with kids and his job's a big bore.
No time to think.
I'm still in that moment. It's a great extended sequence, like a scene where the camera sweeps down and around and up! Alfred on the street, an ordinary lug, zooming in close, looking through the window--one endless take in which two sets of eyes meet.
I'm already thinking about the next time I see him. I'll react more spontaneously, I won't second guess it. I'll throw out a sign, something simple through the window.
And his eyes'll light up with brotherly understanding or a fatherly twinkle or he'll just keep walking which'll make me feel stupid or he'll circle around and enter the Monster but something'll happen.
Eladio approaches. "Hey there, Mopey! Got a bug up your ass? Come on. Come on over. Have fun with us. Aie! Who's that? I'm gonna faint. He looks like Kevin Costner."
"Go away," I sign, smacking the air.
"Flirt flirt flirt." Eladio does the sign by fluttering his fingers in front of his eyes, like tarantula eyelashes.
I sign, "Just go!"
Too chicken to contest me, E slinks away.
See? Did you catch that? I know how to be direct. I know how to share my feelings. But Alfred has me acting in a way that isn't me. And by the time I'm convinced of how simple it'd be just to motion him in, he's gone.
I hurry toward the exit. One of my friends is waving behind me, like hard-flapping laundry, but I can't stop to talk. I have to catch Alfred.
There are obstacles in the street--three poky fatsos (tourists, no doubt), a woman with her chin pierced walking a Siamese, a homeless guy with coffee, a cab swerving toward me (lights in my face) about to come up on the sidewalk and pin me.
But I can't stop to think. I push my way through. I'm deep in that head where nothing can thwart me. People may be shouting that I'm pushing and shoving but I can't hear. There's the top of Alfred's head, bobbing way in front. That's what I hear!
What'll I tell him.
How'll I say it?
I'm not stupid. I know I sound weird, like a dolphin I've been told, when I talk to hearing people, but I know there are things I can say in conversation and still be understood. All that English For Travelers crap.
1. Have a nice day!
2. Where is the E train?
3. Got a light?
4. Please, more coffee
But none of those'll work if I tap on Alfred's shoulder. Well, maybe 2 or 3, but they're not exactly what I'd call ice breakers.
Stop it. You'll ruin it. Just keep going.
I propel myself faster, heart racing, trotting--and before I perceive what I've done, I've done it. I've tapped him on the shoulder. Not with a finger, but with my whole open hand, almost a smack. It's a brave thing to touch. I have squeezed his shoulder muscle.
His head jerks back, like a horse stopped short.
(I imagine Eladio, tapped from behind. He'd jump so high, his head'd smash a streetlight!)
The guy wheels around with a prearranged scowl. Then he sees I'm not a mugger and his eyebrows jump--two bushy question marks. Then they're dashes again, friendly, because he's placed me as that deaf guy who hangs out at the Monster.
I salute him.
I read his lips: "Wow!" He prepares his hands to sign, not the colloquial whassup? but the beginner's "How? Are? You?"
I pout. Shrug. "Oh fine. No problem."
He allows his hands to think for a moment. "Me." More thinking. "Surprised!"
"Oh, I hope I didn't scare you."
His face squinches up. "Huh?"
I slow things down. "Hope." (Your two hands, at unequal heights, waving bye to each other.) "I hope I--"
Even slower now. I spell it. "H-O-P-E."
Enough already! "Come!" I grab him by the wrist. And pull him down 4th Street, not looking back, abruptly pissed off by everything about him. His freckles, his build, his dopey look of puzzlement.
I understand completely. He's been standing in front of the Monster not as a good guy or lover but like someone in front of the monkey cage at the fucking Bronx Zoo. (I tug him extra hard for that.) With maybe two weeks of sign class in him. And here I'm thinking he's part Supreme Being, the only man who will ever bring me ANY KIND OF HAPPINESS. I have actually been thinking this. But I only see it now, as it shatters on the street. As if I've just signed the word "surrender" by throwing my hands up and dropping a bowl of soup.
I am pulling him. Still. I've got him by the wrist. Just below the watch. I can feel the light fuzz on the back of his hand. I haven't looked behind me to check out his look.
He's a thing. A lump. A burden. A brute. A big hearing bastard.
How much pull is he exerting?
None at all. I can feel his body loping. I can feel his footsteps flopping. Could he actually be amused by this? Turned on, even? I mean it is amazing right? To be tugged through a crowd by a guy you don't know? A deaf guy at that? And--God--I'm a dunce--how could he be straight? What kind of straight guy gawks through a window at a bar without women? I don't care how much sign class you've taken!
I stop and turn around. He stops on the sidewalk with me. He's looking at me, smirking. There's resistance as he tilts, like the Woodman of Oz, about to keel over. Our eyes lock hard. There's no glass between us.
I do not return the smirk. If my hand were free I'd sign "I REFUSE!" by shooting my thumb back over my shoulder, as in "take a hike, Jack."
But I don't let go.
And his lips form a kiss as he reels himself in. And slowly, distinctly, in the palm of my hand, he makes four letters, very small gifts.
Which happens to be my father's name.
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