Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Notes From Underground in Crayon

PSST.....Sorry about this, I don't even have a chance to put captions in my pictures, I have to use crayons and draw super fast, and my eye for detail is crying because there is no detail which is its favorite thing to look at. Crap, I forgot my stubble and double chin; you'll never recognize it as me.

 Okay, that's better. 
Anyways, this new class is like being at a job. It's all work. The teacher, Ms.Pam, enjoys yelling and panic. She looks like this:

When you are working with students, Ms.Pam stands right behind you and whispers teachings to you. 

She says things like: "That's right, now fade...fade...let her find her name...let...fade." 

She is telling me to fade because I am standing very closely to students while they are looking for their name tags. 

Sometimes her sentences just go "And then see..uh-huh...exactly...and now....and yes.." and I am nervous because I never once knew what she was even talking about. 

Ms.Pam takes her job very SERIOUSLY and she wants me to take it very SERIOUSLY as well.

I have no problem with that until something hilarious happens, and then I want to laugh out loud, but when I look around the room, none of the other six staff or fourteen students are even smiling. 

For instance, there is a young man in the room named Ken. He is Mestizo-Singaporean I think and he is profoundly deaf. He has an interpreter with him at all times, a woman in her sixties who has a fantastic variety of fanny packs and lots of character in her face.
It's taking too long to draw, I am rusty and this mouse does not understand me.

So Ken and the interpreter spend all day signing frantically to each other. She makes super big expressions when she signs, like she is always in a play. I like that because I can figure out what she is saying even though I don't know the language. 

What else I didn't know is that she translates out loud the things he is signing, but not every time, so that it can be a real surprise.

On the first morning of school, I was sitting at my desk watching Ms.Pam conduct homeroom. It was like watching a crazy person talk a lot in front of a chalkboard.

"What's the weather today?", Ms. Pam asks. Everyone shouts at once, and she karates the air and shushes a great shush of sputum. "One at a time," she says, bobbing her head. That head of hers quirks and pings around constantly when she talks; to try to make eye contact with her is to be dizzy.

Somewhere in the room, an Ipad says "CLOUDY" in the voice of a discouraged robot.

"Yes! Hm-hmm it's cloudy! And on cloudy days, we-" The interpreter suddenly screams out: "MY BIRTHDAY IS IN APRIL!", then just as suddenly goes silent, hanging her head, mouth turned downwards in what looks like a child's expression of shame. 

Ms.Pam does not even blink. 

She turns to Ken and says "My turn" in a serious voice. 

The interpreter dutifully translates the reprimand. Ken gives thumbs up all around and Ms. Pam continues to talk.

Like one of those living marionettes so popular in the theater of the streets, the interpreter springs to life again.

"MY DAY TO DO LUNCH! TODAY IS MINE! MY BIRTHDAY!" The sound of Ken perseverating through her fills the room.

"ENOUGH!" Ms.Pam yells, making a forceful chop downwards into her open palm. She sticks out her arms in an imploring motion and seems to tickle her right elbow with her left hand; the fingers of the right do their own tickling, but of the air. It is then that I realize the sign for "WAIT" resembles the simultaneous jingling of two men's balls.

Ken signs "Wait" back to her, and then "sorry." 

"It's actually Ken's turn to tell us today's date...Ken, would you like to come up here and do that?" Ken jumps out of his chair and gives the thumbs up to everyone. 

He is in front of us now, and he begins to sign. 

"Today is-No that's not right." Ms.Pam stands beside him, and tries to correct his signing by doing some moves of her own. They both bend their legs slightly with the effort, and kind of bounce while they sign.

"Today is Tuesday, No-NO! TUESDAY" The interpreter now joins them, just on the other side of Ken. They lock him in with their hips and all three of them begin signing and bouncing furiously; days, numbers, months pass from their hands and swirl the air in front of them. Like some spasmastic chorus line, they ride the thunder of their signing, a phantasmal derby won by a nose when at last the entire date is made out and Ken lifts his arms in a triumphant shake.

Homeroom is finished. 

Afterwards, Ken approaches me with his Book of Friends.

It is a pink photo album carefully decorated with little stickers and labels of exclamations like "Wow!" and "Perfect!" in whimsical font. 

Often student-assembled scrapbooks, photo albums, and such can be just messy collages, lacking order or design. But Ken's Book of Friends shows a deliberateness of placement and a tactful use of style; each photo is enshrined on it's own unique page, with very little wasted space. 

"He has put so much time into that book," the interpreter tells me. "Look at my pictures my pictures," she translates. 

As I flip through the book, two things stand out to me. Firstly, Ken looks exactly the same in every picture:
Same expression, same affirming erection of thumb, same blue shirt, red kerchief, same same. 

I realize that all of the pictures in Ken's Book of Friends were taken on the same occasion. 

Secondly, every person photographed in Ken's embrace looks distinctly uncomfortable, as if they have been hauled into the picture against their will and are thinking, I'll smile with my mouth since I am here, but I'll be damned if I'll let happiness have my eyes.

Some people even have a meek thumbs-up of their own.

It makes me sad for Ken, and I offer to be in his Book of Friends. The interpreter conveys my good intentions in a flash of fingers and a shake of her jowls.

Ken smiles at me, but makes a sign that even I can recognize; something like dogpaddling in the air. Finished.

The interpreter shrugs. "He says that the book is done. No more pages. Sorry."

But it has 3 ring binding....sniff...you can add pages....you can buy 3 hole sleeves for.....for friends...sniff sniff sounds of crying

It's too late. Ken and the interpreter have left me standing just outside the revolving door of the Student Center building, my thumb slowly curling back to its natural, downwards position.


  1. You can be in my book of friends.

    *Thumbs up*

  2. "It is then that I realize the sign for "WAIT" resembles the simultaneous jingling of two men's balls."

    I laughed and cried while trying not to choke on my mouth full of potato chips. This drew my children into the room to see why Mom was convulsing.

    My son just saw the word "balls" and decided that your blog is the best.

    1. Thanks Cindy! You always make me feel appreciated

  3. Such a beautiful tragicomic. I've missed your posts.

    1. Thanks Stephanie! Your trip sounds very exciting

  4. I have brand new mouse. It is so new it hasn't quite made it to my office yet, stiLL in double plastico, the manufacturer's as weLL as the sack from the store. I am hoping it helps me draw better, as something is failing sporadicaLLy in CorelDRAW's bit map picture processor. I am beginning to hate CorelDRAW with a passion. Their oftware seems buggy and my new drawing pad is over four weeks on backorder. The device is fairly new and I think popular, a Wacom tablet. Do you use any kind of drawing tablet? I have no eXperience with them. I am now officiaLLy a commercial artist doing design work making a little bit of money doing silk screen setups. I miss being away from my dog but on the plus side I am with my wife more which we both enjoy. I can usuaLLy get away and check on him anytime I want so that is nice.

    1. This story is so hilarious! I am trying to imagine a world completely fiLLed with 50 percent translators signing away for their masters, a world half fuLL of deaf mutes in wheel chairs, thinking, there would could stiLL be war feast and famine, but I think mainly between ears and the interpreters, and hopefuLLy fewer chemical weapons. I digress.

    2. I was wondering: you used the word jingling when I think you meant dangling. I think jingling implies the production of a noise (?), a metallic tinkling noise of a wind chime, ... And now I laugh with visions of wind chimes hahahahahaha, oh, I so need to erase this ....

    3. Yes, you are my favorite author.

    4. Hi esb! I have a very very old drawing tablet that is about as basic as you can get. Congrats on your new job, sounds interesting. I meant jingling, like jingle ling balls
      Thanks for the comments and nice compliment!

  5. Your job is definitely not boring.

    1. Well, it is and it isn't. Sometimes it is very tedious, or just long, or just smelly

  6. At times, I'm almost afraid to read this blog because afterwards, I probably won't know how to feel. Ever again.