My niece was selecting her college courses for the spring semester today. She tells me that she signed up for a class in American Sign Language.
I find it admirable that ASL is now offered as one of the options for satisfying the language requirement at so many institutions of higher learning. I once worked for the state relay service, where I had to learn at least some basic signs in order to communicate with the deaf staff.
It’s not like I didn’t try. I even bought a book that had little pictures of signs that I tried to practice. I was successful in learning how to say “good morning,” “how are you?,” “I’m tired,” “it’s raining” and, most importantly, “I need an interpreter!”
And then I met my wonderful wife, and learned the sign for “I love you” (graphic at the top of this post).
I remember sitting in a nearly deserted 24-hour diner after my night shift, eating with my book open and practicing the signs. I could see the staff peeking out of the kitchen and laughing at this crazy customer who obviously was trying to communicate with aliens from outer space.
Unfortunately, my signing efforts pretty much came off the rails when I attempted anything beyond the most basic. I quickly learned that a slight variation of the correct hand movement could result in saying something quite different from what was intended, usually in the most embarrassing fashion possible.
It seemed that no matter how many signs I learned, the concept I needed to express involved a sign that I didn’t yet know. I’d ask a deaf staff member how to sign a particular word, then promptly forget and have to ask again. One of my big problems was that a person facing me and demonstrating a particular sign was oriented “backwards.” Could you please stand next to me and show me?
My niece is really smart and I hope she has much better luck with ASL than I ever did.
Meanwhile, I think my wife and I need to develop our own style of sign language, or shall we say hand signals, to improve our communication skills.
The problem, you see, is that I’m always being shushed because someone is always sleeping. If it’s not my wife or Pastor Mom who is taking a nap, then my one year old grandniece is over here doing the same. The bedroom doors must stay open when occupied to benefit from the
heater or air conditioner puffing away in the living room.
“Can you talk any louder?” my wife chastises me. Well, I have no choice but to admit that I am indeed a loud talker. It doesn’t help that half the time I am shouting over my headphones, through which music is pumping into my ears at a decibel level that may soon require me to learn sign language for real. But it’s more than that. I’m a New Yorker. Sure, I’ve been living in California for 17 years now, but everywhere I go people tell me that they can still detect my east coast accent. And the fact is, most of us who were raised in and around New York City are loud talkers. At least by California standards. We may not shout, but we speak up and demand to be heard.
For now, I have been handling the situation by texting my wife rather than speaking to her, even though we are a few feet away from each other in the same room.
I know that seems kind of dorky, and I have a better idea: Sign language. This will avoid waking whoever may currently be sleeping, and mostly will prevent me from continually pissing off my wife with my loud talking, I humbly propose the following set of hand signals.
As I’ve already indicated, I am no good at learning hand signs, so let’s keep it as simple as possible: Five signs. We only need to check how many fingers we are holding up. We can do this with either hand, so we don’t have to do the backwards thing when determining whether it’s the right hand or the left.
Now, the set of signs will necessarily have to be different for my wife than for myself.
My Wife’s Hand Signals
1 finger: More iced tea, please. Lots of ice.
2 fingers: It’s so hot in here, I’m getting a headache.
3 fingers: Go wash your hands.
4 fingers: Stop chewing your fingers!
5 fingers: Please come to bed soon.
My Hand Signals
1 finger: Yes, dear.
2 fingers: Coffee! Cooooffffeeeeee. . . (Alright, so it’s decaf, but I’m still addicted.)
3 fingers: Can we please go out to eat somewhere?
4 fingers: I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Um, what was it that I did wrong again?
5 fingers: I’ll be to bed shortly. (Translation: Sometime before 3 a.m. Yes, I’m blogging again.)