Friday, October 7, 2011

The Props

So I did it. I wrote a book about my own profession because no one else has done it. There is a smattering of Deaf representation out there and, once in a while, Deaf characters actually have interpreters, but the interpreter is usually more of a prop than anything else. Or the butt of a joke.

Once, on one of those CSI shows, the interpreter did it! Yes! The interpreter was the killer. It felt like progress to me, the acknowledgement that interpreters exist and have actual lives. So what if he committed the unpardonable act of killing off my favorite Deaf eye candy, Anthony Natale? The interpreter had a storyline! Okay, Marlee Matlin was also along for the ride. I like her and she’s a beautiful and talented actress, but she doesn’t have to pop in whenever someone somewhere whispers the word “Deaf.” 

A few years back there was a truly awful show called “Sue Thomas, FBEye.” It was based (loosely, I’m assuming) on the life of an actual Deaf FBI employee whose job it was to catch things from surveillance videos—body language, lip reading—that hearing people would miss. This is what I knew before seeing the show. I don’t know much about the real Sue Thomas, but I was mildly curious about how this would be portrayed on the TV show so I watched. 

It was confusing. Before the credits, I wasn’t even sure of who the Deaf character was supposed to be. I don’t mind that her character has clear intelligible speech, as does the actress, Deanne Bray. A lot of Deaf people do and I figure it’s their decision whether or not to communicate in that way. My beef with the show was that she was a Deaf federal employee in DC and she never seemed to have an interpreter. She was Deaf enough to need various kinds of Deaf technology and couldn’t use a regular phone, but no one I ever saw—I didn’t watch the entire series, but I’m making an assumption based on what I did sit through—came and interpreted for her. She brought a service dog to work (presumably to emote with a human understanding of surrounding events whenever the camera was aimed at it), but never an interpreter.

At the time, I was an educational interpreter in California so I didn’t know what went on in DC. Still, I knew something was way off when the Sue character was able to read lips in the midst of rapid-fire group conversations. The writers tried to make it realistic by presenting one or two words an episode to be misunderstood, but the rest of the time, Sue could read lips around corners and through solid objects and seemed magically able to predict who was about to speak next. When other Deaf characters were featured, they brought Sue in to interpret! Yes, they did that.  Thirty percent of the English language is visible on the lips and the rest is guesswork on the part of the Deaf person, but they thought it would be better to have another Deaf person interpret than to hire a qualified interpreter for interrogations. I can't even imagine the lawsuits. I work with the Deaf. I’m even married to the Deaf. This is not how things work.

The weird thing is that two Deaf friends of mine loved the show. I don’t know if it was because they were happy to see deafness portrayed in any way or if they just didn’t realize how unrealistic it was. Maybe they thought someone really could learn to lip read with such accuracy even if they couldn’t. My husband watched the first thirty seconds of the first episode, shook his head in disgust, and left the room. He never watched it again so I was never able to get his take on why someone working for the government would be Deaf enough to need a dog but not an interpreter.

I work in DC now in government settings. There are tons of interpreters all over the DC area and most do a lot of government work. I see Deaf people with interpreters all the time. I’ve never seen a Deaf person with a service dog at work.

The show “Switched at Birth” is actually done pretty well. One of the main characters is Deaf and she has some Deaf friends (including Marlee Matlin, of course!) and there is a lot of interaction that seems fairly plausible. Sometimes the Deaf characters are a little too quick to understand everything that’s being said around them, unless the story calls for them to be left out or to miss a lot, but that’s my main beef. One character even had an interpreter! He didn’t have much of a story and was nearly a prop, but he was there and was very likely a real interpreter with real signing skills. Progress. 

Yes, progress on the Deaf front. My novel is about Deaf Culture but from the interpreter’s perspective. Deaf characters are prominent throughout, but this is about how interpreters view that world—and even how their view of the hearing world alters after knowing what’s going on in the Deaf world.

Interpreters are a creative and intelligent little subculture in and of themselves. This is why the lack of fictional material about us is so surprising to me. We’re articulate and we like to impress each other by making our interpretations into an art form, but no one has bothered to make us real to anyone on the outside.

I don’t claim to have accomplished this, but I like to think I’m taking a stab at it. Making progress. I could never fit all of interpreting into one novel and I don’t claim to speak for us as a profession. I just wrote something that interested me, listening to my own gut as I went. My goal wasn’t just to educate people. That wouldn’t be any fun. I just wanted to give others the chance to get to know a few interpreters personally and to inhabit their world for a little while. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Grope

It probably should have startled me, but it didn’t. I was standing on the sidewalk a year or so back, watching for Tracy’s car to come around the corner and listening to some political podcast on my iPhone when a hand gently caressed my butt. It lingered there for a moment in a familiar way and I didn’t even jump.

My brain performed several functions at once. How nice, I thought. I was usually the one with butt issues, being genetically predisposed to inappropriate slapping and fondling. My grandpa was a famous butt slapper from way back and my grandma has resorted to it in recent years. Not too long ago, she mortified my mom by slapping a stranger’s butt as my mom was wheeling her past.

I often find myself having to resist the urge to slap tempting butts that are presented to me in just the right place. Brian doesn’t usually reciprocate, but he puts up with my slapping and groping as a good husband should, only growing irritated when my fondling is too public—like when we’re at the mall being followed by a family with small children when my grabby urges overtake me. So it was nice that he had come outside in the cold to see me off to my brunch by giving me a special little butt fondle of a farewell.

But it really wasn’t like him. Not even a little bit. He would only have come outside if I had forgotten something. It was more like him to shoot me a text than to go outside to get me. So…

If not Brian…? All this came in a flash as I became aware of a young man in a hoodie letting go of me and walking by, glancing at me over his shoulder to see my reaction. He was no taller than me, probably even shorter, and all I saw of his face was dark skin and an eye before he faced forward and proceeded down the street.

“Hey!” I yelled at his retreating back. “Excuse me! That is not okay.”

But he didn’t make any reaction at all and suddenly, just as he was turning the corner, Tracy was there.

I told her what had happened as we drove off to our previously-scheduled breakfast. Both of our husbands were appalled that we hadn’t rushed straight to the police to file a report. It just didn’t occur to us. We were hungry. We agreed this guy was probably very dangerous and was building his way up to actually harming women, but for some reason it just didn’t seem like something we could do anything about at that moment on empty stomachs.

Brian lectured me about it, chastising me for not snapping a photo of him as he left so his clothing could help to identify him, but I still didn’t call the police. Tracy’s husband lectured me and said it was never too late to report it. I thought about it, but it just didn’t happen. I hadn’t been harmed at all and, while this guy was pretty creepy, it was difficult for me to feel like a victim over it. A couple of months later, Tracy showed me an article.

Two young women in their twenties had been groped just as I had been. One of the gropings had taken place at approximately the same place as mine and the other was very near by. The only difference was that this young man in the hoodie had pretended to tie his shoe and had then groped these women as they were running past him.

So he had a thing for joggers in their twenties and had also groped me as I had stood perfectly still while edging toward forty. On some level, I was flattered.

Now I had no choice. He had struck again and it was my responsibility to add whatever I could to the investigation already taking place. I did and had a few conversations by phone and was told it had undoubtedly been the same guy. The other women had described him as being African American. While that had also been my impression of him, I was reluctant to say it because I didn’t remember seeing enough of him to be sure and I didn’t want to assign a race to him if it wasn’t the right one. But they seemed to have had a better look.

I was very helpful, I was told. Soon, a police cruiser could be seen across the street from time to time, just sitting smack in the middle of Butt Groper Central, the new name of my neighborhood. It occurred to me to tell Mandy about it, since she lived in the area. I figured she should be alerted to the presence of a grabber in a hoodie who had been drawn to my butt and had been groping local joggers.

“You’re kidding,” Mandy said after a long pause. It was there in her voice. Disbelief. She sounded floored by what she was hearing and I hoped I hadn’t scared her too much.

“Wow,” she muttered, sounding like she was finally starting to process my words. “You were JOGGING?”

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Alone Again...

The Parents went back to Los Angeles last night after a two-week visit. Our small apartment is once again our own and that’s a nice feeling, but a visit from The Parents is always sweet. They are good sports about everything and are willing to do anything we have the urge to do. They’re comfortable to have around and only become stubborn when we try to waste food.

Last night, Brian told me about having witnessed my mom carrying an apparently empty salad bowl across the living room to Dad one evening so she could offer him a single leaf of lettuce that was about to go to waste. Dad ate it, of course. He eats anything he suspects someone is about to throw away. Its state of decay is of no matter. If it’s a choice between something going into the garbage can or going into Dad, the only moral thing to do, according to The Parents, is to give it to Dad. I’ve never been able to figure out how this makes the world a better place, but it makes sense to them so I do a lot of nodding and smiling while they’re here and then I toss all the rotting leftovers once they’re gone.

Mom read my entire novel in one day last week. She has never read anything I’ve written before, but since “Terps” is on Amazon now, she was curious. I worried it might disappoint her. None of the characters have any apparent religious affiliation and one of them says “fuck” upon occasion, so I was hoping she wouldn’t think I was depraved. She didn’t. Sweet Mom sat in what Brian calls the “Vicki Chair” all day with my old (very hot) laptop on her lap and read it through, claiming to be hooked and wanting more. She also found a typo or two for me, which was very helpful. We’re still looking for those.

Dad and I had a mini chess tournament over the last few days. He started off moaning about how rusty he was and even pretended to forget how to move the pieces properly, but once he started saying things like, “Oh well. I guess I should just take your queen while I’m over here…” there was no hope for me. The dumber he pretended to be, the more blood he would shed. On Sunday, I asked him if he wanted to play again. “I want to beat you again,” was his response. Anyone who knows Chuck Williams knows how uncharacteristic of him such a statement is. Final score: Dad-5. Me-2. I’m surprised I beat him at all. Time to reexamine my Bobby Fischer chess book for some pointers. Oh, and now that Dad has the taste for it again, he is threatening to show up at Randy’s apartment to challenge him to a game from time to time. I think Randy is the brother who plays chess. If not, my apologies to Randy.

So now it’s back to normal. The cats can wander freely through the apartment without fear that they’ll be found snoozing on The Parents’ pillows and we can sit back and watch The Bachelorette, knowing it’s a stupid show but feeling at liberty to indulge ourselves since there are no witnesses.