May 22, 2006

The Deaf Guy

I know I don't need to tell you what the state of Idaho looks like on a map.

Notice how I don't let that stop me, though...
Look at the outline of Idaho on a map and you might be reminded of a large, fat bottle that someone took the time to lean very carefully against a brick wall... and then turned a flame-thrower upon. Not enough to consume it, mind you, just enough to melt it a little. Just enough to make the body of the bottle slow-motion recoil and sag and slump until it fills the right angle formed by the wall and the ground, so that you are left with a squared-off, sloping lump with a bottleneck sticking up out of it.

The city of Post Falls is in the bottleneck. It's roughly 100 miles from the Canadian border... and about 300 miles from Boise. Just outside the city is a Flying J truckstop. Actually, the term "truckstop" is a bit grandiose. The place started out as nothing more than a fuel stop: Half a dozen grimy, pug-nosed diesel pumps standing resentful sentry outside a slightly less grimy, convenience-store-sized building. No parking. Fill up and [fornicate] off.

A couple of years ago, that changed. Somebody built a spanking new McDonald's two plats away and, not long after, paved the large, vacant lot in between. Kind-hearted soul that they were, they painted nice, big parking spaces onto the new pavement-- enough to hold about three dozen big rigs. I was sitting there eating my french fries when...

Okay, first of all: McDonald's french fries are the best in the genre. Bar none. If you don't agree, you should probably seek professional help. One of the reasons why they are the best is because McDonald's starts off by buying the best potatoes. Yes, Idaho potatoes are the best. You may safely believe the hype. The 'taters are washed and peeled and cut into fries as soon as possible after harvest. Then they are frozen, sealed into plastic bags and placed in cardboard boxes that are actually labelled "McDonald's French Fries." Soon after, they are loaded onto refrigerated trucks and shipped to cold storage warehouses all over the country.

I don't know how long they stay there, on average. Sooner or later, some local truck driver who works, no doubt, for a company with the word "Logistics" in its name is told to hook onto a trailer with a McDonald's logo (for appearances' sake) and go to the cold storage warehouse. He takes on several pallets of frozen fries and several pallets of frozen pies and several pallets of frozen patties and several pallets of frozen buns and, well, you get the idea... then he spends his day replenishing the freezer at half a dozen local McDonald's restaurants.

There's a certain irony in eating McDonald's fries in Post Falls, Idaho. The city is so far removed from the expansive and... uh... hmm. The city is so far removed from the expansive and, frankly, rather boring Snake River valley where the potatoes are grown that the fries have likely spent most of the past several weeks in a cold warehouse somewhere out of state. Likely Spokane, Washington. But I digress.

I was sitting there eating my french fries when a guy walked up to my truck and thrust a brightly colored card at me. It was about two and a half by three inches and about the thickness of what used to be called typewriter paper. On it was a reduced photocopy from a twenty or thirty year old textbook: 26 drawings of a human hand, describing how to make the letters of the alphabet in sign language. I frowned at the card. Then I frowned at the guy. He made a motion, indicating that I should flip the card over. I did. On the back was a message explaining that he was deaf, and that he was "selling" these cards as a way of making some extra money. There was no price. The card simply said, "please give whatever you feel is appropriate."

I frowned at the guy again, and he started running through a set of signs. I think he was telling me to bunt. I tossed the card up on the dash and ran through my own set of signs: tug the right earlobe, tug the left, tap the tip of the nose, pull on the bill of the cap, grab the left forearm, grab the right, remove the cap, wipe the forehead, replace the cap, dig into the right ear with the pinkie finger and then clap. As I'm sure you all know, that means I want the runner to steal and the batter to take a pitch. Anyone who missed the signs, see me in the clubhouse after the game and we'll trade swats like a couple of frat boys. Ladies, too: Consider it as taking one step closer to equality.

The deaf guy --and I really do think he was deaf-- missed the signs. Maybe because he was still running through his own. Or running through them again: By now, he was probably repeating himself. Then he made the unmistakable pantomime of cradling a baby in his arms. I rolled my eyes.

I didn't need a card with sign language on it. First of all, I don't know any deaf people. Secondly, I already have a whole introductory textbook on sign language in my library at home. (Think whatever you like about that.) Thirdly, I am in many ways a Typical Unreasonable American Pinhead who thinks that everybody --foreigners and deaf people alike-- can understand you perfectly well so long as you eee... nun... see... ate... yore... wurdz. All in all, though, it wasn't a bad scam, so I dug a dollar out and tossed it at him. He snatched it out of the air, gave me that sign that either means "thank you" or "you have something on your chin," and then he was gone. I stubbornly fought the compulsion to wipe my chin. I think I withstood it for about six seconds. After that, I pretty much forgot about the deaf guy, until...

About a month later, I was in Fontana, deep in the heart of sun-bleached southern California. Fontana is one of the many municipalities in the eastern half of the greater L.A. basin-- that part of greater La-La land that calls itself the "Inland Empire," which is a Latin phrase that means "out near San Berdoo." It is over 1200 highway miles (trust me) and several worlds away from Post Falls, Idaho.

I was sitting in some big, stinking rat hole of a truckstop, killing time, when a guy walked up to my truck and thrust a brightly colored card at me. I frowned at the card: It was a different color. I frowned at the guy: He looked exactly the same. I spread my arms in a "what gives?" gesture. Then, looking right at him, I said, "Didn't... eye... see... yoo... up... in... eye... duh... hoe... uh... bout... uh... munth... uh... go?"

He pretended not to hear me. You'd be surprised how good deaf people are at that. He started running through his signs, including the baby-cradling one, but I waved him off. If he didn't want to listen to what I had to say, then I didn't want to listen to him, either. I handed him his card back. He looked at it, then at me, then at the card again. His expression was a mixture of disappointment and confusion. Then he made that "thank you" sign and walked away. I sat there and watched him approach another truck and fought the compulsion to wipe off my chin. I think I lasted about eight seconds.

P.S... Bud "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" Selig must go.

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