Coincidence on Trains, Strains & American Sign… oh my

I met Ann on the bumpy Amtrak from Lincoln to Denver, but her name might have been so many different options and I’m honestly not sure. I am being hopeful in deciding I wouldn’t have misread Ann, so her name is hopefully something else.

Ann was Deaf.  I was so excited to encounter a Deaf person in the real world that I signed “good morning, I’m Eric” to her, easy shit, the second after I figured it out. When one of my many majors required two years of language, I had jumped at the opportunity to study American Sign Language. I took the two years, it’s about enough communication to gossip in middle school, basically. Just enough utility to count, talk about stuff like school, stuff around the home and shopping centers, clothes and romance.

Ann’s eyebrows raised and her face lit up, “you sign?” Then she gestured to herself, tapped her fingers to sign “name” before her fingers blurred to spell something I didn’t catch that time or the times after until I let myself cross that forgetful and inept line to faking getting it.

I had this part of the conversation down, because the Deaf community is one of the most welcoming I have ever encountered. While I can count the times I’ve been able to use Sign on my fingers and toes, it has always been a genuine and warm encounter. They have usually followup and ask where I leaned to sign, how long, and if I have any Deaf friends or family. This is a nice and casual way of letting them know what basically what level you can communicate using.

I once had a Deaf Uber driver, too. We sadly didn’t get to talk much because of safety or whatever.

I had shuffled in attempted quite at 1 AM onto the second level of the train car and next to a slumbering woman with white hair, Ann. She had poked me in the shoulder to get past me to leave in the morning, and poked me awake again when she got back, too. It wasn’t until the ticket check, watching her initial confusion and then silent understanding and compliance that I worked out that she was Deaf instead of a rude bitch. We met and had our introductory conversion, in which she refused my offer to write out her words when needed.

Ann was from Denver too, and on the way home from visiting a friend she had from back in college, some 40 years ago. She stressed to me the importance of maintaining friendships, and I got the impression she was recently retired and doing a lot of traveling and catching up. I didn’t catch her husband’s name, either, but he worked at a brewery. Her tote was well packed at her feet, topped with yarn and a book. She opened up her purse and a plume of weed scent reached me and I smiled and took the peanuts she offered.

The talk was punctuated by taking turns spelling out the unknown words and then her showing me their sign. “How else will you learn?” I felt lucky for the opportunity, and we eventually settled into a lull, rattling along on the bumpy tracks.

I’m not sure if coincidences are special of if I just don’t talk to enough strangers to know if they’re common. I had signed to Ann “food cart’s open” when the garbled voice had come over the intercom announcing it, and was feeling useful when a voice from the next row over said, “hey, can you hear me?”

I looked over to see a blonde buy in a polo flapping his right hand in my direction. While Deaf people sometimes wave, raising your hand slightly and flapping your hand like clearing smoke or a fart is the go-to to get someone’s attention. Also, I personally grew up in a very anti-pointing environment. Brandishing an index finger earned sharp looks or a yell-muttered “don’t point!”

John pointed to Ann and signed “is she Deaf?”

We were all floored, the chances had to be insane that three people of any level of American Sign would be on the same train, let alone the same row of the same car. After alerting Ann, she stomped on the ground and was so excited. ASL’s grammar and meaning is really in emotion and expression, so her eyes became giant round bubbles below her sky-high eyebrows. It’s the reaction you’d want when surprising someone for their birthday or christmas, every time.

On top of the random luck, John was also studying to be an interpreter. He taught me a few signs and I could not believe my fortune.

Then Ann rooted in the tote at her feet for a pan of brownies that greeted me with a familiar dank smell that had been absent from my week in Nebraska. Using napkins as plates, I felt like there was no way I could be on a wrong path.

I’ll always accept coincidences or luck.

Born Again – Coming of Age, Transparent Episode Review

“I made this deal with God. I asked him, I said, ‘If you want me to live, you will not infect me. And If you want me to die, you will. That’s how much I thought my life didn’t matter.”

Transparent’s season 4 premiered a few weeks ago on Sept. 21st, and if there is one episode of the Amazon series that I wish everyone would watch, it’s episode 5, “Born Again.” Maybe I’ll have a watching party. LMK.

There’s the standard check-in with the cast, but the central theme pivots around critical moments in Davina (Alexandra Billings) and Maura’s (Jeffrey Tambor) younger lives in which they make prayerful deals with god.

I’ll admit, the first time I watched the episode, I felt very uncomfortable, but it took me some time to figure out why. There are intense themes presented in which I personally related, but the reason extended into exploring the moments and tools we all use to become ourselves. These can be hard truths to face.

The things we decide to never to again; the multiple versions of ourselves we slowly build and try out; the things we do to survive; the decisions forming who we are said to be, whether our real, wanted and honest truth or not; who we are with our family, then our friends, love interests and coworkers.

The episode feels like spoken word at times, Davina telling her story, juxtaposed along with Maura’s. In true Transparent style, the past blends into the future – younger Maura peppering the past and blooming into the present – Davina, a spark of herself on the stage and pain of the past. Her present self delivers the lines of Candi Staton’s “I’m Just A Prisoner,” her story weaving into the lyrics to rousing applause and cheers. Versions contrasting and crossing over, born again.

Though your love / has got me in captivity / yet if you should leave me / I know I would die

“I guess you could say the fear of death made me embrace life. If I was going to die, I was going to fucking live first.”

Stop Saying Beards are Over. Facial Hair is so Fetch.

There’s no denying what a torture chamber the modern bathroom can be.

Hold the psychologist jokes and copies of Everybody Poops. I’m talking about brows we tweeze and wince; the scraps of plastic we pluck onto our irises; teeth of combs digging into our scalps; the blemishes you’re not supposed to squeeze; soap in our damn eyes, man.

My least favorite, the series of razor blades, a precise little potato peeler, dragged across the skin and the little cuts and gouges we greet with mock surprise.

How did that happen?

I don’t think I’m alone. Just look around at the unshaven masses resisting what some great forces are trying to end, calling for the death of this great shaggy era.

Everybody Shaves Something is an anxiety-saving book I wish existed. It would follow a puberty-age figure with a branded name and have pictures of their journey discovering proper maintenance of various hairy parts of the teen body. If Gillette bites, we’ll go with Gil for a name.

In my Coming of Age, Sex Ed pamphlets did the job summing up condom use and basic anatomy, but not really how to avoid the kind of embarrassing razor burn that delays plans of inviting anyone from taking a closer look.

Maybe our friend Gil would spend a page or two advising on the mainstream standards of beauty that promotes the idea that hairless equals desirable, but that wouldn’t be very good for razor sales.

The hashtag #beardporn is a thing and only the tip of beard-related obsession…

There are undoubtedly some skills that carry over from learning to shave the face, but that’s assuming you ever learned that properly. My dad was generally getting high or watching professional wrestling when he wasn’t at work.  And really, to this day I still feel too awkward when I’m in the bathroom with anyone else to breathe more than an, “excuse me….” before darting out with wet fingers.

I imagine that other’s experience starts over a Sunday morning breakfast, a square-jawed and perfectly-shaven father notices my light stubble saying something like, “why, Eric, you’re becoming a man before our very eyes!” Flash to a white and blue-tiled room, equipped with razors, creams and lotions; little bubbles of advice floating over my shoulder.

“You don’t need to run the water the whole time.” “With the grain first, son.”

That’s the advice I got from commercials and the internet. A few drinks at night with friends that grew up poor, with a single or divorced parent generally has this effect of self-raising. When my parents were not at work, they were relaxing or hustling the shopping and gifting to keep three kids well enough so that other people mind their own business. Sometimes I wonder if  there’s a glow of understanding that draws me to scrappy friends like me that taught ourselves to drive, pay bills and express ourselves only when plied with substances.

Luckily for a good number of my friends, recently hairyness is next to godliness. You can order a mustached dildo if that’s your thing, the hashtag #beardporn is a thing and only the tip of beard-related obsession. In this market, a desperately sweating and suddenly hip Gil starts pushing pomade and beard soap.

There are definitely other shaving dudes out there, but I’m not friends with those type of guys: dudes with MBAs, accountants and dudes that work in finance. I’ve fallen in with friends that generally have tech jobs, student debt and interesting hobbies.

It’s a sign of the changing times, and I’m in favor of it. Ideally, there are less ideals that support systemic oppression out there influencing these standards. There was a time when my friend John, whose long hair and chest-length, curly beard would never have gotten a professional gig. Finally, it seems like what you can do might matter a little more than what you look like.

Being white still helps a lot.

The climate is now more Not Everybody Needs to Shave Something. Gil promotes different facial hair styles and cautions against the neck beard. He tells knowingly of trimming armpit hair to ease in applying deodorant; how a little shave below should always involve every shaving product available, that fucking capitalist. Almost alone, I’ll be buying in as my friends grow out their facial freedom.

Somewhere, a group of grumpy elders gather in arm chairs, regretfully discussing how they failed a generation due to someone unknown loss of power.

“All it used to take was a, “get a job, hippie” but now… I don’t know…”

They don’t know, which is why the headlines keep coming up announcing the end of the bearded era. Like computers and internet being a phase, like pants for ladies or being gay.

Sorry, facial hair is here to stay…. even if I can’t grow much myself.