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.

Being Special & Friday the 13th

The weather is fucking fine and it’s Friday the 13th.

I have developed a decidedly positive outlook of this unlucky day for a number of reasons. The loudest reason being the added conversational fodder for myself and my brethren who struggle against awkward silences in line at the mini mart. Or worse, forced conversation with someone known but avoided at all costs.

These people manage to slip in an elevator or get assigned the same table at the company party, so it’s nice to have some faux topics. The weather is always there, but on Friday the 13th, everyone has a story.

We’ve all heard the stories: the 13th a coworker discovered the cheating; the lost or locked-in keys; the ticket; the string of a bad day retold with the expectation of pity and laughs.

Who doesn’t love some self deprecation?

Like most people, I have also have an affinity for black cats, split poles and stepped-on cracks. Bad luck omens of American urban legend. The answer why is clear: it’s easier to imagine that when random bad things happens, that it’s not only out of our control, but also preordained fate — the result of of mysterious and cruel forces.

Things that suck tend to suck less if they make you special. And being able to shirk some blame or even the added hue to partial, begrudging responsibility.

Or you just fall down the stairs and ponder a bit too much in bed.

But how was your day?

 

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.”

The Boy with the Insane Clown Posse Tattoo – poem

the Axeman, a rainbow filling his insides
planted prominent and proud on his left pec
he bared it all, proud to share
the boy with the insane clown posse tattoo

he told my friend i was sexy in her boots
they fit me perfectly and came to my knees
it was some night we were all dancing and spilling our drinks
i smoked weed until i didn’t know anything and hoped he would like me

i got his number and we shared embarrassing things
the shame that comes from being different and Nebraskan
like his arm was sore from jacking off instead of meeting strangers
like the sex and love addicts meetings talked about but never went to

queer communion, sharing where you’ve been
what is not normally considered, a bridged gap
filled with death threats, snorting chemicals
we cross the world with experimentation

picking up labels for other people to use
because it’s fucking tedious explaining there aren’t rules
to fluids of sex, roles and gender
the boy with the insane clown posse tattoo, he taught me

not to judge like a goddamn fool

‘I’m rooting for everybody black’ – Issa Rae & the Impolite Truth

First of all, Issa Rae doesn’t give a shit what I have to say, and that is what makes her an absolute champion for equality.

Let’s face it, in certain recent years and at other venues, the Insecure mastermind’s statement would not have made any sense. The #OscarsSoWhite boycott of 2016 had followed two consecutive years of white-only nominees.

Those two years and plenty of others saying “I’m rooting for everyone” would mean the exact same thing as “I’m rooting for everyone white.” So…

And it still took Leo how long?

It’s not the polite silence we’re used to experiencing, but it’s all truth. I see Issa’s remark as a celebration of long awaited representation of marginalized people, she doesn’t make her stories for me and that’s okay. Narratives, stories and views not seen or experienced, ever.

I’m glad to shutup. With the history made by the wins of Lena Waithe, Donald Glover, Sterling K. Brown, Riz Ahmed, there is much to clap, root and holler for.

We can hope that we are living in a resulted in a renaissance of racial awareness that we can only hope is lasting.

What media are you excited for that is breaking the mold? Underground hiphop or grungy artist? I was stoked to see Michaela Cole of Chewing Gum‘s new Netflix show that is happening, definitely on my list!

 

We are Home: A Denver Transplant Story

First of all, may the Broncos prevail over the Cowboys today!

I moved to Denver around three years ago and was a little more than culture shocked.

One aspect that really jarred me was the Native Vs. Transplant battle in which I still remain an unwilling and confused participant. Nothing compared to the anti-immigration environment in which we are living in 2017 today with the recent repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), upending the lives, families and communities around 800,000 participants.

Summed up well in Westworld’s The Mayday Experiment: Dear Denver Transplants, Here’s What You’re Missing… are the sentiments and mutterings you hear at the grocery store and coffee shops. Sneerings for things like not knowing the beer is less potent than when procured from a liquor store or past stadium location, name and history.

I’m just trying to live! It’s important to remember that we’re all human with our own histories and struggles beneath the buzzwords and labels. With that, we can hopefully begin to act with compassion. Here’s my internal narrative of a summer day shortly after I cruised into town in 2013. Go Broncos!


THIS IS THE ‘W’ LINE TO UNION STATION

A jolt, I’m up from my light rail seat, rushing out the accordion door. I look around, hear the mechanical whoosh of the train speeding away behind me and wonder why I don’t know where I am. The parking garage nearby shades the whole area, at the foot of a dark castle.

I got off on the wrong stop.

Adele Arakawa is the voice of Denver. It’s almost impossible to have lived or visited and not heard her voice. Recently retired after 43 years in broadcasting and delivering the nightly NBC news to the Front Range for 23 years, she guides us. To our homes and destinations on Denver International Airport terminals, blurting out the street names on RTD buses and trains, a requirement that’s helpful but also makes me feel nervous and rushed with anticipation.

It’s not Adele’s fault. I get anxious in general, sometimes panicky in public. This leads to sweating, social deafness and racing thoughts like “don’t get off on the wrong stop, don’t get off on the wrong stop…”

And here we are. I check the map and see that I’m about three stops from home and decide to walk rather than wait for the next train.

Approaching actual train tracks, mechanical arms begin to descend, red lights flashing and an urgent tone pulsing as a train blows its whistle. I am far enough away from the tracks to see car after car and caboose after caboose snake their way into the distance. The other walkers sigh collectively, pull out their phone and shift on the hot pavement; it is going to be a wait.

        There is a little queue of us: walking commuters, fresh off a suburban light-rail that wound into the bustling heart of the city; a few travelers on bicycles and one man relaxing in the backseat of his vacant peddicab. In the lucky shade of the overpass, we all settled on the concrete. A couple of strangers near me are chatting in conversational tones and I make sure to turn off the walking GPS navigation on my phone. I can picture crossing the tracks and seeming like a complete tourist when Siri would tell me,“Turn right in 500 feet.”

I start to look around the crowd; a man in front of me finishes a cigarette, throwing it to the ground and stamping it around in high-top shoes. An older woman in a blue, sporty uniform — her hair many shades of gray, black and white like a fine pencil sketch. The train cars go by and by, replicants with the occasional tattoo of graffiti setting them apart for an instant at a time. I glance at the actual tattoos of strangers whose story I will never know. A colorful owl peers at me from the arm of a man balancing on the pedals of his mountain bike.

I relax. The last caboose capps off the train, the arms creak up and the last electric ding of the warning bell echoes against the walls of the overpass. My feet move quick, carried by my legs more used to bicycling long distance than walking. I am excited to be a smarter, savvy commuter that has the sense to bring their bike to the light rail.

So of course it was stolen. Walking around the back of the apartment building to check the tire pressure before going inside, I found only my lock curled around the sturdy metal poles of the bike rack. Confusion bloomed in my brain and anger eased its way from ember into fire in depth of my stomach. They met somewhere in the middle of my chest and I only felt disappointment and a lingering sadness related to losing a favorite toy as a little kid. Nothing floods my brain like losing something. A pen, my phone, a shirt. My life stops and my brain whirls into action until I can locate it or reason myself to stop looking. Here, there was nothing to do.

THIS IS THE ‘E’ LINE TO EMOTIONAL COLLAPSE.

Sometimes, one sadness is linked to another in a web that arches into intricate clusters of experience and heartache. My arms, my face, my back are scarred from tripping and limping and falling from that web. I know all I can do is sleep and wait to be untangled again.

***

I wake up to the sounds of excited voices. I don’t need to look out the window to know they’re probably wearing football jerseys and hats. My friend’s studio apartment sits on the corner of a busy intersection down the street from a NFL stadium. It’s game day.

I just moved to the city and I’m crashing, my bed docked in the corner of a living room like a life raft with baskets of my clothes buoyed nearby. The rest of my possessions are tucked away in closets and in the basements of friends’. Spread out enough that I’m not sure where certain things are but sure they’re somewhere. I don’t have things, but I do own things.

This neighborhood is changing, new cubelike houses and renovated buildings sit beside and between the old stack brick houses and complexes that boast their charm and character more than modern animinities. It’s a juxtaposition that can cause heated conversations about gentrification from locals. These people understandably don’t like the cost brought by these boxy homes and the transplants like me that cause them. Their bumper stickers yell NATIVE and GO HOME in opposition, even though the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes claim to the title and land makes actual sense. These are often the same descendants of immigrants that now oppose immigration with no better medium for expression than their bumpers. It’s must be hard, always being under attack.

I moved my rat race to Denver and I suppose I’m somewhat sorry. But as a broke, indebted boy and invader myself, saving for a rental deposit, I just wish I could afford any place. Even a boxy home would do.

There’s honks from outside and a rumble in the basement of my own stomach. So I pick up my wallet and keys, piece together a pleasant picture bed with smooth covers and symmetrical pillows before the door closes behind me. The grocery store is a few blocks away and I know all these streets, at least.

Up ahead, there’s a lively gathering outside a house with one man dangling a rope from an upper window. I’m curious, but anxiety turns my feet and angles my path across the street in avoidance. I can still watch as I pass from there.

The house is flat, gray brick with red and green stones set into the corners of its walls and windows. The effect is sturdy and — with the trees offering their shade, vines climbing, virile up the walls — somewhat magical. Having made progress down the street, I could see a boy, grinning, blindfolded and clutching a small bat in front of a pinata. The man in the window looked to be tying his rope now and I heard voices speaking Spanish for him to hurry: Andale! Andale!

The crowd on the sidewalk bristled and fidgeted in excitement while, I could now see, the birthday boy took some practice swings. There were older relatives in the backyard looking on from tables and chairs and picnic tables. I notice for the first time that it really was a great day. The wind was slight and cooling with the sun adding only enough heat for a good summer day. The pinata was a paper mache circle with spikes, a little newsprint still visible beneath blue paint and red and green tissue paper. Matriarchs and patriarchs both stand sentry with cameras in hand.  

I’m not sure I remember exactly, or if my memory has been enhanced by photo albums of a birthday of my own: my mom letting me cut strips of newspaper and feeling special about the trip to the craft store to get paints, glue and a big pack of balloons. She used one large bowl, the bow usually reserved for the exalted task of Frog Eye Salad preparation, to create the cast for a dome in what would become the top of an R2D2 robot from Star Wars. My mom passed away around half my life ago now but she still manages to find me when I need her.

THIS IS OUR FINAL DESTINATION

At the party, everyone talked about my R2D2 pinata and I was proud and happy. I remember my mom’s floral dress at my party and the little plastic bags she gave out for everyone to collect candy when I’d broken open R2D2 with a mixture of excitement and loss, my robot friend spilling his guts.

Like losing something favorite, special. The surprise ending seeming far off and complicated from the innocence of being a kid. Loss, an ignition into action until, forced inert, I can face why the lost shines in me. Finite, gone, yet reckoning I have everything I need to thrive.

The day brightens in me. I glance down, I smile and miss her, hearing the first hack of a bat against hardened paper and glue from down the street. I am home.