Friday, June 06, 2008

a death wish

so there i am, minding my own business in line at the sandwich shop, waiting my turn like the good little consumer lemming that i am. counter girl decides to get chatty with me, which is fine, long as her gloved hands keep right on making my sandwich cause dang it, i'm hungry. and you don't get between me and food when i'm hungry, capisce? she points to my CI and chirps, "is that helpful to you?" i said, "oh yes, very."

she continues making my sandwich. ten seconds go by as she artfully arranges the food i just want to eat. she chirps again, "so, it helps you, like, hear, right?" i said, "yes, that's right, it's a cochlear implant so it's more advanced than a hearing aid. pretty amazing stuff." she chirps, "oh, totally!"

about another ten seconds go by. then she chirps again, "so, how long have you been death?"

yeah, that kind of gives me a momentary pause there. not the first time i've heard that pronunciation of the word "deaf" - but come on, people. F. F. F. F. as many times as we hear "the f word" on television and in the movies, i know people know how to pronounce the word "deaF." it is not complicated.

and lest you think i'm being an insensitive boor for spouting off about a simple mispronunciation, let me hasten to point out i smiled in reply and answered her question quite sincerely, and did not correct nor point out her very odd mispronunciation.

and lest you think i was too much of a doormat or not sensitive enough to correct her mispronunciation, let me point out that, as said previously here, i have heard people say it that way more often than i have heard them say it the correct way. it is bizarre to hear an otherwise adequately-versed person say "death" instead of "deaf."

is it some kind of mental slip? something freud could take to the bank for the rest of his life if his life were still ongoing? i find it extremely difficult to believe people honestly cannot pronounce that lovely ending F there on the i'm led to believe the alternative, which is that it's a subconscious slip of the tongue.

now, does this slip of the tongue betray something deeper? some belief that lacking a sense means someone is somehow more dead to the world around them? no, i wouldn't go that far. after all, you don't see similar slips of the tongue with blind, or paralyzed, or so on. but for whatever reason, in my short life thus far, i've hit upon more people who say "death" than "deaf." it's bizarre!

which leads me to the second part of this mini-rant. i've come to the conclusion there are three categories of people in this world when it comes to dealing with a deaf person. they are:

1. the person who decides to either speak much much louder or much much more exaggeratedly (often both at the same time, resulting in a semi-hysterical show of epic proportions in surround sound).
2. the person who mimes everything they say in a sort of pseudo-sign-language (well-intentioned, but often amusing in an unintentional way).
3. the person who changes absolutely nothing about the way he is speaking except to ensure the lipreading person has visibility of his lips (the most welcome sort).

i've encountered plenty of categories 1 and 2 in my lifetime - the older i get, the more i encounter category 3. my theory is that the 1s and 2s eventually figure out that their shows are unnecessary and they slip back into more normalized frames of speech.

however, the other night at a local computer supply store, i encountered a truly awesome example of category 2.

picture it. scene, computer supply store somewhere in virginia. cashier, a mid-40s woman who appears, to the naked eye, to be reasonably intelligent and functional. i am purchasing a small item or two. i lay my items on the counter to be rung up, and fish my checkbook out of my wallet. the aforementioned woman and i are having a very normal, standard, "lovely day isn't it yes but it's awfully hot i know but perhaps it'll break soon" conversation while the computer rings up my purchases. at some point, she glimpses my CI processor.

well! that changed everything! she immediately became marcel marceau in some kind of tortured box. she points to my shirt, then to her own shirt, and very carefully mimes/says, "i like your shirt." then she proceeds to compliment, in mime-speak, my hair, my skin, comments i should wear my hair up because of the heat, and tells me how hot her own shirt is.

i was torn between hysterical laughter and asking her, quite soberly, if she truly thought that the normal first half of our conversation was a fluke of some kind. i chose to just smile and exit, and laugh once i got to the car.

it was just mightily amusing. and maybe it all circles back to the whole mispronunciation of deaf as "death" - maybe people really sometimes believe it's a tiny death of a tiny part of what makes a person a person. i never have thought so, myself, but then again, i'm biased.

now, if you'll excuse me, i (points to self) have to go (points to hallway) to bed (mimes sleeping) now (points down). *waves good-night*