I held up my index finger half-curled.
Thumb and little finger, held far apart.
Index finger tracing the letter 'Z' in the air.
"There, see? Twenty-six letters on your first afternoon. ASL isn't so hard." My girlfriend patted my knee encouragingly. We'd spent the last hour and a half on this couch, ever since I'd asked a few curious questions about sign language and why she'd taken the time to learn it. "Want to try a few words?"
"No, I want to call it a night." I groaned and cracked my knuckles. My girlfriend grimaced at the sound. "No offense, but this is absolutely mind-numbing."
"What's the problem? The signs are completely obvious once you get the hang of them."
"They are not," I protested. "Like 'X', for instance. 'Y' and 'Z' at least look like the letters, but what's up with 'X'? Why not make it look like this?" I held up my index and middle finger crossed.
"Because that's 'R', remember?" She smirked at me, trying to lighten my mood.
"Yeah, and this"--the sign for 'X'--"looks more like a lowercase 'R'. I'm sorry, but can we go do something else? This is dumb."
"No, this is dumb," as she held an index finger to her lips and then her ear.
I was nonplussed. "What?"
"This," and she made the gesture again, "is dumb. That's the sign for 'dumb'. Or 'deaf', really, but if you're signing it you probably mean the same thing."
I tried to imitate the gesture. "Is that it?"
"Mmm, I think you have to use the right hand." I tried again. "That's it. So someone might say to you, 'I'...," pointing to herself, "'am deaf,'" moving the finger to her lips and ear.
"So, 'you are deaf'?" I pointed to her and repeated the new sign.
She made a fist with her thumb in front and wiggled it up and down. "'Yes, I am.' I told you they were obvious."
"What's 'sign language?'" I asked with feigned curiousity.
"Two words: 'sign'"... two index fingers moving up and down, circling toward and away from me... "'language'" ...two 'L's with the fingers touching in the middle, then wiggling away from each other.
I repeated the signs I had just learned. "So this is 'sign language is dumb,' right?" I said with a rude smirk.
"No, wrong kind of 'dumb.' You mean this," and she made a fist and lightly hit her own forehead with the inside of it.
I tried to put them together. "'Sign... language... is dumb?'" with an audible "tap" on my own forehead.
She tipped her head to the side. "Mmm, it's got to be faster than that."
"'Sign, language, is dumb,'" I repeated in sign.
"'Sign language is dumb!'"
"'SignlanguageisdumOWWW!!!" I rolled off the edge of the couch, clutching my eye in pain. After a minute or so I sat myself up on the floor without opening my eyes. I didn't have enough dignity to try and get back on the couch.
My girlfriend put a not-so-comforting hand on my shoulder. "Now, that was dumb."
"Urrg," I replied, by which I meant "yes." "You're right. That was dumb."
She leaned back against the sofa cushions and left me there to blink away the agony. "See?" she added comfortably. "I told you signs were obvious."