Last night I went to a deaf thing at the mall.

It was a field trip for my ASL class: all of us 1B-ers had to go and translate the food orders for his 1A class. Each of us got two 1A students to translate to, and then after getting the food, we had to go sit and he'd assign us a real deaf person to chat with for the next twenty minutes (after which everyone would pull an Alice in Wonderland and switch around). One of the rules is that you cannot speak. From the moment you enter the mall, you have to keep your mouth shut and your fingers flying. My brother and I are in the same class, but we were separated almost instantly (because if we weren't, we’d just have a poke fight).

Now the first little bump came when I got my two students. Each of them had brought a guest. Steven had brought his friend Eric (who knew nothing about sign and had to write down everything in a notebook), and Diem brought her niece (whose name I didn't catch).

The first question we ask when we meet someone is 'are you deaf, or are you hearing?' It's just basic courtesy. Diem beat me to it.

Diem: You deaf? You hearing?
Zeph: I hearing. You?
Diem: No, I deaf.

Okeedokee then! My first thought? Why are you in the One A class? My second: shouldn't you be sitting with the other deaf folks until we students get out food? But then I realized: Oh. Maybe she's new to ASL. Not everybody grows up with ASL. Sometimes families have their own little signs and don’t use ASL, sometimes the kids are forced to lip read and have to write everything out. Or maybe she was only recently deaf, like in an accident or something.

Several times through the night, she asked me to fingerspell more slowly so she could understand. We wound up using up a few pages of her notebook just writing what we wanted to get across.

We had a rocky start: Diem was a nun and she and her niece didn't want to eat, just get some orange juice. I'm not sure if the two are directly related. See, we’ve got a few monks and nuns running around campus. I don’t know what religion they are, or where they come from (I dunno. Maybe we have a temple under the library or something), but I see them in their brown or orange robes, usually either bald or with something covering their heads.

Diem insisted on paying for everyone’s food, leading to a mini argument that, oh no, she didn’t have to! We all brought our own money. She insisted, though and (after buying her and her niece some orange juice) we went to the mall's Carl’s Jr.

The sign for milkshake is so ridiculous for us hearing people to do in public that to order one is extra credit. was the least expensive place to order one (Coldstone being the only other). There were quite a lot of milkshakes ordered that night.

Out of the four deaf people we got to chat with, three of them were from Vietnam. Apparently, Diem used to live in Vietnam. As such, while the rest of us got the obligatory 'how are you? What’s your name? Where you from?' Diem got the lion’s share of the conversation. Me and Steven were fine with it: we got to follow along with them and pick up a few new signs, but Eric (sitting between Steven and I) was getting progressively more bored.

I glanced over at the notebook he and Steven were sharing and read:
Im totally lost. its okay, lol. I just feel invisible.(sic)

To which I politely borrowed pen and paper and wrote:
If you’re bored, I can teach you bad words.

It was hilarious how his face lit up. In stages, like first his eyes, then his mouth, then the eyebrows. For the next fifteen minutes I taught the boys things like fuck, shit, condom, and vagina while Diem, Niece and Trang talked about where in Vietnam they grew up.

Partway through the third deaf person, Diem’s niece whispered something in her ear, then ran off.

Diem: (signing) She go bathroom.

It took a moment for things to click.

Zeph: (almost shouting) Wait, you're hearing?
Diem: (staring at me) (outloud) Yes! You’re hearing too?
Zeph: Yes! You asked me, I told you. You said you were deaf!
Diem: I thought you were deaf!

To which everyone at the table started laughing, except for Allen. I signed to him: I thought she deaf!

Laughing, he signed back, Don’t think!

Then he proceeded to show us a few different signs they had in Vietnam (because every country has their own sign language).

Later, Eric, Steven and I went to order stuff from Starbucks.

Zeph: (aloud) I'll have a mocha with a shot of raspberry in it.
(turns to Steven. Signing,) What you want?
Steven (aloud) I’ll have a vanilla late.


Steven: Awww fuck!
Eric: Dude! You blew it!
Zeph: (singsong) I’m telling. . .
Steven: I don’t care! I’ve been here since five and I don’t think I can take it anymore!
Zeph: It’s fine, they can’t see us from over here. I don’t think the staff are going to rat us out. . . ?
(looking at the male barista)
Barista: (cheerfully) Nope!
Eric: Woo! We’re safe!

We hung around the Starbucks, chatting aloud, enjoying the sounds of our own voices, then eventually went back to the group.

Things went quickly after that. The fourth deaf guy taught us all signs for countries, then the trip officially ended. We all started talking, and I showed them a few signs they hadn’t learned in their class yet, then gave them a few good websites for picking words. (In the 1A class, you have a project to learn thirty words outside of class. Ones the teacher hasn’t covered. In the 1B, it’s bumped up to fifty. I should probably start working on that, actually. . . )

And that was it. Just a nice (if LONG) night out.

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