Loud Man on Campus

While interning in the District of Columbia I live at Gallaudet University, a proud institution of higher learning established for deaf students in 1864. I live on the top floor of Carlin Hall, which is certainly the best vantage point on campus because there’s a reflecting pool out front where baby ducks hang out. Every couple of days a woman comes by to feed them, and, since she cannot verbally say “Here duckies, here duckies!” she understandably signs at them. From my perspective it looks like she’s casting intricate wizard spells on water fowl. That is why I like living on the eighth floor.

There are immediate pros and cons to living at a deaf campus. My social life is dampened by the fact that most of the students are home for the summer. Also the remaining students are deaf. This has resulted in an unforeseen language barrier, as apparently ASL (American Sign Language) and HAP (Heaton Awkwardly Pantomiming) are almost entirely indiscernible to one another, and in fact only one of them even exists.

My hope remains that I will find a few summer school students to help me break into deaf culture, which initially intrigued me a few months ago while attending a festival in Los Angeles. Suffice it to say, it’s a fascinating and generally overlooked linguistic community that I want to learn more about.

Until then, there are a lot of neat advantages to be a hearing-person on a deaf campus. For starters, I can pretty much sing Gilbert & Sullivan scores wherever I want. I’m at liberty to slam doors all the time without drawing attention, and can finally practice sneaking up on people in a consequence-free environment to test my effectiveness as a potential international assassin for the Bilderberg Group.

Despite the friendly atmosphere, I must admit that I am occasionally spooked by the “It’s quiet– too quiet” universe in which I now dwell. If I walk home directly from work I pass by the athletics fields, where soccer players practice their sport with all the commotion of one hand clapping. I detect no idle chatter when I pass people on the sidewalks, because they are engrossed in conversation relayed through the intricacies of hand gestures. I alone possess the ability to speak directly to ducks.

I’m thinking that the best solution is to go ahead and learn ASL. So far I can sign “I’m hearing,” which is code for “I am not deaf.” I can also sign “My name is A-N-D-H-E-W.” It’s spelled wrong because I keep confusing H’s with R’s, but I’ve been practicing and think my peculiar ASL speech impediment can be overcome through You Tube videos and a positive attitude.

I can also sign “Thank you,” and as of yesterday, “You is beautiful.” (I do not know how to conjugate verbs using my fingers.)

This is because I’ve noticed a cute girl who occasionally practices noiseless soccer in a sports bra at the athletics fields near my dorm. I need a solid opener when she notices my snappy dress style and all the stealthy ninja skills I’ve recently developed.

I’m thinking: “Hello! I’m hearing! My name is A-N-D-R-E-W. You is beautiful!”

Then, if she smiles back, I will sign “Would you like to go feed ducks with me?”


Author’s Note: Having further researched the subject, it turns out I have actually been signing “You is black-face,” as in Al Jolson. And a swing, and a miss.

Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.