Saturday, November 25, 2006


Heyho. Howdy. Apologies, first off. I have fallen off the blog horse, leaving a lot of interesting discussions and themes and events to pass undescribed. So many, I’m not sure where to begin.

Maybe with thanksgiving. I get so busy stuffing my face with Turkey that I don’t take time to remember what the word actually means. From a certain perspective the glass is always half-empty; that is, if I believe that my life is something that I own, then there’s always going to be someone out there owning a better one. But if I can remember that it’s a gift and one that I do not, despite appearances, have possession of, then it can be a pleasant, delightful way to pass the time. Something to be thankful for.

Proof: Yesterday morning, AJ and I were walking three dogs (Otis, Amos and Taxi) through the woods up near New Paltz. Unbeknownst to us, it was the first day of hunting season. As Taxi is at least as big as a deer, we were quite fortunate that the grizzled, pissed-off hunter we came upon, dressed up to look like walking crabgrass, didn’t take a free shot at him. So, right after the holiday, a reason to give thanks.

And further: Otis was lucky to even be there –just a few weeks ago he was three-quarters dead from an canine virus, now he was sniffing angry-hunter-guy’s crotch.

Or take my brother Sam’s wedding, three weeks ago: the breathtaking museum in downtown Washington, the large crowd of devoted friends and family, the lovely bride. A warm good feeling; a desire for the night not to end.
“Which tie?” Sam asks me as we dress for the ceremony.
“You’re asking me? I’ve worn the same tie for the last five years.”
“Yes, I’m asking you.”
“Blue,” I say.
“Gray it is,” he responds.

Or take last weekend. I was at a wedding in Palm Springs for my cousin Adam, a film and television director who looks like you’d expect a film and television director to look like, with a jaw that can cut glass, a permanent stubble and a gleam in his eyes that makes the womenfolk weak kneed. The wedding was lovely. My favorite moment: Jessica, the bride, exiting the house from where she’s been sequestered all day to commence her walk around the audience and down the aisle, turns to Adam and, like no one is there but them, gives him an excited wave.

Then she walks down the aisle while a guy plucks a guitar and sings “Wedding day, wedding day, wedding day” over and over and over, and instead of getting annoying it just gets cooler each time. Adam waits for her, the tears flowing; behind him, his father sways like an old prizefighter, having endured kidney stones and a shot of morphine that morning.

Afterwards, at the reception, I stood with my three brothers yet again. This was our third wedding in three months and we didn’t have all that much to say to each other, but that, we’d finally come to realize, was besides the point: family isn’t family because you all can debate as excitedly and endlessly as Plato and Socrates at a boy scout camping trip, it’s family because you stand together.

“I’m gonna miss my flight,” Sam said.
“Then go,” I said.
“Nah, this is fun. You try the artichoke hearts?”
“They’re good.”
“Stay away from the salmon,” Zev said.
“Who wants a drink?” Ari asked. "Vodka soda?"
My dad came around then, holding a camera in our faces. “Smile."
“Not again,” we all groaned. But we smiled.
“No, get closer together,” Dad said. “Did you try these artichoke hearts?”

He held three in his hands. Should he be eating that many? all of us thought, but we didn’t say anything because six months ago he didn’t have any taste buds, the cancer treatment having radiated them away. So then other things to be thankful for: tastebuds, artichoke hearts, a father.

We ate, drank, danced like we were calling the rains to the desert. There were speeches and speeches. And speeches. Long orations by the family of the groom, recapping every up, down and sideways of the man of the hour; when I lost track of what they were saying, I substituted the simplified version of their lines: “I love you, I love you, son, yes I do. Thank you for sharing your life with me.” Jessica, the bride, endeared herself to everyone by saying just that when it was her turn on the microphone.

“I’m so thankful to have cousins like you guys,” Adam said when I came to say goodbye.
“Me too,” I said.
“Make sure to get a cigar before you leave.”

And indeed, outside the dining hall a man in a Panama hat was handrolling Dominican tobacco into cigars. I watched him work for a few minutes then looked up and the bride and groom were dancing on pedestals like rock stars. Walking through the hotel lobby to leave, a man asked if I wanted to participate in a documentary that was being filmed elsewhere on the grounds; they were filming a workshop being run for single men by four pick-up artists.

"No thank you," I said.
"You sure? I can get you in free."
Ma followed behind me, looking a little soused.
“You drink a lot, ma?” I asked her
“Of course not.”
“Yeah? Can you walk a straight line?”
She took off down the hotel driveway, following the line in the middle of it for thirty feet, turned around and walked back.
“My children are so difficult and judgmental,” she said to the workshop guy.
He laughed. “They are,” he said.
“Fuck you,” I replied.

The desert air. The ride through the night. The stars above fleeing our small and tormented planet. A fat guy with a furry chest in the pool of the Quality Inn, holding a can of Coors. “Want a cigar?” I ask him. He accepts without saying thank you like he’s been waiting for this tribute. The ice machine’s broken so I can’t ice my knee. The next morning: a hike in the desert with my niece in my arms. A turkey sandwich at the end. All things to be thankful for.

So we can argue about this path or that path for deaf culture; this leader or that one. We can talk forever about the decisions we've made, whether they were the right ones, whether we'll get to where we need to go: but the thing is, they were right. They were good enough. And we will.

A few last words about Gallaudet

As always, the amazing Michael Chorost has a well-written, deeply insightful and deeply felt take on the situation. He was there on campus when the decision to rescind the offer of the the presidency to Jane Fernandes was made. Head over to his blog and check it out.

Meanwhile, I feel that I have to address some points made by Chris (on the comments section) and Dr. Davis (in an article that Chris linked) and others. Before I do, I have to admit to not knowing all the details of the situation in DC. I’m getting my news about Gallaudet from newspapers and blogs, all of which have their own agendas. The Washington Post, for one, has been eager to paint the controversy as a question of Dr. Fernandes deaf bona fides, as opposed to a question of her leadership capabilities. Which probably isn’t accurate but might sell more papers.

Regardless, my position remains the same: as long as the focus of the deaf community is on what is deafness, the underlying problems will never disappear. Because no matter how that questioned is answered, the answer will be incomplete.

I’m writing a book about my experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa that, among other things, is about reaching the limits to the question: what is deafness. In Africa, I stumbled upon a place in which I completely transcend the deafness question; in the rural bush, Deaf and Not-Deaf didn’t matter. I was a tall white man living with tens of thousands of malnourished Africans focused on their next meal. That I was deaf did not compute. Villagers died. Villagers killed other people. Cholera came through and took away scores of children. We buried friends, strangers, family.

So if we work out the issue of discrimination and disability, then what? I believe that it is only when we reach the point of questioning everything that life’s true treasure comes forth.

Until then, we’re hunting for nickels in the dirt.