"My noime iss Brraaaduh" says the voice behind me that is attached to the hand that is tapping me on the shoulder. I turn around and see a graying man of about 70 years old.
"I see yhoou haave heeearing aiiids" he says, "Doy yooooo sign?".
"No I don't" I say then catch myself as I realize I am speaking normally to a profoundly deaf person. "No... I... Don't" I say looking straight at him and trying my best to annunciate my words so he can read my lips.
"Oimmmm soooooorry Iiiiii didn't catchhhe that" he says. "Wheere are yoooooo from?"
"ScoTT Lland" I say, trying to form the hard syllables so it makes my mouth more readable. It doesn't work and I realise this is going to be a long conversation.
Brad volunteers at The Used Book Store Cafe
on Crosby Street in New York. This place has long been one of my favorite spaces in the city to just chill out and browse the excellent book selection. It is in this quiet place of people reading and working that I realise that I have a choice, I can either start shouting so Brad can (maybe) understand me, or I can grab a note pad out of my bag and start writing stuff down for him. I opt for the latter.
"I am from Scotland" I write, "but I live here now, in Jersey City".
He takes the notepad from me and writes "I've been in Scotland, I went to Edinburgh"
I write "That's good, did you like it?".
"Yeeeas I llllliiiked it veery mmmmuch" he says.
I feel slightly embarrassed that he is speaking again and louder than before. Then I catch myself and I remember how much I hate the sympathetic looks that people give me when they see me coming down the street with the cane.
Those looks that project some kind of vibe that says "Jesus look at that poor guy, I hope that shit never happens to me". Most of the time I feel like screaming "FUCK YOU I AM A FULLY FUNCTIONING HUMAN BEING" albeit not quite but I do okay. Women will often give me a little sympathetic smile, little do they know I am staring at their boobs.
I am now guilty of giving Brad that same look and I feel like shit for it. Do some disabled people look down on other disabled people and think "Thank fuck that's not me!", hell yeah but it's not right.
"Haaave yoooouuuu evver been tooo Helen Keller?"
I say "Yes, I've been to Helen Keller but she's never been to me" but he doesn't understand what I am saying and I doubt he'd get the reference
. Musical references tend to be lost on profoundly deaf people and that is going to be a problem for me as I often speak in lines bastardized from songs.
I write on the pad: "Do you mean the Helen Keller Foundation in Brooklyn? If so, yes, that is where I learned to use my cane. They were very helpful".
"No, I meeeaann heer hhou house on Long Island".
I shake my head and write "Is it easy to get to?".
He then takes the pad off me and draws me a map. It doesn't make any sense at first then I realize he is drawing me a map of how to get to Penn Station on 34th Street. He writes "Empire State building" and "Madison Square Garden". It's nice that he is giving me landmarks but now I am starting to think that he thinks I can't see a damn thing and have no idea where I am. Obviously you don't get that many blind people in bookshops so he's probably got a point.
Thankfully his map ends at Penn station and he writes "Take the train to Southold".
I write "Thank You for the information. I have to go now", hoping to draw a line (literally) under the conversation and get back to blindly browsing through second-hand books.
I shake hands and head to the other side of the store where the "Religions" section and the "Feminism" section are. Two of my favorite subjects. Obviously. Anything to put a bit of distance between me and him.
So I'm there browsing through books on Catholicism and Islam when I feel a presence just behind me. I know it's Brad before I even turn around.
"Helllooooo aggg agga again".
I'm now thinking fuck he's following me. Again, he either thinks I have no idea where I am or he secretly wants to shag me then murder me (or vice versa). Either way it's not good.
"Hello again" I say in my normal voice. "I'm going downstairs now, I need to find some new books about... Sarah Palin... or something". I know he can't understand me and I'm being a dick but I just want to be left alone.
The bookstore has a kind of almost spiral staircase and I aim my cane at the top step. Just as I do this he grabs my arm to try and guide me at the exact moment I step forward and I miss the top step entirely. We both kind of slide down the banister, not quite falling but going too fast to catch up with ourselves until we reach the bottom. We stagger across the floor into one of those library racks on wheels and knock the entire top row of books out of it onto the floor. They are hardbacks and make an almighty crash that causes everyone in the bookstore to look at us.
I'm obviously embarrassed but I fall downstairs and tumble over stuff all the time so I'm not too shook up. I'm more concerned with Brad who, as well as being deaf, is about 70 years old.
"Are you okay?" I say slowly to him and he starts laughing very loudly indeed. People around the bookstore are starting to look at us like we are a slapstick double-act. While he is still laughing I pat him on the shoulder and say "goodbye".
Brad stays in my head for the rest of the day. I feel guilty for thinking bad thoughts about him and when I get home I decide to google the Helen Keller House in Long Island.
You can read about it here
. He was obviously sending me there so he could murder me.