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A Sign Of The Times

, , , , , , , | Right | CREDIT: MidnightBallad | June 24, 2021

I’m at the store picking up a few things for baking and can’t remember where to find molasses. Rather than waste time combing up and down the aisles with too many people, I seek out an employee.

I hear someone say, “Excuse me?” a few times with lessening patience. I turn around and see the person and the employee he is trying to call out to. The employee is stocking some canned goods and doesn’t seem to notice the man at all. The customer grabs the employee’s shoulder and scares the crap out of him.

The customer gets in the employee’s face.

Customer: “I know you heard me, dips***! You ignore all your customers?”

When the employee’s back is to me, I see “I am hearing-impaired” in bold white letters on the back of his blue vest. I was heated by the customer already, and knowing he is harassing an employee — an impaired person at that — really burns me up.

I go up to the man as the employee backs away from him, clearly alarmed by the customer’s abrasive action.

Me: “Excuse me, but you don’t need to be so harsh. He wasn’t ignoring you. He’s hearing-impaired.”

Customer: “That don’t mean he can’t hear me talkin’.”

I resist face-palming, especially after touching things in the store. The employee is too unnerved to do anything, so I ask the man what he needs. He says he can’t find something and I tell him exactly what aisle it is in. He leaves, and the shaken employee leans against his locked cart, seemingly on the verge of crying.

My ASL (American Sign Language) isn’t great, but I know enough to be polite.

Me: *Signing* “Are you okay?”

His eyes light up for a moment.

Employee: *Signing* “I’m fine. Thank you.”

He goes on to sign more, but I only catch “jerk” and “rude customers” and “scared,” which is enough for me to get the gist. Over the years in my retail job, I picked up some ASL for retail workers in online videos to be more helpful to the occasional deaf or hearing-impaired customers who came into the store. So, I know enough key signs to hold at least a short conversation.

Me: *Signing* “Sorry, I only know a little ASL.”

He gives me a friendly smile.

Employee: *Signing* “No problem. Did you need help with anything?”

I don’t know the sign for “molasses,” so I spell it and shrug, feeling a little sheepish since I almost never have to sign. He signs to me where to go but I don’t catch much of it, and he can tell. He lets out a little laugh and signals for me to follow him, so I do, and he leads me to the aisle the molasses is in.

I can’t reach it, so I sign for the brand I want. He reaches up and hands it to me.

Me: *Signing* “Thank you. I appreciate it.”

He signs something and points to the jar. He does this twice, and I realize he is teaching me the sign for “molasses.” I sign it back to him and he signs, “Yes!” with a smile. We both laugh and he asks where I learned sign language. I tell him I learned online and just practice every now and then, mostly for fun and because I am fascinated by the language. He reaches into his pocket for a notepad and pen to scribble something. I patiently wait until he hands the paper to me.

Employee’s Note: “You showed me kindness I almost never see. Thank you for helping me and respecting my community when many don’t. Never stop learning. I wish more people were like you.”

Me: *Signing* “Thank YOU. I’m [My Nickname]. Nice to meet you.”

Employee: *Signing* “I’m [Employee]. Nice to meet you.”

Rather than shake hands, we bumped elbows and parted ways. That guy really made my day, and I bet I probably made his week.

When I made my purchase, I saw the rude customer from before in the other line getting an attitude because his card was declining. He noticed me as I grabbed my bags. I gave him a smile, signed, “A**hole,” and left.

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