Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Pecaw's Gift / Chapter 21 - Piece of Cake

It was hard to believe that the man in the bed next to him had not made any attempt to start up a conversation. About the only thing Sinclair knew about him was that the guy had been in a terrible car wreck and lost his leg. Twice while he and Vern were working the bugs out of the speech program they had tried to include him in their chatter.

Sinclair had assumed that it was a language barrier. He had Bev call down to the nurse’s
station and ask that an interpreter who spoke Spanish be sent down so that they might be
more neighborly.

“I’m sorry; but I don't think it would do much good. You see, Mr. Alejandro is a deaf mute. I wish we could do more for him; he has no family as far as we know.”

“Oh, I see. Thanks anyway.” Sinclair pulled the nylon mesh curtain back so that he could see his roommate. The movement caught his attention and Mr. Alejandro turned to see what was going on. The two were able meet face to face. Sinclair started it off by talking very slowly.

“My name is Sinclair. Can you read lips?”

From across the gap that separated them, Sinclair watched the man’s shoulders come
together as Mr. Alejandro indicated that he was wasting his time. Not only did he not hear, he did not understand English. The distance between them seemed almost beyond measure. Sinclair only knew enough Spanish to fill out a traffic ticket or an arrest blotter.

He knew a little sign language; even then he wasn’t that good at it. He had taken the signing course at the Houston Community College a long time ago. The first day of class Sinclair had walked in, not sure if he was in the right room. He approached a couple seated towards the front of the class from the rear and asked, “Is this the Sign Language Class?” There was no response from them until he tapped one of them on the arm. Sinclair chuckled to himself as he took a chair, “Must be.”

Hoping that the man knew the basic alphabet and that some of the “signing” patterns would be universal; Sinclair put his open hand to his chest and then slowly finger spelled his name, “S. . . I . . . n . . . c . . . l . . .a . . . I . . . r”. He then made the sign for “Cop” by forming the letter “C” and touching the left side of his chest, as if to pin an imaginary badge on his pajamas. Mr. Alejandro’s eyes sparkled with excitement as he closely watched Sinclair’s feeble attempts. At last there was someone to talk with.

Alejandro quickly flashed some letters from his hand back at Sinclair. The blur of letters did not register. It had been a long time since he had talked with a deaf person. He motioned for him to repeat as he rolled his hand in a circular motion; slowly and then even more slowly, hoping that the exaggerated motion would encourage the desired response.

Once Sinclair had taken Bev with him to a club that catered to the deaf community. They had a chance to see a short play. All the actors were deaf, along with most of the audience; the exception being a few students from the signing course. What impressed him the most was their ability to express feelings through facial changes.

They had the ability to capture each human concept; like, hate, warmth, love and all the rest of the complex emotional traits that hearing people so imperfectly try to grasp with words alone. Sinclair tried to follow the play as the actors would also finger spell the dialogue. It might have been easier, had it not been that all the characters had Russian names. Sinclair had trouble keeping up with words like “that” and “blue”; he didn’t have a chance when they started spelling names like “Rostokovich” at full speed.

Mr. Alejandro watched Sinclair as each letter was carefully formed; waiting for a nod or a wink before continuing to the next. “F . . . E . . . R . . . N . . . A . . .N . . D . . . O.”

“Fernando? You’re Fernando?”

“Fernando; yes!” His smooth fist bending at the wrist several times. “Yes.” The smile on his face as he patted his chest let Sinclair know that he had found a friend. Then there were many signs flashed to him that Sinclair did not understand. Sinclair put both his hands up and started shaking his head at the same moment. It was no use; Sinclair just did not have the necessary skills to continue. Pointing to his wrist as if there were a watch on it; Sinclair made his fingers look like watch hands and motioned that he would get back to him later. Fernando looked back, saddened by the short visit and acknowledged with a nod of his head. Sinclair waved and closed the curtain as he realized how hard it must be to live in such isolation.

It did not take long for Sinclair, looking at the computer, to draw upon his imagination. “What if we got a language disk and then programmed it to print both Spanish and English on every other line. That way he could read. . . No I still wouldn’t be able to read his signs.” Sinclair slumped back momentarily. His idea would not work unless the computer could read Fernando’s hand signs. That was going to be the hill to climb.

Picking up the phone was an ordeal in itself as he managed to punch up the operator, “Could you get me the extension for Vern Rylan?” Sinclair had a thought in his head that was almost possible; maybe Vern could make it happen.

“That number is four seven six six.”

“Got it, thanks.” Punching the numbers in before he could forget them and talking to himself, “Four, seven, six and six.” The ringing on the other end was a pleasing sound. On the third ring Jack picked it up.

“Maintenance, Go ahead it’s your quarter.”

“Is Vern Rylan there? This is Sinclair Dosilmeyer up in room four sixteen.”

“Dosilmeyer?. . . Oh yea, your the guy. . .yea . . just a minute. He’s across the hall. I’ll go get him, hold on.” Sinclair listened to the muffled voices come through the line. He could hear, “Hey Vern, its that guy from upstairs. You know, the cop you’ve been helping. He’s on the phone.” Then in a few moments the phone was picked up again, “Just a sec’ while I transfer to him, okay?”

The internal switching was made and Sinclair waited for his friend to come on the line. “Hey, how’s my buddy today? Is everything all right?”

“Everything’s fine. It works even better now that I’ve had a chance to practice with it.” Sinclair hedged as he tried to come up with a way to ask for another favor. The list of favors was already beyond measure. It would be impossible to pay back a tenth of them; but this wasn’t for himself.

“Well, what’s on your mind. I was planning to come see you a little later on.”

“I have a new challenge for you; that is if you think your up to it?” Sinclair never gave him a chance. He threw out the lure knowing that Vern would never pass on it, regardless of the risk.

“Okay, so what are we going to do now? I’m only good for one miracle per month you know.” Vern laughed as he silently patted himself on the back.

“That’s a shame. I was hoping you would make a career out of coming by my room to solve the impossible.”

“Must be good, can you give me a clue?”

“Yea, tell you when you get up here.” Sinclair hung up on him, just for effect. He figured that it would take somewhere in the neighborhood of four, maybe five minutes for Vern to run the course. It was sort of fun to put out the bait and reel in the fish. He had a Lieutenant once who had a dry sense of humor. Back then he and his partner did their very best to avoid being around the office. As rookie cops it was smart to stay away from the “brass”. Once in a while the Lieutenant would “jack” with the troops. Most of the time it was a harmless prank meant to embarrass or amuse the office crew. Sometimes they pushed the limits of good taste. There had been one officer; he had a kid type face with a smile that wouldn’t quit. Apparently there was a bet on of some kind, a wicked bet to see what it would take to change the enormous smile into a frown. The desk officer called him on the radio and told him, “Report to the office.”

The sound of those words was enough for most rookies to get worked up over just about any of the many things they might have done wrong. They had one of the Sergeants play the bad guy roll, handing him a fake pink slip, as if he had been fired. The Lieutenant waited in his office for the young officer to turn in his badge. The officer walked in, tears running down his face with his head hung low. His life was dragging the bottoms of despair and yet through it all that smile, that wonderful boyish smile never left his face. The Sergeant reached into his bill fold and pulled out a dollar. As he handed it over to the Lieutenant, “Guess you were right, here ya’ are.” It was a terrible joke to play on anyone. Word got around so fast that the officer had a hard time for weeks.

Aware of the power a Lieutenant had to make or ruin young officers; Sinclair still thought of a way to take the bull by the horns. One day that same Lieutenant sent Sinclair on an errand. It seemed that he had been planning a trip to Florida for his family vacation. All Sinclair had to do was pick up one of those maps, the kind with the main route marked out and all the points of interest highlighted. Sinclair got the maps as requested. He also picked up a complete travel guide for a trip to Oklahoma. He stashed the Florida maps in his pocket and casually laid the Oklahoma brochures on the Lieutenant’s desk. Walking slowly down the hall, giving him time to figure out that something was afoot, Sinclair cautiously smiled. His partner, Bob Linden, knew what was going down and was not very enthusiastic about the potential for disaster.

“Dosilmeyer! Just a minute. Get in here!”

Smiling like a Cheshire cat, “What’s the matter sir?”

“You know damn good and well. Okay, you’ve had your fun. Now tell me how come you put all that stuff on my desk about Oklahoma? There has to be a good reason, right?” There was the slightest twinkle in the Lieutenant’s light blue eyes that gave Sinclair an even chance of pulling it off.

“Oh, I must have gotten those by mistake. I’ll run down there and get the ones on Florida like you wanted.” The bait was out there. All the line was run out as Sinclair continued walking down the hall.

“There must be something to this fishing”, Sinclair thought to himself as the blood in his veins flowed with the surge of adrenaline.

“I’m not buying that. Why did you get me the travel guide for Oklahoma Dosilmeyer?” The Lieutenant had swallowed it hook line and sinker. Bob could feel himself flinching as Sinclair opened his mouth.

“Oh, I just figured that with your dry sense of humor, well, I thought you might enjoy Oklahoma.” Sinclair waited the appropriate amount of time and let a hopeful grin grace his lips. It must have worked; he didn’t get fired. From that point on they kind of respected each other. Sinclair didn’t mess with the Lieutenant for a long while after that.

“What took you so long?” Sinclair had timed it to within thirty seconds as Vern came bolting into the room. “Four minutes and twenty nine seconds. What’s the matter? You sound winded.” A friendly smile echoed the words that came from the speaker.

“Very funny, you try walking to the bathroom and I’ll sit back and laugh at you for a while.” Vern took a few cool down breaths in the chair. “So, what’s the deal?”

“Like I said, I don’t even know if it can be done.”

“Give me a break, I’m already here. You know I’m a sucker for that kind of challenge. What is it this time; a trip to the moon or just a casual romp on Venus?”

“Can you get a program that will translate from English to Spanish and back again?” Sinclair knew that such a program was already on the market. All Vern had to do was go by the local shopping mall to pick one out.

“You’re not going to tell me that I ran up here for that, are you?” Vern saw the mile wide grin on Sinclair’s face and knew that there was a plot back behind those off white teeth.

"Well, we need that to get started. Actually . . .” Sinclair had learned a long time ago that the word “Actually” was a trigger word for computer type people. It was the one word that caused them to come to full focus on what ever words followed.

“Well? . . .” Vern was growing impatient with the cat and mouse game.

“I was wondering what we could do to integrate the your speech synthesizer program and the foreign language stuff so that I could talk with the guy in the next bed.”

Vern ducked his head around the curtain. Fernando nodded and smiled as Vern did like wise. “Piece of cake, piece of cake.”

“Yea, but he’s deaf too.” Sinclair waited for some kind of reaction.

Vern looked over his shoulder at Sinclair, “He’s what?”

“You know, deaf; as in, can’t hear.” Sarcasm was part of Sinclair’s personality. It had gotten him into trouble, it had gotten him out of it.

Vern looked at the floor, his head would change position as he thought, then bob occasionally as he thought some more.

“I suppose that I could hook up a cam-corder and . . . the basic signs and write a simple recognition program to identify them by grid squares. Kind of like a fax machine. . . yea ,. . . I could tie it directly into the . . . uh huh. . . yea” Vern smiled and looked back at Sinclair. “It won’t be easy; but I can do it. Let me work on it for a few days. Will Friday be all right?” Vern was consumed with being cocky as he got up from the chair.

“I was hoping to have it this evening; but I guess that was too much to ask. Yea, Friday; if that’s the best you can do.”