My deaf family has a favorite game we usually play in the car. When we smell something fart-like wafting around, we immediately extend a thumb on our foreheads while holding the palm open and perpendicular to the face. The last one to do it is then officially designated as the guilty party.
This tends to be when our deaf son starts wagging an accusatory finger and shaking his head in disapproval with the glee of a 5-year-old thinking about bodily functions.
Unless, of course, he is the last one with a thumb on his forehead. Then he will inevitably shake his head profusely and swear he is not the culprit.
The funny thing is, it struck me just now that it’s uniquely a deaf thing. That hearing people do not play this game because for them, it would make as much sense as playing Marco Polo with eyes open or, say, hide-and-seek in the Death Valley Salt Flats.
But since my wife, our children, and I are all deaf, we are constantly accusing one another of committing high crimes against olfactory systems, sticking thumbs on our foreheads, and denying culpability with a straight face even after (or while) ripping sphincter sirens that would make police cars envious.
This epiphany makes me think of when I was in middle school and went to a summer basketball camp with about 100 deaf kids and two hearing kids with deaf parents.
And according to the hearing campers on the first night of camp, they just couldn’t believe what they were hearing.
As we dribbled, passed, and rebounded, we would pass gas so liberally, shooting bottom burps off like how drunk college students do fireworks, producing whoopees and whizzpoppers so frequently that if we had been paid a dollar for each one, we would surely be demonized by Bernie Sanders today.
And the hearing campers? Despite being accomplished basketball players, they were overwhelmed, looking left and right as the rest of us ran – and butt sneezed – circles around them on the hardwood.
This brings to mind a favorite joke in middle school: Q: why do farts stink? A: So that deaf people can appreciate them too.
Here’s another true story. I remember being mainstreamed for the first time in third grade after growing up at a deaf school. I was the only deaf kid in a class of about 25 students. My first month into the trimester, for mysterious reasons, I just couldn’t stop producing bottom howitzers, regardless of how I adjusted seating positions on that wooden desk chair.
Finally, right after my biggest squeaker yet, my well-coiffed, old-maidish sign language interpreter mustered the temerity to tell me: “That’s enough. Hush.”
It then hit me like a hammer. They hear me. My deaf parents and sisters and deaf school teachers had never warned me.
That farts could smell like a cow farm in the dog days of summer, I had known, but that we could be as loud as a drunkard with a shofar while doing it? I had thought “silent but deadly” was a synonym for farts but as I learned that day, it is simply a variation on a surprisingly intricate continuum.
Anyway, the third-grade-me was mortified when I figured out my new classmates had not been staring at me because they thought sign language was interesting.
So, as has been written, nothing is more conspicuous than a farting princess.
But what they do not say is the same may be true for hearing kids at deaf basketball camps, mainstreamed deaf kids in elementary school, and the last member in my family to have a thumb on their foreheads.