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Deaf Peddler: Chapter Three

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Time is money for a peddler, and although he or she may talk with a hearing signer for a minute or two, it mainly boils down to an exercise in good customer relations. Sooner rather than later, the peddler will say, “Need to go make money, will you buy a book?” Usually the hearing signer will respond, “Sure, I’ll buy,” and give the peddler extra money! It has often seemed ironic to me that people who have taken the time to learn something about Deaf culture will be so thoughtlessly compliant in a transaction that is basically damaging to deaf people and to the Deaf community.

Once I had picked up the peddling life, the travel, different sights, and new people were quite exciting. At first, I was so amazed at the amount of money and independence that I never stopped to wonder what I might be giving up. But despite the new experiences I was lonely, depressed, and worried about my lack of cash.

Then in Texas, I remembered a friend who lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bud and I had grown up at the St. Rita School for the Deaf, and later we’d been good buddies at Gallaudet. I missed his easy-going, fun personality and decided to look him up over Thanksgiving weekend. Suddenly the whole trip seemed worthwhile. Bud was surprised and pleased to see me, and we spent hours catching up on each other’s lives. I felt reinvigorated after visiting with Bud, and decided to continue on to California.

Don had told me about a peddler friend of his in Los Angeles, so before heading to California I gave him a call. Mike was taking advantage of the fact that one of his deaf friends in Los Angeles lived in a subsidized apartment, and the two of them were paying virtually nothing for rent. He offered to pick me up at the airport on Friday and to let me stay with them for a short time.

When I got into Mike’s car, he showed me this terrific keychain he had purchased. Mike peddled at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and a Mexican peddler had taken him to a huge indoor flea market a few weeks before. The market was full of many different types of foreign items at a very low cost. Looking around, Mike spied a keychain that was attached to a small tool kit. The kit consisted of a small black case with a clear plastic front. It held three miniature screwdrivers, each with a different color handle¾yellow, red, and green. The screwdrivers could be used for small screws on eyeglasses or watches.

Although not very well made, it was a useful item, and Mike bought several cases and started selling the keychain as a novelty item. Mike was so enthusiastic about his find that I tried peddling with it at LAX the very next day. To my surprise, I found I had never made so much money so quickly! I went back to LAX the next day, but as soon as I got there, I met a deaf Mexican peddler who told me she worked for an organized peddling ring. At the next gate, I saw another Mexican deaf peddler, and another at the next gate, and so on. There must have been ten or twenty Mexican peddlers working LAX. I would describe most of them as having “minimal language skills,” meaning that even their signing skills were below average. Their appearance was rough, and a few were even ready to fight with me, defensive of their territory and antagonistic toward any potential competition.


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