The Case of the Fake Interpreter

fake interpreterLately friends have been sending me news links to the “fake interpreter” story, the ongoing saga of the Unknown Signer at the Mandela memorial standing so ominously close to several presidents, including our own.

They know my shock and awe will be amplified by having worked as a sign interpreter for more than fifteen years. Indeed, I’ve been fascinated along with the rest of the world to see the chapters unfold in Thamsanqa Jantjie’s story. First he’s the fake interpreter (you have my interest), then he’s the fake interpreter who’s hearing voices in his head (pulse point), and then, he’s the fake interpreter hearing voices in his head who’s allegedly involved in a violent killing years ago.

Hell, when’s the movie coming out?

Of course, this is all great material for a future “Signs of” mystery book. No doubt my intrepid sign-interpreter-turned-sleuth Merry Holiday could have some dangerous fun with an evil signer—maybe an assassin for hire—who gets near his presidential target by posing as an interpreter in the dais.

Such easy access is not so far-fetched. I used to interpret at Cal State Fullerton and one day back in 1988, President Reagan paid the campus a visit. I was one of two interpreters who signed his presentation—we were this close to The Gipper, just a few yards across a guarded stage, and in the spirit of reasonable accommodation, none of his flanked security gave us a second stare. I know, right? It’s freaking perfect.

A few days later, more links came flying into my email inbox. Turned out that within the wake of the fake interpreter saga, there’d been one shining example of the magic of signing when done right, when done with love.

Five-year-old Claire Koch wanted to surprise her parents, who are deaf, by signing along as she belted out her school’s Christmas concert. Little hands signed the lyrics with gleeful abandon, happy to make a tangible connection with Mom and Dad. (Props, too, for the suddenly confused little boy on her left. Five-year-olds have the best WTF faces evah, I mean seriously.) 

Both the fake-signs dude and the real-deal daughter teach us what writers have known for years: sometimes the most thrilling stories are those that—quick intake of breath—really happened. 

Favorite Quotes:

Writing is telepathy.”
– Stephen King

Serious art is born from serious play.”
– Julia Cameron

Barbara Neal Varma is my favorite author.”
– Mom


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