Archive for February, 2023

What did you say?

Three years ago, I visited the local Ojai audiologist because Jackie said I should.

To get my attention and gain my acceptance, she smiled sweetly, rose to her full five-foot height and said, “It’s enough already. I can’t stand repeating myself. It’s annoying. You need hearing aids. Go see that guy across the street of the hospital.”

I said I would and then conveniently forgot about it.

Jackie has many wonderful qualities, including putting up with me. But, like an elephant, a really big elephant, she never forgets. She also works quickly, completing tasks well ahead of schedule. For example, she takes the garbage cans out to the street nearly two days before their collection, in probable violation of the Andrew Street beautification rules.

In a gentle way, she quizzes me about tasks that have been assigned to me, knowing full well that I have not done them. So, after several nudges over a two-week period, I succumbed to her suggestion and made a date with the ear guy.

I felt confident that my problem was not physical. It was surely, I thought, simply due to my inattention when being spoken to. Just a case of establishing priorities when doing my thing.

The audiologist was nice enough and I was mildly cooperative. I took the press the button when you hear the beep test, confident that my hearing was normal. No old guy hearing aids for me. So, I was shocked when he said, “your high-end hearing is for shit. You need hearing aids, the bigger the better. The expensive ones, not the crap they sell at Costco.”

He sealed the deal by saying, “Now you can tell your wife that you don’t ignore her when she talks to you. It’s simply a case of high-end hearing loss. All’s forgiven.”

Three more years passed. I became an intermittent hearing aid user. I would often forget them and was grilled by Jackie about their absence whenever she felt she had reached her limit of repeating things like, “What time is it.” Or, “There’s a nuclear event scheduled at 4pm, what would you like for dinner?”

My hearing loss became more pronounced and my excuses for not wearing them more pathetic. I realized that I was missing what everyone in the free world was saying, including the real possibility of a nuclear event.

 I didn’t understand that my hearing would, like most of my other body parts, suffer the incessant ravages of old age and become a candidate for significant medical intervention.

There was a new audiologist in the neighborhood with a growing reputation for being pleasant, taking Medicare insurance, and occasionally improving one’s hearing. Pleasantness was the deal maker. I made an appointment.

I arrived at Dr. Nelson’s office 15 minutes early and, unlike most other medical professionals, found him ready to begin our adventure ahead of schedule. Good sign.

I have never had the pleasure of viewing San Quentin’s gas chamber, but the hearing test cubicle seemed to fit my imagined description. Three solid walls and a fourth with a glass panel, much like one that would allow the viewing of the execution by prison officials, reporters, and the public. A heavy thick door muted incoming sounds, much like those that might emanate from the condemned soul.

Examining the contents of my ear canals, Dr. Nelson discovered a motherlode of wax and discarded auto parts in my left one. Using a probe like the one employed by Humphrey Bogart while digging for gold in the 1948 film, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the doctor extricated the baseball sized debris and displayed it to my eternal wonderment.

In contrast to the single test of three years ago, I was the beneficiary of a battery of them. One involved creating a vacuum in the ear canal accompanied by thumping sounds like Boris Karloff might make chasing people in The Mummy. Another had me repeat words that people like me often mistake for something else. Like bear and beer.

The press the button when you hear the beep test was, like three years ago, the highlight of the morning. Consisting of listening to tones played at varying volumes and pitches, I press the beeper to acknowledge my recognition of them. Missing one indicates the loss of a part of the hearing spectrum, and a candidate for hearing aids.

I tend to cheat when taking the test by pressing the beeper when there really is no sound. Sort of like memorizing an eye chart and pretending I can see. The beep equipment is diabolical enough to thwart these attempts, and the psychology of cheating seems to fly in the face of the purpose of the test. It’s a tool to help me hear better, not to gain admission to Harvard.

We finished the tests and adjourned to Dr. Nelson’s office where we looked at graphs and charts, fiddled with the keyboard, and explained things to me that I promptly forgot or maybe never absorbed in the first place.

In conclusion, I simply needed to turn up the volume on my hearing aids and make a few voodoo adjustments that are known only to a practicing Haitian princess.

And then we entered the magic code, inserted the devices, and tested my hearing. The first attempt produced sounds akin to being inside a half-filled bag of Lays Potato Chips, extra crispy. Fiddling with it produced a sound like being sheathed in two yards of holiday gift-wrap cellophane. Dr. Nelson was patient. Probably learned by having a practice that is largely to devoted to Medicare recipients and other similarly inclined complainers.

He suggested that I take my devices home and try them out. We both agreed that my brain probably needed some adjustments, and all would be well when I got used to my new ears, hopefully before being admitted to hospice care.

I made my way to the parking lot and seated myself in its once friendly confines. The sound of the car door closing was my first clue that this would be a challenge. A large, booming noise rattled me, and I was reminded of an F-16 jet breaking the sound barrier.

I arrive home. Our garage door is made of eight 20-foot-wide aluminum panels. When they roll up or down, they used to make a slight tinny sound. Not anymore. More like the shootout at the OK corral.

Entering the house, I drop my keys on the granite countertop and I hear glass breaking.

My iPhone rings, connected to the hearing aids via blue tooth. A shock courses through my body. I’m sure I’ve touched an overhead power line.

Jackie comes home and deposits a large, stiff brown paper bag on the floor and unloads the contents on the counter.  Breaking glass again and again.

Removing stuff from the countertop she drops a stainless-steel salad fork on the hardwood floor.  A combination of shock and breaking glass.

Enough is enough. I remove the hearing aids and my body relaxes from the military pose that I’ve been in since leaving Dr. Nelson’s office.

Bedtime and I sleep restlessly, thinking I won’t get to see him before our San Diego trip. I’m sure he’s booked, and I’m stuck with these clarion call hearing aids for a week. Or I can take them off and annoy people by asking what did you say? for a week.

Finally, it’s morning. I call. He can squeeze me in. I arrive. He fiddles. I’m happy.

And more importantly, so is Jackie.

I need to pee

My friend Ralph moved to Santa Barbara about a year ago when the attraction of a senior living facility finally outweighed the charms of Ojai.

In Ojai, Ralph lived near Vons, about a five-minute drive for me. Before his Santa Barbara departure we often met at his home around 5:30 for drinks and lively conversation. Ralph made an excellent martini. Glasses chilled in the freezer, respectable gin, a whisper of vermouth, and two or three olives depending on their size impaled on a toothpick made specially for the task. He was a master at mixing just the right drink proportions including the ice cubes that chilled the ubiquitous stainless-steel container that cradled the solution.

I often stood next to him in his kitchen where he deftly shook the container until the drink was at its proper temperature, avoiding excessive ice melt that could overwhelm the drink if mixed by someone less experienced. He poured the liquid slowly without any trembling. He carefully measured the pour so that we each had precisely half of what had been prepared. Occasionally, I received a tiny bit more than half while Ralph, like a proper host, never had more than I did.

Sitting on his couch while Ralph occupied a matching easy chair, we mostly talked politics, movies, and the latest absurdities imposed by the City Council on its citizens. We spoke slowly while savoring the occasional sips we took when there was a break in the conversation. I tended to drink more quickly than Ralph did, and I made a special effort to keep from getting too far ahead. It took about thirty minutes to consume the drink, nibble on the olives and run out of things to talk about. A bit light-headed, we always had dinner while allowing my alcohol level to decrease to where I hoped it did not exceed the legal limit.

Things changed with Ralph’s move to Santa Barbara. The five-minute in-town ride became, on a good traffic day, an hour’s freeway race. My declining night vision made it impossible to make the drive at night, so lunch visits became the norm. While I love Ralph’s company, I felt like I was on the clock, checking to make sure that I got back on the road before Santa Barbara’s rush hour that usually began at two and didn’t end before midnight.

To maintain this schedule, I would leave Ojai at 10:30, begin lunch with Ralph at 12:30, and get back in my car at two. Martinis fell by the wayside. Drinking one around noon seemed obscene. Even if I could stomach it, my alcohol level would make me a prime target for the Highway Patrol, I’d fail the breathalyzer test, be unable to walk a straight line, and spend my remaining years in solitary at San Quentin.

Adding to my misery is Highway 101 between Ventura and Santa Barbara which has been under repair or adding more lanes since well before the last ice age. Few projects have lasted as long, with the possible exception of the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona which has been under construction since 1883.

Even the Great Wall of China still struggles to keep pace with the 101-highway project. Begun in 217 BC, the wall stretched over four thousand miles and endured three major renovations. Although largely abandoned, it is still under continuing maintenance.  There’s even speculation that some unlucky workers were entombed in the wall…as possible punishment imposed by travelers like me who were late to lunch with friends.

Most of us hardy travelers have acclimated to what seems like a highway project without end. Expectations of up to 75 minutes to traverse the gauntlet of dozers, articulated trucks, asphalt pavers, boom lifts, and backhoes was the norm…until last Wednesday.

Half-way through the odyssey, traffic ground to halt. Probably a fender-bender I thought. After due consideration the skies parted, and we began to move. Hope that’s the big one for today, I wished. But it was just the beginning.

When we did move, it was at an intergalactic pace averaging five miles an hour. At that speed, and with nothing better to do, I calculated an arrival time at Ralph’s of 2pm, just in time to pee and hop back in the car for the trip home.

Peeing became a focal point and I wondered about my bladder’s ability to outlast the remainder of the trip. Never one to unnecessarily test my bladder control proficiency, I began to think of ways that I might get some relief when the time demanded it. The more I thought about it, the tighter my bladder became. My brain was in control and it began the inescapable signaling of the need for relief.

Exiting the freeway to find a friendly urinal was not an option. Like my bladder, those roads were filled with cars whose unlucky owners were there for the duration.

I thought, wouldn’t it have been nice if I’d kept a plastic water bottle in the car like Jackie had suggested. Not for peeing, but for drinking. I could have opened the window, dumped the useless drinking water, and filled the empty bottle with the despised urine. I visualized inventing a new yoga pose to accomplish such a transfer.

Another option was to stop the car on the shoulder to relieve myself. This would involve walking around the front of the car, moving to the passenger side, and sort of angling my body back towards the front. This would prevent people behind me from seeing my frontal performance, leaving such a delight to several dozen construction workers including some burly women who would surely pummel me if the concrete buttress didn’t stop them.

Trying to pee after staunching the flow for too long is often a time-consuming affair, giving lots of onlookers the opportunity to view the show. At least with my gray hair and wrinkles, they could always write off the act by saying it was just some old guy who couldn’t hold it any longer, bless his heart.

I was excited each time the traffic moved. Maybe this was the end of the beginning. I thought, you’ve waited a long time but just hold on a bit longer. This nightmare is sure to end.

And it did. Two and a half hours after I began, I pulled up to the curb outside Ralph’s condo. He had promised me a vacant parking space, but that was long ago. There were none. Instead, I drove five hundred feet and parked the car on an adjoining street. I sat for what seemed like an eternity wondering if I could stand up and walk to Ralph’s before the heavens opened and my pants revealed the unthinkable.

I willed my brain to think “empty”. I rose from my seat, closed the door, and began the march to my coveted destination…slowly like Alec Guinness did in The Bridge Over the River Kwai. I made it to Ralph’s, pushed aside his welcoming hand, nearly tore the screen door off its hinges and raced to the guest bath.

Relieved, I ate lunch while silently visualizing what the return trip might look like. We finished and I gave Ralph a hug, filled all my pockets with his thick four ply Kleenex and began my way home.

The gods were kind, there was minimal traffic, and I got home in less than an hour…without a pee break.