Pardon me?

I like to think that I’m observant, but maybe I went through some sort of hiatus a few years ago –a vigilance tunnel- and when I emerged, blinking into the sun, everybody had strings hanging from their ears. In fairness, I suppose it was a gradual thing -even normative behaviour has a break-in period.

The concept of a personal soundscape is as old as earphones, I guess, but those were big and clunky compared to earbuds -delivery trucks instead of sports cars. And they often drew unwanted attention to the head, thus requiring special grooming of which the nerds of the era were incapable. But the ability to dampen your thoughts in music as you walked or ran through life was an unmet need. It seemed the perfect antidote to a reality the young were just discovering. And yet, there was an unvoiced requirement to reject it while swimming in its benefits, so when the less-obtrusive earbud was invented as a compromise niche product, it became the norm. It became the cake they could also eat. The non-drug drug.

It took a while for the middle-agers to accede to the fashion –perhaps because they felt that the bulk of the phone and the length of the cord would spoil the look of their outfits- but eventually they, too, were draped in staidly coloured wires that led to purses and leather briefcases –teenage wannabes without the orange hair.

The community of elders was the last to adopt, as usual. I put that down to their hearing aids and the resulting lack of ear space, however -not to mention the widely known risk of cord entanglement because of their increasing visual issues. But with the advent of special, age-sensitive seating arrangements on most of the city buses, and therefore the opportunity to hand-hold the buds, this problem has largely been overcome. In fact, I’ve noticed more and more of them enjoying what I have come to believe are private podcast services offered by some local churches. I stopped sitting in that section, though, because the hymn leakage was hurting my ears. And I hate humming.

As for me, I’ve never had any particularly Ludditic tendencies, and like my younger contemporaries am now quite at home on a smart phone -although I have to admit I hate Siri and tried, unsuccessfully, to avoid constantly summoning her until my son showed me how to kill her… He described it differently, of course, but whatever! It seemed to reseal my mobile version of Pandora’s box and made me realize I was perfectly willing to listen to my own advice and, by extension, to appreciate what my environment offered for entertainment. Sorry, iTunes.

But in Retirement, I evolved –or at least changed. I’m not sure evolution is even permitted at my age… it’s frowned upon at any rate. Anyway, although I’ve never liked the idea of being imprisoned in a little tailor-made sound envelope, I figured it might come in handy at parties where I don’t know anybody and don’t really know why I was invited. So, on the off chance I might actually be asked to one, I decided to practice earbudding.

That’s when I discovered I had funny-shaped ears. Uhmm, let’s be clear, there’s nothing abnormal to look at. I mean I don’t have to wear a toque over them or anything. They don’t come to a point like Spock’s, nor do they hang down like flags on a windless day. I have no reason to suspect that they are asymmetrical –although my hair usually gets in the way when I try to measure them in the mirror, so I suppose it’s non liquet. I did reassure myself that they’re both about the same height above my shoulders, though, so that was a relief.

No, my ears are both libertines -well, one of them at least: the one that can’t hold an ear-bud. At first I was terribly embarrassed, albeit not particularly inconvenienced. I spent a good deal of time and money experimenting on different models, different sizes, and even different colours – I mean you have to look good in a bud, eh? Nothing worked in that ear, however –not even the luscious purple ones with the little ear-hooks that were supposed to suspend the things in the right area. All one side did was swing like a trapeze, though, sowing its sound like unwanted seeds on anybody close enough to complain.

Then I figured maybe it was cord-drag that was acting like an unwanted weight on the earbuds, so I went cordless. But no, the overly expensive Bluetooth ones were no better. The little thingy that joined the buds and told them what to do kept snagging on my collar for some reason, and whenever I turned my head, they’d both come off. They were never adequately anchored in my ears anyway, and I lost my last pair in the rain on the way to the bus stop.

Maybe some ears are just not designed for earbuds –a sobering thought, to be sure, and one with undoubted fashion consequences if I ever wanted to fit in… Which, of course, I don’t. What’s retirement for anyway, if it doesn’t allow you a polite escape from the permutations and combinations of realpolitik? Or at least, the office.

I briefly reconsidered earphones, but on sober reflection, I realized they might further stigmatize me at the parties to which I never get invited. And besides, they make it difficult to find a hat that would still look good if I decided to take them off… Not that you can wear a hat at a party, or anything, but I occasionally get invited to weddings or funerals -the sort of event where you’re expected to sign a book to show you attended and indicate whether or not you brought gifts or flowers. You have to attend those.

So, I’ve decided to remain ear-naked, and rely on hair to cover the defect. I’ll go back to imagination like the old days -and maybe birdsong, if it’s available. We all have to adapt, eh?

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