Lend me your ears

I think the time has come to be honest -at least with myself. The time has arrived to face up to Age and its inevitable unfashionable accoutrements. I don’t know why I thought I would be immune to the ravages of senescence. How could the ears I’ve known pretty well all my life, forsake me now when I really need them? I mean, apart from a few strands of hair, and a bit of wax, they look just like new.

But I suppose the all-too recent Covid masks were the final straws: they finally obscured my usual back-up. Mind you, even in good times, until I got my cataracts fixed, lips were a bit blurry, and if a lot of them were moving in a busy room, the sound was fuzzy as well. Fortunately, in my usual restaurants, I learned to concentrate on the food on my plate and pretend I didn’t hear anybody asking for ketchup.

Still, you can get away with that kind of stuff for only so long; you can recognize their pity by the kind of smile people use when they look at you. Their eyes tell you a lot, too, especially if they twinkle when they look at the person sitting beside them; rolling is even worse. I may have difficulty hearing words, but I’m pretty good at hearing eyes when they roll across the table. Anyway, I digress.

What lured me into the sacrosanct world of the impaired, was the courage of a friend of mine. Joel fancies himself as the avant-garde member of the group of guys who meet at the Food Court each Wednesday. We are all in or above our seventies, and have evolved coping mechanisms over the years while we carry on with increasingly loudspeakered conversations when we meet. None of us, of course, accepts that things have changed… except for Joel. One day, he arrived sporting a lump under one arm of his glasses with a wire leading from it into his ear; we were shocked into silence. All except Theo -he wolf-whistled.

“Pretty well-disguised, eh?” Joel said, smiling and turning his head so we could all see what he was wearing. Then he scowled at Theo. “Whistling distorts the sound, you know…”

Theo shrugged, and the rest of them simply rolled their eyes and continued speaking as loudly as usual. Joel reached up to adjust something in the nodule leading to his ear, and then sighed at our insensitivity.

“Why’d you decide to get it Joel?” I asked him, once the group’s attention had wandered away.

He shrugged. “My wife insisted,” He blinked as he realized I was leaning forward to hear him over the increasingly loud voices at the table. “Maybe you should get one as well.”

I was encouraged by Joel daring to wear his new hearing aids to the Food Court, and I must admit I was intrigued with the idea of using a new form of portable technology. But, rather than admitting it, I thought maybe I’d look into it first and surprise the group -Joel in particular.

I decided I would ask a man I’d met a few days before sorting vegetables in his little grocery store in my neighbourhood. I’d first suspected he was hearing impaired because I could hear him shouting at the potatoes (he talks to them as he sorts them into little piles). I walked over and smiled, hoping he might have some tips about where to buy hearing aids.

He stopped fingering the potatoes, and looked at me until his memory kicked in. “G, ISN’T IT?” he shouted, as recognition of our recent meeting crept into his head.

I nodded pleasantly and pointed to some wires festooning his right ear.


I nodded again.

“I ONLY TURN IT ON WHEN I HAVE TO,” he explained, as he sent his eyes over to check my face. “THE BATTERIES ONLY LAST SO LONG, YOU KNOW. I SAVE THEM FOR WHEN I REALLY NEED ‘EM.”

I tried to look as if this was one of those times.

It took him a few seconds to balance the request with the need before he finally reached up and did something to the lump glowering behind his ear, frowning all the while at the expense.

“Did you have a question about the potatoes, or something?” he said in a still too loud a voice, and fiddled with one of the wires again.

I realized at once that I should have asked Joel for a hearing clinic recommendation, but I’d wanted to surprise him. “Uhmm, not the potatoes, Bill,” I said as his name suddenly surfaced in my internal files. “I wanted to ask where you’d got your hearing aid.”

Bill looked pleased that he was finally a source rather than an unasked question. “Got it at Costco, I think… Wife took me there after she got tired of shouting at me.”

I could relate to her decision.

“That was quite a few years ago, though…” He thought about it for a moment. “I hear they’ve got newer, smaller models out now. Don’t use as many batteries…”

Interesting use of his word ‘hear’ I thought, but I decided not to say anything.

“Not as many wires, either,” he continued. “And they’ve camouflaged and shrunk the gears so it doesn’t look like a cancerous growth… This baby weighs a ton, and my wife usually has to massage my neck after having her friends over for dinner.” He suddenly smiled and reached into his pocket for some paper. “The clinic’s at Costco,” he said. “It’s called Costco. Want me to write it down for you?”

I assured him I could remember it, so he reached up, turned his growth off again, and started feeling the romaine lettuces this time. “MUST BE A BLOODY POOR CROP THIS YEAR,” he said, squeezing a few of them to show me.

I shrugged and slipped away as he announced he’d found a good one at the back of the pile. “CUTE LITTLE BUGGER, EH?” he said, holding it up like a fish he’d caught.

I decided to ask Joel after all -he seemed to be wearing one of the newer models. “Are your batteries rechargeable?” I asked, the next time I saw him. I was thinking of Bill.

“Well, these aren’t,” he said, pointing at his ear, “But I think there are some types of hearing aids which you plug in each night while you sleep. Anyway, Sheila buys the batteries for me and carries extra in her purse… I think she wants to make sure I have enough so I can hear the conversation when we have dinner with her friends.” He seemed embarrassed at his wordy explanation, so he picked up his coffee and had a few sips in rapid succession.

“Sheila says her friends can hardly see it,” he added apologetically, even more embarrassed now.

“Neither can I,” I lied. “And I’m thinking of getting a set for myself… If I could hear what others are saying, it might keep me from talking all the time…”

He smiled and nodded -but carefully, and not vigorously enough to make me think he agreed that I talked too much… or maybe movement dislodged the device. You have to be careful with things like that at our age.

“My ex once said that if arguments were energy, we’d be able to power the house for a month,” I blurted for no reason. “We were always at each other’s throats.” I buried my eyes in the table and had a little bite of my bagel; I was embarrassed I’d let that slip.

He twinkled his eyes at me. “I think Sheila was worried about her throat too when she made me get my device…”

I risked a quick glance at his face.

But he was smiling at the implied commonality. “She used to get hoarse yelling at me… No physical stuff though,” he hastened to explain. “She could always beat me at arm wrestling…”


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