No More, ‘What’s That You Say?’

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There is no advantage to getting older. You don’t get smarter, you don’t get wiser, you don’t get more mellow, you don’t get more kindly; nothing good happens. Your back hurts, you get more indigestion, your eyesight isn’t as good, you need a hearing aid. It’s a bad business getting old, and I would advise you not to do it if you can avoid it. It doesn’t have a romantic quality.

— Woody Allen

I take issue with some of Woody Allen’s assertions above. There are advantages to getting older, such as the senior discount at the movie theater, and 50-cent coffee at McDonald’s. Law enforcement officers often give you a pass if pulled over for a traffic violation. My streak of warnings without an actual citation is now at five. I just smile feebly, apologize for going 62 mph in a 55 zone. (That was the last stop, around Christmas. Seriously?) Once the officer has determined I am warrant-free, he lets me go with a warning. I’m not trying to push my luck here, just tend to not pay attention when the limit drops as one approaches a small town in Texas. Of course, that lack of attention could be a sign of aging as well.

As for my eyesight, it has always been poor and doesn’t seem to have gotten worse as the deadline to file for Medicare approaches. Indigestion? Nah. I have a cast-iron stomach. And my back is just fine, thank you. But there is one pesky issue Allen mentioned that has arrived like an unwanted house guest. Over the Christmas holidays, after several years of resisting the entreaties of my Beautiful Mystery Companion, I drove 250 miles to South Austin to have my hearing checked. I undertook this epic voyage because the audiologist at the clinic there is a close friend and college roommate of my two older daughters. I felt more comfortable entrusting my auditory future to someone I knew, convinced all the while I didn’t really need hearing aids. She would give me an “A,” or at worst a “B+” on my hearing test. My BMC, who made the trip as well, and I could celebrate with enchiladas and margaritas at Güero’s.

Working in the LeTourneau University library two evening shifts a week convinced me to take the hearing test. I noticed last semester I was constantly having to ask whispering students to repeat themselves, and to speak up while they were at it. I feared I was beginning to resemble some cranky old guy going, “Eh! What’s that you say?” The nadir of my library hard-of-hearing experiences came when a student asked me to hold back a loaf of bread for another student. We get a weekly cartload of day-old bread, which is quickly grabbed by broke, hungry college students. I duly put the loaf in reserves, back with the interlibrary loan books. A few hours later, two young women came in. I thought they said, “We’re here for the bread,” so I congenially provided the loaf. They took it and sat down in front of a computer close by. I noticed they kept giggling and looking at me. Eventually they returned with the loaf of bread.

“Why did you give this to us?” one asked. “I thought you said you were here for the loaf of bread,” I replied. They started laughing, albeit politely. I don’t recall their reply, other than what they had originally said to me had nothing to do with bread, or anything that remotely sounds like bread. I was pleased, somewhat, to have provided some geezer entertainment that evening.

Long story short, I miserably failed the hearing test, despite my best efforts to cheat by guessing that I heard a high-pitched sound that wasn’t actually present. A few weeks later, I was fitted with a pair of high-tech hearing aids that are barely visible, save for the fishing-line filament snaking into my ears. One cool benefit – and for more than four grand, uncovered by health insurance, it’s the least one should expect – is the Bluetooth capability. When the iPhone buzzes, I answer by punching a button on the phone, and the person calling is, literally, inside my head. Same goes with playing music on Spotify. High-tech stuff.

I returned to the library earlier this week, eager to learn if I could actually hear those whispering students asking if we have a certain book.

Not once have I had to say, “I’m sorry. Could you repeat that?”

And nobody has asked for a loaf of bread, either. I’m certain of that.

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