The Laughter I Could Not Hear

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I delivered my first online lecture this week, using Google Hangouts to talk to about 35 members of Senior University, which is affiliated with Southwestern University in Georgetown. My topic: “The Wit and Wisdom of H.B. Fox, the Circleville Philosopher.” He was the subject of a biography I researched and wrote, which was published in 2018. (Signed copies still available through garyborders.com. Click on “Books.”) Circleville is about 16 miles from Georgetown, so one of the lecture organizers hit me up to participate.

Senior U, as it’s commonly called, provides non-credit classes, travel opportunities and other activities for folks 50 years and older. The dues are very reasonable, as is the tuition for the classes offered.

I traveled to Georgetown in early March to meet with two of the organizers and a couple of other friends for a late lunch or early dinner, depending on one’s eating habits, at El Monumento, located just off downtown along the San Gabriel River. (It’s an offshoot of the beloved Monument Café, just up the street.) We enjoyed margaritas, chips and salsa, and getting to know each other. We talked politics most of the time and only briefly touched on the coronavirus.

As it turned out, that was the next-to-last dining-out meal I had, followed only by breakfast the next morning. It quickly became obvious I wouldn’t be returning in late March for the first of two planned appearances. That one was canceled outright. By mid-April, plans began to offer the summer classes via Zoom or another app. Ultimately, the organizers chose Google Hangouts. I have participated in meetings using Microsoft Teams, Hangouts and Zoom. All operate in much the same manner.

I decided to create a Power Point using a couple dozen photos from the book, mainly provided by Carol Fox, Henry’s daughter. They would serve as a backdrop while I spoke, so the audience would not have to endure 45 minutes of seeing my goofy image on the screen. Since I plan to present at least some of my lectures in this manner for the photography class I am teaching this fall at LeTourneau University, this would be good practice.

The Senior U director had provided the presenters with a practice round the week before. He launched my lecture with a brief introduction. Soon, I was staring at images of 35 or so participants, sitting in their kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms and home offices. All of their microphones were muted, so nobody’s dog was barking while I spoke, and people could cough, sneeze or belch without being heard.

Meanwhile, my fingers were crossed that the UPS or FedEx truck wouldn’t come rumbling around our cul-de-sac. That always sets off an ear-splitting cacophony of barking from Sam and Rosie until the truck is gone up the hill. These are the same knuckleheads who don’t bother to raise their heads when the air-conditioning repairman comes inside to fix a unit. (Luckily, that hasn’t happened this season.) Thankfully, the dogs remained comatose on the couch during the session.

I quickly got my mug off the screen and replaced it with the slide presentation. That’s when it got a bit weird. It felt like I was talking to myself. Normally, when speaking to a group, or a class, I wait for the audience to react to my attempts at humor. Sometimes, especially in a college classroom, I get that 1,000-yard stare that all teachers receive at some point. But once I shared my screen to show the photos, I had no idea if anyone could hear me. I asked, “Can y’all hear me?” The director assured me that I was coming through loud and clear. I plunged ahead, pausing for the laughter — or at least a chuckle or two — that I could not hear.

I finished after about 45 minutes and switched the screen back to my face. Questions were asked via the text-message function. After all had been answered, I said goodbye. The folks sitting in their homes waved and mouthed goodbye.

About two minutes later, a FedEx truck rolled past. The dogs went berserk.

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