Thursday, December 29, 2005

Some things to be thankful for

Whole Foods desserts. The sound of a bus accelerating. The predictable complaints of the Daily News front page. The strong wind that arrives ten seconds before the subway. Black olives, not too salty. The man at the Times Square station dancing the tango with a doll. White chocolate macadamia cookies.

The first breath of cold air in the morning. The shyness of winter sunlight. Clementines. Clean laundry. The goofy silence after an awful joke. A stranger holding a door. The click of nails on a keyboard. Seltzer. A tree. An old man at a crosswalk, leaning over to scratch his dog’s ear. The metallic blue of the Hudson river. The flood of memories from touching a scar. A friendly, talkative woman on the 4 train.

Turn signals. Bird shit. Wood floors. Rain, turning into snow as evening falls. The light of a small lamp, viewed through a window at night. Please stand clear of the closing doors please. A book so good you can’t read it. Children laughing. Children sleeping. The squeak of sneakers on a basketball court. The whump of a slammed car door. The realization there's only children. A green awning.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Oh God, Help us, help us!

Notes from a conversation with my brother while watching the latest Bush press conference on CSPAN

Josh: This is like a kid trying to speak adult.
Zev: This is like an infant trying to speak Chinese.
Josh: This is like a dog sitting in the driver’s seat, trying to drive a car.
Zev: This is like a dog sitting at the kitchen table, trying to sail a boat.
Josh: (pause) How does a dog at a kitchen table sail a boat?
Zev: Carefully.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Goodness

Greetings, my partners in the great American crime. The votes are in, the doves have been shot (by the veep, natch), big brother’s got a camera in the bedroom, a drill in the arctic, and a hand in your grandson’s pocket. Pay up, young-un! Freedom ain’t free. Fear not though, the rapture will be here any day. That’s the news. Ok, enough of the news.

Last week I had the three-month evaluation of my implant. And lest you think that I exaggerate my auditory progress, check it: on random word recognition (that is my ability to correctly repeat random words said by a gentle male voice on a cd) I went from 14 percent pre-surgery with hearing aids to 60 percent. On random sentences (which are easier because you have more context) I went from 24 percent to 100. Perfect score-ola. My audiologist, Angelina Cleopatra Hepburn-Monroe, was duly impressed. When we tested the lowest sound at which I could discern speech, I tested at 15 decibels. Zero to 20 decibels is considered within normal range.

“Wait you mean I’m normal?” I said to Ms. Hepburn-Monroe (not her real name).
She shook her head. “I wouldn’t say that.”

Regardless, this improvement called for celebration. Confused shmoe that I am (I’d blame my upbringing, cept that excuse expired), I celebrated by getting knee surgery. But what was supposed to be a simple procedure turned out to be not so simple. I’m on crutches until the middle of next month. Ma picked me up from the hospital and brought me to the family headquarters for the weekend, where I continued my auditory celebration by telling my parents to bring me things from the refrigerator.

“Ice,” I called to my dad, who was in the kitchen, twenty-five feet away, around a stairway.
“Ice,” he said.
“And a cucumber.”
“Cucumber. Anything else?”
“Is there any more of that barley soup?”
“Soup,” he said, from the kitchen. “You know, in all my years, I’ve never once had a conversation with you from another room. This is amazing.”
“It is, isn’t it?” I called back. “Make sure to put the soup in the microwave.”
“Get a wife,” said ma.
“Hey!” I exclaimed. “Ma! I’m in pain here.”

It was amazing – dad and I really were talking from a room away. And the soup -- delicious, especially after I sent dad back for salt. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it now, and probably say it again because this is a limited focus blog – this implant is good, good stuff. I’m back to talking on the phone, better than I ever have; I can eavesdrop on conversations; I watched a movie without captions and could understand. If you are out there with a hearing loss and wrestling with yourself – "should I get an implant? Should I let them do this irreversible surgery, drilling a hole in my head and giving me a bionic ear?" all I can say is yes. Yes, Foxy! Detonate your mind, baby!

Then: bring on the soft-talkers! Mumble, young man, mumble!

After the evaluation, back at the NYU cochlear implant center, Ms. Hepburn-Monroe remapped my implant. I had been having trouble discerning L’s R’s and W’s, so she tapped a couple keys on her keyboard and viola, I could hear them. She also gave me some new programs – one is a higher refresh rate, a completely different sound, sharper and more chaotic at the same time. Now that I can hear, we’re finetuning the implant programming: over my right ear are now four subtly different versions of the world to play with.

I came home and lo and behold – I could understand Carl perfectly.

“I can hear you,” I gasped.
“Very good,” he said.
“I have captured the holy grail! They said it was impossible! No! They said it couldn’t be done!”
Carl nodded. “They who? What are you talking about?”

Who? What?...Ahh, details. I’m on painkillers for my knee, comerados -- the good kind, the ones that transform your body into a warm stuffed animal, full of love and forgiveness, incapable of taking a crap – I can’t remember details. But I do remember beauty. Do you remember? Don’t forget it! With each moment you must remember it! They may take your ears, your looks, your money and houses, they may fry your tissue with lasers and poison it with its cure, they may give you a sentence while never accusing you of a crime – but the beauty remains. The trees, the smiles, the snow on top of a Colorado mountain, the dumb dog barking on the couch -- your deep, deep beauty.

Thank you for that.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The ride of your life

Brahs, how can you hear all this and not break down in tears? I’m sitting on a bus now, squeezed in between two enormous men with profound hygienic challenges, and I can make out a hundred different sounds. A paper rustling, a door opening, a zipper zipping, an engine growling, two boys playing with something that beeps. The woman across from me coughs in her hand and, when she reaches into her pocket for a tissue, crumples something in there. Outside, the engines of a dozen cars gasp when the light turns green. The world comes more and more into focus and as it does every sound says: just this, my friend. Just this, just this – but look how much it is! Everything you sought is here! And just now the air brakes were calling your name!

What could be missing? Nothing is missing. Go son -- get on the bus! Love is the destination – Love is the journey!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

I knows you been down, Foxy Brown

Hey y'all where you been? I been looking all over for you. Lead me on and leave me hanging…not cool.

Aight, where to start? More than a month since I checked in last. I’m going to refrain from commenting on the state of our national affairs since that time, or on the state of the Knicks (6-13, come on, get it together!), or on the marriages, separations, and other goings-on of our supercelebs. Except for one: Foxy Brown. Ever heard the name? She’s a rap star and over the last year she has suddenly and inexplicably gone completely deaf. Understandably, she is scared and worried that her career is over. She can’t hear Jay-Z when he calls! She’s also, no lie, on trial for beating up a manicurist. Poor thing! To Foxy then, I dedicate (in my very deepest voice) the following message:

“Foxy, welcome to the silence. It is your friend! It has been here all along. It is always on your side. This world is noisy and the noise can convince you that silence is your enemy, but it is not. Use this quiet time to get know yourself. Ask yourself: what makes Foxy Foxy? Is it noise? Does noise make Foxy? Do clothes make Foxy? Or is it something else? Then, after the appropriate time, get an implant. Because let me tell you, these things work.

“How well do they work, Ms. Brown? Let me say that in all honesty, I am now thinking of taking singing lessons myself. Not that I could ever dream to match your vocal stylings, lyrics such as: ‘They say I'm stoosh cause I cover my bush/ In that Dolce Gabbana, I'm a hot little mama’ – that’s out of my league, but with this implant, I’m hearing shadings in voices that I could never hear before. I’ve always sung to myself in the shower and while stuck in traffic, but only now have I started pick up differences in tone and pitch. Only now can I consistently pick out song beats. It’s delicious, hearing all these accents and inflections. But I got a voice only a mother can love, so I am going to take singing lessons.

“It’s wild, Foxy. It’s stoosh. What you lost, you can get back. P.S. love the name of your album.“

This is all true. I hear so much better than ever before that it’s kind of disconcerting. The steady compromises and creeping isolation I’ve been dealing with these last five years – that’s history. I always wanted, for example, to do some journalism work, but figured people wouldn’t like being misquoted sixteen times an article: I now feel like I can easily cut that in half. There are so many other new possibilities too. It’s an exciting feeling to discover the future is twice as large as you pictured. The world is wide – let’s go!

Except not to a classical music concert. I ain’t going to those. Last week (or the week before, time’s all mushed when you slog on your blog) I went to a performance of a piano concerto composed by my roommate Carl. It was an emotional performance in a small and beautiful museum on the Upper West Side, but it sounded to me like a badly tuned funk synthesizer. Like electronic frogs croaking on the bank of a white noise river while electronic geese cawed overhead and electronic tugboats blew their foghorns bringing forth cheering electronic women from the riverfront bars -- that’s a metaphor, eh? It’s just not good listening. So ixnay on the classical music. It appears at this time to have too much decibel range for the implant to understand. But you and I can’t sing that stuff anyway, Foxy, so it’s cool.

What else? In this last month, I have, for the first time, experienced talking to people while sitting in the dark and talking to people while not looking at their faces. There are friends whose voices I have never heard well in all the years I’ve known them, who I now hear with a clarity that is frankly ridiculous. Except for Carl, he’s a tough one with his droll delivery and clipped quick Minnesota accent.

“You’re my holy grail, Carl,” I said. “When I hear you, I’ll know I’ve made it.”
“That’s right,” he said. “You’ve got to earn it.”

Even Sam sees the difference, he’s already having thoughts of going bilateral – that is, getting an implant on his other ear, so he’ll be doubly plugged into the matrix. I’m not there yet – as I sit here and write this, I have my implant off and I’m enjoying the blessed, soothing silence. It’s good stuff. Don’t take it for granted Foxy! Call me.