Friday, April 14, 2006

The Miracle of the Bush League Palate, Cleansed

Cochbla had an intense auditory challenge this week, as he journeyed, for the first time with an implant, into the maelstrom of overlapping conversation, heated political argument, and eardrum piercing bilingual chanting known as the Passover seder.

It was an auditory orgy, no question about it, and like all orgies it was dangerous, confusing, fueled by excessive amounts of alcohol and littered with matzah crumbs.

“No, not too much alcohol,” disagreed a man we’ll call Jack L. “It’s cleansing to the palate.”
“What’s cleansing to the palate?”
He drained his fifth glass of Slivovitz. “This is,” he said.
“Is your palate cleansed?” I asked.
He opened his mouth wide. “I can see my reflection in my palate.”

Indeed, Jack’s palate was spotless. The palate cleansing operation had gotten off to an early start as it took some seder guests almost as long to drive up the west side highway as it took the Israelites to cross the desert.

But even with the practice time, I was still uncertain about my technique.
“You need to cleanse your palate after a fish course,” explained ma as we started to eat.
“And you need to cleanse your palate after beef,” she added five minutes later.
Jack, observing my confusion, stepped in: “I cleanse my palate after every bite,” he said. “Look, look at my palate.”

Eventually, we all tired of this talk. We moved on to other topics. The Mets won their fifth straight and the eggplant dip was delish. Elsewhere, rivers ran red with blood, locusts ate all the crops crops and hail rained down but Pharaoh resisted. Then ma served a chocolate mousse that destroyed all will.

Sam was there with his lady. We sat across the room from each other buffeted by a sea of noise and communicated the way we had growing up, silently mouthing out words and lipreading each other.

“My lipreading isn’t as strong as it was before the implant,” I said to him.
“Mine too,” he said.
“I just don’t use it as much, and when I do use it, I don’t have to pay as much attention. This mousse is out of sight.”
Sam shook his head. “I’m having trouble getting a new job.”
“Maybe you should ask Jack for advice,” I said.
We turned to Jack. “Bush League!” he yelled.
“What’s Bush League?” Sam asked.
“Name a city, any city.”
“San Francisco?” Sam asked.
Jack slammed his hand on the table. “Bush League!”
Bam! “Bush league!”
“St. Louis?”
Bam! “Bush league!”
“Ok, you’re not making any sense,” I said.
He wagged a finger at my face. “Bush league!”
I turned to Sam. “Maybe ask Jack about work another time,” I suggested.

But oh, the miracle of hearing! The glory of connection! A year ago, five years ago, ten years ago, all these important, meaningful conversations would have been missed. Understanding speech with a hearing aid depends on knowing the context of the conversation – with the context if you miss a word or phrase you can extrapolate the meaning. But at Passover seder, deep into the bottle of Slivovitz, the context might be anything under the sun. A tribe of people hustling through some miracles or through a chocolate mousse, or a bush league west coast city, or the brilliant Met pitcher who loves to flower garden in his spare time. The implant enables Sam and I to keep up with whatever twists and turns words take.

“That’s great,” said Jack. “Now pour me another. My palate’s unclean.”

Monday, April 10, 2006

Regular or extra-crispy?

The cochbla returns. But where did it go?

Back to the land, obviously. Back to the mountains where the sun shines bright, the water runs clear and cold, and the beer is plentiful and just.

Actually, I haven't gone anywhere and am still living in the same apartment in the same NYC neighborhood with the same taciturn Midwesterner, though I owe him two months rent. The real reason the cochbla disappeared: I've been busy -- Henry Holt publishers has contracted cochbla to publish an as yet untitled memoir in the summer of 2007. The memoir will recount the experience of growing up deaf and the experience of being chased by drunken African mobs. What suburban soft-talkers and machete-wielding villagers have in common may not seem obvious at first glance. But there is a common thread -- the perspective of the outsider; a white man in a black world, a deaf man in a hearing world. The book is about what this perspective reveals. It has been an interesting book to write and I hope you read it someday or at least pretend to have read it when you talk to my folks. They'd be hurt otherwise.

Obviously, the years of deafness the memoir covers took place before I received my implant. Cause I hears good now. I'll let you know how good in a week, after I have my six month evaluation. Hard to believe it's been six months. I hear well enough that I don't even think about it anymore. I no longer have to pick and choose social events and possible careers by whether I'll be able to hear at them. I'm free to worry about the regular American worry stuff as much as I would like -- stuff like war, bills, the chimps in power, and this fragile planet slow roasting like a rotisserie chicken. Which is great, because I love chicken.

"See, I'm just like you now," I said to my friend Mark at brunch yesterday.
"You have a magnet stuck to your head," he pointed out.
"Right," I said. "I forgot about that."

I had just helped Mark move into a new apartment in the East Village. The apartment had been paid for by Mark's side business painting watercolors of Batman and Robin consummating their long simmering homoerotic tension.

"I like this neighborhood," said Mark. "Loud mohawked black sheep no hold back downtown artists."
"I'll do what I can to blend in when I visit."
"Again, you have a magnet on your head."
"Will you get off the magnet already?" I said. "Shouldn't you be drawing Batman and Robin having oral sex or something?"
Mark held up a small painting he had finished the night before. "It's not just Batman and Robin," he said. "Sometimes Batman does The Penguin."

Good point. Sometimes he does. One cannot hold back in this day and age. Thus, the cochbla returns.