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.”


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