Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Deafish, Served with a Pinot Gris.

Last night, in disguise as mild mannered cub reporter, I got to attend a cooking class for free. It was high up in a 30th floor penthouse apartment on the West Side. The view was spectacular, as was the food. The teacher, Karen Lee, was a mellow but energetic grandma who marinated and pan-roasted Pompano fish, instructing ten novices chefs on every detail of the process, while giving a side lecture on her five year search for the perfect organic plum tomato.

She had one rule: “wash your hands.” Good to know. I should try it more often. I was put in charge of pouring the white wine, which is a little like having Otis guard a plate of steaks.

But here’s the thing: I was reporting. A reporter has to listen, follow conversation, pick out phrases to remember, gather names and their spelling, and keep an ear out for the snappy quote. With hearing aids: forget it. For me to follow a fast paced conversation between a dozen people with aids…might as well ask Stevie Wonder for a ride to the airport.

With hearing aids, I imagine the article would come out like this:

7:20: wash hands.
7:25: pour wine, drink.
7:30: cut piece of bread, eat it. Someone flips a fish. Why is my apron yellow while everyone else’s is white? Someone's talking to me -- nod.
7:35: drink.
7:40: look at skyline from window. Try to figure out which route Spiderman could take to get to a baby trapped on a fire escape on 86th street.
7:45: is this fish for me? Thank you. Wow, delicious. Drink.
7:50: what’s everyone talking about? I’ll laugh now in a friendly manner.
7:55: that knife has to cost $70 bucks easy. How come they don’t have those ginsu commercials on TV anymore?
8:00: drink.

…and so on. Interesting in its way, but I don’t think my editor would accept it.

Reporting wasn’t all that easy with the implant either. One thing about hearing in only one ear – it’s hard to locate sounds, to figure out who’s talking. Once I’m locked in to the speaker and can read his or her lips, I can get just about everything, until then I'm swivelling around trying to figure out who it is. I think the article ended up good enough though -- which reminds me of something my mother once said: “When I was younger, perfect wasn’t good enough. Now I’m older, good enough is simply perfect.”

Wise woman, my mother. Would have liked the white wine.

AJ and I have noticed that my hearing isn’t as sharp as it was a couple months ago. I think Mapper Lady and I didn’t quite nail the map this time. I went back three times in two weeks to try and get it right, but something is just so slightly off. It may have been the cold I had earlier, or it may be that, without four weekly classes and an office job, I’m not exercising the implant as much and getting as comfortable with the program. But hell, complaining about the fine points of the map is like complaining about the free wine at a free cooking class. It’s good enough.

“I don’t even think of you as deaf anymore” AJ said when I told her about the class and how much I heard.
“What did you say?” I responded.
“Deafish, maybe, would be a better description.”
“No it was Pompano. Very hard to get. From Florida.”

I kid. I heard her fine. We’re upstate now, having been forced to flee our broiling city apartment. Otis aka the crapping machine is outside playing with the big dogs. I want to thank all the people who have written about the Washington Post essay. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Your comments mean so much. Hopefully the essay will lead to more pieces, though at the moment I should be focused on the memoir. Which explains why first thing tomorrow, I will be barrelling around a racetrack at high speeds for a report on a racecar driving school. It’s a hard life.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Dreaded Double Pound

Not content with its weekend visit to the New Jersey Impound Lot, Betsy, my Honda Accord, decided she also wanted to see New York City's Impound Lot. Late Wednesday night she snuck off the driveway of my mechanic Nick and headed out for East New York. Nick called me the next morning:

“Your car is gone,” he said.
“Gone? What do you mean gone?” I responded.
“They came and towed it last night. You must have unpaid tickets.”
“Unpaid tickets?”
“Wow,” said Nick. “Wasn't it just impounded? What a coincidence, huh?”

For once, amazing developments and all, I couldn’t trust my implant – didn’t want to trust it. I called over AJ and had her relay the call from Nick. She confirmed the news.

“You got impounded again,” she said.

Gadzooks! The dreaded double pound! Though that sounds like an unfortunate weight gain or an uncomfortable porn position it is actually much worse. It meant another trip to the DMV, another underwhelming and ineffective performance of the secret technique, another schlep out to some distant impound yard, this one three subway transfers and a fifteen minute walk away, another confrontation with an ill-tempered man in a trailer, demanding exact change. This time I was prepared and brought the exact change, as well as every last piece of paperwork regarding Betsy. I did, of course, forget that Nick had her keys, so I had to do the whole trip twice.

It was a hot day. East New York was squashed out and tired. Barechested men played handball, drank malt liquor from paper bags. The subway station was overrun with weeds, something I don’t think I’ve seen in a subway station before.

Sam texted me as I was on my second trip through: “You should have just left Betsy at the first lot. Relinquished her.”
“Dude,” I wrote back. “So not helpful.”
“You know you could've leased a jeep for a year for what you paid?”
“Ok, why do I even talk to you?”

But Betsy’s parked across the street now, seems to run alright, and I figure she can’t be towed again until Monday at least. And if she is towed? Suffice it to say: I know a guy. Gowanus Canal is just a few blocks away – she’s sleeping wit da fishes.

In case you’re wondering: Who is AJ? My girlfriend. That’s her holding Otis in the previous entry. Sometimes you get lucky, far luckier than you deserve to be. I get to talk to her in the dark.

And what’s my brother, co-implant conspirator, the Sammy been up to? He and Alison are now engaged. He proposed to her with a limo ride treasure hunt through Washington DC, and a ring that runs rings around other rings. That story is here (scroll down a bit).

And speaking of stories…My Washington Post American Idol essay is out. This is the link. Hope you enjoy it. Feel free to send along any comments or questions, or money orders for the Betsy fund.

And please: pay your tickets on time.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Otis and the Secret Technique

Apologies, first off, for not doing a better job updating. I’ve had an extremely busy two months, during which, as always, I explored, broke and/or smacked my head against the limits of implant technology. In addition to that regular business, the world continued its slow roast towards perfect juicy tenderness, the student loan corporation happily reminded me that I will soon get to make my first payment, and I obtained a dog, a pit bull puppy, who is now lying next to me, apparently dreaming of the World Cup.

The world and the loans I can't understand, but Otis I found while riding a bike in Red Hook, Brooklyn. He was filthy, shivering and starved and walked up and sat between my legs. When I explained to him that I have this busy life with all kinds of responsibilities and deadlines, he responded with this look:

Also this one:

A solid argument, I have to say. So I now have a dog. It was good to be reminded that taking oneself and one’s plans to be some wrought-iron road map is the surest way towards forgetting what's best in us and starting a pre-emptive war. Inspired, I tried the Otis argument this morning while trying to get the fee lowered for getting my car out of the Newark Airport Impound Lot. No dice. So I reached deep into my bag of tricks and pulled out the “ay, mon, give a poor deaf brother a break” technique -- a top-secret method passed down through the centuries by lip-read of mouth. It is extremely powerful – so powerful that I cannot describe it without having to kill you (which me reminds me: Jack, we need to talk), but I can say it has only been cleared for use for getting out of speeding tickets, kidnappings and similar events. Try, for example, to get out of doing the dishes with it and you will find yourself in a world of pain.

However, neither method worked at the impound lot. So I passed the morning crisscrossing a barren and sunbaked stretch of the New Jersey swampland at the mercy of a sadistic, chainsmoking Port Authority Cop who really should audition for the Sopranos. Halfway through our transaction, he looked up to say twelve.

“Twelve, what?” I said.
“Twelve. Noon. I’m going to lunch. I’ll be back in an hour.”

Nothing to do then but sit in the sliver of shade next to the guard booth. Airplanes passed a hundred feet overheard. Big trucks bellowed as they downshifted on the highway. I could hear all of this quite well, thank you. Sadistic cop returned and sent me on an one mile walk to a gas station to get exact change.

The moral: keep your registration up to date. Also: bring exact change.

“How bout that?” I told Otis when I arrived home a few hours later. His response was to slowly pass gas and fall asleep in my lap. Another unbeatable answer.

Now then: hearing’s been great. At my last evaluation, back in April, I scored100 percent on random sentences and 82 percent on random words. Those totals are up from 24 and 14 percent respectively, pre-implant. Since then, I’ve had some trouble with a frayed wire which made everything sound gooey and later and had to redo a mapping that had been set while I had a bad cold – why that affected the map strikes me as one of those things no one can explain. Sure, if you’re congested, the fluid in your ears will be a little stopped up and your hearing will change, but the CI bypasses the fluid in your ears.

“It just has that effect,” Mapper Lady said when I asked. “Especially on sensitive types.”
“Alright,” I said. “Wait. Hey.”

Work on my as yet untitled Zambia memoir continues apace. We’re having trouble finding a title that captures the experience of silence and violence in a nice pithy phrase. Some considered and rejected titles include: Silent Chaos; Deaf Man Walking; Guns, Bibles, and Hearing Aids; I went to Africa and all I got as this Lousy Case of Worms; Senselessness; The Big Zambowski; How Opal Mehta Grew up, Got Wise and Went to Africa; The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Not Sure What; and Moby Deaf.

We’re still working on it obviously. Suggestions are encouraged. But the book is coming along and has been wonderful to write. Oprah: if you're interested, Wednesdays are best.

One more thing: this Sunday an essay I wrote about watching American Idol with an implant will be in the Washington Post Magazine. I’ll post a link as soon as it’s up. Hope all is well with you.