Lend Me an Ear (or Two)
Closed captioning is fast becoming my best friend
Here’s one of my favorite jokes: A guy goes to his doctor and tells him, “Doc, my wife’s losing her hearing. What should I do?”
“First you need to determine how bad the problem is,” the doctor tells him. “When you get home, speak to her in a normal voice from behind her back and several feet away. If she doesn’t respond, get closer and try again. Keep it up and see how close you have to get for her to hear you.”
When the guy gets home he sees his wife cooking dinner with her back to him. He asks “What’s for dinner, dear?” but his wife doesn’t respond. He takes a few steps closer and asks again, “What’s for dinner?” But there is still no response. He walks up right behind her and speaks loudly in her ear, “What’s for dinner?”
His wife suddenly turns around and shouts in his face, “For the third time…chicken!”
I have to be honest; I am starting to live that joke. Maybe it’s payback for playing in a rock band when I was younger, or perhaps it’s from sitting without earplugs in the second row at that early 70s Moody Blues concert. Most likely it’s from forty years in live television, having a tiny but powerful speaker stuffed into my right ear so I could hear instructions from my producer. Whatever the case, as someone who has spent his life as a communicator, it’s ironic that I seem to be losing the ability to hear other’s attempts to communicate with me.
It wasn’t that long ago when my wife could shout something to me from upstairs and I would hear the message loud and clear. Nowadays, the conversation goes something more like this:
Wife (yelling from upstairs): “Nick, could you (unintelligible) for me, please?”
Me: (yelling from downstairs) “What?”
Wife: “I need you to (unintelligible) for me, okay?”
Me: (walking up the stairs) “What?”
Wife: “If you could (unintelligible) I would appreciate it.”
Me: (reaching the top of the stairs) “What?”
Wife: (Now completely audible) “When you come up, please bring the laundry basket with you, okay?”
Me: (walking back down the stairs to get the laundry basket) “Okay.”
Wife: (just as I reach the foot of the stairs) “Oh, and would you also bring (unintelligible) with you when you come back up?”
Me: (walking back up the stairs) “What?”
My communication problems are not limited to family. I confess that on frequent occasions when a friend or neighbor shouts a greeting to me across a room or from the other side of the street, I simply smile, wave, and say “Great!” in the hope that they might have said something like “How’s it going, Nick?” or “Good to see you!” I shudder to think about the possibility that what they might have actually said was something like “We have to move away so we’re not going to be your neighbors anymore,” or “My beloved dog just died.”
I know my hearing loss upsets my children. Whenever we visit them and sit down to watch TV, I always ask, “Can we turn on the closed captioning?” They try to make light of it, but I know that having a significant portion of their video screen blocked by a box of distracting words is something they could do without. But I guess they figure it’s better than having their dad ask them every two minutes, “What did he say?”
I know the problem isn’t just with my ears. Part of it is simply timing. Here’s what I mean: it always seems like someone wants to say something important to me at the exact moment a competing noise flairs up. For example, when I am making a hazelnut latte with my home espresso machine, my wife waits until the exact moment I turn on the milk frother to begin talking to me from the next room. At work, the moment the floor director shouts a forceful “Standby-Nick on camera nine!” is the exact same moment the show producer tries to give me a critical piece of information through my earpiece. I know the producer hates it when I have to ask her to repeat her instructions, but just because I have two ears doesn’t mean I can comprehend two competing messages.
Sometimes I appear to be deaf when I really am not. For example, once I was conducting a live on-air interview with someone via Skype when my producer broke into the conversation over my earpiece with some detailed instructions about where we were headed in the broadcast. Even though she kept the instructions short, I missed an important portion of what the interview guest was saying. The result looked to viewers at home like I wasn’t listening.
For example, here’s what I heard:
Guest: “The heavy rain has created a lot of flooding, so much that …”
Producer: (suddenly in my ear) “Nick, after this, go to the wall with your maps and then pitch to commercial.”
Guest: (back in my ear again) “ …but we hope things will be back to normal in a few hours.”
Me: (To the guest) “So have any roads been closed due to high water?”
Guest: “Uh…yes. Like I just told you, “The heavy rain has created a lot of flooding, so much that we have closed potions of highways 48 and 173, but we hope things will be back to normal in a few hours. Do you need me to repeat it again?”
I only hope my wife and I don’t end up like my grandmother and grandfather. I remember visiting them at their retirement center years ago when they would sit in their rocking chairs across from me, both talking at the same time and both unable to hear what the other was saying. Instead of one three-way conversation, we carried on two simultaneous two-way conversations, often entirely unrelated to one another. It was a task to keep up with them.
Grandmother: “How are you doing in school?”
Me: “School is going well, Grandma.”
Grandfather: “It’s almost time to change the oil in my Plymouth.”
Me: “How long do you go between oil changes, Grandpa?”
Grandmother: “Do you have exams coming up?”
Grandfather: “Oh, about every three thousand miles.”
Me: “I have two finals next week, Grandma. Grandpa, you might want to get out and drive that car a little more.”
Grandmother: “What car?”
Grandfather: “A final what?”
Me: “Grandma, I was telling Grandpa he should drive a little more. (Then turning toward the other rocking chair) I was telling Grandma that I have final exams.”
Grandmother: “You want him to drive you to school?”
Me: “No, I don’t need Grandpa to drive me to school.”
Grandfather: “You say you need me to drive you to school?”
Me: “No, Grandpa, I don’t need…”
Grandmother: “Grandpa can’t drive you anywhere until he gets his oil changed. I wonder how often he does that?"
Me: “He says about every three thousand miles.”
Grandfather: “I’m not driving you three thousand miles to school!”
Me: “No, Grandpa, I meant that’s how often you have your oil changed.”
Grandfather: “That’s what I just told you! Weren’t you listening? By the way, how’s school going?”
Me: (Sigh) “Fine, I have exams…”
I suppose it’s plausible that same scenario could one day be played out with my wife and me in our own rocking chairs. I hope not, but at the rate we’re going I should probably warn our young grandkids that the time may eventually come when, if they want to talk to us, they should try to engage us one at a time.
Or maybe by then someone will have come up with a way to provide face-to-face closed captioning. If it happens, I’ll be their first customer.
© Nick Walker 2019
Any other hearing-challenged folks out there? Do you have any suggestions for me? Feel free to scroll down and leave a comment.