Monday, May 31, 2010

So now I have my new hearing aids. They’re free from the V.A., as compared to my old ones that cost nearly $3,000 commercially. And they don’t plug up my ears, the way the old ones did. As the audiologist explained it, these units will just boost the higher frequencies, which I have trouble with, and leave me to hear the lower ones on my own. With the old ones, I could hear nothing except what the contraptions fed me. For all I know, there could have been little, tiny radio receivers inside and someone was telling me, subliminally, what products to buy and whom to vote for.
Also, these don’t hurt. When I first got the other ones, the man told me to wear them all the time to get used to them. But, since I’m alone all day writing, and since, when my wife comes home, she speaks in a clear voice, there was just no point to it. All I would be doing is burning those tiny batteries and building up calluses in my ears. The only time I used them was in a social situation, when certain people didn’t speak loudly enough, and when I gave my talk and couldn’t hear questions from the back of the room.
Bur these new ones sit behind my ears with just a wire leading inside, so they don’t irritate, and I can wear them all day, if I want to. That way I hear birds singing and crickets chirping. And I also hear the stairs creaking, as I climb them, I hear strange noises from my car’s engine, and I turn around, thinking someone is talking to me, whenever someone across the street says something. Of course, when I turn on the tap in the kitchen sink, it sounds the way Niagara sounded to me the last time I was there.
As for my wife, she’s delighted that we don’t have to have the television so loud anymore – probably the neighbors as well.

Monday, May 17, 2010

One evening last week I gave a talk about my two books to a group of women at the Westport, Conn. public library. My wife came with me, as she often does, and we came away particularly pleased. The crowd had been smaller than we had hoped for, but they were very attentive and asked really insightful questions. To celebrate, we decided to have dinner out, and we ended up at a restaurant in Westport that I knew from when I lived there, some thirty years ago.
As we were getting back into our car, after supper, I heard something fall out of my jacket pocket. Looking down, I saw the little blue plastic box in which I carry my two hearing aids. I am slightly hard of hearing and I carry the hearing aids with me on such occasions in the event that I can’t hear the questions that people ask. With our small crowd, that problem did not come up, and the hearing aids had stayed in their box, in my jacket pocket.
How the box got out of my jacket pocket was a mystery, since I was wearing the jacket, and I had never known of anything falling out of a side jacket pocket, while someone was wearing it. Nevertheless, I picked it up, put it back in my pocket, and we drove off.
It wasn’t till the following evening, as we were getting into bed to watch some television, that I had occasion to avail myself of the hearing aids (I hate the damn things but they make television more intelligible), and when I did, I discovered the box to be empty. It was quite clear that the box must have snapped open in the restaurant parking lot, spilled the hearing aids, and snapped shut again.
It is by the rarest coincidence, that next week I am scheduled to take possession of a new set of hearing aids from the Veterans’ Administration, at no cost, so the loss of these was not such a tragedy. They had cost over $2,000, two years ago, before I knew that the V.A. had begun giving them out for nothing, but, as I said, I hated them and saw no difficulty getting along without them for a week.
Still, $2,000 is $2,000.
Westport is two towns away from here, at a distance of around eight miles. By the following morning it had been some thirty-six hours since I had dropped the hearing aids in the parking lot, and countless cars must have had the opportunity to grind them into the pavement. With the new aids arriving soon, it didn’t make sense to make the trip.
Then I remembered a scene from my coming book. In Book III of my “Mother and Me” memoir, “Loves of Yulian,” (due out next March) as those of you who go on to read it will learn, I describe a scene in Rio de Janeiro, in 1941, when my mother and I were on our way to safety in the United States after escaping the Nazis and the Bolsheviks in Book I. Our journey from Poland was being financed by my mother’s diamonds, which she managed to sell, one at a time, along our way. At this point, she was down to her last diamond ring, and it had to feed us and pay our way to New York. After returning from a morning at the Copacabana beach, my mother discovered that her ring was gone. It must have, we assumed, come off at the beach and either buried itself in the sand or some sun-worshiper was one diamond ring richer.
I was nine at the time, and volunteered to go back to the beach and look for it. Mother said it wasn’t any use, since I would never find it. But my mother and a friend of hers were in such gloom in our hotel room, that I wanted to get out of there and went down to the beach and dug around. As I dug, I fantasized finding it and rushing back to our hotel , a hero.
Of course I didn’t find it, and came back dejected to report my failure. And then my mother did a strange thing, but one that was characteristic of her. “What’s the point of sitting around with a long face?” she said. “All right, the ring is gone, and that’s a very serious loss, but we aren’t going to bring it back by crying over it. Let’s go downstairs, have some tea, and cheer ourselves up.”
Leaving our room, we found the elevator out of order, and had to walk down the stairs. The stairs had windows on an alley between the hotel and the next building over. And, as we passed the bottom window and saw a man sweeping the alley, we also saw Mother’s ring lying there. “Quick, Yulian, get out there and grab the ring!”
I clambered out the window and retrieved it. The ring must have flown off Mother’s finger as she was shaking the sand out of her beach jacket, outside our bathroom window overlooking the alley.
Now, remembering that story and my mother’s unshakable optimism, I climbed into my car and drove to Westport. I even had a lawn rake in the trunk, in the event that I had to rake underneath some cars. But, at ten in the morning, there were only two cars in the lot and, right where we had parked two evenings ago, were two pink plastic hearing aids. One had a piece out of its housing, but seemed to work. The other showed no damage, but didn’t work. Well, it was damp from the rain and might work after drying out.
I now have a piece of Scotch Tape over the broken housing, and, after drying out, the other one does work. When I told my wife about my find, she couldn’t believe it. “I would have just given them up for lost,” she said.
“I would have also,” I answered, “except that I remembered the story of Mother’s ring.”
“What story?”
“The one in ‘Loves of Yulian,’ in Brazil.”
What I had found is something considerably more valuable than $2,000. Thanks, Mom.