I’m partially deaf in both ears thanks to meningitis nearly killing me as an infant. The hearing in my left ear is about 60-80%, depending on ambient noise, and the tone and pitch of the speaker. Some voices, I just can’t hear no matter what. It’s like they fall in the dog whistle register and I simply cannot hear them. Even in a quiet room with a microphone, I still can’t quite understand everything one of these dog whistle speakers is saying. That sucks.
The right ear is about 10-60%. I can hear 60% in a quiet room, provided the speaker isn’t a dog whistle. The percentage drops dramatically with any sort of background noise. In a busy restaurant where there are a bunch of people talking, silverware clattering and sundry restauranty noises, I can’t hear the person two feet away from me, but I can hear the woman with the annoying laugh four tables over and Elton John’s Candle In The Wind coming from the tinny speakers. It’s ridiculously annoying how many times I have heard Elton John’s Candle In The Wind coming from the tinny speakers. It’s like my ear says, “Fuck it, I can’t hear anything anyway so I’ll just listen to the background music.”
When you are hard of hearing, you get the same number of repeats that regular hearing folk get. What I mean is that when a regular hearing person can’t hear what someone said, they might say, “I’m sorry?” and the person speaking will repeat whatever they said with the same tone and intonation. The regular hearing person will say, “Yes, let’s go!” and they’ll high five each other and walk away to effortlessly hear more things elsewhere.
When a hard of hearing person doesn’t hear what you said, we also say, “I’m sorry?” and the person speaking will repeat whatever they said with the same tone and intonation. This isn’t really helpful for the hard of hearing. When I say, “I’m sorry?” what I’m secretly hoping is that you will write your message down and show it to me because I am incapable of hearing you in the current environs. Barring that, pulling out a bullhorn and shouting into it would be good. Or you could hire a mime to pantomime it. Any of those things will be better than mumbling the same thing in the same tone, most of the time, without even looking in my direction.
Here’s a helpful tip from the hard of hearing, when I ask you to repeat something, look in my direction when you do. The human voice is just a vibration in the larynx that travels out your mouthhole into my earholes. The shorter the distance these vibrations have to go, the better I will hear them. If you say something to me and you’re facing away, the vibrations go off in the wrong direction. If you look at me, it’s a shorter distance. Face me when you speak.
So, when I say, “I’m sorry?” and you mumble something in the other direction, I’ll hear something on the order of, “You want to play unicorn volleyball?” My first reaction will not be, “Yes, let’s go!” It will be something like, “You have a unicorn who plays volleyball? That’s so rad! I’d love to see a unicorn playing volleyball.” And you will look at me like I’m insane because I’m now talking about unicorns when what you really said was, “You want to play one on one basketball?”
However, there is method behind my madness. I call it Creative Listening Skills. The strategically brilliant thing about Creative Listening Skills is that you will repeat what you said–sometimes, more than once–in a different tone of voice and you will say it directly to me, not to the guy down the block the other way: “No, I said, ‘Do you want to play one on one?’ How did you get unicorn out of one on one?” “I’m special that way.” Bwa ha ha.
Creative Listening Skills are super sneaky, I admit. It is a totally ninja way around the can’t-ask-someone-to-repeat-what-they-said-more-than-twice rule. It’s not fair that the hard of hearing get the same number of repeats as the rest of you. We didn’t hear what you said, not because we weren’t paying attention, but because we are hard of hearing. With Creative Listening Skills, I get another chance to hear what you said without the ever deflating “Never mind.” Ooh, boy, do I hate “Never mind.” It means you have decided I’m not worthy of hearing whatever it was you said. Well, screw you! I’m worthy!
I use Creative Listening Skills all the time. I used it at the dog park the other day. The people at the dog park all have nicknames that we’ve given them. I’ve never asked what my nickname is because I don’t really want to know. There’s a guy called The Dog Whisperer in a tongue in cheek way because he yells at his dog constantly.
There’s a dude who insists on telling everyone’s fortune. If he walks up to you and asks you what your sign is, walk away. Otherwise, you will be stuck there for a long time listening to him prattle on about rising signs, lions and crabs. His nickname is The Magi.
The other day, I was sitting at my usual picnic table and someone mumbled something. I said, “What?” and they mumbled it again. I heard penis whistle, so that’s what I said aloud without really thinking about the fact that I was in mixed company. Two of the people sitting there, including the original mumbler, heard it and started cracking up. The mumbler offered, “I said Clint Eastwood. How on earth did you hear penis whistle?” “I’m special that way.” The person in question is nicknamed Clint Eastwood, because he has Clint’s squint.
The three of us sat there laughing about penis whistle for a good long while, even after “Clint” came over and asked what was so funny. That just made us laugh all that much harder.
“Clint” is one of those people who has an experience with every single topic you could ever broach and always does one better. If you went skiing at the local ski resort this weekend, Clint went helicopter skiing in the Alps. If you talk about fixing up your motorcycle, Clint has a motorcycle that he built from bubblegum, shoelaces and dog fur that is faster and better than yours.
Someone said that they’d like to come up with a subject that Clint has absolutely no experience with. I said I could talk about feminine hygiene products. Nah, he probably invented the tampon.
Now, “Clint” is sometimes referred to as penis whistle. Being hard of hearing is a bitch.