Trouble with Old People | May 2018

A Full and Fair Hearing

by Steve Van Auken


Hearing loss comes as a standard feature of aging. People around you who once spoke clearly all begin to mutter.

Hearing-aides help, to a point. But the point they help to is probably not the point where you want to be.

When you have your hearing tested it is under tightly-controlled conditions. You sit in a sound-proof booth. Professionals in lab coats introduce you to a variety of sounds. They give you a scientific explanation of the type of hearing loss you have. Then you give them enough money to buy a small used-car. A few weeks later, you are fitted with your new hearing-aides.

Sometime after that you meet with some friends for lunch. The place is crowded. It has a high ceiling. Background music is playing. Three televisions each play a different program. Your friend is right there across the table. You can see her lips moving. You are pretty sure she has asked you a question. That question is, “Can you…sandwich…terrorist watch list…my mother…isn’t it?”

You realize that an immediate reply is needed. You must apply all the “people-skills” and ability to read body-language that you have amassed over a lifetime. You implement the strategy you have employed so many times before. You smile, nod, and hope for the best.

She responds with a hurt sort of look, and actively avoids your company for the next three years.

While this has been going on, you have been trying your best to block-out a conversation between two men seated eight tables away. For some reason their words come to you with astonishing clarity, as they discuss the toe fungus that they both picked up at their gym. Which also happens to be your gym.

Here are the sounds that hearing-aides pick up best: silverware rattling, newspaper crinkling, toilets flushing, and the voice of Dick Vital.

Here are the sounds that hearing-aides pick up the worst: your wife when she says something heartfelt and important, and absolutely everything spoken by Millenial-age people who talk very fast and run their words together.

We can take some comfort in the fact that age-related hearing-loss is a common problem. And since so many politicians are older, it is not surprising when issues arise among our political class.

A source within the White House now acknowledges that Donald Trump did meet in 2006 in a hotel room with Stormy Daniels, whom he believed to be an agent of the Internal Revenue Service.

“Mr. Trump was poorly served by his staff that day,” according to a top-level aide. “We all forgot to remind him to put in his hearing-aides. Also, he was being audited by the IRS. Just a routine matter. We had advised him that whenever he was approached by an IRS representative, to be fully compliant. When he was approached by Ms. Daniels in the hotel bar, he was meeting with his accountant to discuss a really, really huge contribution to a major charity. He naturally assumed that Ms. Daniels was an auditor. When she asked him, ‘Do you want to have sex?’ he understood her to say, ‘Do you save your receipts?’ He said, ‘Yes, always, you can ask my accountant,’ and matters sort of went from there.

“When she took his hand and led him out of the bar and up to her room, he knew that as a law-abiding businessman he had no choice. Upstairs, he told me later, he remembered our admonition to be fully compliant. He feels that he was.

“I blame myself. This whole unfortunate chain of events would never have happened if I had made sure that Mr. Trump was wearing his hearing-aides. Mr. Trump takes full responsibility, and he has given me permission to say that it is all my fault.”

In spite of misunderstandings like this, having impaired hearing is not all bad. It can bring a kind of calm. Problems you cannot hear, are problems you do not have to solve.

Consider the Dalai Lama. He is the spiritual leader in exile of the troubled country of Tibet. Every day, desperate people come to him for guidance in managing all sorts of intractable problems. The stress would be terrible even on a young man. As a monk he is able to call on his many years of training in meditation to remain serene. But as someone in the Dalai Lama’s own age demographic, I suspect that he has a secret weapon. One that is always there for him, no matter how perturbed and demanding those around him become.

He has the gift of being deaf as a post.