This was in the fall of 2013 at an Arlo Guthrie concert in Patchogue, where there was an abundance of gray and thinning hair in the room. Arlo was digressing, as he often does midway through a song, about an upcoming show with his mentor Pete Seeger, the folk-singing social activist who was then 94 years old (and just months short of his death).
“Pete said, ‘Arlo, I don’t like that I don’t sing as well as I used to,’” Guthrie related. “I said, ‘Pete. Look at our audience. They don’t hear as well as they used to.’”
It took more than five years, but I got the hint. And went for hearing aids.
It’s just part of finally acting my age, really. According to the Center for Hearing and Communication, one in every three people over 65 has some degree of hearing loss. Two in three over 75 (a number I’m closing in on) are losing their decibels.
I should note that, the marching of time aside, I have been functioning in mono for a while now. More than a decade ago, via a translabyrinthine craniotomy — a wonderfully named procedure — a benign tumor was yanked out of my head with the minimally negative result of deafness in one ear.
But the other one seemed in mint condition. So I worked at maneuvering speakers to my good-ear side, which typically was done by executing a slide-step and half-turn (as subtly as possible). Also, I got accustomed to holding a phone in my opposite hand. No problem.
Alas, the fact that people increasingly seemed to be mumbling under their breath and the recent occasional need for TV’s closed captioning, moved me to schedule a visit with an audiologist.
It would be overstatement to describe the minutes locked inside a soundproof booth, straining to react to little beeps and hums in headphones, as akin to taking a polygraph. But the surprisingly stressful process does get to the truth. And the truth, that the good ear isn’t as good as it used to be, was right there in the downward trend of lines on the audiogram graph.
What sealed the deal for me was the discovery of a veritable miracle of advancing technology: The crossover hearing contraption.
The way it works is that the gizmo plugged into the previously deaf ear transmits audio instantly from the better-ear aid, restoring a version of stereophonic sound.
This is the kind of thing that could lead an increasingly mature person into “Six Million Dollar Man” territory — thinking in terms of bionic implants for various failing parts and a forever-young pretense.
Especially since there is a certain amount of stealth involved in wearing these new gadgets. Long out of style are those massive ear trumpets, the human equivalent of television rabbit ears — blatantly obvious and not particularly efficient — as well as several generations of appliances that bring to mind the 1964 song “Beans in My Ears.”
Here in the 21st century, the “assistive listening device” consists of an inch-long apparatus that fits behind the ear — the flappier the ear, the better for disguise, lucky for me — and a virtually invisible wire leading into the ear canal. It’s the same look you get of your congresswoman during a remote live televised interview from the Capitol.
Not that I should be the least bit self-conscious about signaling codger-hood by sporting hearing paraphernalia. Seriously, is it possible to cross paths with a member of Generation X or Z who doesn’t have something plugged into his or her ears?
And listen: These little doodads resonate. Eerie? No. Ear-y.