Saturday, October 26, 2019

Silence would be golden

On November 9, 2016,  I sneezed violently and my ears began to ring. That was nothing unusual. My ears often rang for a few seconds after a cough or sneeze. But the ringing has continued, nonstop, ever since. 

After undergoing a series of hearing tests, an ENT physician told me I have tinnitus, and nothing can be done about it.  Adding insult to injury, he said that people with chronic tinnitus (about 20 million Americans according to the Tinnitus Foundation) aren’t really hearing anything. The sounds we hear are auditory hallucinations. While we perceive we hear something, there is nothing there. But, because perception is reality, we are indeed hearing something, even though we aren’t. (Got it? Me neither.) 

Ringing isn’t the right word to describe the sounds inside my head.  Ninety percent of the time I hear this. The rest of the time it is this

And it's relentless. Every single sound  — every conversation, every TV show, every song on the radio — is filtered through those sounds. The volume varies. Sometimes it’s low. Sometimes it is so LOUD I can barely hear over it. 

It is hard to believe the sounds I am hearing aren’t being heard by people around me. For the first year or so, I would sometimes smoosh my ear against my wife’s ear and ask if she could hear the noises reverberating inside my ear canal. She never could. Which is hardly surprising since they are apparently real only to me.

The sounds are particularly loud late at night. I keep a whirring fan next to my side of the bed in an attempt to drown them out so I can relax but the fan doesn’t always do the trick and some nights I don’t get to sleep at all. Last night was one of those nights.

We had gone to dinner with friends. Across the room a one-man band was performing songs from the sixties and seventies. The songs he had selected were particularly obnoxious   — some of most annoying ever recorded. The amplifiers were cranked up so high I could barely hear a word anyone at the table was saying. I simply nodded my head in agreement whenever someone looked my way and said something, assuming I was participating in the conversation. As I lay awake replaying one of those conversations, it occurred to me that I may have nodded yes, I agree that Hillary Clinton should run again.

This morning the sounds I’ve been hearing for the last four years have been replaced by this God-awful song from last night. It’s as if the one-man band was somehow able to record over the magnetic tape inside my head that, for the last four years, has been playing a continuous loop of radio frequencies and chirping crickets.

If I am to be condemned to hearing music 24/7 for the rest of my life why can't it be something soothing like Pachabel’s Canon in D Major or St. Saens' Carnival of the Animals?  

Hell, “I Got You Babe” or  "You Light Up My Life" or “I’m Henry VIII I Am" or even "Disco Duck" would be preferable to what I'm hearing.

Don't you agree?

Monday, October 14, 2019

Jose's withered American dream

A withered magnolia tree in our front yard
with dead plumeria bushes in the background,
planted in July by our landscaper, Jose

Arriving home from a 12-day vacation last month, I was surprised to find our yard looking like a jungle.

Turns out that Jose, the landscaper who takes care of our yard and eight others on our street, hadn’t been seen for three weeks. A lapse of three weeks wouldn’t be much of a problem most places but here in south Florida where things grow super-fast — especially in the rainy season — three weeks of growth is equivalent to three months up north. 

Nobody knew where he was. Those who called Jose's cell phone received a recorded message it was disconnected. Those who called the number on his billing statement got a message the voice mailbox was full.

Rumors were rampant. One neighbor heard that Jose was at the bedside of his brother in Texas, who had been in an accident, but would be back soon. Another was told by one of Jose's competitors that Jose was in a coma, and his business was closed. Others heard that Jose was in jail or in an ICE detention facility.

A friend who has owned in the ‘hood longer than the rest of us said the same thing happened six or seven years ago; Jose disappeared and his customers had to scramble to hire other landscapers. Six months later Jose knocked on their doors and said he had been in the hospital. Feeling sorry for him, most re-hired him. I inherited Jose in 2014 when we bought our house. The previous owner recommended him highly and said Jose knew our yard and its convoluted irrigation system inside-out so I kept him on.

The latest story making the rounds is that Jose has been deported. Someone says he heard that Jose wasn’t hospitalized years ago as he claimed. He was in jail for driving under the influence, and was apparently arrested for the same crime last month.  Several articles I’ve found online say one DUI conviction isn’t enough to get someone sent back to his home country but a subsequent arrest is grounds for automatic deportation.

Jose was, as far as his customers knew, in the U.S. legally. He owned a big truck with a trailer, lots of equipment, his business was incorporated, and had a crew of blowers, edgers and trimmers who wore uniforms with the logo of his company. To have gotten through the gates of our community in the first place, he had to present proof of insurance to the homeowners' association. I can’t imagine any insurance company would have sold him a policy if he didn’t have a green card but I may be wrong.

In July, I paid Jose more than $5,000 to design and replant the planted portion of our yard directly in front of the house. He and his crew ripped out overgrown junipers, ferns, arboricolas and variegated gingers and replaced them with hundreds of colorful plants that Jose had recommended. I was impressed with his knowledge and creativity and delighted by the appearance of our new front yard. Jose promised the new plants would grow quickly and guaranteed he would replace any that failed to thrive. In the weeks since he disappeared, a magnolia tree, 40 plumeria bushes, and 30 blue daze plants have withered and died, and some of the others are looking iffy. They were doing fine when I left. I don’t want to think how much it’s going to cost to have them dug up and replaced with something else.

All of Jose’s customers have, by now, hired other landscapers. Tony, the guy I hired, is doing a great job. He has removed invasive Brazilian pepper vines that had overtaken the palmettos between our back yard and the golf course, fertilized and applied weed killer to the grass, trimmed palm fronds that were turning brown, and handled many other routine tasks Jose was supposed to address on a regular basis but rarely did unless I asked him to. I’m happy with his service, and Tony is thrilled to have the additional business. 

Whatever misfortune befell Jose, his behavior in the days since is unacceptable and if he was to show up today, I wouldn’t hire him back. He had all of our phone numbers and a service that sent out his monthly invoices. The least he, his wife, or one of his workers, could have done was to get a message to one of us so we could let the rest of his mystified customers know what happened. 

That said, I feel badly for him. Jose worked six days a week under the relentless Florida sun in steambath-like humidity. He always wore a big smile that displayed the whitest teeth I’ve ever seen and was invariably pleasant whenever I would flag him down and ask him to get off his riding mower to discuss something I wanted him to do. Jose wouldn’t have left Mexico if he didn’t believe he could improve his lot in America, but any hopes and dreams he had are now gone.  

And so is he.