Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The hearing test

Receptionist: Thank you for calling Hearing Aids Are Us, how can I help you?

T.D.: I’d like to schedule an appointment.

Receptionist: Are you a new patient?

T.D.: Yes. 

Receptionist: What’s your first name?

T.D.: Thomas.

Receptionist: And your last name?

T.D.: Dryden. That’s D-R-Y-D-E-N.

Receptionist: You said Bryban, right?

T.D.: No, not bry, dry. As in, “The desert is dry.” D as in Delta, R as in Roy and Y as in Yellow. 

Receptionist: OK, got it. Dryban.

T.D.: No! Not ban, den. A place where lions live. That’s D as in Delta, E as in Edward and N as in Nancy.

Receptionist: OK Mr. Den.  Got it. 

T.D.: No, no, no, my last name is Dry-den, D-R-Y-D-E-N. Ever heard of the Canadian hockey goalie Ken Dryden? 

Receptionist: No.

T.D.: How about the English poet, John Dryden?

Receptionist:  I’m not familiar with him either but I got it — Thomas D-R-Y-D-E-N. Let me check to see when I can get you in. 

T.D.: No rush, I haven’t been able to hear anything for years. I can wait.

Receptionist: There’s an appointment available July eighth at 1 at our Bonita office. Would that be convenient?

T.D.: Wow, yes. That’s fast service! Thank you.

Receptionist: OK, let me get some more information while I have you on the phone. What’s your date of birth?

T.D.: November 17, 1951.

Receptionist: September did you say?

T.D.: I said November. 

Receptionist:  You don’t have to raise your voice. 

T.D.: I’m sorry but this is frustrating. I'll admit I can’t hear squat  — that’s why I’m calling — but there’s nothing wrong with my speech. Do you wear the hearing aids your company sells? If so, maybe I should go elsewhere. 

Receptionist: No, my hearing is fine. What day and year did you say?

T.D.: November 17, 1951. 

Receptionist (talking to herself as she is typing into her computer): November seventh, nineteen fifty-one. 

T.D.:  Not the seventh, November seven-teenth! Is Alan Funt filming this conversation? Is this some sort of joke? If so, it’s a cruel one, making fun of deaf people.

Receptionist: Who’s Alan Funt?

T.D.: Never mind. 

Receptionist:  OK Thomas, we’ll see you tomorrow, July eighth at 1 pm. 

T.D.: Uh, wait a minute, I’m looking at my calendar and today’s the sixth. Tomorrow is the seventh, not the eighth. Is my appointment on Wednesday the seventh or Thursday the eighth?

Receptionist: The eighth. 

T.D.: Thanks for clarifying that. 

Receptionist: That’s what I just said. 

T.D.: Yes, but you said Wednesday and the eighth is Thursday. 

Receptionist: OK, we’ll see you in our Bonita office tomorrow July (unintelligible) at 1 pm. Thanks for calling.

Monday, July 5, 2021

My brother's birthday

Christmas 1958. 
From left: My sister Judy, mom and me, Jerry 
with his six-month old daughter, Ellen, and dad 

Today, for the first time in my adult life, I won’t be calling my brother Jerry on his birthday. 

One year ago today I hung up the phone after my annual birthday call to him and wept. He sounded awful. I told my wife, when she tried to console me, that I had lost my brother. Jerry somehow managed to hang on until January 20th. 

Ours was not a conventional brotherly relationship. Jerry was 16 years older. Conventional brothers serve as best man or groomsman at each other’s weddings. I was the ring bearer at his. 

We were opposite in just about every way two people who share the same DNA can possibly be. Jerry intuitively knew how to repair or build almost anything. For example, he installed a skylight in his house. I can’t drive a nail. Jerry was athletic. I’m a klutz. Jerry was a Master Gardener. I breathe on a plant and it dies. Jerry spent 20 years as an Army officer, then 20 more working in a tech job for a defense contractor. I went into advertising and promotion. Jerry was Viking blond. My hair is was dark brown. He had boundless energy and was always laser-focused on a project or two or three. I’d rather read a book. 

And our personalities couldn’t have been more different. Jerry was a glass-half-full kinda guy; I'm a glass-half-empty. Jerry was invariably positive, upbeat, and never complained, even when he lost the ability to do the things he loved, like attending his beloved Cincinnati Reds home games and working in his yard. 

His wife, Nancy, wrote in Jerry’s obituary that he had a “sunny disposition.” Can you imagine living with  someone for 63 years, and being able to say that and mean it? 

I asked my wife if she could ever write that I had a sunny disposition. “God, no,” she replied firmly.
Jerry had a lightening-fast wit. Years ago he and Nancy were dining at a restaurant that featured colonial food and waitstaff dressed in revolutionary-era clothes. When the waitress asked “Are you ready for your aspic?", he replied, “No, a regular toothpick will do.” 

When Jerry, Nancy, my sister and I were going through our mother’s things after her death, I found a sheet of paper folded between the pages of her Bible. It was a poem about a mother with three children who repeatedly asked them to help her with tasks around the house — sweeping, cleaning, shoveling snow, etc. Two of the children always came up with excuses but one always said yes. “Reminds me of Jerry,” mom had written. My sister and I didn’t take offense because we knew she was right. 

Jerry always came through for mom, especially after our father died young. He was the steadiest, most sensible of her children, the one she turned to when she needed advice. When, in her eighties, she was told she needed open heart surgery, she refused to listen to my sister and me when we begged her to have it. She said she had lived a long life and would rather die than subject herself to the pain and commit to the rehabilitation that would be required. But when Jerry insisted, she changed her mind. Once she was released from the hospital, he moved into her house for six weeks and, like the soldier he was, made her do her physical therapy. She complained bitterly but lived another 15 years. 

As adults, my brother and I lived hundreds of miles — sometimes oceans — apart. We only talked on our birthdays and occasionally at Christmas or Thanksgiving. We also saw each other at family get-togethers in Missouri, and my youngest son attended college in Ohio near his home, and my wife and I would stay with Jerry and Nancy when we went to visit him. I wish I had told him how much I admired and respected him and how proud I was of his service to our country and to our family. Men have trouble talking openly about their feelings lest we appear weak, which Jerry most definitely wasn't and I never wanted him to think I was, either. I should have told him that he, more than anyone in our family, influenced me by his example, and that I always wished I was more like him. But I never did.  

My first memory is of Jerry. One hot summer night when he was home from college — I must have been two or three — there was a thunderstorm and I woke up terrified. Our parents’ bedroom was downstairs. His and mine were on the second floor. I ran down the hall, climbed into his bed, and felt comforted, knowing he was there and would keep me safe. 

I have never lost that feeling and never will.