Several years ago my wife thought I was losing my hearing so she sent me to a hearing specialist who ran some tests to see if I was going deaf. The hearing specialist was a young woman who informed me that, sure enough, I had lost some upper range hearing in both ears but not enough to cause the inexplicable decrease in my ability to hear my wife. Boy, did the results of that test cause some trouble around our house. But I digress.
The hearing specialist asked if I had ever been exposed to any excessively loud, brutal noises. I sat up straight and tall and proudly announced that I had attended a Steppenwolf concert and heard them sing “Born to Be Wild,” but I boasted the most about the fact that I was at a Jefferson Airplane concert and actually booed them, and loudly, because Marty Balin and Grace Slick were acting like they were just coming out of surgery and the medications and anesthetics hadn’t worn off yet. I hadn’t paid good money to watch those two hippies stumble all over the stage. Ahhh, the stories I could have told that young hearing specialist. I was sure that my wild rock-n-roll concert days had led me in an inexorable decline to a world of silence. I could see myself as an older gentleman. People would write on a yellow legal pad, “What happened to your hearing, Mr. Geezer? Old age settin’ in?” I would then explain, using my best air guitar techniques, that my hearing loss was not caused age, but by loud, barbaric rock-n-roll. And lots of it! Decade after decade! Stereos! Headphones! Amplifiers! Pre-amps! For heaven’s sake, the Beatles! I lost my hearing listening to Abbey Road turned up too loud!! However, the rock concerts didn’t seem to impress the hearing specialist as much as my career.
“What do you do for a living, Mr. R?”
“I’m an elementary school teacher.”
Her eyes perked up and she eagerly inquired, “Do you ever go into the school cafeteria when the children are eating their lunches?”
“Well……….yeah. Yeah. Of course I do.”
She cocked her left eyebrow. “How often do you……………. do you………..…... go in there?”
I didn’t get the gist of it yet, so I innocently replied, “I’m in there every school day, five days a week. Why?”
Then, excitedly, she nodded and knowingly asked, “How many years have you been exposed to a school cafeter—or rather, how long have you been a school teacher?”
I became suspicious. “About twelve years, I reckon. Why are you asking me these questions?”
She made some check marks on a piece of paper on her clipboard, looked up at me sympathetically, and replied, “Mr. R., the decibel level in an elementary school cafeteria is much louder than any rock concert. I suspect your ears have been damaged by the noise level in your school cafeteria.”
I was stunned. “You mean to tell me the little hornets are louder than AC/DC? No way!”
She flattened her lips, nodded her head in little, short, quick jerks and mouthed, “Way.”
I was incredulous and argued, “You gotta be kidding me! I was in the fifth row when John McKay, Steppenwolf’s lead singer, sang, “#%!!@/* the Pusher Man!”
She seemed to feel sorry for me, and her face was filled with pity! Well I didn’t want her damn pity! I wanted her to tell me that Metallica played on my Pioneer amp blasted away my eardrums, but noooo, she wouldn’t let me have that.
“Mr. R., I can tell you don’t believe me, but I have charts, tables, and graphs giving very soundly researched decibel levels of various environmental noise levels. School cafeterias are noise nightmares. I get elementary school teachers in here all the time with hearing problems. And I am afraid it is not going to get better unless you can avoid the school cafeteria.”
I was shocked! “I have duty…………. teachers have to ……………..watch the kids in……….…...there……...in the………. the cafeteria, I mean.”
“Well, Mr. R., I am afraid that as the years go by you will probably notice other problems that I already detect in my tests. Mainly, background noises are going to make it more difficult for you to hear conversations.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you are in a school cafeteria where there is an enormous amount of background noise. Kids scream much louder than any rock-n-roll singers with their little drum sets, those cute speaker towers, and their dinky microphones. Plus, kids in a school cafeteria are able to create sustained, horrendous sounds that are all gibberish, with unparalleled amounts of background fuzz and incoherent, savage noise. When you talk to someone next to you in the school cafeteria, you probably have difficulty already deciphering any conversations. Have you noticed that lately?”
I remembered a conversation I had with Melissa the day before:
Melissa asked, “Mr. R., do you think there were ever unicorns?”
I replied, “You don’t have an ear of corn. You have peas.”
She seemed exasperated, and cupping her hands, she yelled, “I said, ‘Do you think there were ever any unicorns?’ ”
I yelled right back, “What? That sounds crazy! What do you mean by asking me if I remember EverReady cars? They make batteries, not cars!”
Melissa rolled her eyes, looked at Alex who shrugged, and screamed, “NEVER MIND!”
I was told that as a school teacher, I had increased odds of developing bladder problems when I got older. Teachers don’t drink enough water during the day, and they hold in their pee pee too long. I mean, you can’t be leavin’ the little nippers alone in the room all the time. Well I do! I go right ahead and drink my water. Then, when nature calls, and it calls more frequently since my prostate surgery, I pretend to casually stroll out into the hallway to check things out, act like I’m makin’ sure everybody is behaving, that no one is running in the hall, and then I make a mad dash to the bathroom where I pee pee as quickly as possible, and trust me, that’s not quick enough since I had my prostate surgery. But I digress.
Let’s just say that I tried to prevent any physical repercussions as a result of my teaching career. However, I have accepted the fact that my hearing difficulties are not caused by memorable rock concerts but instead are a direct result of children eating. I have decided that this hearing loss will be my Red Badge of Courage, one of the sacrifices that I make in order to teach little children. I have learned to hold my head up high and take pride in my hearing loss.
Think about that the next time you turn up your stereo in your car really loud, and that means you, teenage boy sitting at the red light with the booming bass blasting out rap crap so loud your license plate is coming loose. Just remember you’re an amateur and a minor leaguer in the Big Decibel Contest. I’ll put my elementary school kids up against your puny car stereo any day of the week.