6. What??

Generalissimo Franco is still dead!!

The first time I heard that line in the mid-’70s – delivered by SNL’s Chevy Chase, and re-shouted by Garrett Morris for the hearing impaired – I thought it was hilarious. (SNL sketch) When I heard it just recently – delivered by a guy on a tennis court – I also thought it was hilarious, but for different reasons.

Today I’m very comfortable talking about the fact that I wear hearing aids. But this wasn’t always the case. I’m embarrassed to admit that for quite some time, I thought the ringing in my ears – tinnitus is the medical term – was caused by crickets in the yard and in our walls. I never thought it was my hearing. I spent years asking people to repeat things. Consequently, What?? became the most common word I uttered to my wife, son, friends, clients, waiters, and anyone else I needed to interact with in order to conduct my everyday life.

Finally, I agreed to have my hearing tested. Shortly thereafter, I reluctantly joined the AARP generation and bought hearing aids.

I dreaded wearing them in public. I had vivid memories of my mom’s hearing aids. She would frequently forget to turn them on. Or when she did turn them on, they made that annoying high-pitched whistling noise, which was probably why she “forgot” to turn them on. She was embarrassed.

I knew I would be equally embarrassed: going to dinner parties, poker games, client meetings, bars and restaurants. People would start treating me differently. They’d start enunciating everything ve-ry loud-ly and slow-ly. Just like Garrett Morris.

Pleasant surprise: that didn’t happen. Because hearing aids are so effectively camouflaged now, most people didn’t notice them unless I pointed them out. And because many of my friends were hearing their own crickets, they were eager to talk about my experience. I became the hearing aid pioneer in our group of friends.

I’ve worn hearing aids for several years now. I don’t even think about them.

But I take them out when I play tennis. So when anyone says something to me on the court, unless I’m right next to the guy, I probably don’t understand what he’s saying. I just smile, nod my head, and hope that he didn’t just say, “Call 911, I’m having a heart attack.”

A few weeks ago I was playing doubles against two younger guys. In spite of their youth, my partner and I were easily winning. When one of them called out the score, I didn’t hear him. I said, “What?” He repeated it, in the same conversational tone, and I still didn’t hear. I asked again, and that’s when he very cleverly shouted, “Generalissimo Franco is still dead!!” I laughed so hard, I could barely return his serve.

Why was this so funny to me?

For one, I was surprised he was old enough to know that classic SNL line.

Also, I’ll admit that I enjoyed the fact that while he was cleverly making light of my hearing inadequacy, my partner and I were deftly exposing his and his partner’s tennis inadequacy.

But most importantly, right then I realized that sometime between 1975 and now, I had joined the demographic to whom Garrett Morris was shouting those headlines. Not my grandfather, not my mother, but me!

75 million baby boomers are officially old now. And we’re the reason we regularly see a sign-language translation of important speeches, and the reason everyone can easily access subtitles for most TV programming. It’s not just a few old guys who are having trouble hearing; there are 75 million hard-of-hearing folks out here. And we’ve got clout.

I said, “WE’VE GOT CLOUT!! Generalissimo Franco is still dead… and the boomer generation is still deaf!!”

9 thoughts on “6. What??

  1. Thank you for this. It IS a hard thing for people to embrace. I’m not there yet…but there are a lot of crickets in my neck of the woods. Maybe I should have my hearing checked.

  2. Both of us in Cleveland are also among the hearing aids generation. In addition to tennis, you cant wear them for swimming.

  3. I’ve noticed that I’m saying “What” quite often as well. I’m sure it’s that my husband’s voice is softer than it used to be. I mean . . . really . . . how could it be me?

  4. I have a feeling my generation will be joining you sooner than later, since we seem to have a penchant for blasting loud music in our ears during our early- to mid-teens.

  5. OK Larry I need to figure out how to get my husband to read this. He finally got hearing aids – state of the art – and usually doesn’t wear them. He says he “doesn’t want to get dependent on them” – as if wearing them would make his hearing worse. Or he only wears one – in his “bad” ear – even thought they are programmed to work together… I am so sick of repeating myself. And sometimes I don’t. I will copy your post and give it to him and I am sure it will make all the difference. ha. Thanks for your post. And thanks for wearing your damned hearing aids!!

    1. It took me a while to realize that my hearing problem was not just my problem; it became the problem of everyone around me.

  6. This made me laugh, because I love that line, too. I am more disconcerted these days when I read the obituary of someone — like Glen Campbell — and ask, “Was he still alive?”
    As someone who now wears two cochlear implants after more than 30 years of wearing hearing aids, I sometimes give talks about ministry to and with people with hearing losss. I usually start with the following story:
    Three old guys were walking down the street.
    One said, “It’s windy!”
    The second said, “No, it’s Thursday”.
    The third said, “I’m thirsty, too. Let’s stop for a drink.”
    The story illustrates three things:
    1. We associate wearing hearing aids with being old.
    2. Hearing loss causes communication difficulties that affect our relationships.
    3. Can you think of a joke about any other physical handicap?

    In all honesty, as you point out, being deaf can set up some funny situations. And anyone who IS deaf better have a good sense of humor.
    However, I have discovered that the belief that wearing hearing aids makes you look old is exactly the opposite of the truth. It is not being able to hear that makes us look old and decrepit. My wife and friends tell me that I look and act (and I feel) fifteen years younger now that I wear cochlear implants — and they are NOT inconspicuous.
    That is a final point I would like to make. We can do ourselves and our friends a favor by letting people know that we are hard of hearing, because eafness is the only invisible physical handicap.
    I wear a wristband from UH that says “Hearing impaired”. It allows people to adjust to my disability. It is a way of taking responsibility.
    So, I loved the post. And I’m glad for the opportunity to share my experience.

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