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The Silence


Last night, the Downbeast finally met one of its heroes, cultural critic Greil Marcus, at a literary reading at Redcat. He was sitting alone at the bar, with tiny eyeglasses, Clintonesque grey hair, and a creased Mt. Rushmore visage that reminded me of Chef Gordon Ramsey. I caught him in mid-sip. Here's how the conversation played out:

DB: Uh, hello, uh, Mr. Marcus...?

GM: [unintelligible]

DB: Sorry to bother you.* I just wanted to meet you and tell you how much I enjoyed your...

[I go to shake his hand, but he demurs apologetically.]

GM: [unintelligible, something ending in "-itis"]

[I look at his hands, they are wrapped in velcro Tony Hawkish wrist guards.]

DB: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Did this occur from the many years of typing at a typewriter?

GM: I'm sorry, what?

DB: [louder] Did this occur from the many years of typing at a typewriter?

GM: No, no. There's a completely different reason [unintelligible]

DB: [beginning to sweat] Well I guess your career as a piano mover is completely shot.**

GM: [something noncommital]

DB: I think they look kind of cool, like Spider-Man's web-shooters.***

GM: I think they make me look like a reptile.

DB: [laughing too quickly, intensely] Well, I just wanted to tell you that you and I both share an edition of the Da Capo Best Music Writing...

GM: What?

DB: [more sweating, louder] I just wanted to tell you that you and I both share an edition of the Da Capo Best Music Writing...

GM: Uh-huh. What's you article?

DB: On the jazz singer Anita O'Day...

GM: What?

[And so on and so on and so on...]

DB: Anyway, I consider being anthologized with you a great honor.

GM: Oh thank you [mumbles something]

DB: Okay then! [inexplicably patting GM on back] Have a great evening!


I suppose I should mention the reason I could barely hear Mr. Marcus and the reason he could barely hear me was I've been having terrible hearing problems over the last two months. The first incident plugged my right ear after I returned from Hawai'i and it turned out to be a lump of wax that had been pushed up against my eardrum like a slipcover. (The rainy-season humidity of the Big Island turned out to be the culprit.) Then, not two weeks later, I came down with strep throat, which quickly made its sneaky way into my LEFT ear canal and mercilessly cut off all sound. Not to gross you out with the deets, but there were a lot of bloody q-tips in my bathroom wastebin. Turns out an infection had shattered my eardrum and it is now in the process of repairing itself.

I guess why I am mentioning this is the extreme distress that is caused within a lifelong music nerd/hound/obsessive when one's own God given woofers are blown out, and the world becomes piped in Mono. First off, listening to music on headphones is intolerable. And irritating. And depressing. Having conversations in public places become a pitiable comedy: you either talk too loud or too soft; you hear virtually nothing from others and have to constantly ask, 'What? Hah? Come again? I'm sorry?' like Grandpa Simpson.

Try plugging your ears with your fingers and then speak in normal tones: your voice sounds louder when you can't hear it. Your interior voice becomes your exterior voice; or at least the two are mixed with embarrassing results. It annoys you and anyone you are talking to. Schmoozing becomes a high-wire act that inevitably ends in disaster. You wind up coming off aloof or disconnected: I went to a music concert on Saturday night and was so cowed by my hearing problems that I shied away from saying hello to at least six people I knew and hadn't seen in awhile. And it can be dangerous: Woe betide you should you walk past a deranged street person who demands change and then takes your lack of hearing as a lack of respect.

I guess this is just a long way of saying that being deaf sucks, however temporarily. Which is why it was serendipitous that I met Greil Marcus last night. On the one hand, there was the legendary writer who found it increasingly painful and difficult to write; on the other, the music geek who found it painful to listen. To quote Linus Van Pelt: "There's some lesson in there somewhere, I'm just not sure what it is."


*public domain term to be used whenever one approaches someone important

**leads to later conversation with mirror: "'Piano mover'?! How could you be so STUPID."

***leads to later conversation with roommate: "'Spider-Man'?! How could I be so STUPID."

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