● By Tom Mailey
Illustration by David Norby © Style Media Group
What? Huh? Could you repeat that?Those, unfortunately, have become standard phrases in my vocabulary. It’s taken me a long time to admit it: I’m hard of hearing, and not just a little. My low-end hearing is shot, meaning I have a tough time with speaking voices, especially if I’m not looking right at the person who’s speaking to me. I’ve been told by hearing specialists that despite the fact my radio career requires me to wear headphones and attend loud concerts regularly, my particular kind of hearing loss has little to do with listening to loud noises and instead is probably genetic, which makes sense, since my mother had horrible hearing—despite never once attending a Keith Urban concert.
I’ve tried hearing aids but so far haven’t had much success—they just seem to amplify everything in the room so that I not only hear what you’re saying to me, but also every other conversation, along with the squeak of some guy’s shoe and the buzzing of a fly in the far corner. For now, I’ve resigned myself to the high probability that this is something I’m going to have to live with. Unfortunately, the same is true for my family and my colleagues—all of whom have occasionally expressed frustration when I ask them to repeat themselves because either I couldn’t make out what they said at all, or, more commonly, I misinterpret it.
See, it’s not that I don’t hear anything at all. I do. I hear plenty. As I type this I can hear the coffee maker behind me, the jangle of tags on my dog’s collar upstairs, chirping birds outside. However, when someone is speaking, certain sounds within their speech morph together in a kind of audio blur, like an ink smudge marring a handwritten note. So I’ll hear parts of words but not others, and it happens so quickly that my subconscious—and this was explained to me by an audiologist—reflexively tries to fill in those gaps by instantly offering up what it thought was said. The result is a real-life version of those Internet “Bad Lip Reading” videos.
This is where it’s at least a tiny bit entertaining—some of the misinterpretations can be really goofy. In fact, I started keeping track, writing down some of the weirder ones, along with what was actually said. Here’s a glimpse into my world.
Said: How far do we have to go?
Heard: Bow to your burrito.
Said: Did you get the dogs some food?
Heard: Did you get a dollar a whip stick?
Said: Bet they would cut those for us.
Heard: Bet they have a cut bass forest.
Said: You’ll get your order when I do.
Heard: You wore a sword too.
Said: How long is this gonna take?
Heard: Who else has a skin tag?
Said: The surface area has to be smooth.
Heard: The circus mattress has to be moved.
Said: I’m setting up a garage sale.
Heard: I need to satisfy my brow set.
Said: That’s what I’m saying.
Heard: Tappin’ Beyonce.’
Said: Did she have another baby?
Heard: Missouri NFL baby?
More than 20 million Americans have some kind of hearing loss, and that number is growing as the population ages. If you think you might be one, get it checked. Most minor hearing loss can be helped. I keep my fingers crossed that technology will eventually catch up with the kind of loss I have. In the meantime, if I ask you to repeat yourself, please be patient. It’s not that I wasn’t paying attention—I just know there’s no way you made a comment about a “rich kingdom of puppy hills.” And I’d really like to know what you actually have to say.