Last weekend, Deborah and I went to Cuddlebackville to watch some friends race at the Oakland Valley Race Park.
As we made our way through the pits to the stands, Deborah spotted Jason and called to him.
Jason approached dressed in quintessential American biker gear: a pair of torn Levis held up by a thick, leather belt and big, brass, buckle, a classic Schott black leather motorcycle jacket, a well-worn Jim Beam baseball cap, and . . . Wait. . . What's he have on his feet? Are those Crocs?
His right hand was clenching a hot dog dripping sauerkraut juice, his left was wrapped around the handle of a cane. He slung the cane over his forearm and shook my hand.
The last time I had seen Jason — a few months prior — he was just about fully recovered from an off-road motorcycle accident that had shattered his foot. The shards had been pieced together with an Erector Set's worth of screws, pins, and plates, and, after a few months of physical therapy, he was as good as new. Or at least he had been.
"What the hell happened to you?" I said.
The flat track races were well underway, and the roar of muffler-free racing pipes made it hard to hear, but he was obviously expecting the question.
The story he told was very similar to the one he told me last year — an off-road motorcycle ride along a rocky trail, a fall, a trip to the emergency room, and so on.
"Is it the same foot as last time?"
I suggested his previous accident had probably compromised his foot's integrity leaving it prone to further injury, but he didn't think so. Since his foot is mostly titanium now maybe he was right. Regardless, despite all the hardware, he still has some bone in there somewhere, and his latest tumble caused a small piece of it to chip off. Not a big enough chunk to warrant surgery, or even a cast — just a pair of Crocs and a cane.
"It's not too bad," he said with a shrug and then, diverting attention away from his poor, abused foot, he asked what was new with me.
"I'm getting hearing aids on Monday," I said.
"What's that?" he asked over the cacophony of vintage race bikes screaming full-bore around the track.
I chuckled at the irony. Rather than yell, I waited for the race to finish. The announcer's voice crackled unintelligibly through the loudspeaker, and the racers rode their machines back to the pits. A new batch of riders lined up for the next race. In the small window of relative quiet, I repeated myself: "I'm getting hearing aids."
I've known Jason long enough, and complained about my hearing difficulties often enough, that he wasn't surprised, nevertheless, I followed up with the obvious: "I have trouble hearing."
Several years ago, I went to an audiologist who told me that a notch in my hearing spectrum was responsible for the difficulties I experienced understanding speech, especially in crowded places like restaurants and bars. "There's a dip in the midrange, right around the frequency of the human voice," the audiologist said at the time, "It's not too bad, but you should get it checked periodically in case it gets worse."
Now, several years later, I felt it had indeed gotten worse and decided it was time for another checkup. The tests confirmed it. Not only are the midrange frequencies a problem, but the high end is compromised, now, too. The audiologist could only speculate on the cause. Injury from years of playing guitar in a rock and roll band? Nerve damage or circulation problems, due to type 1 diabetes? Perhaps a combination of everything.
"I can't tell you, exactly, but I can tell you that you should consider hearing aids. I think you'll find it will improve your quality of life."
A symphony of whine and clatter, along with plumes of dusty red dirt, filled the air again. The next race was in full swing.
"You won't need your hearing aids here," said Jason, "that's for sure."
"What?" I said—fingers jammed deep into my ears.