Monthly Archives: April 2013

Alex Writes About My Hearing Loss

alex-writes-about-my-hearing-loss

I am happy to bring today a guest post by Alexandra Robin. She is my soulmate.

At this moment starting to write this I’m distracted by the television with the volume turned way up. A rooster is crowing outside. My fingers are bouncing away on my keyboard and I hear the tapping on the soft keys. I pour another cup of coffee, hear the slurp of the French Press and the sound of my cup filling like notes moving up a scale. Very faintly I hear the fan on my laptop, a sound that I generally tune out. Someone is running water and I easily place its location in the bathroom down the hall. Birds twitter outside the open window somewhere. The stretched spring of the kitchen door out to the garage squeaks open and closed. The door of the car thunks closed out there.

My life has always been filled with sound. Mom and Dad met at the The Juilliard School of Music, where she studied classical piano and he was the sound engineer. Mom taught piano while she was pregnant with me, I still imagine the muffled sounds of Brahms and Rachmaninoff, Chopsticks and Hot Crossed Buns. As a kid I remember days lying on our blue couch, tired from a day of playing outside, listening to Mom accompanying Dad on his viola.

Dad’s career moved onto writing, producing, and directing educational films. When I was about eight I got to be in one. It is called “Forces Make Forms,” and it introduces junior high school-aged children to physics and the concept of how the energy of a physical force creates a form as its result. It is a beautiful montage of many examples of this such as a child moving arms and legs to create an angel in the snow, and an ice cube dropped in a hot pan bouncing from side to side finally disappearing with a sizzle. It won a film festival award for “Most Educational.”

My voice ended the film. My dad recorded me and an oscilloscope got center stage. He had me say the words, “Forces make forms” using three different styles of emphasis: “FORCES make forms.” “Forces make FORMS.” “Forces make forms?” The audience watches the oscilloscope change form with the inflection of my voice.

In college I studied broadcast communication. I worked at the college radio stations at both universities I attended, then went on to work in television production for a few years after graduating. I could spend hours in those college days, going around town and recording every-day things as sound effects, mixing tracks back in the control room putting radio shows together for class, creating Public Service Announcements, and doing endless on-air radio shifts. I got very familiar with the sound of my voice through headphones and how loud to speak to someone in the room when the headphones muffled my hearing.

Enter the love of my life: my soulmate Kenny McCarthy, a man who is essentially deaf without his hearing aids.

Dad taught me a sense of wonder mixed with the intelligence to think about the nuances that may result in the physical world. As I type this last sentence, Kenny has sat down across the table from me without his hearing aids and he started to watch an YouTube video on his iPhone and the music is blasting! Not until typing half-way through this do I realize he doesn’t even know there was sound let alone realize that I’m now dealing with the distraction of the blasting TV behind me and his music in front of me! Had he known, he would have shut it down immediately. He is a writer himself and knows distraction. With grace, not frustration I smile. How apropos.

So imagine not being able to hear your own voice, your own cough, blowing your nose, a knife slicing an apple, or walking through the gravel. I know I use my hearing to have a sense of the heat of a stove burner when I’m cooking. If I couldn’t hear, I’d have to retrain myself how to fry an egg.

Now imagine the people closest to you not considering anything deeper than a surface reaction responding to your lack of hearing with with statements like, “I told you yesterday!” or “You never listen!” or after asking what was said being told, “Forget it.” or even, “You heard me… I know you heard me!”

People have told me that thought Kenny was arrogant, yet knowing him personally I know this is far from the truth. He will continue talking in conversation when hearing people would stop and allow the other to interject in the pace of conversation. The other day I realized that the moment a hearing person hears the other start to speak and allows the conversation to flow is probably shorter than the time it takes Kenny to process that sound, so he’ll continue talking. His voice then covers up the sound of the other’s voice and he never heard the interjection in the first place. Hearing people consider this rude when there was no intention of such.

Try sticking earphones in your ears and have every sound amplified through them for an entire day. Not only to experience what hearing loss feels like, but to experience just having something stuck in your ears for an extended period of time. Go outside and listen to the birds and the wind chimes on your back patio, the truck driving down the street a block away. Go to a trendy echoing wine tasting room and have a conversation when another group of four or five loud adults are celebrating one of their birthdays. Ride a bike. Kenny is a rider. He rides in rain, hail, snow and wind, but he won’t hear it. I can’t fathom this.

Kenny doesn’t use sign language. He taught himself to read lips. We were having a summer dinner on the patio last year when I told the kids so and they didn’t believe me. At the time I had known Kenny for less than a year. So they tested him and they were amazed. They had no idea. What this told me was these kids had never been educated nor given a sense of compassion to understand what it was for their dad to be deaf. I hear their frustration, yelling at him as if he were a hearing person who was ignoring them, negligent, or didn’t care. I’ve heard them complain when he asks to have a window closed in the car as if he’s being mean or bossy when it only has to do with not being able to hear the conversation with the wind blasting. To their credit they will use a louder voice as needed if his hearing aids aren’t in, but I see that they have little sense that not hearing isn’t as simple as turning up the radio. This isn’t their fault. I just see it as a loss of learning about a caring love for a parent; not sympathy, just taking the time to step outside of oneself.

About twelve years ago a co-worker of mine was given a cochlear implant. He was 32 years old at the time and had been deaf from birth. He said the first thing he heard waking up out of surgery was his wife saying, “Hi Honey, I love you.” I was able to witness the before and after of this amazing event. He explained to us how he had to educate his brain to hear, to learn how to place sound in a noisy room. He said it was exhausting.

I remember things by saying them out loud. If I want to remember a phone number I say it aloud and then I can rely on my ears to remember it. I may even say something in rhythm to help this along. The same goes for speaking Spanish. Mexican friends say my accent is perfect. I’ve always figured this was a result of my well-trained music brain. Kenny is a voracious reader and has been his entire life. His reading speed and rate of comprehension would put Evelyn Wood to shame. His vocabulary is huge, yet he has to memorize how to pronounce words. Words like “conscious” and “conscientious” get mixed up. It’s not that he doesn’t know the definition of each. It’s sound. The two words are very similar. And when we can hear the difference he has read the difference and has then has to memorize the definitions and phonetic pronunciation rules of each.

At the end of the day, Kenny will remove his hearing aids and exhale a huge sigh of relief. He’ll give his head a little shake as if to clear out the last rattles of distraction. He’ll lean back, open the MacBook and read in the peaceful quiet of his own mind.

The Audiology test you are seeing was done in 2003. I’ve lost another 15dB since then.

Recognition

recognition

Last night we went to the GreenHounds Award Ceremony. The Greenhounds are a school-within-a-school, a group of kids that focuses on environmental issues. You can read more about what they do here.

Savannah joined the first year of the GreenHounds as a Freshman. Four years later she is part of the first graduating class of GreenHounds. There were times I thought she was too obsessive about it, given the amount of work she was putting in.

So, we’re at the awards ceremony. There were four scholarships being awarded, three for $300 and one for $1,000. The MC announces the three $300 recipients. We’re sitting in the front row, with the three sub-recipients right in front of us. It doesn’t yet hit me.

The MC begins his speech about the $1,000 recipient. Now the MC, Mr. C, is a phenomenal teacher. We got to know each other when I chaperoned several HS field trips over the years. He’s very supportive of my daughters, plus he’s a really cool guy. Anyway, he goes on about how this award winner is a special person, how she puts in above-and-beyond, how she steered the organization through it’s troublesome formative year. Alex starts shaking my arm and I look over at her.

She and Douglas are quietly ecstatic. Alex whispers in my ear “He’s talking about Savannah”, Douglas gives me a big thumbs-up and he’s got the biggest grin on ever. I don’t want to believe it, how could this be real after all our family has gone through? Why now? Why this good fortune years later?

It was then I looked up and saw the three girls. They were all Savannah’s friends, the core of the GreenHounds. They had put in the extra time on Sundays. They were 3 of the 4 “Gang of GreenHounds”. I thought “Savannah’s not there, why not?”

One of the girls catches my eye. She’s a great, great kid, a close friend of Savannah. She’s got tears in her eyes, and she’s staring at me. Bam! It hits me. My daughter is going to get the award! I go numb. Mr. C announces it. Savannah walks up and accepts it.

I don’t know what to feel now. I hope that I have been a big part of her metamorphous into a wonderful adult. I hope my steadfastness gave her good memories. I miss our walks in the woods when she was a little girl. I want those days back.

Savannah is going to leave off for college in a few short months. I know it’s her job to go out into the world. I know it’s the right thing. That doesn’t numb the pain of thinking about her leaving.

Benched

benched

Last May 10th Douglas was pitching a game when he took a line drive to his right shin. The thunk was so loud all the parents heard it in the bleachers. Never in my years of coaching Little League Baseball have I seen a pitcher take a shot like that. The Doctor diagnosed a fractured Tibia and put a full leg cast on for 6 weeks. His season was over.

Douglas was 10 years old at the time, playing in the Majors division. The Division was made up of 10-12 year olds, with league age being determined on May 31st. The batter that hit the line drive was turning 13 the following month. He had 6 inches on Douglas, and nearly 3 additional years of development.

This year the Atascadero Little League re-aligned the division to be more in line with Babe Ruth Baseball. The Majors now moves to an 11-13 year-old bracket. That meant Douglas would be playing with 8th graders. Douglas is in 5th grade.

Two years ago Douglas was one of only two 9 year-olds pitching in AAA. We won the district championships that year. Last year he moved up into Majors. He was the only 10 year-old actively pitching in the division. At the time of his injury, he had the lowest ERA on the team. Yes, he’s that good.

Douglas is still feeling the effects of that hit. He’s a little scared of the ball when I throw hard at him during catch. I though about him, a 5th grader, playing against kids that are nearly in high school. I thought about sending him back down to AAA level, and how that would dull his love of the game. I thought about him playing well above his age level for the last two years and how he was always intimidated in the early part of the season.

I made the decision to sit him out for this season. He took the news hard.

My thinking is that he would have a tough year in baseball. He’s not over the fear of being on the mound and facing batters. The difference between an 11 year-old and a nearly 14 year-old player is more pronounced that the the differential on a 10-13 year-old pairing.

I gotta admit that I have some parental self-interest in this decision. Never again do I want to witness the pain that Douglas incurred on that day nearly a year ago. I hope I made the best decision for Douglas.

A Life Examined

a-life-examined

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack

You may find yourself in another part of the world

You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile

You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife

You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

The Talking Heads Once In a Lifetime

So, what happened to put me where I am today? What does my past mean? What if I was to write down the most vivid memory for each year of my life, starting with the first one?

1960

Seeing the deep blue sky

1961

Dad hitting me in the back seat of the car because I was crying after reconstructive facial surgery

1962

John Sprankle breaking into our house/room and trying to hurt Mom. The “Here’s Johnny” scene in The Shining.

1963
City of Youngstown uses Eminent Domain to kick us out of house, woke up one morning with the excavators piling dirt onto the sides of our house

1964
Undergo multiple electric shock therapy sessions to cure my Bell’s Palsy

1965
Started speech therapy

1966
Uncle John returns from Viet Nam in a closed casket

1967
Mrs. Scott pulls me out of special ed saying, “This child doesn’t belong here.” Best. Teacher. Ever.

1968
Moved to new house on Clarencedale, left my best friend Kenny King

1969
Got grade 4 concussion falling from roof of garage

1970
Overheard Mom and her boyfriend in bedroom having sex

1971
Bancroft school closed, started busing to Sheridan School

1972
My best friend John moves away

1973
Fabulous vacation at Cedar Point, followed by my Grandmother giving Mom heck for having to had pay for it

1974
Tore ACL in left knee

1975
Got dental partial, sent to school on that very same day, publicly humiliated when I couldn’t talk

1976
Bully Bobby Mitchell torments me in high school

1977
Moved out from home and into trailer

1978
Severely injured in hit-and-run accident while training on bike

1979
Started wheel-building,

1980
Another severe concussion in second hit-and-run accident, nearly died

1981
Road 9,000+ miles training, got good results in races

1982
Grandma moves in with me so she doesn’t have to go to nursing home

1983
Started college

1984
Met Janet

1985
First of 3 solo motocycle trips out West

1986
Janet coerces me to come home early while climbing/riding in WV on Spring Break

1987
Graduated from Youngstown State University with a 4.0 GPA in my major

1988
Married Janet

1989
On vacation in Crested Butte, rode rental bike to the top of Pearl Pass without Janet

1990
After 20,040 wheels, ended wheel-building

1991
On vacation with Janet, bagged Mt. Whitney in 1 day by myself

1992
House flooded, bought first house 3 days later

1993
On vacation, 70-mile ride in Key West. Janet rides along on a scooter, only time she rode with me

1994
Started at Dick’s Sporting Goods as Buyer, Grandma dies, Savannah born

1995
Looked up and found Dad and 3 previously unknown siblings that were given up for adoption

1996
Janet miscarriage

1997
First date with Janet since Savannah was born, Courtney born via C-section

1998
Bees swarm Courtney’s 1st Birthday party

1999
Janet falsely accuses me of having a liason while we were on a business trip in Lake Tahoe with my boss and his wife

2000
Recipient of Buyer of the Year Award at Dick’s Sporting Goods

2001
Bought second house, Douglas born

2002
Resigned from Dick’s Sporting Goods under duress

2003
Took sabbatical to walk Appalachian Trail

2004
Started as Marketing Director for YESCO Electric

2005
Moved family cross-country to California as Buyer for Copeland Sports. short-sold my house in Ohio

2006
Started at VAS Entertainment

2007
Let go by VAS Entertainment due to “strategic re-structuring”

2008
First argument in front of kids, Janet diagnosed with Breast Cancer

2009
Janet cleared of cancer

2010
Failed merger at CBO and let go, Janet dies

2011
Coached Douglas’s Little League team to championships on anniversary of Janet’s death

2012
Engaged to Alex

Putting it this way, I see a very clear picture of myself. My Mother was the only one strong for me, Dad abused and left us. I initially resented Mom’s boyfriend because of his extramarital affair with Mom. He tried to get close to me but it only worsened the trauma. I eventually grew to understand him late in his life, I wish he was still here for Mom and me.

I stayed married to a woman for 23 years out of love and devotion, even when she was hurting me. If I argued then I was labeled unreasonable. If I disengaged then I was labeled as not caring. If I got upset then I was a tyrant. If I called out her behavior she denied it until our relationship was past done.

I was always “wrong,” always “selfish,” and always “not caring” for wanting to see my friends, for wanting my own life, for not wanting to deal with being insulted or emotionally abused. And the worst part was that I believed every word of it. I spent years feeling like I was an awful person, and feeling scared of her. I felt like leaving the situation would just prove that I really didn’t care/love her enough, and that would make me a bad husband, a bad human being. I was unknowingly married to a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder. A lifetime of trauma left me always defensive, constantly alert, hyper-vigilant.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after prolonged exposure to psychological trauma. I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD. I’ll make it though this just fine. I always do.

The Good Son

the-good-son

Ray Boom Boom Mancini was the real-life Rocky. A tough-as-nails fighter from a tough city. Boom Boom won the World Lightweight Title in 1982. Tragedy struck later that year when he knocked out Duk Koo Kim in a title defense. Kim never regained consciousness.

Boom Boom and I grew up in Youngstown, OH, in the South Side. Ray lived in the Lansingville neighborhood and I lived adjacent in Pleasant Grove. We had a few mutual friends. It was through them that I got to meet him.

I saw him work out. Ray trained harder than anyone I knew. He wasn’t a gifted fighter by any means, he won by sheer, brutal force of will. He got to the top level by working harder at it than anyone else. Ray was all heart. We loved him in Youngstown.

A few months ago my good friend John Ruble sent me Ray’s Biography. It’s a beautiful story about fathers and sons, drive and championships, loss and redemption. It’s a testament to the human spirit. Thanks John for sending me this great book.

I’m Kirk, You’re Spock

im-kirk-youre-spock

It never made sense to me: Why should play a character that I didn’t want to be?

The year was 1967. I had moved into the neighborhood the prior year. Clarencedale Avenue was all things to a little boy – a wide, tree-lined street, expansive yards and lots of trees to climb. The block was built on the site of an apple orchard. Everyone had an old apple tree or three in their yard.

Clarencedale had lots of boys near my age. John, Teddy, Scott, Randy, Mike, Tony, Sam, Rich, Kevin, Mark and Richard. We played baseball on the corner lot on Southern Boulevard and football in the yard next to our house. It was a plethora of small-town ambiance mixed into a mill-town existence.

Star Trek had begun playing on TV. My friends and I were mesmerized. We started to play-act the show. Teddy would be Scotty and John played Doctor McCoy. I wanted to be Captain Kirk. Our friend Scott Speirs thought otherwise.

Scott was one of those pugnacious kids, everything he had or was involved in was the best, and he’d let you know it. He had a Schwinn Sting Ray, he’d tell me it was better than my Western Flyer. His Dad’s Chevrolet Caprice convertible was “higher-class” than Mom’s AMC Gremlin. His Hot Wheels collection was awesome, he had the Red Baron car. He had the GI Joe Arctic Soldier ensemble, with the miniature snow-white M-14 rifle and matching snow suit.

Scott couldn’t ride a bike to save his life. He never talked about his absentee Dad who was an abusive alcoholic. Scott never took his Hot Wheels cars out of their display case to play with. Same with the GI Joe stuff. Scott was all talk and no action.

Scott always insisted on playing Captain Kirk. Scott told me I was Spock because I was smart like Spock. I resented that for two reasons.

First, I associated Spock’s Vulcan ears with my Cleft Palette. I hated that association because I wanted to be normal like all my other friends. I just wanted to fit in.

Secondly, I was the fastest, most athletic. I was the best baseball player. No one could tackle me in our backyard football games. No one schemed as well against our up-street adversaries, in countless raids against a numerically superior gang we usually won. I was the leader of our gang. That made me, as Spock would say, the logical choice for Kirk.

Scott never agreed I played a better Captain Kirk. I regret I didn’t have the confidence to stand up to a bully like Scott. I watch Douglas play with his friends and how he’s emerging in the mold of a Captain Kirk. That makes me smile.

There are Times

….where I don’t have the time to write. I don’t want to reduce this blog to a simple status update thingy. I’m wanting to write quality and eventually pen a book. So, happy Friday. Peace.

Roger and I

roger-and-i

A long time ago I was in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on a layover. I headed to one of those fine airport drinking establishments and took a seat at the bar. Sitting next to me was Roger Ebert.

I blurted out “Hey, aren’t you Roger Ebert?” Before he could respond I came to my senses and introduced myself. I joked to him “Where’s Gene?” He chuckled and said he was flying by himself to a film preview somewhere.

After the bartender bought us our beers, we settled into some chit-chat. We both talked a little bit about our work, joked about the airlines, and yes – we talked about movies. Since I was a disciple of the Siskel & Ebert show, we had a nuanced discussion about film. He had a flight to catch so he took care of our tab over my protestations and left me alone at the bar, pondering what had just transpired.

What struck me wasn’t his passion for film or his great intellect. It was his humbleness, his empathy towards others and his personal viewpoint of the world. He made a dent in the universe by elevating Film as Art and by taking on humanistic causes. And he did it in a very human way, being direct to the point, honest and with love.

I’ll miss him. R.I.P. Roger.

Speed Barn

speed-barn

We took five busted scooters and made 3 tight ones. Custom mods include double-clamped steerers, replacement of folding mechanisms with hard-set bolts, beefed-up brake springs, bearing swap, and re-packed the headsets.

Doug is hard on his gear. I’m not complaining.

Solo with Koala

solo-with koala

I did a big solo ride yesterday. 62 miles in 3 hours, lots of climbing. Nice, cool day in the lower 70s. Started from my house in Santa Margarita, climbed the grade into San Luis Obispo, headed out Highway 1 to Morro Bay, up along the coast to Cayucos, headed inland, up and over the Santa Lucia range, into Templeton then turning south and headed home.

This is the view from the top of Santa Rita Road, elevation 1,800′. The road is dirt on both sides. The descent was made treacherous from the mud from the prior day’s rain.