Your ENT is fond of Springsteen (in an average summer.)
It gets so you can’t hear well enough out of one ear—the radio news, your footsteps in the stairwell, the street traffic, the subway intercom—it gets so you can’t hear very much at all to the left. The stuff you gather as ‘thumps’ are not thumps, you can’t say what they are, because you can’t gather, at all, and besides, what ‘thumps’ anymore to the left? You drink a couple pints of stout at the pub until it’s time for your appointment. It’s a dry sun outside, a fine warm day with people acting reasonably (for a change) in their paces between office and lunch counter. The guy in ragged clothing, rattling coins in a cup, doesn’t say “Help the hummus” but that’s what you hear because, yeah, you can’t hear.
An ear technician, not the doctor, greets you. He’s enthusiastic about aural hygiene and could lead some kind of ear workout on morning television, beside that tae bo fellow. He applies salves and lineaments and solutions. After a spell, he starts working a plug of earwax this way and that, until it pops out with a suction-y “boop” kind of noise. It’s crabapple in size. “I’ve got to fetch the doctor!” he yells. He returns with the doctor and several staffers who ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh.’ “Get a picture!” someone says. “Not so loud!” you say. You can hear again. “Please don’t post that on social media,” you whisper. Even to whisper is loud. Optimism, and its three grand syllables (or four?) appeals of a sudden.
The doctor hangs around. He’s got to probe your nodes and such. “Hum something,” he orders. “Epistrophy” comes to mind. You hum some Monk. The doctor wrinkles his nose. “What’s that?” he says. “Thelonious Monk,” you say. “Who?” he says. You make a “how do I explain” face. “Couldn’t you hum some Springsteen?” It takes you a minute to figure this out. “HUMMM hum-hum-hum-hum HUMMM!” you say. “Was that so hard?” says the ear doctor. You shake your head, lying. “Where’d you hear that?” he says. “Everywhere,” you say, tapping both ears. “That’s good,” he says. “Cured.” He fills your ear full of antibiotic. “But I heard the Monk everywhere, too,” you add, in protest.
You carry your chart to the front desk at the same time as Tom Ridge carries his chart to the front desk. He gets to check-out first, because he’s Tom Ridge. Out in the hallway, the elevator dings, like, really loud. “This way, Mr. Secretary,” you say, giddy with hearing. He squints at you as the doors close. “We rode an airplane together,” he says. He adds, “The writerrr,” meaning you. “I can’t believe you remember that!” you say. “Two years ago!” Tom Ridge taps his temple: “Keeping the Homeland safe.” You reply, in exasperation, “I haven’t done anything to the Homeland!” The doors open. Tom Ridge points his finger at you as he turns the corner to the pharmacy. It’s a zinger, you realize, a zinger.