Wednesday, August 23, 2017

August 23, 2017--Spectre of Decline

Edward Luce's persuasive but highly disturbing 2012 book--Time to Start Thinking: America and the Spectre of Decline, in just two paragraphs, sets the context for the rise and election of Donald Trump.

About the hollowing-out middle class--
According to the Economic Security Index, which tracks the number of Americans who experience a drop in their annual income of at least a quarter, the rate has almost doubled since Reagan was president. In 1985 just over one in eight Americans suffered an income loss of a quarter or more. By [2008] the time the financial meltdown hit, almost one in five Americans were affected. Since then, that number has grown sharply. . . 
Since one year's casualties are mostly different from the next, much more than one in five Americans now live in semipermanent fear of falling off the precipice. In the decade leading up to the collapse of the subprime market, more than half of Americans experienced an income loss of a quarter or more in one or more years. Think of the General Motors worker with his pension and health care plan. In the 1960s he earned $60,000 a year in today's prices. Walmart, which as the largest employer is the equivalent in today's economy, pays its 1.1 million mostly female employees on average $17,500 a year, most of them without . . . pension or health care benefits.
Further--

In 2009, "Lee Scott, then the chief executive of Walmart, . . . earned more in two weeks than the average Walmart employee does in her lifetime."


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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

August 22, 2017--Steve Bannon: A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words

Anyone wondering what happened to Steve Bannon, why Donald Trump fired him after declaring many times in public that Bannon was an invaluable and loyal advisor, need only look at the photo on the cover of Joshua Green's revealing page-turner, Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency

When it comes to Trump a picture is worth many thousands of words.

If Trump hated the idea that Time Magazine put Bannon on its February cover anointing him "The Great Manipulator: Second Most Powerful Man In the World"--with us left to draw our own conclusions about who was being manipulated--one can only imagine what Trump thought when Green's book is so much more about Bannon and his perverse brilliance than Trump, who is largely described as an intuitive political prodigy.



Bannon is not quite labeled Trump's brain, but Devil's Bargain comes pretty close to asserting that he is. But again, if the cover of the book featured Trump, just Trump, I suspect Bannon would still be in the White House.

It turns out, as Trump put it to the New York Post, "I'm my own strategist. Steve's  just a guy who works for me." And as hired help,  like one of Trump's immigrant golf course workers, he's gone.



When I ran this idea by Rona, she said,"Since we read from left to right, if the image of Trump on the book jacket had been on the right, where our eyes come to rest, I suspect Trump would have less of a problem with the book, since as everyone knows, he doesn't read."

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Monday, August 21, 2017

August 21, 2017--Jack: Missing In Action

"I was wondering if I'd ever hear from you or see you again."

It had been a couple of weeks since Jack called or showed up at the Bristol Diner. I had a feeling why that might be, but I didn't want to let him off the hook. So I phoned to give him the business.

Sounding chipper, Jack said, "I've been busy with visitors. You know, it's the busiest week of the summer and, if you can believe it, I had 18 house guests. People were sleeping everywhere--some in the barn where I set up a kind of dorm for the young ones. They had a ball. Still are. About 10 remain. I've been running around stocking up on food and drinks and snacks." 

I let him rattle on. He never brings up domestic matters. All we ever talk about and spat about is politics. Especially how Trump is doing.

"We're having a cookout later today so I don't have a lot of time. I need to get to Hannifords before they run out of chopped meat, hot dogs, and all sorts of accompaniments. Then, over to Reilly's for corn. They have the best corn in the area and I need about a bushel. If I don't get there soon they'll run out and our friends will be disappointed. We do this every year. The corn and Mrs. Chase's pie are the hit of the weekend. So, I have to get three pies. And of course ice cream. People love Gifford's ice cream. Chocolate and vanilla for the pies. And . . ."

Since it was only 9:30 I knew there was no danger of anything being out of stock. So, I said, "I won't keep you, but we know each other well enough for me to see you're vamping."

"Vamping? That's a new one. Actually, sounds funky. I like funky."

"Meaning you're dodging the issue at hand. I would have thought you'd be all over me. What, with everything that's been going on. You of course know what I'm talking about and why you haven't been to the diner. I know about all the guests you have every year in mid-August. In fact, it's during those times that you always come to the diner. To take a break. To hide out for a couple of hours. So don't try to sound so innocent. It's not working with me. If you didn't want to talk you could have ignored my call--I assume you have caller ID. All this bull about hot dogs and corn is a distraction. But then again, you did answer the phone. So what's the story?"

Jack was uncharacteristically silent.

"You have nothing to say about Steve Bannon being fired? Nothing on your mind about Charlottesville? Nothing about what Trump had to say? His initial comments, his phony written statement on Monday and then on Tuesday at that scary news conference when he spoke about what he really believes? About all this you have nothing to say? You, who for two years haven't been able to stop talking about 'your boy' Trump? If you had any integrity you would have been eager to talk about all this. I'm sure, spouting White House spin. Placing blame on the counter demonstrators. Blaming the whole thing on the Black-Lives-Matter people. Maybe even trying to work Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton into the scenario. How it was all their fault that there was violence and murder."

I was furious about what has been going on and Jack's silence.

"So, you're just going to sit there listening to my ranting, pretending you have to go food shopping? The country is coming apart at the seams thanks to the person you helped elect and have been pimping for for two years and you have nothing to say? The world is in turmoil, North Korea hasn't gone away, nor, thank God, has Mueller and his investigators, and you're talking to me about chopped meat?"

I thought I heard Jack groan.

"I'm about finished with you," I said, almost spitting, "Either you start talking or stop coming to the diner and never call me again. I too have caller ID. I'm being serious. You have 10 seconds and then I'm hanging up." I began to count down--"10, 9, 8, 7 . . ."

"I'm also . . . " He was speaking so softly that I couldn't understand what he was saying.

"Speak up, Jack, you know I don't hear that well. I think you mumbled something." I resumed counting--"7, 6, 5 . . ."

In a hushed voice, he said, "My father, bless his soul, was in the army. In combat. The Second World War. In Europe. He landed in Normandy in the third wave. A lot of his comrades were killed even before they reached the beach. They fought their way across France. Pushing toward Germany. Then the Jerries counterattacked. It was the Battle of the Bulge. My father's division was almost surrounded. Cut off. Decimated. More buddies blown up and wounded. 

"He was only 19 years old. I have grandchildren that old. It was a miracle he made it through. Many of his guys were captured and spent the rest of the war in German POW camps. Somehow, the others managed to break out of the trap and kept pushing east. Toward Germany. Along the way, they came to Buchenwald. The concentration camp. Where he learned later 43,000 mainly Jews were exterminated. They liberated the survivors. Who were like living skeletons. More than half dead."

I could hear Jack breathing deeply.

He resumed, "My father, like many GIs, never talked about any of this. Not until he was dying from cancer. When he was 81. That was the first time I heard what he had experienced. The hardest part for him was not what happened to the boys in his platoon. That was hard enough. But Buchenwald, about that . . ."

Jack couldn't finish the story. I waiting for a least a minute, not saying anything, listening to his breathing.

Finally, he said, "Now maybe you understand." Again, he paused.

"I think I do, but I need to hear you say it."

"You're torturing me."

"Not really. I want you to tell me what's going on with you about this."

"Isn't it obvious?"

"Yes and no."

"OK. I really need to go shopping, so here goes--

"I hated, yes hated, what Trump said at that so-called news conference. He never even served though he went to military school and fancies himself a tough guy. And I wonder how many of those KKK and neo-Nazis served. My guess, none of them. Not that that's the meaning of life. Being in the army. But you can't pretend to be a warrior and hide behind deferments. Trump, I think, had four or five. But that's a distraction--about who served and who didn't. 

"The problem is," Jack continued, "that you can't, no one can, particularly a president cannot say anything whatsoever good about the Ku Klux Klan and especially the Nazis. Nothing. How are the people on TV talking about this? As Morally equivalent?"

"Equivalency. Moral equivalency."

"There is no such thing as that when it comes to Nazis. There's nothing equivalent. Nazis are evil. Anyone calling himself a Nazi today is also evil. It's that simple. Maybe those guys in Charlottesville didn't have anything directly to do with concentration camps and killing Jews. But if you're a self-proclaimed Nazi that becomes part of your baggage."

After waiting another half minute, I posed the really biggest question--"Does that include Trump? Is that also part of his baggage?"

I let a minute pass. "Does it? He's your boy. Whatever he is or isn't, he's yours. You bear some responsibility for him. I mean for his being president."

" . . . "

"I didn't hear you. As I told you . . ."

Jack rasped, "It does. It does include him."

"So what are you going to do?"

More silence.

"I don't know. I still like a lot of things about him, but . . ."

"But what?"

"Like I said, I don't know."
Buchenwald Liberation Photo

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Friday, August 18, 2017

August 18, 2017--What's Really Going On

From Donald Trump's perspective, it's not about white supremacy, it's not about America first, it's not about support for neo-Nazis, nor is it about immigrants. Though he does have hateful positions about all of these. 

As with almost everything about him, it's personal

For most of his followers, including that frightening base of about 25 percent of racist Americans as well as nearly 80 percent of Republicans who still support him, it is about some of these matters; but his appeal continues to derive primarily from his ability to mobilize the anger Americans feel at the eroding quality of their lives and their frustrations about America's diminishing place in the world.

Trump continues to be depressingly adept at exploiting their sense of decline and dislocation. He knows the buttons to push to elicit support when he sees it necessaryto shore up his coalition. Especially those who are at the hard core of his base. The ones he encourages through dog whistle statements and tweets that sanction the ugliest of reactions. The kind of scary hatred and violence we saw on display this past weekend in Charlottesville.

Again, none of this comes from genuine concern about Americans who feel they have been left behind (too many in fact have been). It is all about Donald Trump. Not about America but Donald Trump.

And so what we are witnessing is his latest reaction to what special counsel Robert Mueller is bringing to the boiling point--the role Trump himself played in stealing the presidency and his years of financial dealings with the Russians.

Concurrent with giving sanction to the mobilization of neo-Nazis and white supremacists were reports during the past two weeks about the FBI raid on former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort's house; what is turning up in the more than 20,000 documents the Trump campaign turned over to Mueller's people and what their perusal is beginning to reveal about collusion in the election with the Russians; and Mueller's move last week to seek testimony from senior White House aids, including recently-fired chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

Only Donald Trump knows what he did and didn't do. And this is clearly terrifying him.

If his hands are clean, he should have no concerns. On the other hand, if there is clear evidence that he knew and/or encouraged working with the Russians to undermine Hillary Clinton and/or if he has had significant financial dealings with Russians (many of them likely to be dirty), he has a lot to be more than concerned about. He should be feeling desperate.

Feeling desperate would explain much of his recent behavior, most vividly on display in his gyrating reaction to what was perpetrated in Charlottesville.

His desperation about his own, personal collapsing circumstances could be what has been motivating his increasingly grotesque behavior.

Again, it's all about Mueller.

Thus, we should soon see a renewed move to fire him and the offer of pardons to Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. Both vulnerable to being "squeezed" by investigators in the hope that they will throw Trump under the bus to save their skins and keep them out of jail--which is where both are headed.

Meanwhile, while Charlottesville was blanketing the news, North Korea hasn't been sitting on its hands--expect reemerging threats from moves to launch more ICBMs and even renewed testing of nuclear weapons. This will give Trump the pretext to strike back and thereby clear the headlines of anything having to do with white supremacy or Trump people colluding with the Russians to undermining Clinton's campaign.

We'll see what the generals will say or do about that.

Of course, expect to see Steve Bannon receive his walking papers from the current chief of staff, John Kelly. Assuming Kelly himself doesn't quit before doing that.

Then, there is what Trump's senior advisors who are Jewish will do--treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin and chief economic advisor Gary Cohen . . .

Son-in-law Jared Kushner might . . .

And daughter Ivanka may . . .

Left to Right--Gary Cohen, Steve Mnuchin, Donald Trump

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

August 17, 2017--Friends Visiting

With friends here I am taking a holiday from blogging. I will return tomorrow, Friday.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

August 16, 2017--Inner Ear (Concluded): An Audiological Tale

Dr. Schwartzberg continued . . .

As I mentioned, Mrs. Caldwell's husband, Thaddeus, what a perfect name for a Harvard professor, Thaddeus, as it turned out also had behind-the-ear hearing devices. After he died, Mrs. Caldwell thought about what to do with them. She did some research and found that there are a number of organizations that accept hearing aids as gifts. That they refurbish them and make them available to low-income people. She choose to do that, but before donating them, as a way of feeling close to and intimate with him, she activated them and inserted them in her ears. She told me that this was not so different than wearing his socks or one of his well-worn sweaters. Something else she did on chilly evenings.

As they were not programmed for her, the sounds she heard, she told me, were oceanic. Not unlike what the water and wind sound like when you place a conch shell over your ear. They had a vacation house in Maine, in Camden, near here, which in part is how she found her way to me, a place on the Gulf of Maine. They would take long walks along the water in the afternoon and she felt that the sounds she was hearing though his devices were, perhaps in her imagination, an evocation of the sounds they loved to hear all those years walking together along the rugged coast.

Mrs. Caldwell so much enjoyed her beach walks while wearing his hearing devices that she delayed donating them. She said, "It was like having him with me on my daily walks. At those times, I lived in a world of the sounds from the enchanted life I shared with him. I missed him so much it was as if the sound of the water and wind brought him back to me. In that way I didn't feel so alone and bereft."

But them something very different occurred--she was reluctant to share this with me out of concern that I would think she was experiencing dementia, or, as a psychiatrist would describe it, a personality disorder. I tried to assure her I would not come to either of these conclusions, and so she took the chance to tell me that through his hearing aids she began to hear not just sounds of the ocean but his voice.

"At first," she said, "I thought I was hearing just his breathing. He had a tendency to wheeze at night while sleeping and I thought that was what I was hearing. But soon there were occasional words and after that full sentences."

I told her this was nothing short of astonishing, which it was, and though I initially felt she was experiencing a version of auto-suggestion, as she revealed more, something else seemed to have been happening to her. To tell the truth, to this day I do not know what to make of it.

She told me that she began to wear Thaddeus' hearing aids all day long, including when she went to bed and slept. I thought, of course, that what she was reporting was from dream material. But when I mentioned this to her as a hypothesis she emphatically denied it, indicating with some upset that as a clinician she knew the difference between dream content and other forms of cognition.

So, without interrupting her further, I let her tell her story.

Mrs. Caldwell's story--

Of course I was confused. As a psychiatrist I had any number of delusional patients and thought I might be experiencing some of the same symptomology. I checked with my own analyst and he assured me that, as incredible at it was, what I was experiencing was more real than imagined. So I set my concerns aside and let the experience unfold.

And it did.

After about a month of wearing Thaddeus' hearing aids, the breathing sounds abated as did the occasional word or two. I began to hear full sentences about mainly mundane matters and after that, a second voice began to become audible.

A woman's voice.

You can imagine my surprise. Who was this person who was now becoming a part of my life? What did she mean to Thaddeus? Hers was the only other voice I heard and so I assumed she must have been--was?--an important part of his life. I began to keep notes. Notes mainly of what she was saying.

It quickly became apparent that they had had some kind of relationship for at least as long as he had hearing devices. It also was apparent that she was one of his graduate students. Much of what I heard between them had to do with her dissertation. He was her advisor. She was working on something about Flaubert.

But then things turned darker. I am embarrassed to share this with you but feel you will understand And I have no one else to turn to. I brought some notes I made after one of the last conversation that they had. Allow me to read them to you. Her name, I learned, was Francois.

Francois' story--

You bastard. You told me you would be leaving that bitch [that bitch is me]. I'm wasting my life waiting around for you. You swore to me you would but that she has a terminal disease and that you would soon be free. But why should I believe you? You've done nothing but lie to me. That's what you are--a lier and a cheat.

Mr. Fancy with your endowed chair and all those frisky undergraduates chasing after you. How many of them have you been stringing along? Diddling them? I should report you to the dean. You know it's not permitted for faculty members to have affairs with students. All I need to do is pass along some of your emails and you'll be out on your ass. Which you totally deserve.

Mrs. Caldwell resumed--

There's more, but what I've shared should be enough. Again, I am not fantasizing this. I've even been able to find some of their emails and love notes and this in black and white corroborates what I have told you.

My life was shattered. He was living a double, maybe a triple life. At first I thought maybe I was having a case similar to the famous one--"The man who mistook his wife for a hat." From Oliver Sacks. But with the emails and notes I have no doubts. As you know, I'm a very old lady and do not have many more years left. But they will be an agony. I don't know what to live for. Everything that gave me meaning feels violated.

To Rona and me Gary said, "This is literally what she shared with me."

"Incredible," Rona said.

"I assume you're not crazy," I said, again to lighten the mood.

"I believe her. I don't know what to make of it but I believe her. Things can be strange and can have no rational explanation. I am feeling that one should, in this case, leave it as it is."

"I have no idea what you mean," I said.

Gary laughed, "To tell the truth neither do I. But I did make one suggestion to Mrs. Caldwell that I think, I hope was helpful."

"What was that?" Rona asked.

"To concentrate on her clients. They needed her almost as much as she needed them. That can give life purpose."

"So, how is she doing? Is she still around? I mean alive?"

"Sadly, no. She died, also in her sleep, about six months ago."

"Yes, sad," Rona said, "But she had a good ending. If there is such a thing. One last question--you must have a dozen clients waiting--did she take your advice? And if so, how did it work out?"

"She did and it did. It worked quite well. The last thing she said to me was that as she looked back on her entire life, with special attention to this last trauma, all things considered, she preferred the truth to the lie."

"I get that," Rona said, "I thrive on the truth. It makes me feel respected and authentic."

"Let's leave it at that," Gary said, "And pick this up in a couple of weeks when you're back for your next session. Let's agree--no more weird stories, just routine adjustments," he winked, "At least for the time being."
Mount Holyoke 1940s

August 16, 2017--SPECIAL NOTE

This morning I will be posting two blogs. The first will be about Charlottesville and the second will be the final part of the Audiological Tale.

Needless to say, Charlottesville takes precedence as our democracy is at imminent risk.

The Tale is a distraction but since I have heard from a number of people that they are eager to see how it ends I will not delay posting it. 

August 16, 2017--Donald Trump's Hostage Tape

Does anyone believe that the statement President Trump finally made on Monday, two days after the violence, murder, and deaths in Charlottesville, came from his heart?

If so, everyone should now know better.

In his initial comments on Saturday, after failing to call out by name the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists, and neo-Nazi thugs, he was excoriated on all sides, by some Republicans (kudos to Marco Rubio) and most Democrats, for his unwillingness to do so and especially for striking the absurd, moral equivalent comparison when he condemned violence "from many sides."

He tried to clean it up on Sunday by having a White House spokesman release a statement that most still felt did not go far enough because it failed to mention white supremacists by name and included criticism of violence allegedly perpetrated by "other [presumably liberal] hate groups."

Still under immense pressure, on Monday, sticking close to the text on his teleprompter, he called out hate groups by name and restrained himself from making any reference to those from the many sides--
Racism is evil [he forced himself to say]. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the K.K.K., neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.
If he had uttered these words closer to the time of the act of domestic terrorism, he probably could have retained at least some credibility. He could have made reference to his claim on February 16th when he boasted--"I am the least anti-semitic, least racist person ever. [My italics.]

Of course, that would have been suspect based on things he actually said and did for at least the past two years.

On July 8, 2015, less than a month after announcing he was running for president he, defamed Mexicans--
When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. . . . They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problem with us [sic]. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some I assume are good people.
He also has failed to explicitly mention Jews even when recalling the Holocaust. On February 27, 2017, for example, critics say, his failure to do so "generalizes" one of the worst genocides in history.

And, of course, his rise to political prominence was based on his five-year racist assault on Barack Obama's citizenship and thus the legitimacy of his presidency.

The list goes on. Stating a version of, "Some of my best friends are (fill in the blank) doesn't work. In fact, it makes his denial sound even hollower.

Monday morning, on Morning Joe, marketing expert Donny Deutsch told it like it is. He said--
He is a racist. Can we just say it once and for all, when we look at his history? When we look at the housing issues [in 1973 Trump was sued by the Justice Department for discriminating against African American renters], when you look at what he said about reverse discrimination against whites, the birther movement. We have a racist as a president who is a man who cannot stand up and condemn the Ku Klux Klan and Nazism is a racist.
From Trump's facial expressions and body language on Monday as he read the comments prepared for him by those trying to "handle" him, it looked as if he was delivering a hostage tape. And he was.

He is a hostage of his own devising. How many more bridges will he burn as he becomes more and more desperate to hold on to his dwindling base of supporters?

Three days ago, David Duke, former head of the KKK and fervent Trump supporter told the truth. He said, "We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump."

Trump continues to repay that scabrous debt.

And by yesterday afternoon he again reversed himself, saying the counter demonstrators were "very, very violent."

From his fury we knew he was unscripted and speaking from his heart.

It is time to consider implementing the 25th Amendment. He is not fit to be our president.


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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August 15, 2017--Inner Ear: An Audiological Tale (Part 1 of 2)

Dr. Gary Schwartzberg had my hearing aids hooked up to his computer. By doing so he could see if the adjustments he made during my last visit were still functioning properly.

"Looking good," I think he said. Without them in place I resumed lip reading.

"I'm happy to hear that," I said.

"And I can see that since you were here you used them on average 13 hours and six minutes a day." He said that loud enough so that I could hear the details.

"Really?" I said, "That's calculated by and stored in my devices?" I used "devices" since I know that's his preferred way to refer to my hearing aids.

"That's just the beginning of what I can see."

Feeling a little like my devices were a form of Big Brother, concerned about my privacy, I asked, "OK, I can handle it. What other kinds of surveillance is going on?"

"I can see from this that 76 percent of the time you were in quiet environments. Probably reading, writing, hanging out with Rona." Rona smiled at him. "And it looks as if you averaged less than an hour a day watching TV."

"The Trump news all day is driving me crazy."

"I understand that," he said, "I can tell how little you're watching by how often you activated the gizmo I gave you that blue-tooths the TV sound right to your devices. It doesn't look as if you listened to much music either by the looks of this," he was squinting at the screen, "I can also see you were out walking every day. Which I know is a good thing for you." He smiled at me.

"How does the machine know that?"

"You told me you live by the water and I programmed these to reduce the over-amplified sound of the wind and surf. Pretty impressive, right?"  He tipped back in his chair, rocking back and forth, quite proud of himself.

"One more thing," he was grinning, "It looks as if your breakfasts on average lasted almost 90 minutes a day. Probably because you were spending so much time arguing with Jack." He winked.

"You can see that?" I was incredulous, "You know what this sounds like?"

"1984?"

"Since you mentioned it, yes, 1984. To tell you the truth, this is not my favorite thing. I'm not a privacy junkie--in fact, since computing and big-data, I've basically given up on privacy. What we used to think of it no longer exists. I'm living with that. Not that I have an alternative unless I decide to live off the grid."

"Too late for that," Rona said, "Might as well try to make the best of it."

"So, are you telling me," I swiveled my chair so I could look directly at Gary," that these aids or devices, whatever, are like smart phones and computers--everything is stored forever in versions of hard drives?"

"They're not all the same. I think, yes, computers keep your emails forever even if you delete them. Ask Hillary Clinton about that. But for these," he tapped my hearing aids which he was about to reinsert in my ears, "the kind of information they capture and I told you about, is by comparison quite benign. I don't know what to tell you. If you're so uncomfortable about this diagnostic use of the chip capacity in your very high-tech hearing aids, we can move back to something simpler and . . ."

"I can complete the thought for you--'simpler but much less effective.'"

He was happy to hear that I wanted to keep the ones I've grown accustomed to and which have literally changed my life.

"One thing I can assure you is that the specifics of what you're hearing are not captured and retained. I mean . . ." He began to mumble. I could hear that quite well with the devices back in my ears. "I mean, maybe. If only . . . I don't know."

"Don't know what?" I was concerned about him sounding so confused.

He looked away and then uncharacteristically got up from his chair. "I'll be right back," he said, vanishing.

"I wonder what's going on," Rona said, looking concerned. "I mean, he never . . . I mean, he seemed confused. That's not like him."

"I agree," I said. "I wonder if anything I said upset him." We looked at each other and shrugged.

With that he was back.

He sat down, wheeled closer to us, and, lowering his voice, said, "There was this incident."

"Incident?" Rona and I said simultaneously as if in chorus.

"A couple of years ago. With this woman. A client of mine. A wonderful, much older lady. And she was a lady. Very elegant. Very self-confident. I really enjoyed working with her." He paused and again broke off eye contact.

"And?" I said.

"She had the same kind of devices you have. An earlier iteration of them. This was about three, four years ago. So much with technology changes over that amount of time. But they were pretty much like yours--Starkey Muses."

"That's it? That's what has you behaving so weird?" I was confused.

"There's more. Much more. Though she's no longer around." Gary sounded ominous.

"She's no longer around?"

"Like I told you she's quite old. I mean, she was . . ."

"She's dead?"

"Passed."

"And? That's it? I suspect that with your clientele being on the older side--like me," I tired to lighten things up--"this is not an infrequent occurrence. It's happening to me all the time. It feels like half the people I know are . . .  You know. One of these days Rona's going to need to call you to cancel my adjustment appointment. I mean, all my appointments, if you get my drift."

"I get it," he said, "But you'll be around for a long time. How old was you mother when she . . . ?" He trailed off.

"107."

"A good number," he said, sounding distracted, "As I was saying, my client . . . " Again he looked away. At the ceiling this time.

"She passed? She died? However you prefer to put it."

"I know I'm stammering," Gary said, "But what happened was so strange. Even weird."

"Just tell us what happened," Rona said empathetically.

He took a deep breath. "OK. You asked for it. Here goes."

"It's about time," I said, "If you don't get to it soon my hearing aid batteries will die. Sorry. I didn't mean to put it that way.

He smiled. I was glad to see some of the tension had abated.

Gary's story--

Let's call her Mrs. Caldwell. When she first came to see me, and subsequently, she was alone. Almost the first words out of her mouth were to tell me that though she was 87 she didn't think she needed hearing aids. As you know, this is not unusual. She told me she was here because her niece, who was her closest surviving family member, wanted her to be tested.

From the way she carried herself, walked, spoke, and dressed she felt much younger than 87. She was full of energy, as vital a person as I've ever encountered. I knew from just a brief time with her, when she came in for her diagnostic hearing test, that if she chose to become a client, I would enjoy working with her.

The test showed her hearing loses to be modest but were likely, over the next year or so, to worsen; and so my recommendation was for her to get ahead of the curve and not wait until they were absolutely necessary. I was happy that she, without hesitation, said she wanted to proceed and quickly decided on the Starkey Muse type. Like yours.

As you know it takes a few weeks for the devices to arrive and then over two to three months there are the required monthly adjustments. As I had anticipated, she was not only a pleasure to work with but also, getting to know about her life, among the most interesting people I have been fortunate to encounter.

I learned that she was born in England and her father, who was a surgeon and served in the First World War, was also a member of Parliament. Her parents sent her abroad, to America, where there were more educational opportunities for women. After secondary school, which she attended in Boston, she was admitted to and attended Mount Holyoke College, where she was a premed.

She next went to medical school, back in Boston, and though she aspired to be a surgeon in the family tradition--her brother was a neurosurgeon who was killed in the Korean War--it was difficult for woman at that time to be accepted for a surgical residency. So she became a psychiatrist instead and built a successful practice in Cambridge where her husband-to-be at Harvard was a professor of romance languages. By then Mrs. Caldwell considered herself to be an American and in the 1950s became a citizen.

They opted not to have children and, she felt, were a loving and successful couple. They had numerous friends and a rich social life. They were fortunate never to have economic worries and traveled to all seven continents, all the while managed to avoid most of the stress that is normal in major careers and in most relationships. She described them as having a life, as she put it,"Almost too good to be true."

Her husband died suddenly two years before I began working with her. She said he lived to his mid-80s and never spent a day in a hospital. That was true for her as well, she revealed, almost feeling guilty about her good fortune.

I interrupted--"So far nothing sounds weird. She is clearly amazing and blessed, but when does the weirdness begin?"

Gary continued--

Be patient. It is about to be revealed.

Final part tomorrow . . .


Harvard 1950

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