Friday, September 29, 2017

September 29, 2017--Day Off

I will return on Monday.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

September 28, 2017--Donald Trump's Buffoonery

David Brooks is not among my favorite columnists. For me he is often more intellectually pretentious than either insightful or trenchant. But occasionally, he gets it right. On Tuesday, for example, in his New York Times column, "The Abbie Hoffman Of the Right." 

He wrote about how Trump was not elected to be a legislative president (noting correctly that he never showed much interest in policy) but rather to be a "cultural president." He was "elected to shred the dominant American culture and to give voice to those who felt voiceless in that culture."

Thus his comparison to intentionally buffoon-like Abbie Hoffman who did a version of the same thing during the 1960s when he took on the WASPy high-culture establishment of post World War II America.

We can take a pass on the comparison to the Yippie culture warrior (it's a tenuous comparison at best) but can learn a great deal about the Trump phenomenon by paying attention to what Brooks has to say about Trump. I like his argument in part because I have been attempting for nearly two years now to press a version of the same perception. But, admittedly, not quite as well and not nearly as skillfully written. 

So in case you didn't see it, here are some quotes from Brooks' excellent piece--

In 2016, members of the outraged working class elected their own Abbie Hoffman as president. Trump is not good at much, but he is wickedly good at sticking his thumb in the eye of the educated elites. He doesn't have to build a new culture, or even attract a majority. He just has to tear down the old one. 
That's exactly what he's doing. Donald Trump came into a segmenting culture and he is further tearing apart every fissure. He has a nose for every wound in the body politic and day after day he sticks a red hot poker in one wound or another and rips it open. . . . 
The members of the educated class saw this past weekend's NFL fracas as a fight over racism. They felt mobilized and unified in that fight and full of righteous energy. Members of the working class saw the fracas as a fight about American identity. . . . 
He continually goes after racial matters in part because he's a bigot but also in part because multiculturalism is the theology of the educated class and it's the leverage point he can most effectively use to isolate the educated class from everyone else. [My italics]
He is so destructive because his enemies help him. He ramps up the aggression. His enemies ramp it up more, to preserve their own dignity. But the ensuing cultural violence only serves Trump's long-term destructive purpose. . . . 
It's possible that after four years of this Trump will have effectively destroyed the prevailing culture. The reign of the meritocratic establishment will be just as over as the reign of the Protestant establishment now is.  
Of course Donald Trump is a buffoon. Buffoonery is his most effective weapon. Because of him a new culture will have to be built, new values promulgated and a new social fabric will have to be woven, one that brings the different planets back into relation with one another.

Hate this or not, hate Trump or not, this is what is happening and we ignore this reality at our peril.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

September 27, 2017--Whatever Happened to Jared Kushner?

Has anyone seen Jared Kushner lately? Or for that matter, Ivanka?

I ask because wasn't he the president's chief advisor and wasn't she his external conscience? Jared was in charge of foreign affairs, especially tasked to bring peace to the Middle East (I think Trump said that would be quick and easy) and she was supposed to keep him from being too inappropriate and outrageous. We see how well  that's working out.

I suspect Jared is spending all his time defending himself as special counsel Robert Mueller closes in on his deep involvement with the Russians as they worked collaboratively to undermine Hillary Clinton's campaign and, oh yes, dealing with what we just leraned--that Jared hypocritically has been using a private email account during his thus-far White House assignment. So, the Middle East will have to wait but Rex Tillerson maybe can finally become secretary of state.

As for Ivanka, she has her hands full explaining why her fashion business still has most of her stuff fabricated in China. And, also, why she too used a private email account for White House business.

Some of us, early on in the Trump administration, hoped that Jared and Ivanka would act to protect Trump from himself, from his worst impulses. And thereby protect the rest of us from the consequences of his words and behavior.

I wrote a piece back in March, "Ivanka Time," in which I hoped with gathering desperation that she had enough emotional leverage to get him to cut down on the crazy tweets and think twice before addressing the press and the public. That she would be a moderating force.

I speculated that she and Jared had a life of their own that didn't depend on being Trump's favorite daughter or son-in-law and that as he began to spin more and more out of control that they would take him aside for an intervention--to tell him, like it is, how he was losing the support of even some members of his base and was alienating independent-minded Americans.

That they might even, tearfully, tell him that if he failed to ratchet back some of his most inappropriately extravagant behavior they would have to consider leaving Washington, their advisor jobs, and him.

They have lives in New York, friendships with sane and rational people, and they might say, I hoped, that they can't stand with him to the end as he self-immolates. That they couldn't see their own and their children's lives destroyed.

I acknowledge that was wishful thinking. And so here we are. He has had one of his worse weeks--he has inflamed the situation with the North Koreans and we are close to a cataclysmic war, he has ignored Puerto Rico's desperate plight (it will be almost another week before he visits the devastated island), and for the past six days he has been obsessed with the National Football League, tweeting at least 20 times about his outrage that some players in protest against persistent racism have been refusing to stand for the National Anthem. And of course the Mueller investigation ticks closer and closer to him.

So, Ivanka and Jared have slipped from sight. Who can blame them.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

September 26, 2017--Drums of War

I've been trying to distract myself but the insults being hurled back and forth between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are scary and my distraction strategies are not working. 

The situation is scary because both Trump and Kim appear to have serious problems handling disparagement. This is psychological and cultural.

So we have the "Little Rocket Man" (Trump is obsessed with anything little) while Kim has Americans looking up "dotard" in the dictionary. It is because of such adolescent ridiculousness that a massive war may be impending.

Sharing coffee yesterday morning, Phil said he thinks at least five things may be going on, one or more of them may provide slight cause, he says, to feel optimistic--

First, secret talks might be underway in Paris about the possibility of a deal. Paralleling the talks that were held in Paris from 1968 to 1973 between Henry Kissinger and North Vietnam's Le Duc Tho about an agreement to end that war. This eventually worked out and things didn't get more out of control than they otherwise might have.

Second, Phil said, China might finally be getting the message that a massive war on its border is looking to be likely. They do not want hundreds of thousands of North Koreans crossing the Yalu River, seeking sanctuary as refugees. They also do not want to see a unified Korea which, of course, our ally, South Korea, would dominate. Given the various unattractive choices, the Chinese might pull the plug on the North Koreans. Cutting off their oil, for example, which would quickly cripple the regime. They could also, with us, privately, end North Korea's access to financial services.

Third, as has already been reported in the New York Times, it appears that South Korea is training a Navy SEALs kind of force to "decapitate" the senior leadership of North Korea, starting with the assassination of Kim. If this is underway, we can assume it has American backing and assistance. 

A corollary to this is the evidence that core members of the North Korean leadership elite are fed up with Kim and would like to see him ousted. A war would mean that they all would be viewed by us through the same lens and for them as a result the party would be over. Thus a few of them might be already sharing information about Kim and his movements with the South Korean assassination squad.

Phil also says it is likely that the U.S. has cyber-warfare weapons that have not been publicly revealed, weapons that have the capacity to shut down all of North Korea's power, communications, banking, and weapon systems. This, he feels, likely exists and is kept secret so as to discourage potential enemies from developing countermeasures.

And, fifth, related to this he feels it is also likely that we have other secret weapon systems similar to the bunker-busting bomb we unveiled and deployed in Afghanistan a number of months ago. We used it as much to draw attention to our capacities as to wipe out an al Qaeda unit. These new weapons might have the ability to track and destroy missiles before or just as they are deployed.

When Phil finished his list, he sat back and smiled. I stared at him, agreeing that some or much of this might be true, but as with all such weapons and strategies human error is the dangerous unknown so therefore do we want to continue to march down the path to war with the belief that we have the means to quickly disable and defeat North Korea?

Where have I heard this kind of boasting before? In Vietnam, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and of course Korea itself back in the 1950s.

I asked Phil how these earlier conflicts turned out. He knows enough history to say, "None of them worked out very well."

We were left with our coffee slowly cooling to room temperature.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

September 25, 2017--Megyn Kelly's Joy

If like me you occasionally enjoy indulging in a little schadenfreude--taking pleasure in the misfortunes of the rich and famous--there is an opportunity awaiting Monday morning at 10 a.m. on network TV when NBC launches "Megyn Kelly Today."

In case you have been living off the grid for the past two years you may not know who she is and why this is sort of a big deal.

She was doing pretty well on Fox News as an anchor and talk show host when her aggressive questioning of Donald Trump in August 2015 during the first Republican primary debate brought her national attention and subsequently propelled her career forward into the media  stratosphere.

She witheringly pressed Trump about his many misogynist comments. Her opening comment to him included--

"You've called women you don't like 'fat pigs, 'dogs, 'slobs,' and 'disgusting animals.'

She added--

"Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women's looks. You once told a contestant on 'Celebrity Apprentice' it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees."

His response three days later was to attack Kelly, saying--

"You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever."

The rest is history--

While a normal candidate would have been disqualified as the result of this, Trump went on to be nominated and elected and Megyn Kelly got Fox and NBC to bid for her on-going services. NBC made an offer she couldn't refuse--a weekly show, "Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly" and now the daily "Megyn Kelly Today."

And of course her deal includes a big payday--at least $20 million a year. Almost as much as Alex Rodriquez earned annually as the New York Yankee's third baseman.

But the ratings of the Sunday show have been, well, a disaster and so there is a lot of pressure on her to deliver a successful morning show.  

And as a result there is this opportunity for some guilty-pleasure schadenfreude.

About the morning show, last week Kelly said--

"I don't feel this is a risky proposition because I know myself and know what I can do. I'm about to launch the show that I was born to do. This is what I was meant to do."

 Let's hope so. Actually, let's hope not.

In an interview with the New York Times she said much more. I will share some of it as an appetizer in anticipation of the new show itself--

Though her show on Fox had good ratings, she said-- 
It wasn't bringing me joy anymore. You're going to see the Megyn we know. For me, it truly is all about pursuing more joy. That's the reason we are here . . . . This is my dream job because I am a person who is searching. And always have been. I am searching for my joy and more love and more wellness. Always have been. Finally, my job is going to align with my soul, with my heart, with my reason for being."
Oprah couldn't have said it better.

In the interview with the Times, Megan Kelly said "joy," "joyful," and "joyous" nine times. I will restrain myself from sharing the full list because I am writing this Sunday evening before dinner and don't want to further spoil my appetite.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

September 22, 2017--Jack & Betty: Rocket Man

Between breakfast and lunch rush, it was quiet at the diner and so Betty plopped down in the booth with us.

"Don't get me wrong, I like when we're busy. I like the action and of course the money, but it's about a month since the season ended and I'm about burned out."

"And what about your other jobs? Are you still so busy?"

She smiled at Rona. "My weekend job runs 'til Columbus Day. But the house cleaning is tapering off. The people who tend to be here now, I mean in addition to us year-rounders, tend to be like you guys. Owners who are here for six months and don't require weekly cleaning. So, I'm getting a bit of a break, which is good 'cause my arthritis is getting worse." She stretched and turned her head with effort from side to side as if to illustrate.

"One good thing," she said, "I haven't seen much of Jack. Actually, he hasn't been in in a month. But to tell you the truth, I sort of half miss him. He stirs things up."

"Really?" I said, "I thought he gets under your skin. The last time we were all here I think you called him a hypocrite. Sort of harsh. Not that I disagree, mind you. He's set up with his state job and benefits and vacation days but points his finger at anyone else who is helped by the state. You pinned him about that. How he is oblivious to the fact that he too in some ways is on the dole. And though he rants about shrinking the size of the government he works for that same government he wants to get rid of."

With that, wouldn't you know it, as if on cue Jack bounded through the door. It felt like half the oxygen was sucked up by him. 

Before he sat down, he bellowed, "How's my boy doing?"

"Here we go," Betty muttered, "He's all pumped up again after having some doubts about Trump a month ago. You know, after Charlottesville and the white supremacist business." 

I did remember that and told Betty I wrote a piece about it. About his grandfather who had been in the Second World War and saw the slaughter that had been going on in Nazi concentration camps. What racism and white supremacy can lead to.

"That's right," Jack said, as if he could read my thoughts. "He's back!"

"Yeah, like Freddy Krueger," Betty said half under her breath.

"I can see my president has you all confounded. In the meantime, how 'bout getting me a cup of java?"

Betty hauled herself up and went to get it. Still muttering.

"How's the state job?" Rona asked with an edge. "Just rode up here on the Bristol Road and saw some of your compadres hard at work. Especially those flag guys who direct traffic where only one lane is open. You know, the ones that have signs that say 'slow' and 'stop.' How much are they making? By, the hour, I mean. Not that what they do isn't important, but the state needs to employ them? I would assume you'd want them to be contract workers. You know, to shrink the size of government. Like one of your heroes says, to make it so small it can be drowned in a bathtub."

"That's Grover Norquist," I said, "the anti-tax guy."

"You guys have your daggers out, don't you. Did you rehearse this? Can't even wait for me to get my coffee." 

Betty was back, and after depositing Jack's coffee just out of reach on the table, slid back onto the banquette next to Rona. Jack smirked.

"We haven't seen you for awhile so we've got up all this pent up material. Your boy doesn't disappoint in one way at least." Jack looked at me quizzically, "By saying and doing stupid things. He's a gaff machine." Betty had her arms folded across her chest and glared at him.

"You mean you don't like how he's behaving and what he's saying at your UN?"

I ignored the jibe. "So you're liking what he's been saying about North Korea and Kim Jong-un?"

"Not liking it, loving it. It's about time someone told it like it is."

"You mean getting us into a nuclear war with them?" Rona was incredulous. "That's telling it like it is?"

Betty said, "How, he said, it's getting close to the time when we'll have to, as he put it, 'totally destroy' North Korea and then referred to Kim as 'Rocket Man' on a 'suicide mission.' You're OK with that? You think that's the way an American president should address the UN?"

"Like I said, it's about time. Where has talking in diplomaticese gotten us? Let's start with Bill Clinton, then there was George Bush, and after that Obama. They all spoke the same language of reasonableness and diplomacy. With a few pathetic threats mixed in. And where did that get us? An agreement with North Korea about nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles? Not even close. Over the past 20, 25 years, while presidents of both parties talked this way the North Koreans developed A- and H-bombs and seem to be close to having rockets big enough to reach not only Guam but soon the west coast of the U.S. You think that's a good thing?" When we didn't answer, he said, "So, if you were president what would you do?"

For the moment, the three of us had nothing to say.

Jack continued, "That's what your fancy talk gets you."

"You think it's smart to call Kim Rocket Man?" Betty asked, "To insult him, especially an Asian is frankly stupid. It's a cultural thing. He's not Little Marco or Crooked Hilary. This is serious and dangerous business. But of course your boy if nothing else can be pretty stupid."

"I think you have it backwards," Jack said, ignoring his coffee, "Let's remember that for some crazy reason Kim Jong-whatever loves Dennis Rodman. Not just because he was a basketball star but because of his flamboyance, his cartoon-like, super-hero style. So, what Trump is doing is actually buttering Kim up. Remember during the campaign when he said he would be 'honored' to meet with him? That's a direct quote. What do you make of that?" Not waiting for an answer, he plowed ahead, "I tell you what I make of it--it's my view that my boy is flattering Kim. My guess is that Kim loves being thought of as Rocket Man. I doubt that he knows the Elton John song, 'Rocket Man,' or any of the lyrics. He may know Trump played that song at his rallies. Maybe Trump thinks of himself that way too."

"This is lunacy," I said. "You really are comfortable with your leader, our leader thinking and behaving this way when things are so hair-trigger scary?"

"I repeat," Jack said, "conventional politicians got us to this point. They're the ones who have acted dangerously. They kicked the problem down the road and now here we are. Trump is trying something different,"

"Yeah," Betty said, "Including leading us to a big unwinable war. You think China will sit still if we attack North Korea? We can only get away with that if North Korea acts first and bombs Guam or Japan. And even then we could overreact."

"I can't believe the three of you. Weakness itself is dangerous. If we continue to act like pansies what kind of message does that send to Kim? If you're interested I'll tell you what I think is really going on."

Looking away, Rona said, "Tell me. I'm waiting with bated breath."

"That behind the scenes we're having discussions with the North Koreans. Like we did with the North Vietnamese. Trump figured out that Kim wants respect and he's giving him a little. Enough to begin the process of making a deal. But, in the meantime, publicly, to underscore the seriousness of how we're taking this threat, Trump is behaving like a scary crazy man. If you were Kim and not the head of a suicide cult, I think I would take Trump's crazy act, and that's what I think it is, very, very seriously because we really can totally destroy them. It would be hideous, but we could do it."

He sighed and gulped his coffee.

"There's enough blame to go around," I acknowledged, "Clinton, Bush, Obama, and now Trump. He's the one who may finally take the steps to blow up the world. I think it's that precarious and so I really hope you're right." At that thought Jack was glowing again. "But try as hard as I can, I think the two of you are crazy. And I don't mean acting crazy."

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

September 21, 2017--Audiological Tale: Sound Czech (Concluded)

We were watching TV and I was using the bluetooth device my audiologist, Dr. Gary Schwartzberg, had given me that transmits sound from the TV directly to my hearing aids. To activate this feature, I needed to click on the remote control he had supplied and then when done watching turn it off. When I did so, I heard something in the Czech woman's prompt that I hadn't heard before, something incomprehensible to me. I assumed it was in Czech itself, not Czech-accented English.

Perplexed, I told Rona about it and her first reaction was to be dismissive. "Here we go again," she said, "More hearing aid craziness."

"But I thought you said you liked what was going on with the loaner hearing aid, when it was, how to put this, talking to me. Remember? You just now said it was exciting."

"Fair enough, "she said, "I tell you what, let me have your hearing aids, which I can put in my ears, and then hear for myself what you're talking about."

I removed them and passed them to her. She inserted them and asked what I had done to hear the Czech voice. I told her to click on the button on the remote that turns on the TV sound. She did and heard nothing. "Try again," I said, "Sometimes you have to do it two or three times to make it work."

She tried it a few more times but with the same result--it didn't turn on. "Let me have them back," I said, "Maybe you didn't click hard enough or who knows what."

I pushed the bluetooth button and immediately could hear the TV through my hearing aids. I also heard the same Czech words as before. "It's working," I said, "Including that Czech woman who Gary hooked me up to. Try again." Once more I passed the hearing aids to her.

Rona tried and again there was nothing. I was feeling agitated, she was feeling frustrated. They seemed to work for me but not for her. How could that be? 

"I'll tell you what--I'll keep the devices in my ears and you can get close to me and put your ear next to the hearing aid in my right ear to see if you can listen in to what I'm hearing. That should work because it's pretty loud."

She did and signaled she was hearing what I was hearing--the Czech voice. 

"What is she saying?" Rona asked. "I can't quite make it out. Maybe turn it off and on again. She seems to say the same thing every time you do that. It will help me figure it out."

I did, and again we both heard the voice. Doing this three or four more times, Rona said, "I'm beginning to understand her. Not that I understand what she's saying. It must be in the Czech language, but I think she's saying something like be-yekima."

Excited, I said, "Let's look it up on the Internet where you can type in a word or phrase in Czech and it gives you the English translation." 

We tried that a number of times but nothing even close appeared on the translation webpage. "This is making me crazy," I said, "I know you've found tapping into Gary's other life to be interesting, and I agree. But this is starting to feel more aggravating than interesting. I thought switching from an American-English prompting voice to a Czech one would not be about receiving actual Czech words but would be English words spoken by a computer-generated voice with a Czech accent. What's going on feels like a lot more than that."

"Why do you think Gary didn't make that distinction?" Rona asked. 

"That's a good question. Maybe he's enjoying sharing some of his past with us and each time we go for an appointment teases us by revealing other aspects of it. Maybe he's done some work with Czech operatives. Before the breakup of the Soviet Union they were occupied by the Russians. Maybe this whole Czech thing comes from his experiences with that. That is," I said, "assuming he had some sort of Czech connection. Minimally, I'm totally confused."

"We have to ask him," Rona said. But before she could complete her thought, I heard another, different word.

"Come back," I said, "There's a new word coming through. I can't quite make it out." Rona pulled up a chair right next to me so she too could hear what I was receiving. "Can you make that out?"

"It sounds like pumice me," Rona said. "Which obviously makes no sense whatsoever."

"Not if it's an attempt at English. But what if it's in Czech? Which I suspect from the experience we just had with be-yekima it likely does. That no matter what it might mean, bottom line is that it sounds like a Czech expression. Again, not a version of an English word. Let's see what we can figure out from the translation webpage.

I entered pumice me and clicked enter. Nothing came up, which, considering how this was going, was not a surprise.

Rona said, "Let me run a series of other possibilities, varying the spelling. Maybe if I get close enough we'll stumble on what it means."

She worked at this systematically for about half an hour, trying various spellings, but produced no positive results. But when she got to pomuz-me she got a response--pomus mi in Czech means help me.

We were stunned. Exhausted, and now exhilarated by what we were being drawn into. We speculated about what all this might mean. We thought it must be something from Gary's other life. Was the computer-generated voice trying to communicate with us? To get us to do something to free her? If so, where was she? Assuming the voice was human. Or was "she" like Apple's Siri? A digital "person"?

The more we thought about this, the more confused and the more intrigued we became. I knew there would be no sleep for me that night. There would be no way to shut this down or ignore what was happening. I suspected that the next time I turned on the TV we would hear more from her.

Equally agitated, Rona said, "We need to see Gary before your next appointment. As soon as possible. Tomorrow if he can work us into his schedule. This is not going to go away. It could be that someone, the Czech woman, again assuming this is coming from a real person, is in danger."

So the next day, as expected after not getting much sleep, we did arrange to see Gary. 

As if not surprised to hear from us, he said, "Why don't you come by this afternoon and we can talk. In the meantime, stay calm." I thought I heard him chuckling.

"Easy for you to say," I shot back. I was feeling that he was playing with me, concocting situations and scenarios to get inside my head, "You get me all riled up and then tell me to be calm. How helpful do you think that is?" I had never spoken to him that way.

"I hear you," he said, sounding professional, "Come by any time this afternoon. Angie will squeeze you in."

Later that day when we saw Gary, without any preamble, I said, "OK what's going on? I know, I've been having some fun with you, maybe at times I crossed the line, but this Czech business is making me crazy."

Gary listened, smiling, not saying anything. So, I continued, "I love your stories and enjoy when you string me along. I really do. I enjoy the play and would not be happy if you stopped. But this one . . ."

Interrupting, Gary said, "I wish about this one I could tell you more. But," he shrugged, "I can't. Sorry."

"What? Why then . . ."

Rona cut in and said to me, "Why don't you just enjoy this. Not everything has to be fully known or even make sense. Loosen up a bit and enjoy the ride."

I thought about that for a moment and said, "I noticed you also didn't do much sleeping last night. But loosening up and going with the flow is not natural for me. I'm more about finding solutions and solving problems."

"My recommendation," Gary said, "is that about this you listen to Rona."

We sat there for another ten minutes, none of us saying anything. Standing up, Rona finally said, "We need to shop for dinner." She came over to where I was slumped in the chair and put her arms around me.

"One more thing," Gary said, "Before you go, let me switch you back to the American-English prompt. I think you've had enough Czech for the moment. You've been Czech-mated!" 

He loves puns and we heard him laughing as we headed out.

Czech Republic

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

September 20, 2017--Audiological Tale: Sound Czech (Part 1 of 2)

Toward the end of my recent hearing aid adjustment, Dr. Gary Scheartzberg said, "There's one more thing. You know the vocal prompts you get when the batteries need replacement or when you shift to restaurant mode?"

"Yes," I said, "There's a man, or a voice that says 'battery.' If you don't change them in half an hour you hear from him again. The second time he sounds more urgent."

"Do you like that voice?" Barry asked.

"It's fine. Why do you ask?"

"Because there are many other choices. Here, take a look." He directed my attention to the computer monitor.

In the meantime, Rona said, "I assume this is like our GPS where we have a women's voice prompting us--we call her 'Lola,' like from 'Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.'"

Gary showed me a long list of possible voices that would remind me to change my batteries or would indicate I had turned on the restaurant setting.

"Where's your mother from?" I had told him earlier that she was born in Eastern Europe.

"From Poland," I said, curious to know why he was asking.

"Let's see," he was scrolling down the list. There were at least 50 male and female voices from England to Germany to Russia to Israel to Poland.

"Amazing," I said. I am so technically illiterate that even simple things like these overwhelm me.

He clicked on "Polish-Female" and I heard a voice that sounded like my mother's oldest sister, Bertha, who came to America when she was 15 and retained a distinctive Polish accent.

"It's a little too close to home," I said, speaking metaphorically, "I already have enough of my mother's voice in my head."

"OK," he said, "How about one from South Africa? You've been there a number of times, you told me, and liked the people you met and worked with." I nodded. He clicked on "South Africa--Male." A voice that sounded familiar to me said "battery" with an Africana accent.

"I'm not sure about that one," I said, "Africanas are not among my favorites. Maybe if you have someone who sounds like Nelson Mandela I might be interested. But again," I asked, "why are we doing this?"

"For a little variety," he said, "I thought maybe you're getting a little bored with the hearing aid adjustment process. I'm simply trying to keep you engaged and interested. To show you there are more bells and whistles associated with this technology."

"OK," I said, "I'm game. Try a few more. Something British might work."

So he clicked on "British-male" and I heard "battery" in an Oxbridge accent. "Not bad," I said, "But maybe it's a little pretentious for Maine."

Next, knowing my background, he suggested "Israeli-female."

"In some ways this makes me comfortable," I said, "but I'm so ambivalent about things Israeli that maybe I'll take a pass on this one."

"Then, what do you think about 'German-male'? It might interest for you."

But when I heard "battery" with a full-throated German accent, not my favorite language to begin with, especially when barked like a command--I could almost hear heals clicking--I indicated that it would set off too many upsetting reverberations from my past. 

"Can't we go back to the original one?" I asked, sounding a little whiney, "You have patients waiting and I don't want to take up too much more of your time."

"That's OK," he said and suggested one more. "How about Czech?"


"The Czech language from the former Czechoslovakia."

"Whatever you say," I said, frankly feeling this was dragging on beyond my interest. We had an hour's drive to get home and the weather forecast had indicated afternoon rain.

"I think you'll like it." He scrolled down the list of verbal prompts and selected "Czech-female. "See how this sounds to you."

I heard "battaria," and liked it enough to say, "Fine," in part to move on.

"That's it, then," Gary said, "Your new default. Ask Angie to give you another adjustment appointment in about a month."

A few days later, my virtual Czech hearing aid prompter whispered, "battaria," reminding me it was time to change my batteries. As I was working on this, Rona asked, "How did that go? I mean the new voice? I know you hate change of all kinds."

"I was skeptical when Gary wanted to switch to her, but I sort of like it. She's less strident that the one in American English. When she alerts me about changing the batteries, her softer tone is less jarring. So, I think I'm OK with this. I have to hand it to Gary--every time we see him he comes up with something good that either makes the devices function better or makes me more comfortable with the whole situation. I can't believe how reluctant I was to get hearing aids. But now, for the most part, I love having them. Especially after all that funky business with the loaner. You remember that? The one that was somehow all mixed up with Gary's other life. How he somehow got himself pulled into all sorts of sleuthy business.  

"It was sort of crazy," Rona said, "But also interesting and exciting. Who would have thought . . ."

But then, a day or two later, weird things again began to happen. 

To be concluded tomorrow . . .

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

September 19, 2017--Distracted

Got distracted. Back tomorrow.

Monday, September 18, 2017

September 18, 2017--Rhyming Reduplication CONTEST WINNERS

Before announcing the Rhyming Reduplication contest winners, a brief review--

The most classic Reduplication is a rhyming two-phrased compound where each of the two parts are not actual words. For example, there is no meaning associated with either heebie or jeebies. Only when they are joined as heebie-jeebies is there a meaning.

And if they are disaggregated, divided, neither part has anything to do with the meaning of the expression. There is only meaning when they are paired. Thus, heebie-jeebies together means a state of nervous fear or anxiety.

Then there is the semi-classic version where just one of the components has no separate meaning--dilly-dally is an example, were dally is an actual word. And finally there is the open definition type, where both parts can be stand-alone words but when fused together sound as if they should be a Rhyming Reduplication.

From the winners listed below we have newly made-up examples, neologisms of the three types. All wonderfully silly-nilly--extra silly.

Got it?

The contest was to create entirely new ones.

I received a number of clever submissions and a neat note from a 20-something very literate niece. She wrote--
I loved today's posting! It's so funny because just last night I was talking with friends about where the phrase "bee's-knees" comes from. We found a few varying answers on line. 
It's either an abridged version of "be all/end all" or a fun way of saying "the business." We did find a few more amusing ones that no one uses anymore, or ever--"the flea's eyebrows" or "the canaries tusks." 
OH, the English language. How lucky we are to have it as our native tongue.
These are not strictly speaking Rhyming Reduplications since bees and knees have meanings of their own. But close enough via the open-definition exception.

Bee's knees appears to have first appeared in the 1920s along with other nonsense phrases that include incongruous parings of animal names with words that pertain to humans. One of my favorites of this kind is cat's pajamas. Nothing elicits the Jazz Age better than this!

I received so many fun Rhyming Reduplications that I could not limit myself to just one winner. So . . .

Honorable Mention

These two submitted by Guest-Blogger Sharon are quite clever and deserve honorable mention--


Sharon says it means "to lie--to wink while you do a pinky-swear."

She notes there is a type of Hydrangea called Pinky-Winky. I think Rona may have at least one in her garden. I also love pinky-swear. We used to lock pinkies all the time to designate that a promise had been made in my old Brooklyn neighborhood.

Asking if one in Spanish is acceptable, I eagerly said yes and so Sharon submitted--


She says it means "Spanish coffee with a lid." 

Honorable mention also goes to Kathy Donovan who submitted Nutsy-Wutzy and the Gala Girl, Hedy Roma who wrote--

Frumpy-Lumpy: state of unfashionableness characterized by ill fitting, stretched-out "so what not to wear" clothes, as in, "As soon as Lucinda left the house she felt so frumpy-dumpy in that mauve t-shirt dress with rhinestones that accentuate her body in all the wrong places."

Late Night Submission

Past the deadline, Rona got into the game, writing--

I awoke at midnight with the pair of Rhyming Reduplications swirling in my head:

Comment to a nicely tanned person--Wowie Maui.

Comment to a badly sunburned person--Owie Maui.

I especially like Owie, but a deadline is a deadline.

And So the Winner Is . . .

John Allan from Bristol Maine!

His submission, though not a classic version because the two phrases are both actual words, is--

Queue-zoo. The meaning he assigned to it is Incomprehensible checkout lines at busy supermarkets. And to show its use in a sentence wrote--"Took me an hour to get out of Publix. It was a real queue-zoo."

John said that since "word games imply books" he asked me to donate $100 in his name to the Bristol Area Library. Which I will do.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

September 15, 2017--Monday Plans

I was too busy yesterday and this morning to complete my writing. So, I will return on Monday with the results of the Rhyming Reduplications contest and also will be posting another puzzling Audiological Tale. The Tale, likely on Tuesday.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

September 14, 2017--Arboreal Chic

I'm so glad we no longer have a house in East Hampton.

In case I was having any doubts about moving on when this formally bucolic place became a bastion of conspicuous consumption among big-bonus outer-borough Wall Streeters, a story in last week's New York Times cured me.

"How Does the Hamptons Garden Grow? With a Lot of Paid Help" is about vegetable gardening Hamptons' style.

The Times reports that compared to more familiar small scale, do-it-yourself vegetable gardens--
On the gilded acres of Long Island's East End, a different set of skill set often applies: hiring a landscape architect to design the garden, a gardener and crew to plant and pamper the beds, and sometimes even a chef to figure out what to do with the bushels of fresh produce. All that's left is to pick the vegetables--though employees frequently do that too.
Of course the "different set of skills" begins with the ability to write a big check.

Alec Gunn, a landscape gardener whose made-to-order gardens typically go for as much as $100,000 has something interesting to say about what is going on out there--
"What's driving the gardening bug [pun intended?] among the affluent, [professional] gardeners say, is their clients' focus on "self-care"--a curious phrase for a pursuit that requires so much help. . . [He adds], that the impulse includes a "moral component."  
"There's so much wealth, he said, "It's, 'Let's take something I've been fortunate to have [money] and put it back into the environment. I want to do something to reduce what I'm taking.'"
Rona and I knew it was time to begin to think about bailing out after participating in a garden tour for the benefit of the local Animal Rescue Fund. Among the gardens we visited was Martha Stewart's. She had recently bought a huge "cottage" by the ocean. 

We were stunned particularly by her mature rose garden. It was at least a half acre and included perhaps 50 varieties of roses. Talking with one of her gardeners we learned that it had been planted the week before.

"Just a week ago?" I nearly screamed at him. He just smiled as if to say, "If you have the money . . ."

A week or two later we were wandering around one of our favorite garden stores, Marders in Bridgehampton. They were well known for their stock of specimen trees. We stopped to look closely at one--a huge conifer. Not to buy it, it was listed at $5,000, but to admire its majesty.

We knew one of the owners and he walked over to say hello.  I said, "This is some tree."

He said, "If you promise not to tell anyone I have a story about it." We promised not to, though I am breaking that vow now. He told us that two, three years earlier Paul Simon, who had an estate on the beach in Montauk, wanted rows of them planted on both sides of the quarter-mile drive to his "cottage."

"We told him they wouldn't thrive there because they would be so close to the ocean that there would be too much salt in the air for trees of this kind. He insisted, and we said OK, but that we wouldn't guarantee them. He agreed and, though we shouldn't have, we agreed to plant them."

"What happened?" Rona asked.

"Within a year they were all dead."

"How much did they . . . ?"

"Hundreds of thousands," he confided in us. 

This was more than 15 years ago when hundreds of thousands was real money.

The Times article concluded--
The initial excitement of a vegetable garden fades for some clients. They lose interest, after they are planted. . . . It's the same thing with the chickens. They say, 'I have to have chickens, so I can tell my friends,' but they end up giving the eggs to the help.
Let me end with something on the same subject from my new-favorite book, Kevin Phillips' Wealth and Democracy--
The Hamptons, where roadside vegetable stands sell Osaka purple mustard and Romanian wax peppers, developed a particular case of arboreal chic. Crimson king maples and golden honey locusts costing tens of thousands of dollars apiece became status symbols along with weeping copper beeches, according to one Baedeker. They had to look like they had been there since the first settlers:
Size, rarity, and the difficulty of transportation add to the cachet of some trees, but in the end it comes down to expense. Some trees now gracing Hamptons estates have been driven down from the Pacific Northwest in refrigerated tractor-trailers, and some have been planted with the aid of military-size Sikorsky helicopters to obviate the necessity of rutting the lawns with wheeled tracks. 
Amagansett Farmers Market

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

September 13, 2017--Rhyming Reduplications CONTEST

"How was your sleep?" Rona wanted to know after waking up, "You were tossing and turning half the night."

"I woke up from a disturbing dream at about 3 AM and didn't get much sleep after that. I spent a lot of time feeling anxious. Maybe about what was going on down in Florida."

"Did you have the heebies or the jeebies?"

"The what?"

"The heebie-jeebies. I'm making a little joke to perk you up. You still seem distressed."

"I am a little bit, but thankfully I don't have the heebie-jeebies anymore. By the way, I love that expression--heebie-jeebies. I wonder about its etymology."

"Look it up when we get home. I don't have a clue. Could be interesting."

I did and here's what I found:

First of all there are quite a few expressions similar to heebie-jeebies. All are in effect rhyming two-phrased compounds where the phrases" are not actual words. Like, there is no meaning associated with either heebie or jeebies.

They are literally two made up expressions where the parts, only when fused together, are deemed to have meaning, to refer to something specific. And if they are disaggregated, split apart, they have nothing to do with the meaning of the expression. There is only meaning when they are paired. Thus, heebie-jeebies together means a state of nervous fear or anxiety.

And, of course, as is true for all parts of every language, there is a name for this class of expressions--rhyming reduplications.

Perhaps listing some of my favorites will make all of this clearer--

Handy-dandy (made up of two actual words)

From the research I subsequently did, I learned that--

New coinages of this kind often appeared at times of national confidence, when people are feeling outgoing and optimistic and are moved to express this in language. For example, during the 1920s and following the First World War when many nonsense word-pairs were coined--among them bee's-knees and, my current favorite, heebie-jeebies.

They often do have the sound of the Jazz Age, of bebop.

But many are of much older derivation. Willy-nilly is over a thousand years old and riff-raff dates from the 1400s. Helter-skelter, arsy-versy (a form of vice-versa) and hocus-pocus all date from the 16th century.

Of more recent vintages are bling-bling, boob-tube and hip-hop.

Don't you love this? The process of language building? Especially  as in these cases when it is about nothing more than the sheer enjoyment of word play.

Do you like this enough to participate in a contest?

Here's how it works--

Create a new rhyming reduplication. To be sure it's a new one, check it on Google.

Submit it and it's meaning via a response to this posting no later than midnight east coast time, September 15th. Also, it would help to include it in a sentence.

The winner will be announced on Monday, September 18th. 

The prize will be a $100 contribution in your name to any non-profit of your choice.

Good luck! Above all, have fun!

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

September 12, 2017--9/11

After breakfast at the diner, driving toward town yesterday morning, approaching the information center, I noticed that the flag was flying at half mast.

"For Florida?" I wondered out loud. "That would be a bit strange. I'm not sure that's appropriate to do."

Living up here one pays attention to things such as the display of flags and other symbols of patriotism. Not everyone is gung ho, far from it--there's a full range of feelings about the meaning of America and how to think about what it means to be an American.

"It's not about Florida," Rona said, sounding a little exasperated  with me.

"If not that what does it mean? Did someone like the police chief die? I didn't read or hear anything about that."

"You can be so oblivious," Rona said.

"So what is it then?"

"Don't you know what today is?"

"Monday? What are you getting at?"

"Listen to yourself--Monday, September 11th." She let that hang in the air between us.

After a moment it hit me, "I can't believe it. It's 9/11 and I was unaware of that. Considering how we personally experienced that morning I thought it would be etched in my mind forever, that I would never forget the anniversary."

"The day the world changed."

"Sixteen years," I said, "A lifetime. But it feels like it happened just a short time ago. That was some horrific morning."

"Yes," Rona said, "We were in the city. It was a beautiful day and I went out on the terrace to check the weather. Whether I needed a sweater before heading to Balthazar for coffee."

"And I was inside mindlessly watching the local news on TV, probably to get the Yankees' score."

"Right above our building," Rona said, "flying much too low and too fast, what turned out to be the first plane passed right over us, heading south about half a mile to the World Trade Center."

"And then in about a minute, both from outdoors where you were and on the TV that I was watching, which was showing a shot of lower Manhattan to illustrate the glorious weather, there were what seemed like two explosions. Of course, there was just one--the live one you witnessed and the one on TV, which I assume in retrospect was being broadcast with a seven-second delay."

"Then all that followed," Rona said recalling the fear and sadness.

"I'm so out of it," I said, upset with myself, "That I forgot today's the anniversary. I can get too relaxed here. Sometimes too disconnected from the world and time. But that's a lame excuse. There is and should be no excuse for not remembering the anniversary."

"I forgot as well," Rona said, "Until I saw that flag." I had pulled off the road to be close to the flagpole, in that way to perhaps feel more directly connected to the memory and emotions.

"And then we raced down to the street," I said, "found our nephew who was living in an NYU dorm even further south, closer to the attack. How we found him with the thousands of people running through the streets I'll never know. And then the three of us went to Washington Square Park and saw the second plane hit and in a few minutes watched as the two buildings imploded." 

We sat I the car looking up at the flag.

"Sixteen years," Rona said with a sigh. Almost a third of my lifetime ago. Where did those years go? Will it be that in another 16 years we'll be on this same road and stop to see the flag which I am sure will again be at half mast? People here won't forget. They don't forget things of this kind. But we . . ."

"It will be a stretch for me to be still alive in another 16 years. I don't mean to make this about me. I'm just being realistic. And since the last 16 years went by so fast, does this mean, as I think about the next 16, that . . ."

I didn't complete the thought. I didn't want to complete the thought.

Feeling me struggling with this, Rona slide closer, held onto me and said, "Your mother lived to 107 and so . . ."

She trailed off as well.

"We'll be OK," I finally said. "We'll be OK."

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Monday, September 11, 2017

September 11, 2017--Irma & Cousin Murray

I have about a dozen relatives who live all year round in south or southern Florida. Mainly cousins. 

Two live in Miami-Dade but almost all the cousins are in Palm Beach County, not far from the ocean. And so this past two weeks my thoughts and emotions have been there with them as Hurricane Irma approached and then made landfall.

I have been calling and emailing through the days to see where they are--a few evacuated--and how they are faring. And of course I have been glued to the Weather Channel both on TV and via the Internet.

The oldest cousin is 93. He has begun to show his years and so I have been focusing much of my attention on him, Cousin Murray. He can be a bit fragile and now, with his wife in rehab, happily recovering well from a recent stroke, under pressure to evacuate, he resisted, not wanting to leave her even though she was more secure and sheltered than he. 

A friend of the family convinced him to leave for his wife's sake, Cousin Elaine, to head for Tampa where it was thought to be safer than where they live in Delray Beach. 

Quoting Rona who drew an analogy to what they tell passengers on airplanes--"In case of an emergency and oxygen is needed, put your mask on first before attempting to help others."

In other words, you're not much good to others if you yourself are in danger.

So they drove to Tampa ahead of the storm and then when Irma drifted west, returned to Ft. Lauderdale, where Cousin Murray's friend has a solidly constructed house. Another advantage--this allowed him to be closer to his wife of more than 70 years.

I have been blessed with many wonderful cousins. A number of them are among my best friends. Cousin Chuck, four years older, was like a big brother. We essentially grew up as if in one household, living just two blocks apart in East Flatbush. We did everything together from playing street games, to taking marathon bike rides, to me "managing" and "training" him when he became obsessed with boxing, working out relentlessly so as to get good enough to become the next Jewish world middleweight champion.

I put manage and training in quotes because I knew as little about what they meant as he knew about boxing. Needless to say, Chuck never made it even to the Golden Gloves. But everyday was a sweet adventure following in his footsteps.

Unfortunately, he died suddenly more than 10 years ago and as a result forever there will be a vacancy in my heart.

Cousin Murray was an idol to me. He was a GI during the Second World War and when he came home on leave I huddled close to him so I could hear every word of his stories about his training and wartime assignments. Fortunately, he was not sent overseas but in his crisp uniform and spit-polished shoes, was a hero to me.

After the War, the extended family together rented a small house in the Catskill Mountain village of Tannersville. Murray worked in the city in a family business and commuted to the country on weekends. More than anyone else I looked forward to his arrival. Among the many big-cousin activities he included me in was golf (he taught me to play and let me use his clubs) and the exploration of the local countryside. He was the first and only family member to have a convertible. A green Plymouth with a black rag top.

With me in the passenger seat he loved finding open roads to run it at full speed. At that time, the New York State Thruway was being built in sections. He would learn about a completed five to 10 mile stretch before anyone else knew about it and we would head for it. 

It was the most beautiful road I had ever seen and much of it, straight as an arrow. It was irresistible to floor the accelerator pedal and get the car ripping along at more than 100 miles per hour. The first time I had experienced that velocity. Among other things, though the car's buffeting made me feel at risk, sensing this, he would turn to me and simply wink. That wink settled me and made me feel I was safe no matter what in his protective presence.

He still makes me feel that way, so many years later, in spite of his inevitable physical weakening.

And so when I finally managed to reach him again Saturday night, I could hear the roaring wind, not unlike the way the wind sounded and felt as we raced along the Thruway, eliciting in me some of the same fears, hearing that in my voice, my 94-year-old cousin, still unhappily separated from his wife, likely feeling vulnerable himself, in a south Florida bungalow that had already lost power, to calm me he said, "I don't want you to worry about me. I'm fine," he chuckled, "We're as snug as a bug in a rug."  

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Friday, September 08, 2017

September 8, 2017--Audiologist In Search of An Author (Part 2 of 2)

The evening, after talking with Dr. Schwartzberg earlier in the day, even without a glass of wine with dinner and a sliver of Klonopin at bedtime, I was soundly asleep by 9:30. I had as usual with ear buds plugged myself into my radio but was so deep in sleep that I didn't even hear how the Yankees fared against the Orioles.

But things soon resumed their puzzling course. 

Alone after breakfast, with Rona in the garden weeding and repairing damage to her perennial garden from the heavy rain of the day before, I again thought back over my experiences with hearing aids and how good they have been for me--how I feel more connected to the world--and also how they, with Dr. Schwartzberg leading the way, have led me into an unexpected and ongoing adventure.

As I sometimes do, late in the morning, I retrieved my hand-sized portable radio to check the local news and gather the late-night sports results. The signal was strong from New York City so I was able to pull in WFAN and learned that the Yankees had been rained out and would play a double header with the Orioles and that it was looking as if at the U.S. Open tennis tournament there was a strong likelihood that the final four women would all be Americans. I made a note to find out when the semifinals were scheduled to be sure not to miss them.

There is also a local Maine all-news radio station, WGAN, 560 on the dial, that I routinely check in with for the latest weather news. I turned to it since I was feeling hurricane anxiety as I aways do this time of year. My nervousness, though, was not unfounded as Texas had already been battered by Hurricane Harvey and Irma was bearing down on South Florida. 

Unable to control my fears I began to obsess about where Irma might turn after making landfall in the southeast and what would become of Jose, roaring across the Caribbean right behind Irma. Was the Gulf of Maine in any way a possible place where either would make initial or secondary landfall? Our rickety, 90-year-old cottage is not more than twenty yards from the Gulf. Thankfully, Rona recently renewed our flood insurance. But insurance doesn't assure peace of mind. I was anything but feeling peaceful.

I caught myself at this--getting all riled up well in advance of when it might be appropriate to think about boarding up the windows and retreating inland to avoid the worst of one storm or another. Or, worse, both.

I thought I need to stop all this worrying. I need to overcome my addiction--because that's what it is--to news and talk radio. Sports I can handle, but not all the other breaking and dire news. I found myself again fretting about my dependence on news radio, and the print and TV variety as well, as if they offer the kind of distraction for me that I am seeking. In fact, they offer the opposite. Their relentless and repetitive reporting for me make things worse.

Agitated as I was, listening to news about North Korea on WCBS--880, also out of New York City, that broadcasts news, sports, and weather 24 hours a day, the signal, which had been strong suddenly went dead. Not unusual considering the distance and the rapidly rising sun affecting the atmosphere, I switched quickly to 1010AM where WINS Radio, which also covers the news 24/7, was also in the middle of a report about China and North Korea. After not more than a minute or two, the station too went silent.

Again, this was not entirely a surprise--the very same thing over the years had happened--so I ventured again to WGAM, Portland Maine's all-news station. They focus on local news, mainly drownings, boat accidents, fires, and occasional fatal accidents and murders. The usual mix of bad news. So it is not my go-to source for news unless I want the latest local weather forecast.

But, for the first time in my experience, though the signal emanates from less than 100 miles away, I lost that signal as well.

Maybe I need new batteries, I thought, and so I popped two double-As into the battery compartment. But still there was nothing from WGAN, 1010, or WCBS.

I couldn't find any news at all. Could it be that the North Koreans had hacked into our broadcast system? In my agitated state even that seemed possible.

Alone, shaken, and shaking I let the radio slip from my hands and collapsed back into my pillow.

I really need to do something about my dependence on the news media, I thought. As I age, my inability to handle what is now routinely reported is not being offset by being so wired up. It is not working to shield me from my anxieties. Again, I was coming to conclude that this dependence was only making matters worse. I needed other forms of escape. I needed . . .

As these thoughts were crystalizing, from my radio, dialed to what I was sure was still one of my news stations, I faintly heard music. Classical music. Chamber music. Bach I was certain. From his Unaccompanied Cello Suites. Among my favorites.

From WINS? From WGAM? Impossible! But when I checked the dial I saw that I was in fact tuned to WCBS, my first choice of all-news stations.

Quaking, I in turn checked the other two news stations and, incredible as it may seem, both also were broadcasting Bach! All three the same Suite!

Frantic, I thought of John Allan. He's about the most knowledgeable person I know. About virtually everything. He is also understanding and empathetic. If I called him to ask what he thought was happening and what he would recommend I do, I felt certain he would take me seriously, not judge or make fun of me, and would undoubtedly have any number of sound insights about what might be going on as well how I might think about what was happening and what to do.

So, I called, told him what I had been experiencing, and asked if he would try his radio to see what he might discover and since he, I was certain, would have similar experiences to mine, it would help calm and assure me that stranger things have happened. That nothing untoward was going on. North Korea was not engaged in cyberwarfare with us and that the loss of normal radio signals was simply a temporary technological aberration.

But all three news stations on John's radio were broadcasting normally. My radio alone was affected.

I was shattered. Sensing that, John said, "Look, you've been under a lot of stress lately. Family issues. Some heath scares. Exhaustion. You told me you haven't been sleeping. That you've been up all night listening to the radio. Maybe . . ."

"Yeah, maybe I'm going crazy. That's one kind of maybe."

"First," John unflappable said, "take a deep breath and perhaps take one of those pills of yours. Klono something  And then why not call Dr. Schwartzberg, your audiologist? He knows a lot about broadcast signals. After all, hearing aids are kind of like radio stations. They take in and then in a sense broadcast sounds to listeners. In this case to you. I of course don't literally mean they are radio stations, but they do have things in common with them. Hearing aids of course don't broadcast radio shows, but rather they transmit sounds from around where you are at any given time. In the house, or a car, and even the sounds in the diner. But, I think . . ."

"As usual, brilliant!" I said, feeling hopeful, "I'm hanging up and will call Schwartzberg right now. It's about the time he takes a brief break for lunch. I'm sure he'll answer the phone."

And he did on the second ring.

"Am I bothering you?" I asked, "I know at most you have only a minute so if OK, can I run something by you?" I didn't give him a chance to say no, I needed help, and thus raced ahead.

Breathlessly, I told him what had been going on and what John said about hearing aids being like radio stations--at that he chuckled--and therefore there's nothing for me to be concerned about. It's just that I haven't been sleeping and as a result I'm exhausted and susceptible to . . .

"You need to slow down," Gary said, in his calmest doctor voice, "You're overwrought. Even in danger of going over the edge. I mean, I don't want to unduly frighten you or make you feel even more anxious than you are, but as your doctor and friend I urge you to back off. Stop reading about politics, stop watching the Weather Channel, stop staying up all night for the latest news from Pyongyang or Kim Yong-un. There's nothing you can do about any of this. If I were you, rather than tuning in to talk radio in the middle of the night I would look for stations that broadcast music. Not rock and roll but something classical. Or, get yourself an iPod and load it up with Bach or . . ."

"Sorry to cut you off," I said, "But did you just say something about Bach? Johann Sebastian Bach?"

"I did," Gary said.

"I hadn't mentioned him, right? About that I'm not crazy, right?" I was screaming.

"That's right. You didn't . . ."

"And so, it's just a coincidence that you referred to Bach? Any particular work of his you think I should be listening to?" He didn't respond. "Like maybe some of his pieces for solo instruments? For violin? Especially for cello?" I was taunting him.

Not dealing with that directly, he said, "That's my best advice. You need to have different sounds in your head. I'm an audiologist. What do you expect me to say? Go to the gym? Walk along the water? Read a trashy novel? I'm not principally about that. I'm about sound. About hearing sound as naturally as possible. And about how certain kinds of sounds can cause alarm, or anxiety, or contribute to serenity and peace of mind. And so . . ."

*   *   *

I took his advice and spent the rest of the day listening to Bach on any one of my three all-news radio stations. And then, later that night, where on the dial the old WINS would have been, the sounds I heard through the night were of the woodlands coming alive as dawn approached.

I slept like a baby.

Pablo Casals

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