Tuesday, September 3, 2013


In 1992, Sir Ian Mc Kellen brought his famous portrayal of Richard III to a limited engagement the Royce Theater at UCLA. As soon as I knew he was coming, I bought tickets that were so pricey that my family was sitting two rows in front of Tony Dalton. My ten and seventeen-year-old sons and my adult daughter told me that the performance was beyond excellent. I had not heard a word of it. That was when I realized how much my hearing had deteriorated and that without intervention, renting the movie with subtitles was as good as it was going to get. That was the beginning of my misadventures as a person who is hearing impaired. At the time I traipsed out of Royce two steps behind James Bond in a green silk shirt, I had no idea that I was about to join the ranks of the disenfranchised, ignored and often scorned. 

In 1992, I was a trial prosecutor with ten years experience and was handling major crimes. I was assigned to a courthouse that did not have a Superior Court until 1991, which meant I had tried my felonies out of a carpet bag. By 1992 when I finally scheduled an examination with an ENT and testing by an Audiologist, I had been trying my cases in my home court in the Morongo Basin, which had expanded to add two Superior Court departments staffed with excellent judges. But a major cocaine processing case popped up on the Barstow calendar at a time when there was no experienced narcotics attorney available to try it. While I was not excited about going to Barstow to try a drug case when I had homicides pending, it was one of my favorite courts, the one where Erin Brockovich made her mark. The defendants had waived jury because they thought the street value of the drugs would prejudice just about anyone who heard the number, so there were probably less than a dozen spectators in the courtroom when the judge peeked around the door to his chambers and announced:

“My bailiff has just informed me that Mrs. Root has AIDS.”

That was the moment when I realized that my smart practical wedge hair-style had to go. The devices I was wearing were humongous clunkers, they did not respond well to microphones, and if I was the least bit animated in my arguments, they were apt to go coruscating to the floor and into the forbidden area called ‘the well’. Obviously my hearing loss was not the sort of disability that was considered off limits like facial disfigurement or the loss of a limb, the physically apparent injuries that about which my mother had scolded me: “Don’t stare, Linda Alice!”

Everyone knew that the judge’s comment was a joke, and that he only made the remark because he and I had good rapport. He would have been shocked to learn that I went to my hotel room and cried. I got over it when the judge found the defendants guilty, but I did not forget it. As soon as I could afford them, I spent more than eight thousand dollars on a pair of little color-coded ‘in the ear canal’ devices so small they looked like misshaped jelly beans. They did help my hearing but were incredibly fragile and in the shop for repairs within days of the expiration of their warranty. It did not help that the repair facility I used was in Texas. Sending them away became a regular event whenever I had a murder case on calendar. But I did have my court-appropriate hairstyle back. And while I did not Sign, I got pretty good at lip-reading.

Then I got promoted and my hearing issues became acute. I stopped trying cases when I was promoted to Supervising Deputy D. A. That did not relieve me from nearly daily court appearances, and it added additional duties that may me acutely aware of my disability, even if others were not. The year 1997 was before Blue Tooth compatible hearing aids and telephones hit the market, and a supervising prosecutor spends a lot of time conferencing by telephone. I was also expected to attend functions to represent our office in the community. I have been told that there was more than one keynote speech in which I was the only person in the room who did not have veins throbbing in the temples before the speaker sat down. Being insulated from the inane or patently offensive was the upside. The downside was that I missed a lot of comments that warranted a response. As to my own public appearances, I did fine in front of mike banks, since all reporters shout their questions and do not generally comment on the answers as long as they get a sound bite. I also did some crime-network syndicated television, and the shows went well because of the level of expertise of the assistant directors and interviewers. Somebody who liked me must have edited my several requests ’Could you repeat the question?’ out of the final cut.

In watching the Director’s Cut of Arrest and Trial I discovered that a hearing impaired professional should never say, “Can you repeat the question?” which makes the impaired person sound rude, stupid or inattentive. It occurred to me later that the alternative request, ‘Could you rephrase that?" when accompanied by a raised eyebrow or a frown tossed the Frisbee back to the interviewer. But I could only fake so much.

There were situations when my loss was interfering with my job performance as I saw it, even if others never noticed. For example, our chief deputy had a habit of lowering his head and staring at his shoelaces when he was being critical, which meant that half of the time I did not know what I had done that had caused him to drive from Victorville on a back road only traveled by Harley choppers and hay trucks. Those conversations usually ended with him looking up with a smile and telling me that overall I was doing an excellent job, so I continued doing what I had always done, until the next time.

However, it was different when I was meeting in my office with members of a homicide detail out of San Bernardino. In that situation, I needed to hear what they had to say, and I had to be humble enough to tell them that I needed them to repeat certain bits of information because my hearing aids were not working properly, Actually, my loss was advancing faster than the technology. That was when I decided to retire. I was fortunate because I left the job I loved while I was at the top of my game, and no one had to tell me to either retire or go downtown to the Appellate Department where the written word was the tour de force.

The beard.

Since then, I have spent another three thousand for the pair of Siemens I bought on Ebay, and yes, they are over-the-ear clunkers, but I left my vanity in the courthouse. I am profoundly deaf in one year and approaching a similar degree of loss in the other. It does make me wonder why I cannot hear the telephone ring but I can hear my husband snore.

There are personal as well as professional issues that have caused me pain. My daughter and granddaughters do not like to go to restaurants with me because I tend to talk too loud. I have a hideous vision of the four of us in Applebee’s text messaging one another. For years I could not understand my brother-in-law’s speech because he is a professional Santa. It is nigh impossible to talk to a Santa Claus whose lips are hidden in a snowy beard.  

It is also impossible to do business on the telephone, especially with the decreasing number of customer service personnel who speak English as their first language. Most of them are patient and polite, and probably take a leave of absence as soon as the struggle with me is over. And while I can usually manage through a social event when I am in a circle of men because my hearing loss is at the upper, upper middle and very low ranges, I have much more difficulty hearing women in the typically higher range of female speakers, even if they are shouting at me for monopolizing their men.

I did go to an all female house party recently where the guest of honor Dr. Gilda Carle had a wonderful sonorous voice and the facial expressions that reminded me of what beautiful women looked like before Botox. I doubt that I missed a word. It was a lucky day for me, and those are becoming rare. Like most people who are hearing impaired, I tend to be reclusive at a time of my life when reaching out to others is vital. Ask AARP.

I have solved the issue of isolation in a way that may not be all that mentally or physically healthy, but it is better than looking out the window at a world full of sounds I cannot hear. I have a whole new group of friends whose every word is within my range, a world of symphonies and chorals and violins and even hip hop. I have become a creator of speech and sound, and in a small way, I know how Beethoven must have felt. I cannot hear Joshua Bell other than in my memory, but I can create someone like him and I can give my creation the talent of a Joshua Bell, and even hand him a red violin. Sometimes I play the CD A Tramp Shining and pretend to listen to Richard Harris sing James Webb’s enigmatic MacArthur Park. And then I go to my laptop and I write a living, breathing, sexy brawling Irishman with pathos and I give him song, and I bring my personal Richard Harris back to life.

As a writer of fiction, I am able to follow a crisp dialog because I am the one creating it. I can hear doors slam and coins drop. I can listen in on lovers’ whispered secrets. I hear footsteps on crisp new snow.

But even a writer suffers from being hearing impaired. Seminars and writers groups are out of the question for me. What good is a book launching when my personal interaction with prospective readers would be a ‘Say, what?’ I would be happy to do a reading for a book club, but I could not respond to questions from the audience unless they were written on note cards.

So, like Tara, I do not launch. I blog! Thank you for letting me share this.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post, Linda and Tara. You are both wonderfully courageous women, examples of grace and dignity in a world sorely lacking it. I am currently reading The First Marie, and the imagery is stellar. The court's loss is the reading world's gain. Shine on!