Having a hearing loss is no joke. But having a sense of humor about hearing loss is often very helpful. Similarly, being able to laugh about our profession can provide relief from what is sometimes an overwhelming, albeit satisfying, occupation.
Recently, the editors of hearinghealthmatters.org invited me to contribute to their blog. Given the plethora of serious scientists and business professionals who are regular contributors, they asked me to take a look at the lighter side of our field. So, with that in mind, I offer you this amazing, albeit hard to believe, tale…
I’ve been an audiologist for 30 years, so what do I know about gangsters or spies? Yet here I was, traveling on the Orient Express from Vienna to a speaking engagement in Bucharest. With little to do, I began listening in (well, okay, eavesdropping) on fragments of a conversation between two well-dressed men seated in the adjacent compartment. What they said sent chills up my spine and haunts my memories to this day.
The older man, a large, hulking person with a shaved head, did most of the talking. I heard him say, “We’ve decided to put a hit on the diva. The plan is to get her into a state of zen, and then lace her drink. We will do whatever is necessary, including bringing in the delta force, or even Atlas or Noah, or, as a last resort, DaVinci, who used to be a bionic sumo wrestler.
“To be certain of success, we need to synchronize our watches and make sure we have an accurate compass. If necessary, we can alter your passport to put our plan into motion.”
With all the noise on the train, the men’s words weren’t entirely clear. In fact, their speech was muddled and distorted, as if the frequencies had been transposed and the intensity compressed. Many of the phrases seemed to have dual meanings, leading to some confusion. Yet, both men clearly brought great passion to their mission, whatever it was.
Occasionally, they reverted to a foreign language, possibly Spanish or Italian. The younger man, who sported a thin scar from his left eye to the corner of his mouth and wore a gray fedora over his thick, dark hair, said, “Amigo, is my meaning perfectly clear?” His large companion nodded his head and answered, “Claro, mamma mia.”
It was obvious that these were no amateurs. Each was a high pro in this mysterious business.
The older man continued: “Our plan is very high-tec, with many elements. And, as Luigi, our colleague in Milan, told us, if our first attempt fails, we have contingency plans from ‘una’ to ‘quattro’ to fall back on. We must be prepared to go the extra mile. We must be bright and connect all the dots. But if we shift gears and lose focus, we will fail. What do you think of the plan?”
His young listener smiled and said, “Bravo, truly bravissimo.”
Shaved head went on: “We are entering a new epoch, one in which we must be open and stay in touch with the real essence of life. What we do next will have great impact, it will change human destiny.”
The listener exclaimed, “You have planned this to the max! You inspire me and set my pulse into pure motion!”
The old man sharply admonished his young partner: “Don’t get excited. To succeed, you must simply be tranquil. So, mind your business. And remember, I’ll be keeping an eye on you. You may think you’re smart, but I sometimes question your IQ. One way or the other, you’re going to have to face the music, baby! And keep in your memory, mate, the saying “To err is human, to forgive divine” doesn’t apply here. Just zip your lip and let’s get to work.”
I was stunned and perplexed by what I had overheard. Somewhere in the deepest recesses of my brain, I seemed to be familiar with so many of their words. It was as if I had heard these words before, but in some other context. I just couldn’t put my finger on where.
Maybe it was my curiosity or it could have been paranoia, but I knew I couldn’t just ignore these men. I knew I had to act. But what should I do?
Despite strong trepidations, I decided to approach the two men directly. I boldly stated that I had overheard their conspiracy and I wasn’t going to let them get away with it.
They looked at me curiously and asked exactly what I had heard. I told them that I couldn’t make out everything, but I was certain about the key words I heard, so I repeated the plot to them. They stared at each other for a moment, then burst into hearty laughter before informing me that they weren’t spies or gangsters at all. Rather, they were marketing executives from the hearing aid industry.
They told me, “You correctly heard many of our words, but you obviously took them out of context. We were simply discussing some of the recent hearing aid models.”
So now that I had made a complete fool of myself (not the first time, and I’m sure not the last time), I ask you, the reader, if you can think about (or re-read) the following text and see how many names of hearing aids or other related products you can find in their conversation. Each key word counts only once; if a key word is repeated, don’t count it twice. You get one point for each correct word. The key words can be displayed by clicking the “REVEAL WORDS” button that follows the text, as well an interpretation of the scores is given when the “INTERPRET SCORES” button is clicked.