Friday, June 15, 2007

The Elevator at College Story

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Several months ago I posted an article entitled, "The Price You Pay for Not Accepting Yourself," a funny account of what happened after I purposefully left my hearing aids at home while out on the town in New York City one night.

Here is another story that played out several years earlier while in college. This time I was actually wearing them.

I was as junior at Marist College, a private liberal arts school that was situated comfortably in the Hudson Valley, located halfway between Albany, New York and New York City. My dorm was a 9-story building overlooking the Hudson River, which made for a nice view for those whose rooms faced west. They were blessed almost every night with a most gorgeous orange sunset -- I was one of those lucky students. Every night after dinner in the cafeteria, I would rush back to my dorm in time to see the sun disappear behind the valley.

On my way to class one day, I stepped into an empty elevator and pressed "G," anxious to get to class on time. I was running a little late for I had overslept that morning. It was a relief to have the elevator all to myself. Don't you hate it when people squeeze themselves in an elevator like sardines in a can and collectively stare at the flashing numbers overhead....in dead silence?

The elevator began its journey to the ground floor when I sensed it slowing down already.

Oh no.

I looked at my watch. Five minutes before class!

The elevator doors cranked open on the eighth floor and a plump girl resembling Monica Lewinsky bounced inside. The elevator dipped considerably.

"Good morning," she said cheerily. She pressed "G" repeatedly.

"Ugh, good morning." I replied, smiling back at her. My eyes automatically turned upward at the flashing overhead panel.

At one point, somewhere between the 6th and 5th floors, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that "Monica" appeared to be agitated. She was looking around the elevator, mumbling something. I turned to look at her.

"What's that funny noise?" she said, with a hint of panic across her face.

Not again.

I knew exactly what was happening. The noise had nothing to do with the elevator.

Should I reassure her that everything was fine or should I have a little fun with this?

The little kid in me decided to have fun.

Feigning a look of great concern, I said to her in a soothing voice, "What's wrong madam?"

"I am hearing a weird whistling sound, I think something is wrong with this elevator!"

Pretending to gasp in horror, I said, "Really, oh yes, my God, I think you are right!"

"Monica" immediately wrapped her arm around mine, holding on tightly. She stared at the flashing numbers as if that would make the elevator go down faster.

When "G" finally lit up, "Monica" broke free and lunged forward in an attempt to pry open the doors. Rather than waiting for them to open all the way, she hurriedly squeezed herself through and bolted out of sight.

For a moment, I was too shocked to react because I hadn't expected such excitement!

It wasn't too long afterwards when I started to feel a little guilty about it so I made a mental note to seek her out and make amends.

The next day I had an opportunity to do just that. I spotted her sitting on the bench under a large Weeping Willow tree, reading a book. I approached cautiously.

"Hey, there, do you have a sec?" I said.

"Sure." Her jet black hair swayed with the wind, partially obscuring her face. With two fingers, she expertly pulled away the last strands of hair and parked it behind both ears.

"Remember yesterday when you heard that funny sound in the elevator?"

"Oh how could I not! Did you hear it too?"

"Well, not exactly. I have a confession to make."

Her eyebrows shot up.

Moistening my lips, I said, "First of all, I'm totally deaf. Secondly, that noise you heard had nothing to do with the elevator. It came from me."

"What!?? What do you mean?" She uncrossed her legs, set aside the book she was reading and gave me her full attention.

"Well, it's like this. You see the hearing aid I'm wearing in my right ear?" I turned my head to show her.

She nodded, "Hmmmm..."

"When you stepped in the elevator, I smiled back at you and that caused the noise you heard."

Scratching her head, she cocked her head like a puppy, not quite understanding.

Pointing to the empty space on the bench, I said, "May I?"

She slid over.

Pulling my hearing aid out, I showed her the inside piece, which was made of plastic molding that was made to exact specifications for the right ear.

"When this molding was first made, it sealed the ear quite nicely. But over time, both the shape of my ear canal and this little piece changed its configuration. When that happens, it creates the possibility for air to sneak its way inside the ear, causing feedback. The problem is made worse when the user smiles or laughs."

She frowned, still not getting it.

"Okay, do me a favor. Smile or laugh but while you're doing that, put your hand over your ear and tell me what what happens."

"My ear moves back every time I smile!"

"Exactly! If the plastic piece is shrinking and the inner ear canal is in different shape, that would mean the hearing aid piece won't fit as snugly as it once did, right?"

I continued further, "when the user smiles or laughs, it creates an even bigger air pocket, because the mold doesn't quite fit like before."

"OH I GET IT NOW." She smiled for the first time.

Then she turned serious for a moment and said, "So you were playing games with me that day?"

"Yes," I said sheepishly. "Sorry about that."

She threw her head back and gave a throaty laugh like Marilyn Monroe. Then she smiled. I smiled back.

"So you forgive me?" I asked hopefully.

Wagging her finger at me, she replied, "Yes, but you're one very naughty boy!"
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