We had our hearing tested at the mill awhile back. These days they contract with an outside provider; but in times past hearing tests involved the shift foreman yelling instructions in your ear while every machine in the mill was running full tilt. The powers that be had determined that If the yell-ee was unable to understand the yeller, then the yell-ee would be transferred to a job that didn’t require an ability to hear – something in the management category. Things are more sophisticated now. When a management position opens at the mill the company simply runs an ad recruiting the hearing impaired.
I was one of the first employees tested that day and I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to ask anyone about test strategies. So I was going into the whole thing blind, er, deaf …or whatever.
The hearing test truck – a bug splattered bookmobile – was parked in front of the office near the highway. Upon my arrival I observed a hitchhiker squatting at the rear of the vehicle. I glanced at him: noticed his long greasy hair, the food stains on his shirt, the cigarette burns in his pants and the really shinny shoes. He looked at me and his eyes narrowed as he studied my rough and ready blue collar appearance. His countenance suddenly took on a look of comprehension, as he jumped up and walked toward me.
“Hello, I’m Harold Campbell – ” I knew that I would never be able to eat canned soup with an untroubled mind again. “I’m with Auditory Procedural Criterion Servo Laboratories, and I’m here to test your…” his eyes narrowed and he paused significantly, “…hearing.” He extended a hand toward me to shake and I failed to noticed the burning cigarette pinned between two fingers. I reached with my gloved hand and gripped firmly. Harold’s eye’s narrowed still further and one corner of his mouth turned down. The smell of burning flesh caught my attention and I looked down to see that I had pressed the lit end of his cigarette into the back of his hand. Not wanting to damage his sense of manliness I simply released my grip and smiled.
Harold’s stepped back and looked at me sideways with his narrowed eyes.
“If you’ll step inside we’ll get started.”
I stepped inside.
He missed the first step and barked his shin against the unforgiving steel.
I pretended not to notice.
Harold stood sideways to me and looked at me with narrowed eyes.
“Step into the booth and put on the head phones.” He held his arms stiffly at his side. “When you hear the musical notes press the clicker.” He shifted his narrowed eyes toward a small contraption that looked like an undersized computer mouse.
In retrospect I’m not exactly sure what he said; a car in need of a muffler had roared down the highway as he was giving his instructions. I had wanted to ask for further clarification but I was on the clock and there was work to be done.
I squeezed into the booth and shut the door. Harold watched a moment through the window and then stumbled out of view to the right.
There was barely enough room to fit my knees between the walls. To ease the tension in my neck I rolled my head back and forth and took several deep breaths. I put on the head phones and grabbed the clicker. I wiped the beads of perspiration from my brow. Without warning I heard a series of notes so I mashed the clicker with my thumb and found myself blurting the first thing that came to mind.
“S-s-s-saturday Night, Bay City Rollers!!” I cried.
Harold returned to view with his back toward me. He turned his head slightly, looking at me with narrowed eyes. He was rubbing antibiotic ointment on the back of one hand. I think he spoke, but at that moment a log truck swept by on the highway and I didn’t catch what he said.
Another tune began to play.
“Love Is Like Oxygen, by Sweet!!” (Click! Click! Click!), my face pressed against the glass.
This time Harold turned toward me – his neck stretched, his eyes narrowed – and I’m sure I saw his lips move; a phalanx of Harley Davidsons passed and I lost the meaning of his words.
Again a tune.
“Um, oh – uh, crap – something – something by the Little River Band!!” (Click).
Harold lunged at the door of the booth and yanked the handle. The pressure of my knees against the inside popped it open with unexpected force and the door edge caught him squarely between his narrowed eyes. He stumbled backward and a chair met him at the knees, seating him vigorously. The chair slowly tilted – paused – and then crashed to the floor. I had the feeling that the test was over so I stepped outside and made my way back to the mill.
Later someone told me that it was merely a series of tones I was responding to. I understand that the test results will be back in three weeks.