Can You Hear Me Now?

Can You Hear Me Now?

By Tom Nussbaum

old man hearing

“Damn, I left my hearing aids on my nightstand,” Greg said as he slipped the elastic bands of his light blue COVID-19 mask over his ears.”

Walt exhaled with frustration as he donned his white mask. “Not again. Well, I’ve got mine.” He stopped. “Crap. I was gonna buy batteries before I picked you up. Mine are almost dead.” He laughed at his forgetfulness as they neared the popular Ajijic restaurant. “So, not only are we hearing impaired, but now our masks are gonna muffle everything we say.”

“What?” Greg asked. “Why do you want muffins on a velveteen plate? What restaurants have velveteen—” A blast of Mexican music, a hybrid of traditional mariachi and energetic pop, interrupted him as they stepped through the open doorway.

“And,” Walt added, “we’re gonna have to deal with this loud music.”

A hostess, younger than Greg and Walt’s masks, greeted them. “Two?” she mumbled behind her floral-patterned mask, as she grabbed a pair of menus. As predicted, the blare of a trumpet smothered her monosyllabic question.

Greg nodded with hesitation and looked at Walt. “What did she say?”

“She said ‘Two?’”

“That’s what I thought. Why’d she say ‘You?’”

“What?”

The hostess led the duo to a table surrounded by several occupied ones and in front of the band. “Ramón will be your server,” she said, as she laid down the menus and left.

“Our waiter’s name is Damon?” Greg asked. “He must be from El Norte.”

“She said his name is Raven,” Walt corrected erroneously. “He? She? They must be transgender.”

Greg focused on the band, unaware his companion had spoken. “I wonder if they know any Ricky Martin songs? Diane loved Ricky Martin.” The widower toyed with his wedding band.

“Oh, yes, my wife loved Dolly Parton, too.”

A slender waiter, in black slacks, white shirt, and black mask, approached the table. “Good evening, gentlemen. My name is Ramón,” he announced to preoccupied ears. His English was perfect, his accent, however, thick. The band began playing Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero.”

“Oh, how wonderful,” Walt gasped. “They’re playing ‘Jolene.’”

Ramón lowered himself to ear level. “Hola, gentlemen. I am Ramón.” This time he was successful. Both men turned to the waiter.

“Hola, Damon,” Greg greeted.

“¿Como esta usted, Raven?” Walt asked.

Robotically Ramón inquired, “Would you gentlemen like something to drink?”

“Yes, I do need some time to think,” Walt said. “I haven’t even looked at the menu.”

“No, sir. To drink. Can I get you something to drink before you order?” The waiter adjusted his mask, hoping that would improve communication.

“Oh, of course. To drink. A margarita. Rocks. Yes, a margarita, por favor.”

“OK. Sangria it is. And you, sir?”

Greg furrowed his brow in thought. “A mojito?”

“Certainly,” replied Ramón. “A Pacifico.” He stepped away.

Several minutes passed. The music paused long enough for Greg and Walt to hear the hum of muffled conversations around them. A shrill one, however, rose above the others. It appeared to be an argument between a burly man and spindly woman.

“I think she is accusing him of ordering the wrong wine,” Greg said looking toward the disturbance.

“Yes,” Walt replied. “Ramón certainly is taking his time.” He looked at the menu. “What’s good here?”

“A beer? No. I didn’t order a beer. I ordered a mojito. You know I hate beer.”

As the band began the next tune, Walt’s right hearing aid screeched, like a dying banshee. “What’s that?” he asked, looking around. His glance settled on the husky man.

“What?” Greg uttered as the man rose and stepped toward the duo. His black mask bore a Day of the Dead motif.

“What you looking at?” he charged. “And which one of you said my wife looks like a mosquito?”

“I did,” Greg said. “I ordered a mojito. Are they good here?”

“Mojito? You said ‘mojito?’” The man stepped back. “I suppose everything’s good here.” He smiled. “I thought you said . . . oh, never mind.” He slithered back to his table.

Ramón returned with a sangria and Pacifico. “What are these?” Greg asked.

“Your drinks, señor.”

“But we didn’t order these.” Ramón leaned in and squinted, as if trying to hear better. Walt continued. “We ordered a margarita and mojito.”

“OK,” Ramón said as he stood. “That’s one beef fajita and a burrito.” He left.

“I think he got it this time,” Greg said. “But why didn’t he take these drinks with him since they aren’t ours?” He gazed toward a table at which a large man sat. “Look at his fajitas. That is a huge serving. I should order that.”

“Ssshh!” Walt hushed. “Don’t call him fat. He can hear you.”

“What?”

The band began playing a familiar tune, but with a mariachi interpretation.

“Hey,” Walt said, “They’re playing Ricky Martin’s ‘Livin’ la Vida Loca.’”

“Oh, yeah. Cool.” Greg smiled.

They were listening, however, to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.”

In the kitchen, a chef prepared beef fajitas and a burrito.

 

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