Saturday, October 10, 2009

Taking It to the Streets

Valerie’s (and now my) friend Don invited us to a walk around Tower Grove Park last Saturday. It was supposed to raise public awareness for deaf people in St. Louis. I dragged my kids along.

When I first met Don it was hours before I even realized he was deaf. He’s very good at reading lips. He had a cochlear implant but it had failed and he was going into surgery for a new one. He said people sounded like robots when it had worked.

When we met him at the march he had had the surgery. He said it would be eight weeks before they could turn it on. He had to mend from the operation.

I told my friend Fojammi the last thing Don really heard was the song Wake Me Up Before You Go Go. Fojammi pointed out Don had some catching up to do. I asked Don if he’d be able to listen to music with his new implant. He said they were starting him out with music therapy.

Technology is making great strides. Maybe we’ll be able to replace anything someday. There are deaf people who think implants are a bad idea. The logic is deafness is not abnormal it’s just different. My take is, if you could turn on a switch and understand Spanish, why not? It’s communication. Understanding is a good thing.

He told me he had to learn how to hear with a cochlear implant. When he got it the first thing he heard was a dog barking. Then a car’s brakes squealed but it still sounded like a dog barking. Even a door slamming sounded like a dog barking. He looked at me and said, “Stop barking at me!”

I thought it would be a good idea for my kids to get involved with a social issue. This one seemed tame enough. Little did I realize Don’s repertoire of dirty jokes.

I thought we could march at the front of the line with our fists in the air yelling, “Deaf people take back the streets!” Once a militant, always a militant!

A side benefit was Don’s vast knowledge of plants. He was able to identify everything we saw along the way.

When we got back to the Turkish Pavilion, the home base of the walk, someone decided we needed a photo of our group. It seemed like it took half an hour to keep us contained while someone tried to figure out the camera.

During all of this some little guy was bending Valerie’s ear. I thought maybe he was looking for free food. He asked me what the gathering was about in a soft whisper. We told him. He asked what the popular spots in the neighborhood were.

He was actually a little rude because he kept demanding our attention while we were trying to get the group picture. I asked what all of his questions were about. He said in his mysterious whisper that it would all soon become clear.

My interest was piqued. Finally he produced a card. It was Jerry Berger. “Oh,” I said, “That explains it.” Someone asked me who he was. I said he had an old gossip column. He overheard me and whispered, “Old?” He must’ve been pretty confident that the whole world knew who he was. I wonder if he would have been crushed if we had no idea who he was.

After we found out who he was we had a lot to talk about. He knew Valerie’s sister. I told him he reviewed my band in the 80’s. He said he remembered but who knows.

He kept whispering. Valerie leaned into his ear and whispered, “Why are we whispering?” “Yeah,” I said, “These people are all deaf.”

“I have cancer.”

Anyway, he took photos of us and the kids. He has an on line column and still works for the Riverfront Times. Valerie said she was a little jealous when he kissed her on one cheek but kissed me on both cheeks as we parted.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love publicity. I was very disappointed when our mention in his column wasn’t accompanied by a photo.

The photo they finally took has Valerie, me and the kids in the back on the left. Don is dead center to my left. I also lifted part of Jerry Berger’s blog.

DATE: Sunday 10/4/2009. . . The "Walk for Hearing" was also in full-swing, and that's where Valerie Pennington andDavid Udell, with his offspring Chloe andDylan, gave me a rundown on the hottest Southside nightcrawling spots. They liked The Shanty in Soulard; The Tin Can; Three Monkeys; Mattingly's; and The Cat's Meow "where I used to get a shot and beer for $1.50," said Udell. (The Meow is the deliciously dive bar operated by St. Louis 9th Ward aldermanKen Ortmann and his wife, Pat.) . . . Continuing the green theme


Valerie Pennington said...

I especially wanted Jerry to give the Cat's Meow a shout out, 'cause Alderman Ortmann finally got our wretched alley paved.

Bill said...

Don is one of the world's great souls. You're very lucky to know him.