Most of you who know me from these pages or my working days know I’m hearing challenged.

It’s a life-long disability that’s has gotten worse over the years. At this point, hearing in my right ear is all but gone. I still have about fifty percent hearing in my left ear — with the assistance of hearing aids.


I’ve had a bittersweet relationship with hearing aids.

I hated them as a teenager. These were the primitive “portable radio receiver in a pocket with a cord in your ear” hearing aids. It was worse than being called “four eyes” when I wore the aids. There were lots of jokes, smirks and knowing winks at me. Oh, right, I also wore glasses.

hearing aids

I was short, wore glasses and hearing aids — and was one of a handful of black kids in my classes. I was also painfully shy.

Fast forward to college and my discovery of radio. College radio would lead to a wonderful career and brand new alter ego, the familiar TV News Guy. I turned my hearing disability into an asset. Friends pointed out diction problems, and speech therapy followed. Presto, I became the black guy with great diction. Amazing!

A few awkward social encounters convinced me to wear my hearing aids regularly. The new models were smaller and less conspicuous. Eventually, they would be invisible, all inside the ear.

My hearing problems gave me certain advantages. Court clerks would make sure I had a good seat for cases I covered. Judges would admonish lawyers to speak clearly so that all could hear. Ironically, I understood more testimony in some cases than my peers with normal hearing. Yes!

My disability provided many laughs in my career.

In the early 70’s, Boston Mayor “Kevin from Heaven” White started a new program to assist senior citizens. It was called “M.O.B.”. Forgive me, I forget what the acronym exactly meant, but it was a PR blitz for seniors. They needed a spokesman for MOB. Someone who senior citizens would easily recognize.

MOB? How about George Raft??

I got the call to interview the legendary old-time star of gangster movies on Boston City Hall Plaza. We met just after Raft had a liquid lunch with the Mayor’s people. The veteran actor, wearing his trademark fedora, greeted me with a grunt. A brief exchange about the interview, then we rolled cameras. I asked the questions. Raft grunted.


George Raft

I asked Raft about “Bolero,” a film where he displayed tango expertise which earned his keep before he was called to Hollywood. “Call me George, pal” he rasped with a smile.

I called him George and he said “What”?

I figured he was kidding with me. I tried it again.

“What, kid?” was the reply. Back and forth several times. I could hear the cameraman giggling.

“George”, I tried again, pointing to my hearing aids.

“What’s up, kid”? Then, it slowly dawned on him. Raft pointed to his ears and gestured. Cautiously, I took a look. I thought for a long moment before speaking.

“George”, I said slowly and carefully, “You need to turn on your hearing aids.”

Raft gave me a long look, then that familiar smile which typically preceded him mowing down guys with a machine gun. He snapped his fingers. A crony walked over, reached in and turned on his hearing aids.

“Thanks, Pal”, George Raft smiled with relief.

I couldn’t resist the moment. I pulled out a coin and began tossing it in the air and catching it. Raft stared. We shook hands. He smiled over his shoulders as he walked away.

Just so you know, I was half an inch taller than the guy who used to duke it out with Bogie and Cagney.

Thanks, Pal.


Categories: Anecdote, Celebrities, Garry Armstrong, Hearing, Humor

Tags: , , , , , ,

25 replies

  1. Priceless, what a classic encounter!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. George Raft, Cagney and Bogey–my go-to guys for those Million Dollar Movies. This was great, Garry.. Reminds me of a Dilbert cartoon: The point-haired boss says he is going to send an email to Larry. Wally reminds him that Larry is deaf so he had better type in ALL CAPS. Still cracks me up…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lois. Your note just reminded me that I met both Cagney and Raft. Bogie left us too soon. That would’ve been a great trifecta!!
      Clearing the cobwebs of my mind….YEARS ago, I met the comic, Norm Crosby. Great guy. Damon Runyonesque material. Norm wore TWO big hearing aids when I first met him in the very early 70’s. He made me feel at ease with my hearing problems.
      I recall and love that Dilbert cartoon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I loved your post about Cagney. Norm Crosby…I remember him. Dilbert…he knows my office well…

        Liked by 1 person

        • Lois, I’m glad you recall Norm Crosby. He was really a FUNNY guy!!
          There will several other legends who I remember wearing hearing aids including Jimmy Stewart. He wore HUGE hearing aids in his final years. I really felt for him. He was enduring the “large gathering woes” that plague me these days.

          Liked by 1 person

          • This is interesting in that I guess ‘Hollywood’ didn’t let the fans see this side of the stars. I was truly surprised to read that about George Raft.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Not surprisingly, Garry has always been aware of who in the Hollywood community shares his hearing problems. It’s a cause near and dear to his heart. Over the years, he has done what he can to raise awareness. I don’t think most people realize what a serious disability it is, not being able to hear. Or how little help is available to deal with it. No insurance plan — not Medicare, Medicaid, or private health insurance — covers the cost of hearing aids. They cost thousands of dollars and need to be replaced every few years. Like eyeglasses, but MUCH more expensive.

              Liked by 1 person

              • The lack of insurance to cover this is a shame. I am getting more and more nervous about Medicare. Putting off retirement to keep my good insurance is losing its luster, but still….

                Liked by 1 person

                • Medicare covers more than most private insurance. It’s actually decent insurance. It has its weaknesses, but overall, it’s pretty good. And I certainly would know since it has been the only thing keeping me alive for more than a decade.

                  The problem is that insurance — ALL insurance, not only Medicare — does not cover teeth, vision, or hearing. They never have. Sometimes, you can buy rider policies to pick up the slack, but NOT for hearing aids. If such insurance exists, we’ve never heard of it. We have always paid out of pocket. Even when we were both working, hearing aids were a major expense … the most expensive thing we bought other than cars. And without the good financing terms.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Can I ask you something about Medicare? Do you review each year and change policies? I will eventually retire and all this talk about “read the policy changes each year” swirls around my head….Thanks, Marilyn.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • No. If I’m happy with the plan I’ve got, I stay with it. I’m in a BCBS PPO and I moved Garry into it this year, too. BCBS is an excellent, responsive organization and I’m very happy with them. They aren’t the only game in town, but I see no reason to change.

                      I’ve been on one Medicare plan or another for a long time. I know what I pay, I know what they pay. I read the statements they send each month. I do not make myself crazy following each change in Medicare because what Medicare does will be reflected in every plan, not just mine. This is a Medicare “Advantage” plan, an HMO (PPO) for Medicare. It pays most of the cost of most things. Are there some deductibles? Yes. Are there things they do not cover I wish they DID cover? Yes. But private insurance had its own restrictions and copays and some of them were a lot more restrictive and expensive than Medicare.

                      You pick the best plan you can and then you go about living your life. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself doing nothing but worrying about things you can’t fix.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Thank you so very much, Marilyn. I really appreciate this information. Very helpful. Thanks, again.

                      Liked by 1 person

              • It was interesting talking to a former colleague/peer at a Boston media bash last night. He also wears TWO hearing aids and we bonded during our working years covering myriad stories and trials. We laughed about how some lawyers mumbled and were admonished by the judge. It wasn’t funny for us back then.


  3. Loved it! Kudos! Love to you and your beloved, Tasha

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “I was short, wore glasses and hearing aids — and was one of a handful of black kids in my classes. I was also painfully shy.”
    I’d say you beat the odds on that one, Garry.

    My mother was deaf in one ear but never admitted it (although she did joke that when she went to sleep she always slept on her ‘good ear” to muffle the traffic noises) and when she said “Excuse me but you would like some juice” in the middle of someone’s sentence you realized she hadn’t heard a word you said.
    She finally got hearing aids when she was in her 70s, so then we got to listen to them whistle =)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the kind words, Judy. In retrospect, I think I sound more like a Woody Allen character than young Garry Armstrong.
      My middle brother’s hearing is WORSE than mine. My youngest brother has PERFECT hearing. He’s the internationally acclaimed music director at St. Olaf College.
      My Dad’s hearing deteriorated with age. He despised hearing aids and rarely wore them. Mom’s hearing woes also came with age. She still had a wonderful singing voice and sang in the church choir until her final years.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree. Good story. Another one about poor hearing and hearing aids is Deaf Sentence by David Lodge. The first 100 pages or so summarize with a major dose of humor living with poor hearing and modern hearing aids. Now that I’m thinking about it, are you aware of Sound and Fury, a remarkable documentary about a deaf family and the conflict created by cochlear implants? Available streaming e.g. Amazon.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for the fab post, read coffee in hand as my brood sleep. My father-in-law would have loved this post, which would maybe have convinced him to get a hearing aid. He had very bad hearing caused by his job piloting agricultural planes, and often claimed that he would prefer to be blind than deaf if he had been able to choose. On other days he said that sometimes he heard people spouting so much so much crap that he was lucky to hear less.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Multi, glad you enjoyed my piece.
      When I write about my hearing disability, I always hope it touches the lives of others who have the same problem. I wish hearing aids were more affordable for those who need them but don’t have the financial means or health coverage.
      Hearing is part of our daily lives. Conversation is becoming an endangered species. People text, tweet, sext, etc rather than talk.
      I enjoy listening to people. It’s in my DNA. I’ve always been able to mentally discard the crap. It was an invaluable ability during my working years and still a good tool in retirement.


  7. George Raft – one of the names from my dad’s time, so I also sort of grew up with him. My dad had a hearing aid, but never bothered to wear it. It was not a good model – british national health service cheapest quality. He just relied that we all shouted, but now and again he would nod his head and you knew he had heard nothing, but was just being polite.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mrs. Swiss, hearing aid technology has come a long way in my lifetime. And, nowadays, everyone seemingly has something plugged into their ears. Bluetooths, etc. So, hearing aids are no longer a stigma. I wore the invisible, all in your ear aids for several years until they were no longer powerful enough for my deteriorating hearing. The devices pictured above are the hearing aids I wear now. They “do the job” but hearing is still a problem, especially in large gatherings when everything becomes just a loud, jarring, unintelligible mass of sound. Not fun.
      It is what it is.
      The George Raft meeting was funny on several levels.


  8. Great story Garry. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

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