At 81, I now have a pair of hearing aids, and believe me, I’d prefer not to. If I didn’t already know life moves at a frenetic pace, I would now, judging from the noise around me. I’ve worn these expensive devices for three weeks and I’m struggling to make the adjustment. Even water gushing from the bathroom faucet sounds like a replay of hurricane Irma. The man who sold me these devices says I should read aloud for 15 minutes every day. It has to do with ear and eye coordination, he tells me.
This morning, I sat down to read an article from the October edition of Vanity Fair, “A Misogynist’s Nightmare,” by James Wolcott, a fine writer, if memory serves, and his subject, the rise of female journalists, is a topic near to my feminist heart. Unfortunately, within the first seconds of my reading aloud, I was stumbling over his words like a toddler wearing her first pair of laced up shoes:
Lift the lid on the lusty telenovela at Fox News, if you dare, where once testosterone cigar smoke, and rampant innuendo were the seething norm under the long reign of former Roger Ailes, chairman and C. E. O. whose emperorship ended in shabby disgrace after a cluster bomb of sexual-harassment accusations.
Okay, the words are image-laden, perky with wit and drag me breathlessly from the capital letter to the period. How “literati,” I thought. Wolcott has me dazzled before I’m informed — presuming I can remember the relationship between the main clause and the extended-phrase. Don’t get me wrong. I love Henry James and all those interrelated clauses and phrases, but Wolcott throws so many irrelevant observations into the mix, I feel I’m crawling through the rubble of a collapsed building in the hope of finding an exit.
Much kinder to my ears and eyes would be a sentence which reads: Now that misogynist Roger Ailes is no longer C. E. O of Fox News, sexism is waning.
If Wolcott’s sentence were the sole lapse in his essay, I’d have said nothing. Every writer has a bad day. But his language, throughout, so tied my tongue in knots, I couldn’t imagine his audience. Speakers of Xhosa perhaps? (Click) I jest, of course. No doubt, he appeals to the complex syntax of New Yorkers. They speak a language of their own, complete with dialects. But if he intends to communicate with me, a plain-spoken westerner, I confess his razzle-dazzle affronts my senses. Perhaps the Queen’s English might bridge the gap? My hearing aids are attuned to that.
(First published 9/29/17)