Until eight or nine months ago, Listener Magazine rented office space U on the second floor of what used to be the Oddfellows Hall in Oneonta, New York. Our two rooms were toward the back of the building, right next to a spacious and well-equipped kitchen. judging from what we found in the building, hot meals were a key part of every Oddfellows meeting, along with a thoroughly bizarre ceremony involving elderly men dressed like David and Goliath and a skeleton in a black cardboard coffin. (And thus evaporated all mystery surrounding the group's name.)
The important thing here is the kitchen, in which we kept a coffeemaker.
One day it was my turn to wash it. I had been rinsing the carafe under running water for several minutes when I recognized a sound: Someone was speaking to me, and apparently had been for several minutes. I turned off the tap and there was my then-assistant, Kim Harmer, gabbing away in my direction. I stopped, smiled, and told her I hadn't heard a single word she'd said. Kim started over from the top. When she was done, I told her two things: First, when my ears are within three feet of briskly running water I am generally -an- able to hear much of anything else. Second, I have never met a woman who didn't fail, for the most part, to understand that fact.
Kim responded with the most remarkable admission I've ever heard from anyone in my life: "I know. My husband says the same thing all the time."
I knew then and there that I was fumbling with the keys to an important discovery. Immediately, I ran to my desk and wrote it down:
Women hear differently from men.
Until I figured this out, I half-believed that the women in my life were simply out to deceive me, albeit on a small scale. I even suspected my wife, a beautiful woman whom I love dearly and yet who regularly initiates conversations I can't possibly hear. She talks when I do the dishes, and I assume that she's saying, "Tell me now if you don't want tofu Primavera a la pesto for dinner tomorrow night." She talks when I'm running the baby's bath, and I assume the words I'm missing are, "You wouldn't mind another cat, would you?" Oh, what a tangled web.
But now I see how wrong I've been. Women can in fact listen to two or more things at the same time. They almost certainly don't apply maximum human comprehension to each discrete event when carrying out this sort of auditory multitasking, but comprehend they can, at least on some level.
For our part, men can only juggle one sonic ball at a time. Speak to us and, as long as you're not being unpleasant or obtuse, we will listen with everything we've got. Play us some music and we will focus on it with our hearts and minds until the last note fades away. Take us for a drive in t good car and we will listen to the motor, at least until we can find a baseball game on the radio. And, yes: Run the water loud and we have no choice but to focus on it, as if trying to make sense of it on some level, until it stops. (I will not deny that the phenomenon has something in common with the hypnotizing of chickens by tucking their heads under their wings-which, incidentally, works.)
Of course it's the music that counts for me and my audiophile friends, and every man I know shares the same listening habits, more or less: Whether seated in a club, a concert hall, or in front of the hi-fi, we listen. We do not converse, perhaps beyond the occasional thumbs-up or convivially grunted "Whoa!" We just listen, concentrating on the notes and, where appropriate, the words.
Background music? No, thank you. When I hear music, unless it's unquestionably terrible, I have to stop everything and concentrate on it. I have to drink it all in and comprehend it and give myself up to it. For me, there is no such thing as background music. Music that is reproduced just at or slightly above my threshold of hearing makes me want to bite someone: I can neither ignore it nor absorb it. It simply annoys.
But where women are concerned, it seems to me that all music is background music. They talk. They eat. They dance. They talk some more. For G-d's sake, why can't women just listen?
Not that I care. But the thing is, I hear women criticize men for being audio enthusiasts and record collectors a lot more often than I hear men criticize women for their lack of interest in same-or for their abundance of interest in other, arguably more feminine pastimes, including but not limited to costume dramas, cats, and non-fiction books with the words daughters and mothers in the title.
Sadly, I know more than one couple where the wife regularly -- and publicly, as if it were funny or something -- criticizes her mate for just sitting when he listens to music. I keep hoping that someday, these guys will stick up for themselves. I hope one of them will say, "You're right. Why am I sitting here trying to connect with a deathless work of art when I could be screwing the babysitter, stumbling around in the woods with a bottle and a shotgun, or gambling away our savings in a sports bar? What in the name of G-d came over me?"
Let's accept our differences and move on. Men should stop dragging their wives and mistresses to audio salons and hi-fi shows. And while we're at it, let's stop littering Audio Asylum and the other on-line forums with inane, whiny questions about why there aren't more female audiophiles. I think it's clear: Women, for the most part, don't need or even want systems designed for intense, focused listening sessions, because that's simply not the way they approach music.
And ladies: If your biggest complaint about your husband or boyfriend is that he likes to sit down and concentrate on Music to the exclusion of all else for an hour or so every night, then you don't have the slightest frigging idea how well off you really are.
From now on I will try to be more understanding of women and their different ways of doing things. But please: You women must also be more understanding of us men. We care about our stereos because we listen differently. We can't help but give music our full attention and interest. Please don't distract us. And please don't criticize us for loving to listen like we do. We're just wired that way.