In 1960, I spent six months in Sweden sponging off my aunts. The eldest was born in 1897. One of the first things I learned to say in Swedish was “Everything is so expensive nowadays,” because they all said it.

This came to mind one day last week when I visited the VA in Togus for my yearly checkup.

A few years ago, my friends in Togus gave me hearing aids that probably cost more than my entire salary for two years of active duty. They have little rubber ends on them that collect wax, no matter how clean your ears are, and you have to change the tips from time to time.

Mine hadn’t been changed since the Togus tech man put them on for me five months ago, so I couldn’t remember how to do it.

Instead of signing up for help at the desk, I simply walked around in the waiting room and looked into the ears of my grizzled contemporaries who were waiting there. I thought that would be easier than bothering a technician who already had enough to do.

A young fellow looked like he was wearing a hearing aid, and I asked him if he could tell me how to replace the rubber tip on mine.

He reached out a huge hand to take it, but while at the teachers’ college in Gorham I had read that John Dewey believed learning by doing is crucial to one’s education. I told him I wanted to learn how to do it myself. He told me to just pull it off.

I pulled and it came off. If I’d been working with a computer, it would not have happened thus. Hearing aids are reasonable. A computer is cussed and will lie back and dig in its heels whenever you attempt something new. I then put the rubber cap back on. I didn’t even get a chance to thank the man because he was called and rushed off.

You can understand why I was hesitant to mess with my hearing aid without instruction. Most everything that gets broken gets broken because the person is using it for the first time and has no idea of what he’s doing. You have seen this happen every time you loan a valuable piece of equipment to a friend.

On the way home from Togus I stopped at my doctor’s office and said I’d like to make an appointment. The receptionist said, “Sit down. She’ll see you in five minutes.”

Has anything like that ever happened to you? And I don’t mean if you were lying in the street after being run down by a vacationing lawyer from Massachusetts.

This visit is doubly memorable because of something I said to my doctor that she has probably not heard for a long time.

I said, “What do I have to eat to gain weight?”

She said to chug a bottle of dietary supplement every day, told me the name of the product and where I could buy it.

It was on the bottom shelf at my grocery store, so you can believe there isn’t much profit in it. Anything with a large margin of profit topples off a higher shelf into your shopping cart all by itself.

The product I bought has a taste between chocolate milk and the chalky stuff you have to force down before internal investigations. After two bottles my body rebelled and I had to give it up.

It’s an expensive drink: $24 for a case of 16 bottles. I don’t have my little hand calculator handy, so I can’t tell you what that is per bottle, but it’s a lot more than I’d expect to pay. A bottle of soda might well cost $1.25 nowadays. It was a nickel when I used to drink it, but neither I, nor any of my contemporaries who care for their grandchildren, would know what it costs today.

When did you realize that candy bars are no longer what they used to be? Did you take off your glasses in disbelief and wipe the lenses the last time you saw a child unwrap one?

Although nickel candy bars appear to have suffered from a prolonged bout of dysentery, nowadays what remains costs a dollar or more. You might remember when eating only two candy bars every day for a week would start a good-sized cavity. Now two candy bars wouldn’t fill one.

My friend Mark in Portland predicts that it won’t be long before you’ll see a huge, colorful picture on candy bar wrappers. Inside will be a scratch-and-sniff pad and no candy at all.

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at his website: MainePrivateRadio.html

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