My partner, Andy, tells me I’m hypersensitive to noise. And he may well be right. But what does that even mean? Just the other day, for example, I was home on a lovely Saturday afternoon. The temperatures were in the mid-sixties and there was a refreshing breeze blowing. Naturally, who wouldn’t want to have all of the windows open?
Andy was working, and I was going about my routine chores, some writing, some household tasks like laundry, and a little bit of reading (The New York Review of Books, in this case). Suddenly, I began to hear the percussive thump-thump-bang of two teenage boys in the alley beside our house throwing the basketball at the hoop some brilliant person had attached to the back of a garage. I have to say that they didn’t even seem to be all that accomplished at it, by the way, because they missed a lot more shots than they made. At any rate, that then started the dog barking in the yard next door to them. Not that it ever takes much to get this creature started. Andy blames the dog; I blame the people who own the dog, who clearly don’t take care of him. One way or another, his barking sometimes goes on and on, and no amount of neighborly – or not-so-neighborly – complaining on our part has had any long lasting effect. Next came the guy behind us, who appears to choose Saturdays as his preferred day to operate some kind of giant drilling device (I still can’t figure out what it’s for). Then there was the small, but irritating, electric saw of the neighbor on our other side, the helicopters that every so often land on the roof of the hospital down the street from us, to say nothing of the sirens from the ambulances, the chorus of lawn mowers and leaf blowers, the jets (as well as the small planes) that appear to prefer the airspace directly over our heads more than any other place one the globe, and you begin to get an audio picture of our neighborhood of a Saturday afternoon.
Andy and I have talked more than once about selling our house and moving – or at least I have – but the problem, as he regularly (and correctly) points out is, wherever you go there are no guarantees. And ain’t that the truth, as they say?
But am I the only one who finds this sort of thing, I won’t say just annoying, but sometimes almost downright intolerable? Am I asking, or wishing, for too much to want some actual silence around me? Maybe so.
We are a society, indeed a world, saturated with noise of every conceivable kind. Virtually every machine humans have made emits a greater or lesser degree of noise pollution, from cars to trucks, to motorcycles, to airplanes, to radios, to televisions, to musical instruments (especially of the amplified variety), to cell phones etc. The world is chock full of beeps and roars and thuds and shouts and clangs and rumbles and thunks and clunks and crashes. But am I wrong to say that most people don’t even seem to notice, that they have become inured to it all? And of course who can blame anyone for that degree of self-defense? I just wish I were more proficient at it, but the pandemonium of it all just seems to get to me, and a repetitive, percussive sound (like that of an endlessly dribbled basketball, or the interminable barking of a dog, or the constant thump-thump of a drum) can about drive me over the edge.
You may be thinking that it’s just a factor of age. And there does seem to be some sort of direct correlation between age and a person’s ability to tolerate the noisy messiness of the world. But I actually think I’ve pretty much always been like this. I really wish I were more proficient at blocking it all out, as some people seem to be able to do. What I long for, I guess, is the day when we can sell our house in the city and move to a more rural place, surrounded by trees and space enough so that we can’t see – or hear – any neighbors. I’m not anti-social exactly, I don’t think, but I just want people to go quietly about their business!
But maybe that’s asking for too much on planet Earth. Even nature, so called, can be grating and discordant . Take for example the fact that a pair of nesting crows has recently moved into the big tree behind our house. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with crows, I mean up close and personal, but their raucous call – caw, caw, caw! – can be most annoying. Still, I’ll take crows any day to the sound of balls bouncing, machines drilling, televisions playing too loudly, phones beeping and chirping, planes roaring overhead, sirens screaming, or music blaring out of somebody’s car or back window.
It could be that I just spent too much time in a monastery when I was young and still forming my personality. Maybe, in so doing, I somehow neglected to acquire the skills, and the shields, needed to face the 21st century. Silence? Who cares? Well, I do, but sad to say there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot I can do to bring it about.