Silence as Complaint
Noises that are fine but it's 5 AM, 10 PM, it's early, it's late, this has been going on for hours, I can't sleep, I can't read, I have to say something.
When you live in proximity to a school, a stadium, a factory, an industrial complex, a train station, or the tracks, or even just within certain cities, noise is one of your neighbors. Some of it is iconic, recognizable. Harry Belafonte singing the opening lines of the “Banana Boat Song (Day O).” The rest is standard: sirens, shouting matches, patrons spilling out of all-night diners, bars, parked cars into apartments to stomp around, open the fridge, let the dog out, drop keys, kick off shoes, fumble for the light. It’s a crowded airway.
There’s a line, when it comes to car stereos, lengthy parties, arguments, where the tolerance for sound drops off. During the sleeping hours. When you’re working. Studying. Just trying to focus on something and your thought process keeps getting broken by kids playing ball in the street. When you want to bang back on the wall, the ceiling. Stop the racket. Open a window and ask for quiet in what feels like the loudest place on earth. To silence barking dogs, BBQs, teenagers with subwoofers installed in their rooms. Reign in the people congregating below. The leaf blowers, lawnmowers, buskers, proselytizers.
Noises that may at certain times of day be fine but it’s 5 AM, 10 PM, it’s early, it’s late, it’s my one day off, my deadline, this is unreasonable, this has been going on for hours, I can’t sleep, I can’t read, I have to say something.
Say something. Shout to those down below. Feel foolish, powerless, get laughed at. Make it worse. Or better but only for a few minutes. Then the volume dial goes left again. The idle chatter rises above expected din. The frustration sets in.
Call someone, the super, the other neighbor, the cops. File something. Registering a complaint with the city, with the authorities, with someone who presumably will do that infamous something. Something bigger, bolder than hammering a shoe against the wall. Will issue a fine, a warning, will take names, license plates. Will knock on the door. Order the music to be switched off. Demand that the evening, which had turned into a morning, be disbanded. A something, which will do what you were unable to do. Unable to insist on. Make happen. And then you will then get your sleep. Your quiet time. Your concentration. Yours.
But of course, the sources of noises are inherently personal. My dog, my friends, my team playing the championships. My juicer, my clense. My gym shoes. My roommates. My in-laws, my infant, my failing relationship. The one day I have time to actually vacuum the carpets. The hour I have to myself, sitting in the bathtub watching sitcoms. Calling my best friend, my partner, my mom while I divide a butternut squash for dinner. My cutting board, my cleaver. My radiator, washer, leaky shower. My open windows.
Personal too are the types of things you find offensive, irritating, in need of silencing. Things you deem worth bringing up. The smack of chewing gum. That one radio announcer. Dogs past 11PM. “Free-spirited” children. Jackhammers. Tinder dates. Renovations. Speaker phone conversations. Sing-alongs with tone deaf accompaniments, chair backs and countertops as improvised musical instruments. A bag of 200 marbles slipping off the table. Someone endlessly, randomly practicing the theme to the Pink Panther on the saxophone. Each your own personal apocalypse.
It is a form of me v you. For there are things you give room to. Piano lessons, interview preparation, anniversaries. If you know the somebody running their lines, rehearsing for opening night. If you in some way have given them a pass. If you like the sax. If you don’t mind the fussy children protesting vegetables.
You choose what grates on your nerves. Or else you move the dial. After realizing you live below an early riser, try to ignore the sounds of their morning routine starting long before you begin yours. Or you’re used to it. It’s not what gets to you. There are other things that fry you. That list. What you put up with, what you grew up putting up with, what the last thing you were expecting to hear is, where your last straw is if it exists. That mental tally of accepted and unaccepted activities and their assigned times. Your expectations. Your revisions. Your preferences. What you consider reasonable. What you consider polite. Whose side you’re on.
How you find your life fits within the clockwork of barking, beeping, moving. Depending on the reason why your life is at that intersection of sports games and interstates to begin with. To extent did you sign up for this, are you stuck in it, do you think it’s changed? If you live above a noisy pub that sprung up to meet the demands of college kids getting drunk every day starting at 5PM. Next to a hospital with a new trauma center. If you moved here before your noisemaker was built, before it got busy, before it got bad. When this used to be such a quiet place.
You cannot curate noise level. Impose rule over bikers, ice cream trucks, that one cellphone store with the speakers. Even if you’re not the only one bothered. It cannot be made personal. Perhaps because flight paths, fireworks, playgrounds, university campuses will always happen. Somewhere, to someone.
Perhaps because there’s too much ours. Multiple lives combine to make a city. Coexistence is a necessity unless you want to live in a distant cabin. Apartment buildings where tenants have hundreds of other people living a few walls away from them. Each a unit that watches soccer games and raises newborns and crate-trains puppies and forgets to put their hearing aids in. That is the pack of cities, of modern living. The relative inevitability of racket. And the daily attempts to make peace with it.