So I come up with an idea maybe twice a day for something interesting I’d like to write about. But my workday plus 18-hour commute usually annihilate them.
For example I was at this event
last night recently at the New School… it was a part of this symposium thing on the intersection between psychology and art they’re doing. Arts in Mind conversation series. I worked out this whole thing for a blog entry that was basically the fulfillment of my desire to drop the most amazing comment/question bomb on the QA portion of the night. In my mind it would have sparked new avenues of thought that would launch the discussion to insanely fruitful levels of philosophical investigation. This, even though at least two of the people present have been writing and thinking almost exclusively on the subject for at least 10 years (each). Anyway I got on the train without a book… and got out the iphone to play some jetpack joyride. So I forgot about that post (too brainy anyway) until just now. Like most ideas. It’s the ones that occur to me as I sit here staring at my computer, possibly browsing craigslist missed connections or okcupid or something, unwilling to give up on the day and go to bed, that end up as written posts.
Which brings me to the subject of this post: There’s another reason I put off going to bed, and I realize it’s potentially a relatively unique experience in the US. Noise I can’t do anything about. My neighbor listens to his television at incredibly high volume. It’s the only way he can fall asleep. See, he’s elderly. I don’t know exactly how old, because here in NY they stay tough and lively way longer than they do in say Oklahoma City. I say Oklahoma City mostly at random. I mean in most urban centers that are actually suburban sprawl, the old people get shoveled into homes to die much faster. I think it’s mostly because their kids have moved too far away for them to actually be part of each others’ lives, and the support structure is gone. Everyone and everything is so spread out that it’s dangerous and incredibly HARD to be old and alone out there. But not so here, in my neighborhood. Tons of old people all gabbing in the courtyard, ordering bad chinese delivery, smoking outside my bedroom window, and blasting their fucking televisions all night every night until the next day. It’s so beautiful I cry just writing about it.
There’s more. If I don’t make it to bed before 12:30 (which is the case basically every night), my upstairs neighbors add to the misery. They move furniture. I have no idea why or what is in fact actually going on up there, but by 1AM every night they are walking around, moving big things, and arguing. Arguing really loud, because they’re from Brooklyn and they love-hate each other so much and HEY! our grown son will be staying with us too now, wearing hard-heeled shoes and moving much faster than us 80-year-olds!
And I can’t do anything about it. For one, the TV guy told me to just bang on the wall we share if it got too loud. But when I actually got up the nerve (rage) to do it, he just woke up and started coughing. He generally coughs out 1 pint of blood and a few bits of lung most nights, but when it gets really bad he starts crying “make it stop” and I can hear the months of life being ejected from his body, evaporating like my hopes of a good night’s rest. So I started taking half a dose of nyquil and wearing earplugs every night.
A friend of mine has a similar problem. The elevator in her building beeps. It beeps insistently, like a three tone beep-BEEP beep, every 6 seconds. I counted. It never stops. What would most New Yorkers do? Ok, aside from calling 311? Smash the fuck out of it, of course. Incidentally I had a neighbor do just that in Bushwick when some asshole college kid set off the door alarm trying to get to the roof. The alarm went on for about an hour until a guy down the hall took something blunt and heavy to it. Anyway, this elevator beep, it’s more relentless than that pin-head guy from hellraiser… burrowing into your skull and filling it with despair. But it couldn’t be smashed. I checked. The actual speaker emitting the sound is inside the elevator shaft somewhere! You can even hear the sound outside the building. It greets you like an anxious lover. I went on a brief internet rage looking for a way to report the landlord (who obviously was the first person she contacted and who equally obviously could give two shits) and discovered the property isn’t registered with the city and thus can’t be complained about. Well played, landlord.
Now that it’s summer and all my neighbors have their window AC units in, I have a new noise to let wash over me with it’s lovingly unstoppable caresses. Something about the construction of this building transmits the vibration of at least 3 of the nearest window units through my walls and into my home as a low bass hum. And the thing about low noises is they aren’t affected by earplugs. You feel them physically in your body, and the plugs just let them through. And what the fuck am i supposed to do? Tell my neighbors to turn off their AC’s?
And anytime I bring this stuff up in conversation I hear more horror stories. Opera students rehearsing every Sunday at 8AM. Drummers working out new rhythms until 4 in the morning upstairs. Nightly domestic disputes that get violent enough to induce guilt in the listeners who don’t call the cops. And it goes beyond noises. Anyone who rides the subway every day experiences similar feelings of powerlessness: Asshole eating an insanely big bag of shell-on sunflower seeds, dipshit tapping his class ring on the pole near your head, amped-up teens screaming and starting shit with people because it’s hilarious…. And of course the trains that just stop in the middle of nothing with no explanation for eternity, coupled of course with all of the above and more.
So in a nutshell, we get a constant pile of crap and we all have to just live with it. There’s no way to win the noise battles, you can’t make the train go no matter how hard you huff and puff. So it all comes down to a choice: let it bother you and suffer constantly, or get over it and live. Which is by no means an easy choice. In fact calling it a choice is deceptive. Most of the anger and annoyance just happens/is triggered by the annoying shit. You have to almost physically force yourself to pretend shit doesn’t bother you. Like with breathing deep and thinking of people who have worse lives, etc, etc… And you never know when something incredibly random is gonna derail that mental image of calm blue seas you’ve been meticulously crafting just to keep you from gouging out that shithead’s eye who keeps coughing on you without covering his mouth.
My last thoughts on this relate to a study I heard when I first moved to NY. It claimed to have discovered that NYers were something like 80% more likely to die early from heart disease than the national average. But those residents who managed to get out of the city for regular vacations to the countryside or the ocean or something else idyllic lowered those chances super drastically. I think the conclusions of the authors were that NY is full of pollution (air, water, etc) and getting out of the city got some clean livin’ into those people and they were able to recover physically. I don’t think they meant noise pollution, but they really should have.