Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The 19 Minutes Cacaphony Orchestra

I’ve never really been a fan of noise. I realize there’s a certain irony in that, given that in my daily life, I produce a radio show – which means that, in essence, I produce noise for a living. But it’s a public radio show, and is thus given to muted tones, and calm conversation – occasional interviews with opera singer-types notwithstanding.

I work downtown, so there’s a certain expectation that it’ll be noisy during the day. Milwaukee, I believe, actually has a Department of Jackhammering that deploys a crack squad of jackhammerers across the downtown area each day to ensure the city’s decibel needs are met.

But in the evenings, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin is a symphony. Unfortunately, it’s often one of those symphonies that insists on playing music by modern composers less interested in melodic lines than they giving audiences an aural view of their clinical insanity. Around our house, there are several key contributors to the nightly cacaphony:

Harleys. I’m going to write this carefully, because I don’t necessarily need the wrath of the Harley-driving universe descending on this space. And hey, I have no issues with the motorcycles themselves, or most of the people that ride them. They’re all spiffy, and I’m sure I would enjoy myself if I ever traded in the Volkswagen for a Harley. Okay. Fine. So then, the issue is the complusion among some of the riders of these fine pieces of motorcyclical engineering to drive them very, um, loudly down the street. This typically happens around 9:15 pm, which, coincidentally, is about the same time I’m rocking my two-year-old, as we talk about – in her words “things to think about” as she falls asleep. We talk about zoo animals, and we talk about all the things she likes to play with, and the people who love her very much, and “PPPHHHHHWWAPPPPPPPPppppp…ppp…” we have to start over after the motorcycle goes by, on its mission of attaining the highest possible speed in between stop signs, a distance of exactly one block.

But eventually, the cycles and their riders head off to other important missions, or to wake up other two-year-olds, and I head off to bed myself a short time later. My wife shows up after a little while, and we drift off to sleep with windows open to a pleasantly cool Wisconsin evening. This is a mistake, because without fail, around 1:00 am, the local raccoons throw a nightly dinner party in our neighbor’s trash can. They clank bottles, and rummage through things, as the raccoon bouncer shrieks at the local chipmunk population to go find their own dinner party. This usually goes on for an hour, until the raccoons get on their Harleys and go to their subsequent engagements.

And then all is quiet for a five or six hours. Unless it’s trash day.

But noises have irritated me for a long time. I bombed out of my first try at college. Ostensibly, that was as a result of having a GPA so small as to only be visible with powerful magnifying devices. And that was because I never went to any of my morning classes. But I would submit that the reason I never went to any of my morning classes had to do with noise:

I would head off to bed with the best intentions around 10:00. My roommate, Pat, would get home at roughly 11:30. He would invariably try to go about his business quietly, but would invariably make the following three sounds each night, which would invariably be spaced just far enough apart that they would wake me up, and keep me awake long enough that I wasn’t in the mood to get up the next morning for a political science class at which the professor insisted on using the word “Aristotelian” to describe himself:

First, he would get out the slice of pizza he had purchased at 7-11 on the way home from wherever he went every evening (I would guess a girlfriend’s house, but I was never really sure). He would attempt to eat it quietly, but – inasmuch as he’d generally consumed a couple of beers earlier in the evening – he never quite succeeded. If it had been 19 years later, the raccoon bouncer next door would have kicked him out.

Some minutes later (just long enough that I’d start to drift back off to sleep), he’d perch by the window and light a cigarette. Or rather, he’d try to light a cigarette. Pat apparently purchased his cigarette lighters at the Bic Rejects Shop, because the lighter would never work, despite 17, 18, 26 attempts. This was followed by a (muted, public radio-style) swear word, after which he would rummage through his flannel shirts, looking for a pack of matches. The smoking itself was relatively quiet, if not odor free. But this is a rant about noise, not smell.

Finally, pizza consumed and cigarette smoked, Pat’s last remaining task was to brush his hair. I’ve never had long enough hair to relate to the need to brush one’s hair before bed. But it was 1987, and Pat had pretty long, wavy, guitar player-in-a-heavy-metal-band-style hair. And he had a metal brush. SSSSSHHHHHHHIIICCCCCK. SSSSSHHHHHHHIIICCCCCK. SSSSSHHHHHHHIIICCCCCK. SSSSSHHHHHHHIIICCCCCK. It took him a looong time to brush his hair.

And before I knew it, it was 7:15 am, and my alarm went off. And I would shut it off and go back to sleep, merrily working my way towards flunking out and losing much of my hair.

Pat, on the other hand, went on to make the Dean’s list and, I’m told, graduated with honors.

7-11 pizza, however, appears nowhere to be found.

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