One of the more dramatic changes to the American culture I’ve witnessed over the past few decades is the proliferation of noise. And I don’t mean there are more trucks, buses, planes, and trains.
You can’t pick up a pizza, sit in a waiting room while the mechanic installs a thingamajig, or get your hair cut in peace and quiet anymore. Everywhere you go, there’s music blaring. Or a TV (or four) that have apparently been manufactured to broadcast only that universally loved “entertainment”—sports.
And the problem is twofold; this odious din has not only become more widespread, but it’s also frequently—and unnecessarily—too loud. (Quiet talkers are doomed in this society.) Of course, this phenomenon is not considered unusual or outlandish by Generation Whatever Letter We’re Up To Now. (Z-squared?) They grew up in the culture. This practice—and its acceptance—is ingrained in anyone born after 1990, and today we (that’s all of us) are either part of—or doing our best to avoid—a population of soundoholics and silenceophobes.
Pity the hapless book reader—for we are strangers in our own country … outcasts … creatures in a zoo. So often, while I’ve sat waiting for my car—reading a book rather than gluing my eyes to the doofus in the helmet—I could sense the curiosity from those around me. What’s that he’s holding? Why is he staring at that instead of the monitor? Why isn’t he making any noise?
They must be wondering what, after all, could be more exciting, while some guy balances your tires, than listening—simultaneously—to a bunch of discordant raving lunatics screaming:
TV 1: “He shoots! He scores!”
TV 2: “Oh, man! Nahasapeemapetilon kicked it right into the goalie’s face!”
TV 3: “ … was the top scorer when he played at UCL—Whoa! The ref’s not gonna like that!
TV 4: “Is he gonna make it!? I don’t thiiink soooo!”
I’d never realized that by reading my book, I was missing out on the opportunity to admire a true role model and hero run across grass. A role model because he’d been arrested for felony assault only twice—and a hero because he’d been arrested for felony assault more than once.
Visit a Barnes & Noble and try to concentrate on the book you’re perusing while the satellite radio soothes your soul. More than once I’ve left the store empty-handed because I couldn’t focus. Billy Joel once said that music should never be used as wallpaper. I guess I’m the only one who heard him. Our library tried the music-in-a-bookstore experiment awhile back, and I’m glad they had a suggestion box—because I didn’t waste any time using it. I remained polite but firm:
This is a library—not a Barnes & Noble—not a Starbucks. Please get rid of the music.
And to their credit, they did—within the week. Of course, I’d like to believe I’m the only one who voiced that opinion … because that would be a validation of my awesome power. But it’s likely that at least one other patron disapproved of the distraction. And it’s the first time I ever encountered a suggestion box that was more than just a decoration.
Now, if they would just do something about the screaming brats whose frequencies often approach 12,000 Hz—and almost the same decibel level. Who decided it was a great idea to create library/day care centers? Supervised by adults—who were raised by lousy parents—who converse at levels more appropriate for tire shops.
Not everyone is guilty, of course; you have to give credit to the parents who appreciate that a library should be quiet and join in a chorus of “Shhhh”s that turns the children’s corner into a snake den. They receive my I Really Mean It This Time Award. My Lieutenant Dan Award is reserved for the ones who scream at their children to be quiet: “Get down! Shut up!”
I know what you’re thinking. No, I was never a child.
My wife and I went to a small, nondescript restaurant for breakfast before setting out on some sightseeing. We were the only patrons, so other than some murmuring between ourselves about what to order, there was no conversation. But a lone speaker mounted on the wall ten feet from our table (from any table) blared a radio station at a level that made the flatware dance. I chuckled at the thought of the waitress coming back with our mugs of coffee and wondering if she’d missed out on the Rapture.
I used to be able to concentrate while out in public. I could do my grocery shopping without a list because I could remember what I needed. Now I’m bombarded by a cacophony of sounds—professionally produced snippets featuring really happy people—usually perky moms whose big smiles practically ooze from the overhead speakers—who blather constant invitations to visit aisle X to take advantage of blah, blah, blah. The moment these interruptions—paid or otherwise—begin to seep from the ceiling, I tune them out so thoroughly, I can’t even tell you—immediately afterward—what they’d been yammering about. Because I’m too insulted to listen. And I’m also too distracted and grumpy then to remember half of the things I went in for.
And of course, between these maddening interruptions, we must have mutant music—some too loud, thumping contrivance with vocalists even more annoying than that guy from Rush. And whassup with this passive acceptance of rap? As if it had any merit whatsoever. It’s a plague masquerading as entertainment that makes me embarrassed to be an American. It’s the PC “music” genre; people are too afraid to shout down this idiocy that passes for music. Or perhaps it’s because we can’t be heard.
I know, I know … I sound like my grandfather. But before you label me as an old fogey who longs for the days of elevator music and Lawrence Welk, let me say, I can handle loud, thumping music. In fact, I embrace it—if it’s worthy. I crank it to 11 when I put on my old Rumours and Born to Run 78s.
Anyone out there ever heard of Mike Oldfield?
Or Gram Parsons?
But it’s not just music and televisions and the incessant advertising. Even people—who are supposed to be listening to the wallpaper—add to the din because they never stop talking. I am not amused when I must ask a stranger to repeat his question, only to realize—as he continues walking past me—that my existence never even showed up on his radar. He was communicating with blue phone phairies. I don’t mind if you want to use a hands-free device, but once in a while … just shut up. Would it kill ya to wait until you got to the car? You had to prattle on about last night’s game while picking over the grapes? Next to him is the woman transmitting an extremely crucial communiqué: “I’m picking over the grapes. What’re you doin’?”
People are loud too. The uncouth (read white trash) among us (who should be required to remain in their homes until the rest of us are safely back in ours) shout across the length of six booths at a craft fair or farmers’ market rather than walking over to someone to converse in a respectable, civilized manner.
I daresay I wouldn’t want to be living in a severely restrictive and stuffy society (and have to suffer through an August day in a celluloid collar and starched shirt), but the Victorian and Edwardian eras had their virtues.
And it would be nice to go out in public without having to continually put my hands over my ears.