The City That Never Sleeps

My mother lives in Las Vegas. I do not. When she complains about the heat, I remind her that she moved to the desert. She says I do not understand. I don’t. I live in New York City. I complain about the noise. When people remind me that it’s “the city that never sleeps,” I tell them they do not understand. They don’t.

Let me give an example. I just returned from the drug store on the corner. I had to walk by a park across from my fourth-floor walk-up. I passed, in succession, Pentecostal preachers on loudspeakers, a Mexican fiesta with ranchera music, a throbbing rap barbeque with kids wearing what I call “underwear knickers,” four neighborhood drunks with beer bottles in bags, and a guy in a convertible blaring Albanian wedding music.

Normally, I would say what a country, God bless America, and make myself a martini, a very stiff martini. The problem, though, is that this is a problem. I mean noise pollution. As it happens, just before going to the drug store, I was at choir practice at my church on East 187th Street. I had to go downstairs to the hall to ask them to turn down the salsa music that was thumping so loud we could hardly hear the organ. Turns out it was an exercise class–zumba, rumba, Pontius Pilates, I don’t know.

It seems to be my lot in life to ask people to turn down the music. I have done just that in places as far flung as Manila, San Salvador, and Istanbul. We have exported bad manners around the globe. It’s part of the American attitude to demand, “Who are you to tell me what to do?” I have a sneaking suspicion we can blame the French, though. After all, they started it by storming the Bastille in 1789, boom boxes in hand. Nothing has been the same since.

Ear Muffs

You might think I’m just getting old. I should relax and have a toke. Setting the legalization of marijuana aside (Bernie is for it, by the way), let me say that you could be right. I am getting crotchety. I have noticed my pants creeping up my chest, but it’s Father’s Day, so I am allowed some grumpiness. Also, there are facts. I have proof. One day, I made a list of all the sounds coming into my apartment; you might say through my apartment.

To wit: the San Antonio procession from my church with brass horns, drums, and chanting; car alarms; back-up beeps; sirens from fire engines, police cars, and ambulances (each one distinct); ranchera music from the bodega across the street; rap, salsa, and techno music pulsating from cars; fireworks sizzling; taxis honking; motorcycles rumbling; a dog barking (it’s always the same one at 3:00 pm); a guy in a short-brimmed, straw fedora playing Christmas music on a cornet; and, the pièce de résistance, the Mr. Softee ice cream truck with its interminable jingle.

Dear reader, do not judge. What would you have done? I decided to exercise my Second Amendment rights and went to a gun shop. There, I bought ear muffs for the firing range: one set for sleeping and another heavy duty pair for day use. Later, I added gin for inspiration. As Richard Mercurius says, “Airports have bars and bars have gin and gin has been blessed by God.” But that’s another story.

I am not one to complain without offering solutions. The problem is that my solution is not scalable. That is, we can’t have everyone go around with ear muffs, although who thought they’d go around with telephones? It’s almost as absurd as thinking that a balloon popping open will save you in a car crash.

I recognize that I may be sitting on a gold mine–designing ear muffs for everyday use, not just handling baggage at Kennedy. I’ll have to think about it. In the meantime, we are all going deaf. And the thump-thump-thumping is causing anxiety. How could it not? Then again, I suppose I could move. I hear it’s pretty quiet in the desert.

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  1. Robert, I am reading your commentary in a suburban Starbucks, where the music is a) loud and b) decidedly not on my own playlist.

    But it is worse in the city, to be sure. I went through an empty nest period during which I thought it would be a great idea to move into Center City Philadelphia.

    But I got over it. The back porch out here is very peaceful, and a friend of mine who is a former urban dweller describes that environment as “relentless”. Probably an apt descriptor.

  2. Hadn’t thought about elevators. You’re right. About the Second Amendment, that’s how I see it working in the Bronx. Keep the gun shops open!

  3. Thank you, dear Rob, for reminding me that the Second Amendment right includes a dandy selection of headphones designed for those who play with assault weapons. The constant assault of NYC street sounds is certainly a quality of life issues for most New Yorkers. The one place we can actually catch a break is elevators. I have never been in a NYC elevator playing music. It’s an oasis of calm in a sea of noise. Take that Las Vegas.

  4. Robert, the desert is definitely better; even with our 120+ heat. But…I am talking about the true desert; where you can see black, velvety skies with diamonds, a coyote observing you as you walk the silent dawns, and roadrunners skittering about before the heat of the day, and forests of date palm trees and…and…silence.

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