I live in the land of power tools. On any given morning, but more so on weekends, I can hear the high-pitched whirring, whizzing, buzzing, sawing, spitting, sanding, and growling of power tools. That includes everything from air compressors and grinders to chain saws, drills, nail guns, and leaf blowers. Yes, leaf blowers. Apparently, we still use them (see Autumn Leaves). Some power tools sound like NASCAR, others are just annoying, and one is a mystery. The mystery is the so-called “reciprocating saw,” which I thought was advice about hostage negotiations.
What I find fascinating about power tools and the people who use them is that the work never ends. It goes on day after day, especially in he summer. But I have even heard them buzzing on Christmas and New Year’s Day like distant dragonflies. That’s understandable if you’re giving gifts from Ikea. Power tools are a necessity then, but I don’t get the obsession. I’d rather use them to do a job, clean them, and hang them back up on the wall in the garage. That’s if I am pressed. Truthfully, I’d rather not do the job in the first place. When I was a young homeowner, my motto wasn’t “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but “If it is broke, don’t fix it.” I had an attitude toward repairs that you might describe as magical realism. I let problems solve themselves. It actually worked for the electrical system in our 1978 VW minibus.
In his study of the young, American republic, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) noted that Americans focused on material prosperity and were so industriousness as to create towns and thoroughfares as soon as they had decided on a suitable spot for a new homestead. Hungry for land and the promise of freedom that came with it, they pushed farther west, displacing native peoples, who were unaccustomed to “the continuous sounds of European labor” (see The Sounds of Silence). I can imagine entire forests filled with hacking and sawing, which would have driven me insane.
Tocqueville saw this as a negative consequence of progress, and he hadn’t even heard the Black and Decker, 40-volt, cordless chain saw. Some historians hold this against him, criticizing his lack of attention to the Industrial Revolution with its technological innovations and its impact on American democracy, as if not having a crystal ball were a moral flaw. I stand with him, though, especially since my sole power tool at the moment, of which I am most proud, is a Breville Barista Pro. It gives me pleasure to know that I can whir and grind with my neighbors all weekend. In fact, I leave my front door open early Sunday morning as I make my espresso drink just to mark my territory as it were.
I have realized that, although I may not be able to match my neighbors power tool for power tool, I am every bit as industrious. This industriousness is limited to grinding Arabica beans and steaming milk into a froth, but it counts as industriousness nevertheless. So I shouldn’t be intimidated or dismissive of my neighbors just because I don’t have the kind of lifestyle that requires a can of Permatex hand cleaner.
Neither do I presume that the Native Americans would side with me in my complaint about noise in my neighborhood, though it has been substantial. In the past two months, I have watched the replacement of a roof on one house, the reconstruction of another house to accommodate Airbnb, and a bathroom makeover in a third. These houses are so close that I could hit them with a rock from my driveway. That’s not counting the Mexican restaurant half a block away, also in view from my driveway. They remodeled and poured a new concrete patio for customers. You ever hear a cement mixer at 8:00 am?
The upshot of all this is that the land of power tools exists in a wider world of noise, and that world is an auditory hell. If you think that’s an exaggeration, try finding a quiet place. Go ahead. As orange is the new black, noise will be the new sitting, which currently is the new smoking, which was the new chewing tobacco, which was the new snuff, and so on. And it will be just as detrimental to our health. More so, in fact.
In the meantime, I’m going to do my part. I’ll lower the level of noise by talking less, if at all. Just let me open my front door for my Sunday morning cappuccino. Time to get the Breville fired up.
Image credits: feature by Samantha Fortney on Unsplash; espresso machine by Zhanjiang Chen on Unsplash. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”
When I lived in Milwaukee my bedroom window was above a car wash vacuum center and people would on top of it blast their radios above the car wash to hear. Very hard to nap there