When I awoke suddenly at 3 a.m. the other night to the sound of a ferociously loud motorcycle on the street outside, I knew then what this week's post would be about. After trying to fall back to sleep for 30 minutes, I got up and started writing.
Those who know me know that I am all for noise in the proper context. I listen to music that often prompts others to say "that's not music." I love Merzbow, MB, Goat, Yoko Ono, Whitehouse and The New Blockaders. But noise in the public, urban landscape can be intrusive, offensive, disruptive, disheartening and sometimes rage-producing. Usually this kind of noise is propagated by individuals guilty of what I consider to be the greatest of personal sins: obliviousness. They're oblivious to the fact that they share their environment with others who are trying to live their lives in relative peace and harmony, i.e., "that's me, and I'm doin' it 'cause it feels good." Most city noise isn't personal or malicious, it's worse; it's negligent and casually disrespectful.
Every so often, I read something about the measurement of big city noise levels, or about some legislator who wants to mount anti-noise laws as a quality of life issue, but things don't ever seem to change that much, and I think the whole situation speaks to the sad limitations of human nature and humans in general. Environmental noise is likely causing us more harm than mere annoyance. There is also speculation that noise may be making our kids dumb (see this link too) and hard of hearing. Noise may also be damaging our wildlife.
When I enter "street noise nuisance" into Google, 90% of the links on the first 3 pages are UK-based; is this because the British are more apt to use the term "nuisance" or because goddamit, we're the USA, we're loud, proud, aggressive and prone to preemptive invasions? In fact, a battery of noise-complaint-related Google searches I did brought up more UK and Canada-related links in general, supporting the common notion (which I'd like to believe is wrong) that Canadians and the British are generally more civilized than we are. (The few relevant links I was able to find that related directly to the northeastern US are collected at the end of this post.)
We all have our "if I were Mayor, President, or King of the Free World" fantasies, and here are a few noise-related offenses that I, were I to ever hold high office, would terminate with extreme prejudice.
Why are you such an idiot that you need to rattle the earth with your car stereo? If you're that given to primitive displays, trade in all your personal wealth and display it as gold on your body. Your taste is not all that good, you are not an individual. If your "boomin' system" is so loud that I can feel the bass shaking the foundation of my building and discern every other nuance of the song you're playing with the windows of my apartment closed, how retarded (and unable to properly drive) is that volume making you, inside your car? And more importantly, how can you stand it? Is showing off more important than being able to concentrate? I guess it is.
The police should always pull over cars with loud stereos, 'cause it's an asshole-dead-giveaway, and chances are good that some other crime against society is being perpetrated, or at least considered, inside the vehicle.
We live next to a bank, and a common practice (especially among males 18-25) is to park in the fire zone behind the bank, and leave the stereo running at Baghdad air-strafe levels while they run in to do their business. Based on the offense to my quality of life, I should be allowed to then set the vehicle on fire, thereby expressing my individuality. At the very least, it should be acceptable practice to pour a sticky soft drink all over the seats. Vehicle ownership is a privilege, not a right, and monkeys would never behave so inconsiderately toward one another.
No car alarm ever prevented any car from being stolen. All these devices have ever done was create noise pollution and reduce quality of life. Car alarms have been established as a racket between their manufacturers and insurance companies who will raise your premiums if you don't have one, even though a car alarm can go off all night in the city without any official lifting a finger, much less seeing to it that your vehicle doesn't get stolen. I'm way beyond caring how many people the car alarm industry employs; go work at Wendy's.
Anyone who's lived in the city is familiar with that car alarm, in manufacture since the 80s, that goes ceaselessly through an iteration of spirit-crushing sounds until the negligent, oblivious moron that is its owner comes out and turns it off. This type of alarm is also so sensitive that it goes off whenever a truck or motorcycle goes past, or a feather or anything else weighing .000001 lbs. lands on the hood. In places like Brooklyn (where I lived for 10 years), where necessity dictates that your parking spot is often nowhere near where you're bedding down, vehicle alarms can literally run all night. Legislature should be drafted to allow the average citizen to do anything necessary to a car whose alarm has run for more than 10-15 minutes; we'd see how fast vehicle owners would adopt quieter (and more effective) ways of protecting their cars, like VIN etching and kill switches.
Leaf blowers are not just a city problem, they are the province of the lawn and yard-care obsessed everywhere! Strangely, like car alarms, their nuisance level is high and their actual purpose level can be quite low, especially in the case of the McDonald's across the street from us (leaves, garbage and other filth blown on random weekday mornings @ 7:30am.) When you're not blowing debris into a pile and then bagging it for disposal, all you're doing is blowing it around and out of the way, and into the atmosphere to be inhaled by an unsuspecting public. Just try explaining this to a crusty crew of immigrant landscapers, or some suburban mook who lives and dies by his lawn. They give those lawn guys airport-runway earmuffs, but what about the neighbors who'd like to sleep for another hour, can I have a pair too? The denizens of Home Depots everywhere should be forced to have one less toy in their arsenal and pick up a goddamn rake.
Ever since I learned from that Roseanne episode that a simple mechanical adjustment could make your bike louder than it needed to be, I've been wondering if bikes and bikers were really all that cool. (Becky's boyfriend Mark adjusts Dan Conner's bike so it's not on the "loud" setting; Dan (John Goodman) gets mad, not only 'cause the kid touched his Harley, but also because he intended for his hog to roar.) If all bikers really want to do is live free, ride free, and not be hassled by the man, why is disturbing the public such a given part of their agenda?
Any "biker" that was ever a neighbor of mine had a very similar routine: Take out the tools, tinker for 1/2 hour, ride around the local neighborhood for 5-10 minutes, rattling windows, spiking cat's tails and making the old and incontinent soil themselves. Come back, tinker with the tools some more, ride again for 5-10, repeat etc. None of these guys ever belonged to a "club" or actually went anywhere on their precious bikes. Captain America and Billy would never have done their fellow man so grievously.
Clearly, I need to get out of the city.
Never fear, Adventures in the NWW List will resume in due course.