The TV show Dirty Jobs features host Mike Rowe checking out jobs that involve difficult, hazardous, and frequently disgusting conditions — like working in a sewage processing facility. The jobs featured on that show would be a tough way to earn a living, but I’m wondering whether having a job that exposes you to noises all day wouldn’t be worse — for me, at least.
We’re having some work done to the exterior of our house, and the crew that’s doing the job is using an assortment of tools that make a wide variety of different loud noises. There’s the humming drone of the air compressor. There’s the sharp, staccato bark of the nail gun. And then there are devices that make grinding noises, devices that make sawing noises, and devices that make incredibly high-pitched whines. It’s like being in a This Is Spinal Tap dentist’s office from hell, with the volume on the amplifier turned up to 11.
For a while every day, when the crew begins their work, I think I can screen out the noise. And for a while it works. But ultimately the different sounds, occurring in different combinations, break through the mental barrier. And once that happens, all I can think about is when the nail gun is going to be sounding off again, and I’ve got to get out and go somewhere where I can find peace and quiet.
The guys who are on the crew are a good group. They work hard, know what they’re doing, and seem to enjoy having jobs where they get to work outside on sunny days and sing along to the songs on the radio while they saw and grind and nail. The noises don’t seem to bother them.
My hat’s off to them, but I couldn’t do what they’re doing. I’ve realized I really need a quiet place to work.
Business travel isn’t exactly conducive to deep thinking. Instead, disconnected notions pop into your head, including these from my trip today:
You don’t realize how deafening most modern airports are until you are trying to talk to someone on a cell phone from a gate waiting area.
Most parents who take kids on planes these days are saints. Between the much longer times at the airport thanks to security screenings, to the noise and commotion that won’t let kids doze off, to the embarrassing screaming fits of exhausted toddlers who don’t understand why their ears hurt when the plane comes down, a parent taking their kid on a plane trip these days must have the patience of Job — and most of the Moms and Dads I see manage to keep their cool. It’s annoying to hear the wailing of an over-tired kid, but I always feel sorry for the parents and want to go up to them and say: “Don’t worry about it, we’ve all been there.”
Did you ever notice that you only hear the phrases “stow” and “power down” on the recorded messages that play at the beginning and end of a plane flight?
On my return flight this afternoon, I was industriously chewing the ice shards in my little plastic drink cup, trying to obtain every ounce of moisture in the hyper-dessicated airplane cabin environment, when I suddenly became acutely aware of the woman sitting next to me and wondered whether the ice-chewing was getting on her nerves. I tried to chew the ice in a quieter way, but there really isn’t one.
Of all of the pleasures I took away from my visit to Lake Temagami, none was more profound than enjoying moments of absolute quiet.
Lake Temagami is a remote location, ringed with trees that start at the water line and extend back to the horizon. We were visiting long after tourist season had ended. As a result, it was possible to stand on the shore of our island and hear . . . nothing. Not a boat motor or a dog barking in the distance. Not the background noise of traffic or the hum of electrical devices. And, because it is well out of cell phone range and the place we were staying had no television, not a ringing telephone or the drone of the TV. You could listen carefully — as carefully as your ears would allow — and detect only the complete absence of any noise.
It was like being present at the dawn of the world, with a silence vast and deep that touched the soul. I enjoyed walking around our island, sitting on a rock or a fallen tree, and drinking in that awesome stillness. When you look at this picture taken on the island, try to imagine seeing that vista without so much as a breath or whisper of sound.
Last night Kish and I went to a new restaurant in the area. The food was quite good, but I’m not sure I ever want to go back.
The reason? Noise. Lots of noise. Ridiculous amounts of noise. Ringing, echoing peals of laughter from the people a few tables away. People standing next to our table talking loudly to each other. People everywhere talking louder and louder to try to make themselves heard, in an ever-escalating spiral of bedlam. So much noise that Kish and I had a hard time hearing each other. So much noise that the waitress apologized for how noisy it was.
I recognize that there are places where noise is just part of the experience. If you are going to a New York City deli to order a sandwich that is bigger than your head, you’re not expecting a quiet, church-like experience. Yelling waiters, clattering dishes, and exuberant chatter from people in a hurry are part of the deal. And there are many restaurants that want to create that loud, active, bustling feel as part of their marketing. They want people to think, as they walk in the door — wow, this place is jammed! This must be the place to be!
I don’t like places where the noise seems to be artificially enhanced. I like hustling New York City delis, but I wouldn’t want to go to one for a leisurely evening meal — which is what we hoped to have last night. The next time we’re trying to decide where to eat, I’m not sure we’re going to go back to that place of pandemonium.