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Friday, March 09, 2012

I Thought It Was Golden

I LONG AGO CONFESSED to my daughter that I was the malefactor who de-batteried her toys. Like any toddler in this so-called culture, she amassed an armory of gadgets that blinked, whimpered, spun, laughed, dripped, glowed, or just sat there – but which invariably emitted some manner of horrible noise.

What she missed, fortunately, were the domestic squabbles when packages arrived from well-meaning but misguided relatives and friends. “Just because it got through the door,” I’d argue with my wife, whose relatives did the bulk of such sending, “doesn’t mean it has to stay here.”
“But she’s a baby,” Susan would argue. “She should have one of these!” Thus would we be cursed with an oversized stuffed bleating lamb or a dopey-assed plastic box in primary colors that spewed some unrecognizable but percussive melody when one of its buttons was struck.

I understand now the reason for this. I recently took a long train ride and was surrounded by a cacophony of electronic noise, a plangent symphony of Game Boys and ringtones and netbook bleeps and message-arrival dings, not to mention the crunches and booms and relentless crappy music issuing from the large notebook computer wielded by the boy across the aisle, which I silenced with a gift of earbuds.

We are a self-absorbed society, I grant you, but we’ve also been trained to accept an astonishing amount of this intrusive uproar, and it begins with those very first toys. When administered by self-absorbed mothers and fathers – the ones I term “boutique parents,” because they’re too narcissistic to understand that when Little Precious runs amok, others might resent it – those toys become auditory assault weapons.

And those kids are the little shits who’ve grown up to believe that it’s okay to bang away at text messages during movies and plays. I take that back. They have no concept as to whether it’s okay or not, because rarely does the close proximity of anyone else intrude. You have to be on the other end of the kid’s cell phone to exist.

Not that I should restrict blame to any particular generation. Old farts – I’m talking about those my age and above – can be just as annoying. I was at a classical-music concert a couple of nights ago, a piano recital attended by those significantly grey of head and beard, if any hair remained. You can tell these cats again and again to silence their phones and unwrap their candies, but there’s always a ringtone and there’s always some wrinkled bastard trying to do origami with cellophane. At least they can excuse themselves by claiming deafness. Which reminds me: they also fight the music with squeals from their hearing aids.

I’d like to meet the sadistic creep who convinced the auto industry that customers needed the car horn to blast to confirm that their key-fob remotes actually locked the vehicle. Forget torturing the inventor with loud music; I’d force him to sit in a room alone with his thoughts. That horn thing is intrusive, it’s annoying as hell, and it’s treated as acceptable parking-lot practice. (My car doesn’t do that, of course, relying instead on a subdued chirp and a cheerful light-flash – but my car is much, much classier than yours.)

Until my daughter begged me to stop embarrassing her, I made it a point to have words with nearby offenders, nearly all of whom recoiled in shock that I should find a horn in my ear offensive. One middle-aged fellow went so far as to holler that he was glad it drove me nuts and that all goddamn Liberals like me should be so tortured. Which cheered me for the rest of the day once I reasoned that he’s probably far more harried by his plague of Liberals than I am by those horns.

Duke Ellington was quoted as saying that he had Muzak turned off “in the best hotels.” I hate to think what the poor guy would make of this phenomenon. I suspect that silence has become a horribly oppressive state, indeed. Allow me to tell you two things.

First: Silence is wonderful. It offers you time to let your ongoing maelstrom of inner sounds – thoughts, music, replayed conversations – catch up with you and simmer down. To discover – thank you, John Cage – the universe of found sound that lives behind the concept of quietude.

Second: Your ringtone really sucks. Aren’t you even a little bit embarrassed by it?  

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