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Below is a column written last winter after experiencing similar weather but it also explores the many different soundtracks that accompany our daily lives...
Do You Hear What I Hear?
I awoke recently to a freight train rushing through my backyard. I’d heard this sound before so instead of becoming alarmed, I snuggled back into the blankets and listened to the accompaniment of driving rain as it joined the freight train of the wind. A stormy day, heralded by sounds I’d come to recognize, waited for me as I yawned and stretched.
When I moved up here, there was lots to get used to. The first full moon alarmed me because of the incredible amount of light it shed. The darkness of a moonless night, in turn, scared me because I’d never experienced such darkness. The biggest change, however, was the soundtrack of life in the country.
The city shouts at you all day. When I visit, one of several things I am startled by is the amount of horn usage. How can there be so many reasons to lean on one’s horn? But I quickly remember: you spot a friend across the street—a honk and a wave. Some idiot crosses too slowly at the stop sign—a honk and a glare. A hapless student driver pulls out in front of you—a honk and an eye roll. Then there’s the moron who double parks you in so you have no choice but to sit in your car honking until he comes running. You are then obligated to berate him mercilessly even though you, yourself, have been guilty of the same offense. The honk and the finger is still popular but used more judiciously of late because another city sound is the brick shattering your windshield, so you must pick your victim wisely.
Here, the sounds of nature are more prevalent than car horns but it can get controversial. For example, there’s a bird in a tree behind the house that, despite the fact that we are Mets fans, insists on screeching his support for the Yankees all day. In fact, he has family all over the neighborhood and, if you listen, you can hear them shouting “JETER!!” from their leafy perches. I plan on importing a Mets-loving bird next spring but have yet to find one.
In the country, winter brings the tell-tale scrape of the snowplow (followed by the sound of people repairing their mailboxes after the plow has passed). In summer, bats screech as they wheel about over the woods at sunset. There’s the cheer from the ball fields and the thump-thump of the sound system in a teenager’s car as it hurtles down my road. There’s the overheard snippet of conversation outside the barbershop and the hello shouted to the UPS man as he pulls away in his truck.
Where I grew up, the winter brings quiet nights but as the weather warms, the population moves to the stoops. Music pours from a dozen radios at a time, basketballs smack asphalt as boys bounce to and from local playgrounds, familiar notes emanate from the ice cream truck that creeps down your block at twilight and shouts of “Ma, I need some money!” ricochet off the bricks as kids surge forward to demand their favorites from the man in the brightly-lit window.
Let’s not forget the cursing. In Brooklyn, we pride ourselves on our filthy mouths (at least I did). We curse when we’re mad, happy, surprised, anxious, old, young and yes, even in-utero (at least I do). We curse when the audio goes off in the movie theatre and we curse when it comes back on. We don’t care. It’s fun. Plus it scares people from other parts of the country, perpetuating the stereotype about New Yorkers who, secretly, love that (at least I do).
When I was little, warm weather meant hearing everything that went on in the apartment house across the backyard. We knew what was happening in the lives of strangers we recognized only by voice—engagements, graduations…even bad dreams at night. It was daily theater, free of charge. It’s different here. When a fight breaks out, I gallop through the house closing windows so the neighbors can’t hear us bellowing.
It’s still winter, of course, and I can hear the wind howling around the corners of this house. We had snow today and tomorrow I’ll hear the drip-drip of the icicles as they melt at noontime. Later, I’ll know there’s mail when I hear the mailbox slam shut. It’s a daily symphony here or in the city. Off-key as I may occasionally be, I love to hum along.