There are scenes in movies that dwell on the peaceful and serene. A meadow is in the background, with tall grass wafting gently in the breeze. The sun is shining (Remember the sun?). Fluffy clouds are in the sky. The only sound is birds singing happy little tweety songs. Sometimes, not often, this is what is shown right before something awful happens, like an axe murderer comes on and does his (it’s never a her) thing or Frankenstein’s monster rampages through the village. But we’re not going to talk about something awful happening next. We’re going to talk about how nearly impossible this scene is to duplicate. Oh, you can find meadows and wafting grass and sun (okay, maybe not lately), and fluffy clouds. You can even find a song bird if you listen hard enough. What you can’t find is the otherwise quiet place. We have become a nation of the noise-addicted.
Noise is everywhere and it’s becoming more and more difficult to get away from it. I like to hike the fields out in the country. I’m sure there are places in the world you can go and get away from traffic noise but Miami County isn’t one of them. Somewhere in the background, wherever you go, is the sound of large trucks and small cars and motorcycles and none of them seem to have mufflers. Or the ability to downshift without replicating the Indy 500.
It’s a given that food shopping has become a noise-intensive activity. If the overhead speaker isn’t repeatedly reminding Produce that they have a call waiting on line two, then someone’s idea of music is playing. I have a friend who majored in marketing at Miami. This guy could sell sand to Iran. I’ve never asked him, but I feel sure some handsomely remunerated marketing guru did an enormous amount of research to determine just what sort of music induces people to buy more celery than they will ever use. This is the music that plays in grocery stores. When Christmas carols aren’t playing, that is. And they start playing in about June. Department stores are guilty of the same sin, of course. They just play music that induces people to buy more shoes than they can ever wear. I am living proof this ploy actually works. Again, this is when Christmas carols aren’t playing. In department stores, I believe the start date for this is January first.
There used to be isolated islands of calm where you could find quiet. The doctor’s waiting room was one. The only sound there was the soft swishy sound of 3-year-old magazine pages being turned and the occasional thump when patient died and fell off his chair while he was waiting to be cured. Now waiting rooms are equipped with giant televisions that are tuned to the most annoying channel available. It’s usually Dr. Phil. There is simply nothing that will make a person pray for sensory deprivation like Dr. Phil. Dr. Phil was invented by the same person who invented the music in department stores.
Gas stations used to be another place a person could get a little peace and quiet while slowly going broke. You just know it was too good to last. As though the price of gas isn’t traumatic enough, filling stations have now installed something resembling a television on each pump. I say something resembling a television because, as awful as TV is, even it doesn’t remotely approach being as annoying as these blaring, mindless, inescapable, inane … things on gas pumps. And once again, the poor customer is a captive audience. Most of us are unwilling to commute by bicycle even when it’s not subfreezing. Therefore, most of us drive cars and if there is one immutable truth about the internal combustion engine, it is that is it always hungry. So off we go to the gas station where almost all of our senses are assaulted along with our wallets. And these TV things are loud. Really loud. Painfully loud. Unfortunately, there is no getting away from them because the minute you put your trust in the automatic shut-off and walk away, the ground is going to saturated in a petroleum product that is doing its best to return to the earth. Except there’s a slab of concrete in the way.
Because it is a relatively silent place to get information (even libraries aren’t quiet any more), Google was my source for finding the scientific word for too much noise. You know there has to be one. Instead, I found a great phrase by Ron Chepesiuk: Decibel hell. Decibel hell is the car with the booming bass next to you at the stop light. Decibel hell is music in elevators. Decibel hell is that device on the gas pump. Please try not to rustle the paper too loudly as you turn the page.
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for Miami Valley Today.