7.29.2009

The Universe Is Whispering

No iPod (may he rest in peace), so I walk to the train in a humid, gray silence. Or rather, what I assume is silence. I notice it after a block or so. It started small, with keys rattling ghostly from inside screened windows. It seemed to come from every house I walked by and it made me wonder: what have I been missing all this time, firmly ensconced in my headphones?

Then something happens. Now I'm hearing all kinds of stuff: birds calling a block or so over in ragged, rasping cries; cars sliding by up ahead on the boulevard, airplanes overhead. It's a whole new world.

I approach the overpass, which starts off sounding like gentle waves but becomes a rumbling, echoing racket once I start walking under it. It got so loud I worried for my safety as I passed below it's yawning expanse. I also worry for my safety because there's an incredibly drunk/homeless-looking guy staring at the chain link fence in my path, swaying in the minuscule morning breeze. I cross the street and try not to make eye contact. Is this wrong?

Then I'm turning the corner and can see the station, which brings with it a whole new array of sounds. The guttural, chain-like idling of the busses. The skritch of my feet as I try to kick a discarded movie stub over (I'm always curious about what movies people see even though 90% of the time it just depresses me). The guy in the box at the station yelling after a businessy guy who Boxman thought didn't pay but Businessguy did and Boxguy didn't see him because his attention was directed to his phone conversation but it's pointless anyway because Businessguy's halfway up the escalator and has his white earbuds in anyway. The escalator sounds like a million buzzing bees trapped in a giant steel bottle, all fighting to get out.

On the train platform the buses still idle, but their grumbling is a hum now. We all wait for the train. People talk on their cell phones. One girl interrupts whoever she's talking to to apologize for interrupting and then to clarify a time. 7 p.m. There are two businessy guys (one is Businessguy from earlier) wearing pink shirts, which has nothing to do with my morning sounds reportage, but I thought it was worth noting. Is this like a thing now or something?

At this point, I have my notebook out and am writing down all the things I hear. I'm all about noticing stuff right now, I guess. Carpe-ing the diem and all that jazz. I note the click on the intercom before and after the driver - who I'm assuming is a forty-something African-American woman but I could be wrong - tells us the next stop and warns us to stand clear of the closing doors. I stand clear, not wanting to be bifurcated. I notice the double dings as the doors close and the train starts to rattle out of the station. The train itself makes a lulling rumble with the occasional squeak when braking or just moving along.

The next stop comes and the shambling ka-thunk sound of the closing doors strikes me as familiar. It takes a moment, but I realize it sounds exactly like a housing project elevator door. I remember the sound vividly from my mission in New York City. Sense memory.

As we click-clack along, I pull out my book, a collection of daily comic strips by James Kochalka called American Elf. I snap a picture of it because by this point, I know I'm gonna write about this.


There's a guy with a shaved head and a Hulk Hogan mustache wearing big headphones who keeps stealing glances at me. Then I remember I'm alternating between taking notes, reading a comic book and snapping pictures of said comic book. I most likely look cuckoo-cuh-razy. He probably thinks I'm a tourist from another world which, given how alien this new World of Sounds feels, may just be the case.

It's my stop.

Walking past the train as it departs I hear the whirring of a fan, the double dings of the closing project doors and a clack-clack-clack as the train dissolves into a dull hiss on its way downtown. I walk up the stairs alone, scribbling stuff. At the top, I hear a (and this is incredibly judgemental and rude, but it's true) young poor white trash couple's echoing conversation, but I can't make out a word, it's just muffled and hollow. Like it's a strange language I've never heard.

Maybe I am in a new world. Maybe reality got thin and I walked through some weird wormhole into a reality where sounds carry more weight. I don't know, but as I walk past the PWT couple and the boothlady who is laughing hysterically at someone on the phone, (these RTA people love to talk on the phone, I guess) laughing to the point where she's rocking back and forth in her chair and slapping her knee, I fell all weird. I'm all tuned into the cosmos.

I walk out of the West Side Market station and out onto Lorain into the serenity and cacophony of the morning bustle. Trucks idle in the Market loading zones. Sounds travel in pairs now. Manhole covers clang-clang as cars pass over them. Buses honk their horns in two short blasts. Double trouble.

I cross West 25th and walk past the corner where there's always a colorful crowd. A trio of guys yell at somebody in a stopped car that they think they know but, given the guy's reaction, obviously don't. A fan squeaks away at the Souper Market where I assume they're making today's broth. It's warm and sweaty out and soup is the last thing on my mind as I wipe sweat from the corners of my eyes.

And it's quiet again. Traffic going my way on Lorain must be stopped at the light. I hear the scritch-scritch-scritch of the woman's feet as she walks along in front of me. I see the guy with the slicked-back gray hair and thick glasses who I think is an instructor at the barber college sitting in one of the chairs in an empty, silent barber shop.

And then it's noisy again. The belt on a car squeaks, hydraulic brakes hiss and diesel engines growl. I turn the corner to my office and the sounds suddenly equalize.

I'm back in my normal old world; safe and, well, sound.

4 comments:

the_jcw said...

excellent, isn't it amazing what lies beyond the I-pod. I should be recording all the crazy noises I hear, the barking train man perhaps?

b3n said...

All those sounds you heard? I've got them on my iPod.

Nice writing, BRR.

Dr. Stanley said...

So, you want Fringe back too, huh?

mancalledsun said...

Sound is awesome. Listen more. Broaden your scope beyond individual sources. Tune in to each of the spaces you're in. Do a single hand clap and listen to how that sound behaves. Doing so adds a whole new dimension - literally. You'll never need portable music again.

Sound is awesome.