Prince Louis at the Platinum Jubilee

While I have not had time to sit and watch the coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, I have seen a few highlights. (Such an event is not merely a once-in-a-lifetime celebration; it may very well be a once-in-history event. Can anyone else name a king or queen who ruled for seventy years?) The picture that remains in my memory is that of Prince Louis, the four-year-old great-grandson of the Queen, covering his ears and screaming during the royal fly-over at the beginning of the ceremonies.

That picture sticks in my head because I was once that child. I could not bear loud noises. Much as I enjoyed the Fourth of July parades every year, I hated those moments when the fire engines came down the street, blowing their sirens and honking their horns. I also was not fond of fireworks, and as an adult I have stayed away from firework shows. When the electric company sent out their trucks to trim branches from the trees and grind them into mulch, I was in agony. I remember running through the house, hands over my ears, screaming, just as the young prince was doing in London last week.

Other people—even close family—do not understand the pain that loud noises cause in some people’s lives. The prince’s mother, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, appears to be laughing. I hope she is not laughing at her son, but at something else happening the same moment. My family sometimes laughed at my reaction to loud noises. They apparently did not realize that I was genuinely suffering, that my reaction to the noises were not an exaggeration but were a sincere response to the pain I felt from those sounds.

Like anyone, I am startled by a sudden, unexpected, loud noise. When something shorted out at the power pole last evening while we were at the dinner table, there was a bright flash of light and a loud report, and we all jumped. But I got over the surprise as quickly as everyone else. Ongoing noises, even when they are not as loud, bother me more. Lawn trimmers and leaf blowers create a sound that resonates in my head, making me unable to read or do other work while they run. Music and conversations often break my concentration. For me, there is no such thing as background noise. I play music when I want to hear the music. I turn on the television when I want to watch something. When I want to work, to read, to concentrate on something important, I prefer a quiet house or office. Not everyone is like me. Not everyone understands the condition.

I hope that, as he grows, Prince Louis will find family members and other people who respect his reaction to noise. I hope that people will not speak of him as “spoilt” merely because loud sounds upset him. In general, as society becomes increasingly accommodating for people with “special needs,” increasingly aware of the diversity that goes far beyond appearance and language and culture, that there will be room for those of us who are sensitive, who cannot handle noise, who sometimes need some peace and quiet. The prince may offer an opportunity to promote that awareness. J.


Calling all inventors!

Over the weekend an email appeared in all the inboxes of all the email users where I work. Perhaps you have seen this email too. It describes how internet uses can get to secret web sites where they can hire hitmen, buy and sell drugs, and conduct other illegal activity. A member of the IT department chose to send us all a follow-up email, making sure we knew that this was spam, and assuring us that our employer does not endorse or encourage the use of hit men.

Of course in the twenty-first century, the proper noun would be hitperson. (Even if SpellCheck says there is no such word. SpellCheck also says that SpellCheck is not a word.) Hitman should have gone out with policeman and fireman. I’m sure I have seen women perform hits in movies and television shows. On the other hand, if one is already engaged in criminal activity, compounding the crime with political incorrectness probably does not matter very much.

More than that, though, the emails caused me to ask myself whether I would ever want to hire a hitperson. Naturally, the first person who came to mind was Mrs. Dim. The truth is that I do not want Mrs. Dim to die. Especially I do not want her to die a violent death. I would approve if she would move to another state. I would even help her pack. Her leaf blower would be the very first thing I would tape into a box to send on its way.

But Mrs. Dim is not planning to move. Our other dimmer neighbors are unlikely to move out so soon after moving in. They took out another tree this weekend. From the number of hours the chain saw was roaring, I have to assume that they were dismantling the tree six inches at a time. They didn’t even finish Saturday; they had to do some chain sawing Sunday afternoon as well.

If a hitperson is not the answer to my problem, what would bring me relief? I have in mind an invention that would help, but not being one of those creative STEM types, I need to send out a call for help. What I need is a noise-seeking missile. As a heat-seeking missile is drawn to its target by the heat of the target, this noise-seeking missile would be drawn to loud machines, such as chain saws and leaf blowers. They would not be powerful enough to maim or kill the operator of the device, but they would have the power to render the device inactive. I would like to base these missiles in my attic, with several missiles targeted at Mrs. Dim’s property and at the dimmer neighbors’ property. I would not have them armed at all times; the neighbors can make all the noise they want when my family and I aren’t at home. When I need things to be quiet, though, the missiles would be armed and ready to defend the peace of the neighborhood from senseless noise.

I expect that the missiles could be calibrated to react to certain annoying pitches. They could also be set to respond to five minutes of continuous noise or five total minutes of sporadic noise (such as a chain saw). I wouldn’t want to accidently destroy a barking dog or the city’s garbage truck. I have mixed feelings about a car with a damaged muffler; I suppose the missiles could be set to finish off a car if it has been driven for a week without being repaired. The motorcyclist who roars through the neighborhood every pleasant evening—clearly having disabled the motorcycle muffler to add to the driver’s enjoyment—would be fair game. I would want to be sure that the inventor knows that these noise-seeking missiles need to be able to target, follow, and disable a moving motorcycle.

Interest inventors can reply to me on this post. J.



Dim and Dimmer

Mrs. Dim hates autumn leaves almost as much as I hate the sound of leaf-blowers. She wages a steady campaign upon the leaves, determined to keep their time on her lawn and flowerbeds as short as humanly possible. Sometimes she uses a system that I have seen other people use on their property: She gets the blower out first and blows the leaves off her deck and driveway and out of her flowerbeds (and even off the street in front of her house), and then she uses the mower to gather, shred, and bag the leaves. Her system is efficient, if noisy. And then she has those lovely black bags sitting on the street by her green lawn for several days instead of those ugly leaves that she so hates.

Last Saturday morning I was working at the computer—part preparation for another week of teaching, part free-lance writing—when I heard the sound of her blower. Looking out the window, I saw the mower was out too, ready to go. My concentration was shot, and I had to pick up a few things from the store before the weekend was over, so I figured the time was ideal for me to get out of the house for about an hour. My daughter was doing homework, so I let her know where I was going and jumped into the car and escaped.

An hour later I returned home with my purchases. The neighborhood was quiet. I put my purchases away and sat down again at the computer. Then I heard the sound of Mrs. Dim’s lawnmower. She was at it again! I asked my daughter if Mrs. Dim had taken a break while I was gone. She said, “Well, she didn’t stop the instant you left, but she did take a pretty long break.”

It is hard not to be bitter about this. I’m sure she had her reasons, and they probably had more to do with conserving her energy than with annoying her neighbor. All the same, my brilliant plan to escape her noise was foiled. And the war on leaves continues.

A family bought a house down the street this summer. As they were moving in, they cut down two trees to make room for a storage shed. Since then, they have been removing trees at the rate of about one a month. Along with my abhorrence of the torturous chain-saw noise, my resentment at the murder of healthy trees is intense. When this subdivision was built, the designers preserved as many of the hardwood trees as they could. Every yard has several trees that are obviously older than the houses. These are healthy trees that shade the neighborhood (saving electricity that runs air conditioners in the summer), provide refuge for urban wildlife, and generally make life pleasant. In the autumn they coat the ground with beautiful brown leaves, fun for children to build leaf piles and bury themselves, fun even for adults like me to wade through, enjoying the crisp, crunchy sound and the memories of childhood that it stirs.

I understand that not everyone wants to live near trees. Some people just hate leaves, while others live in fear of a storm toppling a tree onto their house. People like that should buy houses that are not surrounded by trees. Not far away there are subdivisions where the builders cleared all the plants and topsoil off the land, built houses and streets, put down an inch or two of topsoil, and covered it with sod. A family that hates trees should buy a house in one of those subdivisions. It makes me very bitter to have them move into my neighborhood and start removing the trees with noisy chain saws.

Besides, they might give Mrs. Dim some bad ideas.


Mrs. Dim’s new hobby

It’s been a while since I have complained about my neighbor, Mrs. Dim. As a matter of fact, she has taken up a new hobby this summer to go with her compulsive lawn and garden maintenance. Mrs. Dim is now a carpenter. She has set up a table saw and a power sander in her garage, and now she can be noisy even when rain is falling and she can’t blow leaves around her yard.

I have no idea what she is building. The work has been going on all summer. Is she making new kitchen cabinets? Replacing carpeting with wooden floors? Rebuilding the entire house from the bottom up? Or has someone told her to build an ark? She has visitors by from time to time, and I’ve started to wonder if she is taking in work just so she can run her table saw more often.

Recently I have learned that “Highly Sensitive Person” is a recognized category—it appears to be treated more as a personality type than a disorder, which is fine by me. Like other HSPs, I am sensitive to odors, to loud noises, to bright lights and bright colors, and so on. Long before I knew that there was such a thing as an HSP, I was already making decisions to avoid uncomfortable situations. No fireworks or rock concerts for me. No car or motorcycle races. Even a trip to the movies is rare, because they have the volume so blasted loud.

How then does a Highly Sensitive Person cope, living next door to a Highly Noisy Person? Even her usual speaking voice is turned up to eleven (because ten isn’t high enough for her). With the windows closed and the air conditioner running, summer has been tolerable. Now as we approach the middle of September, we will have more afternoons and evenings with the windows open for the cool fresh air. I am planning coping strategies even as I type, but I will welcome any suggestions from others.

Coping Strategy # 1: Play music. Every time the mower, trimmer, blower, or (now) the table saw is in use, I will throw on a CD and try to cover up her noise as it invades the house.

Coping Strategy # 2: If possible, leave the house. Go to the library. Go for a walk in the park. Go sit by a body of water. Just get away.

Coping Strategy # 3: I’m stuck. I really can’t think of any other way of dealing with this problem.

Mostly likely someone will suggest that I speak with her about the problem. How do I do this? Do I say, “Mrs. Dim, I am a Highly Sensitive Person, and you are a Highly Noisy Person. Something has to change.” I’m sure her first answer would be along the lines of “put up and shut up.” If I point out that she spends too much time tending her lawn and blowing leaves off her porch, I’m sure she will say that I spend too little time tending my lawn and getting rid of my leaves. If I mention that it’s hard for me to concentrate on reading a book when she is making her assorted noises, I suspect she will tell me that anyone who wants to sit and read must be lazy and undeserving of any consideration.

People are not all the same. We have to tolerate a lot of differences to get along in this world. If I would rather suffer in silence (Oh, for a weekend of silence!) than confront Mrs. Dim, then I guess I must also accept the fact that she is never going to change. Unless, of course, she adds another hobby. Knowing her, it will probably involve a drum set, bagpipes, or both.


Mrs. Dim blows away

Mrs. Dim loves her leaf-blower. She could happily run it all day. Some days it seems as if she does. In back of her house she has a small concrete patio, no bigger than the average bathroom. On a typical morning she spends twenty minutes blowing leaves and dust off her small patio. The blowing takes longer if it has recently rained, because she has to dry the leaves with the blower before they will blow off the patio.

I have thought about sneaking over to her back yard some time when she is not home and stenciling a leaf or two on her concrete patio. It sounds like a good prank at first, but I know that I would be the one to suffer. Mrs. Dim probably would stand there all day blowing at the leaves that won’t go away. And she would probably enjoy it.

When she is not blowing leaves off her patio, Mrs. Dim also takes good care of her lawn. First she mows, and then she trims, and then she blows the cut grass around the yard. Sometimes she also edges her lawn. All four machines—mower, trimmer, blower, and edger—are gasoline powered engines that make a lot of noise. Mrs. Dim likes noise. Perhaps all these noisy tools give her a sense of power. Perhaps they remind her of her husband, who used to do all this work. Perhaps they give her a way of measuring what she has accomplished. When she blows her deck clean of leaves and dust, then mows her lawn and trims and edges and blows the grass around, then gets a power tool to trim the bushes next to her house, then blows the trimmed ends of the branches, Mrs. Dim can fill an entire day with noise.

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while might have noticed that I have a problem with noise. When I was a little boy, when the electric company trimmed the trees near the power lines and ground the cut branches, I ran through the house screaming in pain. Fire crackers around Independence Day could provoke a similar fit if the noise was frequent and nearby. I’m not sure why I love the Fourth of July so much, since it provokes painful memories, from the fire trucks with their sirens in the parade to the fireworks at the fairground that night. I have always been sensitive to noise.

I don’t dislike all sounds. I like to hear birds singing. I like the chirping of crickets and tree frogs. I like the sound of distant thunder and the rhythm of the falling rain. I like music (Gregorian chant, medieval madrigals, church chorales, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Wagner, Elvis, Beach Boys, Beatles, Moody Blues, Chicago, Cars, Police—the list goes on and on), although I’d rather listen to music than treat it as background noise. For me there is no background noise. There are sounds I want to hear and sounds I do not want to hear, and that pretty well covers all sounds.

I doubt Mrs. Dim knows how sounds affect me. If she knew, I doubt she would care. The appearance of her lawn, and of her small concrete patio, mean more to her than anything else in life. Or so it seems; I have never discussed religion with Mrs. Dim. I just do my best to survive those times when she is busy blowing away at her patio.