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Loud People

One of the reasons my husband strong-armed me (oops, I mean lovingly encouraged me) to start a blog was so that I would use it to rant. Apparently, I rant frequently as well as passionately (and he was tired of being a trapped audience of one?). I initially balked at ranting publicly. Why put all that negativity out into the world? It seems like bad karma. Who wants to read someone whining all the time? That’s just tiresome.

That lasted less than a week. I just can’t help myself. Today I’m ranting about loud people.

We are currently living in a precious small town which I adore. Like most of our neighbors, we live in a small house on a small lot, and what we lose in privacy we gain in neighborliness and the ability to walk to the main street of town. Here we can enjoy a handful of restaurants, an ice cream shop, a book store, and a toy store. Residents have fences and hedges, but they also wave hello to their neighbors at the mailbox, and keep an eye on houses whose owners are away. Our town balances perfectly on the fine line between over-involved nosy old ladies always in your business and stiff, intentional avoidance of all human interaction.

Most of the time.

We have one nearby neighbor who is into cars. He has several in his driveway, and we only ever see him behind the wheel of the phalanx of vehicles. His favorite is – and I’m not into cars so I may not get it just right – a black, restored 1960s muscle car. It’s lovely to look at, I suppose, if you’re into that kind of thing, and far be it from me, the collector of cross stitch projects, to criticize someone else’s hobby collection. My objection is its engine. This souped-up throwback is the loudest car of its size I have ever heard. It has that low, deep rumble that roars to life with the merest pressure on the gas pedal. Its idle is audible from several houses away, and once it’s really going, you can hear it from half a mile away. And, of course, it must be started, preferably first thing in the morning, with love and care . . . and with endless revving. My neighbor drives this car down the street at all hours of the day and night. He doesn’t speed, I’ll give him that. But in my own home with the windows down I have to yell to be heard whenever he goes by. He seems to drive everywhere, and yes, I do kind of keep track of him, because I can’t help it. He just drove by 3 minutes ago and he’s going home already. Why didn’t he walk?

Why do people drive cars like this? Wait, nevermind, I don’t really care why. A better question is – why don’t people like this care that they are invading the personal space of everyone they pass by? I can’t help but assume that this guy thinks he’s super cool in his spiffy car. He likes the loud engine in part, at least, because it draws attention, and viewers can admire his stupendous vehicle. But how amazingly self-absorbed, to not notice or care that it’s annoying the rest of us. My cross stitch collection may be terrific or terrible, but it certainly doesn’t infringe on my neighbors’ enjoyment of their own home and yard.

In the other direction, we have a different kind of loud neighbor. They like to have gatherings on their front yard. Fine. All day long, even. That’s fine, too.  I get a kick out of their never-ending, multi-generational whiffle ball and bocce ball contests. They’re not cursing, and if they’re drunk, I can’t tell. My objections start around 9pm, when they’re still out in the yard. My objections grow with each passing half hour that they remain encamped in chairs on their front lawn, chatting. Eight people chatting in the front yard in a neighborhood of 1/3 acre lots is hard to ignore. Because there’s something different about that scenario once it’s dark – it’s just a whole lot louder. Whereas at 5pm they were just a dull roar in the background, at 9pm, it’s all I can hear. They might as well be in my living room. It’s so loud that I’m tempted to chime in to the conversation.

And they are having a great time. I know they are, because one of them in particular has the loudest laugh I’ve ever heard. Her laugh is probably louder than the muscle car. I’ve never heard an actual laughing hyena, but now I know why the expression is applied to humans. This woman thinks EVERYthing is ABsolutely HYSterical, and if I weren’t sure she was laughing, I’d think she was being attacked by Norman Bates in the shower. I don’t hear her all day, but something about the nighttime causes her shrieking to carry exponentially. I can barely hear her companions’ low chuckles, but her laugh causes me to flinch every time.

Can’t she see that it’s dark? Doesn’t she know it’s 10pm? 11pm? Midnight? Who sits in their front yard at midnight shrieking with laughter? How does it not occur to any of these people to go inside? Don’t her friends realize how insanely loud she is? She’s got to be keeping 20 houses awake in addition to mine.

I say again – how amazingly self-absorbed, to not notice or care that it’s annoying the rest of us.

My third example in as many days didn’t happen in my neighborhood exactly. We were at the beach. A large group was entrenched near us – several moms, a grandma or two, and quite a few kids, none of whom was older than about seven. My objection wasn’t their size, but their volume. Nearly a dozen children, in the sand or in the ocean, were screeching continuously. Not because of a shark attack, not because anyone threw sand at them, not even because Mommy wouldn’t hand out more goldfish. These kids were shrieking, shrieking, shrieking, without pausing to breathe, just because. The mothers chatted and photographed, somehow oblivious to the noise. This was not the innocent play sounds of children scampering in the surf; this was high-pitched, blood-curdling, outright screaming. Had anyone brought a glass to the beach, it would have shattered. Looking around at other beach-goers, I could see people flinching at every outburst, glaring over the tops of their sunglasses, shifting disconsolately in their chairs. This cacophony went on, largely uninterrupted, for hours.

I have no problem with kids making noise at the beach. I don’t expect it to be a library. I expect to hear some yelling, some teasing, some whining, some crying. I expect frisbees to land in my lap every once in a while. But I also expect parents to curb behaviors that infringe on the reasonable expectations of others to enjoy a public area.

Do I blame those children? No, although I glared at one or two of them. What on earth was wrong with those mothers? Who allows their child to behave like that in public? I say for the third time – how amazingly self-absorbed, not to notice or care that it’s annoying the rest of us.

Part of the satisfaction of living in any community – whether it’s a permanent community, like my neighborhood, or a transient one, like whoever is sharing the beach at any given time – is the unspoken adherence to a pact to share the space civilly with others. How do these people not see that? I find it hard to believe that the offenders do not notice that their behavior is offensive to others. Are there really people that oblivious in the world? But that leaves me with the assumption that yes, they do notice, but they just don’t care.

When I don’t care that my public behavior might preclude others from enjoying a shared space, I’m saying that I am more important than they are, as individuals, and that I’m also more important than the community. This baffles me to the point of inarticulateness. Where do these people come from? (And why can’t they all live together, far away from wherever I am?)

Call me fussy. Call me intolerant. I don’t care. I don’t drive loud cars, I don’t socialize in my yard at midnight and I discipline my children's antics when they threaten to disturb those around us. I’m only expecting others to extend the same civility to me as I do to them.

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