Saturday, March 10, 2007

Remembering Cities and Noise

I have known a handful of cities. When I was younger, a city offered a variety of places to go and things to see. I used to seek out cities, too, when I wanted to educate myself in those things that I hadn’t yet known. When I was studying literature and art, I made a trip to London to see the Dante Gabriel Rossetti paintings, and the other Pre-Raphaelites, at the Tate Gallery and the French Impressionists at the National Gallery of Art. When I wanted to discover serious films, I moved to San Francisco to learn more about Truffaut, Fassbinder, Wertmuller, Buneul, and Scorsese. Overall, I have visited London, Belfast, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Kansas City, Topeka, Washington, D.C., Boston, and New York and have lived in Istanbul, San Francisco, Wichita, and Hartford, Connecticut. Although I would like to take my kid to some of these places for a visit, I don’t see myself living in a large city ever again.

As someone strongly sensitive to noise pollution, I prefer those quieter places now. Probably my worst encounter with noise occurred in Hartford one night around midnight when the city suddenly began jack-hammering the street in front of my apartment. The noise continued all through the night, making it nearly impossible to sleep. I eventually dragged a pillow and blanket to the hall by my door, the farthest I could get from the noise, and maybe got one or two hours of sleep before I had to go to work the next morning. At the time, I was proofreading church bulletins for a small publishing company. I also had the misfortune of living a couple of doors down from a 24-hour donut shop in Hartford, at the intersection of New Britain Avenue, Washington St., and Bernard St., and often tractor trailers (semi trucks) would pull up and leave their engines running. The pizza shop in the building next to mine remained open until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. and the delivery guys, in a rush to make their deliveries, would roar down the street. Some of the local teens carried their boom boxes with them, ensuring that everyone else could hear their music. Most of my sleeping problems began in Hartford. Although I eventually moved to the back of my building and faced the Institute of Living, an expensive psychiatric hospital, my environment didn’t become much quieter. My downstairs neighbor belonged on the other side of the brick wall as a patient. Sometimes she used to bang on the ceiling when I rolled over in the bed that I had created on the floor, using camping pads and blankets. Apparently, the floor was no more than plywood or some equivalent material.

Wichita, apart from the traffic, was relatively quiet at first when I lived on North Oliver, near Murdoch, and on Poplar Street, off of Douglas. Once I moved to East Clark St., in the south part of Wichita, I was plagued by the noise of dogs. The neighbors a couple of houses away had a dog that often barked through the night. The owners were either deaf or were oblivious to the noise their dog created. Eventually, someone with two Doberman pinchers moved into a duplex down the street from mine and let her dogs bark constantly, leaving them chained up both night and day. This kind of noise was extremely disconcerting. I was attending college and wanted nothing more than a quiet place to read and write. This noise drove me to the library at Wichita State on Saturdays. At night, I learned to generate white noise by letting a fan run while I slept, making it possible to ignore some of the noises in my neighborhood.

My environment in Leavenworth is not as quiet as I would like. If it were possible to suddenly move, I would find a quiet place near the country but close enough, still, to have city water, sewer, and electricity—those conveniences that we come to rely on. My neighbor, whose husband divorced her a year ago, seeks comfort in having a dog, which she mostly ignores and never walks or plays with. Fortunately, she keeps the dog inside at night. I’m in an area where no one parties loudly late at night. Although I once drove away my neighbors in Concordia by playing the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Birds of Fire and Frank Zappa’s Waka/Jawaka, Grand Wazoo, and Overnight Sensation loudly, I have come to learn how obnoxious my behavior was.

It’s this desire for quiet that led me to get outside on Thursday after having spent three days grading essays and having spent the previous weekend sick with a cold that has since become bronchitis. I drove north of town and took a gravel road that had no outlet, eventually reaching a deserted spot where I got out of the car and spent about a half-hour poking around. Although I later drove to a few other spots in the search for a good picture, I couldn’t find any other place as restful and rejuvenating as where I went to at first.