Badass is not a term I ever would have thought to associate with my dad. Ever.
Yet at a birthday party for my niece a few months ago in San Diego, as we sat eating cake in my sister’s backyard, I was complaining about a noisy upstairs neighbor who blasts his shitty music at all hours of the day and night
My dad told a story of his college years, when he lived in an apartment below a neighbor who would similarly blast his radio. My dad, being the engineer that he is, took his oscillator—because apparently that’s something he just had laying around, as engineering students do—and matched the frequency of the guy’s radio or something, and was able to silence his speakers. And he would keep doing it every time the guy played his music. Finally, the noise stopped. My dad said, chuckling, “I don’t think the guy ever figured out what was going on.”
My dad subsequently brought his dusty old oscillator out of storage in the garage that evening and offered it to me to fly back across to NYC and try out in my own battle against my neighbor. I declined, as 1) I didn’t want to shove an old oscillator into my suitcase; 2) don’t know how to use an oscillator since I’m not an engineering student; and 3) I don’t think an oscillator can combat current music streaming style stereos. Not many listen to radios anymore.
But man, how awesome would it be if I could just short-circuit that asshole neighbor’s speakers from afar?
It was a total fantasy in my head, until I found out that my dad had done it to his neighbor, many decades before me. Hearing this off-hand little vignette gave me newfound respect for my father. Who knew he was actually kind of a geeky badass?
The child, like the poet, is his own instrument. His whole body erotized and highly sensitized by the necessities of nurture and touch, is the tool of his mind and serves with a passionate enjoyment in a creative engagement with the forces of nature.
In the 1930s, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia launched a “noiseless nights” campaign aided by sensitive noise-measuring devices stationed throughout the city. New York passed dozens of laws over the next several decades to muzzle the worst offenders, and cities throughout the world followed suit. By the 1970s, governments were treating noise as environmental pollution to be regulated like any industrial byproduct.
After Mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted new noise codes in 2007 to ensure “well-deserved peace and quiet,” the city installed hypersensitive listening devices to monitor the soundscape and citizens were encouraged to call 311 to report violations.
I was astounded to learn about historical efforts in NYC to reduce noise since the early 1900s, because from where I sit in my apartment on Broadway, I sure as hell can’t hear any impact from those efforts of yore.
Are those “hypersensitive listening devices” still monitoring the soundscape? Are they being enforced? Because there’s an SUV blasting crappy music so loud the bass shakes my floor passing by every 5 minutes.
There’s a lot of things I’ve adjusted to about living in NYC. But noise is one quality of life issue that never ceases to raise my blood pressure. If there’s one thing that will end up driving me out of the city, it will be that.
10 years ago today, my woman and I ventured forth from San Diego to move to NYC, with all our worldly goods crammed in a Budget truck—including my parrot wedged in between us in the cab, screaming his bloody green head off.
I’ve spent most of my life coasting along with the way the wind takes me, and settling down into stagnancy when nothing moves, and now, after many tentative forays and excursions, I’m stepping out on my own, with absolutely nothing in sight but what I make mine. I foresee that for a time things will be pretty difficult in certain terms, such as still living under someone else’s roof, and it’s going to take time to find a new job, and it’s going to take time to get used to a completely new world, etc. But all that just seems exciting to me, because at least it’s a challenge to work that much harder to find my place, as opposed to simply waiting for things to come my way.
Things were indeed pretty difficult at first. But it has been exciting. And I’ve worked hard to find my place here, in this dense city that breaks you down to give you the opportunity to build yourself back up.
Countless hours on subways, buses, and pavement across Queens and the Bronx. Lifting boxes, stocking shelves, writing lessons, grading papers, coordinating IEPs.
And here I am now, married to the same rock-solid woman I set out on this intrepid journey with, with a beautiful son, and a career that I love.
Here’s to the future, and to struggle, and to never settling down into stagnancy.
The problem with ‘fast action’ is that it presumes a sure way of doing things and a uniformity that, in a pinch, we can accelerate. Just as fast food works for some meals and not for others, we must remain open to things that take time, both for preserving what is of value from the past and taking the time to forge new approaches in the present. The key here is multiplicity, plurality and diversity, which take time.
I subscribe to The New Yorker, and its diverse and interesting pieces sustain me during my long and varied commutes across buses and trains in the Bronx each day.
A recent piece on explorer and all-around bad-ass Henry Worsley touched a nerve. This is by author David Grann, so it’s great writing, and he has clear admiration for Worsley. Do yourself a favor and read it.
Yet despite also admiring Worsley’s relentless drive and leadership, I ended the piece feeling upset, even angry.
He left behind a wife and two children who loved him fiercely. For what? To trudge across the vast, icy, crevassed expanse of the South Pole on his own in order to fulfil what seems to me a prurient fantasy. That speaks of either immense despair or delusion, not of heroism.
I think it is much more heroic to learn to bear inner demons quietly, while tending to the needs of your family and society.
The loss of a man as strong as Henry Worsley is all the more tragic in consideration of all the good he could still be enacting if he had decided to put his energies towards the ones around him, rather than towards a solo trek across the ice.
…suppose you were being questioned by the Truth Demon – a super-powerful being who knows the truth on every topic, and will punish you horribly if you give a wrong answer or fail to answer at all. If you continue to assert a claim when the Truth Demon asks you if it is true, then you do really believe it, really think it is true. But if you give a different answer when under threat of torture by the all-knowing demon, then you don’t really believe the claim.