Columns

2007.05.02 White noise

on . Posted in Standard Deviant

By JEFF PICKELL

A wise vocalist once said “I’m only happy when it rains. I only smile in the dark. Something something something. Catchy refrain.”

That vocalist is Shirley Manson of the band “Garbage” and I agree with her on “I’m only happy when it rains,” “Something something something,” and “catchy refrain,” but she is dead wrong when it comes to smiling in the dark.

Last Wednesday was a rainy one. Sleeping with my front window open, I was awakened at a dark hour to the appealing pitter patter of drizzle splashing against the sidewalk. The sound elicited from me a deep, happy sigh, while my bladder elicited a panicked two-step rush to the bathroom.

I returned to bed and let the robust precipitation lull me back into slumber. Heaven on Earth.

Since my toddler days I have loved white noise at bed time. I find few things more settling and satisfying than a steady, slow humming in the air. I can’t explain it. I’m just one of those people.

As a child, I would feign sickness so my mom would place the vaporizer outside my door. I don’t really know what purpose this device served, but it was and continues to be the best white noise maker in all possible universes. I would wait for her to turn the hallway light off downstairs—signaling she had gone to bed—and tiptoe over to the doorjamb, where I would put together a makeshift bed of pretty much everything soft I owned—stuffed animals, blankets, handkerchiefs, hats and whatnot—just to get closer to the noise.

They were some of the most cherished times of my life.

In middle and high school, the vaporizer was replaced by a tiny palm-size fan, which I positioned on my bookcase/backboard to blow directly into my ear. I enjoyed many years of good sleep until the poor little thing tuckered out.

In college, I used a giant blue box fan that is probably about three decades old. For me and my roommate Kyle, the big fan was pretty much necessary: only a thin wall separated our room from the elevator shaft and there was no way we were getting to sleep without something to drown out the elevator’s constant “whooshings” and “ding dings.”

However, since moving to the apartment above the Observer, I’ve pretty much eliminated my dependency on white noise—both to save energy and because I’ve become so used to the clanking of the water heater and the streetlight shining directly in the front window that I’ve learned to sleep in most any situation.

My friend Amanda doesn’t have the benefit of such intensive sleep training.

I met her in Ann Arbor Saturday to hang out and maybe catch a flick. For me, hanging out in Ann Arbor translates to walking all over the place and chatting. I love strolling around that city, especially on farmer’s market days. There are all kinds of neat stuff and people to look at, gardens to admire, and parks to count (the parks in Ann Arbor are innumerable).

By the end of the day, we were both pretty tired, so I suggested she spend the night at my parents’ house in Highland instead of driving all the way back to Kalamazoo.

We arrived home to a dilemma. Amanda is absolutely fan dependent. So is my brother Jamie. My brother Jamie has the only fan in the house (well, the only one I could find). I asked Jamie if I could borrow his fan. He implored me to do something that is physically impossible to myself.

After fixing up the guest bed, I offered to sit by it and murmer “buhbuhbuhbuhbuhbuhbuhbuh” until Amanda fell asleep. My hilariously hilarious joke didn’t appease her.

She was kind of cranky the next day. I was too. I can deal with the absence of sound, but I’m still not good with the presence of many noises—especially early morning noises, especially the early morning noises of birds chirping pointlessly. I used to be immune to them, but too many years in the city have broken down my defenses.

I keep a tennis ball by my bed to throw at the window and scare the occasional bicker bird that lands on the streetlight. I’d need a ball machine to shoo away all those birds out in the country.

So anyway, when those birds start a-chirpin,’ at the absurd, dark hour of 5 a.m., I do not smile. I mutter terrible, dark noise and pray for West Nile to befall all of those winged critters.

    – May 2, 2007

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