August 30, 2007

New York noise/Madison noise.

There's some infernal machine grinding away at street level beneath my office. Is that always there, and am I just noticing it? Because, now that I'm noticing, it's a constant, distracting presence.

I'm telling myself it's no worse than when they crank up the lawnmowers on Bascom Hill under my UW office window....

Bascom Mall

Oh, no! Don't get homesick!

The thing is you know the lawn will get mowed and the lawnmowers will go away. But what is this noise?

I climb up up on my desk to try to get a look down to where the noise is coming from. I picture myself falling out the window, and I realize that if I did, everyone would check what I'd just been writing. Two suicide posts in the last 24 hours -- here and here -- not to mention the white hair, the diamond-encrusted skull, and the "concentration camps and skeletons." You'd all conclude I'd jumped. Damn it! Death and that on top of it.

I scramble off the desk and think about relocating to a café... a Starbucks... not an indie café like back home. I'm trying to adapt. I've accepted that it is necessary to pay for a T-Mobile WiFi subscription so a Starbucks can approximate one of my beloved free-WiFi indie coffeeshops.

But please, Brooklyn: approximate finishing mowing the lawn!


Original Mike said...

"It says here 'I can just see the machine out my win..aieeeeeeeee!"

"She wouldn't have written 'aieeeeeeee!'"

"Well that's what is says!"

Maxine Weiss said...

I warned you about this months ago. All the weird sounds, and ambient noise is the least of it.

Those old buildings---the rivets and girders loosen over time and start to creak.

The beautiful expansive, and airy silence of a brand new building, with all the screws and bolts locked tightly into place.

Ann Althouse said...

I wondered how long it would take Maxine to comment. Frankly, I'm disappointed it took you so long.

XWL said...

I feel left out. When are you going to write a post specifically designed to lure me into commenting?

(it should involve hippies, your aversion to CGI animation, and squirrels, and cheesy 80s music)

(and I realize that this particular post wasn't specifically designed to lure Maxine into a comment about the eeevils of city living, but I'm sure as soon as you started conceptualizing this piece, the thought of Maxine's reaction crossed your mind)

From Inwood said...

Prof A

The dog that didn't bark.

When I was 13 my family got a summer place in the mountains (shawangunks; must see) just off the Appalachian Trial.

It was strange to lie in bed with no background noise from a tenement courtyard.

BTW we had a reunion of my old neighborhood a few yrs ago & someone I begged to go refused because he didn't wanna hear somebody tell him about his youth. I responded that everyone knew everyone's business in an area as densely populated as Calcutta & that I was sure that he could hold his own.

My life was a déclassé version of Hitchcock's Rear Window.

wyatt gwyon said...

I lived in NYC for almost 13 years, and while I found ways to adapt to virtually all the constraints it imposes (running in Central Park every day to get my dose of something resembling the real outdoors, taking advantage of the early morning hours to enjoy uncrowded times out on the streets), I never could adapt to the noise. Everywhere, always, no matter where you are, there's noise. It's impossible to escape.

MadisonMan said...

It was noisy in my backyard last week. Boy were those cicadas humming. Now it's the crickets. Like I really want to hear chirp chirp chirp after sunset.

Kirk said...

Those who live in the sort of rural areas that have cicadas, frogs, or neighbors who like to exercise their rifles now and then know that the countryside isn't always a quiet as it's cracked up to be.

lee david said...

So many people, so much old infrastructure, so much repair being done, so many sirens from emergency vehicles, all of noise packed into a smaller more echo prone spaces.

"Hot Town, Summer in the city, Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty" Jackhammers in the background of this Lovin Spoonfull tune.

It took me a while to get used to the noise when I first got to NY. Still, knowing that one could get used to noise and ignore it, I still don't know how people get used to having the curved track of an elevated train right outside of their second story window. The screech of the steel wheels passing every few minutes day and night.

I now live in a relatively quiet place now, where all you can hear most nights is crickets and coyotes. One of my old friends from NYC came to visit and I asked him how he slept after his first night. He replied, " I couldn't sleep at all, It's too quiet around here.

Original Mike said...

I've been staring at your photo since you posted it. Makes me want to head down to the Terrace this evening. It is so nice here today, Ann.

AJ Lynch said...

Infernal- that is a such a great word, Ann. Too bad it is hardly used anymore.

Almost as good as consarnit!

Ann Althouse said...

Infernal. It's not used enough, is it? I realized I wasn't sure how to spell it. But then I Googled "infurnal" and all the hits were to a Tom and Jerry cartoon... you know... fur.

All this talk about noise in the country reminds me of that scene early on in "Annie Hall" where the wife complains about the city noise driving her crazy and Woody starts raving about the frogs or whatever making a racket in the country.

Oh, and the infernal machine did stop.

Pogo said...

I live in a town of only 100,000. It is far noiser than the cottage along the Mississippi river we visit. On weekday mornings when the JetSkis and speedboats are dormant, the quiet is startling, like that eery calm before a tornado. You think something must be wrong, but you're just outside earshot of the motorized age.

It's a sin to turn on a radio when you can hear a turtle slip off into the water from 100 yards away, and a heron's wings make a whuffing sound as he leaps into the sky. In just a few hours, the quiet now sounds as loud as anything else.

But sometimes I am paradoxically becalmed by the overstimulation of too many people, like in downtown Chicago at the food festival. The din is glorious, like God opening his mouth and saying hello.

rhhardin said...

The country has sirens at 3am occasionally ; and if you have a Dog who's into sirens, it gets amplified.

Oh and let's see, Distant Trains .

And here's a Lawn Mower Microphone to play in the office, if you're homesick, except it's a push reel mower. There are birds, however.

Most machinery succumbs to noise-cancelling headphones, if you want control of the situation.

From Inwood said...

Prof A

Russell Baker had a column in the NYT once about how he heard crashing sounds, screams, & sirens all night long from his apt window when he first came to NYC & couldn't wait 'til he got one of the Tabloids the next morning. He was surprised to find no report.

blake said...

I don't get the lack of indie coffeehouses. There must be a dozen between here and the nearest Starbucks.

Taxes? Startup costs too high? Is there a Starbucks mafia?

MadisonMan said...

It is so nice here today, Ann.

Boy ain't that the truth. If the mosquitoes (all that rain!) weren't biting, I'd be outside. I hope it's cold enough tonight to force them into lethargy.

jimbino said...

It always amuses me to hear an Amerikan say that we live in the best of all possible worlds. There are many beautiful things in life that the Amerikan will find hard to get, even in NYC!

Diving boards, teeter totters, jungle jims. Peace and quiet.

I have a second home in the mountains above Rio. The only noise I have to put up with is the hum of the hummingbirds, the tinkle of the windchimes, the calls of the monkeys and the voice of a neighbor calling another across the valley. A bottle of cachaça costs $2. Kids can play tag and there are diving boards!

What am I doing here in Texas?

nick danger said...

Lewis Black:

"And I love New York City, the reason I live in New York City is it's, cuz it's the loudest place on Earth. It's so loud I never have to listen to any of the s--t that's going on in my head. It's REALLY loud! The literally have guys come with jackhammers, and they drill the streets and just leave cones in front of your apartment and you don't even know why. Garbage men come and they don't pick up the garbage, they just bang the cans together. And if your block's too quiet they actually hire a guy who wanders around yelling 'F--k me, f--k me, f--k me!' That was the first job I ever had."

lurker2209 said...

So there really aren't any indie coffeeshops with free WiFi where you are? Seriously?

There are like five within three blocks of my apartment building. The idea of there not being even one, near a major university no less! Maybe I've lived in Seattle too long...

ricpic said...

I grew up in the place and I could never get used to the constant uproar. Why I live in green acres now. Who would live there other than the career trapped?

Pogo said...

Why no indie shops??

Thomas Sowell would say that whenever there is a shortage of something in the West, the usual culprits are regulations and taxes. Yes indeedy. Find a shortage, and one can count on the cold dead hands of government choking the victim.

My guess? An indie shop couldn't afford the demands of the state regarding pay, inspections (and bribes), union demands, restaurant codes, and the tax rate. Starbucks probably can do so, but only because it exists elsewhere.

When I was in NYC this summer, I noticed how dead and un-fun the small rows of shops surrounding Times Square were. I walked for blocks and never found a Wall Street Journal. Nowhere. Not in NY. No used bookstores. No funky little shops. Weird. I began to suspect the town was survivable only for the very wealthy, and I mean companies.

Thanks, Democrats!

blake said...


Well, I leapt to that conclusion immediately but isn't NYC full of indie pizza places and other non-chain type stores? Or is that just the movies? Why would coffee be so particularly singled out? Low per transaction profit (in real dollars, not percentage)?

Chip Ahoy said...

Apologies for lifting the pic. I couldn't stop myself.

Ann Althouse said...

"The only noise I have to put up with is the hum of the hummingbirds, the tinkle of the windchimes, the calls of the monkeys and the voice of a neighbor calling another across the valley."

If there's one noise that drives me nuts, it's windchimes! What is wrong with people? What do you think tinkling is wonderful?

SteveR said...

I can tune most noises out but have real problem ignoring dogs barking on and on for no damn reason. I suppose I connect it to an owner willing to let it happen and it just pisses me off. Somebody working at least serves a purpose.

Pogo said...


1992: Under Siege: Small Business in New York
"“I once added them all up and found I pay 17 different kinds of taxes and fees,” he says. “Did you know there’s a $125 annual permit fee for having an illuminated sign in front of your store? And there’s another one for having air conditioning? Then there’s the sales tax, the property tax, the income tax, the commercial occupancy tax—we’re basically just in business to collect taxes for the City government.

...Because of the city government’s misguided policies, New York has failed to exploit its great potential as an incubator of small business. During the 1980s, the number of small businesses grew by a mere 4 percent in New York City, compared with 24 percent nationwide. The city’s 10 percent increase in employment from 1978 to 1987 came almost entirely from Wall Street and city and state government. Moreover, the city actually has fewer small businesses today than it did in 1969."

New York State Business Climate Study, Nov. 2001
"Taxes were the largest single issue on the minds of respondents. Sixty-one percent (165 of 269 respondents) suggested cutting them, eliminating them, or using tax credits or incentives to spur business growth in New York State.

"Cut property and income tax. New York has the worst tax burden in the country. My operations in Pennsylvania and Ohio are much more profitable because of the tax differential. I will be expanding there, not in New York," said one respondent. "Find ways to reduce state spending so that state taxes, NY fuel taxes and energy costs could be more competitive with other states. Find ways to reduce workers' compensation to be more competitive with other states," another said. "Taxes! Too many (all different types) and too high," responded another."

Small business group members pessimistic on N.Y. business climate
"More than half of the respondents to a survey distributed to state legislators Tuesday rated New York's economic climate as "poor" or "terrible," according to SSA, a statewide small business advocacy group.
"It confirms what we all know," said Chris Koetzle, the vice president of membership and marketing for the organization, which has an office in Oneida. "Small businesses are struggling and there is little that our state elected officials are doing to help."

Top 25 Cities for Doing Business in America
"Perhaps most revealing are those denizens at the bottom of the list (see "10 Worst Metro Areas" on page 97), including No. 9 worst Boston, No. 8 worst Portland, Oreg., No. 7 worst San Francisco, and No. 6 worst New York City."

10 Worst Metro Areas
1. San Jose, California
2. Grand Rapids, Michigan
3. Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina
4. Dayton, Ohio
5. Rochester, New York
6. New York City, New York
7. San Francisco, California
8. Portland, Oregon
9. Boston, Massachusetts
10. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Thanks, Democrats!

Paddy O. said...

If there's one noise that drives me nuts, it's windchimes! What is wrong with people? What do you think tinkling is wonderful?

YES!!!! The sound of the wind, in the trees, along the earth, moving past the ears. That is music. Random clanging noise? Awful. I don't get it. Foul metal tubes of hell.

It is noise for people who are afraid of nature, trying to ward off the demons by means of their own instruments.

I just don't get windchimes or their appeal and I thought I was the only one.

howzerdo said...

I grew up in a very small town and when I went to college in a small city there were two things that took a long time for me to accept: noise, and lack of darkness at night. After graduation, I worked for a while in NYC, and there it was even worse. I doubt I could stand it today. Now I live in a small village (and work in a medium sized city) and have a weekend house in my hometown. I don't even like to have the radio on. Any sort of droning on irritates me. Funny, dogs barking doesn't bother me that much unless it is nonstop - but luckily, my dogs are inside types and not really barkers unless they have a good reason. (And those are times when I want them to bark.)

Dave F said...

There are no "indie" stores around Times Square because it is a high rent mall that sucks in tourists.

There are quite literally thousands of "indie" stores scattered throughout New York City; they merely are not where tourists normally coagulate.

That said, as far as Starbucks vs. "indie" coffee shops go: I don't really pay attention. My primary interest in coffee shops, "indie" or not, is caffeine, not the political implications of its being "indie" or not.

Jim C. said...

Oh, yes yes yes on the wind chimes! How I loathe their racket.

When I moved from Brooklyn to Madison five years ago, more than the lakes--more than the bike paths, more than all the beer gardens and the Terrace--I was overjoyed at the coffee shops. Not the coffee itself, which is often mediocre and often burnt. But the ability to sit in a pleasant public space for hours, spend no more than two dollars, and catch up on tons and tons of email.

I guess it doesn't make much economical sense to run a business like that in NYC. That's too bad.

Jim C. said...

That said, as far as Starbucks vs. "indie" coffee shops go: I don't really pay attention. My primary interest in coffee shops, "indie" or not, is caffeine, not the political implications of its being "indie" or not.

That's all well and good and apolitically righteous. But Starbucks never has free wifi. And their coffee is so yucky -- they drip their espresso from little bags for Pete's sake. The right indie coffee shop. Well, it can be positively sublime.

MadisonMan said...

Another distressing thing about Starbuck$ is the dreary similarity of all of them. Is variety the spice of life in Corporate Coffee world? No.

downtownlad said...

It's a nice Starbucks.

The guy in that picture looks hot.

Ann Althouse said...

If there weren't better places Starbucks would seem really great. I remember when the indie places in Madison required you to pay for their WiFi -- and I used to pay. So Starbucks is acceptable. And I don't care about chains and nonchains, really. I just want a good atmosphere, comfortable tables, great coffee, some music that doesn't bug me, and decent service. Starbucks is acceptable, and I don't hate them. I'm just used to a town that provides many more options and a better environment.

downtownlad said...

There are some good coffee shops in New York, such as The Grey Dog in the village, but I think they are pretty rare.

New Yorkers are just oo much in a rush. They don't linger. They'll pickup their coffee from a deli or Starbucks and be on their way.

Who has time to sit when there is so much money out there to be made?

Maxine Weiss said...

"I wondered how long it would take Maxine to comment. Frankly, I'm disappointed it took you so long."---Althouse

Madame, you're obviously unhappy. Don't take it out on me. If you can't find WiFi, the Gods are obviously trying to tell you something; namely...stay home, with the doors safely locked. It's too dangerous, anyway, to be searching for something that wasn't meant to be.

The lack of mobility, in general, with no car. Yeah, I can see how that would make anyone miserable.

Next time listen to my advice. From the very first time I ever commented on this blog, and told you not to sell the house...(selling off your children's birthright?) warning you about this ill-fated move.....

People that refuse to take my advice always have to learn the hard way.

SuperDave said...

Luckily, my employer supplies us with T-mobile Blackberrys and I added on the Hotspot feature so I could use the wireless at Starbucks.

If you travel a lot, Starbucks can be a welcome site. I've noticed that none of them have the same layout. They also must spend a lot of time on scouting locations because they appear to always draw me to interesting (and desireable) parts of town. The first thing I look for upon arriving at a new destination is the nearest Starbucks location.

Revenant said...

Cities are strangely noisy.

I like the spot my house is at, in the outskirts of San Diego. It is close enough to the city to put me near everything interesting, but at night it is very quiet and peaceful.

Peter Palladas said...

this ill-fated move.....

Have I missed the point here? Has the Prof. permanently quit Madison for NYC, or is it but a prolonged visit?

Either way I guess I'm never going to find out whether the guy in the photo 'hit on' - as I believe you say it - the blonde.

You can absolutely tell from his posture and his positioning that he fully intended soon to rise up, stoll past, make some casual yet pleasing opening remark leading rapidly to fervent sexual congress.

But where's the proof? Where's the video? And speaking of which, isn't it in all the best films that people in American cities spy on each other through telescopes? That being so, when are we going to see the Prof.'s recordings?

Ann Althouse said...

Ugh! I know. I assume people are looking at me, but am I going to close the blinds on this view? Not unless I'm undressed.

Kev said...

There are like five within three blocks of my apartment building. The idea of there not being even one, near a major university no less! Maybe I've lived in Seattle too long...

I know that Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks and all, but a trip to NW Washington last summer cemented the area's reputation as the coffee capital of America. Even the bait shops and video stores advertise espresso! But my all-time favorite was the little shack on the road from Port Townsend to Sequim that advertised "hot dogs, oysters and espresso" on its sign. I hope nobody had all three together...

Trooper York said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

Thanks. I've been to the Flying Saucer Café. That's definitely the sort of place I'm looking for.

Trooper York said...
This comment has been removed by the author.