Thursday, June 28, 2001

Noise Rage

Happy July Fourth, Noise Day.

I was reminded of this the other day when I watched a vendor of ours wear earplugs while vending.

I didn't talk to him about it. Vendor training isn't one of my official duties, and besides, as one of Real Change's worst all-time vendors, I personally support every vendor's right to sell badly.

Meanwhile, speaking of earplugs and rights, I had to think about all the times I have been homeless and worn earplugs out on the streets.

One day a year we may want to celebrate the right to make as much noise as we like, but the rest of the year most of us try to get away from noise when we can. Guess who can't?

Anybody who doesn't have a house to retreat to, that's who can't! And after a while it drives them crazy! You see, I do too have an excuse! The noise! The noise! Get it out of my head!

We all want to escape the noise pollution around us. For example, I'd like the right to be able to walk down 3rd Avenue around Pine Street without having to listen to Merle Haggart, if I don't want to. Hello, MacDonald's: I can wear a Walkman if I want to hear that sort of stuff. I shouldn't be subjected to it on the street. Play it inside, that's your business. Play it outside, that's my business.

But I digress. The MacDonald's situation is bad because it is deliberate noise pollution and the city ignores it. But for the homeless, unintentional noise pollution is much worse, just because there is so much of it and it all adds up.

If you are homeless with a couple of dollars to spend and you are moving from cafe to cafe looking for a place to rest and maybe hear one of your own thoughts, good luck at getting any pleasure. Muzak rules Seattle.

When most people complain about Muzak, the focus is on the quality. But to the homeless, it doesn't matter if it's Muzak or if it's KBCS, it's still sound, and if it is ubiquitous it is as inescapable and therefore as maddening either way.

It comes down to biology. I can close my eyes. I can't close my ears.

Well, maybe I can, a little. Federally approved over-the-counter ear plugs give just under 30 decibels of relief. And I can try to drown out their music with my own with the aid of earphones. What I can't stop I may be able to control, partly. But "partly" isn't enough when the problem goes on 24-7.

Don't even get me started on sirens. If you do, you'll be sorry.


Oh, but you can't turn them down, you would say, because they have to alert both motorists and pedestrians.


Oh, yes, we have to alert motorists too. Why is that so difficult? That's so difficult because cars are deliberately built to be soundproof, by and for irresponsible idiots.

And instead of passing laws against irresponsible idiots buying and riding around in cars designed to be soundproof by irresponsible idiots, our government PREFERS TO JUST LET EMERGENCY VEHICLES RAISE THE VOLUME OF THEIR SIRENS INDEFINITELY, TO HELL WITH PEDESTRIANS.

THAT'S WHAT I WOULD SAY. So you don't want to get me started on sirens.

Thursday, June 14, 2001

Reason, Soap, And Air Vents

As we are all getting used to multiculturalism it is becoming more and more common wisdom that what we used to call common sense were just senses common within our separate cultures, and, now that we are all stuck together here, we don't have any common sense anymore. Not common enough, that is.

A few people have surrendered to despair, concluding that the lack of common sense implies the impossibility of sense altogether. These, however, are people who were not paying very close attention from the very beginning, even when we were monocultural.

There has always been something besides common sense, that was a kind of sense anyway. It was sometimes called uncommon sense, other times called Reason, and it was hard to live by. Because so long as you live by common sense, you've got company. That's what common means. It means it may not be right, but we're all in it together.

But your Reason, your uncommon sense, defies culture and consequently turns its back on shared ideas. Reason sets you adrift on a raft of one. I'm not saying that's a good thing.

Take Johnson's Baby Shampoo, for instance. I don't know how they did it, but Johnson & Johnson figured out how to make a soap you can wash your eyeballs with without screaming in agony. Not only that, you can wash your hair with it. Plus, you can wash your body with it. I've tried it and it works great. Plus, you can use it for laundry detergent. It works amazingly well on woolens, but it cleans cottons and synthetics fine, too. Plus, it can be diluted with water and used to wash your car, inside and out. And did I mention you can wash your eyeballs with it?

"So where are you going with this, Dr. Wes?" You might well ask. But listen to the soft but persistent voice of Reason inside your heads, instead. It's saying, "Why do I waste so much time shopping for half a dozen different kinds of soap, when I could just drive to Costco and snag a truckload of Johnson's Baby Shampoo and have all the soap I ever needed again for the rest of my life, without ever having to check the container to see which kind I grabbed?"

Why? Because your friends would laugh at you, that's why. Or maybe you don't own a truck. How should I know? But I know of someone who had the courage to live by Reason, who really did use only one kind of soap.

That would be Albert Einstein, living (well, formerly living) example that living by Reason won't kill you. Or anyway, you can do it and last into your sixties. OK, it wasn't shampoo, but it's the principle of the thing I'm getting at. Einstein preferred living according to Reason to keeping company, when faced with the choice. You could call him a loner for it, but you can't say he was absolutely wrong.

Speaking of being adrift on a raft, what I really wanted to talk about was warm air vent squatters.

A warm air vent squatter is a person who spends his nights sleeping or resting on a warm air vent. If you don't know what a warm air vent is, go to the sidewalk on the 3rd Ave. side of the Bon Marche, close to the middle of the block. That's a little one. There are bigger more interesting warm air vents associated to bigger institutions, and the best ones aren't downtown, and they aren't sheltered by an awning.

The beauty of the warm air vent is, you've got all your heating and cooling needs there (the cooling is provided by wind and rain), without the hazards often associated with heat sources.

What I'm trying to get at here is that your typical warm air vent squatter is a person to be admired. This is a person with the courage of an Einstein, the courage to live a life of Reason even if people laugh at them. Don't get me wrong. I have never been a warm air vent squatter, and I have laughed at them, but I admire them.

So if you see a man lying on a metal grate being rained on one side and toasted on the other, go ahead and laugh. But think about it again when you pay your heating bill for that month, and try to bring yourself to give a little nod to Reason.