The Sound and the Fury

Most people wake in the morning to the sound of an alarm clock, family members or their body's circadian rhythm doing its job and waking them naturally.

On most weekdays, I wake to the noise of a traffic cop constantly blowing his whistle while cars navigating seemingly endless construction lay on their horns. The cacophony is, for me, impossible to get used to, and my newly purchased earplugs and white noise machine only go so far in prolonging my sleep. This rude awakening, and the fact that I work from home and the noise goes on for hours, is making my life far less peaceful than I would like it to be, and then, last week, a study by Swedish researchers came out, sharing the news that living with traffic noise may contribute to weight gain, cardiovascular risk and other possible health problems.

Perhaps the worst part is the knowledge that I am turning into a crank. I knew it was official when I saw how much I had in common with the curmudgeonly character of Ray Ploshansky on the last season of Girls. Like me, Ray had become agitated by incessant noise outside his apartment so--unlike me, promise--he lost it a little, went outside and pounded on cars to stop honking.

But I am not a character in Lena Dunham's fictional universe, so I must contend with the reality that construction on my street, and the racket that goes into ripping up, repairing or replacing subterranean pipes, is scheduled to take place for more than a year, and so I have to adapt or, well, move.

I am not going to move, so instead I have to cope. Sometimes, this means doing my best to grin and bear it. Other times, it means being mad as hell and not wanting to take it anymore, so I'll go outside to talk to the offending traffic cop and prevail upon him to use his whistle more sparingly. I try to calm down on my way to the street and then, as nicely as I can, tell the cop I don't think he realizes how often he blows his whistle, and that it's akin to breathing and I can't imagine it's helpful. I point to my window and tell him my desk is right there, and plead with him to please try to be conscious of his whistling. On more than one occasion I have gone out to do my pleading only to find a neighbor got there first. That always makes me happy; I can take the day off from being the resident grouch.

Sometimes, I am pleased to report, one of us is successful, and we may get a good, relatively quiet day or two but then, come 6 a.m. some other morning, it's back: Relentless noise. Shrieking whistles. Maddening stress. I've called 3-1-1 at least three times in the last several months, but it's done no good. Apparently, my local police precinct finds unceasing (and, according to my diagnosis, mindless) whistle-blowing a necessity.

I wrote my play, The Generator, before all this mayhem started earlier this year. The Generator addresses the subject of too much noise in an already too-noisy world, as well as the phenomenon of "neighbor wars" as a result of it. It is based on an actual incident involving the use of a loud and long-running home generator during a blackout--an individual's choice that exacerbated an already fraught situation.

While doing research for my play, I watched a CBS Sunday Morning story, "Battling Loud Leaf Blowers," showing how the use of that tool is a common source of contention around the country. And I read about an extreme case in which a California man, Peter L. Quill, put his neighbor in the hospital after attacking him with a flashlight because of noise from a generator.

I hope the writer Sloane Crosley didn't go that route last Saturday after she tweeted this: "So close to going MIA/Lynn Hirschberg on my privileged music-blaring teenage neighbor's ass and just tweeting out his name and address," referencing an angry dust-up that took place in 2010 after Hirschberg wrote an unflattering profile of the rapper in The New York Times and M.I.A. retaliated by tweeting Hirschberg's phone number to her fans.

We've all been there, and everyone who lives in New York--or any city--has to accept and learn to live with noise and the frustration it can cause. Sirens, inconsiderate neighbors, construction and honking horns are par for the course. But this fact of our lives doesn't mean the sounds we contribute don't make a difference and just get absorbed, innocently enough, into the ether. I bet we all could do a better job of being more mindful of each other and helping to make New York a quieter, more livable and less sleep-deprived place.