One summer back in the early 1960s, when I was quite small, a band moved in across the alley. It was a rock and roll band called the We Five, and its members practiced late into the night--or late for a six-year-old, who went to bed at eight.
I remember lying in bed and straining my ears toward the open window, trying to catch the sounds of their electric guitars and voices before I fell asleep. I was thrilled that they were there. Somehow in my mind the We Five--which changed its name a few times, once calling itself just We--merged with the Who, and I proudly told people for years afterward that the Who used to live across the alley from me in Duluth.
(Note: There is another band from the 1960s called the We Five--a California band that actually made it pretty big. This is not that band.)
Even after I realized my mistake, I still viewed the Who with a rather proprietary air. Doug notes that such confusion is fairly common in children; he had an uncle named Elwood "Bumpy" Throndrud, a bank president from a small town in western Minnesota, who Doug confused in his mind with Englebert Humperdinck. "I don't know why I thought that," he said. "He never sang."
And now, years later, a band has moved in on my block, in the small white house two doors down. Actually, it is only one member of the band, but the entire band meets there to practice. Night after night after night.
Now that it is finally summer and we can sit outside after work with a glass of wine and watch the sky deepen and the cardinals flit and those cursed rabbits hop through our neighbors' vegetable patch, our quiet evenings are punctuated with music. Loud, mediocre music.
The drumming is the loudest, but there is an electric guitar, and a couple of vocalists, and for a long time I thought they were practicing in their yard, it is so loud, but actually they are in their living room. They leave the front door and all the windows open, though, so the effect is the same.
When I get home from work I find myself not straining to listen, as I did when I was a child, but bracing myself. The first sound of that snare drum and I stiffen, and as it continues, I seethe. They play all evening, and are often still practicing when I go upstairs to bed. They take frequent breaks, and when the music stops I exhale, and open the window, and smile, and then a few minutes later it starts up again, and I seethe.
I stomp around the house, slamming windows, turning on fans, wasting time fretting over something I can do nothing about. Doug doesn't like the music either, but he tolerates it with more grace than I do.
I polled some of the neighbors in my not very subtle way, via private messages on Facebook, and I found that I had no support.
"Doesn't this music drive you nuts?" I asked one, who responded, "I can't even hear it, I have my own music up so loud."
"Do you mind the music?" I asked another neighbor. "I like it," he said. "I think it gives an artistic vibe to the neighborhood."
They are tolerant, and I am intolerant, and that's the facts of it.
I live in a city. Noise is part of the deal. On any given summer evening there are shrieking children squirting each other with hoses and scampering down the sidewalk, laughing. There are trains. There are cars and motorcycles. There are barking dogs, some of them mine.
Sometimes people shout, sometimes people stay up and drink too much and you can hear their laughter and chatter floating up into your windows quite late at night. There's a swimming pool across the alley, and on hot afternoons you can hear splashing and squealing. Every Fourth of July there is a Hmong soccer tournament, and our streets clog with parked cars, and wandering families, and the crackling P.A. system sends Hmong announcements out into the air beginning quite early in the morning.
None of that bothers me. The music, every night, for hours, does.
If noise is part of the deal, then it seems that respect for others is part of the deal as well. We live in close quarters, and so we should try not to infringe on each other's space--and that shouldn't just be physical space, but space for sounds and smells, as well.
I think it is rude of the new neighbor to play his music every night, plugged in, windows open, hour after hour. Rude.
Still, I'm troubled at my intolerance, and I am also a bit ashamed. When did I become a cranky neighbor, shaking my fist at the closed window? What happened to that excited little girl, lying happily under the covers, thrilling at the sounds of the music?