The latest beep sound that beep beep sets my ears beep beep beep quivering and my mind reeling beep beep beep beep and likely to drive me to murder beep beep beep beep beep... is supposed to be good for my health. Apparently, the beep beeps emitted by vehicles when backing protects me from stepping under a reversing steamroller.
Buses, vans, all manner of vehicles including cars, are now beeping all over the country day and night. The fiendish swine who came up with the sound was obviously skilled in the craft of torture. Okay, okay, I should get over it. I should get with the programme, I’m a sad, tedious old bloke waiting to be taken away.
What other explanation can there be for the way people look at me? I went to Dunedin recently and ducked into a cafe to escape the street noise. The place was half full of diners with glazed eyes dribbling coffee down their shirts in time to a series of rapid, thumping crescendos representing someone’s idea of background music. Not wanting to appear a party-pooping old fart I submitted for a good five minutes before my resolve broke and I approached the manager.
Leaning over the counter so he could hear me, I said, “About the music!“
“Yes?” he said, looking at me as though I was about to steal a piece of carrot cake.
“Do you take requests?” His eyes narrowed. He hesitated. Then he said, “Such as?”
“Silence,” I suggested. He frowned deeply and gave me that queer look I have sadly become accustomed to.
“Turn the music off for ten minutes, just for me,” I added.
It took a long moment of concentration but finally light dawned in his eyes. He looked relieved, the way you do when you realise the mad-looking person is not going to attack you. He immediately became amiable. Silence, of course, was beyond him but he did turn the volume down.
Closer to home, at home, in fact, I was having a snooze one afternoon when I woke with a start. The walls were booming and bouncing. I rushed outside looking for the planes - had they changed the date for Warbirds over Wanaka? No, the sky was quietly blue and empty. The explosions that woke me were explained by a builder working on a house next door. His radio was in his hut out of sight but a cable snaked along the ground and up onto the roof of his car and into a booming speaker. I called to the builder, who was some distance away operating a skilsaw, to turn the damn thing down. He put down his skilsaw, took off his ear-muffs and gave me a what’s-your-problem? look. In the course of the less than reasoned conversation which then took place he explained that he could not listen to his music through ear-phones because workplace regulations required him to wear muffs to protect his hearing. He didn’t actually add, ‘duh!' But his face said it all. And I must admit, anyone looking at my face at that time would have seen a dumbfounded turkey past its eating date.
I would have retired at this point, sought refuge in quietly intelligent voices on National Radio or the BBC. But even there they seem to have caught a virus that has passed me by. I know it’s the fashion to accompany the spoken word with drumming sounds at every opportunity but I really don’t get it.
I think I have bad dreams about not getting it. I say ‘think’ because what I thought was National Radio in the middle of one sleepless night felt like a nightmare. The man being interviewed was introduced as a professor who selects music for the dying. He demonstrated his expertise by playing a song for the dying; a song to make them valued, serene and willing to take the big step into the unknown. Being ignorant about these things and by now accustomed to not getting it, all I heard was a kitchy lyric of syrup words designed to cheaply pluck emotions. And then he played a piece of music consisting of repetitious sounds, the audible versions of Chinese water torture.
I imagine myself lying in a hospice bed surrounded by white-coated music professors. They are swaying gently, smiling down at me while playing music that sends icicles into my brain with a precisely measured beat. Behind them, strange, pink-gowned ladies with saccharine voices are singing about how they are there for me, and how joyful it will be for me to arrive at a better place. And all I can do is stare at them with my mouth open because I have lost the capacity to scream.
© Chris Horan April 2008