“On Walden in the Real World: or How Can Anyone Find Any Peace and Quiet?”

I’ve finally begun work on the article I’ve been unable to work on, or avoided, for months.  It’s 9-something in the morning, almost Thanksgiving, and I’ve even silenced my radio for proper concentration.  I begin moving slowly but methodically through my argument, playing Tetris with my sentences.  Then the leaf blowers begin, over on the fancy street two blocks away.  They are so loud that I run to the radio to put on some classical music and then take a quick break and chase my cats while the blowers drone on.

Before they’ve even stopped, the maintenance workers next door, taking care of the fancy garden being put in by some Bama lovers so devoted—and wealthy—that they bought the house just for game days, begin work.  They also have industrial-strength leaf blowers, which they use to blow some dust and a few leaves off the large driveway in the back of the house because god forbid that such debris displease the eyes of the wealthy folks when they visit many days from now (when, of course, the dust and leaves will be back—not that it matters underneath the tires of their giant SUV).  From blowing the dust/leaves off the driveway, the workers move to the grass and blow it (what they heck are they blowing there, I wonder).  The noise sounds like a flotilla of choppers: see I can have my own reenactment of Apocalypse Now for free.

Then they move off and an alarm goes off—perhaps triggered by the activity of the workers on the fancy street.  When that’s finally off, more leaf blowers sound, joined by the rumble of an industrial mower.  And all of this so delightful cacophony so that the horror, the horror of a few leaves and some specks of dust can be blown, with great fanfare, a few feet away.  Meanwhile, I’m not writing my article; instead, I’m writing this rant—why can’t I work at home with a little bit of peace and quiet?

Of course, I could try a pull a Henry David Thoreau and find my own Walden: a little place in the country where I can write and philosophize in peace.  Of course, I do not have the budget for a Walden, even of the tiny shack variety, and nowadays it is unlikely that I will find such peace anywhere: between the freeways, the music, people speaking at top volume, the glorious leaf blowers, and industrial everything, there’s little peace to be found and, it seems, little desire to demand it.  People seem to accept that everything is at a Spinal Tap 11 now, from media to home to working life, and I find it overwhelming.  I wonder if some degree of our contemporary anxiety—emotional, social, and spiritual—is caused not only by the speed with which we do things, multitasking like crazy, but the volume at which our lives are led.

I long for a cone of silence, or at least a little less droning, in order to be able to hear the birds, the rustle of the leaves, and the distant voices of children at play at the schoolyard.  Instead, there’s a constant whine ever in the background, escalating to a full-out roar at times.  Perhaps my discomfort is due to the issue, beloved of serious young men with fashionable facial hair, of economic/social imbalance: if I had proper insulation in my rental, I wouldn’t be able to sit inside my apartment and feel as if there’s a freeway running through it.  But one of the reasons I only pay part of an arm and a bit of a leg is that my apartment is old and, let’s face it, rather crappy: the cold air and the noise pour in, and there’s not much I can do about it.  In contrast, the well-to-do can afford not only large, cream-colored houses, but fluffy folds of  insulation to muffle the noise and shield them from the ruckus they—or more properly the many people who work for them—so often generate.    They can also find that quiet cabin with at least four bathrooms in the woods or on the water, a neat little retreat from pollution of all kinds and from the noise, the smells, and the sheer presence of other people.  The rest of us are left to endure that pollution as one more inconvenience as we long for just a modicum of blissful peace and serene quiet.

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