It's a Loud, Loud, Loud, Loud World

It’s official. My hearing has been permanently damaged. Well, perhaps not really, but that is certainly how I feel after standing next to the guy swishing his hands under the gazillion decibel hand dryer in the restaurant washroom. I have no idea how those things can pass the OSHA loudness safety standards. I don’t know how something that blasts air as loud as four jet engines doesn’t blow the guy’s hands and forearms completely off his body and into a three foot crater.

The world in general seems to be getting louder. It’s not just the eardrum-piercing dryers in the restaurant bathroom. There are the incessant beeping of fryers and microwaves, the blaring background music, and the braying of chefs and food preppers, all competing to be heard over the noise of teens blasting videos on their smartphones, construction workers bellowing their opinions about the latest sports matches, and the symphony of shrieking children in Dolby surround sound.

Ironically, I go to the restaurant to escape the daily office noise. Every morning I am subjected to the loud banter of the three guys near me trumpeting tech as if the paper-thin, three-foot-tall cubicle partitions between them are sound absorbing concrete walls. Minutes later I hear the guy across from me bluster out a video conference, communicating with the carpenters at his house renovation project at full laptop volume, making the south end of the office sound like a construction site. At the top of every hour, someone gets on a shrill speakerphone chat spending twenty minutes shouting tangential work topics that could easily be discussed in a single silent email exchange. The office itself is equipped with white noise generators in the ceiling as if to quell some manager’s fear that the room might be too quiet for people to work. The final irony is: I put on my earphones and listen to my mp3 player to drown out the cacophony, but the player’s designers limit the maximum volume so I won’t damage my ears. I sit and wonder why these guys didn’t design the restaurant hand dryer.

I head to my work’s basement floor to escape the continuous din for a few minutes. The exit door alarm is once again jammed, chirping its warning cry at fire alarm pitch ramming aural ice picks into my eardrums. A brash humming and dinging emanates from the computer server room where, though the room is acoustically damped, the access doors are always open, so the space holds the noise like a colander holds a river of water. I head to the basement washroom – the quietest room in the building – and as soon as I enter, some guy blasts up the hand dryer.

Amid the booming of bass from subwoofer speakers, the sonic attack of ack-ack-gun-like motorcycle mufflers, and raucous rumble of muscle car and monster truck engines, I drive home. I roll up my car windows, designed by car makers to be thin enough to cut manufacturing costs, yet barely meet safety standards, which, once rolled up, cut down the outside noise by scarcely half a decibel.

At home, I retreat to my basement, put on some jazz at low volume, read a quiet mystery, and let my ears recover from the day’s auditory assault. At two in the morning, I step outside into my backyard and listen. I hear the low croak of a frog croak and a gentle cricket chirping. I hear a few insects buzz serenely by my ears. I look up at the stars. I remember what tranquility is really like. And a four-engine jet flies over my head roaring like a restroom hand dryer.