Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Background noise

There's a seriously mentally ill guy who occasionally walks up and down Edmonton's now-infamous Whyte Avenue yelling "Oh, my God!" at the top of his lungs. I live, shall we say, very very close to that particular street, and whenever I've got my bedroom window open, I can hear him. I'm used to it. By now, he's just part of the background noise that makes up city life.

This afternoon, I heard him again, and it occurred to me that it had been an awfully long time since he'd been a part of my Saturday background noise. At first I wondered if he'd maybe been in the hospital or something equally worrisome. Then it hit me: it's not him that changed; it's this city. We've traded in a certain manic euphoria for a much quieter dejection. And for short but intensely enjoyable while, Mr. "Oh, My God!" just blended right in.


Arrogant Polyglot said...

It is precisely the background noise to which you refer that especially attracts me to living in the downtown area (I take great pleasure in people watching). I have seen and heard everything: urinating, fighting, vandalism, alley disco parties, transients smoking crack, several Mr. "Oh, My Gods" (though our preferred Mr. "Ohhhhhh Hup!" was murdered last summer on a park bench), the incessant rattle of shopping carts, and the list goes on. And I absolutely love every minute of it. Combined, these noises make my city a city. Moreover, with a little help from the binoculars my dad bought us last year at Christmas, I now have access to a previously unknown culture, just as variable as it is beautiful, that I have learned to appreciate and, at times, admire.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Hee! You are a delight, you know that?

James Bow said...

Here's a conversation in the proposed sequel to "The Unwritten Girl", called "Fathom Five":

"I wouldn't know," said Peter. "My parents weren't big on eating out. If there was no time to cook, they went for a cheap, fast chain. Plenty of those in Toronto."

Rosemary looked at him seriously. "What was it like? You've never told me about it. How do you sleep with all that noise?"

Peter rolled his straw in his fingers. "You get used to it," he said at last. "I had trouble sleeping when I first came here. Clarksbury was too quiet."

"How can anything be too quiet?"

"You get used to the noises. You take them into yourself and make it a part of your sleep. The rumble of streetcars outside your window, the footsteps, conversations, all of it: those are the sounds your mind needs to say that everything is all right. You miss it when it goes."

Rosemary stared at him across the table. There was something about her expression that made Peter flush and look away.

"What was it hard coming here?" she asked, carefully. "Leaving all that behind?"