Is it just me, or is it loud in here?
After a childhood hounded by "shush"es, adulthood seems awfully noisy. People just can't bear the silence.
A dreaded Amtrak type is the passenger who commences prattling on her cellphone the instant she sits down and doesn’t hang up until she gets to her stop, unable to bear an undistracted instant in her own company. People practice rap lyrics on the bus or the subway, barking doggerel along with their iPods as though they were alone in the shower. Respecting shared public space is becoming as quaintly archaic as tipping your hat to a lady, now that the concept of public space is as nearly extinct as hats, and ladies.
I, personally, love silence. I even like companionable quiet on a date, although the poor fellow will usually sweat if conversation eases to halt, desperate to fill the air with nonsensical questions. Luke and his wife dated without much talking; I find it kinda romantic.
I read on public transportation. If I am overtired, I try to sleep, not usually with success. There are often loud conversations, on the phone or off, loud text chimes, loud snores.
I like to think. I like to analyze my behavior, my motivations, how to improve. I think about others, what I can do to relate to them better, or if they are better left alone. I need to think.
But the world tries its darndest to stop you from pondering.
Tim Kreider rides the "quiet car" all the time, but it is often not quiet. It is also a very hard position to fight for; to argue for quiet leads to more noise.
It’s impossible to be heard when your whole position is quiet now that all public discourse has become a shouting match. Being an advocate of quiet in our society is as quixotic and ridiculous as being an advocate of beauty or human life or any other unmonetizable commodity.
And so the volume has incrementally risen, the imbecilic din encroaching on one place after another — mass transit, waiting rooms, theaters, museums, the library — until this last bastion of civility and calm, the Quiet Car, has become the battlefield where we quiet ones, our backs forced to the wall, finally hold our ground. The Quiet Car is the Thermopylae, the Masada, the Fort McHenry of quiet — which is why the regulars are so quick with prepared reproaches, more than ready to make a Whole Big Thing out of it, and why, when the outsiders invariably sit down and start in with their autonomic blather, they often find themselves surrounded by a shockingly hostile mob of professors, old ladies and four-eyes who look ready to take it outside.
Few understand my fierceness and passion for a space empty of invasive sound. I have perfected my stinkeye over the years (the secret is to maintain eye contact with minimum facial movement, the rest of the face blank) out of necessity, when my cheerful foray into a land and time far, far away and a long, long time ago is rudely yanked back to the here and now by the shrill and inconsiderate.
Having someone's tedious phone conversation interject into my daled amos is as irritating and violating as being on line at the bank and having someone stand on top of me. Lady, I don't know you, I don't care how your man done you wrong, and frankly, aren't you a wee bit embarrassed to be sharing how he cheated on you with thirty other strangers?
We’re a tribe, we quiet ones, we readers and thinkers and letter writers, we daydreamers and gazers out of windows. We are a civil people, courteous to excess, who disdain displays of anger as childish and embarrassing. But the Quiet Car is our territory, the last reservation to which we’ve been driven. And we can be pushed too far. Our message to the barbarians who would barge in on our haven with their chatter and blatting gadgets like so many bulldozers is:
I don't seek confrontation. I don't make scenes. I don't like trimming someone down to size. But here is a little tip: if someone is glaring at you from across the car, she is not admiring your coat.