Sirens And The City

Apr 02

This open letter to Michael Bloomberg appeared in part in New York Woman. But even if you don’t live anywhere near Manhattan, you probably are being driven nuts by noise pollution, too.

Dear Mayor Mike:

First of all, I want you to know that I voted for you, and will again, and think that you’re doing a great job in this impossible city, which I happen to love.

mrsofteensirens.jpgThere is something, however, just one little thing, that I really need to discuss with you. It’s noise, Mayor Mike, as in: there is way too much of it in this town.

Why is this your problem? Because it hurts my quality of life, that’s why, and I know that’s important to you. During your tenure, the city even passed a noise reduction law, known to some of us as the “Mr Softee Law” because, among other things, it limits the amount of noise these lovable but loud trucks can emit. Although I, for one, can’t imagine who could resist the the sweet siren song of ice cream, which sounds like music to my ears. (Can ears have a sweet tooth? I guess not. It just seems that way.)

But even with the so-called noise reduction, such as it is, life in the Big Apple involves a constant hum, punctuated by honking horns, jolting jackhammers  —and, especially, screeching sirens  A person could develop a headache. Not to mention a severe case of crankiness. Even me! I, and millions like me, need your help . . .

Okay, you can’t do anything about most of the noise, like the jackhammers outside my window this very minute. Or the children who live in the apartment above us who were last seen (and very definitely heard) wearing combat boots, so that when they stomp from room to room (and hop, skip, and stomp they will), there will be no doubt of their existence. (I stomp, therefore I am?) Hey, even when I lived in the country there was noise: lawnmowers and dogs and I won’t even get into the new construction your neighbors were always doing. Did they really need another extension? Isn’t this a recession? Weren’t they close to us enough as it was? But I digress.

Here in the city, which I now call my one and only home, you could take care of the worst offender in the Noise Olympics. Yes, that would be the sirens. Not the ones who lure you to your doom, the kind you (not you, personally, of course) slap on the top of cop cars and other vehicles to fill the air with noise, impossible to ignore noise. They are loud, they are ubiquitous, and sometimes, they aren’t even necessary.

How do I know? My apartment faces Second Avenue, so the never-ending, deafening blasts are a fact of life. But it’s the unnecessary part that’s driving me batshit. I’m not the only person around here who’s seen a police car pull up to the precinct around the corner, alarms blaring, to watch a couple of officers get out, in no apparent hurry, drinking coffee and chatting. Where’s the fire? So to speak.

The word out with the cabbies after 9/11 was that everyone and his uncle got one of those sirens and used them whenever they want to plow through traffic. You can’t blame them in a way — traffic is exasperating, but sometimes I feel that the people sounding these alarms don’t realize that Manhattan isn’t just for work, or going to dinner and a play, and that some of us, like, you know, live here.

Working late one night in midtown some years ago, a woman from Brooklyn (where I was born into slightly less noisy circumstances) looked out at the lighted windows of the city, amazed that so many other people were working late that night too! It had to be pointed out to her that some people in those lighted (and unlighted) windows weren’t at work, they were at home. In Manhattan. In apartments.

This seems to be a hard concept to grasp for people who have always lived in houses. Strange but true: some of us are sleeping or watching television or reading a book (remember books?) or checking out YouTube in the brownstones or high-rise apartment buildings they pass by. They may be going to work, or to fancy restaurant (those of us who live here tend to go to neighborhood diners. Yes! We have neighborhoods! Yes! We have Diners!). Or they may be on their way home, or even, yes, if they’re cops or firemen, they may be going to actual emergencies and must use those screeching sirens.

But I think it’s safe to assume that most of the people who press the siren button don’t live in Manhattan. Are they angry at us because we do? Well, that’s a pretty neurotic thought, which I have been known to have, although it could be true. More likely, they just don’t think about it. Manhattan is a place you come to, do your thing, then go home. You see it in passing — a sort of metropolitan drive-by. Sure it’s noisy, but that’s not your problem.

But let’s face it, Mr. Mayor, in these nerve-racking times, the natives are restless, and anything can make us jumpy. Even though we’re should be used to them by now, sirens can be frightening. Is this just your standard ambulance going to a hospital, you wonder — or Did Something Happen? It used to be that you worried that your building was on fire. Now it’s more global, literally. All those sirens must scare the hell out of the tourists, and we don’t want to scare the tourists, do we?  The horses, on the other hand, do seem particularly unfazed, I must say. At least the ones in Central Park.

But for us pitiful humans, the incessant sirens add to a general sense of alarm, pun intended, that you are doing such a good job to help dissipate with your calm and reassuring demeanor. I like a mayor who doesn’t make too much noise (no offense, Ed Koch, but the strong and silent type is what’s called for here). So about those sirens: Could you, would you, please Mayor Mike, tell whoever is doing this to CUT IT OUT!

We know you could do it, because in spite of your mild-mannered exterior, you didn’t become a billionaire, much less the Mayor of New York City, by being a Mr Softee!

If you can work with me on this, your honor, sir, I promise that not only will I vote for you in the next election, but I’ll tell everyone I know to do the same. November will be here before we know it. Just saying. And remember, even in these noisy times, the pen is still more powerful than the siren. Although, of course, none of us actually write with a pen anymore, few of us write at all, and most people don’t even read — but maybe that’s because we can’t hear ourselves think. What with all the sirens and all.

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