I have no idea where the quietest corner of Manhattan is, but it’s clear to me we don’t live in it. At night, we sleep with the air-conditioner on to stifle the noise of buses and howling drunks and sirens. During the day, we can usually ignore it. Saturday morning, as we walked out of the front door of our apartment, a jackhammer accompanied our footsteps. Planes fly overhead, subways rumble beneath the sidewalks, doors slam, people scream.
Hey, it’s the big city. If we’d wanted peace and quiet, we would have gone elsewhere. An isolated ranch somewhere, where I would have quickly lost my mind, begun to twitch and drool uncontrollably, and had to be airlifted to civilization.
Still. I do have my limits when it comes to noise and other people’s bad habits.
Last night, for example, we went to a wonderful performance of Billy Elliot. The story, the performances, the dancing, the music, the stagecraft were all superb. Since it’s a critically acclaimed, wildly popular show, we’d paid full price to get good seats — like everyone else around us, I’m assuming.
So why did the woman behind me feel the need to comment on the play to her companion? Why did the guy to my right have to continually light up his digital watch to check the time? And why did the woman several rows back have to launch into a series of explosive nose-blowings in the middle of the quietest dialogue? My God, what was she — the Niagara Falls of phlegm?
On the stage, a heartfelt scene was playing out.
Loving words were being exchanged.
A beautiful, soulful melody had just begun.
SNIFFLE! HONK! GAGGING NOISES!
I suppose I shouldn’t be the one complaining since, after all, I could have been sitting right in front of her, feeling a moist and windy deluge dribbling down my neck, replete with flu germs and snot and God knows what else. Still, it’s hard to concentrate on artistry and emotion when Typhoid Mary is unloading the contents of her lungs and nasal passages into a nearby hanky, just like Greta Garbo did in her “Camille” death scene.
No cell phones, no pagers, no recording devices, they always say at the beginning of any performance. I’d like to add another rule: If you’re coughing up a lung, please do it in the privacy of your own home.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about lying about your age
Uggh, there’s nothing worse than being stalked by sick people who should’ve just stayed home.
Yes, in general, the cacophony of life surrounding us gives our heart a template for the rhythm of our own inner life. But I do often prefer to induce the sounds surrounding me. Perhaps tickling the Steinway in a subtle, mood-infested way, or perchance cranking up the phonograph. Yes, I know it’s archaic– laugh all you want– but I’m scarlet, shameless, I still play 45 rpms!
I do share your venom towards fellow audience members trying to overshadow the events at center stage. I’m certain I would have had your compassion in my endeavor to focus on Franco Zefferelli’s Romeo & Juliet in spite of having the back of my seat kneed for over two hours by a gangly teen who couldn’t spell Book Report let alone pen one.
Here are some likely answers to some questions you posed:
So why did the woman behind me feel the need to comment on the play to her companion?
Overexposure to TiVo. She probably thinks live theatre is equipped with a replay button.
Why did the guy to my right have to continually light up his digital watch to check the time?
He perceives fast-tracking to be the hallmark of success. He knows he must gather all the events he can into his one life, yet it tears at his soul yielding over any of his precious minutes actually absorbing any event in the rich fullness of its entirety. He might lose the race.
And why did the woman several rows back have to launch into a series of explosive nose-blowings in the middle of the quietest dialogue?
She was no doubt Omaha-born during a lunar eclipse and is therefore the embodiment of one of the laws of physics: for every action, there is an equal, opposite reaction. Hence, the quieter the dialog, the more voracious her reaction. Being a Midwesterner, it all translates nasally, of course.
Your Gem of the Day
My God, what was she — the Niagara Falls of phlegm?
Ha-ha! I wish I’d authored that!
I can’t wait to use it against the first friend who develops a full-blown head cold.
Your one weak illustrative comparison:
You owe Miss Garbo an apology for besmearing her acting ability.
Miss Garbo steered Camille into a hushed and beauteous death. In fact, her dialog was so quiet, that had Ms. Omaha viewed a screening of Camille, both her lungs would now forever be dangling from her nostrils. And that snot exaggerating.
Camille death scene:
Hey Ruth… delightful as always. And, to Winston: You are a hoot!
I would have been terrified someone in the theater, coughing that way, was coming down with swine flu!
We have been living in blissful quiet for almost a dozen years now. Sometimes I miss civilization, but it’s tough to go back because you can no longer tune out the noise people make.
Well, if you will go to Billy Elliot instead of the opera…
Winston and Roy — You two should really meet. I’ve never met Winston, but feel as if I know him; Roy, I can attest, is one of the funniest people on earth.
Duchess, if I were at the opera, I’d probably welcome the nose-blowing.
So true, Ruth.
Sometimes when I’m at a large event, I tune out the event and just LISTEN to the background noise from the crowd. It’s amazing the sounds that we’re able to (sometimes) extinguish in order to enjoy the show. People cough, sneeze, move, and talk constantly!!!
Just ran cross this quote this morning.
Words of the wonderful stage actress, Eileen Heckart (1919 – 2001) on the topic of theatre:
Now who can afford (theater)? And people don’t want to think… You never used to hear them talk during a performance. Now they talk.
Miss Heckart graduated from Ohio State U. with a degree in Drama in 1942, then took to the NY stage, building a career of 50+ years. A time frame long enough for her to notice the overall change in audience behavior.
I have rarely attended a live performance or film presentation since 1980. I can’t abide all the background chatter. Back in better times we, and others, commented, if need be, exclusively through the trading of glances– forming the outline of a later discussion via a repertoire of eye gestures, disturbing no one. Later, we could exit to a lounge and enjoy discussing the details over drinks or coffee.
In the 21st century fortunately, a plethora of DVD selections is available for my enjoyment within my own quiet chambers.
A good read–
Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing Up with Eileen Heckart
A bio by her son, Luke Yankee.
Ruth, you are so creative in your writing, you should write a book-oh wait you did. Good for all of us.
I agree about people making all sorts of god-awful noises, rustlings, what-have-yous in the theater. So annoying. Especially at $100+ a ticket. Especially annoying are the people who are hard of hearing and think by talking louder, their companion will hear them better (when they’re not the ones with the hearing aids…) Go. Home.