Nov 8, 2021

Where the Noise Are: Why Has the World Gone So Loud?

Reflections on volume control

By Ed Goldman

Most of us acknowledge that the world has grown louder. Are we willing to admit that we have, too?

As I write this I’m waiting for lunch to be delivered to my table at Cafe Bernardo, a bustling bistro which is about a six-minute drive from my home. A burly fellow on the other side of the room is explaining at the top of his lungs to his table-mate, who doesn’t appear to have hearing issues, about how he’d converted his Toyota car engine to either a Mercedes car engine or, possibly, Judaism. Yes, he’s loud but still lacks the power of enunciation

Edgy Cartoon

Loud Speaker

Every time I try to read the book I brought along for company, he lets loose one of those BWAHAHAHAHA laughs that approximate the sound of Green Grocer Cicadas and Bulldog Bats, two of the loudest animals on the planet, doing a drunken duet of “I, Don Quixote” from “Man of La Mancha.” 

For younger readers, “Man of La Mancha” was the “Hamilton” of its day. It was so hard to get tickets to it on Broadway that some people bought the cast album, memorized parts of it, then pretended to their friends at work they’d seen the show. 

This was an apparently common practice in Washington, DC, when “Hamilton” first opened. Government employees would leave work early and say they were catching a flight to Manhattan for an 8 p.m. performance, then return (a little late) the next day raving about the show. This practice, which I dubbed in a long-ago column “The Faux Must Go On,” was documented in the March 6, 2016 edition of The Wall Street Journal. I realize this was more than five years ago, which probably seems like the good ol’ days to younger readers, as if it had been an entirely different generation.  

Okay. Back to the present.

Since the bistro I’m in is always noisy, owing to its popularity and high-tech acoustical design (I kid), I realize it’s petty of me to whine about one loudmouth. 

But I’ve noticed that ever since dining-out restrictions were largely lifted (if amended then re-lifted then re-amended) the same pent-up giddiness that makes drivers scream by at 90 miles per hour—in school, construction, demilitarized and, possibly, twilight zones—inspires diners, especially if in a group, to ratchet up the volume of their conversations, even when alcohol is only a minor contributor. When booze plays a major role, natch, the ensuing cacophony can evoke the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange or, even better, the Siva Samoa, said to be among the loudest war dances in the world.

I can empathize with people’s possibly unintended need to talk boisterously after so many months of having no one to talk to unless they shared your genes or, for cross-dressing self-isolators, jeans. 

Even though my experience working in offices has been limited, by choice—mine, but often the people in charge of hiring—I remember there was a flow of regular chatter but seem to recall it more as good-natured mumbling than something that competes with the decibel level of “Godzilla” in Sensurround®

If all the loud people I encounter in restaurants grew up in the 1960s, regularly attended and can even remember attending rock concerts, I’m willing to give them a pass. 

In fact, I think we all ought to start our own religious cult: The Grateful Deaf. One of our initiation rituals can be to convert a Toyota car engine to Judaism.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).