Sounds that bring us closer together

Why is that woman laughing so early in the morning? I keep trying to put myself in her place, but she always surprises me. From somewhere else in the building, sound waves echoing around the courtyard to disguise their origin, comes a brutal argument. So I must wonder what makes that couple fight so furiously and, even more, what makes them continue living together despite their rage.

I live in an apartment, but not totally apart. I can tell a body not to enter my space, but I cannot command the sound waves. They enter as they will. And not only that, but they force their way into my head and, with no regard for my own volition, tie me into the lives of my neighbors.

Accosted also by sounds from the street, I am pulled into the activity there. A youngster tries to call his friend down from a high floor, and calls and calls his name, unaffected by lack of response. Soon I yean for Henry to come down as much as the caller does.

A transistor blares with a volume that bothers my ears. Drawn to the window, I marvel that the teenage boy, dancing alone on a stoop, can stand it right beside him. The sound must anesthetize like a drug.

Now someone double parked is blocking a man who wants his car out. He honks, and makes me turn from whatever I'm thinking about to share his frustration, which is intense.

Back inside, I hear a young woman in an apartment next to mine practicing her clarinet. She is pretty good, beginning a professional career, I've learned, getting jobs with an orchestra here and there. Her practice hours give the building a cool, classical sound.

I'm also brought into the anxieties of her young career. I hear the answering machine she has installed, asking whoever it is please to leave a message. Maybe it will mean another break for her.

From the apartment under me comes disco, with a beat that sends vibrations up the walls. And sometimes sends me up the walls. Excited dancers add their yelps. What world is that?

Then I remember that I, too, am making waves and forcing people to live my world. They must hear my radio, records I play, the noise of my coming and going and of my visitors. Living so close in city apartments, we are careful to acknowledge each other's privacy, and may astonish small towners by making our circle of friends elsewhere than among those most closely at hand. But as fellow residents we become neighbors nonetheless.

I hear a phone ringing in some middle distance, on and on, and I begin thinking that one of my neighbors missed a call. I wonder if it was important.

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