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The ability to hear is a blessing and a curse: few things dominate space like noise and, thanks to technology, it gets harder every day to escape other people’s noise. I hate the way technology gives idiots superhuman strength so they can hammer my brain with 600 watt subwoofers throbbing like poisoned blood, then take a chainsaw to my nervous system with their car alarms. We have the right to defend ourselves from other people’s noise. Some suggestions follow.

Cell Phones

They find your quiet refuge, sit down and – after the five bars of painful ring-tone it takes to find the phone in their backpack – start yelling intimate drivel at you. They slow down, strike a pose and flick open their phone in the middle of a busy sidewalk, then meander like a fruit fly in front of you, gesturing and barking into space. They enter a store and move through the checkout line talking AT you the whole way, as though you’re a ghost while the voice in their ear is flesh and blood.

For every person saved by a cell phone – probably rescued from the car they flipped over because they were on the phone – millions are doomed to share the sorry lives of every cell phone caller within earshot. Here are some ways to deal with them:

Passive. Devices that block cell phones are sold overseas. They’re illegal here, but buy one anyway. Become a walking cellular “dead zone.”

Aggressive. Record loud cell phone calls, then play them back at other callers – to see if half of one idiotic conversation can cancel out another.

Connect. Give cell phones to street people who – driven insane by the infernal screeching of life on the street – have animated conversations with invisible beings, but don’t have a phone. Program the phones to dial public officials who take money from the cell phone industry.

Disconnect. Ignore people using cell phones. Don’t give them the satisfaction of drawing your attention, move out of their way or hold a door for them. Treat them like ghosts.


Honk. Here in New York, people feel it’s their duty to honk whenever traffic is backed up, which is always. The problem is, it costs the honker nothing to vent some stress and transfer it to everyone else.

Vehicles should include a tamperproof radio device that bills the driver a dollar every time they honk. One thing I miss about California years ago is that people were INSULTED if you honked at them and there was a good chance they’d get out of the car with a tire iron and ask what the problem was. Honking had a cost and people had manners.

Boom. They’ve been making car stereos louder every year and the last time I checked they were up to 600 watts. Since even 50 watts can do ear damage inside a car, that’s 550 surplus watts the driver is broadcasting for your benefit.

They rumble down the street pumping plaster-cracking bass, hoping to attract the attention of 13 year old girls. It doesn’t take much insight to see the frustrated loser hiding behind the bombast, but you confront these meatheads at your own risk.

What you need is a device that tracks sound from their stereo, then either reflects it back at them (out of sync) or destroys the stereo with a laser. After spending two decades and untold billions on failed anti-missile research, the Pentagon should be ashamed if it doesn’t already have something like this, and making it practical for everyday use is just a matter of disguising it to avoid retaliation, say as an air conditioner you can hang out the window.

Blast. You’ve probably heard the puny cars and motorcycles with exhausts straight off a race track, driven by young Napoleons trying to pump themselves up like blowfish. Bikers on the larger choppers and “hogs” – either gangs like the Hells Angels or the “weekend warrior” types – travel in thunderous hordes to intimidate the civilian population. For the weekenders it’s Thug Life fantasy camp, a suggestion of what they could do if they had the nerve to be outlaws, but for biker gangs it’s just business, advertising their menace and putting up a front as they launder drug profits through parts stores selling jewel-encrusted $35,000 carburetors.

Don’t mess with a gang, but you could discourage other bikers from returning to your neighborhood by something as simple as offering up a trunk load of glazed donuts: just spread them across a curve or hump in the street and watch the bikes skid into space when they hit the glaze.

Car Alarms

From the irritating cyber-chirps that announce an alarm is “armed,” to the 99% false alarm rate, to a “design” based on waking the owner from a sound sleep a block away – screw everyone else – the car alarm displays a level of selfish spite that would make a suicide bomber sick with jealousy. Given the corrupt inertia of most governments nowadays it’s tough to think of a constructive response tothe problem, so try the following:

For the Car-less. Mount a car alarm on a plywood platform sticking out your window, so every time a pigeon coos the alarm goes off. Beyond getting rid of filthy, moronic pigeons, you get the satisfaction of forcing all the car alarm owners in your neighborhood to listen to YOUR alarm shriek till YOU feel like turning it off. You’ll be surprised at how sweet your alarm sounds compared to ones you don’t control.

For the Subversive. Organize volunteers to attach miniature subwoofers playing subsonic bass lines to the bumpers of city buses, so they trigger every car alarm they pass and people get so sick of them that angry mobs start roaming the streets listening for alarms, then trash and burn the cars when they go off. I think there’s something in the constitution about “posses” having the legal right to do this.


Noisy people can be hell, especially when they’re neighbors, subjecting everyone around them to their failed experiments in music, relationships and child rearing. I suggest you use noise from one offender to battle the others.

I hate parents who bring their toddlers to a quiet place and fill it with whining, screeching tantrums and sing-song babble from the edge of madness. It’s great they’ve managed to proliferate and spread their selfish genes to dominate the world of the future, but do they have to torment this one too?

I’m sorry to say there’s not much you can do about them, but record their noise for later. If you can’t stand to make recordings, buy a copy of the Happy Flowers’ I Said I Wanna Watch Cartoons, a nerve-grinding exercise in child terror.

Once you have the noise ammunition, put it in players plugged into timers, turn up the volume and point them at your noisy neighbors. Set the timers to go off at random intervals around the clock, and wear earplugs so YOU can sleep. When the neighbors come to complain, ask indignantly “So I shouldn’t take care of my sister’s kids while she’s in the hospital? What do you want me to do, put them out on the street!? What kind of person ARE you!?”

Remember that all serious battles over noise end with a moving van or ambulance out front, and the winner is the party that can keep its cool. If you want to be a winner, don’t be shy about helping your enemies self destruct.


You can’t reason with animals and, since they wouldn’t be aware of the motive, retaliation is pointless. It’s usually a waste of time to try reasoning with a noisy dog’s owner too: I’ve been threatened more than once by a lying, thuggish yuppie couple down the block for having the nerve to ask them to quiet down Adolf Jr., the canine car alarm they park in the back yard 24 hours a day so he can let off a few minutes of psychotic, 100 decibel barking every time a neighbor goes out in their own yard. The law won’t help you with sociopaths like my neighbors, so here are a few practical ways to solve the problem:

Angels with Dirty Beaks. Get a hacker to hijack the electronic tracking device on a large endangered bird (e.g., a condor or eagle) and direct the bird to come by and pick up the dog. What it does with the dog when it gets back to its nest above the columns of City Hall is its business. Though the sight of the bird shredding Adolf Jr. might sicken passersby, can you imagine the revolting scene on the TV news if you do nothing and, sleepless and deranged after months of barking, barge into the dog owner’s apartment with a bible & shotgun and serve up some righteous noise abatement? It’s a question of making the more measured response.

Whose Yard? Release poisonous snakes in the dog’s yard. Snakes can be just as territorial as dogs, and once they’ve dug their nests the yard is THEIRS. Then you’ll get the satisfaction of watching the dog whimper and squeal, scared to go out in the yard to do its “business.” Soon it will start going in the house and its owners will send it to the pound. What the pound does with dogs is its business – I hear they send them to nice new homes overseas.

[I’m sorry. My plans for a powerful conclusion have been waylaid by events and all I can do now is dictate this note to my lawyer and hope she gets the piece to the publisher on time. I was in the park in front of City Hall last Thursday, fleshing out the design for a monument for the park: a clear acrylic Tomb of the Selfish Bastard, an “eternal non-resting place” where a lightweight foam casting of right wing Southern California congressman Darrel Issa (self-proclaimed inventor of the car alarm and founder of Directed Electronics, which also sells 600 watt car stereos) would twitch and bounce when blasted by 16 solar powered car alarms. But some moron was talking on his “push to talk” cell phone with the beep turned all the way up, so it was getting on my nerves from 50 feet away. Talk for a few seconds…BEEP!! Talk for a few seconds…BEEP!! All the Nazi scientists must be dead by now, so who designs this crap? Do their corporate masters own a pharmaceutical division, and they add gratuitous noise to products to spread stress and pump up drug sales? I went over and asked him to turn it down, things escalated, and now we’re neighbors on the same cell block here at Rikers. At least we were until the Rapid Response Team dragged him off to the Adjustment Unit this morning – with a temper like his maybe I shouldn’t have said all that stuff about his sister, then taunted him till he was foaming at the mouth and lunging at the bars like a pit bull trying to get at me? Sadly, it’s noisy in here too, what with all the screaming from inmates getting adjusted, the clanging bars, clanking ankle-chains and everybody on edge all night blubbering in fear or sharpening a shank, looking to stick somebody. But…ah, what a relief…not a cell phone in sight…]

Kurt Strahm is a frequent contributer to The Brooklyn Rail


Kurt Strahm


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2005

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