Sunday, November 15, 2009

Soundboarding Part I

Corman couldn't help himself. When he heard a sound from outside, or even from another room, that he could not place, he immediately ascribed it the oddest, most absurd origins. When he lived in an apartment, the rolling sound that came from his upstairs neighbor (probably an office chair on the hardwood floor), brought to mind an image of her rolling cannon balls across the floor, or playing snooker while lying on the floor: the object to send balls through the legs of chairs, banking them off the molding so they came out from under the center of the couch. Or, the times random bangs of objects falling startled him, he imagined her learning how to juggle with lead replicas of parakeets.

During college, Corman rented a room in a neighborhood that had a strangely dense population of dogs whose owners left them tied up in their respective back yards all day and all night. Few of them, though, even seemed like actual dogs. Most were mangy, sloppily cross-bred hulks, seeming to be part hyena, part jackal, part hobo. Taking the back alley as a short cut to school was like walking the gauntlet in a maximum security prison: the dogs all coming to malevolent life as Corman passed. All of the dogs rushing their back fences, growling, barking, snarling. The din was terrible, but what was worse was that it somehow seemed personal. The dogs seemed to single out Corman as someone they hated and cursed, reviled and spat upon. The dogs only lacked were bandannas and tattoos, to make the prison gang scene complete.

That was years ago, and Corman was now married and a homeowner, struggling each day to sustain the pretense of ordinary life in his ordinary neighborhood. But the ordinary neighborhood was its own hotbed of alien clamor. Once, while relcined on the couch, Corman heard a loud, insectile sound circling the block. He imagined a teenager on the street was flying a fully weaponized remote control kill-drone around the neighbor; a military-surplus eBay gift from his engineer father. When Corman finally troubled himself to look out the window after the sixth or seventh pass, he saw a full-grown man astride a motor bike the size of a lapdog. It was incredible he could fold his body onto the tiny contraption. By the look on his face, one might have thought the man was test-piloting some nano-technology death-machine. As Corman went back to his book, he imagined the man taking the mini mini-bike to a gas station for fuel, cradling it like a cat and gently feeding it the gas pump nozzle.

Other times, the neighbors further down the street blew off fireworks (there was no rhyme or reason that brought out the fire crackers; it need only be sundown and not snowing outside), Corman imagined a hillbilly, musket shoot-out amid the beer-swilling horde, whom he mentally monikered "The Philistines." They were harmless people, he guessed, but there were very much outdoor people, who gathered around picnic tables like a hunting party, like some primitive council; like the start of society. Especially when they gathered around a bonfire that they built in the middle of one of their driveways. They hooted and hollered into the night. As Corman grew restless one night against their snarling-jovial sounds, he wondered if he might walk by the driveway the next morning -- fold-out lawn chairs askew and overturned, beer bottles everywhere -- and see the charred remains of a human leg or torso in the raised metal pit where they fired up the ritual flames each night.

Proximity had everything to do with the amount of mental anguish the sounds caused Corman. Low-flying jets rankled him. The mini mini-bike irked him. The Philistines annoyed him. But, unfortunately, some of the most torturous sounds occurred right in his own home: Corman was married to a Soundist.

Soundists don't hear their own noise. No one has yet determined if "Soundism" is a neurological condition, psychological in nature, or simply a myth created by complaining Hearists (those who seem to hear everything).

On the grand whole of things, Corman was enormously lucky. His wife was lovely in all ways: temperament, looks, sense of humor, compatibility, etc.. All except one: she was a Soundist. Not only that, she was a virtuoso Soundist. When she loaded the dishwasher, the cacophony was so great, Corman imagined her standing in the kitchen wearing a football helmet and smashing plates, bowls and cutlery into the open dishwasher with a tennis racket. Everafter, he demanded that the dishes and their cleanliness and use-readiness be my responsibility; that the dishwasher be my domain. Eventually, he found us clang-resistant carbon-wrapped cutlery; indestructible, yet made no more sound than a rubber ball when dropped on the tile floor.

The slamming and banging that occurred when she cooked filled him with images that she worked with mallets and jackhammers and small explosives. Afterward, he ensured that dinner preparations were under my purview, silent salads and quiet frozen lasagnas and quesadillas became the order of the day.

When she cleaned, he imagined her punching holes into the walls with white phosphorus and C4. He took care of that as much as he could while she was at work. That, and the laundry as well. Whenever she went downstairs into the unfinished basement, sounds began to emanate upward like those that might be heard in a mine shaft: the screech of metal against stone, the rumbling rock of explosives splitting great mounds of earth, strange clanging as though someone dropped a metal lunch bucket down a narrow, stone-walled well.

She never meant any harm, that was obvious enough. There were times the noise was so egregious, Corman would huddle in his home office and simply listen to the great crashing and rending beyond his closed door. When he emerged, he always expected to find structural damage to the house; blackened holes in the walls, the smell of burnt hair and wiring pervading. But he never did. Everything was fine.

Part II

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