All of Shane’s expectations about noisy neighbors came from his bad experiences in the past. The most mythic memory of all was of his dorm room on the eighth floor at Bashinger Hall in his freshman year at college that he had shared with another young man, Gary, from rural Kansas. Someone in the room directly below theirs (never identified) played, practiced and sometimes belched at a bagpipe in soaring yet broken, plaintive wails that sounded like a large cat getting their lung punctured and positively penetrated whatever otherwise opportunity might have existed for peace or silence. It never occurred to Shane at the time to make an issue of this and given his own immaturity at the time there were likely at least some ways he too in his own unbridled way was also an irritant to others but not like the bagpipe player, whose shrieking sounds could easily wake the dead.
He later discovered it came as a matter of course that in apartment dwellings, dorm rooms and the other cramped and irregular quarters that young people normally dwell in, noisy neighbors are the rule with very few exceptions. Stereo were often the main culprit. It is a rite of passage for young men especially to purchase, or by other means acquire, sound systems with enough wattage and thrust to move the needle on the Richter scale and to hurry the onset of hearing aids a few decades later.
But his current neighbor now re-introduced noise problems again into his life unexpectedly. Shane and his wife had previously owned a dwelling in the city, and while there they had mostly had a break from noise issues. Now that they had purchased well over an acre in semi-rural suburban area, it had never crossed his mind that he might face the old nemesis again.
If he had been paying attention, the possibility should have dawned on him when he first noticed the age of his neighbor Randolph, for it was clear immediately that he was young and unschooled and not in any way long tenured on the planet. The first visitation of woe, however, did not happen until one Thursday night just after dinner time when the epic sounds of a highly rhythmical hip-hop beat started shaking his bookshelves. The incredulity of it! What good is a property line if one cannot keep all undesirable elements outside the corridor of that sacred space? To have laws against physical trespassing but to not have some equal protection against other forms of trespassing, the encroachment of undesirable sounds for one, seemed unjust. There were of course such laws on the books, but Shane had never really considered them nor was he prepared to invoke any of them. Only later he would discover in a very rude way others in the neighborhood invoking similar privileges, and he would have to answer to the city why he kept a ladder on the side of his house instead of out of sight in direction violation of city ordinances, or to the police for his three criminal boys playing raucous pickup basketball in the driveway after 9 PM.
The interactions with Randolph were limited, and there was not even the slightest possibility or any real good purpose behind making any communication of his displeasure of the loud music.
“Hey, how’s it going? Randolph, right?”
“Yes, I forget your name. Sorry.”
“Shane, no problem.”
It was such mundane, such civil interaction. Why couldn’t his neighbor be civil in his choices about what music to listen to, what volume to play it at, and about the decision to use the basement screen door to blast it out to the neighborhood? He really knew it was the same inclinations that may well cause a young man at a wedding reception to enter the center of a ring of people and break dance in vigorous abandon before a host of other people, the same lack of civility that may cause a young woman to cotton up to a n’er-do-well young man who by all accounts looks headed towards the shady side of life and a possible future in prison?
And why, Shane wondered, was he himself such a coward, so willing like Saul after being announced as King of Israel to hide behind the baggage instead of coming fully frontal about his displeasure?
“Enjoy the rest of your day”, Shane said veiling his contempt.
“I will”, Randolph said sincerely.
The incidents of unwanted seepage into the neighborhood of Randolph purely hormonal music continued. There was no real pattern to Randolph’s choices. At least a few of them might have been related to his recognition of the joyful state of the weather, for it did seem that several of the occasions were bright and springy days, and if Shane and other were not so conditioned by social convention, they might have instead received the bouncy rhythm and colorful sounds protruding out of Randolph’s basement in the same way they did other aspects of nature that tended to jump out at you in the springtime, many flowering buds of plant life, or deer springing across the street unexpectedly in the cul-de-sac.
Although Shane prayed for a change in the situation, one did not come for at least over a year. Shane began to notice that the music now was not all urban, not all so highly rhythmical and also not quite so consistently “cool”. He began to hear some contemporary country music: Garth, Kenny, even Merle. He knew from his own forays on to the contemporary country channels on his radio that the lyrics were uniformly awful, mostly droning on about some woman’s desirability in cutoff jeans or the mass utility of drinking a keg off of the back of a pickup truck out in a farm field with like-minded country folk.
Then finally, it came like the feeling on a late February day when a strong gust of warm blows over the horizon: he noticed Randolph’s musical choice had decidedly moved to old-school country music. He occasionally now would hear Waylon, Faron Young, Ray Price, Kristofferson, even Jerry Jeff. This was an unexpected, yet very pleasant development. Even though the old-school stuff was very uneven and there was much “B” material in it, still, it was palpable evidence of the social development of his neighbor, and it caught his attention and made Shane more hopeful of the future.
“I saw you out trimming the hedges yesterday.”
“Yes, I was.”
“I’ve got to take care of my hedges soon. So many things to do, so few hours in the day.”
“Yes, it’s hard to squeeze it all in.”
It was the same kind of interaction, neighborhood chitchat, but Shane liked it that he didn’t carry the same edge of raw emotions into the exchange as before.
“Jerry Jeff Walker is one of my favorite songwriters.”
“Jerry Jeff who?”
“Jerry Jeff Walker. I heard you playing one of his songs.”
“OK. I’m not sure where I picked that up.”
It didn’t bother Shane at all that Randolph’s taste was not nearly as intentional as his judgement of it as a listener. It was really enough for him that there was a steady development in Randolph that he felt good about. He could even see himself recommending his neighborhood now to someone wanting to move in.
When his neighbor stopped the music altogether, or at least no longer played it so the neighbors could hear it, Shane did not even notice. Shane’s mind was already consumed with many other things, how to pay for repairs for aging cars, how to slog through another year at work with no real appreciation for the contribution he made, how to spend significant time with precious friends and family members who all needed the extra community as much as he did.
Much later, and it is even hard to say how much later, the thought entered his mind that the even keel introduced into his life by the absence of the neighbors music was no longer a welcome thing. There was something about those disruptive events that felt authentic, and authentic was one thing that seemed in more short supply every year. He also missed the fact that he had to exercise self-control over his own emotions in not letting his displeasure out upon his neighbor when he saw him or talked to him. He even wondered about those prayers that he had thrown up to God about the problem. He wasn’t sure in what way those prayers had been answered by God or unanswered by God or what factor they had played in the later developments.
Randolph liked now to go to antique stores to see the artifacts of authenticity from the past, but he didn’t even know if they were truly authentic in the past, or if he was just projecting that on to those objects.
The chit-chat with Randolph continued. It even expanded somewhat into talk about their jobs, their families, even sometimes it traversed through current events. Still, it felt like something had been lost along the way.
Then, he reminded himself of something else he thought was lost, but in fact was not. He remembered how he used to keep a three-thousand-dollar keyboard at their house when he was playing keyboard for their church. One time his four-year-old son was banging on it, joyfully playing music, and it fell with a crash to the floor. His immediate response was to give an extremely harsh spank to his son’s behind, because the son should have of course known the immense value of that instrument and therefore not done such a thing. It didn’t take Shane long to realize what a fool he had been and how wrong he was to respond that way. He feared for years that he had through that event shut down a corner of his own son’s psyche. Now, two decades later when the same son with great freedom was making joyful expressions of music and sharing them on Soundcloud with tens of thousands of others he could see how his fears were even more foolish than whacking his son.