Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Q: Can I Please Get Some Quiet? A: Heck no!

Sound follows me around. No matter where I live, no matter what I do, noise follows me. I don’t know if that’s because I’m sensitive to noise, or if a life of being followed by sound has made me sensitive to noise. I had one roommate with a sound system that had eleven large speakers. Even when the gain was low, the volume was so high! You do NOT need eleven speakers that size unless you’re running a theatre or stadium or something!

Below is a list of places I've lived since moving away from home.  The stories are very abridged.  Generally I'll describe a single incident or two.  Those incidents were typically ongoing in each place.  It wasn't one night of being kept awake by a stereo or barking dog.  It was a reoccurring, ongoing event.

Most places looked really good when I moved in, but were torturous when I moved out. (I believe sleep deprivation is a form of torture.)
  1. The first place I lived away from home seemed good when I moved in. It was awful for many reasons when I moved out, and I should have moved out sooner. As for noise, the landlord used to wake me up with an air horn if I ever dared take an afternoon nap.
  2. Then I lived in a place that wasn't too bad, noise-wise. The only thing that really sticks out for me was when one of the kids was visiting a neighbour, the father would yell across the neighbourhood instead of using the phone. I worked really crazy shift then. I was getting up at 3am some times, so I had to go to be early. Sometimes I would be woken to the sounds of the father beckoning the son to come home.
  3. The next place I lived seems like a real blessing at first. Then I got a roommate who had a sound system that consisted of eleven woofers. Even when the dial was down to 1, the volume was still high. Then when the other roommate moved out he was replaced by someone with more of an active social life, with the desire to use the house as a hosting spot. Larger gatherings at the house ensued until finally the "party of the year" happened and I spent the night sleeping on a friend's couch at their apartment. This experience turned of me off of living with people.
  4. But, alas, my roommate days weren't over. I ended up living with a young couple. They were, and still are, friends. Their place was great when I moved in. I had the option of taking a room in the basement, or a room upstairs. I took the room upstairs. We all worked/went to school in the day. Then they switched to the afternoon shift at their jobs and would come home at 1:00pm playing the TV rather loudly in the next room. I couldn't sleep.

    But no matter. The basement bedroom was still available. I moved to the basement room to get away from the noise. But since allowing me to get sleep is a mortal sin, they took on some cat-sitting duties. They already had two cats and one of their cats would fight with the cat they were sitting. They would chase each other all across the floors above me, and down the stairs to the basement and back again. All. Night. Long. There was also the neighbour who would put her dog outside and let it bark. She would do this before she left for work at night, and when she got back in the morning. The only way to get 8 hours of sleep was to go to bed right when she left for work. Sometimes she would leave her dog out so long I'd get frustrated and let it in myself.
  5. By this time my friends were saying "Oh, Andrew, you just complain too much! None of your places can be that bad! You're just too sensitive." Then I subletted for a couple of friends in a nice apartment for a summer while they went back home. It was wonderfully quiet for the first two months. I made a point of talking about how much I was finally really enjoying life because I could finally get some sleep; at night and afternoon naps to my heart's content! Then "the heavy weight champions" moved in upstairs. (My friends' name for them. Not mine.) The (rather large) kids would stomp around making a terrible racket until 10:59pm. It started when they moved in. They moved in at about 10:00pm with a stereo blasting.

    That was a terrible situation which lasted for me for a month until I moved into my first one bedroom apartment. Apparently there was some domestic abuse, and drug usage going on up there. They were eventually evicted and the kids were taken away by Child Services.

    When my friends moved back in, they complained about their upstairs neighbours and I would say to our friends "SEE?!?!?! It's NOT JUST ME!!!!!

    At this point I started to realize that noise could really lower quality of life. As I looked for my next place to live I would ask landlords how quiet the place was. One landlord told me "Oh, it's really quiet! You won't hear a thing. Well...if someone in another unit is watching TV, you'll hear it."
    WHAT??!?!! That's not quiet! Quiet is when your neighbour has a party, and the most upsetting thing is that he didn't invite you, not that it's keeping you awake. Quiet is when your neighbour is a professional drummer and you have no idea.
  6. I found a one bedroom apartment in the building beside the place I was subletting. That made for an easy move.

    I had been assured that the place was really super quiet with few noise complaints.

    Then I moved in.

    The apartment had walls that were so thin I could hear when my neighbours (a young couple) would fight — and when they'd make up. (It didn't help that the boyfriend's name was Andrew.)

    But they weren't the real problem. It was the apartment two floors up and one over. They would play their music so loud it would rock the building. One night we fought all night. They'd play music. I'd call the cops. The cops would show up. I'd buzz them in. A couple of minutes later the music would stop. 15 minutes later it would start again. Rinse.  Repeat until morning. Another time they all just passed out, and the supers had to cut electricity to their room to get the music to stop.

    Oh yeah, and the apartment across the hall from mine had been converted into a metal shop. They would cut metal first thing on Saturday mornings.
  7. Then I moved in with Craig. We moved into the apartment where the heavy-weight champions lived. It was on the top floor. I knew that it would be mostly quiet. I never heard the neighbours on the sides. (Actually, right next to our unit was a storage closet, so that takes care of that!) This was the good place. It was good when I moved in, and mostly good when I moved out. It's the best place I've lived since moving away from home. It had it all - cinder blocks between units, a balcony, reasonable rent, free parking, good landlords (most of the time), the best layout I've ever seen, and location. And Best. Roommate. Ever.

    Every now and again Craig and I would be sitting in our living room and I'd be annoyed and say "I wish they'd turn that music down! It's really annoying me!" Craig would say "What music?" I'd tell him to listen. He'd say "Oh....That music! That's bothering you?"

    See, our apartment building was one of four buildings, each shaped like a capital L arrange in such a way to form a large rectangle from above. We were in one corner. I was hearing music coming from the building kitty-corner from us. It was then that I realized I had super hearing.

    There were some problems there but they were mostly fixable. The people at the end of the hall were noisy. Funny thing is: they weren't the tenants. The units were rented by a construction company and the company would put its employees there. It's really hard to evict a personal tenant. It's easier to evict a business. And if they get in trouble, those people lose their jobs. They had the most to lose, yet they were the worst!

    Someone, towards the end of the year - around exam time - got two little dogs that would yap constantly if they were left alone. The yapping could be heard all over the building. She (the owner of the dogs) was eventually told to either get rid of the dogs or move out. I'm not sure which she chose because I moved to Embrun to live with the McQueens.
  8. At first it was great at Chez-McQueen! It was nice to be living out in the country in a big house with a loving family. (They have since moved away and I miss them terribly!) But living in the basement was noisy. Foot-falls and dropped items above on the hardwood floors would be amplified downstairs. Hearing a pin drop was no problem! In my first semester there, it wasn't too bad. We all went to bed at night and got up in the morning. But semesters after that we all seemed to keep different schedules. Sometimes they would stay up in the room right above my bed working, talking, or having a movie night. Every time someone would lean back in the office chair, the creaking would go down through the chair to the floor and be amplified in the basement.

    Eventually I moved upstairs to Bruce's room after he moved away for school. Then a garage band started practising across the street. Goodbye afternoon naps! Robin would often listen to music in her room or the bathroom when she was at home - and sometimes when she wasn't. Jane would have late-night Skype sessions with her boyfriend in BC when she was at home. (The time difference allowed those conversations to happen pretty darned late. I was getting up at 5:30am to catch an early bus, so I was going to bed at around 9:30pm - which was 6:30 in BC.)
  9. Then I moved to where I am now. I was told the walls were cement. I found this to be false within my first week. Drywall and insulation. If it's up to code (50 STC) then it's just up to code. My bedroom neighbour had a dog that would yap for a half an hour every night between 11:00 and 11:30. There has been a constant stream of noisy neighbours on my living room side (with the exception of one. I miss her!).

    The latest thing is my bedroom neighbour — who has been quiet for the past few years — has a really noisy air conditioner. When the compressor kicks in it causes a very loud omni-directional hum in my apartment that can be heard everywhere in my apartment. It sounds like a Mac truck starting up outside my apartment. And she runs it in all kinds of weather. Even when it's below 10 degrees!  Open a %#%&'n window!

    Before moving in I asked about noise complaints. I was told they hardly ever got any. I found out why. One time when my neighbour was blasting music at night in her bedroom (with a shared wall to my bedroom) I called the super. It didn't get any quieter. I slept on the couch that night. When I saw the super next, I asked what happened. He said "Well, I came up and stood outside the door and couldn't hear anything, so I left."

    So, apparently those "quiet enjoyment of living" clauses in my lease only apply if I live in the hallway. I also guess that's why they don't get many noise complaints. People quickly learn that they're wasting their time complaining!
And that's it so far.  I've pretty much given up.  I don't know what to do next.  By the time I was at Chez-McQueens I was fed-up with noise. That's when I realized that the universe had been intricately designed to prevent me from sleeping.  I am now beyond fed-up. I am at breaking point. (You've just read that long list. I've lived it.)

So when I flip out over a little bit of noise, it’s not that little bit of noise. It’s years and years of mounting annoyance. That guy who sits next to me and talks on his cell phone on the otherwise quiet bus is a piece of straw testing the structural integrity of the camel’s back.

And at this point I can’t help but being cynical. I have friends that live out in the middle of nowhere. I’m convinced if I moved out there, someone would buy the field across the street and set up something really noisy. Everywhere I’ve lived has looked great in the beginning, but quickly degrades. I feel like I've asked all the right questions, but I either get incomplete or erroneous information.

What's the use of moving? I feel like there's nothing I can do to prevent the likes of Led Zeppelin from moving in next door.  Even if I move into a quiet place, history has taught me that noise will appear.  And it will be worse than the last place I've lived.  It's getting progressively worse.  And my tolerance is wearing thin.

You're probably also thinking "Why don't you just wear ear plugs?"

The only people who say that are people who have never used ear plugs. Ear plugs muffle sounds - mostly high pitched sounds. Bass and air conditioners are low. I put in ear plugs with my ear protectors I got when working around jet engines when I worked for Air Canada. All they do is cut out white noise, allowing the annoying noise to come through louder than before.

Besides that, I have a weirdly shaped ear.  Ear plugs constantly fall out of my ears.  And it's annoying to sleep with ear plugs.  In order to get my ear plug to stay in on that one side, I have to sleep on that side, with my ear lobe folded over to hold the plug inside.
The following is a list of places I haven't actually lived, but have stayed and have had noise issues:
  1. When I was subletting for my friends that summer, I ended up becoming friends with the supers - a young couple. They asked me to house-sit for them (ie: be a part time superintendent of the apartment building) over the Christmas break while they went away. I agreed. I found out on Christmas night that there was a pyromaniac living in the building. He lit a fire in the hallway at about 2:00am. When the fire department came and took care of the fire, and turned off the alarm, being the super, I couldn't just go to bed. I had to deal with the firemen.
  2. I went to an open house at a duplex. The neighbours on the other side came over to see how the other half lives. I asked how quiet it was. "Oh, super quiet! We don't hear a thing! Well....we hear if the neighbours are snoring. AGAIN! That's NOT quiet! I should have bought the place, and set up my drums in the living room. When they complained I would have said "Hey, you said this place was quiet! This shouldn't be a problem."
  3. While, technically I do not live at Uncle Joe's, it is a secondary home to me. I pretty much spend half the year here. Last winter, an across-the-street neighbour got a dog, which she would leave out barking for a half an hour or so at night. And the the neighbours on my bedroom side have got to be the noisiest people in the whole neighbourhood (which is infamous in Ottawa for being quiet, and liking it that way! A lot of complainers, they say.). You'd think that in the winter people have windows closed and they stay inside. Not them! There's a couple of elderly people who watch TV late into the night with the volume blasting. If my window is open (for a bit of fresh air) I can hear their TV.

    And the younger folks in that house created a fire pit in the back yard, so as long as it's not snowing, or insanely cold, then often on weekend nights they go and have parties in the backyard while I'd be trying to sleep. Recently, the day after I came back from a long, tiring weekend trip I was so tired I just needed a rest. As I slipped into a nice afternoon nap they decided to have an outdoor party where the speakers shook the ground. There was nowhere in the house I could go without hearing and feeling it. (Even as I write this at 12:30am, they were out on their balcony yakking away until just a few minutes ago.)
  4. A friend of mine has an apartment downtown. She has accepted a one year assignment out of province starting this fall. Knowing my pain she wanted me to sublet her apartment where she "never hears anything." She went away for the weekend a couple of weeks ago and offered to let me "test drive" her place. I did. I was woken up at 12:20 on Friday night to the sound of voices in the next unit. At 3:20 I gave up and went back to my own apartment to sleep. She apologized and was adamant that almost never happens. She hadn't heard those neighbours in two years. I went back the next day, and the weekend did get progressively better. But I'm still not taking that apartment for the year!
  5. About a month ago (from when I wrote this) I went to an open house to a town-house condo near where I live. I was assured by the agent (who also lives in that set of condos) that the dividing walls were made of cinder blocks. "You'll never hear anything! I never do. These owners never do. You won't need to do any sound proofing. It's fine as it is." I did not pursue that particular condo but I found another one in the same area. An end unit. I got as far as the home inspection where it was revealed that there were no cinder blocks between the units; just drywall, studs, and insulation.

    I'm getting really tired of being lied to about these things. Most people are not as sensitive to noise as I am. Just tell me the truth. Someone else will rent this apartment or buy this house.
I've noticed that people generally assume that every body else has the same level of noise sensitivity that they do. I'm really careful about being quiet because I assume my neighbours hate my noise like I hate theirs. But they assume I don't mind their music and sound of dogs barking. (I do.  I hate it.)  My living room neighbour thinks that pounding on the wall is the universal signal for "Hey, I really like this song. Please turn up your volume so I can more fully enjoy it." For me, it's hard to conceive that people might not mind my noise. For others, it's hard to conceive that a barking dog is like nails on a chalkboard.

A friend was over at my current apartment when my living room neighbour started playing their stereo one evening.  She saw my reaction.  She said "That's not normal!  You weren't just annoyed.  Your face went red.  Your lip started quivering.  Your voice changed.  The content of what you were saying wasn't you.  You got hot, like feverish.  Your shoulders got all hunched.  Your breathing became shallow and quick.  You looked like you were on the edge of a full-on anxiety or panic attack!"

It's frustrating living in a world where people don't even believe that such a reaction can be caused by noise, and they blame me for "over reacting."

Our money-driven world seems obsessed with cramming as many people in as small quarters as possible (think airplanes and new condos), don't do a thing beyond legal minimum requirements to reduce annoyances, then wonder why air/road/other-rage is such a problem!