A very peculiar scraping and scratching sound startled me the other day. At first I was horrified — could it be mice? (I’m irrationally afraid of rodents.) My cat was listening too — ears on alert and eyes wide. But he was NOT prowling around in an effort to find the source of the sound.
That was my job.
The sound seemed to move around the exposed brick wall between my apartment and the elevator. I checked under the sofa and behind the dresser and, as the cat went back to cleaning his paws, I determined that it was not small, furry monsters. Eventually I found out that my downstairs neighbor was having paint scraped off their brick wall.
Sounds from other apartments and sounds that float in through the windows are part of life in a city. As I live in a turn of the 20th century overbuilt industrial loft building, the sounds from neighboring apartments are minimal. I’m very happy about this. I’ve visited apartments where you can hear a hanger sliding onto a rod in a closet next door — not to mention loud music, shouts and crying babies.
In my hallway, and to a certain extent in my kitchen by the apartment door, I hear the usual assortment of neighbor noises. Well, usual for this building. One of my neighbors is a singer (mainly Yiddish, Russian and other folk music) and there’s a good guitarist with musician friends on the other end of the hall. Another has a baby. For a while there was a couple who always argued in their kitchen — near their door. I’m glad I couldn’t hear from inside my place.
The courtyard is noisy on weekends because there’s a bar with a roof garden on the opposite side. Summer, when my windows are open, is when I’m most aware of how difficult it is to determine the origin of sounds in a courtyard. Voices, birds singing, music from a distance… all echo and distort in interesting ways. For a short while, the man in the apartment directly across from mine used his fire escape as a terrace to entertain his dates just before dawn. Bits and pieces of their conversations broke through the early morning quiet. Too bad he was boring!
I was glad when he moved out. But the idea of an overheard snippet, a clue to something large and important, coming from somewhere impossible to identify is intriguing. Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” in sound!