Whispers and Sounds from Another Room

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!



    • Candy Korman

      You can say that again!
      Old buildings in NYC are atmospheric and inspirational. I’m not sure how/what I’d write about if I lived in a new house in a new sub-division of a suburb. No doubt it would be different. Of course, if I moved to a canal house in Amsterdam the stories would be set there. Umm… time to travel again.

  1. A fear of mice is totally NOT irrational! When I was in the Peace Corps, I caught a mild form of hemorrhagic fever from a mouse in my apartment. And let me tell you, the mild form was REALLY bad.

    • Candy Korman

      You wild and exotic travels….

      Me, I know my rodent fear is irrational, but that does not diminish its impact. I’m the woman jumping on top of chairs when I see a mouse. Yes, I think I’d be less afraid if I encountered a werewolf!

  2. The strangest noise I’ve ever had a good laugh over are the pea hens the farmer keeps down the road. When we first moved into our house a decade ago, we were always cracking up over the sound of the crazy neighborhood cats. Turns out they were pea hens. It took us a year to figure it out…

    • Candy Korman

      Between that crazy cackle and the tail feathers, an “Ostentation” of Peacocks really is the perfect collective noun. Maybe the Pea Hens are laughing at the peacock tails?

      At one point my next door neighbor had a roommate who played the harmonium and sang. That sound managed to permeate the foot thick walls! I felt like I was far away and back in time and that I was the one saying — send those missionaries back to wherever they came from.

      I love that it took an entire year to identify the true source of the sound. During that time, you could create plausible — and fantastic — explanations.

  3. I imagine in a building like that the ceilings are quite high too so the echoing of sounds might be distorted even more. Just a little imagination and I’m sure the stories come pouring out of you Candy. Just as well you’re not close with your fear of the meeces since my girls dwarfed them. You wouldn’t have enjoyed cuddling them as I did.
    xxx Sending a myriad of Hugs xxx

    • Candy Korman

      Not only are my ceilings high, those ceilings are barrel vaulted so yes, that could distort directionality further. Umm… Now, if I lived in a castle…

  4. Before I comment….THANK YOU!!!!! So lovely to be able to comment without and fuss…and yes I know I’m horribly lazy, lol.

    Living in almost-country, I’m more aware of the quiet than of ambient noises. Because of the heat, and the over-use of air-conditioners, we’ve had blackouts every day. What surprised me was how loud my fridge normally is. There are literally tons of tiny little sounds that I must filter out all the time. I do enjoy the quiet but…just for the moment, give me the noise and the power any day!

    • Candy Korman

      Having survived more than a few blackouts, I’m with you! Today there was a water main break that has caused subway closures and more. What a day…

      But getting back to sound, it conveys so much when you’re listening and there are, indeed, tons of little sounds that we are filtering out all the time. Imagine hearing them all?!

      • lol – I think it’s probably just as well we filter so much sound out – I’d hate to hear a spider scuttling down the wall, or a cockroach doing its rounds :/

        That said, as a gamer, I’m rather acutely aware of ambient sound, and how much it adds to my enjoyment of the game. Sometimes sound can make or break a game.

        • Candy Korman

          Those must be very BIG spiders! Ambient sound is so important in film too. I keep that in mind when writing with references to film.

  5. The city I grew up in is incredibly small, 1 square mile. Train tracks go through the center of town. When the auto industry was really moving in Detroit we had two sets of tracks with cars and people moving back and forth on a regular basis.

    My parents house is roughly half a block from the tracks. There were times that you not only heard the trains going by, but they would shake the windows of the house.

    • Candy Korman

      For many years a dear friend lived in Forest Hills Queens… that sounds rustic, but it’s not. It’s a part of NYC and the elevated subway track flew by her window multiple times an hour. The place shook! Everyone would pause and then pick up conversations as soon as the train passed. She lived there for a long time and hardly noticed it. I’d freak a little every time I visited. She’s moved down to Florida now. I wonder if she misses the rattling. I’ll ask her next time we talk. LOL…