There are two people in the cafe. Both are sniffling, and I am defenceless. My headphones are at home and the only armoury I can access is a serviette. I roll it into two little balls and push them into my ears. It’s a method I first used while driving from Arnhem Land to Sydney in a beat up old 4wd with no volume control.
The two people with whom I share the cafe look at me strangely. They appear concerned for my state of mind. I’m more concerned that one of the snifflers is about to serve me my food.
I wasn’t planning to lunch at this cafe, but I missed the train home and had no desire to sit on a windy platform for an hour. I also ventured out of the house armour free because it is only a short ride on a seldom crowded train. Normally, my armoury comprises headphones and second phone with downloaded music and white noise, and this helps to drown out other people’s banal one-sided phone conversations, other people’s music, other people’s eating and other people’s sniffling.
We are huddled in the cafe for sustenance and protection from the biting wind which warns us of the impending winter. The weather provokes sniffling, but it is too hard to carry a tissue, and to use it? Or to clear one’s nose with a serviette, so I don’t have to shove them in my ears.
The train ride home passes without incident. No snifflers, no talkers, and no second-hand music, and I make it back to the trenches unharmed, even without protection. I relax with the promise of a heater and relief from the wind, then I see it. The silver Volvo. Derrick is here.
DIY Derrick has arrived at his humble weekender from the city He will begin his stay by mowing his substantial lawn, clipping his lengthy edges; greeting the neighbours with the piercing whirr of his ageing lawn mower and angry line trimmer. He will stop for tea, then spend the remainder of his stay engrossed in DIY projects around the house and in his shed, determined to play with every power tool he owns. I find my headphones and plug them into my laptop, then turn on the 40 minutes of thunderstorm and rain sounds.
DIY Derrick’s projects and lawn care take longer than 40 minutes. Much longer. I press play again. This is how I defend myself against DIY Derrick. Derrick may or may not be his name, that’s just what I call him.
I pray for rain. Rain defeats my enemies. They can’t attack their lawns in the rain. They don’t blow their leaves away in the rain. Their edges grow unkempt in the rain, and chainsaws remain sheathed in the rain.
I pray for rain, but I’m a lapsed Catholic.
Nigel is another nemesis. He is quiet and mild-mannered, until he goes to war with his lawns. Nextdoor Nigel can strike at any time, and his attacks are brutal. He waits until 6pm in summer, or 4pm in winter, before he storms out of his trenches to cut down his enemies. Nigel is a seasoned campaigner with a trusty old weapon, and waits until his opponent is relaxed, complacent and not expecting an attack. He waits until his enemy has returned to the trenches after a day of toil, and is relaxing. That’s when he strikes. Nigel is relentless, and does not cease the bombardment for three hours. It is only when the heavy latch falls into place on his storage container that it is safe to remove the headphones. Safe to unplug. Safe to strip off the armoury.
Bored Baby Boomers and their power tools force me to live a life in headphones.
The wind which drove us into the cafe at lunchtime is sometimes a saviour. It comes from the west. It carries the cold, but it carries the noise from the highway towards the waves on the coast, and away from me. The braking trucks, the farting Harleys, the unmuffled V8s; all bombarding me with noise. Truck after truck braking and accelerating through the centre of town under the command of their rotund controllers. Similarly proportioned Harley riders crackling through town on unnecessarily loud machines which garner their owners fleeting attention from those within earshot. Attention they cannot earn in any other way. I long for the days of electric vehicles, quiet vehicles, cleaner vehicles, but in this country?
When will it be safe to take off my headphones?
Image: Brett Jordan
One response to “A Life Lived in Headphones.”
Kieran, you are hilarious! It’s very funny the way you describe the situations that bother you: noise, dogs, owners of dogs, cats, fox and others. Very creative! I can imagine your face listening someone sniffling next to you and it makes me laugh even harder. The picture that you chose for the text is perfect and the phrase “I pray for rain, but I’m a lapsed Catholic” got a lot of laughs from me. To read your texts makes my day better. I’ll do that more times. Miss you a lot!