Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Sounds of Silence

I have been accused of taking the scenic route in my blogs. Readers have said things like, "Gosh, I had no idea where you were going with that blog but it all kind of made sense in the end. I guess." So today I'm going to give you a map before we head on our way. First, we're going to learn why I've been so quiet this week. Then we're going to discuss a mystery in my world which will dazzle and amaze you. Finally, Ed Begley will shout in my ear.

I haven't written this week because Consort has been on one of his Big Projects. This last week has been nothing but Consort mumbling obscenities, cold cups of coffee with congealed clouds of milk floating on the top and the big computer screen collaged with endless pages of Excel spreadsheets and flow-charts, or whatever unholy mess a Visio diagram is. Yes, I could have used one of the several laptops we own but I hate writing on a laptop. I am convinced the smaller keyboard makes me sound whiny. So I waited for an opening on our household's version of the WOPR and watched Consort have what will come to be known as the World's Longest Conference Call.
The company he works for is on the East coast. First-thing-in-the-morning for them means Consort is drinking last night's coffee and logging into a video-conference at six a.m. I'd leave to take the kid to school and work out; I'd return to find him still on the call. I'd mouth "Delaware?" and he'd mouth back "New York". I'd nod sympathetically without having any idea why or when he'd changed states.

I'd make him some fresh coffee and poke my head in the office just in time to hear things like this:

PERSON ON PHONE: So does this settle the WYP-CZ issue?

CONSORT: Yes and no. WYP is now WYYP which fixes the LMJX issues, but still doesn't fully address CZ in either MDCW or MNVC.

These calls were the place vowels go to die. At noon, the East coast business contingent would sign off leaving Consort with the tech contingent here on the West coast and the consonants would fly even more freely. Three to five hours later the call would neatly head further west and become Consort flinging acronyms at someone in Korea. My job was to raise our child, keep the pets quiet and offer him liquid to prevent dehydration and/or laryngitis. Eventually, I would go to bed. At some point after that - maybe three whole hours before a new conference call would emerge from the depths - Consort would sleep. This is not the modern world the Jetson family promised me. But it's work, and we're grateful.

Before bed however, he needs some way of cooling down. You don't go from staring at a computer screen for eighteen straight hours directly to bed. It would bring on the bends. No, when you are Consort, you gently reestablish contact with the earth by staring at another screen: the television. The way he describes it: he returns sixty-two empty coffee cups to the kitchen, pours himself a glass of wine, turns on the television and watches a few quiet minutes of something breezy and distracting. I would beg to differ.

Our house is small. It's a typical 1920's Los Angeles bungalow. When I'm feeling positive about our circumstances I frame it as providing a degree of family intimacy you larger-house people just don't understand. When I'm feeling less positive, I toy with the idea of climbing into the laundry hamper for just a few minutes of alone-time. But as small as it is, the house has aural rabbit-holes. Just as there are certain neighborhoods where you know you will lose your cell-phone connection, there are sound chasms in this house. For example, if you are standing in the kitchen you can hear someone at the back-door perfectly clearly and you can hear someone in the dining room perfectly clearly, but the person standing next to the fridge might as well be on the dark side of the moon. Here's how it works on a typical afternoon:
CONSORT (Walking from back door to kitchen): Hi, I hope you don't have anything going on tomorrow because I just got a call from the doctor and -


CONSORT (Past fridge now): -which probably can be done as an outpatient.

This happens all the time. It's not just Consort. I do it as well. Because we have enough things to remember as modern Americans and "Don't say anything of consequence near the fridge" doesn't seem to strike either of us as important, it will continue to happen. And it's not just the Black Hole of Pantry. If you're standing at the front door I can hear you in my bathroom,. This never fails to alarm me. The cat, when she chooses to lock herself into the hallway closet, sounds as if she's outside. You can't find a cat in the closet if you're looking in the garden. For those people who have noted how confused I frequently seem, my house really isn't helping matters.

As there are sound-chasms in the house, there are also sound-amplifiers. The couch is five feet from the television in the living room and the bedroom is on the other side of the house yet, thanks to the demented acoustics of my home, the television playing at a volume a couch-sitter would describe as a comfortable is so loud in the bedroom the water in my bedside glass ripples with each line of dialog. Last week, I snapped awake and thought,""Why did Ed Begley just shout about composting human waste in my ear?" My brain sullenly switched over to "awake" mode and I realized that no, Mr. Begley was probably sleeping under his own bamboo sheets in his own home. The television was attacking me again. I staggered out to the living room, where Consort was watching something palliative. The volume, I noted, was perfectly normal out here.

"Turn off the evil screaming light-box and come to bed," I yawned. Consort looked at his watch and shook his head.

"It doesn't make any sense for me to go to sleep now," he said, "I've got to talk to Canada in an hour. I just wanted to get out of the office for a while. Go back to sleep." He slunk past me into the kitchen to pour himself some iced-coffee.
"You know," I said, feeling only just a little sorry for him. "Maybe you don't have to go back into the office. I bet there's a place in this house where you could talk at a perfectly normal volume and Canada would hear you just fine."

Consort might have said something snappy in return but luckily for our continued domestic bliss, he was standing next to the fridge at the time.


Blogger Claire said...

I blogged once about how the toilet paper roll in the hall bathroom in my then-new house sounded EXACTLY like someone knocking, fast and hard, at my front door. For days, I was convinced that some punk kid was playing knock and run. I was planning to stake out the front door.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

This is one of your best columns, ever. It's a shame it didn't make it into the book.

My fave?

"If you're at the front door, I can hear you in my bathroom, which never fails to alarm me."

I can only imagine. (still giggling)

3:19 PM  
Blogger Leta said...

I've worked with Visio. It used to make me twitch.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Just the thought of Ed Begley composting human waste in your ear will have me laughing well into June.

6:51 PM  
Blogger Deberlee said...

Hilarious, Quinn! I especially liked the description of the sound from the TV being so loud that it caused ripples in the water glass in the bedroom. Very funny!

11:15 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"These calls were the place vowels go to die".


Peace - Rene

7:30 PM  
Anonymous josita said...

Our houses must have been designed by the same architect. Don't even get me started on the basement washing machine that can be heard only underneath my pillow two floors above.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Dawn Maria said...

Glad you're back. I can't wait for the book. My Better Half doesn't have big projects, but he leaves his shoes all over house.

5:31 PM  
Anonymous FurBabyMom said...

Hi Quinn,

I saw your Twitter post on your blog regarding the shitzu/terrier mix pups that need homes. If only this were prior to last January I'd have taken one myself!! I adopted my second puppy in January, and have a full house now. However, I have a large network of friends and people that I can forward the puppy info to via email. I send & receive msgs about dogs and cats that need homes fairly frequently, with some good results. Puppies & kittens, especially if there is a picture attached, usually tug at people's heartstrings, & if enough people get the info surely these little guys will find good homes! I'd love to help with that. Is there a way I can send you my personal email address without it showing up publicly? If you can email me the information & a picture of the puppies (if your friend has a picture), I would be more than happy to distribute the email to everyone in my contacts list. I live in the LA area as do many of the people in my contacts list.

I can only imagine how precious those puppies must be...it shouldn't be too hard to find them homes if enough people know about them.

Side note: As always, I continue to thoroughly enjoy your blog and I thank you for the laughter!! :D


10:03 PM  

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