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> The New Sound

  Epilogue
  The Real Epilogue

The New Sound

As a person with super hearing living in an apartment complex with a bunch of college students, I have more than my share of stories about noisy neighbors. Here's one from the start of 2014, reconstructed with the help of my journal.

Around Jan. 10 I started hearing a stupid humming noise in my bedroom. I guessed that one of my neighbors had gotten a new humidifier, but I couldn't tell which neighbor it was, so I just waited and hoped ve'd get tired of the noise.

The noise, and the annoyance I felt at having to listen to it, made it hard for me to get to sleep. By Jan. 13 I was starting to feel sleep-deprived.

Around Jan. 14 I gave the sound a name: El Nuevo Sonido. (That's a real thing, by the way. I heard the name one time on Sabado Gigante while I was channel surfing in a hotel.)

By Jan. 15 the constant noise was making my ears ring. I threw all the circuit breakers to make sure it wasn't coming from anywhere in my apartment. That night I gave up and went to sleep on the floor in the living room.

I slept pretty well that night, but the night after that I slept poorly because I was on the floor. Also, the living room is adjacent to the bedroom, and I could still just barely hear the sound.

So, the next night (Jan. 17), desperate to get a good night's sleep, I gave up again and drove across town to the guest room at my parents' house.

That was the first week.

I didn't mention it in my journal, but I'm pretty sure that during the week I went around and knocked on my neighbors' doors, trying to track down the source of the noise. However, nobody was home. That wasn't completely surprising, since the university was on winter break, but it was still frustrating.

Also, strange but true, having to go out and knock on doors tends to make me angry. I guess that's due to some kind of backward association. In the normal case, I'll be woken up in the middle of the night by a loud party, I'll be angry, and then I'll have to go out and knock on someone's door. (I say “normal”, but it's not really that common. I get maybe one noisy neighbor every few years.)

On top of all that, being driven out of my bed and out of my home made me furious.

But I digress … the real point I wanted to make is that I wasn't just sitting around doing nothing. In fact, on Jan. 17 I wrote a nice note, made some photocopies of it, and left one on each of my neighbors' doors. That got the information to my neighbors, allowed me to stop knocking on doors, and, as an excellent side effect, allowed me to watch the notes to see who was in town.

Unfortunately, when I woke up at my parents' house on the morning of the 18th, I found my ears were still ringing from exposure to the sound. Perhaps I should have stayed there and waited for the ringing to stop, but I really didn't like the feeling of being driven out of my home, so I headed back.

I didn't record the next week in as much detail, but I think it was a mix of trying to sleep in my bed and then actually sleeping on the floor in the living room. There were two interesting developments, though.

One, I heard back from one of my neighbors. That was nice, but he and his roommate hadn't installed any new equipment and hadn't heard any new noises, so it didn't really lead anywhere.

Two, on Jan. 20 I had the bright idea to contact the property manager. On Jan. 21 I got in touch with him, and on Jan. 22 he and the maintenance guy came over to investigate. They could just barely hear the noise. That was important to me because it proved I wasn't simply losing my mind, but they didn't have any useful advice, so it didn't really lead anywhere either.

In the end, on Jan. 24 I gave up again and went back to my parents' house.

That was the second week.

Unfortunately, when I woke up on the morning of the 25th, the ringing in my ears was even worse.

It was at about that point that I started considering alternate hypotheses. The noise itself wasn't loud, but maybe it had a loud ultrasonic component that was making my ears ring? Or maybe it was something like the Taos hum … maybe the city had installed a new turbine at the power plant, and it was blanketing the city with near-ultrasonic noise that most people couldn't hear and that I could only hear in quiet rooms like my bedroom?

To investigate, I went to different places and listened. I walked around the neighborhood, from the power substation next door to out in the woods half a mile from anything. I sat in my car with the windows closed, then drove to the next town over and got some lunch. My ears rang in the same way everywhere, and that seemed to rule out the Taos hum scenario.

And, sure enough, when I went back to my apartment and listened, my ears seemed to clench up and the quality of the sound seemed to be a bit different, as if a loud high-frequency noise had been added to the mix. It was really hard to tell because of all the ringing, though.

The next plan I came up with was to convince my neighbors to throw their circuit breakers. From watching the notes, I knew that only two of the five were in town. On that same day, Jan. 25, I found one of them at home, and he kindly agreed to try the experiment. The sound didn't go away, but I was still so happy to have any kind of tangible progress: 20% of the possible sources checked!

On Jan. 27 I found the other neighbor at home, and he also kindly agreed to try the experiment. The sound didn't go away, but it was still progress: 40% checked!

But what was I going to do about the other 60%? Somehow it occurred to me to ask the property manager and the maintenance guy if they could go into the empty apartments and throw the circuit breakers. They weren't allowed to do that, but they thought it would be OK to cut the power briefly from the outside, just as if there had been a power outage. So, at 2:45 PM on Jan. 27, they did that … and the sound stopped!

And then, by some miracle, it didn't come back when they switched the power back on! Please stop here for a moment and try to imagine the relief I felt after two and a half weeks of constant noise.

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@ December (2016)