Like the proverbial train wreck, it was simultaneously horrifying and fascinating. I could not stop listening. No, not the latest Miley Cyrus album. Worse.
Twice now I've found myself tossing my work aside to stop and take notes in a public place, trying to describe an auditory experience so bizarre I knew I had to write about it, even though it is as uneventful and commonplace as a bird flying or dog barking. It's gotten under my skin. I doubt my meager powers of description are up to the task.
Only an outsider, detached, uninvolved, could accurately describe it. If you've ever lived in an apartment with paper-thin walls and accidentally overheard your neighbors having sex, you know what I mean. At first you're like, "What the hell is--OH. Oh. And--ew. I really didn't need to hear that." Funny how when you're not involved in the act yourself it sounds so--ick.
You know what I mean? If I had not known what I was hearing, I wouldn't have known what I was hearing. If I had not had the context of my surroundings and my eyes to reassure me, I would not have known where I was, or what, exactly, I was hearing. I might even have called the police.
I was on my lunch break, trying to get some freelance work done outside the office. It is hard to transcribe sounds but here it goes.
BEDLAM. Bedlam like the famous lunatic asylum. The sounds were not human. The high-pitched howl of a werewolf, ululating, ooooohing and woooo--wwoooo---wooooing, wailing in a singsong howl that could have come from a dog. Then a guttural shriek--it sounds like an oxymoron, to but that's what it was, simultaneously deep-voiced and screechy, like an animal with its leg caught in a trap. Another long low moaning, like an adult in the throes of passion. There was screaming, howling, and deep, gurgling, gulping sobs, all at once, simultaneously, like dogs howling at the moon in unison.
One sound is a multisyllabic, operatic, drawn out yowl, hitting high and low notes, almost a yodel, only not bright and cheery like a Ricola commercial, more like an extended cry of physical agony or spiritual crisis. It goes on and on and on. It's the kind of cry you might hear from a woman in childbirth, or a man dragged off a bloody battlefield, having his arm amputated without anesthesia, or a parent who has just lost a child.
One sound recalled old-fashioned dubbed-from-Japanese Godzilla movies, a kind of deep, throat-tearing roar that makes my throat sore just to think of it: "Raaaah! Raaaah! Raaaaaaagughhggh!" Try clearing your throat of phlegm at the same time you shout for help at the same time you are being beaten with a leather strap--if you can imagine that sound, it might be close to what I heard.
Underneath it all was a quiet, serious moaning. I envisioned the worst: a rape victim, or the survivor of a landslide or hurricane that has claimed her whole family. She sits alone, frightened, in pain, huddled in a ball, rocking herself back and forth, covering her head, moaning, whimpering, a sound of pure, pleading, desperate sorrow.
But not crying. In this atmosphere, crying is prosaic. Too ordinary. Too identifiable.
I'm not exaggerating. I'm being completely serious. I didn't even have PMS--there was no hormonally induced heightened sensitivity to smells, sounds, and random glances that would make me want to push someone off a curb into the path of an oncoming bus just for wearing too much cologne or having their Ipod volume turned up too high.
Occasionally, a sweet, giggly Muppet laugh broke through the lunatic choir. It is so charming it brings unexpected delight. And then the continuous low moaning overwhelms it, morphs into the uninhibited throaty groan of an old man on the toilet, "uhhhnnn," or perhaps a hysterical cackling, followed by psychotic, savage, guttural yawps of starving apes fighting over the last scrap of fruit.
One sound is close to the sound a dog makes if you try to touch it while it is chewing on an old bone, a savage, snapping snarl that lets you know it can and will bite if you don't back off.
Another reminds me of that sound a cat makes when it is hacking up a hairball and you feel the vomit rising in the back of your own throat in some kind of sympathetic reaction, and you try to swallow it, hold down the bile and turn away. Urp. Ulp. Ugh.
The cacophony is bone-chilling, fascinating, yet frightening. Because it doesn't sound human, but it is. It's the same hair-raising feeling as when when you walk alone in the dark and suddenly feel you're being watched, or hear a noise you wish was just a squirrel but know was a human footstep. Or a bear. Something large, in any case, and threatening. Something is not right here. The instinct to flee kicks in. But you know your best bet is to stay silent, and hope whatever is out there in the darkness, making that sinister sound, does not find you.
It's like passing a homeless person on the street who is clearly suffering a severe mental illness, moaning and squealing and uttering sounds no sane person would make unless in extreme pain, and for a moment, feeling survivor's guilt just for being mentally competent, you wonder if maybe they really are being literally tormented by demons, except demons don't exist.
You feel uneasy because they are human and yet making sounds that are clearly not: not logical, not communicative, not even musical, not even on the base level of an infant crying for food or attention. It's a noise made by a human, but it's not a human noise, in the sense that any other human could interpret or understand its purpose. I think of the young Helen Keller, blind and deaf and struggling to communicate, flailing, making sounds she can't even hear.
Twice now I have witnessed this and each time I found myself abandoning my work to take notes, trying to capture the experience of sitting off calmly and silently to one side while surrounded by this crazed, demented, animal, monstrous bedlam.
I'm speaking, of course, about the children's room at the library.
Lest you think I'm being overly dramatic, I want to say that I have three nieces, and I walk past playgrounds all the time. I live near a park, in a neighborhood with plenty of kids of all ages. I know about the ear-splitting, high-pitched shrieks, the squeals of joy, the random eruptions of enraged bellows. I am accustomed to the shouting, yelling, screaming, stomping, sobbing and laughing of little children, screeching as they run around maniacally. And the whining...oh yes, the whining.
Nothing prepared me for this. All of the tables in the downstairs adult reading room were filled with men reading magazines and women typing on laptops. So I went upstairs to the children's library, which has plenty of empty seats and tables. The stereotypical shushing librarians are nowhere to be seen--this is more of a public play room, with toys and building blocks and a Purell dispenser thoughtfully mounted by the door. The books and computers are one side of the the room, the play area for toddlers on the other.
It was quiet for a few minutes, and then they arrived. Like wild dogs, they travel in packs. I guess there is a preschool nearby that lets out around 2 or 3pm. The pack splits in two: moms on one side, hired caregivers on the other. The children are in the middle, sending up a sound the likes of which I have never heard before.
It feels wrong to keep comparing preschoolers to animals, but I can't help it: that is how they sounded: inhuman, freakish, eerie. I thought, if I had kids, I'd be one of those women, sitting there talking, acting like this is nothing unusual, instead of sitting there with ice water trickling down my spine as I tried to place these animalist yawps into some kind of context.
If you heard these sounds, and did not know you were sitting in a children's library, I swear, you would not know they were children.
If you had not seen the children, playing with toys, surrounded by watchful adults, you would have dialed 911. If I closed my eyes, I might have thought someone was being murdered. The little dark-haired girl making the Godzilla-like roaring and grunting--I would have thought a rutting bull moose had made its way upstairs and was knocking over bookshelves.
There is really no point to this blog post. I just had to share. Because these two- and three-year-olds FREAK ME OUT. It's like Lord of the Flies on a daily basis over there, except at least the kids in the book were older and could speak in a recognizable language. Listening to these kids--and from where I sit, I can't really see them, the room is divided by a large partitioned cubicle-type work area where the librarians sit--makes you wonder what the hell it is to be human, and how we get there, and if life begins at conception, well, when does humanity begin? When does civilization begin? We know when life begins, but when do we become people?
A visit to the children's library might very well be the cure for creationist thinking. You could not possibly doubt we evolved from monkeys after hearing these kids. Even the monkey house at the zoo makes more sense. Pass the Ritalin.