By Jim Hagarty
It was a lazy, hazy Sunday afternoon in the summer and I was sitting in a lawnchair out back of my little blue shack in the city, when a noise, not unlike that of a jackhammer, or a hurricane, pierced the air of serenity around me.
“What the …?” I gruffed, my face immediately contorting into the sourdough scowl that is pretty much a permanent fixture on it these days. A short stroll led me to the source of my latest woe. The hair-raising hubbub was emanating from my neighbour’s place. He was busy:
a. dynamiting his concrete front porch to bits;
b. chainsawing his winter supply of firewood for his old furnace;
c. revving up his new, private, supersonic jet airplane;
d. washing his truck.
If you guessed d., leave me your name and address and I’ll get a sympathy card right out to you. Because you obviously have had some experience with yet another one of modern technology’s great breakthroughs: the power washer.
This handy dandy device is a portable machine, driven by a gasoline engine, which transforms the pathetic trickle of water that normally emanates from your garden hose, into a torrent of moisture any self-appreciating firefighter would be happy to direct at the worst four-alarm blaze. For $200, you can blast away at the grime in your world and demonstrate, yet again, your dominion over nature. It is not by accident that the name of this new apparatus promises to deliver “power.”
Actually, the power washer is not new; industries of all types have been using it to accomplish their various ends for years. What has changed is the widespread marketing of it for home use. Isn’t this how we ended up with the leaf blower?
For a pittance, we can all now give the fickle finger to filth. Glossy TV ads show the amazingness of it all: with its use, concrete patios, wooden decks and metal autos become shinier than the glistening faces of the happy homeowners who smile into the camera and testify that their lives have been forever transformed by their new Blast Master 400, Series E. They powerwash everything now, from the bricks on their house, to their motorboat, to their lawn furniture, their trees, their three smudgy kids and their ornery old grandpa on Saturday night.
But this is precisely the problem. It’s the same old story: because we can, we do. North American men used to be notorious for spending Sunday afternoons with their nose and toes pointed towards their rec-room ceilings which mercifully muffled their deep snores from the rest of their family. This activity, quaint as it might seem now, was known as resting. Now, thanks to power washers, power “vacs”, leaf blowers, power lawn edgers, power sanders and portable air compressors, we’re outside cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning as if we expect some community drill sergeant to line up all homeowners at the end of each weekend for a spit-and-polish municipal inspection. We return to “work” on Mondays in states of total exhaustion.
Bring back the “power” nap, I say.
One by one, our cherished stereotypes of summer in the city are falling by the way. When I moved into my home 30 years ago, I’d often head to the curb to buy an ice-cream bar from the pre-teenager who pedalled a small, white wagon down the street, ringing a little bell to let everyone know of his approach. Neighbours would cut their lawns on Saturdays, never on Sundays, and quietly wash their cars in their driveways the traditional ways, soap suds dribbling from sponges and water trickling from limp, green rubber hoses. There was something so suburbanly nice about it all.
Now, everything is about power, whether its power for our cars, our stereos, our computers, or our garden hoses. The ice-cream pedaller boy is long gone for good and so, apparently, is any hope of peace and quiet on a Sunday afternoon in the summer.
There is a new home computer available that is being marketed as making practically no sound when it is running and, in truth, it’s a pretty quiet little outfit. In comparison to my 22-year-old rig, which rumbles like a backhoe in need of an engine overhaul, this machine would not be a distraction during prayer time at a Trappist monastery.
However, so accustomed am I now to absorbing the ever-loudening pollution of the air waves around me, that I don’t really notice the ridiculous racket until I shut my machine off for the day. Then, I simply marvel that my brain is still able to function after listening to this incessant whirring all day long.
If I were manufacturing consumer goods for the 21st century, I think I’d be looking into ways to make everything quieter, not louder. Because once we’ve gotten a little further down the path to safe streets, safe water, safe air and safe sex, we are going to start demanding safe sound waves. Noise pollution is the next great frontier. Medical authorities already claim it’s causing accidents, physical and mental-health problems, suicides and in one celebrated case where a man went berserk on the fellow upstairs in his apartment building, murder.
A couple of years ago, another neighbour of mine, intent on enjoying his Saturday afternoon, brought a massive stereo speaker outside, plunked it on his back porch, and let ’er rip for seven straight hours. Shortly after the start of this free rock concert, the phone rang inside my house, and I had trouble hearing the caller’s voice, even after I closed my kitchen window.
A theme is developing here, the astute reader is saying by now. Seven hours he put up with this? Why doesn’t he just tell his neighbour to pipe down?
For the answer to this puzzle, see “murder”, two paragraphs up. Whether his or mine, it’s hard to predict.
I might just buy my own Blast Master 400, Series E, climb the fence and let him have it.