Say Anything

It seemed not that long ago that a gaggle of smiling people was dancing deliriously in downtown Greensboro to music no one else could hear.

They were gathered under a tent at the National Folk Festival, and the sight of them was both bizarre ... and refreshing.

They were private dancers in a public place moving to a beat that only they could hear through wireless headphones.

The concept is called “silent disco.” And I long for it every time I’m reminded of how loud some of us insist on being in the company of others. Whether the rest of us like it or not.

So, as much as I tend to frown on people who are so glued to texting on their phones that they don’t watch where they’re going, the one saving grace is that it’s preferable to being forced to hear someone else’s cellphone conversation.

I don’t care about your real estate deal or what you’re having for dinner or what time your connecting flight arrives. Please shut up (bless your heart). Or at least tone it down.

It gets worse.

To the guys (almost exclusively men) who like to cruise your motorcycles on South Elm Street in downtown Greensboro on weekend nights, more power to you. Your machines are shiny and muscular. And if your idea of a good time is cruising in circles to be seen, go ahead, knock yourselves out.

But if you’re trying to impress someone by throttling your engine or playing your music so the whole world can hear, I’m not sure that even works for high school sophomores these days.

I won’t speak for the ladies, but somehow I can’t imagine them flocking after you in droves because of all the noise you’re making. I’ll bet they’re even less impressed when you rev your engines over and over.

(But, then again, what do I know? I don’t own a bike. Maybe beautiful women will throw themselves at a loud enough muffler.)

What I do know on solid authority is that no one wants to have to hear your engine and your tunes as they’re trying to enjoy a meal on a restaurant patio.

Yes, there are kids in cars who play rap music far too loudly with bass so deep that it rattles other vehicles. But at least they have youth as an excuse. What’s yours?

I had hoped that, as the Walkman came along, and then the iPod, we might be in for a long respite from these sonic assaults.

Now, just as you thought it was safe to stroll the sidewalks again, the boom box is back. Or at least a variation of it. Why?

Yes, John Cusack did romanticize the boom box for a split second in the 1989 movie “Say Anything.” Standing morosely in the shadows of the night he hoists one over his head, so Peter Gabriel can serenade the distant object of his heartbreak with “In Your Eyes.” (In real life, I’m pretty sure a neighbor would have called the cops.)

And, no, there’s nothing wrong with using them at parties.

But the idea of hauling one on your shoulder while walking a public street is, well, obnoxious. (One’s man’s poetry may be another’s pure torture.)

As I understand it, the biggest seller is a brand called the Bumpboxx, whose website touts its “deep bass and crisp sound,” “up to 1,000 watts of peak power” and Bluetooth technology.

Even more baffling is the trend of playing out-loud audio on small personal devices. Isn’t the object of personal devices supposed to be that they’re personal?

Then there are the young men in flowing red-and-white robes who preach on South Elm Street on Saturday nights, with a passion I admire. And a commitment that apparently is unwavering.

I’m not quite sure what they’re saying, but I will defend to the death their right to say it. I only wish they weren’t saying it so loudly. And I wish they wouldn’t call me a sinner when I pass.

“How do you know I’m a sinner?” I once shot back at one of them.

Because I was downtown on a Saturday night, he told me. Like him.

These are all relatively small fry in the greater scheme of noise pollution, which is deemed by scientists to be a serious threat to the health of humans and wildlife. But so is climate change, though some people definitely don’t want to hear that.

None of these old-guy-get-off-my-lawn annoyances are nearly as cosmic or existential. Yet each of these aggravations is completely unnecessary. And easily avoidable. It boils down to common courtesy. And common sense.

How loudly does a person have to yell to get a little quiet around here?

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