New York Sounds

When it rained at home in California I purposefully kept the windows open because I liked the sound. There was no risk of rainwater coming in and soaking the carpet because there was an awning over all the edges of the house. In our straight-laced suburban neighborhood, the rain seemed to fall in straight lines save for when it hit the surface of our pool; then it seemed to bounce back up like a playful goldfish before falling back down to become part of something greater.

In New York this is not so. New York rain falls at a purposeful slant, the same way most people here walk: leaning forward, with something to do, someone to hit. I discovered one rainy afternoon about two weeks ago that to enjoy the romanticism of rain in New York, at least from my apartment, was to leave everything I’d placed near the window at risk of an unwanted shower. Had these items been hardy house plants placed atop a waterproof tarp (as my mother places alongside every window in our house, minus the tarp), this would be a nonissue. But rather than plants, I had near the window items that would fare poorly if rained upon.

In my genius I had the Comcast guy install the modem on the floor next to the window, thinking the slim black box would be more inconspicuous there, tucked behind the legs of my desk. Alongside it, I had placed a power-strip into which I plugged all of my essential electronics (lamp, computer, wireless router).

So the first rain came and it was very lovely and romantic and I felt for the first time since moving here that the breeze coming into my apartment was actually fresh. But as I stood a ways back from the window and admired the view, reveling in the fact that I was in and the rain was out, I noticed an odd sheen on the floor and holy-shit-everything-is-getting-wet and I couldn’t close the window fast enough.

It was very quiet in my apartment after that, except for the polite tap of rain two windowpanes away.

For a moment the modem seemed to blink listlessly, as though it were fading in a tragic electronic way, and I did the only thing I know how when attempting to rescue warm electronics that are either getting too hot or, in this case, wet: I blew on it.

The modem survived, along with the power strip which I wiped down with a towel though not without entertaining nightmarish thoughts of being electrocuted to death. It is likely my charred body would not be discovered until my parents called C, who has a spare set of keys but who lives in Jersey. And even so, she has trouble with the door. It was an awful, gruesome thought and I waited a while to dry the rest of the cords.

But I have heard, from the first day I set foot in New York, as one hears of an urban legend or local ghost story, of a character of New York weather even more fearful than the slanted rain. The winter and all its frosty accoutrements!

“Do you have a big coat? Boots? Gloves, scarves mittens, long johns?” People ask me, and I nod in wide-eyed fear except to the last item. Really? Long johns?

“Oh yes,” some of the skinnier girls nod, “Long johns are essential.”

But I don’t plan on spending too much time out of doors, and I do have a coat, purchased at Costco some winters ago before visiting the Great Wall of China. It’s puffy, with a fur-lined hood, and covers down to my shins. Naturally it makes me look like an eskimo and naturally everyone in New York will be wearing something similar. At least I hope so. What I will dread most about the winter, I think, is not so much the cold itself but what must accompany the cold: the silence of when I am alone at home. I was, even in the quiet suburbs of the Park, a person who liked the windows open. And on the sixth floor of my cousin’s house in Taipei, I was conditioned to wake up and fall asleep to the sounds of the street. My aunt firmly believed that air must constantly be circulated, no matter how cold, though it never got very cold in Taipei. At least not by East Coast winter standards. There were always at least four windows, one on each side of the house, even if just a crack, to keep the dialogue open between the inhabitants of the house and the happenings outside.But the day my modem was given a free shower, I noticed how very effective the windows were at blocking out the sounds of the street: the whoosh of car tires driving through wet asphalt, the blare of indignant horns, the laughter of children who live on and around my street, the jingle of keys followed by the unintended slamming of old apartment doors and the whisper of a New York breeze playing with the leaves of New York trees. And of course the harsh, intermittent whine of NYPD sirens, all were muted the moment the window closed.

I have within the past month become accustomed to these sounds, a cacophony at first but now a symphony. Together, they wake me up, especially the garbage truck that comes 7AM on Saturday mornings, a time undoubtedly scheduled by a petty, faceless imbecile who seeks revenge on Friday night revelers and put me to bed: these criminals running, cars chasing, dogs barking, homeless men foraging, people not-sleeping.

Come winter however, I will have to make a choice. Freeze to death but to the music of the city – or will it be quieter outdoors as well, since it will be too cold for most to venture out for long? – or stay warm and watch the snow fall in clichéd silence? The latter, certainly. I type better when the blood is not frozen in my veins. But I feel better, when I can hear the sounds of life outside.

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