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— Dear Caltrans People,

Last year during the month of October I called you. I spoke with your well-chosen complaint representative. Don't get me wrong, he was truly empathetic. When I discussed the efficacy of thicker windows, he pointed out to me that the idea of windows was to open them when it was hot. We had a long conversation about the noise level, and I remember he told me that even if I were to establish that the noise level was higher than the legal decibel level, that there was no money to do anything about it. He said I would have to obtain my evidence and then begin the interminable process for some kind of sound barrier at the Chula Vista City Council. Quite frankly, I began to believe he was only hired to placate me. He said he would put my backyard on the waiting list for a noise study. One year has passed, yet no one has contacted me; I begin to believe your agency is insincere, or the representative was an alien, or that the government wants everyone to go deaf and dumb.

Sincerely,

Pissed Off.

Then you wipe the slate of your mind clean again because you don't really believe in Caltrans or the efficacy of government planning. You believe in the calisthenics of complaint and the silver lining of microbial mitigation.

There is one last thing to do. Count backward from 199. This has worked before. It's 5:26 but you know if you fall asleep for even a half an hour you will have the illusion of rest. 199. 198, 187, 186, 170. Maybe a little loss of hearing wouldn't be so bad? Just yesterday the newspaper reported that more and more people are reporting damage to their ears from noise, but the good news was that hearing aids have improved. It makes you worry about the tiny creatures. Birds and such. How can their little pinhole ears sustain, survive this noise? You remember reading somewhere that condors abandon their nests if there is too much noise. And the owls you used to hear in the canyon, are they still there? How can they, with their delicately calibrated hearing, find their mate, their fledglings, the field mouse scurrying under the dry grass?

Honk honk. A car on the freeway is moving too slowly. The satchel of ungraded papers weighs as heavily on your mind as it did on your arm when you toted it home. Maybe you should get up and grade. But how can you when you know that in just a little while you will be careening desperately through the lights and cars, joining your brothers and sisters on the road to work. Anxiety feeds anxiety. The cars you hear on the freeway hurling themselves toward their jobs are real and symbolic -- are rushing you to work even as you lie in your bed. A ray of hope, the count is becoming confused, your mind is numbing, 147, 151, 119. You are beginning to drift. No use, no use, your undertoad cries, get up and face the day. If you throw in the pillow now you will want to do mean things in the morning. Want to kick the cat, shake the baby. Fortunately the cat is dead of old age and is transmogrified into purple blossoms in the backyard, and your baby is 30, and she would be most resistant to a shaking.

Better to list all the things you hate.

1. The Suzanne Sommers diet that dares to suggest you give up pasta. (O yes, o yes you can eat all the whole-wheat pasta you want.)

2. The weatherman who said, in a most jovial fashion, that Thursday the high pressure will break down allowing the cooler air to enter San Diego, but by Friday expect the pressure to build again, another Santa Ana by the weekend and isn't San Diego grrreat??? Grrr. Five damn smiley-faced sunshine days. For you the symbol says smog, scratchy throat, dry nose, boogers, and NOISE.

3. The guy in seventh grade who said you would make a better guy. (You never forget.)

4. The preponderance of realtors, developers, and lawyers on the Chula Vista City Council.

5. The undeveloped valley behind you that funnels the noise should be forested, but every City Council proposal involves more cars, more lights, more noise. (Even the San Diego Union-Tribune calls Chula Vista development crazy.) You begin to think anarchistically, maliciously. Why should you abide by city ordinances that prohibit you from owning a rooster, a peacock for that matter, when the sound of the freeway exceeds the sound of the rooster to the 100th power?

You try to imagine yourself in that little arcadian town north of San Francisco that you dream of retiring to. The one where the fog threads the spires of the redwoods and sound only comes in sibilants or as a susurrus. A soothingly small, safe city. A place where your feet can carry you easier than your car. Your mind taunts you, says you will never make it there. You remember the segment on KPBS you listened to this morning while driving to work. A woman who was battling breast cancer was talking about the relationship between stress and illness. A disproportionate number of friends and neighbors around you are succumbing to diseases, death. Starting at the feet, you tell your body to relax piece by piece. Then the first bird cracks its call over the sound of the freeway and you curse its mother's mother, and, my God, the Santa Anas will keep coming right on through February. You try to persuade yourself that there will be a direct relationship between the amount of French roast in your cup and the amount of energy in your body.

You get up, but not without a fond backward glance at your pillow. Good-bye, love, when will we meet again?

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