Tag Archives: New York

Drop in. Tune out.

I forgot my headphones today and I think I’m going to die.

I’m not exaggerating.

See, I’ve been blocking the world out, very successfully, for the past 31 years, ever since I got my first Walkman at age 10. It was a Christmas present from friends of the family. I strapped on those foam-padded headphones, slapped in those two AAs and tuned the radio (AM only). I was lost to the beat of “The Little Drummer Boy” the rest of the day.

I grew up in New York. In the city that never sleeps, I had no problem doing so, the backdrop of sirens and airplanes and neighbors’ arguments weaving a blanket of white noise to which I regularly nodded off. In summers, when we decamped to the Catskills, I had a miserable time falling asleep. It was too quiet. I couldn’t focus. Native to a densely populated Queens neighborhood, I quickly learned how to navigate the noise. Just home in and tune it out.

This is me pretending not to see you because I can't actually hear you.

This is me pretending not to see you because I can’t actually hear you.


It’s not that I like noise, or thrive in chaotic environments. Very much the contrary. I loved when teachers would send me on errands, creeping through the deserted hallways and quiet stairwells to deliver memos. In between classes was panic-inducing, the crush of a 1,000 students all feeling freedom at once. Barely scraping five-foot-one, I was mostly unseen in the crowds, getting jostled and body-slammed regularly on my subway commute to high school.

My Walkman was the answer. It was on. All. The. Time. Walk to the train station? Not without my music. Running around the corner for gum? $1 and my headphones. All over campus, between swim meet heats, to and from my babysitting gigs – my Walkman went everywhere with me. The one time I was robbed, on the Q34, the kid snatched my Walkman and as he fled through the backdoor, headphones trailing after him, my only thought was: “Was he going to be as into the ‘Hair’ soundtrack as much as I am? No. What a waste of a Memorex High Bias II tape!”

I was so loyal to the classic cassette/radio design that I skipped the whole MP3 player phase and was still lugging around a mini boombox well into the aughts until the thing chewed a precious mixed tape from my fiance and I had to make the leap to an iProduct. But those earbuds aren’t designed to block out enough of my world. So I continue to sport the ear goggles, like I did in 1983.

Because NYC is a big space. And while I am used to having so much around me, tuning out, to music or a podcast, tucks me into a safe little bubble. There is nothing to react to, other than what I choose to listen to. I don’t hear the subway musicians, or the loud teenagers or sometimes my own co-workers. For the last 8 years, my job settings have been open floorplans. The only “privacy” anyone gets is by slipping on their headphones. It’s this century’s closed door in a time when office space is a premium.

Tuning out, specifically with headphones, is how I protect myself. So I’m not so vulnerable to everyone in my path who needs something at that very second. I covet my my time and space, which is incongruous to being a New Yorker.

So why don’t I just move? Get out of all all this crackling energy that overloads my senses and makes me want to hide? Because I like to know it’s there. That things are happening. That I am surrounded by life and progress and ambition and that even though it mostly overwhelms me, I could be a part of it if I wanted. It’s like watching a horror movie with your hands over your eyes – controlling how much of it you’ll let in.

Today, I must let all of it in. With no headphones, I am not just watching a movie with a soundtrack of my choice. I am actually a player in the scene. It’s loud. It’s distracting. I can’t gather my thoughts well. I don’t get that little moment of zen on my commute back home before I am greeted with two small children who will forget their inside voices as they talk over one another to get my attention.

It’s all a bit much. But I may be the only person on the planet who understands the reasoning behind Apple’s $3 billion Beats acquisition. They’re buying a lot of zen.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

So Sorry, Did a Missing Child Wake You Up? (my angry response to the angry response to the early morning Amber Alert)

At 3:51 yesterday morning, New Yorkers, who don’t mute their phones or shut them off before bed, were throttled from a deep slumber by a blaring alarm accompanying an Amber Alert.

A 7-month-old infant had been abducted from a foster care agency in Upper Manhattan, by his mother who had a history of mental illness and exhibited recent outbreaks of violence.

The Amber Alert, named after a child who was abducted and murdered in Texas in the 1990s, serves to “galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and the safe recovery of the child” (AmberAlert.gov).

The overall reaction from New Yorkers, as it appeared on my newsfeed, was annoyance. It seems that most folks don’t like getting woken up in the middle of the night.

I agree.

So I need to know – why were their phones not silenced while they slept?

Illustration credited to the New York Times

Illustration credited to the New York Times

The argument to which I’m responding is that waking us all up with that terribly grating sound was unnecessary. That FEMA could have waited until a more respectable hour (say, after 9am? Though I suppose that might be too early for those working night shifts) to alert residents of my city that an innocent child had gone missing and provide them with a description so they may aid in the rescue.

It was a literal wake-up call. Many people expressed their ignorance of what an Amber Alert even is. Now they know. They’re not happy about HOW they came to know, but how can they argue against a government-issued warning of a missing child and a plea to a city’s citizens to be aware of any clues that may lead to his safe return?

Perhaps our government agency is sorry they woke up so many people. In fact, as it has been argued to me, perhaps because someone was robbed of sleep, they may perform poorly at the wheel and cause injury to other children. I don’t disagree that such a tragedy could happen.

But it would be because that person left their phone on in the middle of the night. Not because an Amber Alert was pushed to it. A wrong number at that time might have possibly also awoken the sleeping person with its ring.

We can’t blame others for “bothering” us if we’re the ones leaving our speakers on. If you opt to keep the sound on your phone when you plan to be unconscious, that is not anyone else’s problem but your own.

Many didn’t realize they could even control the settings of government-issue warnings. Again, nobody’s fault but the smartphone’s owner. These are our devices. We’re responsible for knowing how to use them.

I will not explicitly lay out how to turn off your government alerts, but there are ways of finding out if you choose.

My point is NOT that I thought it was terrific this alert came when most people were not in a position to be receptive to it, or all that helpful, half-asleep. Especially since it was determined that the child was taken the afternoon prior, which begs the question – why did the alert even go OUT at that ungodly hour?

My argument is that better we get this message at any time and at any volume than not at all. Clearly the resources behind the Amber Alert chain of command are limited and we must accept an “all or nothing” approach. Meaning, we get the alert when it’s able to be sent out, regardless of how soon that occurs after it has been reported.

As a parent, I would take it. Tell me what you can, when you can. While we risk many people now turning their Amber Alert settings off on their phones, instead of just turning the sound off, I stand firmly in the camp that more good than harm will come from this.

I have no sympathy for people who need to be plugged in at all times, only to complain about getting this sort of news.

My iPhone was on that night, but muted. I was not awakened by any alarm, though the message did appear on my screen when I swiped it to “wake it up,” three hours after the alert was issued. This event has actually caused me to reconsider keeping the sound on at night. I think we would all sleep better if the world agreed to be more proactive, and less reactive, in keeping children safe.

The New York Times reports on this recent NYC case: “The police said [the woman who abducted her infant son] was found after the Amber Alert led to a tip to the department’s Crime Stoppers hot line.” The child was in good condition.

Did you get an Amber Alert wake-up call? How do you feel about its efficiency?


Filed under Uncategorized