27 November 2012

nipsey rustle.

You know how people have certain things that drive them crazy? And I'm not talking about stuff that just annoys them—because annoyance can be rationalized away if you want to make the effort. (Which I don't, if you're asking.) No, the certain things I'm talking about are almost biologically programmed irritants. Like when somebody runs their fingernails down a chalkboard. Why is it that this particular sound is not merely unpleasant, but nearly unbearable for a not-insignificant segment of the population? There has to be something to that, don't you think? I'm not trying to get quasi-mystical here, but just as there seems to be a very general (non-culturally specific) framework for ascertaining beauty,  there's probably an endemic aversion to ugliness—in every form, sound included.

Of course I'm not in love with fingernails on chalkboards, but it doesn't drive me batshit the way it does some people. My own personal 'thing' happens to be the sound corrugated cardboard rubbing against corrugated cardboard. Whenever I'm packing something up in a box to mail and—despite my best precautionary efforts—one edge of the box's flap happens to scrape against the flat side of another flap, my shivering soul is squirted out of the tip-top of my cranium... like ketchup out of a squeezable bottle. That's how serious it is. I don't actually believe in 'souls' in the spiritual sense, but if we metaphorically abstract the non-quantifiable portion of our being into a so-called inner self, then this inner self actually flees my body to escape from the sound. I can't even invent a precise analogy that would make anyone understand what that feeling feels like. All I can say is that my marrow shudders. I'm not exactly sure what that clause means on an entirely literal level, but instinctively I feel that it's apt.

But I didn't come here today to tell you about my corrugated cardboard issues. (I doubt that you'd have the time to explore them fully with me anyway.) I really wanted to talk about a new sound aversion that I've become aware of in the last—I don't know... year or so? Unlike the scraping cardboard, this sound is not only aural; it's also contextual—which I find odd. How can the context of a sound make it more repellent? (What kind of baroque psychology are we humans subject to anyway?) 

Let me explain. I'll be as brief as I can be. There's this woman in my office—no, this isn't Sandy, by the way—who (how do I put this delicately?)... rustles her sack. I'll call this sack rustler Maureen for the sake of convenience. Occasionally Maureen goes out to get her lunch at one of the several fast food restaurants in the area—Wendy's and McDonald's being the two most common—and she brings the food back to her desk to eat. Maybe you're one of those militant gourmands or self-righteous hippies who never eat fast food, so I'll tell you that most of these places toss the food, garbage-like, into a paper bag. It's a very dry, cheap, fibrous, recycled kind of paper. (I'm setting the stage here.) Well, when Maureen carries her sack past my office she grasps it at the very top and allows it to sway a little, in keeping with her leisurely gait. This generates a faint, intimate, sickening rustling sound that gives my psyche a seizure. 

I try to pinpoint what it is about this sound that sends me hurtling into another dimension, but I come up empty—especially since the same rustling in other contexts doesn't especially bother me. It's the looseness of the grasp, the slightness of the sway, and the subtlety of the rustle which together create an effect so galling that I want to run up and kick the sack out of her hands and then stomp on it until her food is pulverized. You think this is weird? I couldn't agree more. I'm actually perplexed myself. 

The word that keeps popping up in my mind in connection with the sack rustling sound is 'intimacy.' Its an exceedingly intimate sound, shared between a woman and her sandwich. It's almost as if there's a latent (and yet abhorrent) sexuality in the gentle crinkling of the recycled paper. It has nothing to do with Maureen herself because she's ignorant of her relationship with the sack. She doesn't interface with the sack sexually, but the objective reality of the noise graduates (or devolves) to a grotesque intimacy beyond the purview of her conscious will. 

It isn't just a noise. It's a noise existing, inextricably, in time and space. It accosts me like a gypsy beggar. I have to shake it off and run away and shower afterwards. I have to find that place inside where the rustling can't find me.


  1. i'm sort of blushy now even though i haven't been intimate with a paper bag since the day before yesterday. :P

    mine is nail clipping on the subway. it drives me crazy -- i don't normally have amazing hearing but it becomes almost preternatural when i'm on a subway car. i might be talking to a friend only to interrupt and say... OH GOD THERE IT IS!!!

    HURRAY! two blog posts! more more!
    (i like that this one is called nipsey russell. i feel such warm feeling for blog posts named after match game contestants. :)

    1. I am not generally bothered by nail clipping--except if someone happens to be clipping a thick, tough big toe nail. Yuck.

    2. yeah, mine is contextual too -- i don't normally care. i only become attuned to it when it's on public transportation, and i immediately start to panic that some stranger's gross nail clipping is going to fly at me (though this has never happened). it just iggs me out so much i can't even deal -- most of the time if i hear it, and i'm alone, i'll get off the subway car, and board a new one. i remember almost having a panic attack when a person one seat in front of me starting clipping on a bus. :)

    3. Oh, your fear of the clipping flying at you reminds me of my fear that when I use a staple remover the staple will fly off the remover and hit me in the eye because they frequently pop off the remover without warning.

      As a child I also had a fear that my eye would suddenly and without warning fall out of my head. (Don't ask.)

      Iggs? Canadian term? What are you talking aboot?

    4. Maureen, inappropriate contextual nail clipping sends me over the edge! Public transportation is the worst, but I've also experienced it in the workplace which then leads me to barreling down the halls looking for the culprit and admonishing them for this lewd act. Nail clipping of any kind belongs in one's own bathroom. Period.

      David, I think she might be slightly aware of her sack rustling and may even walk in that lazy gait to bring it out. It's like a girl purposely swinging her pony tail - I think she has some awareness. I could be wrong.

  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misophonia

    Certain eating sounds have often made me disproportionately angry.

    1. Oh, yeah. I used to work at a movie theater when I was a teenager, and I used to get angry about popcorn chomping and soda slurping—especially during the dog days of summer when someone came in and ordered a big drink and then, while still at the counter, took a long sip that sounded as though he were having an orgasm.

    2. Anything that sounds like fucking that doesn't come from fucking is wrong and should be punched in the face and thrown down the stairs. Repetitive soft, wet smacking sounds are the most intolerable. Bananas make me capable of violence.