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Composing Music at a Noisy Fast-Food Outlet

From time to time I fantasize dropping my over-priced wireless internet plan. It is the sort of fantasy that soon melts under the heat of rational scrutiny. Why, all one has to do is consider the cost-shifting from "expensive" internet in my trailer to more expensive driving-to and snacking-in the places that offer "free" wi-fi internet.

Here I am, in a fast food outlet, sucking down senior coffee and "free" wi-fi. I probably shouldn't complain: there is no raucous pop music blaring out of speakers over my head, nor is there the increasingly-common giant television playing some news channel.

But there is another source of noise pollution. There always is, in a city. A couple tables away, a man helps a woman fill out some routine application. He has been talking non-stop for a half hour now. How I am starting to hate the sound of his voice!

What is it about him that makes me want to go over there and strangle him? Besides being non-stop, his voice is effeminate, but there must be more to it than that. Maybe it is the self-importance he projects. He acts like sticking her birthday in this box, and her street address in that box, are great missions.

What do you think his official job title is? Something or other "manager"? Maybe it is "XYZ Account Executive". Did he actually go to college to qualify for this intelligent, Information Age, white-collar work?

There must be something deeper that I resent. He seems to positively glow in his petty task. Maybe I envy him, and that is the source of the anger that is welling up in me. Recall the old story from classical days: 'Is it better to be a discontented Socrates or a contented pig? The answer was, Socrates, because he understood both sides of the issue.'

Contrast this college-boy's job with that of a "mere" blue-collar mechanic that I have stumbled onto lately. The mechanic owns and runs the business with his wife. He is the only mechanic in town, but he charges less than other mechanics in the small city where I am right now. What skill and knowledge he must have to fix so many different cars  made over the last 30 years! And how crucial his work is -- most people's lives simply stop when their car does.

But back to the paper-pusher, who is still talking, by the way. Just before I ran out of the fast food outlet screaming, I popped on some noise-reducing headphones and played some music that I hadn't listened to for awhile. I had been worried that I was tiring of it. But not today.

What instant relief! I enjoyed the music like I was hearing it for the first time. And yet, the paper-pusher's voice did come through, despite the music. At first I was disappointed that my inexpensive noise-cancelling headphone had such mediocre performance on the human voice.

But in fact, it was an advantage. It was like his obnoxious voice had become a member in a small musical ensemble. The ugliness of his noise pollution made the solo piano "background" music seem as powerful as an aria sung by the dying soprano just before the curtain comes down on a Puccini opera. It probably helped that I typed away on a keyboard while all this was happening.

People without musical talent might sometimes fantasize coming back in their next life as a great pianist like George Winston, or as a composer of movie music, like Gabriel Yared or Jan Kaczmarek. If the fantasy stops there, it is sterile. 

But if we imagine that appreciating music is also a valuable talent, and that it is more than a passive act of reception and consumption, then we can choose to listen to the right music at the right time, after certain activities, and overlay it with acoustical competition -- even an ugly one. It becomes our unique "composition" and give us more pleasure than any of its component parts.


A welcome change up. I'm floored, you almost skirted the outermost perimeter of philosophical introspection.Is it going to be a waste of my time hope for more about the soft underbelly of the Great Thinker's inner workings? Or, did I completely miss the point again…
Box Canyon
Anonymous said…
well, its always nice to read a post from someone who may be more of curmudgeon than I am. (----a tip to a fellow pop music/muzak hater, Target has no music in their stores-----)

I would say, you just need a better place to mooch wi-fi. How about parking your rig outside the public library, getting comfortable in the back, and mooch in stealth mode? No need to go in, and these kind folks usually leave their un-password protected wi-fi on 24/7.

In fact, you could probably do this in fast food parking/big box store lots as well.

Feel you need to buy something (I don’t), well, get that senior coffee in a to-go cup.

Why would you have any interest in introspection and self-absorption by a blogger? It's true the blogger is the one who is experiencing/observing something. But that is just an introduction to begin discussing broader principles and the human condition in general.
Unknown said…
"a great pianist like George Winston..."

You seriously gotta expand your horizons, Boonster.
Good comment, alfred, but you do (?) know that we have a Social Contract on this blog not to discuss 'stealth mode'. (Grin)
Well I love his music, and don't really know who composes it. Anyway, his name was easier to spell than Jean-Luc Thibadeaux.
XXXXX said…
Are you saying that you are like a discontented Socrates because you understood both sides of the issue regarding the man in the coffee shop?
If your quote is correct, then it's wrong. I would say Socrates was quite contented BECAUSE he understood both sides of an issue, or rather multiple sides of an issue, to the point that he would argue that you don't know what you think you know in the first place.
As human beings, we all seem to be cursed with animosities that seem to come out of nowhere. They are hard to explain. In a situation like this when you have no personal relationship whatsoever with the person who is the target of the animosity, you can be sure it isn't them that is the problem.
Animosity? I prefer the word, aversion. Nothing precludes me from wanting to strangle the fellow one minute, and laughing or smiling at him the next minute.

But it was his strangle-ability that caused me to enjoy the music so much. Intensifying pleasure after a good set-up of "pain" is one of my standard stump speeches on the blog.

My goodness, George, now you've got me worried. Surely you don't envision the world as being glazed over with soft sugary goo of uniform depth and of uniform color? I think tabasco sauce makes the world more interesting than sugar does.
Ed said…
I doubt that this quote will change the argument but since I found it I thought I would include it in the Comments.There are a multitude of variations on Mill's original writing.
"It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question." - John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (1863)

I'm not much of a deep thinker but I have to agree with "I think tabasco sauce makes the world more interesting than sugar does". I have not had any sugar in my home for many years but I do have over 2 pounds of powdered cayenne to make my own hot sauce. I wonder what Socrates or Mill would think of that?
XXXXX said…
I would guess that the dissatisfaction attributed to Socrates was his dissatisfaction with the beliefs expressed by others, which he experiences as being set or one-sided, if you will, which he then questioned in a logical sequence until it became apparent that the person was now in disagreement with their own original stated belief.
Of course, one can never know for sure, but I think a person like Socrates, within himself, was a very satisfied person, satisfied with his own development and growth and knowledge of the world and human nature. Going back to Mill's statement, I would agree that the fool and the pig's problem is their single-sidedness which surely leads to great dissatisfaction. Simply accepting human nature for what it is can be very comforting and satisfying. One no longer gauges things according to "sweet" or "tabasco."
Edd said…
That WI-FI wasn't exactly free; it did exact it's price. You see similar situations all the time inside of Starbucks. People doing interviews, having meetings and hijacking tables for hours. Annoying and selfish.
But first I would have to go IN to a Starbucks! Something I only do a couple times per year. I hate their coffee.