The Mountain Times

°F Thu, April 17, 2014

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Sounds of silence

I work out at my local YMCA. At my rapidly advancing boomer age, I am all about extending my shelf life. Exercise is an important part of the routine, though I often have to give myself a motivational speech to actually do it.

But once the automatic doors part and I enter the gym, my whole attitude gets more upbeat. I quickly fall into the rhythm of moving, pumping, walking, breathing and sweating - lots of sweating.

Part of my routine includes a power walk on the indoor track. As I count down the completed ovals, I naturally make note of my fellow health enthusiasts and am amazed at the percentage whose ears are plugged with buds. It must be 75 to 80 percent at a minimum. They walk, jog or run their laps oblivious to the sounds around them, caught up in their own cocoon of endorphins.

I, on the other hand, prefer to get lost in the cacophony of the building. The indoor track is on the second floor and overlooks four basketball courts which are perpetually in use with men's pickup games, teen leagues and organized children's groups. The sounds from the four courts blend into a stew of squeeking sneakers, feet pounding on wooden floorboards and the cheers that follow a successful basket shot.

On the track itself, I hear my own heart thumping as I push to walk a little faster while adding arm pumps. And then I will hear the sound of a runner approaching to my left, loud foot falls and a signature swoosh as they pass me. It's quite motivational.

When we were kids, music was not portable. Our music was a symphony of the sounds of everyday life. We didn't plug in and tune out, we embraced it.

We spent a lot of time outdoors. There were no computers or video games drawing us indoors. Television was a luxury and there was only one, so the entire family watched together. After dinner, most families sat outside, especially during the milder months.

Our parents would sit on the stoop talking with the neighbors. All the kids on the block would be in the street. In the background, you could hear crickets and tree frogs. If a car came down the street, there was no loud music blasting from its windows. If we were riding our bikes, you might hear the sound of a folded playing card flapping against the wheel spokes, held in place with a clip-on clothespin. My mother never used the clip-ons, so I always had to beg one from a friend.  Of course I tried using a regular clothespin but learned quickly that it stayed in place for all of five seconds.

When it got late and we went inside, you could still hear the sounds from the other houses on the block. No one had air conditioning and everyone felt safe leaving their front doors wide open even into the late hours. The sounds from each house wafted through the screen doors. Usually every television in the neighborhood was tuned to the same channel because everyone watched the same shows from Bonanza to Lawrence Welk to the Tonight Show with Jack Paar hosting.

Going to school brought its own set of sounds. I see children boarding school buses today, ear buds in place. There's no way I would have wanted to miss the conversations that went on during the ride to school. It's where you heard all the latest gossip including who was "going steady," who got grounded and who bought a new album over the weekend. It was also the time to compare homework notes and quiz each other for upcoming tests.

There was no possibility of listening to music at school unless you were in music class. In Catholic grammar school, you didn't even hear other students talking unless they were called on to answer a question. If the class started getting noisy, we were instructed to put our fingers on our lips. How silly we all looked, index finger poised against our lips, fumbling to open books or write notes with one hand.

After school was a different story. My girlfriends and I ran home from the bus stop, peeled off our woolen plaid jumpers and changed into pedal pushers and Keds.

I would run an extension cord out the front door and plug in my Victrola. The 33 1/3 rpm vinyls of the Dave Clark Five, Freddy and the Dreamers, Gerry and the Pacemakers or Herman's Hermits spun on the turntable while we danced and sang along at the top of our lungs.

I don't understand today's trend of blocking out the world and creating our own little orchestral islands. People become immersed in their own thoughts and sounds, not even making eye contact with other human beings as they go about their day. Maybe I'm just an old busy body, but I want to hear, and see, and be completely aware of my surroundings.

Call me old-fashioned (just don't call me old), but if a bird chirps, thunder claps, leaves rustle, ocean waves break or, best of all, children laugh - I want to hear it. Simon and Garfunkel crooned the beauties of the sounds of silence, but I relate more to Aerosmith's lyrics, "cause I don't want to miss a thing."

Cindy Phillips is a columnist for The Mountain Times. She can be reached directly at cphillipsauthor@yahoo.com.