Oh what fresh hell is this?
Those were Dorothy Parker’s words, and who knows to what original hell she referred? Her wry brand of anguish has entered the lexicon of familiar quotations; we can invoke it for any horror, from a splash of red wine on a white shirt to a six-car pileup on the San Bernardino Freeway.
I wrenched this cry from my psyche recently when I surrendered my bedroom to my newly-arrived mom, and tried to bed down myself on a living room sofa. In my nice apartment, four windows face Victorian cottages and gardens, one of the windows angled over Circuit avenue like a command booth for a daily parade, which it in fact happens to be. The room is endowed with a mansard roof line carved from a building that was once the Cottage City Library, built in 1895.
On the night in question, all windows stood open to the balmy night air. A ceiling fan spun to circulate the breeze.
Good night, Martha’s Vineyard!
I must have slept for two or three minutes between the thousand interruptions. Until two o’clock in the morning, night-crawlers carried on conversations as if projecting to an audience at the Globe — the original Globe.
“Freddie! Did you see that rotty? He found a pink ice cream glob outside Ben and Bill’s!”
“Look at this tweet!”
“Let’s go to Schmoopy’s!”
“Schmoopy’s at Schmelby’s!”
“Let’s go to Schmoopy’s anyway!”
“Cecil wants to know how to find us!”
“Don’t tell him! Turn that thing off!”
“I never turn it off!”
“Where are the hot chicks tonight? We got a hookup app?”
“Who cares about chicks?! We want hot dudes!”
“No, you’re not! Show of hands! Who thinks Louis is hot? You’re not hot, dude!”
This stirring chatter was intermixed with the caterwauls of amplified iPod tunes which, from a two-story height, sounded something like chunka baby chunka gloppa baby chunka wobba wobba . . .
But by far the worst disturbance of the peace was the bone-rattling vroom of motorcyclists who have, all over the Island, removed all modifying gear laid over exhaust pipes to let their machines explode in Fresh Hell Making.
Why do these bikers produce these diabolical noises?! Can Sigmund Freud explain it? Were they punished as children? Do they fear that in person, away from their rowdy wheels, they make too mild an impression? And why do they all think they can come here to act out?
The sound rips through the would-be sleeping bystander’s nervous system, thrumming up your spine, frazzling off your nerve-endings like sparklers on the Fourth of July.
The biker psychodrama ensued until three o’clock in the morning. I enjoyed at least two hours of restless, fevered sleep before the five and six a.m. trucks began to thunder up and down our roads, not only the main road, but all the roads, north, south, east and west, picking up trash, delivering bricks, running heavy-duty errands for Satan himself. Fresh Hell indeed.
Do more trucks ply Vineyard roads nowadays? Are they heavier? Do they need new diesel stacks? Has their aerodynamic drag picked up extra gravitas over the years?
Our own local noise pollution is worse than the continuous decibel volume in cities, and I’ll tell you why: Between the iPods and the diesel stacks and the Harley brain-bashers, we otherwise positively imbibe the silence. We can hear the birds — great big ornithological rackets of them. In the dead of the night, the foghorn off the West Chop light tolls, lulling our sleepy heads onto pillows.
I don’t know what to do about drunken fools who yak their heads off beneath our windows. But I do think it would be easy to control the noise from bikers if we put our hearts and minds to it. How hard would it be to require our Steamship guys — those poor, overworked fellows — to check each motorcycle rolling onto the ferry, to make sure that a good old-fashioned muffler rests over the exhaust valve? That’s all.
And if a motorcyclist is caught on-Island without a muffler, some awful example needs to be set. I won’t suggest a penalty for fear of revealing my own anti-social or sociopathic tendencies.
And as for the trucks, could we simply make a start and figure out why they’re such an insult to the senses, not only in the summer? Could we somehow get them to shut the heck up? Just a little bit?
My mother and I have made our own accommodations to the racket. I’ve constructed a little bivouac for myself with pillows and comforters, behind my office nook adjoining the bedroom.
My mom leaves her hearing aids undisturbed in their case. She tells me she can watch trucks sail by under the windows, graceful and soundless as those famous Fantasia hippos in pink tutus — a total delight.
Gazette contributor Holly Nadler lives in Oak Bluffs.