April may be the cruelest month, but May is the noisiest. This is when suburban homeowners take their cue to bring out their wretched machines.

I say “home owners,” but what I really mean is “men.” Do you see many women wielding these machines? No, and here’s why. Men have problems. Tom and Ray, the car guys you hear on public radio, have identified a condition that they call “Male Answer Syndrome.” This is a hormonal imbalance that prevents men from ever saying “I don’t know,” and forces them to give an answer, even a wrong answer, to any question whatsoever. I believe that there is a similar and related disease, which I’ll call “Male Engine Syndrome” – the male’s inability to tackle even the simplest job without starting up some kind of very noisy engine.

The small, air cooled two-cycle gas engine is extraordinarily efficient. It produces more racket and pollution for the buck than any other device – although for a really excruciating pitch, the high-speed electric motor runs it a close second.

If it is true, as H.G.Wells wrote, that our machines have made us into Gods, we are unnecessarily noisy gods, like some of the more rambuctious Roman deities. Any man, however modest his condition, can make his mark on the neighborhood with a chainsaw: like Jupiter or Vulcan, he can be heard.

As spring turns into summer, the suburban power tool symphony inexorably increases in volume. Mowers are joined by leaf blowers and weed whackers, tillers and shredders. Reluctant husbands start on all the home repairs that they had avoided all winter. Out come the electric saws, the chain saws, the drills, the sanders, the paint sprayers, and the power washers. They may hate the work, but they love the noise it makes.

In part, of course, this is pure laziness; or to put it in a more positive light, it’s a man’s natural desire to avoid bodily wear and tear and premature ageing. I have seen men bring out an electric circular saw to cut a piece of wood 2″ by 1″, that could be cut by a small child with a handsaw in ten seconds. Clearly, such men are serious about conserving their physical energy. They have power windows on their cars, automatic garage door openers, and electric toothbrushes. No exertion is too trivial to be avoided.

Husbands who have to go out to work, and so leave their patch of suburbia unnaturally silent, can call in a lawn service. They have even noisier machines, mowers big enough to harvest the prairies, and super hurricane-power three-hundred decibel weed whackers. On a fine day, several lawn services will converge on our neighborhood and run all their machines together, like a chorus from some mechanical hell.

When the local kids get home from a hard day at school, at about noon, they drag their industrial-strength amplifiers outdoors and play vile music at full volume until their parents, conscious of their social obligations, arrive home and yell at them full volume for ten minutes, before pulling the plug and putting on their own vile music at full volume.

If there are any moments of near-silence, we can listen to the bulldozers tearing into the nearby woods to create yet another development of “Woodland Estates.” Somebody within a couple of blocks is invariably having oil delivered, a cesspool pumped, trees trimmed, a driveway resurfaced, or a roof replaced. The concert never stops.

If we walk down to the beach for a bit of peace and quiet, we see not footprints in the sand but tire tracks. This is a visible warning that teenagers with All-TerrainVehicles are enjoying the beauties of nature in their own way, although we can usually hear them coming for half a mile. Looking out to sea, we can enjoy a roaring vista of powerboats and jet skis.

The National Institute of Health reports that ten million Americans now have hearing loss caused by too much noise. The Environmental Protection Agency has introduced progressive regulations for quieter and less polluting engines on garden machinery. But we won’t notice the improvement until the regulations come into full force in the year 2006, by which time we will scarcely be able to hear the difference.
Laws won’t help. Making noise is one of those inalienable American rights, like the pursuit of happiness. If the issue gets to the Supreme Court, they will certainly rule in favor of the noise makers, even if they have to yell the judgment at the tops of their voices.

But there may be a technological rather than a legislative solution. The portable CD player makes the most appalling noises available in a private, portable form, injected right into the victim’s eardrums, without disturbing anybody else.

What we need are some really nasty CDs that would satisfy men’s craving for high-decibel meaningless noise. There’s a big potential market here. “Chainsaw Symphony”; “Strimmer Sonata”; “Dan Drives Twenty Thousand Roofing Nails while Playing his Boom Box full volume”, and so on.

If boys must have their noise, let them have it on headphones, and leave the rest of us to enjoy the natural music of a suburban summer: the birds, the dogs, the insects, the swish of sprinklers and the gentle sounds of a million gardeners, working the old fashioned way, with their hands.

Copyright: David Bouchier