IS IT POSSIBLE that a jackhammer will only operate if there are other workers standing around staring at it?
I heard the machine blasting away outside my house the other morning. I looked out the window and, sure enough, one laborer was leaned over, gripping the jittery concrete-smasher as he burrowed toward the center of the Earth while three other workers in orange vests and white helmets stared at him with lazy half-interest. They dared not look away though, lest the energy of their combined attention fail to animate the powerful jackhammer and it goes down dead, the way a ham actor only comes alive in front of an eager audience.
“Make all the noise you want,” I cried, not that the workers could hear me amid the racket. I could hardly hear myself. I was leaving the house for the day, or so I thought. The plan was to head into town to meet an old college friend for a beer and to reminisce about the good old days… and how glad we are that they’re over. My friend is a traveling surgeon, sought the world over for some peculiar expertise he has of the human body. Knowing I wouldn’t understand, he never bothers to explain it. Not caring about the details, I always forget to ask.
Back to the jackhammer out in the street. The jackhammer is an almost ideal addition to the category of noise pollution—an implement of such perfect aggravation that it could probably be introduced as a justifiable factor in any murder trial.
Defendant: “You see, Your Honor, I was willing to be reasonable, but then this fucking jackhammer started going, making polite communication impossible and so I set about strangling instead.”
Judge: “Sentence reduced to time served. Court is adjourned!” [gavel smack].
I walked outside to the road crew and gestured, curious about the reason for the hole they were creating. I wanted to be prepared if the street was about to collapse or a tidal wave of sewage was headed our way. Shit travels in all directions these days and you can’t be too careful. The guy operating the jackhammer stopped his augering and regarded me through the cloud of dust. His audience, having nothing better to do now that the jackhammer had stopped, turned to me as well.
“Everything okay?” I said.
“Yeah. I lost my keys the other day while we were filling in this pothole. I’m pretty sure they’re down there. Don’t worry, I’ll have this patched up in no time.” He gunned the jackhammer back to full throttle and the rest of the road crew resumed their monitoring.
Blame everything on the Rona plague of 2020. Quarantine and malaise have spawned a host of other problems, one of which is absentmindedness. From this point on modern life may be nothing more than locating the things we’ve misplaced, finding them, misplacing them again, and then recommencing the search. I know people—lean, muscular calorie-burners—whose sole aerobic activity is trying to find what they just had right in front of them a second ago. What follows is a series of back-and-forth pacing which, cumulatively, ends up being the equivalent of a 5K mini-marathon.
Just then my phone pinged. My friend was running late. There had been a problem in the operating room. Someone had sewn up the patient and left a scalpel and some gauze in her abdomen. They were going back in to get it. “Don’t worry,” I texted him, “you’ll have this patched up in no time. If you find anything else of value grab it and we’ll sell it down on Buford Highway.” He sent back a sad-face emoji.
Even geniuses make dumb mistakes, and I was heartened by this realization. Doctors can just charge more for them. Since I wasn’t going anywhere for the time being I put my noise-cancelling headphones on and stared out the window at the suddenly silent road crew jackhammering away while the lovely Florence B. Price regaled me with her Symphony #1.
Then I noticed a message from my editor. I’d sent her a portion of a manuscript and it seems I’d lost an entire subplot somewhere around chapter four. Damn it all, I had it right in front of me a second ago. If it isn’t one epidemic it’s another.
More Alembics to come…