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Illustration: Nick Azzaro

New York: Just shut up!!!

New York isn’t exactly what you’d call a quiet city. Can you find peace amid the madness? (Short answer: maybe?)

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NYC has earned its reputation as the city that never sleeps—or shuts up. On a typical day you might be awakened by a rattling garbage truck, hear the earsplitting screech of the F train scraping the tracks between Brooklyn and Manhattan, wait at a Times Square intersection while angry drivers honk at poky pedestrians, and cap off the night in the supposed sanctity of your own apartment, where you’re assaulted by the muffled sounds of your neighbors watching TV, having sex, or quite possibly both.

For most people, noise is an accepted nuisance they chalk up to the definitive charm of New York, like the summer stench of sweat-soaked streets and the crammed intimacy of subway cars during rush hour. Not for me: Of all of Gotham’s annoyances, noise is the one that simultaneously enrages and unnerves me. I’m the dork who wears earplugs everywhere—to concerts, on the subway, even at bars. When my downstairs neighbors start blaring Dexter reruns at 11pm, my pulse quickens and my body tenses with Pavlovian speed. I’ve grappled with tinnitus for more than a decade and have an innate talent for finding the loudest neighbors, but truthfully, I’ve always hated noise. The longer I live in New York, the worse it gets. When I air my grievances to friends, who all seem noise-impervious (lucky bastards), inevitably I get the same response: “You’re too sensitive! New York is loud—get over it!” (“I can’t hear you!” is my usual response, because I am hilarious.) But I’m not alone: Noise issues are perpetually the city’s No. 1 quality-of-life complaint, beating out other pervasive problems like rodents and graffiti. There were more than 260,000 311 noise requests in 2013, an increase of 30 percent over two years.

But in recent years, the antinoise rebellion has made progress. The city implemented a new noise code in 2007, which laid out helpful rules—there is now a set time when construction can start (the very generous 7am) and apartment “quiet hours” (no knock-down, drag-out fights after 10pm, please)—with the goal of making New York a more pleasant place to live. Some restaurateurs have responded to objections about volume by soundproofing their dining rooms, while the MTA has installed “noise dampers” on some lines (like the N and Q in Queens) to minimize that horrid squeal. It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for man’s dwindling sanity.

Still, New York is never going to be a quiet place, so what’s an oversensitive person (ahem) to do? It helps if you know where to go—I like the Prospect Park forest, which is blissfully free of anything but nature sounds—but living in NYC is a balancing act. For every thing you love, there are probably two others that piss you off on a regular basis. (We wouldn’t be New Yorkers if we weren’t always a little angry.) Noise will continue to be the thing that drives me bananas, but it can’t compete with the stuff I adore—some of which is inherently noisy (hello, Webster Hall!). So until everyone decides to put a sock in it, I’ll deal. But I’m still going to bring earplugs everywhere—I don’t care how dumb they look.
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