Under the Sun


Wednesday, March 26, 2003

War muffles the bangs
and clamor of home life

"WHERE are you, the dog pound?" the caller asks. For a few seconds, the question puzzles me.

"At my home office," I stammer. Then I figure out why she's asking; she can hear the neighbor's pack howling in the background of our telephone conversation.

These dogs tend to do that. Whenever a siren sounds through the valley, whether from ambulance, fire truck, police car or Civil Defense test, the dogs wail, yip and bark like their coyote and wolf cousins. Sometimes all it takes is for a squeaky car to go by to set them off.

It's not that I can't hear the racket, but when I'm concentrating on something, I push the noise away from consciousness. City dwellers become immune to the surround-sounds of close living -- an amazing skill of adaptable human beings. Most of the time, we don't really pay attention to the constant, enveloping buzz and whir. I'm generally aware of it only in contrast -- when I return to Oahu after spending time at my home on the Big Island.

There, the dominant sounds are the trills of apapane with an occasional creaking from an iiwi and a myna's squawking complaint. Every now and then, Buster, the dog who lives up the lane, will rouse himself to woof lazily at a wandering cat or when the crackle and pop of tires on the gravel road warn him of a stranger's car approaching. Lowing cows down at Mike's farm signal morning and evening as does the burbling of the pheasants that live in the forest.

Readjusting to the din of the city, although initially jarring, takes but a day or two. Droning airplanes validate the island's commercial energy and, more lately, the presence and busyness of the military. A scooter's sputter delivers the newspaper, evidence of a day's work. The burring mail truck carries a bundle of catalogues, magazines and the inevitable bills. Thunking from a washing machine alerts me to the return of a neighbor from a long vacation. Crunching and plinks of aluminum cans remind me that another neighbor's conscientious recycling effort continues.

These sounds skim at the edges of audibility and soon recede. They are common noises, part of the ordinary, and in the last few days their familiarity has become soothing.

Television and technology have removed our separation from the turmoil half a world and 13 hours away. All-news, all-the-time programs mete out the war second by second in boisterous segments. Night-scope-green flashes accompany booms and rumbles and staccato bullets broadcast orange and gold across the screen. As we watch, we know that beneath the racket and bursts Saddam Hussein's palaces and bases are being destroyed along with homes or businesses or schools. Before our eyes, reality TV delivers evidence that lives are ending in the barrage of bombs.

Television also fetches frightened voices of captured Americans, even more disquieting than the explosions and shooting. Shaky images of prisoners of war as they utter names and hometowns loose the pain of their loved ones who try to talk through their fears.

It may be pointless to turn down the volume as I monitor CNN and MSNBC, but I can do without the clamor and roar. I don't want to listen to the constant babbling of off-site military experts dissecting troop movements and capabilities of vehicles and aircraft while baby-faced soldiers are deafened by the rattle of the weapons at their shoulders.

For the time being, it is unseemly to complain about the baying dogs and the heaves and puffing of the garbage trucks and street sweepers. I can live with the noises and sounds of normalcy in urban America. They do not shock. They do not awe.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin for 25 years.
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