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This week on the Sunday Showcase, a short story that most of us can relate to: renting an apartment surrounded by deafeningly loud construction sites. Sidney Brod, the author of this hilarious tale, perfectly captures the hell of waking to the sounds of heavy machinery breaking apart concrete — and how one man attempts to live with it.
– Sidney Brod
The hammers start banging, buzz saws grind through steel rebar. Pounding persists. From the other side of the street, the excavator plunges into the earth, rattling all the windows, the sounds blending with the beeping backup tones of heavy machinery. Tzadik stays in bed for another hour, sleeping blissfully, no longer fazed by the terrible noise.
The landlord intentionally showed the rental in the late evening when all the workers had already gone home. It was dark enough outside not to notice the incomplete building just across the alley. The first morning was an awful surprise. Tzadik was awakened by the blinding rays and the grinning faces of the workers pounding away just a meter and a half from his bedroom window.
The workers waved good morning and welcomed him to the building.
The second construction site was another surprise. It started just a week after his arrival with a total demolition. All the neighbors stood on their balconies, brought beers and popcorn to watch the large machinery rip chunks out of the old structure until the dust cloud consumed the whole street.
Tzadik first tried to void the lease with no success; another unsympathetic slumlord. This is no place to live, he thought to himself as the walls rattled and the floor shook. Books even fell from the shelves when the excavator and the hacksaws rang in unison.
He tried pillows to the ears, hanging blankets on the walls, rifleman earplugs, and high tech noise canceling headphones with white noise soundtracks, to no avail.
Shortly after, they began remodeling the apartment below his unit. This was the most unbearable of it all. Buzzsaws vibrated through the floor and through his bed frame. The hangers in the wardrobe caught the frequency and began to chatter harmoniously with the saw. His brain even rattled in his skull shaking loose all sorts of disturbing thoughts. He started most mornings with a headache and a sour disposition that he aimed at his friends and strangers who lived in quiet apartments.
One Friday morning the cacophony started as usual with hammers clanking, saws buzzing, and workers yelling. Despite his headache, Tzadik was coming to terms with his hellish reality. He made himself a cup of coffee, strong and black to ward off any naive considerations of catching a few more Z’s. He sat and sipped his coffee with indifference. This is life in the city, he thought while gazing out at the birds on the electric line. How unusual it was that he had not noticed the birds before, the construction did not seem to bother them, observed Tzadik. His indifference faded into acceptance as he heard birdsong in between the strikes of the hammer. How lovely, he thought, never had he heard birds sing with such evoking tones.
One by one, more birds began to assemble on the electric line to join in the avian chorus. Just moments later, the choir was nearly one hundred chirping pigeons strong; enough to make the electric line sag down like a half smile. Tzadik was delighted and marveled at the bird’s impressive display. Even the construction was no longer burning in his thoughts. His delight did not persist however.
In an instant, there was a deafening crack and the flock of birds scattered into the sky. The workers had wheeled a crane into the lot and yanked a monstrous Eucalyptus tree from the earth. The tree’s thick roots dangled by the kitchen window of Tzadik’s third floor flat. The Eucalyptus towered above the building while bowling ball sized clumps of earth came loose and fell to the pavement below. The construction sounds returned to Tzadik’s consciousness violently. He was broken and his headache worsened into a blinding migraine. Even his solace in the singing birds was destroyed.
Disturbed, he sat on the kitchen floor and breathed deeply. He imagined a universe in which noise was normal and silence was the degrading force that wears on nerves and drives a man to insanity. Like a switch, his brain’s response to horrible noise flipped. Tzadik rose from the floor a changed man. He strode through the apartment taking in his new and pleasant surroundings. Still sleepy, he crawled back into bed and slept all through the day until the workers laid down their hammers and the excavator motor died off. With his newly wired brain, the silence screamed at Tzadik, making it difficult to sleep at night. Coping quickly, he piped in sounds of jackhammers with his high tech headphones, and soon dozed off.
Around this time, Tzadik began seeing Nofar, a pretty girl who was really into music and long walks on the beach. They had gone out a few times and things were going well; they had good conversation and knew how to embrace the lulls when they had nothing to say. For the first time, Nofar spent the night at Tzadik’s place. They made love all night and didn’t sleep until the early hours of the morning after collapsing in a tangle of sheets moistened with perspiration.
At 06:59 the orchestra of hammering and sawing started on schedule. Nofar, startled, jolted up in bed next to the sound-sleeping Tzadik. He must be dead, she thought, to not hear this awful noise. Worried, she shook him awake. “What’s happening?” She asked.
“Good morning,” he said with a sleepy smile.
“You don’t hear the banging?”
“What are you talking about?” Tzadik had forgotten about the construction months ago, no longer aware or able to hear it.
“I think there’s an earthquake happening. We should get out of here!”
“Woah! An earthquake? We’re nowhere close to any fault lines,” he protested, trying to be factual.
“Listen!” Nofar said, feeling for vibrations with her palms pressed to the wall. “Are they doing renovations downstairs?” Now on her feet, she was determined to find the source of the noise.
“Renovations? They did remodel the unit below, but that was months ago.”
“It sounds like we’re in the middle of a construction site!”
“Construction?” Tzadik returned with a cocked head, thinking hard. “Construction,” he repeated the word aloud as if hearing it for the first time. The peculiar word meant nothing to him; it only conjured blissful thoughts of singing birds. He shrugged his shoulders and beamed a sleepy smile. “So, I was thinking we could go to that little cafe on the corner, they have great breakfast.”
Nofar looked at him in bewilderment. She thought that he was joking and forced a smile that begged for the big reveal. But when he asked again about breakfast, she was assured that he heard nothing.
“So, what do you say?” Tzadik sat in bed already thinking about fresh bread and tomatoes as Nofar stood before him uneasily. The pause in their banter was filled with hacking sounds that only she could hear. He was unfazed, just hungry. Nofar began to question her sanity; wondering if the vibrating earth and hammering was just in her head. Tzadik, seeing the panic on Nofar’s face, became worried for her sake. He tried to calm her. This only made her anxiety worse, affirming that the shaking walls and sawing were her own invention.
Nofar entered a full state of panic and slumped down to the bedroom floor. Tzadik sprinted to get her a glass of water and a cool compress for her forehead. He sat with her on the floor, wiping the tears and sweat from her face and smoothing her frizzy hair.
When Tzadik opened the window for fresh air, the half finished building came into view. Nofar turned to see the construction crew, sawing and hammering just as her ears had told her. She was shocked and relieved at the same time.
“Are you feeling better?” He asked her, still not paying any mind to workers outside his window.
Nofar, in a daze, got up and ran from the apartment.