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Silver Threads: Turn down the volume

A funny thing happened to me on the way to an unpleasant medical test. My doctor’s nurse chirpily asked me how I was. Now, aside from the fact that I had drunk what seemed like 10 gallons of nasty tasting stuff and was headed for a procedure nobody wants even to think about, I was really more or less fine.  But I growled out that I felt terrible.

I told her that I had been subjected to at least 30 minutes of high volume, bone-rattling TV in her waiting room and so was significantly more frazzled than I had a right to be.

You’ve been there, haven’t you? Why any so-called healer would want to torture her patients with impossible-to-tune-out talk shows, soaps and courtroom dramas is something I can’t understand. Why EVERYONE doesn’t complain is another thing that’s beyond me. Perhaps I just grew up in a quieter world, where you could actually read a book in your doctor’s waiting room and get your mind off the discomforts to come.

When I was young we only ever had music in elevators, and even THAT was much maligned. Now it’s almost everywhere. The other day, in my cell phone store at the end of a very long line for service, I was almost beaten down by the beat.

Does this go on all the time? I asked the young man who finally waited on me, and he just looked at me pityingly and patronizingly. (I’m not even going to comment on the musical selections being played, realizing that throughout recorded history, not one generation has really grooved to the beat of a younger one. My own parents were incapable of appreciating Elvis Presley, never mind Jerry Lee Lewis.)

I’d like to be able to do business with a cell phone provider who — if they aren’t going to turn off the music — would at least give you the opportunity to punch in one of your own selections. How about “Deep Purple,“ something from Sinatra, or the Habanera from “Carmen”? Would the other customers just enjoy, or would they start resentfully looking around for the culpable geezer?

And how about calling an airline, travel agent, credit card company or other business and being put on hold for up to ten minutes and musically assaulted the entire time? You’d love to hang up, but you don’t want to start over. This call is important to us, they keep saying , but they don’t turn off the tunes.

There is yet another source of superfluous sound that’s getting increasing hard to put up with. This is on many of today’s television dramas, and why they would want to drown out the dialogue is puzzling indeed. Last year, watching three shows about a Swedish detective on Masterpiece Mystery, I could barely hear anything any of the characters said. Not only was the music intrusive, it was dissonant. And in one scene there was a conversation between two men walking through a field where the plants were being blown about by the wind so noisily that you couldn’t make out exactly what they were saying. No doubt their comments were crucial to the plot.

The next three shows telecast six months later were less cluttered with music and background noise. They must have caught on, I thought. But still, no one wrote and published any comments on the problem.

Until a recent Sunday in the Picayune’s Parade magazine. A reader’s letter about musically drowned-out TV dialogue appeared in the upper corner of page two. It was unaccompanied by comment, but thank goodness, I thought, for more reasons than one. First, it verified that the problem isn’t totally me, that I’m not going deaf. And second, maybe somebody who can will decide to do something about it.

No airing of problems with noise pollution would be complete without bringing up the cell phone, which you’ve noted that I, too, use. But it’s turned off at church, concerts, restaurants and the movies and otherwise I step outside of wherever I happen to be when it rings.

Folks who discuss their love lives in the aisles of supermarkets are a good subject for another column.

Bettye Anding is the former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at For more information about NolaVie, go to


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