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Wed, Jul 23, 2014

WOODY: Lullaby sleep machines? They’re a sign of the time

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Whatever happened to peace and quiet? Apparently they went the way of the dodo bird and my polyester leisure suit  extinct.

Nowadays more and more folks have to have noise to exist, or at least to fall asleep. Machines that produce “white noise” have become hot items.

They emit a variety of sounds that are supposed to induce sleep: the patter of rain on a tin roof, the gurgle of a mountain brook, the hiss of wind through pines, the plaintive cry of loons. (By loons I’m referring to the diving water birds that live in the wilderness, not politicians.)

During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, I roomed with a fellow sports writer who plugged in a white-noise machine by his bedside every night. It made the sound of ocean waves crashing on the beach.

It was so realistic that one morning we woke up and found the room full of sea gulls.

When it comes to noise, I like quiet. Guess it’s my country boy genetics.

Granted, there have been times when a bit of noise was required to drown out other noise.

I once stayed in a motel in Talladega, Ala. -- the La Cucaracha -- whose translation, The Cockroach, was apt. When I walked into my room I was impressed by the little chocolate mints that had been placed on my pillow -- until they suddenly scurried away.

It had been a long day at the track so I hit the sack early. Just as I dozed off, a biker gang checked into the room across the hall. There was laughing and singing and glass breaking, and around midnight someone made a run to the ice machine down the hall -- on their Harley.

The sound of big diesel 18-wheelers chugging in and out of the parking lot (it was a truck-stop motel) drowned out some of the noise from the raucous biker party, but not all. So around 2 a.m., I turned on the TV and found a vacant test-pattern channel.

The static hiss of the TV covered up most of the biker-party noise, except for the gunshots.

I suppose noise is in the eye -- or ear -- of the beholder. I once went camping with a couple of buddies from the city and they had trouble falling asleep under the silent stars.

Next morning one said the sound of crickets kept him awake. In the city, his downtown condo constantly rattles with the honk of taxi horns, the screech of traffic, the wail of sirens,and other nocturnal urban uproar that he apparently doesn’t notice.

But let one cricket chirp and he’s wide awake.

I’m reminded of those old Westerns in which nervous cowboys are spending a night in hostile Indian country. One invariably remarks: “I don’t like it -- it’s too quiet out there.”

Maybe the insomniac cowpoke could try a white-noise recording of coyote howls.

My favorite description of bedtime noise was written by the late Jean Shepherd, author of the immortal “The Christmas Story.” The family had made a torturous, hilarious, mishap-filled trek from their home in Hammond, Ind., to a fishing cabin on a lake in Wisconsin, and as Ralphie -- sun-burned and worm-crusted -- wriggled into his sleeping bag, he fell asleep to the sound of fishing boats gently thunking against the dock. If they ever put that sound on a white-noise CD, I might buy one.

On one hand it seems odd -- or perhaps a sign of these bustling times -- that we need a mechanical lullaby to induce sleep. If silence is golden, noise must be platinum.

On the other hand, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with using a little artificial sugar to promote sweet dreams. Especially when there’s a wild biker party going on down the hall.

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larry woody, lullaby, machine, sleep
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