I ran across some interesting advice in The New Yorker from the renowned self-help guru Yoko Ono. She is quoted as saying: "Set aside an hour for a real lunch. Not food. Ingest the ambient sounds of your workplace."
I had never considered having a food-free lunch (definitely a good dieting trick if you're able to pull it off). Moreover, it never occurred to me to ingest the sounds of the place where I work, any more than I am already forced to.
I'm quartered in a small office park in Central California. The set-up is much like what the Dunder Mifflin paper company had in Pennsylvania, except that our walls are thinner; in fact, our windows must also be thin, because it's impossible to avoid hearing what's going on next door and outside.
The primary tenant in our building is the local water company, so most of the ambient sounds I hear are angry complaints about high water bills. I've been listening to this for five years and what amazes me is that I've yet to hear anyone accept blame for using too much water. "I don't understand it! Our lawn is brown. We eat off paper plates. My wife and I only flush once a day. There must be some mistake."
Speaking of mistakes, I have a hunch that our landlord purchased all the doors in the building from a hotel-supply company. Hotels have the loudest possible doors that produce horrible slamming sounds every time they close. I thought this was unique to places such as Hilton and Hyatt, until I learned that the water company has the very same doors!
My desk is on the second floor, so I look out over the back alley where the dumpsters for our building are located, along with several others belonging to Rite Aid pharmacy. Yoko would be awed to know that emptying large dumpsters into sanitation trucks creates plenty of ambient sound.
I'm also privy to a staggering number of cellphone conversations because employees of the water company visit the alley multiple times each day to make personal calls. Funny: people used to step out to smoke, but now they all parade out to phone. I manage to hear just enough for it to be annoying, but not quite enough for it to be interesting.
There is a high school across the street that is remarkably quiet except for a loud airhorn that goes off every 45 minutes. This changes at 3 o'clock when there is the sort of shrieking that I imagine would take place if several hundred teenagers were simultaneously informed that their new history teacher is Harry Styles. The screams spread across the parking lot and up and down the street before gradually dissipating as students fan out on foot across the neighborhood, while those with cars screech toward Burger King.
In back of our building is a strip mall housing a martial arts academy for kids that opens each afternoon as soon as school lets out. From my window I can't quite see the classes, I can only hear the ambient screaming. It's sort of like what you'd expect to hear if you told several dozen 10-year-olds that instead of a pizza party they were having a broccoli party. The screams continue, off and on, but mostly on, until about 6 p.m.
I followed Yoko's advice for a week and learned: (a) ambient sounds in my workplace never really bothered me until I tried so hard to ingest them, (b) bad sounds seem worse on an empty stomach, and (c) Yoko never gave any such advice----this was apparently The New Yorker's idea of a joke.
Well, hahaha. Now I'm back to eating big lunches, and I've taken to wearing earplugs.