White noise

White noise

pleasant coffehouse filler

By Kami Rice, freelance writer

White noise can be one of those great things in life. It allows you to study, read, think or sleep in a loud, busy place. If you fill the space with enough noises, none of them will interrupt your reverie. But, when one of those voices does stand out, oh, man, is it frustrating…unless you have time to eavesdrop and learn a little more about that thing we call the human condition.

I was traveling a couple months ago and had a nice little layover in Memphis. I found a pleasant table, sat down to enjoy my mocha that was supposed to be a white chocolate mocha and pulled out my book. But, then I was foiled: first, by the pilots at the table next door. One of them couldn’t find the packet of jam that he had dropped on the floor. Should I tap his shoulder and point it out to him? Should I helpfully solve the mystery for him or stay silent and avoid admitting I was listening in?

Finally, I stopped paying attention to them and returned to my book just as cell phone lady stepped in behind me. She was talking with someone in her office, and her voice was impossible to ignore. It was loud and high-pitched, though not exactly unpleasant. She kept pacing behind me in the corridor. I was hopeful each time she walked away, but she always turned around and walked toward me again. I didn’t get much reading done.

White noise, my friends, is why coffeehouses sometimes work as study sites and sometimes don’t. Perhaps some day some coffeehouse will offer “conversations forecasts” that would allow writers, readers and studiers to call ahead and check out the vibe of the place before lugging all their work paraphernalia to it.

That benefit might have been nice today because my coffeehouse spot is hosting one of those hard-to-block-out conversations. A group of people is by the window at the front of the coffeehouse, and I am in the back third of the joint and can still hear most of their conversation clearly, while trying not to listen.

One of the girls in the group turned sweet sixteen today. She’s wearing a fun red shirt hand-painted with her birth date. She’s surrounded by eight or so other high school students who are being led by an adult. They’re reading Mere Christianity together. He (the adult) is giving them the background on C.S. Lewis and his book. They’re talking about how things can be wonderful and frightening all at once. It’s good stuff that they’re talking about, but I still wouldn’t mind if Mr. Adult’s voice was less distinctive or if the students were making a little more noise instead of listening so attentively.

I suppose that’s the downfall of expecting a coffeehouse to serve as both my office and my social gathering place. I just want everyone else in the coffeehouse to be using it for the same purpose I am, whichever purpose that is at the moment. It’s kind of like expecting pedestrians to stay out of your way when you’re driving but thinking cars should watch out for you when you’re the pedestrian. I suppose it’s that problem of tending to think of ourselves first.   

Oh, they’re wrapping up. Next week will be something about Christians and post-moderns. Oops, missed a few words. But, do make sure you read the first three chapters this week.

We read Mere Christianity in my college philosophy class. My mom didn’t like her college philosophy class. She felt like it kind of messed her up. Knowing that, I chose my professor with care, listening in on the college campus buzz regarding which professor was best-liked. I ended up loving the class and still sometimes tinker with the idea of studying philosophy or some derivative in grad school. Hmm, maybe I can jump into their conversation next week instead of eavesdropping unobtrusively from four tables and 10 chairs away.

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