The Best of Andy Rooney

Recently, walking back from lunch, I started to cross the street when I heard the sound of a coin dropping. It wasn't much but, as I turned, my eyes caught the heads of several other people turning, too. A woman had dropped what appeared to be a dime.

The tinkling sound of a coin dropping on pavement is an attention-getter. It can be nothing more than a penny. Whatever the coin is, no one ignores the sound of it. It got me thinking about sounds.

We're besieged by so many sounds from every side these days that it isn't the loudest sounds that attract the most attention. People in New York City seldom turn to look when a fire engine, a police car or an ambulance comes screaming along the street.

When I'm in New York, I'm a New Yorker. I don't turn, either. Like the natives, I hardly hear a siren there. When I lived in Connecticut, it was different. The distant wail of a police car, an emergency vehicle or a fire siren brought me to my feet.

The people who drive cars or trucks equipped with sirens ought to be more careful about when they use them. I'm often suspicious of ambulances that careen down the street with sirens wailing. It can't always be a matter of life and death, and if sirens are used when it isn't, they're less effective when it is. I suspect quite a few broken legs have gone through a lot of red lights to reach an emergency room where they had to wait two hours for treatment.

It's the quietest sounds that have the most effect on us, not the loudest. In the middle of the night, I can hear a dripping faucet 100 yards away through three closed doors. I heard little creaking noises and sounds which my imagination turned into footsteps in the middle of the night for 25 years in our house. How come I never heard those sounds in the daylight?

Some people, of course, never hear anything in the middle of the night. There are light sleepers and heavy sleepers and they always seem to sleep together. One gets up in the middle of the night to check the noise, while the other hears nothing. The sleeper awakens four hours later to ask, "What happened?"

"Nothing happened, dear. There was a burglar downstairs walking around in hob-nailed boots, the oil burner exploded and two cars hit head-on in front of the house. The cops came, the fire engines were here and the ambulance picked up the injured. Everything's all right now. Go back to sleep."

In a book by W.S. Gilbert I had as a kid, there was a character named King Borria Bungalee Boo, "an African swell...whose whisper was a horrible, horrible yell."

There are people who find it impossible to whisper or even talk softly. For some reason, they're the ones who try to do most of it. There's nothing more embarrassing than to have someone whisper to you about someone else in the room, in a voice everyone in the room can hear.

Car horns are an irritating noise. There are very few times when it's important to blow the horn of a car. When someone on our street parked out in front of someone else's house and blew the horn, I felt like throwing rocks.

I'm quite clear in my mind what the good sounds are and what the bad sounds are. I've turned against whistling, for instance. I used to think of it as the mark of a happy worker, but lately I've been associating whistling with a nervous person making compulsive noises.

Walking through the woods in the fall of the year, with the leaves up around your ankles, is a great sound. Someone else in the room sniffling and without a handkerchief is an annoying sound.

The tapping, tapping, tapping of the keys as I write is a lovely sound to me. I often like the sound of what I write better than the finished product on paper.

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