I’m woken up by the sounds of a winter night in Chicago. The wind is rushing around our building, the windows sound like they’re being shaken by a child trying to get back in, and the porch door has creaked open. I hear bangs and bumps and wonder if my plastic chairs have been blown all the way to the lake. It’s 3 a.m. and I can’t go back to sleep. It’s not the wind that keeps me up, it’s the wind chimes.
I can’t remember when I first heard their sound. I don’t even know whose they are. I’ve never looked for them because I know I’d feel compelled to tear them down, and that would be some kind of a crime. They may have been left behind by a previous tenant and subsequently ignored as part of the building, like the ivy that steadily claws closer to my kitchen window every year. In the daytime, their sound is lost in all the other sounds of the city. But right now, right here, theirs is the only sound in the whole wide world. They jingle and jangle with ferocious cheer.
I thought wind chimes were charming when I lived in Indiana. They were on the porches of houses with large front and back yards, and trees close by. I liked the sound as I sat chatting with friends on summer nights. I loved that they reminded me of a clichéd scene in so many horror films. I would imagine walking up to a porch one night and hearing nothing but the sound of the wind chimes and the creak of the front door as it swung back and forth, an ominous warning of what lay in wait inside.
Here, they’re just annoying. I lie in bed, desperately trying to go back to sleep, and wondering what purpose is served by wind chimes. Are they supposed to remind us of long-ago pastoral times? I’d hoped to sleep well tonight. I shuffle over to the computer and write for a bit. I need to sleep. The chimes shake and shiver, relentlessly. I crawl back into bed.
There are sounds I’ve become used to, without which I can’t sleep. The Clark bus stops right outside the house, and the announcer’s voice is amplified in the night air. Sometimes I can hear Maya, the dog from next door, being taken for her late night walk. If it’s wet outside, she’ll shake her head and I'll hear the flap-flap of loose skin. The radiators begin to rattle and hiss and shake between midnight and 5. In summer, when the window is open, I'll be woken up by snatches of conversation thrown aside by passersby: And then I told him I needed to leave, and that the plan was all wrong. And I'll wake and press my face to the bars, hoping to hear the rest, wanting to cry out: But wait, what did he say to you when you told him? And what was the plan? D. tells me this is because I live for narrative. Or that I need full and entire narratives. Something like that.
I find all those sounds comforting, but not the wind chimes. I don’t care if they’re handcrafted dream catcher chimes made to exacting Native American traditions, or if they’re made by the nimble fingers of village women who make long trips across treacherous landscapes to sell their wares at the nearest Fair Exchange station. I decide that wind chimes in Chicago are a travesty, designed to muffle the sounds of the city and force us to pretend that we are really in a world where the wind cuts through the woods. I decide that I shall ban them from the city if I ever become Mayor. And if anyone says that it’s a silly rule, I'll respond, “Not as silly as banning spray paint.” Which they did in 1995. To end “gang graffiti,” which is really just codespeak for a myriad unspoken narratives about class.
And tonight of all nights, I need to sleep. There has been much to think about this week, about friendship and sadness and grief, and I really need to sleep and to let my sleeping mind sort through things. But the chimes persist in their tinny, maniacal way, insisting upon the reality of the illusion that they are trying to weave. They insist that I am not really here but somewhere else, in the deep and hushed snows of Kilimanjaro, perhaps. I think of Yasunari Kawabata’s story about the House of the Sleeping Beauties, where a man pays to lie next to a naked sleeping girl night after night. At one point, in my memory, he contemplates the tip of her moist tongue as it sticks out a bit. I can’t imagine just watching someone sleep but now I would take even that; I would borrow from the peacefulness of someone else’s slumber.
I hate the sound of wind chimes, and I wish I could sleep.