The day’s first sound was its most abrasive, the bell’s vibrations heavy in the pre-dawn mountain thick. The tolling came closer, so close it was no longer possible to assimilate it into dream, and faded, leaving the air behind it changed. The subsequent lull was slowly filled with the shuffling of blankets against bundled bodies, clumsy footsteps making their way to the light switch by the cabin door, the swishes of clothing being doffed and donned, the key in the latch.

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Please explain what just happened.

I just came back in the cabin. I was in the forest, walking. I stopped to rub two sticks together to make a fire, but was unsuccessful. I walked back to the cabin and watched Stagecoach, starring John Wayne. Earlier today I posed for an iPhone film shoot with me lying and standing in various ways on a bunch of giant tree stumps. Nude. I figured, fuck it, I’m 45, and I still look hot. Let’s do this.


What is your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is being dropped into a pool with a life vest on.


If you weren’t a musician, what other profession would you choose?

I dunno. Something where I can be around people that make me laugh.

Silly me for forgetting the second Sunday before Thanksgiving is a national holiday.

National Leaf Blowing Day comes around every year — two weeks after Halloween and two weeks before the re-enactment of the pilgrim feast. NLBD, we’ll call it. It’s not the kind of holiday that prompts mall stampedes, newspaper supplements or costumes. (Well, more on that later.)

Rather, it’s a collective, lemming-like dance to bag fallen leaves in time for the town’s Department of Public Works to whisk away autumn’s detritus.

Knowing the pickup deadline looms, folks along country roads and in cul-de-sacs — people you never otherwise see — pour from their homes to participate in an annual rite of passage. Like the shofar sounded on the Jewish New Year, the rousing roar of leaf blowers rises upward in a splendid song of cleansing, turning a Sunday into a six-aspirin day.

But as I said earlier, I hadn’t remembered when I woke that Sunday it was NLBD. My husband and I were in bed luxuriating with the newspaper, because for a change we had the house to ourselves. Our daughter was at Granny’s for a weekend sleepover.

It started like clockwork — and I say that literally — because 11 a.m. is the time town dwellers with power tools are permitted by local laws to deprive others of a day of peace. At the first jarring blast, I ran to my daughter’s bedroom window to see a neighbor in the grass dressed like an alien. A metal jetpack on his back, he looked like the grandfather in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”; his giant earphones were straight out of “Is it real or is it Memorex?” commercials. Then I saw the tube-like attachment creating a swirling eddy of dead leaves.

“Oh noooooooooo,” I bellowed. “It’s the leaf blower.”

I knew the cacophony would continue for hours: 1) because power tools are fun; 2) because we live on a mountain with a lot of trees; and 3) because men left on their own on a Sunday can easily find themselves in a trance.

Seeing my face twisted with agitation, my husband said, “Let’s go to the lake and take a walk.”

On this gorgeous blue day, we arrived at the lake path. The warm sun belied the changing season. Only yellowed maple leaves were still clinging to trees. I took deep breaths, grateful for the escape.

Then I heard it.

“What is that noise?” I asked.

“Don’t look,” my husband said, shielding my eyes.

Too late. Not far off the path, an army of deployed county workers were blowing leaves.

“This is a park!” I crowed. “Why do dead leaves need to be hauled away from a forest?”

(There may be a good answer to this question. It wouldn’t surprise me if some nice reader e-mails me the explanation.)

But at that moment, I was bereft.

“Try not to think about it,” my husband said. “After our walk, we’ll go for a croissant.”

Driving from the lake to the village, I witnessed darkly dressed men standing in clouds of leaves that swirled around them like small tornadoes. When we parked and got out of the car, the great song of autumn continued. Even owners of postage-stamp-size lawns felt the need to blow their leaves into tiny piles.

The din vibrated against the glass window at the patisserie while we ate croissants and spooned up potato leek soup. It was then I realized: There was no way to escape NLBD. This was a holiday, with all its trappings. Like fireworks on July Fourth. Like the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve.

We drove back home. My neighbor was still blowing leaves.

“Maybe we should clear up, too,” I said to my husband.

“I guess,” he said, threading his arms back into his red-and-black lumber jacket and heading out the door.

I settled onto the couch and listened to the gentle scuffling of the plastic rake scraping at crispy crunching leaves, one scoop at a time.

Get the entire story of Tina Traster’s move from the city to a rural suburb in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” now available on Amazon.com.

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The Noise

By Ryan Day


I came home to an empty house.

It was usually full. Full of train hoppers in black Carhart coveralls who she had found sitting with their pitbulls on some corner near Belmont. Of ravers with fat pants, little stuffed animals pinned to their T-shirts, half depleted ring pops sticking to the carpet where they had finally passed out, gelatinous strands of pink and purple hair pointing emphatically away from their heads. Of taggers who were too ghetto to find good jobs, but too smart too really become thugs. Of thugs who were running away from tougher neighborhoods. Of spoiled punks who were running away from less tough ones.

I got off work at the diner at 7am, and usually got home around 7:30.

The party would just be winding down. I would have a reluctant beer, force a smile and head to bed, trying to ignore the sounds of techno, video games and manic conversation from strangers who may or may not be prepared to rob and kill even for our disposable possessions.

no one was there.

I walked through the hall that smelled like stale smoke and rancid bologna. I walked to the back room where on a normal morning there would have been at least one body strewn out on the couch, a smiling face bobbing intoxicatedly on its shoulders.

There was no one.

Just the lingering film of a hundred spent butts and a sticky patch near an overturned bottle of Malibu.

I’d like to say the silence was a welcome change, but when you grow so accustomed to the noise, it’s something you need all the time.

I opened our bedroom door, but she wasn’t there.

I called her mom’s house, but no one answered.

I walked briskly back down the stairs, not so much in the hopes of finding her as in the knowledge that to ignore the anxiety of not knowing where she was, the anxiety of an empty house that should have been full, the anxiety of month after month of moving from the bustle of a busy all night diner, serving pancakes to the drunken drag queens leaving the 4 am bars in Boys Town, to the parties where all the waiters, bartenders and unemployable others clung tightly to each other’s momentum, would be impossible.

The February Chicago air was a reward after too many hours awake. My insatiable fingertips were steeped in nicotine and hidden under wooly mittens. They moved like the hammers in a piano playing Beethoven, or maybe Stevie Wonder. Silent for Ludwig and invisible for Stevie.

Cabbies cupped their hands around white styrofoam cups in the Dunkin Donuts lot. The neighborhood exhibitionists, the clerks of the sex shops, head shops, Tattoo parlors and heavy metal T-shirt vendors were unlocking the shutters in front of their stores.

It was strange to see them out so early. At night, in the bars, they made sense. But here, fresh from bed, mohawks at full-attention and well-tended. Something was amiss. Remove the ungodly tight black jeans, reattach sleeves to their vests and shirts and they might have been any seasoned bakers opening shop.

I walked and walked hoping to see someone who could give me a clue as to what had happened to the distraction that was my home. Why the silence? Where was she?

Bjorn, the Swedish guy who owned the coffee shop where I spent my afternoons recovering, stepped out of his shop as he saw me walking past.

His look was always severe.

“Stop,” he said.

I stopped. I lifted my arms and pursed my lips.

“She was in the street. I don’t know. She said something about pills and ran screaming into the street.”

My fingers stopped.

Every centimeter of my nervous system became aware that it was inseparable from the static in the air that stretches from here to the bubbly edges of the universe. They say it protects you. But it seems more to expose.

“I called an ambulance.”

“Where’d they go?”

“Swedish Covenant.”

I didn’t have any money. I ran a mile to Lincoln and almost four miles to Foster. When I got there they said I couldn’t come in. It was weeks before they would let me in to the ward. She never let me in again. Not really.

I found a quiet place to live.