There will be those to tell you that the “kindergartener” is an appropriate noise level metric. Nothing could be further from the truth. Direct experience demonstrates beyond doubt that, in terms of sheer volume, there is in effect only marginal difference between “3 kindergarteners” and “21 kindergarteners.”
What the kindergartener actually does measure is thought scrambling. Noise has texture, noise has patterns, and, ultimately, different noises will have different effects. A scramble of kindergarteners produces a specific motif in sound that slips through the world-brain barrier to interfere directly with the cerebrum. It is a fundamental metric of cerebral disruption.
So much for the science.
I am experienced with such matters, which is why when the pandemonic barrage plowed into my face and guts as I opened the door to step into that beer place around the corner I instantly knew it could not come just from the seventeen kindergarteners I could see. There was a slower, deeper growl to its texture that would leave you lucky to succeed at even the most basic arithmetic. Surrounding the melee of seventeen cherubim stood twice as many adults drinking dark, heady German beer from glasses that were relatively small as buckets go, sporting the superhero livery one dons for such occasions.
I never quite grasped this common affectation of novelists compelling them to write about music. It must reflect a specific relationship to language. To me, writing about music feels much like painting about taste.
There was music in the bar. Of this I am almost certain. I think it was loud. I suspect late 20th century, early 21st. Some form of drumming was involved.
It would soon be 11am. My wife, daughters, and I had arrived to a three-year-old birthday party.
Or so we thought.
We moved to this area of Brooklyn almost exactly one month ago, and our daughters are still in the making-new-friends phase of school and daycare. So when my two-year-old was invited to Billie and Kevin’s1 birthday party at the local biergarten, we were only too happy to all go. As we made our way into the raucous ruckus, I was delighted to drop off the two books we’d bought for those. Children were high on sugar, parents were woozy on beer, there were pretzels and cheese, and superheroes everywhere. The bar is set up in a very kid-friendly manner; clearly they must host this sort of event a lot. Perhaps even several times on a given weekend. At any rate, it was a happy place.
We didn’t recognise anyone. But then again, we don’t really know the other parents from the daycare. Thelma didn’t seem to recognise the other children either, but socialising at at two has rules of its own. We’ve done a fair bit of that recently: from our first PTA meeting to the school’s Parents’ Night Out we’re starting to get the hang of it. Smile, have a drink — after a while a nice parent will strike up a conversation and a good time will be had.
“Hi, I’m the father,” he said, slapping my back. “You must be friends of Ethel’s.” I smiled as we shook hands vigorously. I leaned in to explain about Billie and Kevin and the daycare, but he couldn’t make sense of what I was saying. The noise, no doubt. Someone called upon him to help fetch a fresh batch of pretzels from the kitchen and we left it at that.
“It’s a shame,” my wife said as she returned with some coffee, “I tried to start a conversation with a kind-looking woman over there, but with this noise she couldn’t understand what I was saying about the daycare.”
After a few minutes getting over the shock, and a little help finding courage from the pretzels, our kids were off playing with the others. I spotted the eldest colouring a robot mask while her little sister was busy slamming an abacus into the carpet. We still haven’t received our stuff from the move that we put in a container over six weeks ago and at home they’re living practically toyless. That’s energy she won’t spend running into the walls, and that abacus can take a lot more abuse before it’s in any danger. Bang on.
We try to chat over the din, and we smile and nod at a lot of what are obviously very nice people. “It’s funny,” I start. Then pause. “If it’s Billie and Kevin’s third birthday, why are they putting a ‘2’ candle on the cake?”
“Are you sure the birthday party was Saturday and not Sunday?”
A distant stare. A slow shake of the head.
Well there was no harm done. We’d eaten a few pretzels and coloured in a paper mask. We had even brought presents — and we didn’t think we could retrieve them from the pile without an involved discussion. It won’t hurt some unknown kid to have a couple extra books. All we needed to do was leave as quietly as we’d come. I went to round up the girls as my wife prepared the coats and stroller. We nodded and smiled and phrased apologetic nonsenses about tired children recovering from a cold that we knew people couldn’t hear anyway, and wouldn’t mind since no one there knew either us or our children.
“Listen up everybody! It’s time for the song! And the cake! Barbara and I wrote a song especially for her little brother’s birthday! Everyone come stand over here!”
Now, I’ve walked out on a lot of things. On people and meetings; on movies and concerts; on unending lunches and tedious chatter. I’ve discreetly stepped out of wedding ceremonies and friends’ plays. Somehow, however, walking out of a two-year-old’s birthday song seemed inordinately callous, even if he had no idea that we so much as existed. We stood to the side, secretly ready to run in embarrassment but smiling at the adorable scene all the same.
“I want a picture with everyone! Come on, it’s for the song! All of the adults, stand over here.” We let ourselves be corralled sheepishly. “The kids in front. There… great!”
We all sang. It was a pretty song, about loving like superheroes. Then we all took superhero poses for the picture. “This is wonderful! I’ll put all of these pictures into his book and he will be able to look at them throughout his life and remember each and everyone of you!” Well, that should prove interesting.
The cake was cut. We tiptoed out into the brisk Brooklyn air.
Dear people from the superhero party at Die StammKneipe in Brooklyn, should you ever read this: thank you! The pretzels were delicious and you are beyond a doubt a lovely bunch of people. I hope the little guy enjoys the books.
As we walked away, not daring to look behind us, I noticed that Thelma had somehow acquired the ‘H’ from the ‘Happy Birthday’ candles and was attempting to eat it like a lollipop. And then it dawned on me.
Tomorrow morning, we’ll be back.