I feel sorry for the left oven mitt because we don’t really need it. Sometimes I wear it when it’s not necessary, just to give it a boost.
This sounds like I’m trying to be cute, but it’s a raw confession. This is no joke: I recently bought a bottle of beet juice because I felt sorry for the bottle. It felt like walking past a homeless person. And I even spoke comforting words to the bottle as it languished in my refrigerator for weeks, before I finally had to throw it out, because it tasted like shit.
It makes me sick to hear how amused I sound by my own antics. But it’s the act of confession that provides some needed respite, and respite always produces a certain giddiness. That’s why priests always thought I was making stuff up in the Confession booth. As a result, I don’t think they gave me sufficient penance. But it’s confusing the way they made us worship a statue, and then believe that a tasteless wafer was the body of Jesus. They encouraged us to blur the line between animate and inanimate just as we were learning in school that nothing is real unless it can be measured, and everything is basically an automaton, including our own biological drives and patterns of thinking.
It was confusing, so I rebelled by regressing and staying regressed. It’s no wonder I constantly talk to anything extractable from the unrelenting whole, myself, my fingers, individually, or as a group, the chairs, car antennae (up there like R2D2 in all kinds of weather).
Everything takes on a personality, and I’ll be damned if I can tell the true difference between my neighbor and a shoe. I treat them all the same. Sure, I’m anthropomorphizing. But I’m not entirely clear on that. Do I treat myself as an inanimate object, one which I’m also trying to display in a way that suggests authenticity? Yes, so what’s the difference? I talk to things, even my fingers, as I do to my Self. They’re all projections. My only options at this moment seem to be these: 1) be honest about the degree to which I relate to Self and Other as inanimate objects; or 2) become fuzzy on the difference between animate and inanimate, and give them all the benefit of the doubt.
So feelings for inanimate things run high here, mainly in order to avoid becoming a psychopath. That’s probably also why I started reading Nabokov again recently. He treats things as well as he treats people. And for some reason, Nabokov’s artistry reminds me of the boxer Vasyl Lomachenko’s. Nabokov has that same athletic grace, the same lively, joyously, condescendingly, maliciously life-affirming skill, which enlivens everything it destroys. And I can’t resist loving the rich personalities of the sad little things tripping and floundering through Nabokov’s books, especially the inanimate ones:
“Hugh gently closed the door after him but like a stupid pet it whined and immediately followed him into the room.”)
And I’m guessing Nabokov took route #1 above, and ended up not only one of the most beautiful, nimble and buoyant writers in history, but also something close to a literary psychopath, who would probably sacrifice his own mother for a story capable of delivering a single, lively tingle to the spine.
At any rate, I recognize myself in things more readily than in the unnamable, non-analogue reality that refuses to have any truck with identity. I feel like a thing, quite frankly. A fetish, mostly mechanical, running on and on like the energizer bunny.
Besides, the oven mitt has a long history of human interaction, beginning with Earl Mitt, which I won’t go into, not knowing any of it, except the first couple of sentences from here: https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/30238/was-the-oven-mitt-first-developed-by-earl-mitt
But the left one is lying there every morning, waiting to be used, and this forlorn mitt stirs to life feelings for everything – dogs left in a state of unimaginable doggy despair on tie-outs; the usual popsicle stick or gum wrapper in a drain pipe; clearcut forests of course; and the lint in my pocket. They all make me sad, especially the thing I call my Self.
So I’m having this dream about the oven mitts having an argument. And I feel sad in the dream too. This feeling wells up every time I look at the oven mitts, especially the left one, because that one has no purpose in life, or hardly any. And she’s berated all the time by the right mitt, who storms off to his favorite bar, where there’s some soft porn entertainment that caters specifically to mitts, winter mittens, even a catcher’s glove or two, anything padded or soft basically, and capable of fitting on a hand or possibly even a foot.
This reminds me that my socks are twisted, which I can’t help cursing and pitying. And my clothes feel like they don’t like me; and my hair is uncombable. The culture is rotten, we’re going extinct, and the sink is backed up. I feel guilty about standing here waiting for the dreaded thing to finally happen, which we all seem to know is going to happen, but which we don’t seem to do anything about, just like the Germans who weren’t Nazis, but who didn’t really want to admit what was happening either, because it would take a readiness to die right this instant, and God damn it, I’m not!
There are these general complaints, and they seem to be adding up to communal pre-traumatic stress that is both attractive, as it promises to be entertaining, and lord knows we need distractions; as it is also likely to be very very bad.
It’s like the German air raids on London. Kids grew up watching bombs fall on neighbors’ houses and never acknowledged any post-traumatic stress not only because they didn’t have a word for it, but because everybody was feeling the same thing. So it was impossible to say anything about the situation because your situation was no worse than anyone else’s, and quite possibly a hell of a lot better.
It was a communal pain. Therefore you had no right to claim it as your own. Naming it amounted to stepping on a long-buried memory and blowing up the whole neighborhood once again. So they all agreed to just keep it buried and move on, which made a huge, heavy ghost of the ordeal, although they wouldn’t admit it.
Nothing bad like that happened to me or you. But for some reason we took this beautiful world and slit its throat. So there’s that heavy burden, another communal haunting, which isn’t recognized as something communal, because the shared thing is a state of severance from everything. No one wants to make common ground over this, because if we even whisper a word about it, it’ll jiggle the trigger that blows us all up (even though we’d all blow up together, which is less lonely).
But some unspeakable anxiety seems to be compelling us to move the goal posts of what a healthy society looks like farther and farther into no man’s land. And nobody will come right out and admit that we’re all fucking nuts, no matter how many symptoms we exhibit. After all, the present moment is hardly distinguishable (according to 7 out of 10 Chomsky Martians) from WWII. It never really ended, unless you’re pedantic enough to mention treaties. Let’s just say the earth can hardly tell the difference. But you’ll get locked up in a mental institution if you get too worked up about any of this, or try too strenuously to say that constant war is a sign of madness, or that peace is not a crazy utopian dream, even if it makes you feel better to believe that, because if it’s inevitable human nature then you don’t have to feel ashamed about being a crazy little sonofabitch.
And from your holding cell in the mental hospital you could spend days listing the culture’s unique symptoms of madness, but for every symptom you mention 90% of the population would not see a terrifying development but a cherished tradition. Constant war, yes, but many are proud to serve; a civilization that eats like once-removed cannibals, ruining the climate. But who’s going to listen to that old sermon but earnest vegans? Work! But too many idiots claim to enjoy being chained to a timeclock. The killing of whales. It’s like hearing about the killing of children for profit, and yet there are those who kill whales and kill children for profit, and think nothing of it. Brute schooling, but at least I didn’t have to navigate gang turf on my way to school. It was all hills and rivers and forests, idyllic beyond belief. And yet we drove ourselves mad in those beautiful valleys, like everywhere else.
No, the only commonly acknowledged terror is boredom.
Anyways, the argument between the mitts morphed into the left oven mitt and I running for the river (vaguely intending to elope at some point), and jumping in canoes desperate to escape boredom. And yet we knew that by paddling downstream we were effectively escaping towards a military facility that was famous for shooting trespassers.
Was it really just boredom that sent the oven mitt and I paddling to our death? All I know is that the elopement wasn’t the driving force, but a side development. We decided to elope when we were already in full flight. Not that anyone is drawing a map of this dream, but just for the record.
And we weren’t escaping her husband’s clutches either. Quite frankly, neither of us gave a second thought to the right oven mitt back in the kitchen. It was a different dream starting on the river. It’s arbitrary how you start and stop a dream anyway. They just keep following the ruts you plowed during the day, until the bottom falls out at some point during the night and you more or less die, forgetting yourself entirely, or becoming something untranslatable and essentially well beyond the iron curtain of conceited opinion that limits our range of motion during the day.
So at any rate, boredom was the secret pain driving us to commit suicide by trespass. A boredom, however, like none in history. To wit: Every box of cereal talked, “would you like some more sugar on that kind sir?”; every patty of butter unrolled itself, told you to press a button on the attached digital reader and the patty would slice itself up in quarters or tablespoons or melt itself at this or that temperature. Not only that, but there were flocks of flying advertisements – mini-drones trailing long banners advertising breakthroughs in toothbrush design. Even in the woods, flocks of advertisements would drive you to drink. They chased away all the mosquitos and black flies, but they were far more maddening than any of them.
But who am I kidding, there were no woods in this new dream. It was a vast peneplain laid out in blocks, with nothing but pizzerias, spas, bars and used clothing stores for thousands of miles, and the sky darkened by multitudes of flying advertisements. The trauma here was basically the theft of solitude, the inability to think without the guidance of some superior digital brain.
So we jumped in some canoes and paddled down the river, past signs saying “: Military Facility, Dismount Your Boat” – I think they said “dismount,” which is admittedly odd. But we kept going. Past more signs, ever more vehement. The last one saying something like “You Better Fucking Believe You’ll Be Killed! Shot Between the Eye By Eager Marksmen!”
But the oven mitt and I kept going. I had her back, she had mine. And it was soft, and the day was bright, and we said hell with it. I don’t know why now, probably didn’t know then either. Maybe we both assumed the other one would be bright enough to spot the danger and say something. Well, we spotted the danger, but we were still very shy around each other, and kept quiet.
Finally, there were these huge turbines. A thick rod stuck out over the river. Attached to the rod was a large paddle wheel, which was being turned by the madly flowing river, generating green energy for an industrial grade torture apparatus housed in a nearby building (and from which we could hear screams, some joyful, some agonized; as Beckett notes, always in perfect balance).
And we’re canoeing towards the paddle wheel, and I guess we figure we can skate on past it, but it’s a very long paddle wheel. It might have had several separate sections of paddle wheel, and some openings between them. In fact, we tried to canoe between two paddle wheels, and the mitt was getting wet and heavy. I tried not to say anything to upset her, but my grunting and groaning with each pull of the oar – well, on a canoe the upper arm pushes while the lower one pulls – was getting louder.
We were sinking because of the wet oven mitt, even though she was trying to help paddle (not very good at it, never did it before, etc.). And then the edge of this paddle wheel came down on the edge of the canoe and pulled us under.
I had one hell of a time dragging that mitt off the bottom of the river. Waterlogged doesn’t approach how wet she was. She probably contained an Olympic Pool’s worth of water. To say we left a trail after climbing out of the river is a shy way of saying we caused some local flooding. Not very damaging obviously, but enough to let the Federal official find us in a minute.
He said, “you do realize that you’ll have to be executed. I’ve already alerted the MPs, who will do the execution under my supervision. I will kindly ask you to have patience, as it generally takes the MPs about 15 minutes to get here and perhaps 5 or 10 minutes dispensing with formalities before administering the fatal blow.”
And then he reached out slowly, and awkwardly, and very gently, lovingly, touched the spot on the back of our necks where the bullets would enter.
Oddly enough, neither of us were afraid. At first, it was kind of exhilarating. We looked at each other and said “Wow!” Then we added (in chorus, always in chorus from now on) that we hadn’t expected to end up getting executed.
In truth, I doubt we even expected to “end up” anywhere, but to just keep going from one dream to another. And I could no longer remember what I was doing before eloping with Ms. Mitt, or how I met her, etc. I hope to God this dream isn’t revealing some obvious Freudian condition. I feed this piece of information to the vague, ever ravenous cloud of unease following me. It’s a huge ghostly amoeba demanding as nourishment something more substantial to justify its existence. And so it feasts daily on every error I commit, gaining confidence in itself error by error.
I mean, on the face of it, our situation was hopeless. But the oven mitt and I looked at each other and smiled, and said “we didn’t realize we were trespassing.”
The kind official said he was sorry, but it was a regulation. And if we let one innocent trespasser off the hook, it would invite armies and terrorists to tour the grounds.
We both turned to each other laughing: “That seems very unlikely,” we said.
But he was adamant that letting us go, even though he really wanted to, would set a bad precedent.
As politely as possible, we asked, Who would notice? And I remember that the oven mitt used her thumb to jab me in the side, and even in the dream I wondered why. Maybe she was trying to call my attention to something, a bird probably, she was always hoping to catch one in her mitten, or I guess that would be in her whole body.
But it was interesting because the official — probably the facility director, let’s call him that — kept apologizing. And that was embarrassing, and we had to keep forgiving him. And he kept pleading for us to understand that he was helpless in not being able to break his allegiance to the rules, including the one specifying the immediate execution of any or all persons, including persons of any color, hue, cultural proclivity or any of the 32 genders recognized by the International Body of Body Typing. These rules, he explained, are what give society its structure, its protection from moral decay and loss of meaning.
We felt guilty about asking him to break the rules. Then he coughed and excused himself for the cough, which I’ve always thought unnecessary, but I still do it, too, because it’s just a general rule.
But we still tried to convince him to break this execution rule, just this once, and then he could kill everybody else, if he really wanted to, but it’s still not a nice thing to do, we added, nodding.
He chuckled. A good natured man from a certain angle we thought.
But then the oven mitt nudged me in the side again, and that’s when I thought, ok, maybe she’s not still just trying to shake off some of the water, maybe she’s trying to say something.
You know, I never really spoke to the oven mitt. We just knew what the other was thinking. So I kind of got it finally. The facility director was betraying in his expression and body movements a glee at the thought of killing us. She could always read people, because she had more empathy than I did.
We confronted him with this fact, and he didn’t deny it.
“But I can’t help it,” he pleaded. “This is what makes me genuinely sad. I’m very sad to kill you precisely because I realize in doing this I find enjoyment. Do you see my predicament, and why I ask for your mercy? In other words, I’m feeling guilty.”
I wanted to run to his aid, but the oven mitt stopped me.
In silence he led us to the height of a tall hill, where we looked down the other side into a much deeper valley, indicating for anyone drawing a map that this large hill was the peak of a much larger mountain. And we could hear the siren, and see the tiny MP car starting to race up the winding mountain road.
“Stand in that spot,” he said.
There was a drain under our feet.
“So my secret’s revealed,” he said. “I must have secretly hoped it would relieve me of guilt, even though I preach against such a thing. Maybe expunge the sins I’ve committed, and the ones I’m going to commit, but it never does.”
He smiled shyly and shrugged his shoulders. We shrugged back.
He took another puff of his cigarette and started telling us a story.
“My uncle was a lifelong bachelor. And when he was 70 years old he started courting this woman. She was squat, had a round face, two missing molars, a cute dimple, free-hanging earlobes, a slight “outtie”, and eyes mercury blue, with a black hole in the middle that whispered mysteries.
My uncle was almost handsome as a young man. His face had a strong, if disorganized bone structure, like a layer cake that collapsed unevenly.
They went out on two dates, each ending with tea in his room (she two sugars, he four). He had never courted and had no idea how such things transpired, or, at this late date, what the ultimate purpose was. But he went along with it, puzzled as to how she came to know of him, or why his existence mattered to her. So the expression he used on both dates was that of a man with his finger in an electrical outlet, grinning desperately, too polite and intrigued by this encounter to remove his finger.
He had come up with a list of questions designed to keep the female amused, in rolling titters if possible. He had heard of titters, and knew they liked tea. So he had gone quite out of his way to obtain the necessary, he almost said “birdfeed”, but said condiments (not knowing exactly what “condiments” meant).
She, on the other hand, volunteered at the Humane Society and was fiercely intelligent, capable of pulling a calf into the world, attending book club meetings on Friday nights, and a game or two of canasta for money on Thursdays, which often ended up in excessive drinking and the occasional joint. She was there under the misperception that the lonely bachelor who came to look for dogs one Sunday was the same gentleman her friend had mentioned, who was about the same age, had gray hair, possibly a toupee, a gray mustache, interesting bone structure.
And the fact that this was a different man, very different, didn’t dawn on the lady until after she had endured two evening teas. She was obviously optimistic by nature. One evening could be discounted as the rusty conversational skills of a mourner (the intended target reputedly lost his wife, a long and happy marriage). But two attempts to start the conversation off with “And how do you spell your name again?” didn’t bode well.
She spelled it on both occasions.
“What is your favorite knitting pattern?”
She stopped answering the questions soon enough, and drove the event by force of will towards a more substantial footing.
“Enough questions, Mr. Malory” (and Mr. Faughn (pronounced Fayne) never corrected her). “It’s my turn: How are you getting along with the dog? I don’t see him.”
Throughout his life, my uncle’s gaseous mind had leaked most of its elements into the space between him and other things. And only the nominal gravity of a single remaining fear kept a cloudy semblance of a consolidated consciousness intact, allowing him to eat and breathe enough to retain the official designation, “among the living.” He was like a camel already carrying far too many loose ends, and therefore ever vigilant against the addition of yet another (and final) loose end. Did he own a dog? He wasn’t sure, but it made his head spin just thinking about it. And that’s when Mr. Faughn’s grin of wonder and fear took on an added 120 volts. He kept offering her cupcakes and more tea.
Both evenings ended rapidly. The first, in fear she’d over-taxed a man still slow to warm up, after losing his long-term wife. The second when she realized that even if this was the right man, he was a lunatic.
But he always felt guilty about being a rather strange chap who liked to collect comic books and read about trains.
So when she stood up to leave, the sudden disappearance of those two black holes allowed his attention to go slack and widen (as it will). Finally it achieved the necessary width to notice that he’d been mute and grinning like an empty cave for about five minutes.
He realized there was no hope of convincing the lady to try again, and he had no real interest in doing so anyways. But he felt guilty, as always. And so the first words he says to the departing lady (since the last time he said, “cupcake?”) was “you’re very well groomed.”
He was sincerely trying to make her feel good, which is to say, trying to make her not make him feel bad. And this act of fake empathy made the lady (Mrs. Bromberry) stop and turn. What a sad, strange man, she thought, amazed, not peeved. “He’s pitying me,” she thought. “For not having anyone, like he has.” Then she felt fleetingly insulted, “paah”ed it away, and thought, “well, enough of that, I don’t need this shit.” And left.
And they both felt good about the encounter, because each recognized something in the other which made them feel superior.”
The warden – let’s call the nameless official that – stopped speaking and looked at us expectantly.
We felt obliged to say, “That’s a nice story.”
He shrugged and looked hopeless. But he still had that glint. “Five more minutes till they arrive probably,” he said, pointing down the mountain to the speeding car.
“Have you ever had that feeling,” he said. “That you were talking to someone, and then you realized that you were talking to yourself?” He laughed. “I’m getting that, I get that all the time,” he said.
We felt suddenly heavy and unable to speak. We watched the car make another hairpin turn. It seemed important to the driver, also, that we not be allowed to breathe much more of the earth’s oxygen supply. We felt guilty about using it, we saw his point, there were rules, and they either meant something or they didn’t. And if they didn’t, then chaos would reign, so we were like agents of chaos. I tried not to make any chaos by breathing very quietly and not moving.
He looked at his watch. “It’s not that I want you to die,” he said. “But I can’t help wanting the rules to stay in place. They hold the line. That’s why I seem gleeful. It’s nothing personal.”
We had a blank expression that seemed to disappoint him.
“You don’t think I feel guilty?” he accused us. “I know there’s a better world possible. But I have to live in this one. And guilt is the one cost I have to pay.”
We looked down, ashamed.
“You know,” he said. “I used to tell myself to stop feeling guilty about all this. And this advice was reasonable, but if I followed it I’d be murdering a man, but then also not having the decency to bother myself about the matter anymore: just wander off free as a bird.”
We asked for clarification: “Sir, do you mean that not feeling guilty would be like murdering a man, and then compounding the crime by saying, “well, the best thing I can do for me right now is to forget about it and go on with my life?”
“Yes, you got it!” he said warmly. “So I’ve devoted myself to this cause. I speak to schools and rotary clubs urging them to not give up on feeling guilty. I want that to be the thing people remember me for, not running away from the things we do. Facing these things squarely, and this requires humility. I think it’s the right thing to do. We owe it to you, our victims. Never forgetting will ensure the repetition of suffering, which is how we pay for our crimes.”
We felt reluctant to say anything to undermine the righteous enthusiasm this man showed. We wanted to preserve him from the ultimate shock of disappointment, when people would stop feeling guilty, and stop believing in the necessity of a just revenge. If we were not executed it would be like depriving him of the one solace he finds in these circumstances, the opportunity to bear the burden of guilt for a whole society. And we’re just two people. We can’t expect society to bend itself out of all proportion just for us.
“There’s some slapstick error in the heart of human misery,” he said. “If only we could find it funny.”
He offered us a cigarette as the jeep pulled up to the parking place. “The proverbial cigarette,” he felt obliged to add. “There’s time,” he added. “Don’t worry, they need to fill out some paperwork and wash their hands.”
My hands were sweating, the buzzing in my head was louder than the warden’s voice. I clutched the oven mitt and felt my wet hand sliding in panic across the soft fabric, my heart was racing.
“You know, I met a man on the street the other day,” he said. “I hardly know him, but we travel the same train route each morning and evening. A rich man, obviously, with a big mustache, maybe in his early ‘60s. Otherwise, the usual features you’d expect for a background figure of this sort.”
“I greeted him, which is something we do now and then, not always. Often we pretend to not see each other to avoid the pain of yet another forced exchange. But I greeted him, because I wanted a confessor. And I waited until he asked me how I was doing.
“And I replied, “I’ve never been able to distinguish the anguish of a crushed toy, all the hopes of the parents, the delights of a child, flattened by a semi, from the anguish of a real child, one who appears quite suddenly, alive like no memory, in this forbidden territory, and brings me to life, the deep wells of its godlike gaze, and so on. The same rules would apply though and I can only ultimately take comfort in that. And so we all do what we do because we want to do it, in the end, don’t we?” I said. I looked at the acquaintance on the train hopefully, but careful not to show any signs of yearning.
But the rich man in the suit and tie stared at me in wonder instead. So I went on: “And so to avoid looking psychopathic, I make myself feel bad. It’s the least I can do. After all.”
“Even though,” I continued. “I know perfectly well that when I’m guilty I’m only really mourning myself, that person I can no longer be because that person over there, that moron, managed to be insulted by something I did.
“And you can bet that for the rest of my life I’ll be adding to my case against that person. At any rate, I’m not really thinking about the dirty deed I did, so I might as well just forget it and go on with my life. You know, try to be better next time and so on.
“So that’s how I’m doing, that’s my occupation at present,” I say to the gentleman.
The warden seemed expectant, so we said, “What happened then?”
“He had the decency to walk away,” he said. “Rejoicing, no doubt, in the freedom of never again needing to greet me on the train.
“I, too, felt a reflected freedom, but quite cool, and ineffectual, like trying to warm oneself with moonlight. It was the freedom of being suddenly alone, and knowing that I forced him to recognize the great load of guilt that I’d been holding, for you and others like you. Otherwise, what’s the point of holding it?”
He took a puff on his cigarette, and looked wistfully at the sky: “Every once in a while the scales seem to fall from my eyes, and I behold the depth of my former ignorance and shudder like Ozymandias might have shuddered if he read Shelly. And I try to distract myself by noting how humble this makes me. But then I’m immediately proud of my humility, which ruins it. These little self-affirmations are a constant background noise, but they offer little comfort. It’s like trying to bask in artificial lights (even the moon provides more warmth).
“But the magnitude of my own ignorance eventually claims my attention. It’s hypnotizing, it is beyond calculation, because it is growing with every newborn I do not know, every action that happens beyond my eyesight. See why people agitate me? They make me feel small. And I can’t help running scared, returning to more familiar ground, remembering my rank, my house and car, a jaguar, my wardrobe, and the pleasure I take in my job.”
In shame, we could hardly look at him. The officers were approaching, pistols already drawn.
“The ceremony should go quickly,” he smiled. “My wife is serving meatloaf tonight.”
We could hear their footsteps on the gravel path leading up to the execution spot.
I raised a tepid objection: “You will not be able to kill the oven mitt. It’s not even alive.” I felt bad saying this in front of the oven mitt, but she understood.
“Oh that’s not a problem. We will bury you in her.”
I thought of Dostoevsky and the boxer Golovkin. I saw them fighting each other in a ring, the writer pummeling the great slugger, until suddenly, a single powerful straight right by Golovkin laid him out cold, and Dostoevsky saw death arrive, and wished he could write about it. The crowd was cheering, it was crows passing overhead. A chickadee landed in the tree near where we stood, with our hands now tied behind our backs. I marveled at the bird’s sweet, inquisitive nature, no I was jealous, terribly envious, but she was softly giggling at everyone, and somehow it comforted me.
The ceremony had begun.
“Would you please step into the oven mitt, and leave your head out, so we can access the back of your neck.”
I got in. I could feel her trembling. She smelled like the river, and mud, and faintly of tomato sauce and sweat. I bent over and noticed the ants. They blindfolded me, but I could hear the chickadee, and I felt bad that they’d scare her with the shot. And I wondered why I had never sat in one place long enough to notice their beauty, the beauty of everything. I heard the gun click. And a moment later I heard a truck backing up, probably the truck that would take me and the oven mitt to our grave. Ding Ding Ding, it kept getting louder, until I realized what it was.