ON THE AVENUES: Elusive sounds of silence.


Disappointment is a sort of bankruptcy – the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation.
— Eric Hoffer

Meet the new year; same as the old year. Then as now, most of my days begin with an earnest question.

What can I learn today that wouldn’t occur in a million years to the dullards who fancy themselves pillars of the community in New Albany, a place that Sinclair Lewis so scathingly documented almost a century ago?

Okay, so Lewis called the city Zenith, as located in the state of Winnemac, but his fiction is our daily reality in New Gahania.

Of course the act of reading anything — books, fortune cookies, even Susan Duncan’s editorials — would be enough to give almost anyone hereabouts a leg up on the high priests of low common denominators, and so the work I’ve chosen to begin the year is Charles Marohn’s long-awaited book, Strong Towns, which explains how to build healthy communities sustainably and incrementally, the old-fashioned way.

Marohn is a civil engineer who has dared question his profession’s hidebound premises, thus elevating a small-town Minnesotan into something of a church-door-nailing, Martin Luther-like annoyance to the encrusted inhabitants of engineering’s long corrupted “Vatican” of so-called best practices.

At this precise moment, the most entertaining thing I can imagine is the head of New Albany’s city engineering exploding into HWC-infused confetti after ten minutes over coffee with Marohn.

Surely Jeff Speck experienced the same thrill of witnessing sheer, unadulterated civic incomprehension when he met with city officials about the merits of a comprehensive street grid refit — which they rejected in all but the barest of minimally propagandistic measures.

Rumor has it that when the River Heritage Conservancy got together with Mayor Jeff Gahan’s political patronage team to describe genuinely exciting plans for a world-class park unit astride the Greenway in Clarksville, the session didn’t go very well.

“It was like trying to talk to second-grade students,” one of the presenters is said to have commented afterward.

In other news, second-grade students are feeling mightily insulted these days.

Automobile supremacy surely is the most pervasive form of imperialism in human history, to the extent that most Americans never so much as consider the ubiquitous grip cars have on our lives.

In New Albany, we’re about to learn a hard lesson about automobile-centrism come spring of 2021, when the Sherman Minton undergoes repairs, to be rendered quite limited in terms of usefulness for as long as four years.

Ironically, 2021 also will be the tenth anniversary of the bridge’s first epileptic fit. Readers with long memories will recall the afternoon in 2011 when INDOT closed the Sherman Minton for emergency repairs, which lasted several months and thrust the insufferably trite term “Shermageddon” into the already stunted local commuter’s vocabulary.

But you may have forgotten the immediate, instantaneous effect of the bridge’s closure on downtown New Albany’s quality of life, a single auditory facet of which was enhanced immeasurably by car-centrism’s required surgical procedure.

Suddenly downtown became pervasively and somewhat eerily quiet.

Granted, local vehicular traffic still moved; planes still flew and boom cars spewed. Drunks bellowed and children shrieked, but the bridge’s shutdown removed a backing track of white noise, to which we’d all grown accustomed. All these “on the ground” sounds could be heard more clearly because the incessant daily hum emanating from the bridge abruptly disappeared.

Considering the realities of our addiction to cars, I can’t say the ensuing chaos was a good thing, although it bears repeating that people adapted rather quickly; humans can do this when there’s no other choice. As for me, walking and bicycling, I enjoyed the peacefulness, at least in relative terms.

When I see an image like this one, I can’t help wondering what daily life was like before the species became so damn noisy.

When New Albany really WAS a strong town.

Regular readers know how much I adore music, but even so there are portions of each day when I cherish silence just as much, whether reading, writing, walking or just resting. Less noise and clamor, just the relative serenity of one’s own thoughts.

Is there a place for silence in the contemporary world? Sometimes I fear it’s becoming extinct.

I seldom if ever “call out” local food and drink operators, seeing as I did my own bit in the biz as an owner, and continue to program beer (at Pints&union), and yet I’ll make an exception today, because I’ve come to loathe the modern trend of playing intrusive music OUTSIDE an establishment.

Look, you can do as you please inside even if I disagree, and continue to pine for the days when bars were places to have conversation, not witness floor shows. Display idiotic sports ball match-ups, book bands, belt out the karaoke — whatever, it’s all good — but can’t you spare those of us merely walking past, dodging sandwich boards wrongly placed in the middle of the sidewalk, who enjoy the way things sound in the city without forcing your choice of tunes on the rest of us?

(By the way, whomever coined the idea of installing sound systems for motorcycles should be shot without trial. Think Trump could do just this one small service for us?)

As you can see, big changes take some getting used to, and so it is with my sabbatical from local affairs.

ON THE AVENUES: On patience, grieving, puzzles and a necessary sabbatical.

Of course, my comments here, as well as a continued preference for the brilliantly descriptive, albeit satiric “New Gahania” instead of the geographically correct “New Albany,” serve as confirmation that I probably can’t ever let go of opinionation entirely, if only at a sort of maintenance level.

However, what I’m seeking are revisions to the broad terms of engagement with The Resistance. My writing time is being successfully reapportioned, with a big allotment going toward my web site duties (since last July) at Food & Dining Magazine. Another chunk will be devoted to writing about beer at the Pints&union website now that the site is active.

None of this is to be construed as implying that suddenly, magically, my thoughts will be neutered. I’m on sabbatical from involvement in public affairs insofar as participating as I’ve done in the past takes time I no longer have. This weekly column is one exception to any time-based abstinence I might otherwise observe.

Long-form writing once each week keeps the polemical muscles toned, you know.

However, if you want to chat about the prevailing New Gahanian lunacy over beers that I probably would have been drinking anyway, conversation’s not on the clock, is it?

And, if you feed me straight lines on Twitter, I’ll toss off one-liners all day long; not only is this activity barbed, brief and factual, but it’s great fun. The same goes for a few shots across the bow now and then at NA Confidential, although only if the time it takes to fire them is short.

Know that the blog remains at the disposal of those wishing to expound for an audience different from the one they normally address on social media.

The Green Mouse still wants to hear from you, and your submissions will be published here so long as they’re predominantly ready for prime time, with my contribution limited to light editing and an index finger primed to press the “publish” tab.

As for my middle finger, well, we’ll save it for truly special occasions.

Recent columns:

January 2: ON THE AVENUES: On patience, grieving, puzzles and a necessary sabbatical.

December 26: ON THE AVENUES: Four more years? Heaven help us all, but there are five reasons to be optimistic.

December 21: ON THE AVENUES HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Truth, lies, music, and a trick of the Christmas tale (2019 Remix).

December 19: ON THE AVENUES: These parents oppose their children’s exposure to the PURE Initiative as part of the NA-FC Schools curriculum. Here’s why.


  1. I bet the River Heritage Conservancy lost Mayor Jeff Gahan’s political patronage team when the team realized the Conservancy was saying "REforestation" instead of "DEforestation".