2005-12-15 / Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

The deafening sounds of silence
By Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

Back in 1966, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel recorded their classic song “The Sound of Silence,” the inspiration for this week’s column — a tribute to those times when dead quiet is louder than words:

For instance, when your kids are playing in the next room and you hear a crash followed by the unmistakable tinkle of shattered glass skipping across a tile floor. You rush in to see little faces staring up at you, all wearing bewildered expressions of professed innocence. The allegedly “priceless” Chinese vase that grandma brought home from her trip abroad lies on the floor in a few thousand pieces . . . the silence is deafening.

When you come home to a major scratch and dent on the front fender of your week-old car, another silent moment is in the making. Your wife, teenage son and daughter stand at the door, smiling, as they wait to greet you. For just a split second, their faces change into the see-no, hear-no, do-no evil monkeys. You blink and they return to their normal blank stares. The silence escalates to a mild roar.

The following is a monthly occurrence: You find the cellphone bill on the kitchen table. As you open it, you hear doors closing and cars starting. After you read it, you realize you’re at home . . . alone. The silence brings little comfort.

Another quiet scenario occurs when your teenager hands you a report card and silently waits for you to sign it. Without opening the envelope — you know . . . but you read anyway, just to make sure. He stares at you — you stare at him, he stares at you — you stare at him. The silent question of “why?” is rhetorical. It has never been answered, and will likely not receive a logical response in the near or distant future. The silence is chillingly menacing.

This is a classic: You decide not to eat dessert before going to bed. You’ll eat “your” piece of apple pie in the morning so you can run it off when you jog. You dream about the pie. It is at the forefront of your mind throughout the night, so much so that you can’t wait for the alarm to go off. Finally — the familiar ring launches you out of bed. The sun peeks over the horizon as you descend the stairs. You picture the coveted pie, as it awaits you, undisturbed, right where you left it.

Your family chatters away at the breakfast table. You greet them cheerily. You salivate while opening the refrigerator door to find the plate exactly where you placed it the night before. The only difference is . . . it is empty. You turn around and look at every face at the table individually, thinking you can read the mind of the culprit. The chattering has stopped. Movement has stopped. They avoid direct eye contact.

You try to say, “who,” and nothing comes out. With intense concentration, you manage to mutter, “pie.” They know “who,” and they will not tell you. For a fleeting second, you understand headlines that read, “Man annihilates family.” Of course, that is absurd; death for stealing a piece of pie is unthinkable. Such a brazenly thoughtless, selfish, and unconscionable act deserves something much more imaginative and severe. Death is too simple, final, and short-lived. Stealing “your” piece of pie warrants punishment that will indelibly imprint the seriousness of the crime at the forefront of the perpetrator’s sick, twisted mind. Only then, can you rest assured that the person responsible will rue committing such a dastardly act, and ponder the transgression in perpetuity for the remainder of his or her insignificant life. You leave the room. The silence is thick, cold, and foreboding.

At the end of the day, you return home, only this time you avoid the front door. Instead, you go to your workshop, a separate building attached to the garage at the back of the house. A sanctuary offering coveted moments of solitude and respite from the rigors of family life. Here, underneath your workbench, sits a small refrigerator where you keep a 12-pack of your favorite beer. Nothing is more refreshing after sinking into your old easy chair to watch an occasional football game on a little second-hand television set. It’s not fancy, but it’s yours.

You are in your element, in your workshop, where you do manly things. Your friends drop by to enjoy a brew, and maybe take in a game, or just pass the time. But right now, at this very moment, you are alone — and the silence is golden.

You open the refrigerator anticipating the first sip of an icecold long neck at the end of a hard day . . . and alas, the 12-pack is gone. Instead, a quickly scrawled note on a torn piece of cardboard reads: I-O-U. No signature, no name, but you have your suspicions. Borrowing, you don’t mind, but it would have been nice if the thief had left just one beer. It’s proof that you can’t beat a system you can’t understand.

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