What was that noise again, anyway?

June 02, 1996|By Stephanie Salter

SAN FRANCISCO -- It all began with three of us Baby Boomers trying to describe the sound of a Zippo lighter to a 12-year-old.

"Oh, I miss that sound," said Stephen.

"Click, fwwhh, click," said Karen. She moved her hands as if she had indeed flipped open the lid of a hefty stainless steel Zippo (circa 1955).

"That sound is like an extinct species," I said. "What other sounds have disappeared from daily life?"

Silence befell us for about 10 seconds. Then . . .

"The sound of a rotary dial phone," said Stephen.

"A rotary dial?" I said. "How about the sound of a phone ringing? Bells, not microchip tweeters."

How about the sound of a manual typewriter? How about the sound of tin bread boxes or lunch pails? How about the crinkling of Cellophane? A heavy, green bottle of Coca-Cola making its way through the twisting iron pipeline of a red, coffin-like, metal vending machine?

How about milk bottles clinking against one other in a metal milkman's carrying crate? How about coal, roaring down a tin chute and into a basement bin? The sound of an alarm clock being wound? How about the thunk of a hot lighter snapping up from a car dashboard? How about the polyglot of words and music as you twirled a pre-digitalized car radio dial?

That reminded me of something different that had disappeared.

"Remember when you used to turn on the TV?" I said.

"Nothing," said Stephen.

"Silence until the tubes heated up," said Karen.

Christina, the 12-year-old, looked at all of us.

"No sound?" she said. "Not even when you used the remote?"

Stephanie Salter is a San Francisco Examiner columnist.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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