Close your eyes. What do you hear? Maybe it’s your neighbor chatting on the phone while walking past your apartment door. Maybe it’s the Mister Softee jingle. Or maybe it’s a woman screaming “blood of Christ” outside your window at 8 in the morning. Noise, of both the machine and man-made variety, is one of the inescapable realities of city life. Most are fairly innocuous. But then there are the horrors — sounds that are so loud, so persistent, and so downright weird they could drive even the sanest among us absolutely bonkers. These are a (lightly edited and condensed) selection of New York–specific noise horror stories.
Interminable Patriotism in Bay Ridge
Abby: My partner and I moved into our current place in Bay Ridge about two years ago, and we have a neighbor who — several afternoons per week, and often for upwards of an hour at a time — likes to listen to a recording of children singing the national anthem. It’s the same recording over and over again, literally back to back to back. The speaker is on his fire escape. Pointed outwards. We joke that it’s our monkey’s paw trade-off for having a balcony. It’s not the worst song it could be — it’s all treble, there’s no bass drop, there’s no electric guitar solo or heavy drums — it just sort of … continues.
Outside-the-Window Bible Sermons in Crown Heights
Cassandra: This started last year when we moved into our apartment. We’re on the first floor, and our bed is right next to a window, and the window faces the street. So when people are standing on the sidewalk, they are standing directly outside of our window.
There’s this woman with a microphone — and she turns this thing all the way up. At first, she was just kind of hopping around different areas of our street, but she started to consistently stand outside our window in the summer, every morning at 8:50 a.m., giving these disorienting Bible sermons. “If you don’t repent, you’re going to hell!” Or “Blood of Christ! Blood of Christ! Blood of Christ!” literally on repeat for like two minutes straight. During the month of June, she would say things like, “This Pride Month, the LGBT community, we need to remember where they’re going.”
Another person in our building tried talking to her. He works in restaurants and doesn’t come home until 4 in the morning, and he tried to explain to her that he needs to sleep through the day. And she was just like, “Well, God will protect you.” So she was not listening to any kind of reason or logic.
One day, it was my first day of my new job, and I was very excited. I was having the most peaceful sleep of my life when she wakes me up. It was like being woken up by some kind of weird children’s-show nightmare — Veggie Tales in hell. So I opened up the window and screamed, “Shut the fuck up!” at her. So that worked for a couple of days. But then she started coming back. I think that she was fueled by the conflict. It turned into yelling matches between the two of us at least once every few weeks or so. She’d be like, “Do you guys hear this? There are sinners all around me! Do you hear the prejudice I’m experiencing as a Christian?”
Finally, my fiancé came out with a speaker and started playing death metal, as almost like a backdrop to her service. Like he was specifically looking up “Satan death chants.” He only had to do it twice and she would immediately leave. She has been preaching across the street ever since. And I can finally sleep.
5 a.m. Waste Disposal in Clinton Hill
Max: Pre-pandemic, I lived in this lovely rent-stabilized apartment in Williamsburg, and the lady next door died. So her family came into town and sold it to a developer who proceeded to demolish the building. And it wasn’t just like, one day there was a big boom that took it from the top down — it was so noisy all the time. For eight months, there were nonstop jackhammering sounds and banging and trucks. Since we shared a wall, it came straight into my apartment. I felt like I was constantly vibrating.
And then when the demolition stopped, obviously they started building again. So it’s not like I even got any respite. The last straw was that they came to clear out the portaloos once or twice a week. My bedroom overlooked the street. And suddenly there was the loudest sound of all of the sounds going absolutely apeshit outside my window at, like, 5 a.m., which is ahead of New York legal building hours by a long stretch. I looked out the window, and there was a waste-disposal truck pumping all of the literal shit out of the building site. It’s this incredibly loud rattling — like a giant pipe going, whack whack whack whack whack whack whack whack whack whack. And it went on for 20 or 25 minutes.
And then he came back the next week — same time. So I got dressed, and I walked around to his truck. I was like, “It’s 5 in the morning.” I was trying to smile. Then he’s like, “Oh, sorry about that! Do you want to figure out a solution?” Obviously, I did. I asked if he could just come back later. He said, “Normally people just come out and scream at me, but you were quite nice, so you know what, yeah.” We compromised with 8 a.m. So I guess my takeaway is be nice to the waste-disposal man.
Major Equipment Deliveries on the Upper East Side
Carmine*: There’s this school on my block, and in the last 15 years, there’s been two major renovations. And okay, it’s a school, I’m a good citizen, I’m glad they’re fixing it up. But the problem is, when school is in session, they don’t want people working on the building. So they would start doing all the drilling and all the banging and all the knocking at about 4 or 5 in the afternoon. And it would continue on until 12 o’clock or 1 or 2 in the morning. There were deliveries of major equipment waking up the entire neighborhood at 2 in the morning.
I can be pretty civically engaged, so at this point, I contacted one of my representatives. They looked up the noise codes for me and, it turns out, for schools, there are basically no rules — they can get permission to fix it any time of the day or night. I did end up voicing a complaint to the foreman, and after that they kind of stopped working past 1 a.m. I don’t know if that was organic or if other people complained or if maybe a phone call was made. But still, it went on until 11 p.m., even midnight. And I’d say this has been going on for five out of the past 15 years.
Post-Pandemic Bass in Chinatown
Leyla: I moved with three roommates into the apartment above bar Clandestino in mid-2020. It was this really amazing double-unit apartment with all these quirky touches — a custom-made bar, a big mural in the bathroom. Because of the pandemic, we got a really great deal. Maybe we should have known what we were getting into, living above a bar, but this was my first place in New York. For the first year, it wasn’t really an issue because there were the curfews and it was outdoor seating only.
When the COVID restrictions ended, we realized Clandestino is open every single day until 4 in the morning. But at least we had a good relationship with them, and so we were sometimes able to ask them to turn it down, and they’d do it. But when Le Dive opened next door, it was the worst thing that’s happened to me, ever.
Basically, the way they did their speaker system, you could feel the bass in our apartment. It felt like a train was going through the apartment — the table would shake, the paintings on the wall would shake. We tried to use white noise or brown-noise machines, even noise-canceling headphones, but it doesn’t mask the shaking, since the frequency of those sound waves are different. We tried to talk to them about it early on, and to our faces, they were like, “Of course, text us any time, don’t worry about it.” But then there would be times where we would text them, and I swear they would turn the music up.
It got to the point where I was sleeping at my boyfriend’s every night because I couldn’t fall asleep at home. We moved out when our lease was up last August — 100 percent because of the noise.
Knock-Knock-Knocking in Bushwick
Ali: At some point in December, I started hearing this weird noise — really aggressive banging — that would happen sporadically through the night. It would move back and forth across the length of my apartment. I thought it was pipes, so I contacted my landlord who had a plumber come. The plumber thought it was something with the roof. I also started talking to my neighbors about it, who let me know that this old lady in the building had some sort of injury, and they thought that might be the sound. And at first, I didn’t believe them because it was so loud, so forceful — you’d have to be slamming a cane on the ground to make that noise.
But then I remember running into one of my neighbors underneath me, and she seemed to genuinely think there was a demon in the building. So at this point, the sleep disruptions were getting to people — everyone seemed pretty stressed about it.
Eventually, it got so bad I went over and spent ten minutes banging on her door. She has a reputation for being quite ornery and for, like, accosting people over different things. Like, sometimes I use a fan in my bathroom, and she was bothering me about that. Anyway, she eventually came to the door and let me know that her new medication made her use the bathroom more frequently, so ultimately what the noise was was her slamming her cane while going back and forth to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I tried to crowdfund a walker for her with the other neighbors, thinking that might be quieter, but she didn’t want it.
Ultimately, we agreed that if I stopped using the fan, she’d stop the banging. And after that, the banging stopped. Now she even knocks on my door sometimes just to hang out.
*Carmine and Jane are pseudonyms, due to privacy concerns.