loud town

Noise Horror Stories From Our Readers

Illustration: Michele Febbraio

Last week, Curbed published a series of stories about noise in New York City — about the people who make it, are trying to stop it, and are losing their minds over it. It’s a condition of living here that many of us are constantly, sometimes physically tormented by — whether it’s a neighbor playing a particular song on repeat or a construction crew still going after midnight. We knew our readers would have their own stories to share, and we’ve collected some of the ones you offered in the comments of our Noise Week stories, below.


Mystery squeaks and 6 a.m. crash landings

In our compendium of noise horror stories, one resident in Crown Heights found herself the steady recipient of a stranger’s morning sermon until her fiancé began blasting death metal back (see Google search: “Satan death chants”). Readers also shared their own small battles and victories.

August 10, 2023, 1:41 PM
I live above a supermarket and for a few weeks the automatic door was faulty and made the loudest SQUEAKING sound every time someone came into the store. Which was all day until it closed late in the evening. Drove me mad. It took days to figure out where the noise was coming from, until, accidentally I was standing right by it and heard SQUEAK. The store manager was not very co-operative and it took several conversations, each less polite than the last before they finally paid for someone to fix it. You just have to keep on at them. The death metal couple had exact the right idea. They are my heroes.
August 11, 2023, 4:01 PM
I lived in a garden apt in a brownstone in Brooklyn. It was a beautiful, large apartment in an amazing neighborhood. Heaven except for when the children upstairs would launch themselves off the top of their 15 step staircase and BOOM onto the floor above my bedroom. 6am-7am daily for years til they outgrew that game. It was like bombs exploding every morning that woke you from a dead sleep. I stopped using an alarm to get up.
August 13, 2023, 2:00 PM
Frederick Douglass Blvd. in Manhattan - starting just above the circle at 110th street - aparment bedrooms face the street.
A straight away for emergency vehicles & police vehicles at all hours but what can you do about that?
Garbage collection - 1 am or 2 am or 3am or 4 am - doesn't seem to matter.
24 hr deli - deliveries - 1 am or 2 am or 3am or 4 am - doesn't seem to matter (leave motors running the whole time deliveries are being made).
Tractor trailers come flying down the street - 1 am or 2 am or 3am or 4 am - doesn't seem to matter (not every night).
People set up chairs, double park - play loud music, smoke hookahs and drink - right in front of the bank on 111th street often - the hour doesn't matter.
August 16, 2023, 6:36 PM
I live by a highrise that seemed to have a LOT of sirens w/fire truck but no one was ever taken away & it appeared to be a false alarm since they stayed such a short time. At midnight. Very loud truck engine idling too.
I never called the mgmt. or the city to complain but it stopped this summer. During the Pandemic, too, ironically.

One panicky person, maybe? Or a person passed, unfortunately. But it was a lot of very "quick" emergencies that looked like false alarms. It's frustrating if a kid is pulling an alarm.
August 10, 2023, 6:31 PM
Downstairs neighbors, the 70's, thumping disco music ALL night, every night. Apparently they fell asleep to it. A neighborly request was laughingly dismissed. FM radio, I thought: changing records would have been too much work. So I bought an FM transmitter from Radio Shack, the kind you'd use to turn a stereo into a PA system, and cut off their station in a random pattern—static screeches or dead silence— which drove them completely crazy! They must have sent their receiver in for repairs because it was blissfully quiet for a month, but when it came back I waited a week, and then resumed electronic warfare. They gave up and switched to records, which always ended after 1 or 2 sides. Victory!

In response to an interview with Arline Bronzaft, the city’s “noise queen” and an environmental psychologist who has been spent five decades trying to make the city a quieter place, some readers identified a few problem spots for her:

August 8, 2023, 7:42 PM
Someone needs to tell this lady about the part of Myrtle Avenue that intersects with DeKalb. There's a bunch of apartments on an elevated train line, which is one thing, but there is a bar there, the Bushwick Public House, that makes so much noise it's insane. They have customers out basically every night with like, monitor speakers you'd see onstage at a concert, going sometimes as late as 6am. I've talked to the owner about it and he told me I was a f*ggot and said he isn't responsible for his customers
August 8, 2023, 3:23 PM
In a dream world I would love for the city/the MTA to do something about people who scroll TikTok without headphones on the train. Same with people who take FaceTime calls without headphones on the train. I've had some success with politely asking people if they could turn their volume down in places like doctor's offices etc, but I don't always feel safe asking people to do the same on trains.


When “noise” is a cover for cheap construction

The Noise Next Door” delves into a dispute between two Bronx neighbors over noise that turned deadly and highlights how little recourse there is for those who call 311 or their landlords about a noisy neighbor. It reminded readers of similar experiences:

August 10, 2023, 2:01 PM
I feel for everyone here. I don’t know if you’ve ever lived in a noisy building like this, but I have. I lived next door to a transitional shelter for two years where screaming was almost constant, and at the same time lived below an apt where we would be awoken by screaming fights at 3 AM at least weekly. Being unable to sleep, it makes you angry, nervy, frightened, unable to think clearly. I’m not in any way condoning the actions here, but I think the landlord and building constructors have a lot to answer for here. Noise can be torture - I would cry regularly when things were at their worst, and I can’t even imagine how it would go if this were happening every day for months with no break. Was it all handled horribly? Tragically? Yes - I’m sure Pleasant did call Pyles slurs, because I’m sure he was angry, on edge, and at the end of his rope. I’m sure Pyles felt threatened as a trans woman, and also felt at the edge of her rope. People don’t make rational decisions when sleep deprived. Again, it is literally a torture technique. Not saying Pyles did the right thing - but I think the building created an environment where this could happen, and they should be held liable in civil court.
August 9, 2023, 1:17 PM
Shoddy construction. They need codes on wall materials. I had this happen back in 2006 in an old walk up in west Harlem. Didn’t hear a peep for a year. Then the neighbors moved out and the landlord gut renovated. All the sudden I could hear every sneeze. I’m sure they could too.

Relatedly, one astute commenter suggested a new apartment-hunting tip. As user so_pedestrian noted:

“You could also look at: Apartment HVAC systems installed by amateurs and improperly maintained by clueless or hostile management, unless they themselves are directly affected. These can generate a lot of noise and vibrations and be most notable at night. You might not notice it in the 5 minutes you have before putting down a deposit. Look out for apartments with a lot of turnover. You may also sense that it feels “wrong.”

Industrial air conditioners that lack noise mitigation. These send shock waves (sub 75 Hz) into surrounding buildings and collect at the top. (Any Midtown apartment in the vicinity of a restaurant or commercial establishment.) You may or may not hear it audibly, but your body will register the noise over time, when the stress and loss of sleep/sleep quality can make you very sick, especially in a small apartment with no escape. Low frequencies–long sound waves–can travel a quarter mile or more so you may not even see the source.


When clinking spoons together physically hurts

Sufferers of hyperacusis, a rare medical condition, find even ordinary sounds extremely painful. One reader found some comfort and company in the story of Joyce Cohen and other hyperacusis sufferers, who take extreme care to muffle all the sounds in their apartments and environments:

August 7, 2023, 12:52 PM
Thanks very much for this article, which has me thinking it’s okay to seek improving my environment (I’ve spent 20 years or so just figuring out how not to visibly freak out people around me when I feel unexpected pain). My sympathies to Cohen.

This sounds a lot like some of the worse aspects of what I understood as sensory processing disorder, which I as an autistic person am more likely to have (and do). For me, certain tones and sounds create a stabbing pain. But sound isn’t the only culprit; sometimes (not always), a hair landing on my arm can feel like a small animal is biting me; I have trigeminal neuralgia, which sounds like it overlaps with the facial nerve issues mentioned in the article; I have auditory-tactile synesthesia (no, not ASMR); and my ability to process sound direction occasionally goes haywire.

I did have several years of pretty bad tinnitus, and my auditory and trigeminal issues worsened after that - never connected that before. Thanks again!


The worst of the worst

We also put out an unofficial poll on social media: What is the worst noise in New York City? Besides a lot of agreement about the scourge of helicopters, many of you offered up some classics:

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Noise Horror Stories From Our Readers