Picture this if you can: a cube van is travelling a major highway during rush hour. Inside is a crew of electricians, intent on arriving at a job on a tight schedule.
The van pulls over, the men pile out, carrying equipment, reaching under seats and pulling up mats, casting quick glances at their foreman, who paces back and forth, jaw clenched, eyes bulging. They haven't been targeted for a surprise contraband search and it's not a bomb scare; the foreman (a close friend) has just been pushed to the breaking point by an incessant rattling.
In the grand scheme of things, an annoying rattle, rustle or buzz seem like trivial reasons to have a meltdown. There are after all so many obstacles, hurdles and unexpected calamities that we accept and deal with in the course of a day. And yet, like a pebble in a shoe, an endlessly dripping tap or the whine of a mosquito orbiting your head, it's the little things that push the red button.
Taking on just the right frequency or pitch, this seemingly innocuous distraction can cause frayed nerves to finally snap.
I've grown oblivious to the steadily worsening grumble of the transaxle in my aging hatchback (after all, I know the cause, and the cure is merely a liberal application of loonies and twonies). The raucous barking of a long-past-its-due-date muffler is easily squelched by cranking the tunes up a notch.
But the recent introduction of a clacking at idle, that seemed to switch origins and then conversely, come from all four corners of the vehicle, had me, much to the amusement of my watching neighbours, lifting the hatchback, removing the back seat and the spare tire, clambering under the running car, until I finally discovered a broken exhaust hangar.
Routine trips to the dump, my beloved pickup laden with renovation debris, hardly rate a flicker on my serendipity scale.
Flapping tarps, the groaning or thumping of shifting lumber, the scrape of a paint can travelling from the front to the back of the bed on the hilly dump route are all taken in stride.
However, a vibrating wire behind the stereo head unit got the better of me on a recent road trip. Conversation with my passenger became impossible when the buzz grew steadily louder while my friend chattered, completely oblivious to the raging cacophony inside the truck.
Finally, I pulled over in exasperation and pried the dash off, frantically rummaging through the glove box for something – anything – to wedge behind the stereo to stop the maddening noise. Bemused (and wisely silent), my passenger handed me his handkerchief, which, wrapped around the back of the stereo unit, served admirably as sound insulation. We continued our journey in blissful calm.
Little do my friends know that my stoic invincibility in the worst of road and traffic conditions is largely dependent upon a square of monogrammed cotton.
Oh - and the source of all the aggravation in the before mentioned cube van? A dangling bungee cord.