“And I don’t know your noises yet.”
That’s one of Renee Zellweger‘s lines in Jerry Maguire, spoken to Tom Cruise. I for one was glad to hear her say that. Because this is one of the things that well-written movies always do (while doing other things, of course). They remind us of recurrent, recognizable, sometimes banal things about ourselves, but with a little English.
One of my noises is a simulation of a very old man groaning in pain. I won’t attempt to simulate it phonetically, but I make this guttural sound when I’m tired and walking and under some physical stress. Jett commented on it the other day, and I found myself explaining where it came from. I began using it in my teens as a form of quiet mockery (i.e., for my own ears, not meant to be heard) whenever I would see a really old-looking guy — white-haired, stooped over. But it came from a real incident, one that I was told about by a neighborhood friend when I was 11 or 12.
My friend was taken to a baseball game at Yankee Stadium by his father or grandfather. They were sitting in the right-field bleachers, and everyone stood up like a shot when a batter tagged one — crack! The ball was hit long and high and heading right for them. Several guys tried to catch it, but the ball struck a bent-over old man who happened to be walking up the aisle, hitting him right square in the back. And when this happened he stumbled and threw his head back and bellowed like an animal, my friend said. And that sound, or rather my friend’s imitation of it, stayed with me for decades.
And somehow it gradually morphed from being a sound I would use to quietly make fun of grandfatherly-looking guys to a sound I myself would make when I temporarily felt like one of them. I gradually adopted the damn thing and made it my own.
Anyway, since Jett asked me about this, I’ve been engaged in a discipline in which I tell myself to not make that wildebeest sound when I’m feeling whipped because it’s pathetic all around — because it was thoughtless of me to laugh at the idea of an 80-something guy getting hit in the back by a fly ball, and to make fun of older people in such a way, and finally to use this sound as some kind of subconscious stress call.
My point — call it a theory — is that most of our personal “noises” are based on some kind of tucked-away memory, some residue of a childhood experience. Usually from infancy, I’m thinking, although my movie-centric mentality has resulted in most of my noises being borrowed from movies.
I used to imitate Cary Grant‘s whinny from Gunga Din and Bringing Up Baby whenever I felt flustered or overwhelmed. (I don’t know why but it’s been years since I’ve gone there.) A similar one I’ve sometimes resorted to is the fear-and-frustration whine that Peter Boyle ‘s Frankenstein monster used in Mel Brooks‘ Young Frankenstein .
But we all have them. We all have a repertoire. I don’t know how important this is to mention in a general context but it came to mind the other day, and I guess there’s a point to be made about how movies sometimes work their way into our subconscious. I can’t develop the thought much beyond that.