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At first I didn't know what I was hearing, I just knew that I was noticing a strange sound of vaguely human origin that would rise and fall at fairly regular intervals, like a tide coming in and carrying with it the distant sounds of a crowd. The noise didn't convey any distinct emotion, but my mind immediately made a connection between it and crowds of people crying out in pain, fear, or anger. Imagery of the holocaust came to me and my mind wandered into introspective realms. What must it be like to be in a group that is about to all die? What did those people say to each other in the gas chambers? What did the calm people think about the panicking people? What did the panicking people think about the calm people?
The noise continued to roll in, then out. A moment later, in, then out. Again. Again.
I wondered if it was someone pushing around a vacuum cleaner off in the distance or something malfunctioning in the building's ventilation system. After awhile, I glanced at the television and realized that it had been the laugh track all along.
The food court had televisions on, all playing sitcoms or sports broadcasts, all with the sound on. Nearest to me was a set playing a sitcom. The white noise of the patrons eating and chatting was slightly louder than the show, but the laugh track managed to rise up over the din as a muffled, distorted wave of sound.
Some sounds strike a chord with me (pun deliciously unintended), like a mother's face or the spelling of one's own name does. Things that are familiar and unchanging, and recognizable from both one's earliest years and yesterday. The sound of cereal hitting the inside of a cereal bowl. The sound of rain battering tree leaves overhead. The sound of a cat purring. The sound of a set of keys jingling. The sound of peeing in a toilet. The sound of a bathroom sink running.