A Solution to the Sound of 'Ear Spray'

"Ear spray" is the tinny sound that leaks out of somebody else's iPod. NPR producer Neva Grant was showered by this sound on a recent train trip, and discovered an unlikely solution to the problem.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Okay, imagine what an American Ministry of Vice and Virtue would do with this little offense.

You're in a crowded public space, like an elevator or a train, and you hear the tinny percussive sound of music from some stranger's iPod, or other device, cranked up to maximum volume.

NPR's Neva Grant heard this on a trip to New York, and coined a phrase for it: ear spray.

NEVA GRANT reporting:

So I'm on the train and its packed, really packed, every seat filling up. Some guy, who's about college-age, sits down next to me and he immediately fires up his iPod - which means I'm in an instant cloud of ear spray. As politely as I can, I ask him to turn it down, right? And as politely as he can, he does. Except he really doesn't, because seconds later, it's as bad as it was before.

And now I'm in a bind. I'm at least twice this guy's age, I do not choose to own an iPod, but I do harbor this sort of middle-aged insecurity, that it's totally uncool not to have one, and even less cool to tell somebody to lower the volume on theirs. So, instead of nagging him to lower it again, I take this kind of yogic approach. I don't try to ignore the music. I focus in on it and I try to figure out why - when there are so many other noises on a train - why is the relentless backwash from somebody's headphones so hard to tune out? Is it that high frequency, the fact that the vocals leaking out of his ears sound like hungry mosquitoes, about to attack mine?

Then I realize I am also traveling with an electronic device: a new digital audio recorder. I mean, I record stuff for a living, maybe I should document this, play it for an expert. So, as the iPod guy leafs through a magazine, I take out the mike and hold it up to his ear.

There it is.

(Soundbite of ear spray)

GRANT: Minutes go by before he even notices the microphone, and when he does he glares at me like I'm a freak. I can't really blame him for that. So, as casually as I can I say, oh, new tape recorder. Just testing it out.

We didn't talk after that, until the very end of the ride, when he told me that by taking out the recorder, I was being passive-aggressive. So, maybe I should have asked his permission before waving the mike at his ear.

Wait! Didn't he invade my personal space first? Yes, you may say, if you're old enough to be his mother. No, you might say, if you're young enough to be his friend. Either way, when he saw the microphone, he really did turn down the music.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Neva Grant is a senior producer for MORNING EDITION.

(Soundbite of music)

Keep it turned up. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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