In the fall of 1921, journalists were clamoring to know if Charlie Chaplin intended to play Hamlet. They asked him in Chicago at the Blackstone Hotel. They cornered him at the Ritz. His response each time was coy and evasive: “Why, I don’t know.”
Of all the unlikely questions they tended to ask him at this point in his career—“Are you a Bolshevik?” “What do you do with your old moustaches?”—the Hamlet question seems most out of place. Why would an actor known for his comedy and silence take on a famously verbose and tragic role? Hamlet, with his hemming and hawing, didn’t seem a natural fit for an actor in Chaplin’s position. But then, no actor had ever been in Chaplin’s position before.
The experience described by Steinborn and Taylor, and many others, is what’s come to be known as “the Hum,” a mysterious auditory phenomenon that, by some estimates, 2 percent of the population can hear. It’s not clear when the Hum first began, or when people started noticing it, but it started drawing media attention in the 1970s, in Bristol, England. After receiving several isolated reports, the British tabloid the Sunday Mirror asked, in 1977, “Have You Heard the Hum?” Hundreds of letters came flooding in. For the most part, the reports were consistent: a low, distant rumbling, like an idling diesel engine, mostly audible at night, mostly noticeable indoors. No obvious source.
The story of the Hum begins in such places, far from the hustle and bustle of cities, where stillness blankets everything. That’s where you hear it, and that’s where it becomes intolerable. After it was first reported in Bristol, it emerged in Taos, New Mexico; Kokomo, Indiana;Largs, Scotland. A small city newspaper would publish a report of a local person suffering from an unidentified noise, followed by a torrent of letters to the editor with similar complaints.
In “The Regional Office Is Under Attack!,” he uses the familiar conventions of the superhero story to explore our expectations of our heroes and of ourselves. The Regional Office of the title is an assemblage of supernaturally talented young women recruited and trained to fight villains with names like Mud Slug and, more generally, “the amassing forces of darkness that threaten, at nearly every turn, the fate of the planet.” One of the Regional Office’s founders is the enigmatic Oyemi, gifted — or cursed — with equally enigmatic powers as a result of an accident that’s never fully explained, or even described; the other is Oyemi’s childhood friend Mr. Niles.
Of course, if you asked a cat, he’d say he was the main attraction, but that’s what you get from a species that once reached god-like status.