Q(s): I like to consider myself an easy going person (I may not be, but I like to consider myself one). However, I've come to believe that the treble bleed from low quality headphones at high volumes matches the natural harmonics of my adrenal glands. Not unlike other victims of acoustic resonance, when exposed to the relevant sounds I find myself being driven towards catastrophic collapse. Even amidst the din and tussle of the DC metro, the mind-numbing, joy-sapping, eye-scratching pings emanating from my fellow riders' heads somehow overwhelm all other sounds and once I've picked up on it, no matter what I do, I can't drown it out. I can only imagine the irreparable harm these miscreants cause to their own cochleae, but I'm candidly far more concerned about the emotional and psychological harm they're causing me. Typically I either bear my (minor) agony in silence or I politely ask people to turn down their volume. More often than not, when I pursue the latter course I'm met with disdainful glares and explanations that they're wearing headphones.  I'd appreciate your collective wisdom on the subject. Or, to put it differently, is it OK for me to break strangers' iPods and run away?

One (Pragmatist): Just yesterday, at Safeway, I pointed out to the shoppers in front of me that they were standing in a 15-items-or-less express lane with a cart that looked destined to feed Thanksgiving dinner to an entire team of linebackers. I usually like to avoid conflict with strangers. But I had to pee, and when you get between an 8-and-a-half month pregnant lady and her bathroom break, interesting things happen. I share this story to prove that I'm not total pushover when it comes to thoughtless strangers. That said, I think your problem has a very easy, conflict-free solution: get your own headphones. Listen to music you like, or an engrossing podcast (This American Life and New Yorker Fiction are some of my personal favorites). You'll arrive at your destination enlightened and upbeat. Just make sure you don't turn the volume up too loud. That would be rude...

Two (Professional Noise Maker): Two recommendations.  1. Get your own ear phones and listen to podcasts of something you enjoy or 2. Smile, tap the person on the shoulder and say "I know this seems annoying, but would you mind turning down the volume?"  They may say no, but if you're nice enough (and if they are too) you just might save their hearing.

Three (Hooligan): I'm going to start with a tid-bit from the news. Last summer in DC there was a string of iPhone thefts on the metro. No one ever got caught. I share this story because I feel it ought to offer you a little perspective. Why break their electronics, when you could just as easily turn this noisy situation into a business opportunity!

So what I propose is that you just jump on that band wagon and steal the darn things. It'll take some thought, and timing--not to mention a general disregard for the law--and it won't solve your issue in the short-term, BUT if you're playing the long game this is DEFINITELY the way 2 go. Here's the plan. As you near your stop, cozy up to the offending party, but DO NOT let them get a good look at your face. As the doors open, swipe their player of choice and RUUUUUUUUNNNN!!!!! Then, sell the goods on ebay, and use the money to buy yourself noise-cancelingblablabla...

In closing, I should rule the world. 

Four (Resident Bard): I believe in the power of bribery. Let me explain: buy some candy--maybe two types (chocolate and fruity). Bring it with you every morning. Whenever you encounter anyone whose choice of headphones offends you, offer them a choice. You sound like the type of person who might become paralyzed by fear in the heat of the moment, so just stick with this script: 

"Hey little fellow, 
I don't mean to bellow, 
but that sound's a gettin' on my nerves. 
I'll give you two choices, 
let's lower our voices,
and see if we can't find--ok, I'm just gonna cut to the chase. Turn your music down, buddy. Also, here's some candy--fruity or chocolate?" 

I'm pretty sure that should work.

Five (Bleeds, Much Like Earphones): In my opinion, there are two optimal ways to conquer this aural irritant:
Solution: Pack a pair of baby scissors in your back pocket before you leave for work each morning. As you enter the subway car, acquire your target: Grievous Noise Polluter. Sidle on up next to Grievous Noise Polluter, and -- as he or she is obliviously nodding away to their obtrusive tunes -- unsheathe your weapon and snip! Earbuds no more! Melt back into the commuter crowd and bask in the sense of fulfillment that follows single-handedly liberating an entire train from the t/ear/anny (PUN!) of one poorly regulated iPod. Like Batman.*
Other Solution: Noise cancelling headphones.
* Some may worry about fallout from cutting a stranger's earbuds and rendering them unusable; in my experience, it's the skinny, sensitive types who blast their gravelly voiced crooners into public noise space, so I wouldn't fret too much about violent reprisals.

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