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Barry Crimmins

words to live near



The Prisoner of Detroit Avenue Saturday, January 1, 2000

Originally published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine

by Barry Crimmins

In Lakewood, Ohio there is no such thing as a lonesome train whistle. They all have friends.

Believe me I know. I live and work a half block on the wrong side of Lakewood's tracks. Corner of Waterbury and Detroit. At least a twenty times a day a locomotive announces its arrival and departure with its TRAIN WHISTLE/ FOG HORN blasting at full throttle as it dissects this sleepless bedroom community. Rather than warn motorists and daredevils of an iron horse's imminent emergence with a gate and a few bells and flashing lights, here in Lakewood the unsuspecting are notified of the danger through NOISE POLLUTION. So although I have yet to be seized by an urge to leave my apartment at 4AM to cross the tracks , just in case I decide to, I am always fully apprised of the feasibility of such a whim. Better safe than sorry.

Scientists from around the world journey to my apartment to study the Doppler Effect. They come for the trains but they stay for the sirens, back-up beepers, car alarms, buses, tractor trailers, air brakes, grinding transmissions, motorcycles, fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, leaf blowers/driveway sweepers, snow plows, snow blowers, lawn mowers, jack hammers, car horns, more car alarms. blown out mufflers, rolling dumpsters, garbage trucks, chain saws, weedeaters, dumb people with no idea how loud their voices are, dumb people who know exactly how loud their voices are and car stereos with sub-woofers loud enough to cause structural damage to the BP Building. And that's just a sampling of the dissonance that works night and day to throw up a full court press against any hopes of cohesive thought I may harbor as I sit in my office adjacent to Detroit Avenue . Which is sort of a drag since I am a writer and make my living organizing thoughts. In my office.

I have resided in Manhattan, Boston, New Orleans, Miami, Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The combined cacophony of those burgs is but the weak squeak of an ill sparrow when contrasted with the decibaled dynamo that is Lakewood. The relentless street noise is ongoing and egregious but the worst shatterer of peace and quiet in my neighborhood, the loudest reply on my role call of torment always comes from not the avenue but instead across the way at St. Edward High School. The preparatory academy is operated by Brothers of the Holy Cross, a sect that clearly is unconcerned with vows of silence.

During the school year when the students are released from the drudgery that is the essence of secondary education they cannot contain their jubilance and so they celebrate by honking their horns in the parking lot until each car has made its way to freedom. This wouldn't be so bad except there is a traffic light at the mouth of the lot and it only permits ten or twelve cars to be liberated during each cycle. Those left behind make good use of their final moments on school property by doing safety inspections of their car horns. God knows they will be needing them again tomorrow.

Thanks to St. Ed's distant drumbeats are even rarer than lonesome train whistles around here. This is because the St. Edward MARCHING BAND practices in the very same parking lot that hosts the daily festival of the car horns. In fact, the MARCHING BAND is out there practicing several times a week. Nearly year round. A MARCHING BAND, right outside my window. Month after month. MARCHING BAND , MARCHING BAND, MARCHING BAND. I am probably one of the only people in the Northern Hemisphere who pines for February in July. I hate MARCHING BAND music, I think everyone does.

Since they provide me with hours of time to think of nothing but MARCHING BANDS I believe I have figured out why they survived. MARCHING BANDS provide a great screening device for corporate America. You see, kids in marching bands get scholarships, so they get an education. Who better to join your corporate dweeb work force than a bunch of lemmings who are trained to humiliate themselves on cue?

"OK put on this purple sash and hop around in front of these people while they actually worsen the music of Barry Manilow. And look inordinately blissful while you do it!"

"Sure thing!"

This isn't the kind of a person likely to question downsized, benefit reducing, workload increasing corporate strategy. The Enormo Corp. job interviewer need only see one four letter word on an application to know they have found a suitable drone. T-U-B-A.

I sometimes like to think that some of the children out there on their forced march are plotting an uprising, a rebellion, a brave act of individuality. Then I come back to Earth and realize that they have their revolution, in the parking lot every afternoon when school lets out. In fact they are probably honking their horns because they're in a hurry to go home and get into something more comfortable. Like a purple sash.

There is something about hearing a MARCHING BAND play Eye of the Tiger or You Really Got Me several thousand times that can make a man rethink his stance on gun control. A week ago last Friday the MARCHING BAND was out practicing at 9AM for a few hours then they boarded a bus and went to torture unsuspecting victims elsewhere. They returned at three. And then just the drummers practiced until a bit after seven. I had lost an entire day to them so I planned to work Saturday to make up for it. Unfortunately this was not convenient for the MARCHING BAND -- because on that Saturday morning they eschewed their customary weapons of brass and percussion for a simple top-of-their-lungs bellow a quaint and catchy phrase: "FREE CAR WASH!!!!" Several thousand times. To raise money to guarantee that there would always be a MARCHING BAND in this neighborhood, destroying property values.

The hullabaloo was augmented by impromptu sidewalk serenades from the brass section doing a medley of You Really Got Me and Eye of the Tiger. At about the four hour mark I finally snapped and began twitching, talking to myself and occasionally cackling with insane laughter. I had become Chief Inspector Dreyfuss hapless foil to their Inspector Clouseau.

Eventually I managed to soothe myself with rural thoughts. I dreamed of sitting very still in a pasture, so still that birds would land on me and chirp and flutter and even sing songs. And that would be fine with me -- just so long as they avoided You Really Got Me and Eye of the Tiger.