07 February 2012

Bang on the drum all day

We count ourselves as very fortunate that, by and large, our neighbors are nice people. Well, yes, we do have those people, and the ones who are little too interested everyone's lives, and the ones who drive like bats out of hell, and the organizers, and those who own that dog, and then, the unspeakable people who live behind us who aren't really neighbors, but a cross we all mutually bear.

But really, we are very fortunate. And we know it.

Every family, of course, has its own idiosyncracies. One household is just a little out there.

Lovely people, naturally. Responsible. Kind. Fun to talk to. A bit loud with the 1960s music sometimes, which I could probably live without. But overall, fine.

A couple of years or so ago, I was awakened fairly early one morning by a sort of resonant noise. Bong, it came, and again, bong. I lay there, puzzled, as the noise continued, quite rhythmically. It was coming from more or less the direction of the Slightly Out There family, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out what they might be doing to make that sound.

Life went on and I forgot about the odd noise until a couple of weeks later when it happened again. Bong, I heard, and again, bong. Bong. Bong.


It wasn't gardening equipment that I could identify, or any sort of hammering, or anything that made much sense. It almost sounded as though someone was banging on a large piece of PVC pipe for no apparent reason. And it wasn't really loud, just loud enough to be annoying.

Like us, the Slightly Out There family travels extensively. Like us, they pick up the odd bit of art, or a new recipe or a bottle of wine. I started to wonder if they might also have picked up a new religion that involved greeting the day with a drum.

"What the hell is that noise?" the spouse asked one morning several weeks later.

"I haven't the foggiest," I replied. "But I've been hearing it on and off for a while."

He grumbled something about men who wear their hair in rattails and wandered away.

I can't say exactly when I stopped noticing the noise. Until it started up again the following year, one morning, with a hollow, resonant bong.

We wondered if crows were digging in the gutters. We continued to blame the Slightly Out There family. I worried a rat (ew!) was messing around on the roof. There was speculation that the phone line might be rattling in the wind.

And again, the sound ceased as randomly as it had begun.

Until I woke to the sound of a drum a few mornings ago.

Putting on his shoes this morning, the spouse looked up.

"What is that noise?" he asked.

Bong, we heard, and again, bong. Bong. Bong.


"The neighbors doing sun salutations?" I posited. "A crow looking for breakfast in the gutter?"

He peered out our bedroom window, craning to look where the wall and ground intersected.

"I see something down there..." he murmured.

"Alright," I told him. "Wait there. I'm going to figure this out once and for all."

I walked out into the back garden and over to the side of the house as quietly as I could. As I came around the corner, the mystery was solved.

The air conditioning unit sits on a slab on that side of the house. It's unsightly, and in order to disguise it, the spouse built a lattice and mirror partition to hide the machinery. The mirror broke years ago in a particularly fierce Santa Ana wind, and I used the broken pieces to create a little garden art. Several sizable bits of mirror lean up against the wall reflecting shrubs. As I rounded the corner, I saw a towhee fling itself at the largest piece of mirror, which is about 18 inches tall.


What we have been hearing--during mating season, though I'd never made the connection--is an irate bird fighting its reflection in the mirror.

I returned to the spouse and explained what I'd seen. We both laughed a little.

"I feel like I owe the neighbors an apology," I told him.

"It's not like you ever actually said anything to them," he replied.

"No, but I've been holding them responsible for years now, blaming them for some sort of ritualistic morning drumming," I said.

"Would you put it past them?" he asked humorously.

"Well, no..."

But I can't help but think that they might have been able to hear the same noise all these years, and can only wonder at what they may have conjectured we've been doing to make such a sound.


Go listen to some music: "Bang on the Drum All Day" from the album Pink Classic Rock by Todd Rundgren.

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