When I got back from New York, one of the first things I asked Mike was how the mockingbirds were. I dreaded his answer — that they were gone, or dead, or flown off to warmer climes. Perhaps Santa Monica. It could be that conditions are better, birdwise, on the West side? How should I know? Anyway, I shouldn’t have worried. The mockingbirds are fine. Or at least one of them is. Extremely fine. Fine, and mature, and grown, and fully progressed into a middle-of-the-night, violently loud, maddeningly persistent audio tyrant. I should’ve seen it coming, but I didn’t. I was, I confess, in some kind of avian denial. I thought they’d stay chicks forever.
I didn’t notice it the first night we were back. Frankly, I was so dead tired from a week of travel with a toddler — one, furthermore, who reacts to flying like it’s some sort of amphetamine shot — that I would’ve slept through an air raid siren. The subsequent two nights, however, I was awakened — and kept that way for hours — by the extended nocturnal warblings of my erstwhile sweet chick. Right. Outside. Our bedroom window.
For those of you who haven’t experienced a mockingbird’s 3 AM outpourings, I will give you the short version: they are inventive, they are melodic, and they are really fucking loud. It is not “music to sleep by.” It is not lulling. Endlessly variable, it manages to marry the sonic qualities of a flute, a car alarm, and a jackhammer. It then projects this torturous madrigal to a decibel point that would be considered unsafe for small children. If the force of it could be channeled it would power a large turbine engine. During the day it could compete handily against leaf blowers, unmuffled motorcycles, and overhead SSTs. At night, it has the field — sonically speaking — all to itself. And it takes devilish advantage of the fact. You can almost see the mockingbird lolling in its nest, feet up, wings cast back in a languorous slouch, riffing gleefully at the top of its lungs while inwardly chuckling to itself: “this’ll really wake those bastards up.” There is something almost sinister about it. At least, after the first hour.
Last night, when I had been lying awake for what seemed like years listening to the avant-garde progressions of a bird symphony — for one — in E flat minor, I realized that, all kidding aside, if this continued, we could be in real trouble. I mean, if this guy was really ensconced, and intended to keep this ruckus up night after night, sleep could become a thing of memory only. Our health, moods, and brain function would start to decline precipitously. Motor functions would dull, response time slow. Myra-Jean’s life — her very precious life! — could be endangered! It was unacceptable. Something would need to be done.
In my semi-comatose torpor the ideas flew thick, slow, and very badly, like low-salt catsup years past its shelf life. One fantasy involved a broom stick stuck though the slats of our louvred windows and into the tree. A little jamming of it here and there, and our feathered friend might decide to feign laryngitis for a night or two, at least. But what if it hurt him? I don’t, after all, wish to inflict bodily harm. I just want silence. I want my concerts during the day. Is that so much to ask, Ludwig Van Tweet Often?
I had to find a less violent solution. Perhaps just shaking the tree? This might work, were the one in question not strewn — and generously — with the world’s most lengthy, vicious, and unrelenting thorns. Just yesterday I stepped on one while gardening in my flip flops — not, I admit, a bright idea — and it slid through the rubber like a prison shiv, shot a quarter of an inch into my foot, and elicited a shriek of pain so dramatic it brought Mike and MJ running from the back of the house. (At which point I received a terse but well-intentioned lecture about the amount of money Mike had spent on my gardening clogs. But that’s another story.) Anyway, there’s a reason the mockingbirds chose that tree. It is impregnable. The arboreal equivalent of Area 51. You can’t even get close.
My final solution? Banging on the walls of our bedroom. I haven’t tried it yet, but I will tonight. After all, it works in my family home in upstate NY, where, as soon as you lay your head on the pillow at night, the mice come out in droves and scrabble inside the walls directly next to your ear. One good bang is all it takes; they immediately move off to greener pastures — or, in this case, other bedrooms, like my sisters’, which usually generates some kind of reciprocal thud, and can, in time, engender a sort of endless rodent-wall-war. But here in L.A. it will be different. My fantasy is that I will give the side of the house one good thud, or maybe two, and the mockingbird will pack up its instruments, put on a scarf, and move to another tree. At least for the night.
Now, this may make for an unhappy neighbor somewhere down the street. But hey, all’s fair in sleep and war, right? And he can always thud back.