I have always found extraneous noise irritating. I was blessed with excellent hearing. That I got from my mother. She used to brag, “I can hear the grass grow!” If true, that must have been irritating as hell. Can you just imagine? Actually, I don’t have to imagine.
Because of my supernatural hearing, I was obsessed with sound. Couple that with being born an only child and I grew up to be someone who loved solitude and quiet working spaces but hated irritating auditory interruptions. The buzzing of an old TV, wind whistling past my window, the creaking of a house settling down for the night, used to drive me crazy. I say “used to” because I no longer have that luxury. My days of quiet desperation are no longer quiet. I went to one too many rock concerts and came home with a constant companion…tinnitus.
“Hey somebody answer that phone!”
Long before that happened, I lived in a three story townhouse in sunny Southern California with my best friend and his girl. We were all young and invincible. That townhouse was home to a lot of good times. This story isn’t one of them.
Don’t ask me how but, somehow, someway, a cricket infiltrated our humble abode and got into the HVAC system. I understood his wanting to come inside. We lived on a ridge overlooking Los Angeles. Most of the time you never knew the city was there. It was hidden under a blanket of smog. If a torrential thunderstorm rolled through, which was a rare event, cars would be covered with grey-brown residue and the City of Angels would appear. Quite a sight.
“Hey!” we would yell. “Come quick. You can see L.A. today. No, I’m not kidding!” And you had to be quick because in short order, the mirage of towering steel towers and broken dreams would vanish into brown air that was thick enough to chew. And the cricket wanted no part of it.
This was a very determined cricket because he made it through the maze of ductwork all the way to my bedroom on the third floor. Lucky me. He had come to the end of the line…the forced air grate situated just out of reach on the wall of my room. He was so delighted to be inside and out of the elements that he began to sing. The steel walls of the ductwork created a perfect echo chamber. Maybe he was the Pavarotti of Cricket World or, more likely, he was trying to sweep a hot cricket babe off her six feet. If so, he was out of luck. His entire audience consisted of me and my roommate, Harry the hamster. Neither of us were enchanted with the cricket’s aria.
Hamsters have small brains but Harry was smart enough to burrow under the wood shavings that made up the floor of his cage. I tried to ignore the cricket. That lasted about ten seconds.
“Shut up,” I yelled at the vent.
The cricket kept right on singing.
“Damn it,” I crossed to the vent and listened. It sounded like the little bugger was just on the other side of the grate. I jumped up and smacked my hand against the grate.
“Good,” I said with smugness.
It was obvious that he was toying with me. I decided to make sure he knew that I meant business. I rolled my sad desk chair across the room, stood up on its wobbly perch and peered into the opening of the vent cover. I was half expecting to see him smiling or waving back at me. Too dark.
Apparently he saw me. The chirping stopped.
The operatic cricket had moved on. I was sure of it. I had a smile plastered on my face as I climbed down off the chair.
I froze, hoping that I imagined that…
I hopped up on the chair and starting smacking the vent grate. I hit it hard enough to leave parallel grooves in the palm of my hand. I paused and listened.
I slapped the vent cover three more times just for good measure.
I put the chair back and sat at my half assed desk. Peace and quiet at long last.
I jumped out of my seat and let out a scream.
Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.
All right, he asked for it. I tore out of the room and took the stairs two at a time. I passed a startled Gerry on the next landing.
“Are you okay?”
“I will be,” I snarled.
I made it to the first floor and rounded the corner into the kitchen. I pulled a cabinet door open and retrieved the biggest, baddest spray can of insect killer on the shelf. I slammed the door closed, turned and bounded up the stairs two at a time. That little bastard asked for it, I thought with a touch of glee, and he’s going to get it.
I didn’t see Gerry on the second floor. He had retreated to his room and closed the door. Smart guy. Ranked sixth in his high school class, as I remember. Gerry was then and is now the voice of reason in my life. I owe him a lot. He has prevented me from doing dangerous and stupid things on numerous occasions. But even your best friend can’t save you from yourself all the time.
Back in the third floor bedroom, I dragged the chair across the room and hopped up on it. I removed the cap to the giant black can. I’m sure whatever killer chemical cocktail it contained has long since been banned. There were instructions, warnings and, of course, a skull and crossbones on the can. I didn’t read anything. I didn’t need to. All I had to do was spray.
And spray I did.
Just then, the air-conditioning kicked on.
The fog of death blew back at me and into my gaping, grinning mouth. My lungs immediately went into spasm and my eyes were on fire. I lost my balance and fell to the floor in a heap. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t talk and couldn’t see. But I could hear.
Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. The cricket on the sound stage behind the air vent was doing just fine. In fact, he sounded happy. And why not?
He was in fine voice.