The Sound Investment

By Jim Hagarty

It was a lazy, hazy Sunday afternoon in the summer and I was sitting in a lawnchair out back of my little blue shack in the city, when a noise, not unlike that of a jackhammer, or a hurricane, pierced the air of serenity around me.

“What the …?” I gruffed, my face immediately contorting into the sourdough scowl that is pretty much a permanent fixture on it these days. A short stroll led me to the source of my latest woe. The hair-raising hubbub was emanating from my neighbour’s place. He was busy:

a. dynamiting his concrete front porch to bits;

b. chainsawing his winter supply of firewood for his old furnace;

c. revving up his new, private, supersonic jet airplane;

d. washing his truck.

If you guessed d., leave me your name and address and I’ll get a sympathy card right out to you. Because you obviously have had some experience with yet another one of modern technology’s great breakthroughs: the power washer.

This handy dandy device is a portable machine, driven by a gasoline engine, which transforms the pathetic trickle of water that normally emanates from your garden hose, into a torrent of moisture any self-appreciating firefighter would be happy to direct at the worst four-alarm blaze. For $200, you can blast away at the grime in your world and demonstrate, yet again, your dominion over nature. It is not by accident that the name of this new apparatus promises to deliver “power.”

Actually, the power washer is not new; industries of all types have been using it to accomplish their various ends for years. What has changed is the widespread marketing of it for home use. Isn’t this how we ended up with the leaf blower?

For a pittance, we can all now give the fickle finger to filth. Glossy TV ads show the amazingness of it all: with its use, concrete patios, wooden decks and metal autos become shinier than the glistening faces of the happy homeowners who smile into the camera and testify that their lives have been forever transformed by their new Blast Master 400, Series E. They powerwash everything now, from the bricks on their house, to their motorboat, to their lawn furniture, their trees, their three smudgy kids and their ornery old grandpa on Saturday night.

But this is precisely the problem. It’s the same old story: because we can, we do. North American men used to be notorious for spending Sunday afternoons with their nose and toes pointed towards their rec-room ceilings which mercifully muffled their deep snores from the rest of their family. This activity, quaint as it might seem now, was known as resting. Now, thanks to power washers, power “vacs”, leaf blowers, power lawn edgers, power sanders and portable air compressors, we’re outside cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning as if we expect some community drill sergeant to line up all homeowners at the end of each weekend for a spit-and-polish municipal inspection. We return to “work” on Mondays in states of total exhaustion.

Bring back the “power” nap, I say.

One by one, our cherished stereotypes of summer in the city are falling by the way. When I moved into my home 30 years ago, I’d often head to the curb to buy an ice-cream bar from the pre-teenager who pedalled a small, white wagon down the street, ringing a little bell to let everyone know of his approach. Neighbours would cut their lawns on Saturdays, never on Sundays, and quietly wash their cars in their driveways the traditional ways, soap suds dribbling from sponges and water trickling from limp, green rubber hoses. There was something so suburbanly nice about it all.

Now, everything is about power, whether its power for our cars, our stereos, our computers, or our garden hoses. The ice-cream pedaller boy is long gone for good and so, apparently, is any hope of peace and quiet on a Sunday afternoon in the summer.

There is a new home computer available that is being marketed as making practically no sound when it is running and, in truth, it’s a pretty quiet little outfit. In comparison to my 22-year-old rig, which rumbles like a backhoe in need of an engine overhaul, this machine would not be a distraction during prayer time at a Trappist monastery.

However, so accustomed am I now to absorbing the ever-loudening pollution of the air waves around me, that I don’t really notice the ridiculous racket until I shut my machine off for the day. Then, I simply marvel that my brain is still able to function after listening to this incessant whirring all day long.

If I were manufacturing consumer goods for the 21st century, I think I’d be looking into ways to make everything quieter, not louder. Because once we’ve gotten a little further down the path to safe streets, safe water, safe air and safe sex, we are going to start demanding safe sound waves. Noise pollution is the next great frontier. Medical authorities already claim it’s causing accidents, physical and mental-health problems, suicides and in one celebrated case where a man went berserk on the fellow upstairs in his apartment building, murder.

A couple of years ago, another neighbour of mine, intent on enjoying his Saturday afternoon, brought a massive stereo speaker outside, plunked it on his back porch, and let ’er rip for seven straight hours. Shortly after the start of this free rock concert, the phone rang inside my house, and I had trouble hearing the caller’s voice, even after I closed my kitchen window.

A theme is developing here, the astute reader is saying by now. Seven hours he put up with this? Why doesn’t he just tell his neighbour to pipe down?

For the answer to this puzzle, see “murder”, two paragraphs up. Whether his or mine, it’s hard to predict.

Who knows?

I might just buy my own Blast Master 400, Series E, climb the fence and let him have it.

In Defence of Parking

ticket defenders

By Jim Hagarty

I pulled into a very small and very crowded parking lot this afternoon to pick up a pizza.

I squeezed my car into a hairpin of a space and then got out. Confronting me was the sign shown above.

We have a company in Canada called Ticket Defenders which helps people fight tickets they receive for a variety of infractions, some of them issued because of parking violations.

My first thought was, am I going to get a ticket for parking in the Ticket Defenders’ spot? And if I do, can I walk into the Ticket Defenders’ office, situated right in front of my car, and ask them to defend me in court so I can get out of paying the ticket?

If they turn me down, is there a business anywhere called Ticket Defenders Ticket Defenders which will fight on my behalf to get the ticket issued by Ticket Defenders cancelled?

If there isn’t, I might have to open one.

First, I need to finish my pizza.

Eye for an Eye

By Jim Hagarty

I had to see the optometrist today.

Wasn’t sure I needed to, but as I drove down the main street searching for his office, I started to panic. I couldn’t find the building I have visited once a year for almost three decades.

There were cars pushing me from behind, yes, but I searched frantically for the signs to his practice. And I couldn’t see them.

“Why would they take their frickin signs down?” I asked myself aloud.

I drove right by and kept on going. Turned around in a parking lot and crept my way back, finally recognizing the old brick cottage that was converted into an eye clinic years ago. I pulled into the parking lot and walked to the front of the building, by the main street.

With the benefit of time to have a good look, I recognized three huge signs identifying the building as the eye clinic. Two of them were lighted signs, attached to the house. The other was a big static sign on a fence, close to the street.

I guess, it occurred to me, that if you can’t see three signs – the largest about six feet wide – to the eye clinic, it might be time for a check up.

The optometrist agreed.

My Wandering Mind

By Jim Hagarty

You might have noticed the subtitle for Lifetime Sentences is Tales from a Wandering Mind.

You might also have noticed, if you have been reading this blog, that I do, in fact, appear to have a wandering mind.

I’m like the guy who responded to the friend who commented on his bloodshot eyes, “You should see them from my side.”

It doesn’t bother me that my mind wanders, but sometimes it is tiring. It is like there is someone in my head with a tiny remote control, continuously changing the channels.

I would like to complete that last thought, but I am afraid my mind has already wandered away.

Pot, Kettle?

By Jim Hagarty

I read an interesting article today.

The headline said, “Spare us, Internet experts”.

The woman who wrote the article complained about all the chatter by commenters on the Internet about a current issue in the news.

The writer of the piece criticizing the Internet commenters, of course, published her insightful criticism on a news blog.

On the Internet.

I think she just might be an expert.