By Greg Clark, November 29, 1947
“Just listen,” chuckled Jimmie Frise, “to that!”
In the quiet of the night, though all our doors and windows were shut, I could hear the faint sounds of singing. Hilarious singing.
“What time is it?” I demanded.
“Eleven ten,” replied Jim, consulting his watch.
“Isn’t it a little late,” I suggested, “for that kind of disturbance? In this neighborhood, I mean?”
“Aw,” protested Jim, scornfully, “I’d like to hear a little whoopee around here once in a while. I guess it’s those new people who moved in across the street last month. Nice-looking people.”
“Well, it’s obvious,” I submitted, “that they are not aware of the character and traditions of this neighborhood.”
“The character and traditions of this neighborhood,” laughed Jim bitterly, “are those of a cemetery. Do you know, now that I come to think of it, this is the first time, the very first time, I remember ever hearing anybody singing in this street?”
“It’s a decent, respectable district, Jim,” I reminded him.
“Even on Christmas, even on New Year’s,” ruminated Jim, startled, “I don’t ever recall hearing any sounds of revelry.”
“There are places for revelry,” I informed him,”other than in quiet residential streets. I bet all your neighbors are fuming.”
“It’ll do them good,” gloated Jim quietly, as he rose and went to the front window.
He opened the sash a little into the chilly night.
And from across the street, only moderately muffled by walls and doors, came the strains of “My Wild Irish Rose.” They were mostly men’s voices, with that curious shouting quality which men put into that particular song. On the word “wild,” they seem to open their mouths wide and use their lungs for bellows. “That’s bibulous singing, Jim,” I stated analytically. “That’s singing inspired by something more than the mere love of song.”
“Ssshhh!” ordered Jim, leaning down to the draught from the window to take in the full tone of the rowdy music from over the way.
At the long-drawn concluding harmonious “roooooosse!” there was a loud burst of cheers and jeers and much laughter. And apparently demands for more. Because immediately the sound of a piano struggled up through the din; and it was “Sweet Adeline.”
“Oh, boy!” applauded Jimmie.
“Jim, you might say,” I announced, returning to my chair, “you might say this little disturbance over the way marks the end of an epoch, the conclusion of an era. Oh, not an important epoch, maybe, from the point of view of the world or of human affairs on a large scale…”
“Let’s listen,” pleaded Jim, from the window.
“Aw, come and sit down,” I insisted. “You’ll be hearing plenty of that before the night’s out. They’re just warming up.”
Jim reluctantly closed the window and came and sat down.
“This,” I enunciated, “is the end of an era. For this street, for this little neighborhood, for the 10 or 20 families that have lived so long and so comfortably in these quiet homes, this is the tragic symbol of the close of an epoch.”
“I prefer,” said Jim, “to think of the birth of an epoch rather than the death. I like to look on this as the dawn of an era.”
“When changes come,” I asserted, “it is rather the death of an era.”
“When changes come,” countered Jim firmly, “it is the dawn of an era. These people around here have been in possession long enough. They’ve been in possession of quiet and what they call peace. They’ve had everything their own way for as long as I can remember.
The children have all grown up. Any new neighbors that have moved in have been exactly of the type as all the rest. There hasn’t been a disturbance of any kind in 20 years.”
“That,” I assured, “is as it should be. A neighborhood should have its distinctive character. Now, there are any number of neighborhoods in the city where the rumpus across the street would never be noticed. It would be the normal thing. Why, then, do people like these across the road not move into a neighborhood full of their own kind? Why do they have to invade a decent, quiet district like this, where they’ll never be happy, nor allow others to be happy?”
“It’s the housing shortage,” explained Jim. “A housing shortage is a great thing, from the point of view of social science. It forces people to invade various restricted areas. For instance, a housing shortage sent great numbers of very decent people to live in poor districts where they never would abide in normal times. That’s a good thing. The lump is leavened. It all forces new and energetic characters into stodgy and mouldy areas like this.”
A sudden burst of muffled song rose so loud that it interrupted Jimmie in the midst.
He leaped up with alacrity and looked out the window.
“Ah,” he cried, “the air’s getting stuffy. They opened the front door and the windows.”
It was “Hail, Hail the Gang’s All Here” they were singing now. And they were putting the usual emphasis on the “Hail.”
“Mm, mm, mm!” I groaned, as I got up to look. “That will finish it!”
Cars were parked closely on both sides of the street and there must have been 30 people in the house across the way.
“Let’s go on the verandah a minute,” said Jim enthusiastically.
We went and stood with our hats on, on Jim’s dark verandah and listened to the racket emerging into the frosty night.
When our eyes became accustomed to the dark, we noticed a movement on a verandah a couple of doors south of the party house; and there was old Mrs. Privet, with her shawl around her shoulders, staring and listening, too.
Mrs. Privet is probably the oldest inhabitant of our neighborhood and has always taken a very lively interest in the preservation of its character. When the children of the street were young, she took a personal interest in the behavior of them all. If you planted salvia along the front of the house, she would come over and suggest petunias, which were not so garish.
“She’s signalling!” I hissed to Jimmie. And then we heard Mrs. Privet’s sharp raspy voice, “Is that you, Mr. Frise?”
“Aw, heck!” growled Jim; and we slowly strolled down the walk and across the pavement amid the parked cars.
Mrs. Privet was practically in tears.
“This,” she said in a cracked, dramatic voice, “is impossible! I suspected those people the minute I saw them moving in. One look at their furniture, and I knew – I knew – what would happen!”
“It’s probably,” suggested Jim kindly, “just a house warming. They’ve only been in a few weeks.”
With a sudden explosion of sound, the house up the street fairly bulged with “Down By the Old Mill Stream.”
“Will you call the police, Mr. Frise,” inquired Mrs. Privet in a rasping voice, “or shall I?”
“Oh, no, no, no!” begged Jim. “Mrs. Privet, that would be unpardonable. These people would never forgive it. Let’s just forget it, and then, by friendship and example and so forth…”
“I know human nature a lot better than you do, Mr. Frise,” declared Mrs. Privet harshly. “I’ve lived a lot longer. People like these will ruin the whole neighborhood. They will attract their like. Inside of two years goodness knows who will be moving in here! Our property will start to go down in value. No, Mr. Frise, if you won’t call the police, I shall. These people are disturbing the peace!”
“Mrs. Privet,” said Jim earnestly, “give them a chance. Let me go and call at the door. I’ll tell them there is a sick person a few doors away, and would they please pipe down a little…”
“No use, no use!” declared Mrs. Privet shrilly. “The only thing that has any influence on people who will carry on in that fashion is the police. It’s the only thing they understand. They’re probably used to it.”
“Mrs. Privet, as a special favor,” begged Jim, “to an old neighbor, allow me to try my method. These may be very, very decent people, whose ways are perhaps a little different from ours.”
“Try if you must,” said Mrs. Privet sharply. “But I don’t intend to put up with things like this in a neighborhood in which I have lived 40 years.”
So, to the music of “There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding,” Jimmie and I walked the two doors up and onto the side walk of the house where the fun was in progress. The front door was wide open, as were most of the brightly lighted windows. And from them fairly gushed the warm and scented air of humanity having itself a time.
A din of sound of men and women laughing, talking and singing all at the same time burst out at us as we mounted the steps. Jim waited a moment and then mashed the bell.
“The bell! The door!” several voices, both male and female, yelled above the ruckus. “Hey, Bill, the bell!”
And around the hall door charged Bill, the new neighbor, a big, hearty of about 40, of the… uh… salesman type.
“Hi, who’s this!” he bellowed, as he bounded out to meet us, hand extended. “Come on in!”
Jim had automatically extended his hand to meet Bill’s. And the man hauled mightily, half-dragging Jim through the door.
“Welcome,” yelled Bill hoarsely. “Who is it? You, Sam?”
Jim’s holding back caused Bill to relax and he stepped out to us.
“Who is it? What’s up?” he inquired.
“Look,” said Jim quietly. “You’ll excuse us, won’t you? But we’re a couple of your neighbors…”
“Aw, come on in!” bellowed Bill in a stentorian voice. And because he was much bigger and younger than either of us, and since he had a strong pinching, rough hold on both our arms, he yanked us unceremoniously through the door and into the hallway before we knew what had happened.
“Hey everybody!” roared Bill, sliding us on the hardwood floor into the view of the assembled gathering. “A couple of our good neighbors! Give the boys a welcome! They’ve come to our house warming…whaddaya know!”
And in an instant our hats were snatched away and jovial arms were flung around our shoulders and we were propelled into the midst. At the piano, “My Wild Irish Rose” was once again rising like a gale.
I caught Jim’s eye but he made a warning signal. He fought his way over to me and said quietly:
“I’ll get him aside in a minute.”
But it was maybe 15 minutes later that a sudden silence fell, as sharp as a thunderclap, over the whole place.
In the hallway stood two policemen.
“There’s complaints,” said the front cop, “from the neighborhood that you are disturbing the peace. Can you make it a little less noisy?”
Bill shoved his way powerfully through the guests.
“Look, boys,” he said, very friendly. “It isn’t us. It’s these two characters that just gate-crashed our little party. They came in here and began kicking up no end of a row.”
“Which two?” inquired the cop with bright eyes.
The other guests fell away from us.
The cop signalled with his thumb.
“Don’t you know these two?” the cop asked Bill.
“Never saw them,” declared Bill indignantly, “in my life before!”
The cops took us by the slack of the coat collars and propelled us out the door and down the steps.
“Git!” commanded the cops.
“Look, officer…” I began hotly.
“If we see you,” warned the cop, getting into the scout car, “in this neighborhood the next time around. we’ll run you in. See? Now git!”