“I don’t want to even know his reasons,” shouted Jimmie. “I don’t want to even speak to him!” “Very well,” I said. “We’ll make it brief and snappy like this.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 12, 1938.

“Listen,” hissed Jimmie Frise. “Listen to that row.”

I listened. From somewhere came the deep, booming notes of a radio penetrating into Jimmie’s living room.

“Upstairs?” I inquired.

“Next door,” said Jim, bitterly. “Here it is 11 o’clock at night, and that bird keeps his radio going like that until 1 or 2 in the morning.”

“Why don’t you speak to him?” I asked.

“Speak to him?” cried Jimmie. “Speak, to him? I’ve spoken to him. I’ve telephoned him. I’ve even gone and rung his front door bell at 3 am, and threatened him with bodily harm if he didn’t turn his machine off. Or turn it lower, anyway.”

“And why doesn’t he?” I asked.

“He just laughs,” grated Jim. “He just shuts the door in my face and laughs.”

“But there ought to be some law,” I suggested. “Why don’t you call the police? What that amounts to is a disturbance of the peace.”

We both sat still and listened. The deep throb, throb, boom, boom of the radio next door beat and reverberated on the ear drums. Not enough to hear the tune or even to follow the rhythm. But just a nerve-racking and muffled vibration.

“I have called the police,” said Jim. “And when they arrived, he shut the machine off. And there sat the cops, right in this room, listening, and they couldn’t hear a sound. It made me feel very silly. And the cops gave me a funny look.”

“Maybe he saw the cops arrive,” I suggested.

“I have no doubt he did,” agreed Jim. “You ought to hear it in the summer. With all the windows open…”

“Does it go all the time?” I inquired.

“No, he is one of those active, outdoor men,” explained Jim “he bowls, plays golf, goes to meetings and movies. He seems to come home about 11 every night, and go straight to the radio and turn it on. Loud.”

“There are never any programs after 11,” I sympathized.

“Nothing but oompa, oompa, night club bands,” agreed Jim. “All the same. Mostly drum and saxophone. And yet that guy turns it up as loud as it will go and lets her rip, oompa, oompa, until he goes to bed around 2 o’clock in the morning.”

“I certainly wouldn’t put up with it,” I submitted.

“What can I do?” protested Jimmie. “I speak to him, and he just laughs and says, why do I live in such a flimsy house? And when I call him up in the middle of the night, he just laughs and hangs up the receiver.”

No Way to Retaliate

“Can’t you think of any kind of retaliation?” I offered. “Can’t you think up some nuisance on him, and get even with him?”

“I’ve thought of everything,” sighed Jim. “Last summer, I got up early one Sunday morning and carried my radio upstairs to a room opposite his bedroom. I opened the window and set my radio pointing straight into his window at 7.30 of a Sunday morning, and let her rip.”

“That’s the idea,” I applauded. “What happened?”

“He didn’t do anything,” said Jim. “But the first thing I knew, a police cruiser was in front of my house and two cops were ringing the door bell furiously, to say that the whole neighborhood was complaining to the police station.”

“It doesn’t seem just,” I confessed, sitting again in silence and listening. Yes, there, more clearly than ever, once I became conscious of it, was the oompa, oompa, of the radio next door.

“Isn’t there anything else you can do?” I wondered. “Couldn’t you put up a spite fence or anything?”

“No,” said Jim, “the only thing that would do would prevent his kids from throwing things over into my garden. Or it might stop his wife from shaking rugs out her window when the wind is just right to carry the dust in all our windows. In fact, I don’t know what to do. I was thinking of moving.”

“Never, Jim,” I cried. “That would be rank cowardice. That would be retreat in full flight. There must be some way you can handle this situation.”

“All right,” said Jim bitterly, “you think up something.”

“Have you written him a letter?” I asked eagerly. “A letter is the real solution to all such difficulties as this.”

“He’d throw it in the waste basket,” muttered Jim.

“Not a lawyer’s letter,” I cried. “You get a lawyer to write him a letter, threatening legal action if he doesn’t put an end to a nuisance that is impairing your health.”

“I’ve looked it up,” said Jim. “There isn’t any law to prevent a man playing a musical instrument in his own house if the windows are closed and all reasonable precautions taken to prevent the disturbance of the neighbors.”

“Well, this is a disturbance,” I pointed out.

“It is,” agreed Jim, “and the worst kind of a disturbance, too, a soft, barely audible thud, thud, that nearly drives you crazy. But when I explained that to the police, do you know what they said? They said that they knew lots of people that couldn’t sleep on account of crickets.”

“Crickets?” I exclaimed.

The cops told me,” said Jim, “that night they were here and couldn’t hear anything, that one time they had a lady call them in and demand that they force her next door neighbor to get out and kill a cricket that was singing in his garden.”

“Oh, no,” I laughed.

“Oh, yes,” said Jim, “she said she had exterminated all the crickets in her property and she demanded that the police abate the nuisance in the neighbor’s garden. But they found there was no law governing the singing of crickets.”

“Did the police suggest,” I demanded, “that your complaint was in the same class as that?”

“They did,” said Jim. “They said that if the man was playing a trombone or something that could be heard in my house, they would take action. But they could hear nothing. And all I could hear, they explained, was a faint oompa, oompa, and that wasn’t enough to base any action re nuisance on.”

“Let’s write him a letter,” I suggested. “Not a lawyer’s letter, but a plain, man-to-man letter, calling upon his decency and neighborly…”

“He hasn’t any,” interrupted Jim. “He’s just one of those big, hearty, laughing men who sleeps like a log. Everything he does is loud and hearty. An appeal to his good nature would just result in suggesting I go and see a doctor.”

“We could try,” I offered, taking my pencil and drawing up a chair to Jim’s living room table. Let’s see.”

So I started and wrote:

“My dear sir-

“Would you be kind enough to give your friendliest consideration to the following appeal? I have spoken to you many times without result, but I feel that if you were to take into consideration all the facts, you would most certainly be disposed to co-operate in a neighborly spirit.

“As you know, your radio is audible in my house, especially in the quieter hours of the night, between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. It makes a faint but fully audible sound, due to the fact that you have the instrument turned on louder than perhaps is really necessary. This faint sound, unaccompanied by any soothing strains of music, is sufficient to beat upon my nerves and to cause me loss of sleep and distress.

“While I have not the pleasure of your close acquaintance, I feel sure from your appearance and general deportment, that you are not the type of man who would willingly cause distress and possibly ill-health to anyone at the price of a slight adjustment of your radio dial.”

“There,” I said; “now listen to this, Jim.” And I read it to him.

Jim listened with an increasingly frozen face.

“Nothing doing,” he interrupted, near the end. “I wouldn’t humiliate myself by writing any such balderdash. That guy! Not willingly cause distress? Why, he gets a kick out of causing distress. He’s a Sadist. He gets a queer pleasure in making other people suffer in some small, intangible, defenceless way…”

“I’ll make it a little stiffer,” I offered. “I believe in letters. A letter demands some action.”

I sat down and started again.

“My dear sir-

“From time to time I have attempted to bring to your attention a little matter of no apparent interest to you, but which is a nuisance to me and is likely in time to affect my health. I refer to the use of your radio at all hours of the night, the sounds of which penetrate my house and disturb my lawful sleep.

“Before taking steps to have this matter settled by process of law, which will doubtless put you to some expense and not a little loss of face in the neighborhood, I suggest that we settle the question in a decent and amicable fashion.

“Any previous attempts on my part to discuss the matter with you have met with complete rebuff. I suggest that if you are not prepared to reduce the volume of your radio to normal strength so that its sound does not disturb the peace of my house, you will be good enough to give me some reason for your attitude towards this matter.”

“I am, etc.”

With suitable dignity and oratorical effects, I read this masterpiece to Jimmie, but at the end, he exploded.

“I don’t want to know his reasons,” shouted Jimmie. “I don’t want to save him any legal expenses. I don’t want to have anything to do with him. I don’t even want to speak to him…”

“Very well, then,” I hastened, “make it brief and snappy, like this.”

And I took a fresh sheet and started again, while Jimmie leaped up and began prowling up and down the living room and above the scratching of my pen, the remote, African thud, thud, thud of the radio next door beat faintly and infuriatingly on the peaceful air.

“Dear sir-

“I give you final warning that if you do not tone down your radio after 11 p.m. so that its sound does not penetrate my home, I shall take steps that will astonish you.”

“There you are, Jimmie,” I shouted. “That’s get it. Listen.”

I read it to him, in a crisp, dangerous voice.

“What steps,” shouted Jim, “will I take?”

“That’s the power of this note,” I explained. “It contains mystery, threat, menace: yet you do not incriminate yourself.”

“I want to incriminate myself,” bellowed Jimmie. “I will take steps that will astonish him, all right. I’ll tell him what I am going to do.”

He snatched his coat off the back of a chair and started to pull it on fiercely.

“Here,” I said, “don’t go and get into trouble.”

“I’m fed up,” cried Jim. “I’m going to take matters into my own hands. I’m going out there and I’m going to ring his door bell and when he comes to the door I’m going to pop him on the nose.”

“Now, now…” I begged.

“Yes, sir,” cried Jim, heading for the door, “that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to pop him one on the nose. The minute he opens the door.”

“Wait a minute…” I pleaded, running after him.

The Crucial Moment

But the door bell, at that curious instant, rang, arresting Jimmie in full flight, just as he started to open the vestibule door.

“Thank heavens,” I said, exchanging a very astonished look with Jim, who controlled himself with a great effort and slowly opened the door.

It was a spectacled young man with a brief case.

“Mr. Frise?” he asked.


“I’m terribly sorry to bother you so late as this,” said the young man, “but may I step in, just a moment?”

“What is it?” demanded Jim, still slightly bristling.

“It’s about your radio,” said the young man, stepping inside.

“My,” said Jim, “radio?”

“I am from the department,” explained the young gentleman, politely, opening his brief case and taking a handful of letters out. “It seems all your neighbors have complained about a serious interference emanating from your house.”

“My house?” demanded Jim loudly.

“Our trouble truck,” said the young man, “has traced the source of the difficulty to your house, and they say on their report that it is probably an oil furnace. Have you an oil furnace?”

“Yes,” said Jim.

“Is it a new model or a…?” inquired the tired young government man.

“It’s a model 1912,” said Jim, stoutly, “in perfect shape.”

“May I examine it?” asked the young gentleman. “Or would you, perhaps, prefer that I come back tomorrow?”

“What is this?” cried Jim, angrily. “What’s all this about my furnace?”

“There is a strong static interference,” explained the young chap, “that upsets all the radios in this neighborhood, and it has been traced to the electric motors in your house, probably an oil furnace.”

“Who reported this?” shouted Jim. “Give me his name.”

“Oh, it is no one person,” assured the young man. “It is all the neighbors.”

“All the neighbors?” said Jim.

“Dozens of them,” confirmed the young man. “We have only got around to it now. We’ve been very busy this season.”

“What do you want to do now?” inquired Jim, very subdued.

“May I just take a look at your furnace?” said the young chap, hanging up his hat and setting down his brief case.

So Jim took him down cellar while I stood in the living room, listening to the now fateful African drum, tumpa tump, from the house next door.

When they came up, Jimmie was telling the young man about the problems of the house next door.

“Unfortunately,” the young chap summed up, as he took his hat and brief case, “unfortunately, Mr. Frise, there is nothing in the law that governs situations such as you describe. You will attend to the other matter, will you? The furnace?”

“Tomorrow,” said Jim.

“By the way,” asked the young fellow, “I suppose you have your radio license?1

“I suppose so,” muttered Jim; “the family looks after that sort of thing.”

“I was just wondering, sir,” said the young man, bowing out. “I issue them. So I always inquire.”

“That’s all right,” said Jim

And he softly closed the door.

“Who reported this?” shouted Jim to the young man from the department (November 27, 1943)

Editor’s Notes: This story was repeated on November 27, 1943 with the same title.

  1. From 1922 to 1953 individual members of the public were required to pay for annual Private Receiving Station licences in order to legally receive broadcasting stations. ↩︎