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What's It Take to Get a Little Peace and Quiet Around Here?


The day began with the serene, plaintive, solitary call of a mockingbird. It was downhill from there.

The phone jolted me awake at 6 a.m.. It took a moment to remember what a telephone was, and what I was, before adrenaline triggered the well-worn synaptic path entitled "Phone!"

"Huhh-huhh-low," I managed, but the caller hung up. Wrong number? Harassment? Bob Dole getting an early start on drumming up votes?

I flopped back to bed and was blessed with another 45 minutes of what W.C. Fields termed "sleep, the greatest thing known to man--except drink." I dreamed that I could astound humanity by floating above sidewalks, 10 feet in the air. This required extraordinary concentration, and much flapping. Suddenly, I was yanked down into a dentist chair where a guy who looked like Ernest Borgnine began drilling the hell out of a molar. I tried to tell him that he had the wrong tooth, but with all that cotton in my mouth. . . .

I awoke. It wasn't Borgnine-as-dentist. It was something worse. It was a leaf blower.

As far as I'm concerned, the leaf blower is the stupidest invention in human history (and, thankfully, the L.A. City Council seems to agree with me). I mean, would an intelligent being dream up a machine that roars like an old Flash Gordon serial rocket, creates more pollution that a Peterbilt, and scares the daylights out of cats? All to perform a task that rakes used to accomplish in--I'm convinced--the same amount of time? Yet the leaf blower not only exists, it is wildly popular--ferociously whooshing debris into ivy, bushes and gutters across the nation. It's the gardening equivalent of seeping dust under rugs. With a bulldozer.


The owner of this particular blower was my neighbor's "landscape engineer," as they are sometimes known, who had arrived ambitiously soon. I hauled my body up, threw on a hat, and stumbled outside. Promptly turned around, went back in, put some pants on then went out again. At this time of day, I bear a striking resemblance to Rasputin. I tried to conjure a smile, which probably had the net effect of making me look homicidal, and approached the "landscape engineer."

"Goob blorning," I said, my mouth refusing to obey orders. "Can you blease not cub so early?" He cupped his ear. The leaf blower, like all leaf blowers, was not quite as loud as a cheering football stadium. I felt like it was blowing inside my head. "Please!" I yelled, inhaling leaf blower exhaust. "Come bag glater! Doo early!"

I think I would have been more surprised had the guy just busted me in the jaw. As it was, he simply waved me away, like one might do to a fly. And on he went, blasting those nasty, elusive, vicious leaves willy-nilly with his grand, howling machine. What on earth, I wondered impotently, was wrong with rakes? Better exercise, nonpolluting, good for the ears! Leaf blowers, I figured, must have a powerful lobby in Washington. Owners who argue a constitutional guarantee to scatter leaves with a big, gas-powered engine strapped to their spines any time they damn well please. I tapped his shoulder. My mouth moved fine, now.

"Hey! Don't wave me away. You're too damned early! Come back later! I work late, sleep late."

His response: "Why don't you get up earlier?" I asked him a question in return. Something about taking a, um, shall we say . . . cavalier leap . . . at the moon. He turned his back on me. This was excellent, I thought--effective, courteous, adult communication. I sought out his employer and asked him to reschedule the leaf-assault ritual. His neighborly solution: "The gardener can't come at any other time."

Defeated, I crawled wretchedly back into bed and stuffed tissue in my ears--which made me feel like . . . I had tissue in my ears. I gave up on forced slumber at 8:30 when the recycling truck arrived. It sat across the street, idling its herculean engine for about 20 minutes. The idle caused my building to idle too. Pictures on my wall idled, vibrating at different pitches. Dishes in the sink idled. It was a symphony in idling. It game me an idea. I got up and played the Beethoven Triple Concerto, and cranked it up. If I had to have noise, at least I would have enlightened noise.

This worked very well until the Department of Water and Power showed up. Suddenly, I was listening to Beethoven's Quadruple concerto--piano, violin, cello and jackhammer. John Cage might have approved. The DWP workers were intent on drilling big holes in the middle of the street, for reasons I couldn't ascertain. Must have been important, though. They drilled a lot of holes, then stared into them for a long time, looking puzzled. All morning, and half the afternoon. They did take breaks, though--for as long as 10 or 15 minutes. These lulls were neatly filled by more "landscape engineers" with, yes, leaf blowers, who strolled about, officiously herding leaves up and down the street. Sounded like giant bees.


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