A friend of mine believes the world is coming to an end. The civilized world, anyway. He lives and works in an apartment on a suburban street where many other people live and work in apartments. Popular people. He knows they are popular because of the horns. The horns honked by people in cars who want the people in the apartments to know they are there. And ready to go. So get a move on, already.
My friend is a man who attempts to practice love and tolerance on a daily basis and the horns, well, the horns are not helping. Because for one thing, they don't all honk. Some of them blare or bleat, trumpet and roar. Some of them make that horrible toy beep-beep noise. And not only once, or even twice. But over and over again.
"I've inspected these cars," he says. "I have gone outside to see if I could help, to see if there was a medical emergency or a giant car-sucking pothole or absolutely no street parking. But it is never any of these things. It is always just people who can't be bothered to actually get out of their car and go knock on the door."
My friend has to stop to steady his voice, to bring it down about seven decibels.
"You know," he says, more calmly now, "I used to live in New York. And you expect this kind of thing in New York. But this is Los Angeles. This is a place where quiet and privacy are actually respected. Yet there they are, every day, honking away. And it just seems to be getting worse."
"Every day I have road rage," he says. "And I haven't even left the house."
We all know that honking as a summons is wrong. We all know this because our mothers told us so. At least my mother did. She would physically restrain me from going to the door if one of my high school friends made the mistake of pulling into the driveway and simply beeping.
"Polite people come to the door," she would say.
And the archetype of the boy-you-do-not-want-your-daughter-to-date is the guy hanging at the curb, leaning on the horn, yelling "Yo, Sheila. C'mon awready."
I tell my friend this, to validate his frustration. I also tell him that when I lived in New York, there was one young fellow who had a novelty horn that played the opening strains to the theme of "The Godfather." Which was amusing the first two dozen times.
"Oh my," said my friend. "Oh my. I hadn't even thought of that. Novelty horns."
Instantly, he said, he could hear a tinny version of the "Macarena" or maybe "La Cucaracha." And according to Stan Folow, vice president of Wolo, a specialty horns company based in Deerpark, N.Y., these are the two most popular models in Los Angeles.
The songs also help move one of the company's biggest sellers--the "Animal House" horn--which makes 35 different sounds, including nine animals, 16 songs and 10 sirens. Sirens. But, says Folow, it "says right on the box" not to use the sirens, which include a European police car, a firetruck and machine gun fire, while driving.
And certainly not in an effort to get your sister-in-law to hurry up.
Novelty horns, says Folow, are to be used for entertainment; instructions on every box caution drivers from using them in lieu of your regular horn.
"They're supposed to be fun," he says. "That's it."
What exactly about using horns is fun? Watching other people jump and twitch? Seeing how long it takes them to lean out their window and yell?
Yet, as a trip through any tunnel in town will prove, we love honking horns, novelty or not. They are the signature sound of the city, the aural equivalent of bright lights and skyscrapers. Designed to be heard above all other noise, they provide us an occasional solo in the swelling symphony of the street.
But car horns are, in the end, emergency devices, not doorbells. They're there to save your life, not endanger it.
Mary McNamara can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.