People everywhere love and deserve their Saturday mornings. After the grueling grind of the workaday week, it's so deliciously restful to sleep in, slowly awakening to the sweet, crisp melodies of the birds, the soothing rustle of greenery in the breeze, a bright flash of childish laughter from two yards over, and - bbrrRRRRAAAAAAAAARR! The day's first motor cracks open the morning, and, roaring and grinding, dumps it in the street.
Maybe it's a lawn mower, a hedge trimmer, a weed whacker, or the aptly named "edger," for its knack for putting people on edge. But whichever tool is howling at the dawn, the reverie is over, and so is its recuperative effect. Another unhappy ode to combustion joins the first, and then another; and we're jolted back into the grating reality of driven America, and its tragic Adoration of the Machine.
I don't trim hedges for a living, of course, and to be quite frank, I don't do it for pleasure either. I just don't do it. So I'm not standing on very solid ground when I propose that we put a limit, if not an outright ban, on such powered gardening implements.
But does it seem utopian to suggest that a level of
technology that could put a man on the moon in a music
video wouldn't have much trouble creating professional,
hand-powered gardening tools that were so finally machined
that they matched or bettered their fuel-driven counterparts?
Technically, this would be no problem, and such "no-sweat, no-motor" tools and shorter sentences could probably be in production in no time. But it has wisely been said that people get the gardening implements they deserve, and it is the will of the people, democratically enacted through the law of supply and demand, that has filled our lawns and the memory of sleeping with these roaring engines of destruction.
So wired to the Machine are we that if a light, well-balanced, finely-geared manual lawnmower were available at a price comparable to a standard gasoline-driven model, one that would glide over the grass smoothly incising its blades with only a faint, pleasing whirr, most of us would be somehow uncomfortable using it. "How do ya start this thing, anyways?"
We as a civilization seem to believe that if it ain't
got no motor on it, it just don't got the horsepower
to do the job. We respond heartily to product names that
end with the suffix "-matic," to appeals like, "You'll never have to push anything, ever again!" And today's grossly buzzing, fuel-spitting choppers reinforce our faith in them by, in effect, constantly shouting to us and anyone nearby about how hard they're working.
We're comfortable spending our money and our time on rideable lawnmowers and other power tools, since this buys us more leisure time. We need this leisure time, because we must spend it seriously working out on exercise machines, since we didn't get the exercise we would have gained from the manual labor that the machine replaced. That's progress.
Oh, we'd like to exercise - if only we had the time. No, we've got things to do, places to go - like the couch, for one example, for another portly, pop-topped salute to television football. Besides, tv is our best weapon against unwanted but uncontrollable sounds, like that car alarm of your neighbor's that's whooping wildly away, just like it did yesterday, and the day before that.
Maybe their car is more valuable than it looks, and
the thieves are having at it nightly, only to be rebuked
by it's insane alarm, continuously whooping and screeching
out four entirely different alarm signals for 5 seconds
each. But maybe it's your neighbor's kids' idea of a
good time, or that the alarm can't tell the difference
between a would-be intruder and a low-flying jet. It's
a common feature.
When you hear a car alarm go off, every day, don't you
tense from the sound hammering the exposed tips of
your nerve endings, silently curse, and say, "Oh,
no... another stupid false alarm"? Wouldn't you
think that a professional car thief would have to know
enough to circumvent any of the known types of alarms,
just to be able to stay in business? Times are tough.
But don't you forget, Mister, that America produces
the finest car thieves in the world!
Bless those poor souls who can't seem to get the hang
of how their car alarm works. "Okay, let's see if
I can git this straight, now: you press this button here
to set off the alarm, and this button... hey, how come
that damn ol' alarm is going off again?" Meanwhile,
a sound signal that was scientifically designed to be
as penetrating and genuinely alarming as possible is
scouring out your brain, injecting just that extra bit
of anxiety into your hour. As we say, bless these innocents,
and send them to their Happy Day as soon as space permits.
In any assembly, however, whether of champions or villains, one figure will inevitably stand out. In this context, the ultimate machine has to be the one that, equally as earsplitting as its fellow contraptions, accomplishes the function of the most dubious value... may we have the envelope, please? Aw, heck with the envelope, we don't even need to look for this one - the big winner (that makes us all the big losers,) is the powered Leaf Blower.
The leaf blower is a machine of diabolical simplicity, functionally identical to the wrong end of a vacuum cleaner. It merely directs a blast of air in the direction you point, with an accompanying blast of rude mechanical shrieking. Just a lot of hot air, in other words, with matching soundtrack.
Here's a piece of technology that has all the nerve-shredding abilities that we've outlined so far, but absolutely none of the usefulness, the practical value, of tools that at least accomplish something. The leaf blower just moves unwanted material from one place to the other, where it is equally unappreciated. Its slogan? "Let them clean it up."
There was a time when the phrase, "sweeping it under the rug" clearly connoted something undesirable. Now, for only $149.95, you can have the motorized equivalent of a broom that can do nothing else! A leaf blower is not only expert at its function of spreading your unwanted grass and hedge clippings, candy wrappers, and junk mail all over the neighborhood, it is incapable of actually cleaning up, of depositing those clippings in a trash can or bag so that they can be removed.
Of course, if you subscribe to the finicky, tree-hugging view that our garbage dumps are overflowing, that because we really have fewer and fewer places to dump our garbage that we can't truly "throw away" anything, then a blower could be seen as being in the ecological vanguard - it spreads the stuff around so finely that nobody notices it's there.
It's a grim landscaping job that we paint,
we know, but we also come to say that it's not too late
for a solution. If it's true that satellites can photograph
us with such magnification and impunity that the Feds
know the eye color of the last mosquito that bit you
as you slept
under the covers in your bedroom, then such a satellite,
equipped with Laser Destructo-Rays (LDRs) and operating
with the full faith and credit of the United States Government,
could zap all leaf blowers out of existence in one exhilarating
afternoon, and take out all cheap alarms, electric can
openers, talking bank machines, and airports located
in the center of heavily populated areas, all at the
Oh, we know this would get a lot of those
so-called civil libertarians and other lily-livered patsies
to start whining about rights and due process and all
that dreary noise, but we agree with the sneaker-makers
- let's just do it.
Naturally, we realize that although we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal to all women, and that they're all going deaf, these power tools are not going to just go away. So how about merely requiring that these unintentionally musical instruments, which relentlessly subject us to cacophonous industrial music, be tuned?
The human animal is actually highly impressionable, despite its sophisticated, hardened veneer. When a 100-decibel sound erupts near the animal, it jumps - is it one of its natural enemies? Food? Or just one of its rambunctious friends, the kind that real animals usually have?
Sound has an emotional, even physical impact on us, whether we think we've screened it out or not. We get used to the constant buzz of machines and traffic, and we think that we don't hear it, just as we've become accustomed to standing within inches of a several-ton metal monster hurtling by at 50 miles per hour, so close that to sneeze in the wrong direction could mean instant death. ("Hey, he knew the risks.")
That is, we think we get used to it - but we're wrong. Our natural self, the animal whose shoulders the conscious mind rides on, hears and reacts with pain to each new grinding of every gear.
But if machines were legally required to be in tune, exactly as any other instrument must before anyone would consider playing or listening to it, then at least we'd have musical sounds around us, in the form of Disney-like bursts of random, song-like episodes. For those who've never been to Disney Empire's "Epcot Center," (come now, surely there must be someone who hasn't,) an interactive exhibit in the Imagination pavilion demonstrates the desirability of such an approach.
In a darkened room, different colored floor-to-ceiling beams of light trigger a short recording of a single drumbeat, violin or trumpet note when you break the lightbeam by passing your hand or any handy appendage through it. The effect, despite the totally spontaneous and unorganized character of the sound, is enchanting and thoroughly musical, although no one has yet walked out of that room humming a tune they heard there.
Exactly as nature provides an almost constant but wonderfully shifting pattern of tones, alternately soothing, enlivening, calming, and exhilarating, but inevitably returning to a basic state of calm neutrality, in that neutral state there is most often a subtle, pleasant undercurrent of sound. Whether from the wind, softly buzzing insects, or any of the variations on moving water, these sounds heal our psyches, blending and harmonizing our nervous system's energies. As it happens, this background sound is clinically proven to have both the most relaxing and envigorating effect on the human species, which the most current market research shows is the single largest subgroup of Web users.
A haphazard chorus of even tuned machines is never going to match the seashore or deep forest for harmony, but at least we will have made our acoustic environment more user-friendly. Perhaps the various makers of power tools would each tune their line to a unique model of harmony: Black & Decker might take their cue from harmonies of Aaron Copland, while Sears could adapt the characteristic chord structures of, say, Glenn Miller. But anything would be a break from their current, unconscious emulation of heavy metal.
ORLANDO, Fullcourt Press Service - Disney Corp. Chairman Michael Ayesir announced today that certain beloved attractions were being rescripted in an effort to better reflect contemporary life. A ride depicting all of the world's cultures would be enhanced with the sounds of power gardening tools, quadrophonic car alarms, rush hour traffic, jackhammers, and low-flying jets. The next time you walk out of everybody's favorite, most adorable attraction at Disney Themepark World, you'll be humming, "IT'S, A LOUD WORLD AF-TER ALL, IT'S A LOUD, LOUD WORLD."
In a top secret vault, deep under Space Mountain, poor Walt is turning over in his ice tray. But they haven't gone far enough - if they want to make the ride truly contemporary, they should raise the volume on all the background noise so you can't really hear the song.
©2005 by Bill Ross