The Authenticity Experiment, the Whistling Man Edition. For the record, I didn’t tell him he was making me insane. As in bat shit crazy. That his relatively tuneless whistling was impeding my work, affecting my friendships, pulling at the edges of my already frayed knot. I just said, “Hey, I’m Kate. I’m a writer who lives down the block. Will you talk to me about your whistling?”
He set down his pipe full of pot—after I shook my head when he offered it to me—and asked right away if I liked the whistling. I lied a little. “Well, I certainly hear it all day long through my office window, but your version of “Stars and Stripes Forever” was really impressive. There’s a lot of notes in there.” He smiled and said, “Thank you for recognizing it. You know, a lot of people don’t like my whistling.” He laughed a little at this. I did, too.
I asked him if he was a professional whistler with a band. “Yeah, yeah, I am a professional. You know I started playing the trumpet at nine and I really built up my armature, and, well, I’m Sicilian and everybody whistles in Sicily. People they come back from Italy, a lady just told me today, she’d been to Sicily, and she said, well, that everyone whistles there, everyone is happy there. My grandpa, he whistles, my dad whistles, my brother whistles, I whistle.”
He grew up in Maryland and DC and he doesn’t need a day job. “I’m taken care of, you know.” I nodded. I pointed to a Gibson guitar gig bag and asked about it. “That’s my brother’s. But, well, yeah, I play blues and folk. I have a gig in southeast on the 18th,” he said.
I told him I lived in southeast for 20 years but I’d been up here for the last 10. Turns out he has a house up here, too. I asked him why he was coming out later in the day. I said, “I used to hear you all day long, now you’re just coming around in the evening.” He said, “It’s like the birds, you know?”
But I didn’t really.
Another guy was standing there with Jeremy the Whistling Man and me. He added, “You got to feel it, right? But you know what? The next time we protest, if the police would just bring out music and a buffet, we’d build community instead. That’s what it’s about. We need to tell the City Council the next time they’re meeting. We need to tell them this idea.” And I thought, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale tried that 50 years ago, feeding and educating the people, and it didn’t work out so well for them.
Whistling Man concurred. He said, “I’m working on creating a Grateful Dead type band.” And the other man said, “Yeah, yeah, man. Like why hasn’t a band like that sprung up here in St. John’s? I mean, if it’s gonna happen anywhere, it’s gonna happen here, right?”
“It’s about community. Don’t think I haven’t thought about it. I have,” the Whistling Man said to the other man and to me. “I have friends back in Maryland and DC—and, well, I’m not drawn to that area of the country for natural reasons—but I have friends and, well, we are considering how we can combat hate with music, food, and nature. You gotta have nature. It’s why I moved to Oregon. Rain or shine, Oregon is nature.”
I couldn’t argue with him. I spend all day looking out my office window at Forest Park, one of the largest urban forests in the US with more than 80 miles of trails, and I’d just worked out a new rendition of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” on my ukulele before I’d gone over to talk to Jeremy the Whistling Man. And the thing is, you don’t really want to argue with Whistling Man even when his whistling is making you lose it. Because this guy is incredibly gentle. You can feel it in him. Gentle, kind, and full of tunes.
He wrote down the date and time of his gig, then the URLs for his Soundcloud and Bandcamp files. He thanked me for coming over to talk to him about his whistling. He said, “I’m gonna whistle you a special song to walk home to. I’m gonna whistle you out, Kate.” And he began “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”
The irony of both gestures was not lost on me, the woman who wanted to forcibly relocate Whistling Man, the woman who really didn’t appreciate Jeremy’s whistling, especially when it devolved from song into improv. In fact, Jeremy’s songs, these times, my own rising intolerance and fear in the face of 45’s daily assault, the easy way we forget empathy and become hateful of the other, and the way that it can slip almost unnoticed to war, well, it made the hair on my arms stand on end.
So, if you’re in Portland, Oregon on August 18th, join me at 7pm at the Firkin’ Tavern on SE 11th and Clay. I’ll be sitting in the back, ready to sketch out if the whistling gets too much or the guitar sounds too tinny. But I’ll be there—trying to repair my own tolerance and understanding while also maybe trying to get Jeremy to understand that his whistling is probably best received at gigs.
It’s so close, the launch of The Authenticity Experiment: Lessons From the Best & Worst Year of My Life! There’s still time to pre-order the book (with free shipping) and get it before it goes on sale to the general public. And you can find a list of the places I’m reading and giving away some cool free swag at www.katecarrolldegutes.com/calendar