Idle American: Sounds from Another Day…


Dilemma horns seemed to gore when I contemplated this week’s piece. I could have ridden (written?) off in either direction and still wound up with words to spare.

Would I write about what I miss most--sights or sounds--that now seem permanently closeted in yesteryear?

I yearn to ask readers for directions to a place where fireflies still fly on summer nights, as if celebrating the setting of the sun. I’d burn a few gallons of gas to get there, remembering such times when such bliss was taken for granted. Recalled are moments of serenity and reflection, putting aside the probability that mosquitos chose the same night to seek their prey….

But, no. I’m going to expound a bit about sounds, thanks largely to a call from my academician brother, Dr. Fred Newbury, who is seven years my junior. Only lately has he admitted to joining the ranks of us who lament a lot.

I’d been thinking about old sounds, only a few of which I’ll mention. Some would find neither rhythm nor comfort in again hearing the clacking of manual typewriters in a newsroom. I’d love to hear such sounds again.

The same is true of roosters’ crowing to help us start our days, sometimes much earlier than we’d planned. Similarly, the clucks of hens are missed. Their clucking usually meant that their daily mission of laying one egg each had been accomplished. Sometimes, their clucks also summoned chicks frittering about the barnyard. Too often now in our digital world, sounds have grown silent, replaced by cursors darting silently across computer screens. It is a different day….

My brother wasn’t breathless, but he was borderline gleeful that his memory of playful childhood sounds had been refreshed. He has a friend who has one of those electric Tesla automobiles. It has several features that are absolute “jaw-droppers.”

We who can’t converse intelligently about either computers and apps--or autos and features--simply can’t wrap our brains around one of the Tesla features.

Simply stated, Fred claims that his friend finds great delight in activating the “whoopee cushion” that is factory-imbedded in his auto’s passenger seat. No, it doesn’t emit any sound associated with a passenger’s “plopping down,” but does so when the driver presses the activation button. The driver has the option of summoning all types of sounds--Fred says--including bass or treble that may be short or protracted…

It has been decades since thoughts of joke-playing with “whoopee cushions” crossed my mind, but recollection now makes he smile. They were often the hit of birthday parties, early days of first grade or even opening moments of vacation Bible school….

Researching the topic just a tad reveals that we’re all “Johnny-Come-Latelys.” Roman Emperor Elagabalus (History “fuzzies up” concerning his date of birth, either 203 or 204 AD) enjoyed placing similar cushions in chairs of pompous guests.

Perhaps it was his court jester who learned that inflating animal bladders could result in unlikely sounds upon the application of pressure.

Whatever, the emperor enjoyed it, so jesters probably wore it out, holding out hope that such new tomfoolery might lead to promotions. Enough said, I’m thinking….

Anyways, I can provide contact information for my brother if you have a friend who owns a Tesla. Maybe his--or hers--doesn’t have this feature.

If you mention the topic to him, he’ll burst out laughing before responding. I’ve had still another hearty chuckle this week. It was provided by my friend, longtime journalist Danny Andrews, whose long tenure at the Plainview Daily Herald was measured as they estimate the ages of stalagmites and stalactites in the caverns. Among the many typos he remembers is an obituary claiming a woman to be survived by “three sins.”

Luckily, the survivors seemed to understand. Years later, he ran across a man who said he was “one of the three sins.” Andrews replied, “Say no more.”….

Dr. Newbury, longtime university president, has written weekly since 2003, and continues to speak regularly. Contact: 817-447-3872. Email: Facebook: Don Newbury.