-- "Town Talk," Southwest City Journal, March 24.
FORMAT OF THE WEEK: A wide-ranging compendium of things unrelated.
NOISY VISITOR OF THE WEEK: Springtime is a season beloved by many, including the frugal. In their case, it's the time of year when the heating system is given a respite. Windows are cracked open. Fresh air begins to circulate. Cash is saved and the lungs breathe easier.
Spring is also the season in which randy, agitated mockingbirds begin their vocal pyrotechnics. The season of "displaying" is upon us, followed by the laying of eggs, the quick nurturing process and the eventual departure of mockingbirds from whatever trees or telephone poles they've claimed as their own. It's not necessarily an endless process, but it's not really a short one, either.
"About now, they'll start showing up," says Walter C. Crawford Jr., topper of the World Bird Sanctuary. "The eggs come in April or May. There's a couple weeks of display, a couple weeks of raising the young, then they're usually gone by June. Sometimes, they'll nest for a second time, but normally it's just once."
If you have a mockingbird, or even a couple, in your immediate neighborhood, you know that their seasonal visits aren't quiet. During any portion of the day and night, the need to burst into song may overtake them. These leather-lunged flyers take on more voices than a holy roller in the grip of the Spirit. Their regard for the human sleep cycle is minimal, with the early-morning hours often their most active time.
According to Crawford, there's no real way to ease these songbirds from your backyard to someone else's. (From personal experience, small stones thrown at their heads work, but only briefly. Ditto the shaking of trees. These crafty birds flee, only to return when your own head hits the pillow. Uncanny, they are.)
"They're habitat-specific," Crawford says. "They prefer yards with a few trees and some open space."
And they love berries, which they monitor from high places -- often near your windows. According to the fascinating Web site dedicated to the "Backyard Birds of Winter in Nova Scotia," Canadian versions of the bird do exactly this: "'Guarding posts' are posts that are used over and over by the mockingbird as they provide a good view of its domain. The purpose of the mockingbird's vigil is to protect its berries so it has a better chance of surviving the winter. Should another berry-eating bird show interest in the mockingbird's berry patch, the mockingbird will do everything in its power to chase the intruder away." Therefore, more noise.
One Internet bird writer feels that "the mockingbird is not just a buffoon. In its own right, it is probably the most gifted in song of all birds. Sidney Lanier, the great American poet, calls him a 'heavenly bird' and writes that he will be named 'Brother' by Beethoven and Keats when he joins the unseen singer in the spirit world. Certainly if one has not heard a mockingbird burst its heart in song on a warm summer moonlit night, one has not experienced a truly full life."
One may also never again experience a full night's sleep, if these heavenly bug-eaters take up residence near your own. How long until June?
CD OF THE WEEK: No, we're not talking about compact discs, we're talking civil disobedience. The frenzy stirred up down at the Frost Campus over new parking rates was, by all accounts, something to see -- TV cameras banned from meetings, students at fish fries talking about protests. Controversy at St. Louis University? Huh? There's been much loose talk of organized protests down at the Frost Campus over the parking issue, including driving cars into the quad and hundreds of students slowly circling the campus' perimeter. Strangely, the annual tuition hike was taken with more calm than was the parking-rate hike. The lesson, true in most facets of American life, is this: Don't mess with people's automobiles.
Judging by some of the comments last week, indignation is still running high, but student leaders are having a hard time getting more than a minority of students to act. More meetings are scheduled for today.
(Somehow these acts don't exactly remind you of Danny the Red leading French students into brick-throwing battles in the streets of Paris in 1968, but student revolutions, in whatever form, are more than welcome.)
NEW BAND OF THE WEEK: At the Side Door a few Tuesdays back, "audition" night was going along on its usual unpredictable course. A folksinger named Blueberry brought two friends. A not-quite-ready-for-playing-out ska band named theCondiments brought a dozen. The hellfire-and-brimstone overtures of Goth-rockers Tripelexer (inadvertently) entertained with a stage show best called unique. But the most surprising of all (in draw and sound) were new kids on the block Absent Without Leave.
Unlike the crop of foul-mouthed youths clogging area stages today, these young cats took a pass on the baggy-panted, workbooted tomfoolery ofhip-hop/metal, inside copping their looks and chops from an unlikely source: Weezer. Tuneful, fresh-faced and delightfully dorky, AWL sang out about girls, waiting for phone calls, sitting alone in the bedroom and other forms of wholesome teenage longing. That the songs held up well only added to their charms.
Was the singer's voice a bit taxed? Yes. Did they bring a crowd? Oh, yeah. Is the drummer over the age of 12? Maybe. Are they St. Louis' best teenage band? Could very well be. Catch them when you can.
PRESS RELEASE OF THE WEEK: Left Bank Books has announced that acclaimed British writer Nick Hornby will be appearing at the bookshop on Sunday, April 25. The author of three fantastic books (the football memoirs of Fever Pitch and the novels High Fidelity and About a Boy), he's simply one of the most entertaining, funniest writers working today. Don't even think of grabbing a front-row seat. They're taken.
DEPARTURE OF THE WEEK: Harry White, the pride of Southwest High School and the man known by all as the "commissioner of wrestling," has been living in Columbia, Mo., for the better part of the last two years but still haunting St. Louis on the weekends. However, he'll be farther away soon, moving to Austin, Texas, in April. No one in town knew more about the history and goings-on of pro wrestling, nor did anyone share the info with as much self-deprecating humor and goodwill. A regular on public-access cable and a columnist for the late, great zine 15 Minutes, White'll be missed at watering holes like the Way Out Club and Venice Cafe. Good luck to Harry in his new life.
QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK: (1) Will new SLU basketball coach Lorenzo Romar go for the guaranteed-access, $900 parking spot near the West Pine Gym, or will he take a chance on the first-come, first-served $360 spot down at the Olive and Compton garage? Smart money says he goes for the premium space. (2) If the Post-Dispatch and the Landmarks Association are serious about increasing the profile of their series of city charettes, why don't they change the name? Call them design meetings or urban-planning forums or city seminars. Call them something that people will understand. Simply explaining the meaning of "charette" every time out doesn't work. Besides, no one likes the French.
RFT ANAGRAMS OF THE WEEK: In the final installment of this wildly popular segment of "Hit Parade," we lament the fact that words sometimes just don't work into the pliable form you wish them to take. Occasionally you long for maybe one, two, three, even 16 extra letters to give your anagram the punch you want. In our swan-song anagrams bit, we offer some not-quite-right examples of the form. For example, "WGNU's Skip Erwin = Usually Talks Much." Catch the drift? The words don't quite work into new phrases. They don't work at all. So what?
Rob Fischer = No Question
The New Mix 93.7 = Worst of 3 Decades
Bob Ramsey = No Question
Blake Brokaw = Vegetable Killer
The Creepy Crawl = Closet Yanni Fans
World's Fair Donuts = Manna from Gods
Howard Balzer = No Question
Soul Kiss = Ear Pain
E-mail your quips and tips to Thomas_Crone@rftstl.com.