The Night the Howler Came Back

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:38

    I was having trouble sleeping again. Sleep, of late, has become a fleeting and evasive maneuver for me, and I'm not sure why. Well, that's not exactly true. Sometimes I do know why?cats being irksome or vomiting on the pillow or resetting the clock radio to "Central Housecat Time." At other times, the eyes will simply fall open at 3:30, and stay that way for no reason I can figure. At still other times, the cats sleeping soundly on either side of me, the eyes resting comfortably shut, something else will come along. This time, strange as it may sound, it was almost welcome.


    It was the neighborhood howler. I hadn't heard from him in, what, a year? Two years?

    The Howler?I've mentioned him before?works this way. He used to appear on the sidewalk outside my building once a week or so, usually around 10 o'clock, screaming an unending litany of obscenities, often of a racist quality.


    He would walk around the block three times, screaming all the while, loudly enough that you could hear him coming before he turned the corner a block away, and then the distinct Doppler shift as he disappeared around the next corner. After three go-rounds, he would move down a block or two and do the same thing again. When he first appeared a few years ago, I thought he'd just come out of the bar across the street, was just another sloppy drunk, but then I thought better. It didn't seem like his kind of bar. What's more, he came from the wrong direction to be a bar patron.

    I could always count on him to add a little free entertainment to a quiet evening. And given where I live, the evenings are always quiet, making his appearances all the more unique and welcome. I was always anxious to hear what he'd come up with next.

    This time, things were different, though, and lying there in bed, newly awakened, it took me a second to figure out exactly how.


    He sounded rested, certainly?almost younger, his voice strong and refreshed after a long absence.

    I listened more carefully, as I became more awake and more aware, and realized only then that the solitary Howler had returned with a friend. There were two guys out there screaming now, one of them?the original, the classic?screaming obscenities; the other just screaming?"AAAAAHHH!!"?to punctuate the obscenities. But the more I listened, the more I wasn't sure.

    At second listen, I thought that maybe they were fighting, or taunting each other toward that end. Then I thought that the man I figured to be the Howler's Buddy was simply making fun of him as he passed. Then I thought they were pals again, after listening to them scream together a little more.

    Then something peculiar happened.

    As the Howler?who had paused directly below my window for a while, as he almost always did?moved on around the corner, the Howler's Buddy stayed beneath my window, and continued to scream.

    "AAAAHHH!!!" he screamed. Then he took a breath before screaming again. "AAAAAHHHH!!!"

    It was almost like they were working as a tag team.

    This solo, wordless screaming continued for a few minutes, until I heard the lilting tones of the Howler turning the corner from a block away again, just like the old days.


    I was always amazed that in a neighborhood as quiet as the one I lived in, no one ever threw open their windows and told him to shut the fuck up. But no one ever did. I've seen my neighbors throw eggs and paint at cars whose alarms won't stop, but no one ever had a word for the Howler. I never said anything because I liked having him around. Maybe my neighbors felt the same way.

    When he hooked up with his buddy once again beneath my window, they both set to it once more. They seemed to be having quite the time.

    Then something else happened that surprised me. I heard a woman's voice?a quiet, calm woman's voice?not the voice of someone shouting from a window or a doorway, but someone who was down on the street with them, maybe just passing by. And this woman said to them, "Why don't you two just shut the hell up and go home?"

    You could almost hear the air hissing out of their busted balloon. They'd finally run into someone in this neighborhood with the gumption to tell them to just shut the hell up.

    "Oh," one of them said. Because it wasn't screamed, I couldn't tell which one.

    Then they went home?or maybe just to a distant block?and I didn't hear anything more from them for the rest of the night.

    Still couldn't sleep, though.