Something to Crow About

The following shocking true story of how my old, forgotten stereo system saved my life contains themes of sex and violence. OK, not sex. And the violence is against birds, but once you get the whole story, I’m sure you’ll come to believe that they deserved even worse.

It used to be such a nice place to live, my house. A modest home in a neat, modest neighborhood with nice, quiet neighbors. And then they moved in. The crows.

They arrived one morning at 5:00 and made their presence known with their distinct call. How can one describe it? It’s not unlike a giant novelty New Year’s Eve noisemaker that has rusted over, been filled with bits of bent roofing nails, broken glass, and goat’s blood and dragged behind a garbage truck. It sounds somewhat as if a classic Halloween witch came to life, clamped the broken stumps of her teeth down on the end of a saw blade, and while cackling madly, slowly pulled it from her mouth. A crow’s call sounds like a gut-shot demon lying in a ditch calling out for help from the other demons who have long ago abandoned him. Only much, much worse.

It is, I am certain, no exaggeration to call it the worst sound—no, the worst thing—in the universe.

And it’s constant, which of course is bad enough on its own. But it also delivers a kind of psychological torture as you begin to ponder the question, What could they possibly be saying to one another? “Hey, I’m here!” or “Look, half a dead chipmunk,” or “Honey, stay near mommy.” Aren’t crows supposed to be smart? Aren’t we constantly being collared at parties by some smug amateur animal behaviorist who drones on about how crows have been observed picking bank locks and rooting Android phones? Then how the hell come they can’t communicate something as simple as “I like buttons!” without going “CAAWW CAAWW CAAWW CAAWW CAAWW CAAWW CAAWW!” for seven and a half minutes at a stretch? They may be smart, but they produce more senseless chatter than my Aunt Ruth at a Red Hat Society luncheon.

This hellish cacophony woke me every morning at 5:00 on the dot. (Closing our windows, not an option. No air conditioning. Sleep is only possible when we have full access to cool ocean breezes. I think the crows know this.)

The first attempt to rid myself of this scourge was the purchase of a giant hollow plastic owl. Perhaps if you were to cut its head off and fill it with water, it would make an economical though somewhat restrictive kiddie pool for your toddler, but it is, as a scarecrow, quite useless. If the crows thought for even one fraction of a second that they were suddenly being spied upon by their mortal enemy, they immediately felt a sense of shame for having let it fool them that long. Or maybe, once, one crow saw it and flew off in alarm. And then all his buddies ribbed him about it for years afterward. “Look, Dan! A giant plastic owl from Home Depot! Ha ha ha!” “Very funny, Ted.” (In crow, this is, of course, “CAAWW CAAWW CAAWW CAAWW CAAWW!” twelve hundred times.)

The next step, after several weeks of restless, truncated sleep, was to rise before 5:00, make a pot of coffee, and begin plinking at them with a BB gun. (Relax, it’s low powered. If I hit one of them in the eye and they were eight years old, they might go to the nurse’s office, but they’d be back in class in ten minutes.) The point was to irritate them and get them to move along—the equivalent perhaps of my showing up outside their window and shrieking for several hours. All that did was make them louder and cement our adversarial relationship. Now I could tell they really hated me.

After some research that involved poring over the profanity-laced rants at some how-the-@#$%&!-do-I-get-rid-of-these-@#$%&!-crows? forums, I came upon a guy offering a product that promised to do just that. A substitute for the prohibitively expensive commercial bird repellent systems, it was simply a CD that intermittently played the sounds of raptor calls. The catch, he told me, was that to be effective, the speakers through which it played had to be on the roof of my house, pointing up, on the opposite side of the “infestation” (I like this guy’s style), as crows are smart enough to identify the source of sounds and, I don’t know, disconnect the leads to the speakers’ voice coils, or some such thing.

I enthusiastically plunked down the money for the CD and went tearing through the garage to find something through which to play it. And that’s when I saw it. Perhaps those of you who have, decades later, run across your grade-school crush at the bank or grocery store will have some sense of that strange, unexpected rush of bittersweet nostalgia that came over me when I unboxed my very first real stereo system. A gray, utilitarian NAD receiver and nondescript Pinnacle speakers—hadn’t I sold these on eBay ten years ago? But, oh, my old friends, what we have been through together. For how many hours of Beethoven, Dvorák, Frank Sinatra, and, for one misspent week, Terence Trent D’Arby did I press you into service? Too many to count. Well, I have one more job for you, and it’s not a glamorous one.

Yes, although they are not all-weather speakers, the Pinnacles perch on my roof (it doesn’t rain much in San Diego), and the once-proud NAD receiver sits on edge, hidden behind my bed. A dirt-cheap MP3 player that I retrieved from the trash plays the raptor calls on a constant loop. The crows don’t come around much anymore.

Although the raptor sounds play at a pretty low volume and I don’t notice them much, you know what? My first stereo still sounds fantastic.

kelsci's picture

If I did not know anybetter, I think Al Hitchcock was sending them boids over to annoy you.

I guess your old stereo system from the garage turned out to be the "scarecrow" that you needed. Can't beat a NAD for its capability of delivering rather "ferocious" sound quality. Hmm, I heard that the crows were boycotting NAD over this incident of yours.

luvdady's picture

I am sure a certain gold buddy of yours is quite appalled right about now.