Life, the Universe & Everything

Ukelele Nights

My neighbor is playing a ukelele and singing a little song. It’s a truly little song, consisting of two notes, both of them flat. The notes being sung bear little relation to the chords being strummed on the ukelele, which I imagine saves a lot of unnecessary neural activity on the part of the instrumentalist. Also, the order of both the sung notes and the strummed chords is erratic and apparently random, a kind of musical Brownian motion.

I was alerted to the incipient concert by the sound of a ukelele being tuned. I admire someone who sings a two-note song to random accompaniment and takes the care to tune their ukelele beforehand. That’s commitment to craft. I’ve never been skiing in my life, but I might display a similar optimism by adjusting my gear and swinging myself back and forth energetically at the top of a run before toppling down the mountainside ass over teakettle. Useless, but if you’re going to do a thing badly, at least set it up with style.

This little audio enchantment would become unbearable sooner than it does if it weren’t so utterly Portlandia. Much like hearing the Star Wars theme song played on bagpipes by a Darth Vader behelmeted unicyclist in a kilt, so too listening to your neighbor warble over their ukelele has a certain “isn’t Portland a quirky town” charm for about four and a half minutes, which is four minutes and twenty-eight seconds longer than I’d otherwise be able to tolerate it.

When the charm expires, it does so suddenly, and a deep existential angst slides into its place. The five minute mark finds me searching the apartment frantically for my headphones (which are hiding in plain view on the arm of my sofa). A few more seconds and Fiona Apple soothes my auditory cortex, preventing possible ukelele-related brain injury. You are my good defense, Fiona.

There’s a break, and then the concert starts up again. This time I’m able to drown it out with a box fan so that I’m not anchored to my laptop by my headphone cord. Of course, the box fan doesn’t drown out the competitive encyclopedia-toss event happening in the apartment above me.

But that’s a different story.