If that’s an accordion in your hand, I’m not happy to see you.

Among the things I’m most grateful for is my cute little apartment in a district near Golden Gate Park, in the beautiful city of San Francisco. One of the things I’m least grateful for is the older man who at least twice a month parks himself below my humble abode and plays his accordion for sometimes as long as six hours straight.

If the “accordion man,” as I generally refer to him, simply stood below my apartment and played the instrument, I’d be fine. Unfortunately, however, he sings along with the music, creating an experience that has–on more than one occasion–driven me to the edge of sheer madness, primarily because this man’s vocal stylings could not be classified as “singing;” instead, what he does is yell at the top of his lungs while simultaneously playing the accordion. Thus, for instance, one of his favorite tunes, “Que Serra, Serra,” sounds like this: “QUE! SER-RAH! SER-RAH! WHAT-EVER! WILL! BE! WILL! BE!!” That he seems not at all interested in carrying the tune with his voice as he carries it with his instrument would be painful enough. But what makes the experience of listening to him even worse is that he has a “play roster” of no more than eight songs. I have them memorized.

1. “Que Serra, Serra”
2. “Home on the Range”
3. The National Anthem
4. “You Are My Sunshine”
5. “Aye-aye-aye-aye (Canto y no llores)” (sung phonetically, without, it seems, any understanding that the lyrics are in Spanish)
6. Some unintelligible something or other
7. “Happy Birthday to You”
8. “Oh Susanna”

In addition to these eight, the accordion man will also occasionally work “Amazing Grace” into his repertoire. I’m not religious, but I still don’t think “Amazing Grace” should be anywhere near an accordion, especially when the person playing it does so as though it is a polka. It is not a polka.

So it is bad enough that the man can’t sing. And it is even worse that he performs at top volume. But what is to me the most egregious sin is that he sings the same eight songs over and over and over again for as long as he decides to stay. On a recent Saturday morning, as I lay in bed with a nasty hangover, I groggily took note of the fact that I was hearing “Home on the Range” on average every twelve minutes, and was sometimes treated to this classic TWICE IN A ROW. I can’t tell you what that does to a girl. Even worse is what it does to a girl already suffering from a nasty hangover.

Over Labor Day weekend, the accordion man stayed on my corner for six whole hours, on a Saturday. I was working from home that day, grading papers, and I nearly went out of my mind as I tried to concentrate on my work while accordion man banged at his instrument and shouted away outside. When he came back to “perform” two days later, I wasn’t having any of it.

I decided that, though the man may be tone deaf and profoundly lacking in talent, he might still be a man of reason, a man of understanding. It was with this hope that I went downstairs, out onto the street, and said to him, “Hi. Excuse me. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to play on a different corner today.” [Blank stare.] “Um…you were here for six hours on Saturday. I’m a teacher, and I often have work to do when I’m at home. But I couldn’t concentrate on Saturday with your playing. You were here for six hours, but I didn’t ask you to leave. So I am asking that you play somewhere else today.”

He shook his head, muttered, “Geez. Pfffft.” After several seconds, when I guess it became clear to him that I was expecting more of a response than a grunt of exasperation, he remarked, “Yeah…Saturday was a long day,” and went back to fiddling with his instrument. In an attempt to get through to him, I reminded him once again that he played for six hours on Saturday, and then told him, “Your playing comes right in my window; it sounds like you’re playing in my living room, and it makes it very hard for me to concentrate on anything. So I am asking that you play somewhere else today.”

He shook his head at me, muttered, “Pffftt,” once again, and then–in what I understood as an act of obvious defiance– launched into the National Anthem, this time at a volume even louder than usual. “You have no permit to be here!” I yelled, and ran back upstairs to my apartment. I called the police, and when the woman who answered asked what my call was about, she burst out laughing when I answered, “There’s a man below my window playing the accordion.” I told her I’d like him to be made to move, and gave her the address. It was my turn to laugh when she asked, “Can you describe him for me?” I mean…he’s the guy on the corner playing the accordion! What other description is needed?

The police came out and they moved him along. I went to the movies later that day, and when I got back, I saw him playing in front of a bank two blocks down. Unfortunately, he has not returned to that spot two blocks away. No matter how many times I call the police on this man, he always returns to my corner, below my window, playing his same eight tunes and bellowing alongside the music. I don’t think he does it for the money: though he keeps his music case open while he plays, I’ve never seen more than a dollar and two dimes in it. I really just think he has an odd compulsion–a form of OCD via accordion. And as is the case with many other personality disorders, he is not the only one affected by his dementia. Rather, his obsession has caused a mania in those of us who’ve been held hostage by his amateurish playing and lack of musical variety. It’s a mania that fills a girl with the desire to claw at her own ears while at the same time throwing things out the window at the offender.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to call the police…and find some objects suitable for throwing.


About Sarah

Grammar goddess, cultural critic, full-time media junkie. I read, I bake, I watch tv. And then I write about it.
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