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Gentlemen, Please Keep It Down

WHY DO young men hoot when they’re drunk?

There’s a reason I’m asking. I live on a corner, so I have twice as much pedestrian and automobile traffic as do single street-dwellers. I also live among many young people, who, come the weekend or even the dinner hour on an odd Tuesday, entertain themselves with the grape or hops. Fine with me, as long as they stay in their own living rooms and confine their subsequent ranting to the news reporters on Fox. However, alcohol apparently triggers an intrepid, nomadic nature in men, and some inebriated young fellows burst out of their apartments to stroll about the neighborhood, expressing themselves.

As the weather warms, the post-midnight rumpus begins. Rupturing the quiet stillness of winter, spring drinkers take to the streets in the wee hours, staggering from stop sign to mailbox and occasionally giving in to some perhaps primal urge to fill up their lungs and let ‘er rip. Something about the neighborhood in which I live — the clusters of apartment buildings, the façades of the big old houses — must convince gentlemen of the night that no one actually resides in those buildings and therefore bellowing is acceptable behavior.

The sexism in my question is based on personal experience. I’ve never seen (or more importantly, heard and then been awakened by) female hooting. It could exist, on other corners in other places. But since I’ve only observed it in men, I consider this bit of evidence an important clue to the origins of this behavior. Perhaps on that little tail of the second “X” chromosome that is possessed only by females lies the inhibitive bit of DNA which instructs: “Refrain from hooting in public places.”

I’m not going to replicate Mendel’s genetic experiments to test this theory, but I am willing to research it for, oh, three minutes or so. I Googled “hooting while drunk” and got “Shooting Monks While Drunk,” a despicable activity, to be sure, but not one offering much insight into the young men who bark untranslatable syllables under my window at 2 a.m.

That’s the other thing. They don’t yell anything in particular, these hooters, they just yell. I have never heard “Dear Lord, I wish the City of Minneapolis would do a better job of clearing snowfalls!” or “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” Political and personal sentiments are not articulated. Instead, gutteral utterances are projected at a phenomenal decibel level.

Which is, perhaps, the point. If they had something to say, a point to make, an opinion to voice, such vehemence might be forgivable or even understandable. Now and then the best among us hits a frustration level with public policy or private prejudice that demands action — and if action is thwarted, mounting a soapbox is the next best thing.

But the midnight bellowers are not activists in this tradition. Their inarticulate yelps signal dissatisfaction of some other sort entirely. Perhaps they are reaching for a sense of carpe diem, attempting to seize the night by claiming it in great, walloping war whoops. Perhaps these are mating calls. Regardless of its cause, howling in the night on the street corners near Uptown is a sure sign of spring. Next to the crocuses in my garden, empty bottles labeled “Heineken” and “Blatz” bloom. The robins make way for the migration of the sodden human male under 30, and the night owls yield to the non-syllabic roars of men under the influence.

Oh, for a silent spring.

This appeared in the Southwest Journal March 23, 2009.

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