Obstreperous: Noisy and difficult to control
The next day our next-door neighbor Mrs. Carp stopped by to drop off some tomatoes from her garden. I heard her mention me. She called me obstreperous, ob-strep-er-ous! My very own neighbor calling me names. I’ll tell you what happened and you tell me if I’m obstreperous.
When I woke up in the morning, the bruise I had gotten from my pre-car accident was still sore—I won’t say where, so I chose a different creative outlet to explore. A safer outlet. As I was chomping my cereal, I envisioned myself on a big stage with flashing lights and ten thousand screaming fans. What was I doing up on stage? Don’t worry, not singing. That’s not going to happen. I was playing the drums. By the time I had slurped the last of my chocolate-colored milk from my bowl, I had a plan, a really good, not-at-all obstreperous plan. I was going to build a drum set.
I dropped my bowl and spoon in the dishwasher and got clean ones out. I tapped the one on the other and thought it sounded good. I got down on my hands and knees, opened all the cabinet doors and collected all the pots and bowls that I could find in the bowels of the kitchen. Then I opened all the drawers and collected all the long-handled utensils. I also found a hidden Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. I slipped it into my pocket to celebrate with later.
Now my mom has bruises. She says it’s because I left every door and drawer open in the kitchen. I was an artist in the middle of creating a masterpiece. Could I really be blamed for not paying attention to such things?
I took everything down to the basement for some privacy because I wasn’t that great yet, and I wasn’t ready for an audience. That wasn’t my fault; I just hadn’t had a chance to practice. Before I could even do that, I first I had to set up my set. I experimented with combinations of each utensil on each pot and bowl. I tried plastic on plastic, metal on metal, wood on wood, plastic on metal, wood on plastic, well, you get the idea. Then I experimented with the bowls and pots on the floor, on a table, propped up slanted like they were a trap waiting for some innocent animal to sniff inside.
When I found my ideal sound, I got everything together that I wanted and piled aside all the rest. Then I started banging. How can I become a world-famous drummer if I don’t practice, and how can I practice without banging? That does not qualify as obstreperous in my book. That was music!
My mom came down rather promptly and asked me what I was doing. She was rubbing her shin and shaking her head in dismay if I correctly read her expression. I explained my future as a rock and roll hall of fame drummer and told her this was just the beginning, a drop in the bucket, that I would save up for a drum set then join a band then become world-famous, of course. She said I could take my bucket outside before I dropped anything else into it. She thinks she’s so funny.
I hauled my drum set outside and set up again. Then I got an idea. Have you seen Mary Poppins, the movie? The tall skinny chimney sweep slash sidewalk artist slash kite salesman is also a one man band. I started thinking maybe I could play more than just the drums. The problem was I couldn’t play any instruments. Drums I just had to hit. That I could do. A whistle and kazoo I could blow. Bubble wrap and water I could stomp.
I rummaged through my closet until I found my whistle and through my desk drawers until I found my kazoo. I gave each a test blow. They worked great. Then I got the bubble wrap that came with the new freezer. Then I filled a wide bowl with water and took off my shoes.
I tied the whistle and kazoo to strings and hung them around my neck. I placed the bowl of water by my right foot and the bubble wrap by my left. I started practicing stomping and blowing and banging, and, if I do say so myself, I think I was making some pretty good progress when Mrs. Carp came over with her tomatoes. That was just a ruse. She wanted a reason to come over to complain. No irony there. That’s when she used the O word and when I learned that my neighbor thought I was obstreperous.
I also learned she had tickets to the circus that afternoon. I begged to go with her to visit Apara. My mother gave her a sweet smile, and she agreed to let me come with her and her grandchildren. I didn’t have a ticket, but I had already been in the show and didn’t need to see it. I knew it wouldn’t have been as good without me and my lollipop anyway. I just wanted to visit Apara. I didn’t want her to forget me. I know they say an elephant never forgets, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
When the time came, I squeezed into the backseat of the car with the little Carps. We weren’t far from home when Mrs. Carp pulled over and stopped the car. She got out to speak to someone about something. I don’t know who it was or what they talked about. I wasn’t nosey and didn’t ask. I did however take the opportunity to teach the little Carps a little something about the automobile. They were smaller than me, which made me older and wiser.
I pointed out the windows, the handles, the seats, the belts, the head and arm rests. I climbed up and over into the front seat. I taught them about the glove compartment, the dashboard and how to tell if you need gas or are going to get a speeding ticket. Then I showed them the horn. Well, I demonstrated the horn. The noise made Mrs. Carp jump and return immediately to her seat, out of which I dove in a jiffy. Did you know that a jiffy is an actual measurement of a really, really, really short period of time? Honest. Google it.
Mrs. Carp smoothed her ruffled feathers; just being expressive, she’s not a bird. She asked me why I was always making noise. I said that wasn’t noise that was education!
I put my hand down on the seat next to me and touched something warm and sticky and slimy. It smelled like peanut butter and chocolate. It tasted like peanut butter and chocolate. That’s when I remembered I had slipped a peanut butter cup in my pocket. I licked my fingers, and it still tasted good all melty.
When we got to the circus, I followed the smell to the animal tent. I saw Apara with her mother, and it made me happy that I had helped her find her way home. The ring master recognized me and stopped by to say hello. He asked if I wanted to ride in the show again. I told him I didn’t have a lollipop. He said, “Oh.” But then I told him about my band I put together, the one-man one. He was interested. He said I could play in the show if I wanted.
I agreed right away even though I didn’t have my band with me. I had to rethink the parts. I still had my kazoo and whistle around my neck, so the horn section was in place. For the percussion, I tied Apara’s feed bowl to myself with a rope around it and my waist. I found a good stick for beating it. Then I tied a bucket onto each foot and filled them with water. I couldn’t find bubble wrap.
While I was practicing, Apara and her family came over to me. They were strangely drawn to my melodies. I barely had time to practice when I was introduced. The animal’s handler tried to pull them back as I started playing and marched out, but they were just too strong, too many, and too interested in me!
First Apara slipped away and followed me. Her mother followed her. Apara’s brother followed too. Then for some reason the gorillas started following him. So instead of standing in the ring and putting on a one-man-band show, I put on a parade. I paraded in front of the elephants and gorillas, banging, sloshing and tooting.
I didn’t want to steal the show again, so I just took one more lap around the tent and headed out, followed by Apara and her mother and her brother and the gorilla family. They followed me until I stopped and they all gathered around me and pressed close. Their trainer was frantic trying to figure out what had gotten into them all. I told him they must really like my music. Music does tame the savage beast, at least that’s what someone once said. The trainer said I must make some pretty special music.
I thought they were probably waiting for an encore, but there are laws about how much kids and animals can work, and I didn’t want to push it. I started thinking maybe I wanted to be in parades for a living. How much money do you think you can make parading? To help the handler out, I took off my music making equipment and headed over to the refreshments. Apara and her family and the gorilla family and now a rat followed me over.
I started thinking then about how I could stop leading a parade, and I started thinking about flying. How could I get up, up and away from my parade? I asked the balloon man if I could hold all of his balloons and see if I could fly. I learned that from Curious George. He said sure. Wasn’t he nice? I gathered up all the balloons and jumped, my thrust up to get me going, and then I landed. It turns out you need three helium balloons just to lift the amount of sugar in a can of soda pop. You would need 2000 balloons to lift me! I didn’t have that many. I wasn’t flying, but I felt like maybe I was jumping with ease, a little like the astronauts doing their version of the moon bounce.
It was fun pretending to bounce like the astronauts, so I ran and jumped and landed and ran and jumped and landed. Apara and family and gorilla and family and loner rat followed me. I headed toward the circus tent with leaps and bounds. I was supposed to meet Mrs. Carp after the show. The circus was ending, so I headed inside with my balloons and my parade.
Suddenly someone shrieked. I let go of the balloons because the scream startled me; it was so unexpected, so sudden, and so loud. It turns out a skunk had joined my parade. A few other women joined the shrieking and everyone else was just talking and shouting all at once. Then the balloons hit the hot lights at the top of the tent and started popping. The popping made Apara nervous and she started trumpeting. That agitated the gorillas, who started barking. Yes, barking. It was all rather, well, obstreperous. I think I was the only one who remained quiet and calm.
If I hadn’t been still and calm, I might not have even noticed Apara’s nose in my pocket. She reached her trunk right over and in. She brought it out all brown and sticky and slimy and it dawned on me. She, and probably all the others too, had smelled peanuts, my Reese’s Peanut Butter cup. Oops.
That night when my mother was saying goodnight and I was lying in bed, I asked her if she thought I was obstreperous. My mother said that she told Mrs. Carp that a leopard can’t change its spots. That means she’s on my side or at least that she’s given up trying to change me. I mean, you can’t just take the spots off a leopard. And you can’t take the noise out of an obstreperous kid, not that I am or ever will be obstreperous. You don’t think so, do you?