(Encore essay written when my best friend Cassie was still here)

I discovered on this morning’s walk that I have lost my whistle. It happened just as we were rounding the corner and coming down the home stretch. Cassie had stopped to investigate the wonderful smells emanating from a fireplug while I had continued down the block. When I looked back and saw her still lingering, I puckered my puss and got ready to let rip a few trebling notes.

Now this was an old signal between the Cass and me. It consisted of five short blasts upon the tooter and more or less meant, “Heads up, old girl, we’re moving on.”  Imagine my surprise when I puckered and instead of those clarion calls of old, a few feeble puffs issued forth.

I picked up my aplomb from the sidewalk, blew out my cheeks a few times to loosen said labials and let loose with another go round. Poof, poof, poof. Nothing!  I was thrown into consternation, which if like being concerned only more confusing.

For the next few minutes, I huffed and puffed, I puckered and pursed, all to no avail. My tweeter was definitely on the fritz. When had this happened, I pondered? Was this a result of all those torturous years of playing the clarinet? Had Benny Goodman put a curse on me from on high? Why hadn’t I noticed the five warning signs of whistle loss?  As my eyes glazed over, I threw back my shoulders and contemplated a whistle-less future.

I would no longer be able to converse with the birds in the morning. Iranian taxi drivers, with whom I had already had a tempestuous relationship, would regard me with even deeper disdain. I would not be able to hail old friends, should I happen to see any, from across the street. I would no longer be able to show my connoisseur’s appreciation of some young man’s prowess. I would no longer be able to join in the chorus when the dwarfs set off to work. I would never be able to watch Bridge on the River Kwai again and feel the same camaraderie.

With the picture of that bleak future before me, I suddenly understood the origin of dirty old men. They, too, had whistle dysfunction. When a pretty girl went by, their aging lips failed them, leaving them silent and emasculated. What used to be communicated through the old wolf whistle in the end degenerates into the leer and pinch. Was this the future that awaited me, I shuddered. Was I destined to hang around neighborhood parks and malt shops? In fact, when was the last time I had seen a malt shop?

As I pondered these and other weighty matters, Cassie had joined me and, in fact, had moved into the lead and crossed the street. After waiting there patiently for a moment or two, she let loose with one of her famous howls. That snagged my wandering attention and I trotted to her side. Soon we were walking up the path where Roxanne the Cat was waiting, heavy disapproval at our absence visible in the set of her shoulders and the tilt of her tail. She gave a few imperative meows to hurry us up, then flipped her tail and led the way to the back door.

Then it hit me! This lip lassitude can be directly traced to a marked deficiency in my kissing quotient. When was the last time, I asked myself, that I took these lips out on the freeway and really blew out the carbon, so to speak. Too long, I answered. Aha! I responded, no wonder I can’t whistle.

So, this morning I am setting off on a regimen of low-impact, labial aerobics to get back into fighting trim. For my background accompaniment, I shall perhaps play some Jean Luc Ponty or Bela Fleck, the themes from The High and Mighty or Waltzing Matilda, or perhaps some Andean flute music. When I’ve gotten back my wind, I’m signing up for an off-site, intensive, hands-on, weekend seminar in whistle rehab.

That way, whenever anybody asks me if I know how to whistle, I’ll just put my lips together and blow.

“Rich men never whistle, poor men always do.”   Stephen Elkins



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