Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A siren's song

Sirens--fire, ambulance, and police--are part of the background of my life. We live near a downtown area, where all of these are headquartered. Unless it's late at night or they're passing in front of the house (a hazard of living where we do), I hardly hear them any more.

But as a child, sirens were big news. Did they occur less frequently or were they more exciting to me, along the lines of something-has-happened-someone-will-fix-it-I-wonder-what-and-who? As young adults, we lived on the ambulance path to a major hospital, so sirens were merely what disturbed our sleep.

Yet to this day, the haunting strains of sirens remind me of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. I have seen it so many times that the original viewing is a lost memory--and I would have been too young to have remembered much anyway. But my mother would have had no problem taking us to this piece of suspense. We were to be asleep in the back of the stationwagon while she and Daddy listened through the speaker at the drive-in. (This was also to be the case for Psycho, but I watched enough of it to be concerned with showers.) Jimmy Stewart has his camera's eye trained on the apartment's courtyard and in the background, there are sirens and music and the sounds of the city and the voices of neighbors. Behind him, in the apartment, all is fairly quiet, unless Thelma Ritter is lecturing him.

But should we become inurred to the siren's song? I think not. Somewhere, someone has wanted or needed help and someone else is responding. I think I had it right as a child.

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