Who doesn’t love a good whistler? Me!
First, the lead-in to this rant, harangue, bitch fest, speaking of the truth.
Mr. Parker and I were prepping for one of the how-to webinars we do for broadcast professionals. Periodically, the fine folks at Local Broadcast Sales hire us to speak to their members about things like branding for small business, or ways to jumpstart your ad writing that make the work stand out and connect with the right audience.
In this case, we were speaking about advertising that surprises. And we always use examples, usually from our own work. I had dredged up two surprising ad I had done moons ago, and I was looking for the third in the campaign. (I like threes.)
So I was going through my bin of old advertising work and photos. It was like tripping and falling down a hill towards NYC advertising memory lane. Good times. Mostly. Then, I found IT. A sign I’d made for my office door that got me into a fair amount of trouble with HR. (Not as much trouble as the time I’d used inter-office mail to send everyone in the company a ballot for a “Most Likely To [FILL IN THE BLANK] At The Company Christmas Party” contest. That was bad.)
The sign was simple: A caricature of a man whistling in one of those “DON’T” warning circles with two words: “No Whistling.” Simple. But not really. Because it was targeted at this one guy, let’s call him, Mr. Whistler.
He was a new hire on the Jaguar account and his office was about five down from mine. Mr. Whistler would stroll the halls whistling. And not real tunes. It was more of a freestyle, contemporary-jazz whistle thing.
For the record, I’m a life-long whistling hater. I understand whistling for your dog, or to get your friend’s attention from across a crowded New York City street, or to… Nope. I can’t think of a third reason.
I don’t even like when people whistle their support of the band after a song. (Which Mr. Parker does and I hate but he doesn’t care and he does it anyway. Or maybe he didn’t know. But now he does, since he edits this newsletter. Let’s see how he plays it in the future.) I also don’t like the whistling for a sports team after a great play. It hurts my ears. I’m nobody’s delicate flower. (I’m more of a hard plastic Ficus.) But that pitch is painful. And loud. It slices through my skull like a giant chef’s knife. If you need to make a non-clapping sound, might I suggest the time-honored, “Woo-hoo!”
But worse than appreciation whistlers are those with zero self-awareness who trot around in public, whistling a random tune—or more accurately, a non-tune. You’ve seen (heard) them. Just out there in the world, walking down the street, or standing in line at the post office, or seated right behind you at a concert, whistling. Augh!
Why? Why force that on the population? Do you really think other people, complete strangers no less, will enjoy it? Some whistlers must. Why else try to work in all that trill? You know, that thing they do where they try to create a whistle vibrato. It’s often accompanied bit a slight head wobble. (Them getting into it.)
Do they think someone might turn to them and say, “Wow, that’s beautiful! You’re one of the best whistlers I’ve ever heard and I’ve heard a lot. I’m guessing by that whistling that you’re a fascinating person. Could I buy you a cup of coffee and hear your story?”
Are maybe they think they’re going to win the whistling lottery and have a music agent tap them on the shoulder and say, “Dude, that whistle line you were laying down rips. I manage a band that’s just about to break through, but they’re missing one thing and YOU’RE IT! They have a gig in London this weekend at Wembley. How fast can you pack?”
Trust me, Mr. Whistler, that is NEVER going to happen. And I’m not being sexist here. It is ALWAYS the male of the species, like some kind of puffed-up, red-chested nut-sack warbler calling out to the most easily wooed feathered females with an impromptu whistle of “Rock-in’ Robin.”
So, back at the ad agency. When this new office hire started whistling through the halls, I knew I had to act fast. You can’t let a pattern of bad behavior take hold or when you finally speak up the person will retort with something like, “I’ve been hitting you on the head with a hammer for months. Why am I just now hearing that you don’t like it?” So, my genius plan (note: I was in my 20s) was to create a sign that didn’t point a finger directly at this guy. It didn’t say, “Joe Smith, stop polluting the entire office with your pursed-lip, dog-deafening, I-hate-your-face whistling!” No. This was just a generic male caricature (though it did kinda look like him) that could be about anyone. A public service announcement, if you will.
The lady from HR did not see it that way and was asked to take down my sign. I asked her if she enjoyed whistling. She hesitated, looked off, then said, “That’s not the point.” An answer that let me know that her real answer was, “I’m currently looking for a way to fire this idiot without incurring a law suit.”
So, did Mr. Whistler win? I say no. Because I spent the next day casually popping into people’s offices to share idle chit-chat that included lines like, “Can you believe she made me take that down?”
I even stopped by Mr. Whistler’s office. He, of course, played it off and sided with me. “That’s such uptight office bullshit.” He didn’t completely stop whistling. I’m guessing it’s hard to kick the habit cold turkey. Perhaps there are support groups. But the whistling did become a lot less frequent and always stopped outside my office.
For the record, Mr. Whistler and I got along after that. He wasn’t the most socially smooth gent. I’m guessing that one of the reasons he whistled so much was to avoid conversation. And he did provide great entertainment the night he got overserved at the Christmas party and said to the boss, “You know what your problem is…?” So good.
So, I put it to you: whistling, yes or no? And if whistling doesn’t crawl up and down your spine like it does mine, what does?
(NOTE: I didn't even address nose whistlers.)
Cheers and try to stay careful-ish,
Honey Parker has been writing, writing, writing for decades, decades, decades. In there, she has also been a standup comedian, a Hollywood screenwriter, a director, and a co-author of edgy business books. Careful-ish is her debut novel. It is the first in a trilogy. It is comedy-ish.