Everybody hates a speaker truck. But it’s not the politicians barking their dubious manifestos that cause me the most distress. For sure, they’re annoying, especially when you’re waiting for a late friend in a place like Hachiko Square, the lawmakers’ lies boring through your skull as you push your noise-canceling earphones dangerously deep into your ears. And yes, we all wish they’d drop dead, flopping lifelessly from atop their trucks with a damp thud and raising the first cheers of their career from the overjoyed masses, who’d crowd around with their camera phones to snap a piece of divine justice in action.
But here’s the thing: I don’t live in Hachiko Square. Nobody does. These guys can shriek their septic, blinkered rhetoric all day long, but it only affects me personally for a few minutes at worst. (Well, it depends on how late my friend is.)
Anyway, I digress. The speaker trucks I hate most are the ones advertising their services with a recorded message that blasts out on an endless loop as they drive around my sleepy suburban neighborhood, offering to collect my outsize garbage or sell me a baked potato. At 8 a.m. On a Sunday. These guys fill me with a special kind of rage: a feeling of wrath that is pure and acute. It’s the sort of hatred that I imagine pushes a budding Bond villain into finally starting that evil empire, an anger that could turn you firmly but willingly to the dark side.
Call me lazy, but my favorite pastime at 8 a.m. on a Sunday — or until 10 or 11 a.m. on any day of the week, frankly — is sleeping. It’s something of which I do very little, working as I do in an industry that comes alive at night. And given that thousands, if not millions, of people in this 24-hour city also work at night — in convenience stores, izakaya, karaoke booths, hostess bars and so on — it seems likely that others feel the same way. They say the early bird catches the worm; I’m surprised those in sound trucks don’t catch a brick through their window, tossed from the balcony of a hollow-eyed parent whose kids were woken up yet again by the blare of speakers.
One of the four trucks that come around my neighborhood bellows its voice recording over a bed of ’80s guitar-hero hard rock. As bad as that is, the "yaki-imo" truck is probably the worst. Its looped message is in the style of an ancient prayer: a somber, weighty chant that can be heard from several blocks away and wakes me with a feeling of boundless despair. There’s actually something oddly hypnotic about it — sometimes I think it would sound pretty cool over a jungle rhythm, a dance floor smash that would leave an audience feeling simultaneously ecstatic and utterly furious. I imagine leaping out of bed when I hear it, running outside with my digital recorder, and taking a sample for that very purpose. But of course, that will never happen, because I’m always too busy trying to bury my head in my pillow and claw my way back to sleep.
And what about the lone rangers who drive these pickups? There’s something terribly pitiful about an existence spent wandering the streets, peddling wares that no one really wants, about making a living from waking people up. Seriously, when was the last time you had a sudden impulse to have someone take away a piece of furniture? At 8 a.m.? On a Sunday? If you wanted to clear out your broken appliances, you’d hardly sit around waiting for a man in a passing truck to announce his services, just as you’d call an ambulance to retrieve the corpse of a loved one rather than stretching your ears for yelps of “Bring out your dead!” from a cart-pulling street urchin below. These are the sort of services you seek out and engage.
Also, I can make a baked potato myself.
Indeed, it seems astronomically unlikely that these vendors can possibly have any sort of customer base beyond lonely pensioners who employ their services as a means of garnering some amenable conversation. Surely the natural reaction of any sane individual would be to shun the blighters completely; I know I’d rather carry my broken fridge to the dump on my back in the nude than pay some noisy sod to dispose of it for me. You feed a dog scraps, and it soon comes back for more.
Politicians, you want my vote? Pledge to outlaw speaker trucks, and I’ll fight your corner for eternity. Till then, it’s early mornings all round for my neighbors and me.
This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today