The Best of Andy Rooney

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published Dec.21, 1990.)

Whistlers are a little crazy. They're nice and I like them, but they're slightly batty. They don't have both oars in the water. They live in a world of their own.

Do you know any whistlers? They pucker up and start blowing between their lips, to make what they consider to be music, at the strangest times. I don't believe they ever say to themselves, "I think I'll whistle." It comes from their mouths unbidden. They do it unconsciously.

Whistlers are divided into several categories. The worst of them, and the most common, is the nervous whistler. Any tense situation causes him to whistle until it's over. I say "him" because I don't offhand remember knowing a female whistler. Whistling is a fault women don't seem to have.

The sound coming from the nervous whistler can scarcely be categorized as music. While there may be some pattern to it, it's often more like the sound of steam escaping from a radiator, but with a slight tune to it. It's annoying to be around one of them. As a matter of fact, it's annoying to be around any of them.

There's always been a rumor that a whistling worker is a happy worker. He may be happy, but he's annoying to anyone trying to work near him. I don't want to be reminded of how happy someone else is all day. What if I feel lousy that day? Do I have to endure having it rubbed in by a joyous whistler?

In the newspaper business, there always used to be a sign hung somewhere that read, "NO WHISTLING IN THE CITY ROOM!" I'd like to see that extended to read, "NO WHISTLING IN THE CITY!" To me, the sound of a whistle is as irritating as the sound of someone else's radio playing music I don't like. I'd rather be in the same room with a cigarette smoker than a whistler.

There's a strong old tradition of not whistling on board naval vessels. Anyone caught whistling on board a battleship could get drummed out of the Navy. An old book I have quotes a 1920 memo from a Navy captain named W.W. Gilmer. "The practice of whistling is an entirely unnecessary and irritating noise which must be discontinued," he wrote. Right on, Capt. Gilmer. Make them walk the plank...whistling.

You could say this is sour grapes because I can't whistle worth a darn, but it isn't. I don't have any great desire to know how to whistle. I wish I could play the piano and I once took trumpet lessons, but I never studied any whistling techniques. I'll take that back. I do wish I could put my two little fingers in my mouth and make that loud, shrill sound handy for hailing a cab or calling your dog's attention to the fact that you want him to come.

The loud, shrill mechanical whistle is even more irritating than the man-made sound. Every once in a while, I stay in a hotel and get a room above the front door. At about 7 a.m., the doorman starts whistling for cabs. The doorman's whistle is designed more to call the hotel guests' attention to the fact that he, the doorman, is getting a cab in anticipation of a fat tip, than it is to attract a cab driver's attention. Cab drivers come to hotel doors whether they're whistled for or not.

The early Disney film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was a setback for those of us who can't stand whistlers. The song "Whistle While You Work" gave whistlers the idea that whistling was a jolly pursuit that made all whistlers lovable to the rest of the world. It encouraged people to make that intrusive noise while they went about their jobs.

I don't want to incur the wrath of all whistlers, but, to tell you the truth, I've never seen anyone do a very good job on anything while he was whistling.

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