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| Please, Somebody Make It Stop
By Bill Adler Jr.
Gilbert Mattingly usually tuned his car radio to NPR during his morning drive. National Public Radio’s
Morning Edition was a balanced mix of hard news and light stories—good for catching up with yesterday’s
world and for hearing slice-of-life stories. But the day before, Rae had given him a shower radio for his
birthday. On this morning, Gil had heard enough of the show, which repeated every hour between 6 AM
and 10 AM, during his shower. He didn’t want to listen to Morning Edition again. After all, nobody hoped to
hear a story on the songbirds of Madagascar more than once.
Gil decided that if he was going to listen to an alternative morning drive show with too much inane chatter
and too many pop hits, it might as well be a station all the way at the other end of the radio dial, so he
tuned into Kiss 108 for his morning commute from Medford to Cambridge, Massachusetts. The radio
played “The Star” and Gil sang along. Mary Anne Loving’s new song was number one for good reason:
“The Star” spoke to the heart of anyone who’d ever been in love or wanted to be in love. The lyrics were a
flawless diamond. The melody was textured, vibrant, and energized. The song was like the best meal you’
ve ever had, flavored flashbacks reopening the door to that meal long after the food was gone. Mary Ann
Loving probably wasn’t the singer’s real name, and she may not even have penned the lyrics, but who
cared? It was an enchanting, enriching song.
Do you know that star?
Do you know that sky?
Have you thanked that star?
Have you kissed your guy?
Tonight you’ll sleep, the star shining on you both
Tonight you’ll sleep, taking a solemn oath
Warmed by the starry night
Gil still had “The Star” in his head as he walked into the office of Mattingly & Spring Architects at 8:30 AM.
“Song’s stuck in your head, too?” asked Aiko Maki, one of the six architects in Gil’s firm.
Gil thought that he had been singing it silently to himself, but he’d apparently been crooning to anyone
who was within five feet of his lips.
“Oh my God,” Gil said as his cheeks became beets. “I didn’t know that I was singing it out loud.” He
blushed harder. “Sorry about that.”
“Hey, no problem,” Aiko replied. “It’s been stuck in my head all morning long, too. For as long as this
morning’s been so far, that is.” She smiled at Gil. “I just hope that I haven’t been singing it out loud without
knowing it, too. It’s a great song, but I have a frog’s voice.”
As Gil waited for the Keurig machine to brew his cup of vanilla cream coffee, “The Star” echoed in his
head. This is one hell of an earworm, he thought.
Gil carried his coffee into the conference room. Hovering over blueprints for a new dormitory at Harvard,
he asked his team of architects—all six, as well as two consulting engineers who were assembled—if the
walls could be made thinner to enable two more dorm rooms to fit on each hall. “Harvard’s not getting any
smaller,” he said. “The more rooms, the better. They asked for a design with forty rooms per hall. I want to
give them forty-two. Can do?”
David Apple, one of the consulting engineers, was the first to reply. “It’s going to diminish the
soundproofness of the rooms, that’s a given. But we need to find a way to reroute the pipes that are
adjacent to the bathrooms if we make the walls thinner. They won’t fit if we reduce the wall thickness to...
um...to…” Apple paused for moment and looked down at his iPad. “Three inches between rooms.”
“I know,” Gil said. “Can we do this if we add pressure pumps and use the new plastic pipes from your
guy?” Seven puzzled faces stared at Gil, who then recognized his blunder. “I mean from Indiana Plastic
Works?” Gil shook his head slowly, mystified and embarrassed by his mistake. Damn song, he thought. It’
s still stuck in my head.
Hiro pointed to the bathroom on the blueprint, which was located at the center of the hall, and asked,
“What if we move the bathrooms to the ends? We could have two smaller ones, instead of one starry night.
We might even be able to eke out forty-three rooms per floor.” She paused and then said, “I’m so sorry. I
don’t know why I said ‘starry night.’ I meant ‘bathroom.’”
“I think we all have ‘The Star’ stuck in our heads,” Gil said.
“And it’s getting stronger,” Amy Spring, Gil’s partner, added.
“Yes,” said a voice on the other side of the table. Karen Sands, fresh from Yale’s architecture school and
the firm’s most recent hire, nodded as she continued. “Not louder, but stronger, like Amy said. It’s as if the
song is muscling its way into my head and pushing out all other thoughts. It’s like a gangster.”
“Or the Burmese python forcing out the native species in South…” said Tony Levitan. “In...in...the south
“Florida,” David Apple helped.
Just then, everyone abruptly turned to the music coming from the other side of the room. Hamilton Parker
was slumped in one of the Aeron Miller chairs, eyes closed and hands resting on his lap. As Parker sat
and sang, “Do you know that star? Do you know that sky? Have you thanked that star? Have you kissed
your guy?” half the room joined in chorus, following in unison with, “Tonight you’ll sleep, the star shining on
you both. Tonight you’ll sleep, taking a solemn oath. Warmed by the starry night, feeling alright.”
A few seconds later, Loving’s song began to spill from everyone’s lips. The conference room became an
ensemble of eager, off-key melody. The wooden sculptures of antelopes and giraffes that were on the
bookcase vibrated in concert, as if animated by the song’s spirit.
Do you know that star?
Do you know that sky?
Have you thanked that star?
Have you kissed your guy?
And again. And another time. Nobody was keeping track of how many times they sang “The Star.” It could
have been three and it could have been thirty.
Suddenly, the sound of an explosion of metal and glass filled the room. The shockwave nearly knocked
Gil and everyone else off their feet; they wobbled like drinking glasses in an earthquake. Gil and his
colleagues stopped singing and dashed to the second-story window, where they saw that a Mercedes had
nearly sliced an MBTA bus in half. The sight of all that blood and those body parts, the sound of all those
caterwaul cries, turned Gil’s stomach into acid. Gil picked up the phone at the end of conference table and
“911. Where is your emergency?” is what Gil remembered from movies and television. “Do you know that
star? Do you know that sky?…” is what came through his telephone’s earpiece.
“Tonight you’ll sleep, the star shining on you both. Tonight you’ll sleep, taking a solemn oath,” Gil sang
back as he swayed on his feet.
“Gil!” Amy shouted, the teak table reverberating against her pounding fist.
Gil’s upper body jerked. “Pay attention!” he scolded the nameless operator at the other end of the wire.
“There’s been a horrific crash between a car and bus at 301 Grace Place, Cambridge.”
“Yes. This is 911. Where is your emergency?”
“301 Grace Place, Cambridge. A car crash. People are dead. Send ambulances. Hurry.” He put down
More screaming from the street below pulled Gil to the window once more. And then another car ran into
the bus, more metal trying to reshape other metal, sparks shooting out from where the two vehicles
intersected. While the architects and engineers pressed their noses to the window, mouths opened wide
in horror, Gil called 911 again. “There’s been another accident,” he said. “Another car crashed into the
same bus in front of 301 Grace Place in Cambridge. Across the street from the Lange Theater.” Gil hoped
that the name of one of Massachusetts’ most famous landmarks would help the ambulance navigate more
“We’ll send an ambulance,” the dispatcher said.
“Send several fast,” Gil implored.
“Sir, there are accidents throughout Boston. Over two hundred calls have come in. We’re working as fast
as we can. If you or anyone has first aid training please render assistance in the meanwhile.” The operator
cut the line abruptly. Probably another emergency call coming in, Gil thought, though he also thought that
he heard the 911 operator’s voice chanting, “Do you know that star?” as she terminated the call.
One of the architects in the conference room had already begun to hum the song again. Now a second,
Aiko, was singing, and then almost immediately another of Gil’s staff was mouthing the lyrics. Gil knew that
he had only seconds, if that. He picked up an unopened Perrier bottle and hurled it toward the window. The
window didn’t break, but the bottle did, shattering green glass, water, and the song that was now coming
out of almost everyone’s mouths.
“Gil!” Amy roared. She blinked several times, shook her head like a dog drying after a bath, and asked,
“What did you do?”
“We have a problem. Nobody say anything. Nobody talk,” Gil said. He squeezed his pointer finger hard
against his lips.
Gil tapped a key on the conference room’s laptop to wake up the computer. With fast-flying fingers, he
keyed in a few commands and, most consciously, muted the laptop. Gil typed CNN in the search bar. A
jumble of bad grammar and incomplete thoughts projected on the conference room’s screen.
“. . . . . whole world song stuck. President national emergency. Loud noises frights may minutes cure.
FCC order all AMFM stations shut. Russia radio playing national amfum. England, France lost contact. 27
known jet crashes. if you don’t yet hear the star push sharp pencil in ears. Kill Ears. Kill Ears,.Turn off
radio, tv, internet sound. Don’t call 911 singers.”
An uneasy quiet filled the conference room. Gil read the words once, twice, and a third time. That was all.
That was all that CNN had on its website. It was 9:45 AM.
The screams outside faded. And then something else came. Karen, the youngest person in the room with
the best hearing, was the first to notice it floating up from the street. Initially, it was indistinct, but quickly the
unmistakable chorale of dozens and dozens of men and women, boys and girls enveloped them: “Do you
know that star? Do you know that sky?” Karen took a deep breath, opened her mouth, and sang, too. Gil
joined Karen’s singing. And then so did everybody else.
|About Bill Adler Jr.
Bill Adler Jr. is an American
writer living in Tokyo. His
books include Outwitting
Squirrels (yes, really) and
Boys and Their Toys:
Understanding Men by
Relations with Gadgets. He
roams on Twitter as