Sunday, March 4, 2007

A Pigeon I Once Saw

A while back I spent some time watching a very rotund pigeon excavate a nook of molding on the building across the street from mine. The undertaking was spectacle enough, maybe not so remarkable as to send me running for a camera, but it got me thinking a little bit about something other than life insurance and postage rates, a rare pleasure these days. So I thought I’d jot a line or two about it.

I had just returned home, and having stripped to my underwear and poured a glass of water (it was summer), I retired to my brown naugahyde armchair and looked nondiscriminately out the window. I lived on the fifth floor of a five-story walk up, which means I was well-perched when I took to my window, and usually pretty proud of it. But I was not the only one coveting a good perch this particular afternoon on Attorney Street. Across the way there was an awkward bird-brained effort being made by the only other gent about, to fly, hurl himself, into a hole in a Corinthian molding cap on the building directly across from mine. The campaign immediately drew my attention because it was a very raucous affair, with a bit of a wing-slapping-brick element to it, and quite the intrigue for a weekday afternoon. I couldn’t tell you why the dolt wanted in that cap so bad- perhaps it was the heat- but I’ll tell you he was fiercely unyielding. The little squaker would swoop up to the plaster molding from below and sort of beat his wings against the edges a few times before tiring and falling back to safer altitudes and regroup. Swoop, beat, and recover was the plan that appealed to his puny avian intellect- never varying nor abandoning his screeching battle cry. Five, six, seven times he tried this absurd maneuver to my escalating joy. It goes without saying that I was no help at all.

I suspect that if our roles had been reversed, and I don’t mean if I had been assaulting the plastered molding cap and the pigeon reclining in my naugahyde chair, but if the viewing went the other way- if he had been watching me- he would have been as thoroughly unimpressed with me as I was with him. “Oh sure,” he says, seeing me from the corner of his eye as he fights for his perch, “you’re real interesting. Just sitting their all day. At least I’m doing something.” Compared to my boring water-sipping existence, his struggle probably felt quite exciting, perhaps even noble, the poor bastard. “At least I work for it,” he tells himself, “And when I get it, it will be all the more satisfying because I earned it.” Yes, of course.

Well, as it goes with all great nudges, eventually he got what he wanted. The noisy bird found his way into the hole. I think I did something very fitting to celebrate his triumph; I tweezed a back hair, or something. “Nice work,” I thought. “Now that you’re in there, what the hell’re you going to do?” I’d think the same thought probably occurred to the pigeon, though I’m sure the pigeon thinks of nothing but corn seed and marble statues. And even if the pigeon could think, any rational thought would surely be muted by the blinding fear that I imagine gripped the bastard at finding himself constricted in the dark. Not that I know much about flight, but I imagine that for a creature accustomed to the open air, it would be quite scary to be enclosed in such a breathless place. The wanting- ok, I can understand that. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But once you’re in there, and what was never a concern is now dangerously scarce, I can imagine being very frightened indeed. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the poor bastard beat his wings against the wall and shattered every bone in his disease-ridden body. But the squaking and the beating didn’t last too long. He sort of settled down after a bit and relaxed in his new surroundings. I suppose that showed some poise.

So there we were- me on my perch and he on his. I remember having a sudden interest in a turkey sandwich, but I let it pass, wanting to see what happened. Maybe the thing would suffocate and die. Maybe the heat would convection-bake the bastard and the smell of frying pigeon would waft over the street. Perhaps a kid could loft a stone up that high. Who knew? I figured I had better keep on eye on my little friend, in case I should become his unwitting obituarist. I’m sure he’d do the same for me. So I sat there, spying on the pigeon’s little stick legs (for that’s about out all I could see of him) to see what became of him.I’m not sure how long I waited. Maybe an hour. The heat was getting pretty bad, and the turkey sandwich entered my mind again. I know that when I left him, the pigeon was still perched there, apparently alive, waiting, or thinking, or hiding from something. I don’t think he fell to his death, I would have seen the remains when I came back from drinking that night. He probably just got bored and flew off. Why do stupid birds do the crazy things they do? And what happens to them after they do them? Who knows? It’s no concern of mine anyways. He kept me entertained for a few otherwise mind-numbing minutes, and I suppose that’s all you can ask on a weekday afternoon.

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