Sunday, October 5, 2008

An observational story about birds that ends in a fantasy

Day 3: August 27, 2008
I flew a homing pigeon out hell’s kitchen window
Left an SOS infested bottled nestled in his grip. . .
. . . I observed him fly ten feet then drop the bottle to the devils

It is strange the things that make you write or not write. I am committed to seeing this experiment through and continue writing every day but I was considering putting off my morning writing to see how evening writing suited me. I, however, lost the desire to continue reading and the pigeons got me thinking.

I am not all that interested in birds or the idea of flying, which I feel might be some of the reason why various people find birds so intriguing. Growing up in a fairly agrarian society I was raised with a familiarity of wild animals and, in my youth, could tell you the type of a bird (local ones mostly) from sight or sound and was capable of finding the nest of many of the most cunning camouflage artists.

My family used to raise pheasants. There were stacked round incubators that were the size and shape of the dryers people use to make homemade beef jerky or fruit leather only more industrial looking as they were made of unadorned metal. Farmers would bring us eggs that they collected as they harvested fields, upsetting the pheasant’s natural nests. We would place them in the incubator, rotating the eggs so they all got sufficient heat. I was very young at this time and loved watching the eggs hatch. It amazed me how a being could remain in such a compact space for so long before deciding to peck its way out, stretch out its neck, feet, and wing stubs, and wobble around its brethren who decided to remain indoors for the day. I was told that these little birds needed to get themselves out of their shells. The struggle was necessary for some reason; maybe it was to make them grateful for their freedom. But I am not that interested in birds, how would I know? I was impatient, though, and sometimes I would help them.

After they hatched, we would transfer the chicks to a low profile metal apparatus that included a trough for feed and a removable bottom tray so we could empty out the poop. These rectangle mini coops seemed to be able to hold about 100 chicks, and I always kind of wanted to let all the chicks roam free in my little room. My mom would come to get me up after a nap and I would be sitting on the floor and chicks would cover every surface. I would be playing chicks and blocks, chicks and Johnny Appleseed Ball (the tintinabulous bobbling orb of my childhood), chicks and that weird homemade bunny rabbit game I never knew the rules to or purpose of. But I was too young and did not yet have the strength or dexterity to open the cages.

When the pheasants grew too large for our little coops, a man would come, pick them up, and take them to open air pens I could see from the road every time we went into town. These pens were long and domed by netting, surrounded by chain linked fence so they coyotes would not eat them. The pheasants would remain here until they grew to adulthood and were released just in time for hunting season. Coasties and local hunters would come for a pancake breakfast that was held in the community hall across the street the morning of hunting season. I always hated getting up at four to help cook.

I never thought any of this was weird. That we would spend time preserving wildlife so that it could get shot was something I never questioned. Maybe this nurturing of the species so that its death could function as sport fomented my adolescent pastime of tormenting the pheasant’s varied winged cousins.

We stopped raising pheasants when I was still young. I am not sure why, we still had incubators in the garage when I was in high school, but I think we stopped raising the little buggers when I was about eight (I just called my mother and found out that the reason we stopped raising pheasants was because nearly all the pheasants were eaten by coyotes as soon as they were released into the wild and apparently that meant that our efforts were meaningless so we ceased them).

Though we had no more pheasants, I remained interested in eggs and their transformation into birds, and my love of climbing trees allowed me continuing opportunities of observation. I would collect baby birds that had fallen from their nests not yet ready to achieve flight. They would hop and flap and offer a diverting challenge to capture but I usually prevailed before the cats would and I would make toilet paper nests and feed them mushed up worm in an attempt to nurture them until they were ready to fly ( I even saved a baby duck we later named Bilbo from our cat, Solomon. We kept that duck for quite a while but it fell off of the deck and was eaten by cats in the end). My mom was always telling me that I would get ticks or fleas or something (bird flu didn’t exist back then) but she would usually allow my doomed attempts. Doomed because every single one of the birds died. All, that is, except one. The last bird I tried to save stayed alive for four days before I tried to see if it could fly. It was a little windy and I figured that a breeze would help the little orphan so I tossed it into the air. It took off, flew across the yard, and landed in our pine tree. I was very pleased with my success and excited that my foster bird had decided to live so close to me. I hoped that it would remember and trust me, that I could go outside with some bird seed whenever I pleased and it would fly over and land on my hand. Other birds would learn from that one and soon I would be the bird master and eventually beast master; able to call all sorts of animals forth with my inescapable will and animal magnetism.

Looking back, this idea is utterly ridiculous for more than the obvious reasons. You see, I killed the bird’s mother. My friends and I were often killing birds with rocks, BB guns, or sling shots. I remember shooting birds once on my friend’s farm. I hit a big fat robin in the neck with a BB. It plummeted from the tree and flopped around, spraying us with what little blood it had in its body. I began to feel slightly bad, not because I had hit my intended target, but because of the spectacle of its suffering. So I stomped on it. Not at first due to its erratic flopping, but I got it eventually.

This bird’s mother, however, I ended using my slingshot. I did not raise the birdling because I felt bad for killing its mother because, actually, I knew that the bird had a chick in her nest, and I had not attempted to raise a bird for a while, and I was bored. I suppose that this makes me sound like a sick child, a serial killer in training. But we all play god as children, I guess it’s just lucky for us all that I stopped after my first success.

My family more readily remembers the tortures I inflicted on my sister’s parakeets. There was one named Sergeant Sprite, or Captain Sprite, or some martial rank Sprite, or was it Plasmodesmodda, I can’t remember exactly anymore. And I didn’t really torture them, I think harass is a more appropriate word. Anyway I took that parakeet out of the cage and placed him on my snare drum; I wanted to see how he would react. I banged on the drum and he took off. It was pretty much the reaction I expected. I didn’t, however, expect him to fly out of the open window to disappear forever. I got into a lot of trouble for that. I bet if I brought this story up to my sister she would remember the name as well as yell at me for losing her bird.

Oh, I haven’t even gotten to the reason I started writing: the pigeons around my apartment and how they reminded me about the fantasies I would have on the walk to work of killing geese.

I never knew that there were pigeons in Redding until I moved to my new apartment. It still seems a bit preposterous to me that they are able to survive here; I wouldn’t have thought they could live in this climate. As the scorched bones of summer’s greedy maw envelope northern California and the air feels so hot that my lungs seem thoroughly bronzed and ready for a swimsuit contest, it seems to me that fluffy sky rats would be prime candidates for spontaneous combustion. Not only do they live here but it is evidenced by the peck holes and feathers in my screen as well as the frantic cell phone message I received from my wife last week about pigeons attacking our apartment, that these birds have some sort of vendetta against our bedroom window.

Aside from that, I do not believe that these birds are quite right (mentally, that is). Every morning as I sit on my deck reading or writing, all of the pigeons will leap from the rooftop, fly about a hundred yards away over the next building, then fly back and re-perch on my apartment’s roof. They do this every twenty minutes all morning. Nor do the coo beatifically as recorded in poetry or remembered from past experiences. The feral gurgles they emit put me in mind of the insane mutterings of a gang of escaped mental patients. That and their banal peregrinations reek of an institutionalized exercise routine. I imagine them all repeating the call of their warden, mimicking his tone and mannerisms, “Okay boys, once around the yard. That’s enough lollygagging, again you lazy bums.” I suppose that the ruined screen on our window would be proof enough for most people that these birds are crazy but I like to have my theories validated by multiple sources.

Another thing that strikes me is that whenever these birds take flight and are just about to turn back, two or three of the birds continue flying past the next apartment complex and further until they are barely visible to me. It’s as if these few pigeons remember that they are birds and their domain is the sky. For a moment they remember freedom and adventure before they falter and panic because they also remember that they are part of a flock. They wing back in a frightened flurry, consoling themselves in community. Unable to convey their epiphany for fear that in exercising this one freedom they will shatter the flock, destroying what means to be what they are.

Oh yea, and the geese. Every morning on my way to work I would walk by a whole bunch of geese. There were always two groups of them, and they were always in the same general area each morning.

The first group consisted of about fifteen to thirty adult geese. They located themselves on or around a dock in the river. Sometimes they were on the sidewalk. Sometimes they were in the water. Generally they projected an air of apathy toward my morning constitutional.

The second group had only five to seven adult geese and at least fifteen young geese ranging in age from new-hatched to adolescent. The young geese would shuffle with panic and leap into the river as I walked by while the adults hissed and postured making me feel penitent for interrupting their morning routine. This group I called “the kiddie swim class” and the first I called “the adult swim class.”

This job I was walking to everyday, as I have said before, I hated with about as much passion as I could muster for any other thing in life. And, after a time, my mind began chronicling a more interesting reality to cope with the soul crushing boredom of actual reality.

I imagined spending my hard earned money on memorabilia purchased from eBay: perhaps the katana from Kill Bill or maybe a replica elfin blade from Lord of the Rings. As I neared the dock of the adult swim class I would drop my bag, draw my sword, and rush into the water. My face a mask of berserker rage, I so wildly abandoning my humanity that even the geese, grown fat and docile, accustomed to the leavened sacrifices of normal people, would not be able to react to the unholy chaos of a man breaking free from the nine to fiver’s hell. Cleaving left, then right I would become drenched in the shower of blood and turmoil of flapping headless geese. But then again, those blades are never sharp. None the less, my wild flailing would be rewarded with the satisfying thwack as I connect with their expressive necks, mocking flight as their boneless trajectory lands them on the sidewalk, the dock. The only blood being the small pools that will collect by their beaks after I am gone. I will leap as Grendal among Beowulf’s clansmen, ending their civilization, ruining hearth and home in my unabashed lust for destruction. They will have no hero. Their panicked attempts at flight will only give me a better angle

The kayaker about to launch his boat will have been the first to notice. The cyclist will stop and stare. The elderly couple will be unable to look away. Not even when his wife faints will the man turn from the ruin, his hand still holding onto hers, no longer forming a v, but a straight line pointing toward the goose corpse that has cushioned her fall.

I will step from the water, pick up my bag, and walk to work. I will, once again disturb the kiddie swim class. I will be chided for this but I will be merciful. Besides, I am well sated and have, for now, exorcised that demon. And I must hurry, lest they miss me back in data entry hell.

The police will question the witnesses. One will say that I leapt from the bushes shouting imprecations and brandishing a stick. Another will swear I came up from the water and used my bare hands. Yet another won’t be able to control their sobs long enough for a statement. Everyone will ask why a person would do such a thing. No one will have seen where I went. When faced with actions that completely reject that which is normally recognized as human, their minds will reject the possibility of my humanity and thus they will be incapable of recalling my face.

I will be safe. The police will question our office since we are so close to the river trail. My coworkers will mention that I take that way to work every morning and I will honestly say that I saw nothing. It was a different man who incited such rebellion against humanity’s norms. It was no human but a demon of unactualized potential that completed that avian holocaust. But there will be that unnoticed sword I will not be able to account to myself for. I will write it off as a particular of the peculiar amnesia that comes with the mind numbing work of a soul crushing job and I will be safe. I will be sane enough to survive work another day, and crazy enough to punch the clock again tomorrow.


mme. bookling said...

"I began to feel slightly bad, not because I had hit my intended target, but because of the spectacle of its suffering. So I stomped on it. "

The spectacle of suffering.
This resonates back to a previous post about depression and how it wavers back and forth b/w feeling nothing and feeling everything.

I have been thinking about that for some time now.

mme. bookling said...

oh yeah, also.
joel said this to me as i was unloading the dishwasher this weekend.
"Andrew is the gateway to the unified sub-consciousness of humanity." I forgot the context, but yes.

Kooy To The World said...

I have come to realize that if I am to write, even (or maybe especially) in a fictional context, my writing must also be painfully autobiographical. I believe that all writers write with the inherent subtext of a desire, search, and often discovery of their selves. Most writers deny this (or never acknowledge it) and attempt to divorce themselves from the text. And while it is true that any author who holds too tightly onto their own work and sets himself up as the only authority to interpret the meaning therein is killing their own words, I believe that claiming a work is completely autonomous from its author is the other side of the same coin. I might be fooling myself here but I believe that by blatently using autobiographical details and explicitly exposing my biases, my faults, my self, that wich I write may live on more truly and seperatly from me the author.

I know that my thinking is a bit paradoxical in that I am saying that by writing about myself, my work becomes more selfless but I am a heretic in many things and I believe that if you say that you are wholy unbiased, you are probably an extremely biased person and you are misleading people whether purposfully or unintentionally, but if you clearly state your biases (to the extent you are conscious of them)and then present as much of the idea you are trying to present (the simplest form of this is presenting "both" sides), you will have been as unbaised as you are capable of being.

Also I think that a story of particular experience will always contain more universal understanding than any attempt to pervay the myth of universal experience.

zach harrison said...

That was a very nice evening read. I tried to hold in my laughs (especially when you were beating the geese with the dull sword) so I wouldn't disturb Kelly while she did some reading for her homework, but the convulsions that were caused from trying to hold in laughter shook the bed and were probably just as distracting as audible laughter. I enjoyed this little bit very much though. Peace out cub scout.

scott J tyler said...

I loved it. I feet that your treatment of birds comments beautifully on the habits and rituals of humans. The bird struggling to hatch, the pigeons that brave the blue yonder more boldly then their comrades but then must return--- these actions resonate with me, with my social behavior and the behavior of others. It reminded me (not that your work is like anyone else's) of Annie Dillard's HOLY THE FIRM. Your assertion in the above comment concerning universal understanding is elegantly on display in this short. Thanks for the enjoyable read, I look forward to more.

scott J tyler said...

First off I feel, not I feet. Secondly, I was thinking about your above comment Andrew. I was on the toilet thinking, what keeps me from writing about my childhood? Two things came to mind. One, its not dramatically exciting, and second, my shame and my pride get in the way. To write as you do, to disclose what you have felt and done requires mass amounts of humility. But it is humility coupled with an "I don't give a damn!" attitude. It's an odd mix of characteristics assembled inside that creative head of yours.

It has been several days since I read your short, and I cannot get it out of my head.

Iscah Mara said...

depression and writing are the same breath. an inhale and an exhale. your tone changes in each mode.

inhale, depression: morbid poetry, metaphorical fusing of the insane and the beautiful.

exhale, narrative: story, telling, plot flow, random remarkable observations from a not-so -safe distance.

writing for you, as natural and as mystical as breathing.