I hate Birds

christopher robinThe Preamble

I have very low tolerance for people telling me about their pets or experiences with wild animals. The only thing I hate more is kids giving me a glowing blow-by-blow description of a video game or a scene in a sit-com. It isn’t that I don’t love animals. I do. I mean I REALLY do. It’s just that any animal story loses something in the telling. It can regain much of what was lost if you have video (a very short clip), but in most other cases, pet stories fall totally flat. More than falling flat, they extract a small stream of the listener’s life essence during the telling. The clock of life starts ticking loud and fast.

So please don’t mistake me for someone who begins an animal story without knowing the dread readers begin to feel as the suspicion that they are about to be told a story about an animal dawns on them. I know. I do know how you feel. At least I think I do.

Although based on the lengthy research I have been doing lately on wild birds in trouble, there must be some population out there who really thrives on baby-bird rescue stories. I’m guessing you, dear readers, are not that population or I probably would have lost you by now.

I also know that there are a few gems out there. Entire books written about the time some gentle soul spent nursing a small (the smaller the better) creature back to health. If the creature is a bird and it causes the writer’s soul to take wing during a long winter, so much the better. I haven’t read them, but I take on faith that they exist. This will not be one of those gems. I am not a gentle soul.

I also make an exception for children’s stories (as you may have guessed if you read the short story on this very blog about the hummingbird, Colibrí, or the epic poem Strawberry Raspberry Night). Anything, no matter how stupid is fair game for a children’s story if you can make it fun or keep a kid’s interest.

All that by way of preparing you emotionally for what is to come. I have to tell this story because it has consumed my life for a little over a week now.

The Story

Last Sunday my teenager brought home a baby robin. A healthy baby robin. Not clutched from the jaws of death only to linger at our house while it dies slowly and we wrestle with the various ethical dilemmas around the suffering of a small animal, and the rights and responsibilities of outdoor cat owners and how best to deal with a small, feathery corpse. An overheated, very healthy, very ugly, almost bald, but totally fine baby bird.

(If you feel the urge to tell me about the fact that the mother robin would have cared for her little jumper, or that it is, in fact, illegal to keep a wild bird, or that a wild bird should really only be handled by professionals, take that urge and direct it towards something worthwhile, like feeding the poor, OK? I know. The fact is, he’s here. He’s been here a week, and what’s done is done. )

I forgot to tell you two other small details. First is that we have a breeding pair of cockatiels at our house. They belong to my husband, in theory. They have a brood of four, hideously ugly offspring. The look a lot like tiny caricatures of little old men. Really ugly little old men. Except that little old men use a toilet or diapers. Birds use shredded paper or whatever they land above. And little old men talk or mumble. Our birds shriek.

They shriek when the doorbell rings or someone knocks at the door. They scream when someone steps onto our porch, or when they hear people coming down the stairs. They pierce my eardrums when they’re hungry or when they’re lonely or when they want to get out of the cage so they can fly around the house and poop.

The second thing you need to know is that I hate birds in general. The only birds I remotely like are Crows, and they belong outside. I know I should like birds, lots of people do. They are have wings and they can fly. They are the symbol of freedom . Some sing songs in the evening.

But just as many squawk early in the morning. Birds are flying salmonella factories with creepy, scaly feet and snappy, pointy beaks. They have noisy wings and seem like they are just as likely to get caught in one’s hair as a bat. Personally, I prefer the bats. Also, the feathers are not that great of a cover for the icky pink skin under there. But that’s just me.

I try hard never to take out my bird bigotry on the actual animals. It isn’t their fault they’re birds. They didn’t ask to be in my home. So while I do tell them I hate them on a daily basis, I always refill the food and water and escort them back to the cage after they’ve flown into the window and slid down the wall to the floor.

The bottom line here is that somehow I‘ve ended up being the primary caregiver for these animals I don’t really like very much. And the baby Robin (aka Christopher ) happens to have been a really intense experience. Should have brought him to the wildlife rehab place. I know that now. But the wild bird websites all said they fledge in about two weeks. We could do that.

Baby robins need to eat about every 30 minutes. They like worms the best. And our little friend made it clear after about 4 days that the baby bird formula we happened to have around because of the baby cockatiels was not going to cut it anymore. I needed to hunt for worms. Worms are hard to find this year because we’re having somewhat of a drought. Plus, after the third day of harvesting worms from the spots you’ve watered, the worms figure you out. We have no more worms. I had to start begging for worms from the neighbors.

Today I broke down and went to the pet store and bought mealworms. You know what? Mealworms are a lot grosser than either worms or birds. They have shiny segmented bodies and lots of little legs at the very front and the very back of their bodies. They are yellow. I have 500 of them in my refrigerator. I cannot bear to touch them. This is a very bad situation since I have been unable to convince the baby robin to either hunt on his own outside or pluck the mealworms from the little tub.

But feeding this little bird who was bald when he came to us and now has quite nice feathers and watching him learn to fly has softened me just a little. He cocks his head to the side to watch things in a way that is almost cute. And whenever I walk into the room he opens his mouth wide and hunches down. I can tell he’s trying to convince he he’s still young enough that I should feed him, because I’ve watched when I leave. He stretches his legs out and his neck out and grows by about 3 inches. He’s a scammer. But he doesn’t make loud noises. Hardly any noises at all. Baby robins sleep through the night, so he doesn’t wake me up to get fed.

He isn’t so bad. But today as I was digging in my front yard yet again, I realized that my life had been totally usurped by this little creature who I don’t hate, but I don’t like very much. I’ve been digging worms, wiping up poop spots, bleaching my countertops, shredding paper, picking up worms and feeding them into the bird’s little beak all damn day. And lo and behold, as cute as he is, I’ve started to hate him again. I actually pictured his little legs as drumsticks. Just like in the cartoons.

Here’s my crisis. And I know it’s sort of a self-inflicted crisis, many of mine are, but it’s still a crisis and it’s stressing me out. One reason the rehab people tell you not to raise a wild bird, is because it will become tame and then be unsuitable for life in the wild (the wild of St. Paul). Well this bird is a little tame now. A little, like in that he opens his mouth anytime a human walks up to the cage.

I have conflicting information about whether or not they can learn on their own how to hunt for insects, but so far our little friend Christopher is a dismal failure. He does peck at the ground and I saw him eat grass from the ground yesterday, but worms and grubs can crawl right over his scaly little feet and he doesn’t notice.

But all of these problems are of my own doing. And I can’t bear to take him to the wild animal place and face the upbraiding I know I deserve. I wasn’t ignorant, I was just defiant and stupid. I SO don’t want to have to be lectured to about wild animals and why one should leave them on the sidewalk to fry (they say the mom birds will take care of them, but COME ON! They can’t carry them back to the nest or defend them from predators). I can’t handle the stern looks I am going to get from the 23 year old in the lab coat.

I’ve made up lies in my head about this bird hopping onto my shoulder and my suspecting someone had tamed him, and how I knew the only right thing to do was bring him to the authorities. But I’m such a bad liar. And this little guy all but calls me mama. I’m afraid I’ll be on the wild animal sanctuary “watch list”.

I’m doomed. He’s a nice little bird. A friendly bird, a quiet bird. But I can’t teach him to hunt and I CANNOT feed him worms or grubs or anything else for the rest of his life. I can’t bring him to the wild bird people. I am so dumb. I hate this god damned bird.


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Magic

I can’t remember the first time I knew I had magical powers. And when I tell you about how much I enjoyed my powers (only use your powers for good, Lisa), you will like me a little less, maybe. But I think you’ll get over it. You might as well know. I probably didn’t hide it that well anyway. You might have known about the powers because you had them too, or because you were enchanted by someone who did.

Now there are those of you who think you know about my magical powers, but you’re wrong. I used to be able to, and still can to a certain extent, predict what people are about to say or what they’re thinking. That wasn’t magic. It was a parlor trick. The truth is, people aren’t that tricky when it comes to conversation. They say what they’re supposed to say to keep the conversation going, or they make a joke that surprises you. Even the radio is easy– I used to predict that, too.

One of the first times I remember knowing I had magic was when I got my first pair of white Levi 501s. I remember walking to work, along Portland Avenue in my white jeans and a pink tank top. I was barefoot likely as not, carrying my shoes. I was probably 16, and I thought I was cute.

And can we digress a little here and say, that thinking you’re cute is half the battle? It isn’t the whole battle, and I know that. I know because of a number of uninvited thong sightings (whale tails, in more ways than one) I’ve had. Thongs rising out of cleavage that made me pray for deliverance and have flash-backs to Nam. But women know where their ass-crack and underwear are as a general rule. If more than an inch is showing in public, its because you think it’s cute. And that confidence, in my opinion, leaves you halfway through a battle with not much more than a carnage strewn field to show for your efforts.

So back to thinking I was cute. I knew I was cute, but I remember for the first time that guys in cars were honking or whistling at me. Guys I didn’t know. They looked over their shoulders at me. It was like magic. Like being famous. Or maybe just like being 16. But I swear to god, I could feel the blue electric charge every time it happened. Zzzing! At a stop sign, at the gas station, walking home, I had power. I felt like Samantha from Bewitched. And I loved it. I loved it. I started walking all over town, facing the traffic so I could see if guys were looking at me. A lot of them were. It was intoxicating.

I wasn’t make-your-eye-teeth-hurt, beautiful. I remember the girls who were, Tressa DeRider, Tracy Ybarra. That kind of beautiful is something I can’t really comment on much. you might ask my sister about it. People she doesn’t know buy her drinks. Once in MinneapolisWhen we were kids, an Indian guy yelled at her and told her she was a witch. I think even then, people could tell she was going to have a lot of magic.

I didn’t have much more than 16, cute and confident going for me. But it was enough. And the hard part of this story is that at some point in the last few years, at a stop light, I realized that I had become Everymom. I am becoming invisible. Shake your head at my vanity, tell me I’m shallow and wrong, but deep inside I know it’s on its way out. I’m sure it’ll be replaced by something else maybe even more meaningful and blah blah. Cut me some slack, OK?

I was a clumsy, tiny, afraid-of-the-ball kid whose mom had to browbeat the basketball coach into letting her play during games. I took piano lessons for 7 years and to this day cannot read music. No matter how hard I tried, and I did finally start to try in high school, I couldn’t be orderly or organized. I was flat chested and four-eyed.

But goddamn it. I was cute, I was even sexy, and I loved it. I enjoyed it. I didn’t take it so much for granted, as I was unable to grasp its perishability. Even when, as I was admiring how cute my round little butt looked, in my bandeau-waisted, wide-waled maroon corduroy pants, my mom said to me, “You think you’re going to always have that perky little butt, don’t you?”. I thought I was. What did she know

I wouldn’t remember it if it didn’t make some sort of impression on me. But I couldn’t understand it in the way she meant it until pretty recently, having more disappointing results with some different pants and an entirely different butt. And you know what? I love my mom, but I think it was mean of her to even try to warn me.


Where have I been?

Well, it’s happened. Writer’s block. Nothing to say, at least nothing worthy of putting up for public consumption. Usually I just plug through it and write anyway. I put it away and come back later, sometimes there’s a nice little gem I can work with. This time, not.
I don’t have a plan other than to try every day to write something. What’s more annoying? Posting nothing because nothing is good enough, or posting something I think is crap? Any ideas?

Ok just to show how bad things have gotten, I’m going to put up a couple example of the trouble I’ve been having.

A poem:

Brian?
Brian
Crazy gay Brian
With the bright blue eyes
Who drinks too much
And steals people’s shoes

An excerpt from a story poem:

Sam saw molly
Molly saw Sam
Moses was eating
From the garbage can

Sam was at the window
Molly in her yard
Moses as always was a
Fucking retard

Molly saw moses
Moses ate more
Molly used her paw
To sneak out the door

Sam watched from the window
As molly broke free
And headed straight for moses
Who headed up a tree

A bit about parenting:

My second baby came to teach me that I wasn’t a superior parent with my first baby. The first baby was just an exceptionally easy and good tempered child. The second one sent me into weird mirror flipping moments where I recognized the look I had been giving moms of temperamental difficult children. And it wasn’t sympathy, it wasn’t even superiority, it was ignorance.

A peek at my greed:

We show up to the berry farm and right away, the worst in me rears its head. It’s subtle, but insistent. Another woman parks before we do and she gets out of her car, buckets in hand. A hungry little voice says to me, “Hurry! She’s getting our berries!” I hate this woman. I hate her ice cream buckets and their open maws gaping at the rows of strawberries as they pass by. I hate her khaki capris and her bobby socks. I hate her tucked in tee shirt (world’s greatest something) and her wide brimmed hat.

Judging by the size of her caboose, I’d say she’s already been here at least once this year and even eaten one or two of the butter-flavored-Crisco-laden treats she made with berries that should have been ours. Greedy bitch. Oh my goodness, what’s come over me? This happens to me every year. I get ahold of myself and head with the kids to the field. My heart aches when I see the rows upon rows of strawberry plants and the dozen groups of people already there, picking (our berries!).

Somebody help me.

Payback’s a Bitch

That my whole life is lesson in empathy hasn’t escaped me. Your mean-ness will come back to haunt you. It was the same for my mom. It’s only a matter of time. You also need to think about whether or not the fun you have making fun of other people is worth the inevitable payback. Because it is, as they say, a bitch.

Bitches are everywhere, by the way. As the doctors were trying to figure out how to tell us, tell my mom and her cadre of witnesses, that she was dying; that what was happening was part of a process that mother nature was in charge of; my mom perked up for a moment of crystal clarity. She had been getting confused. And she knew she was confused. It frustrated and alarmed her.

It happened so fast that her lucent, perky self was still loitering just outside the room. We thought she was still there under the haze of drugs and disease, but Suzers had actually started to leave the building, peeking in from time to time when the conversation seemed interesting… Ah but in my digression, I digress.

Anyway the balding, bespectacled, avuncular, strawberry blond doctor who was about my mom’s age, had started to explain that it looked like some things were starting to shut down (important things like kidneys), and that “Mother nature…” At which point my mom interrupted with, “That bitch!”

God I loved her. For just that irreverence and impropriety. The doctor flinched and laughed so hard he had to take his glasses off and wipe his eyes.

Payback is a bitch. No doubt.

What we get paid back for is our own judgementalism. My mom had so much fun picking out the women with wigs (“Third table from the door. Wig.”), that when the time came for her to need a wig, she absolutely could not wear one. Because she knew there would be women like here out there, trying to peg her.

One of our favorite games at home was a game where (there were lots, and they were all equally sick or weird) my mom would, maybe in the middle of a conversation, just start talking as if she had a cleft palate. So that every word came only out of her nose. Speech was incomprehensible. But it made us laugh.

If you really want to know about what it sounded like, you need to know that we once had a neighbor with a cleft palate. When he spoke, you had to sort of just guess what he should be saying right about then. So when he should have been telling me his name, I guessed that it was either Marty or Leonard. When you can make those two names indistinguishable, you’ve made the kind of speech I’m talking about.

By the way, I liked Marty Leonard. But I hid from him more than once rather than embarrass us both by trying to understand what the hell he was saying.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Payback. So here’s us, the Mean family. Laughing at people who talk through their noses. Laughing and saying “Hhnopph Ithh. Ithhhs nnnothh fhyunneeh.” And drawing our knees up to our chests and laughing our asses off. Mean, wrong, immature, and so damned funny.

When my mom’s various cancer demons made it necessary for her to have a nasogastric tube inserted (down through the nose and down your throat and into your stomach), it was payback time. Hers was to remove excess acid and give her guts a break, take care of the heartburn. But when she spoke, by god, it bordered on classic cleft palate speech. And it wasn’t funny.

It was so not funny that she took her glasses off and wouldn’t put them on again until the tube was out. She went days. It was so not funny we all cried every day and she stopped speaking except to the doctor. When she needed to get something across, she wrote it down. And mostly what she wrote was, “I want you to leave. I do not want my children to see me suffer like this. Go home.” So not funny she never made fun of it again, and said she’d easily rather die than have it done again.

I have to say though, she outsmarted the system in the end. Because the other game that used to make us laugh until we were sick was where we pretended to be corpses. She always started it. Make your lips really dry, so they stick to your teeth, and roll the upper lip under so it sticks to your gums. Now you look like a skeleton. Talk to your family. They’ll laugh.

But in the end, my mom insisted on being cremated, which I think was a good call, all things considered.

Strawberry Raspberry Night

If you knew Henry and his chestnut hair and dark brown eyes, and you knew Isabella and her hazel eyes and dimpled smile, and if you knew Molly the long haired shepherd, you’d know this story is true if only in my dreams.

Zach says I’m not ready for epic poetry. But This little epic was my friend tonight and it was the best part of my day.

Strawberry-Raspberry Night

Isabella she’s so swell-a
Sweet like Jell-a, Isabella

Henry Henry, he’s so friendry
Big adventures, that’s our Henry

Molly, Molly, Doggy, dolly
Woofing, barking, here on Holly

Right above Holly
the moon was bright
Softy-silky, windy night

Isi sneaked through
An arch covered with roses

Henry snuck, too,
Downstairs on his toes-es

Molly the dog, I’m sorry to say
Had been chewing on hoses most of the day

Isi went out, her hand on the wall
Henry’s gate creaked, a giggling call
Molly perked up, though the noises were small

Isabella’s first stop?
A raspberry bush!
Oh my goodness what luck
She plumped down on her tush
One berry, two berry, three berry, four…

Henry went left
To a place that he knew
A strawberry patch!
He plunked right down, too!
One berry, two berry, three berries, four…

Molly said, Sniff
She snuffed in the air
Stickity faces and
Fingers and hair!
There oughtn’t be kiddies
All sticky out there!
One nudge with her nose
Then two, three and four
A clink of the latch
And then she’s out the door

Sticky and happy,
Isi tot-totted
Straight up to the park
In the dark. What a lark!

Happy and sticky
Henry tip-toedied
Out into the night
With delight and some fright!

Molly pad padded,
Her collar jing-jingled
Out in the night
Her nosey, ting-tingled

Isi and Henry met at the park
Molly came too,
She woofed out a bark

Isabella found rocks
Which she popped in her mouth
Henry found rocks
He put them in his hair
Molly covered her eyes
Rocks shouldn’t go there!

Molly said hooff
Isi spit out the rocks
Molly said rooff
Henry shook out his locks

Molly licked Isi from top
Down to bottom
Henry tried running
But Molly soon got him
It might have been icky
At least they weren’t sticky

She walked them both home
Through gates, under roses
Along walls, on their toes-es
Right back into bed
And nobody saw them
(except maybe Moses)

And on Sunday morning
It was mommy who said
Daddy come here
And stand by the bed
I know that it couldn’t be possibly true
But does Henry smell
Strawberry Doggy to you?