One day last week, I was preparing to exit the parking garage at the pedestrian alley when I heard some rather loud chirping. I watched as four or five sparrows flew down at the foot of the stairs I was descending, with two of the little birds flapping their wings at each other and all of them chirping. Only it wasn’t just chirping; there was an edge to it. As I looked down at it, I couldn’t help but be transported back in time to elementary school, hearing the chants of the little group huddled around two pint-sized combatants in a heated playground dispute. I stopped on the stairs, sort of mesmerized, incredulous that these little guys would need to fight about anything, when an employee of the hotel’s valet parking staff walked right up to this little cluster of avian beings, stood over them and exclaimed, “Stop fighting!” He waved his hands, and the tiny birds flew up as a group, travelled maybe five yards to my right, landed and continued their little rumble, apparently picking up where they left off. (If I understood “Sparrow-ese”, I could speak with more authority on that point.) It would have been amusing to hang around and watch how it all ended, but I had to get to work. Somehow, the specter of being labeled as one who enjoys watching bird fights also propelled me out of that alley and onward to my office! I didn’t notice any birdie bodies when I returned after work, so apparently it was not a fight to the death.
I’ve thought about it off and on since then, especially in light of another “bird” scene I encountered on the way home.
I have mentioned before that I live in a very rural area. The directions to my house include the words, “turn off the paved road”, which I think, in Jeff Foxworthy’s terminology, could mean that I am a redneck. But I digress! One afternoon, also last week, perhaps even the same day, I came around a curve to see the carcass of some unfortunate creature that had not managed to subdue the motor vehicle with which it came in contact, and had not made it across the road. I noticed that the bird picking at it was pretty large, and moreover, not too impressed with my Forester as it approached. As I drew a little closer to the scene, I realized the bird was a vulture. Almost immediately, my gaze arose and I saw that two additional vultures occupied the tops of two fence-posts demarking the boundary of a farm or horse boarding facility on that road. The vulture on the road looked once more at my vehicle, and slowly turned away from the dead prey and sort of nonchalantly meandered back toward the opposite edge of the road; and simultaneously, as if on cue, the other two also turned their backs! I don’t think I’ve ever been so disrespected before; especially not by a bird!
Even my beautiful parakeet back in Orlando never deliberately turned her back on me; even the first year I had her, before I discovered the handsome and wizardly looking creature I called Gandalf was actually a female, she never did that. She pecked at and nibbled on my fingers when I tried to get her to perch on them. Eventually, she grew so tame that she would ride on my shoulder or on my belt. She used to let herself out of her cage when I got home, and she would fly to the tops of the drapes. All I had to do was hold my hand up and she would fly to it. She forgave me for bringing home the German Shepherd puppy, although she stopped coming out of her cage after being chased around the apartment and losing a tail feather one afternoon when I was in the shower. She even forgave me for never finding a suitable female name for her, and became known after that simply as Bird. But she didn’t live long after we moved to Tampa. I found her lifeless body in the bottom of her cage one afternoon; I was so upset, a friend had to bury her for me.
No, this disrespect is probably payback from a childhood indiscretion. My brother and I were probably nine and six, respectively, when our grandmother was placed in a nursing home. This place had been a house at some point in its history, and was old even then - - and it is close to fifty years ago now that this occurred- - but the point of the elapsed time is that he and I were little kids. We did not realize that our grandmother did not have all that much longer to live. For a lot of the time, she was in a room at the front of the house, so we had permission to play on the front porch or in the front yard, as long as we did not make a lot of noise, and we stayed where Mom and/or Dad could see us from the window. We would say “hi” and “bye” almost in the same breath, and then run outside. Looking back, I hope that hearing us playing might have brought some enjoyment to the residents of the home, not the least of whom would have been our grandmother. But given the constraints of the front porch and front yard, we had to find creative ways to amuse ourselves. Once, we “tracked” a faint crying noise and found a tiny, tiny kitten - - a calico- - in the shrubbery. I wanted to take it home, but Mom said “no. Put it back where you found it.” I cried all the way home. I just knew it would die without me to take care of it. Another time, we discovered these large, green pimply looking things called “hedge apples”. Due to their size, we tried to play softball with them, using fairly thick sticks we found as bats. The hedge apples were more durable than the pears in our other grandmother’s back yard, but even so, only made it through an inning or so before we would have to go looking for another “ball”. As at home, we finally resorted to playing a game requiring few, if any, implements; something dredged up from my brother’s overactive imagination. (Yes, he has always been good at making stuff up!) That’s how “Bird Prison” came into being. It should probably be noted that often, if other kids accompanied their parents to this place and they were outside for any length of time, we included them in our games; they usually did not hang around for “Bird Prison”. They would actually go back inside the home! So, folks, don’t just suspend your disbelief here; go ahead and expel it completely!
The premise behind “Bird Prison” was simple and formulaic; it wasn’t “ripped from the headlines” or well written like any given episode of “Law and Order”. One of us would be the bird prison inmate on a chain gang, using an imaginary pickax to break up rock. (My brother would supply the sound effects) The other of us would be the guard. When the guard’s attention was diverted, the ax would be dropped (appropriate clanging noise inserted here) and the prisoner would “escape and fly” (jump off the porch and run). The game was to see how far the “prisoner” would get before being recaptured by the guard. If the prisoner managed to get as far as the concrete steps up to the sidewalk beside the highway, the prisoner was said to have made good his/her escape. The roles would then switch. The game would end for the evening when Mom and Dad emerged from the home. Of course, when our grandmother passed away, we stopped going there and "Bird Prison" was closed permanently. I never won this game; he was older, taller, had longer legs and could run faster than I could.
So there you have it. From the Sparrow Rumble to the Disrespectful Raptors, I am certain I am being paid back for “Bird Prison”. Bro, I think you'd better watch out for the furtive flamingos that may be lurking around! The Avian population is out for karmic retribution!