THE BIRD IS THE WORD

Just what is it about birds? Is it their natural beauty and grace as they extend their wings to soar and glide against a backdrop of sky? Perhaps it is their measured lovely notes as they usher in dawn and bid adieu to dusk? Or maybe it is the way they, just through the process of sheer observation, bring the looker closer to the mysteries of the natural world? It could be, though, that in addition to all of these obvious attributes, I am, with all the predictable messy angst of humanhood, simply envious of birds. All birds, everywhere. Why? Well, for one thing, birds accept their particular beauty; their species driven proclivities; their daily routines and tasks, as predetermined…and not due to ignorant submission or lack of will or power, but because of an innate instinctual drive, which exists free (lucky birds!) from the morass of a mere human’s existential grapplings. Ever since Robert McCloskey’s Mallard family made their nest in the Boston Public Garden, and ever since Mrs. Mallard demonstrated the ease with which Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack, fell in an obedient line behind her as they waddled their way through the streets of Boston in search of peanuts, literally just days after they had shaken that off-white keratin covering from their moist wings, my fascination (and jealousy) was established. What, I wondered, did they know–what intuitive knowledge of ebb and flow and rhythm and rhyme and reason–had the birds been graciously granted, that evaded us humans?

By way of contrast, let us peek through the raised blinds of an average human family “nest” on a typical Saturday night (disclaimer: the scene described is fiction; any resemblance to the author’s own life–even if you were an actual witness to the events described–is purely coincidental):

Mom (returning to the nest to feed her young, after a restorative day away from said young, so that she could go winter waterfowl birding without someone needing her gosh darn attention each and every gosh darn minute of the gosh darn day):  “Hi…I am home!  Wow, it is really snowing out there.  Birding was great–just great; I can’t wait to show you the pictures I took of the Snow Geese.  Where is everyone?  Hello…is anyone here?”

Gaggle (well, three- of children):  “Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom…hi mom…you are back…how was birding?…the dog peed on the carpet…shhhhh, dad is sleeping….I forgot to tell you, I failed my science test, but it was so unfair….mom, mom. mom, mom…why can’t I play Mortal Combat on the X-Box?  Everyone else plays it, and it is fake blood; the blood is fake…I don’t feel well…uh oh, the dog is peeing on the carpet again; get the dog….”

Dad (from the sofa):  “ZZZZZZZ…….zzzzzzz…….ZZZ….zz…..ZZZZZZZZ……”

Mom (putting her bags down and grabbing some white towels and cleaning spray):  “Didn’t anyone remember to walk the dogs?  How long has your father been asleep?  What’s wrong?  You don’t look so well.”

Dad (disoriented, waking on the sofa, and soon disappearing into the bathroom):  “ZZZZZZZ…what, who, what. where…I’m up…I’m up…hey, mom’s home!  How was the bird thing? Kids were great…just great…wait, I need to go to the bathroom.  Did anyone save me a Ho Ho?”

Mom (on hands and knees cleaning up dog pee, before the puddle starts disappearing under the refrigerator):  “What’s a Ho Ho?  Really (to gaggle), you do not look so well…are you ok?”

Gaggle (cacophony of voices, all speaking at once):  “I think I am going to be sick…me too…the Ho Ho eating contest may not have been a great idea…cupcakes, with cream inside…dad bought us Ho Hos, because we had never had them…I didn’t eat them; too many artificial ingredients…yes you did…just one, because I wanted to remind myself how much I hate artificial ingredients…and he said if we let him nap, we could have a Ho Ho eating contest…which may not have been a great idea…”

Mom (finished cleaning up pee and standing up to efficiently take care of and organize gaggle):  “How many of these Ho Hos did you eat?”

Gaggle:  “Two boxes…I am going to be sick…like now…like right now…I need to get to the bathroom…right now…”

Mom (incredulous):  “Two boxes????  Of cupcakes….???  Are you kidding…???”

Dad (from behind locked bathroom door):  “We had a great day…a really great day!  Did you notice that it’s snowing outside?  I’ll be right out…did you kids save me a Ho Ho?  Tell mom about the Ho Hos….”

Gaggle (opening mouth to answer question put forth by incredulous mom, but, instead, well….):   “sorry…the bathroom door was locked…I couldn’t hold it in….ewwwww….I am so glad I don’t eat artificial ingredients…..I feel so much better now….me too…mom, let me help you clean it up….that’s disgusting….mom, mom, are you ok?”

Dad (finally emerging from the bathroom):  “Did you see the bird?…what a great day, really…what’s that smell…WTF did I just step in….?????”

And so, as I again ponder the enviable ordered existence of birds, recalling–for example–how a colony of western Acorn Woodpeckers works as a single industrious unit to store thousands of acorns in carefully drilled oak tree holes, and how both males and females join together to seamlessly raise several young in a single communal nest, I am again  in awe of the innate understanding of complex social structures these birds demonstrate.  It is most certain that the Acorn Woodpeckers’ instinctual communal living model is free from that dreaded mandate of group habitation, the House Meeting, that I was forced to endure during my tenure as a commune-style living participant in my carefree Berkeley, California college days. The endless, and generally unsatisfying clash of agendas realized as the various house members tried to figure out whose turn it was to wash the dishes; whose job it was that week to empty the garbage bins;  who had allowed the Deadheads to set up camp in our living room, so they could drop–over consecutive days–the last 30 tabs of their acid before heading back East; and who, selfishly and without thought to the feelings and needs of the rest of the house members, replaced the communal pan of premium hash brownies with regular old Duncan Hines.  How trivial these concerns seem (other than the hash brownie conundrum) when juxtaposed with the larger goal of species survival, that is paramount to our avian friends.

Finally, speaking of survival, I would like to extend a world of thanks to the gods for my own personal stash of Goose Island, with which I (pretty much) nightly use to soften the hard edges of my own family nest:

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And thank you to the glorious birds everywhere, flying somewhere, so that we as terrestrial beings may see them….and in our minds follow them….and dream:

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(and, yes, these are my actual photos from my non-fictional waterfowl trip:)

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HOLIDAY HEARTACHES: A (brief) HISTORY…part 1(of 2)

The HOLIDAYS–a time of gratuitous cheer, coerced altruism, and copious amounts of good old-fashioned self-loathing and regret–are without a doubt (but not it seems beyond a reasonable doubt) the greatest, most cherished, time of the year! So, in the spirit of fully, if not somewhat dubiously, embracing the holiday spirit, I have decided to relive (I will be pathetic, so you don’t have to–my gift to you, dear reader:) my worst romantic (read: sexual–because, come on, that’s what it’s in fact really about, am I right?) break-ups EVER!  The post is written in two parts, so that you will be compelled to continue reading my blog…or I will kill myself–just kidding–that’s just a bit of whimsical holiday humor…

Number 5:  Prison Break (up):  There is something just so unfair, so completely counter to the average person’s sense of compassion, almost amoral even, about turning the everyday experience of being arrested in a country run by an inhumane dictator and held for four days under the blaring light of a single bare bulb in a tiny cell with a non-working and completely exposed toilet with the other eleven members of your human rights delegation arrested for accidentally stepping foot (a tiny toe, actually) into rebel territory in the highlands of a certain Central American country before being unceremoniously forced to sign a non-mistreatment statement and hastily deported, into a barely digestible memory of deception.  I mean, really, a PETA activist????  You weren’t even a vegetarian!  The next time you take Ecstasy while your incarcerated lover is trying her best to NOT go to the bathroom for four full days and three (bladder) full sleepless nights, try to use that insuppressible burst of libido to, say, declare your undying lust to a horny local congressional representative who might have some sway over the notoriously nefarious police in said puppet run country in which he or she is—by extension, at least–at least one part puppeteer.  You know, just something to think about…

Number 4:  Camper Van Jam:  You know the perhaps overused and slightly cliched saying that life is like the Camper Van Beethoven song, Take the Skinheads Bowling?  Well, that saying just hit the nail on the head in terms of my break up with, well, let’s just call him THE ONE (or ONE, for short).  I met ONE about two days after I was released from prison–enough time for me to become less sleep deprived and more accepting of the, um, asshole who cheated on me (while I was in prison, that’s right, prison), but not enough time to lose my new super svelte look obtained from my 96 hours of enforced starvation–at an alternative (read: Socialist) book store in San Francisco.  I was speaking to a small group about my harrowing experience, which was most certainly part of a larger conspiracy propagated by the powers that be, to, you know, keep women thin–among other things, and…there he was…the coolest guy I had ever seen. He literally and figuratively (that’s right, both) took my breath away! I mean with his thick leather jacket, tight blue jeans, motorcycle helmet in hand, goatee on chin–he was the epitome of metrosexual, and that term hadn’t even been coined yet.  My friend, breathless herself, remarked, “he’s so cool, it’s like he isn’t even there.”  Right on, sister…So, realizing that this was most likely IT, that I would soon be zipping up and down the hills of San Fran on the back of his like-a-Harley-yet-a bit-smaller bike, Dramamine patch glued to my arm, I decided to make it my new religion (in addition, of course, to my strict adherence to the practice of cultural Judaism) to not screw this up (as I had with Number 5, by being unavailable because I was in a Central American jail cell, that’s right, asshole,  jail cell).  I knew from watching lots and lots– hundreds, actually–of after-school specials as a latch-key kid that the surefire way to get his attention was by completely and relentlessly ignoring him–and I took to that plan like–not to yet again speak in cliches–a skinhead takes to a bowling alley.  AND I could tell he was equally smitten because he completely and relentlessly ignored me as well!  Game on….

Truth be told, I am really just not sure how or why the whole thing ended so abruptly and with such finality.  Perhaps the reality of finally finding THE ONE on this crazy mixed up planet of ours (or, you know, in a sparsely populated progressive (read: Socialist) book store) was just too much for us…the obstacles just too great…the challenges, inherent in not knowing where each other lived or worked or hung out, were just things that we–in the end and at the end of the day (that’s right, both) proved too much to surmount.  But, I still dream of him and what might of been, and in these dreams I want to sleep next to plastic, I want to lick his knees.  I can only hope that ONE is having similar dreams about me, that of all the women he relentlessly and completely ignored, I am the one he thinks about every day when he gets up to pray to Jah

So, there you have it, my heart decimated on the page, the titillating first part of a tale that no one really ever wants to tell…

HAPPY HOLIDAYS:  may they be free of heartache, filled with eggnog, and sexually satisfying (or, you know, emotionally satisfying, if you are into that sort of thing)…

THE SIXTIES (family style)…CNN SERIES(ly)

60candyphotoTHE SIXTIES…Bob Dylan certainly captured the anarchic mood of that tumultuous era rather well:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

I for one was so enamored with the radical promise of that decade, having–you know– been born smack in the middle of that explosive experimental time.  Of course my birth and first seventeen years of life took place a wee bit outside society’s fraying and expansive center (like in the epitome of suburbia), but my parents were known to indulge in the occasional joint, so I figured I was entitled to consider myself part of the radical hood.  In fact, Lauren–salacious protagonist of Broken Hallelujah: notes from a marriage and something of my own personal alter ego–details her own brush with the frenzied forces of student driven political and social change, in BH’s chapter, Vanity.  Her “sixties” actually took place in the eighties, but hey, it was in Berkeley, California after all, so, well…anyway…

Fast forward to last Thursday night, May 29, 2014, when CNN premiered its original series, The Sixties.  What an opportunity, I had mused excitedly to myself, to share the cultural and political significance of such an important decade with my three history savvy and book smart sons.  The bonding we would do…the discussions we would have…I was almost giddy with the possibilities!  To make the occasion even more special, even more relevant to that which truly inspires them, I stocked up on nostalgic candy of that very era…Candy Buttons, Fizzies, Bit-O-Honey, and Mallo Cups were all honest to goodness relics of that bygone time, and by goodness my boys were going to indulge while we, as a family, witnessed history (that had been filmed, edited, and padded with lots and lots of commercials) in the making!  I provide for you here, dear reader, a window into the living room of a family–any family, really–experiencing that cherished modern ritual so accurately dubbed “family time”:

Oldest Son–14 (OS):  “Why do you and dad get the comfortable chairs?”

Middle Son–12 (MS):  “I have my computer, in case we need to look anything up…”

Youngest Son-10 (YS):  “Do the Mallo Cups have gelatin in them?  You know I don’t eat gelatin.”

OS:  “You are such a freak–why don’t you eat gelatin?”

YS:  “Because I am a vegetarian, and YOU are a freak.”

OS:  “Well, they do have gelatin.  I am positive, so I will eat yours.”

YS (reading the ingredient list on the Mallo Cup package): “I don’t see gelatin…”

MS (opening his laptop):  “I have my computer, so I can look it up…”

Me:  “Boys, boys…you are missing the show…look, they are showing some of the television programs which your father and I watched when we were your age.”

OS (as if just remembering his parents were in the room):  “Why do you and dad get the comfortable chairs?  It is so not fair.”

MS: “Nope, no gelatin, so you can eat the Mallo Cups.  Does anyone want to trade my blue Candy Dots for yellow ones?  I don’t like the blue ones.”

Me:  “Boys…you are not even watching…look there’s Tiny Tim being interviewed on The Tonight Show!”

YS (tentatively nibbling at the corner of a Mallo Cup):  “Are you ABSOLUTELY SURE they don’t have gelatin???”

OS (exasperated):  “You are a freak.  If you don’t want it, don’t eat it.”

MS:  “Who played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol?”

Me (not quite understanding):  “The movie of the Charles Dickens’ novel?”

MS:  “Yes.”

Me:  “You know it’s not the same Tiny Tim, right….why are you asking?”

MS:  “Oh, I know.  It’s just that we are learning about Charles Dickens in my English class, and I was kind of curious.”

Me:  “Come on, guys…I am trying to watch…”

MS:  “Good thing I have my computer; I can just look it up!”

OS:  “Who cares who played Tiny Tim…you are such a freak!”

Me:  “Shhhhh….”

OS (rolling his eyes):  “Well, perhaps if I were sitting in a comfortable chair, I could sit quietly and watch.”

YS (excitedly pointing to a commercial for the newly released movie, Jersey Boys):  “Oh, I so want to see that movie!”

All Three Boys (staring at the television in rapt attention for the duration of the ad):………. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

MS (turning back to his computer screen after the Jersey Boy ad is over):  “Terry Kilburn played Tiny Tim.  Blue Dots for yellow Dots…last chance…”

OS:  “We don’t want to trade Dots.  What a freak…”

Me:  “OK, boys, enough…please really focus on the second half…your father and I have been waiting to see this…”

MS:  “Look!  Dad’s asleep!”

YS (loudly–in his father’s direction):  “Dad!  You are supposed to be watching…”

Dad: “ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz….”

OS (quite satisfied with himself):  “See…that’s what happens when you sit in a comfortable chair!”

YS:  “Do you mind if I go read in bed?  I am tired.  This was great–thanks, mom!!  Good night…”

MS:  “Wait, I’ll come with you.  After we brush our teeth, we can look up on my computer where Jersey Boys is playing.”

Me:  “Goodnight boys.  That was, um, fun…?”

OS:  “Yeah, I  am going to bed too…good night.  Next week I call sitting in a comfortable chair.”

Ah, Bob Dylan, perhaps your inimitable words ring as true today as they did back then, in THE SIXTIES, the only difference being in the way one defines unrest:

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.