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2:08 p.m. - 2012-10-20
LA Goes To The Birds

Mick was asking about the 'no adverb' thing and I explained about how when a lot of writers (including me) start out they're really big on the adverbs because they are (cue: trumpet fanfare) WRITING. This isn't a grocery list, ya know, this is some serious big shit "Hey, Ma! Lookit me, I'm writin' here, I'm writing!!" and as such it must be done with style, baby. It's not like you can just slap some words onto a screen, it's gotta have pizazz, it's gotta be important. I told Mick it took me over a million words before I got over the need to gussy everything up and began to write with a modicum of competence. The straight poop without the parsley on the plate and the little chef's hats on the ends of the turkey legs. Not that there isn't room for craft in good writing, craft is vital. But the point is the craft shouldn't be obvious. I likened it to something else I've discussed with him before- wearing make-up. I never want to be told, "Wow, nice make-up." I want to hear, "Wow, nice face." A good make-up job is doing it right when people think you look great. So it is with wordsmithing, if you're doing it right then nobody notices the effort you put in with the eyelash curlers and the tweezers and the concealer. They read and say, "Wow, nice face."

You know what's odd? All summer long I never see blue jays. Not one. Then soon as the season turns there they are. There's a jay the size of a football hopping around up by the toolshed right now and if it were possible I'd go out back and ask, "Dude, where have you been all summer? What's the deal with you blue jays? You got a gig upstate for the summer months? How come you only come by during the cold time of year?" Maybe they come now to establish territory before bird feeder season. I only feed the birds when there's snow, when the ground's clear they can fend for themselves just fine. But getting a leg up on residency in anticipation of being fed a couple months from now by the crazy woman with the sunflower seeds...are blue jays that smart?

Speaking of feeding birds and smart animals, when I was in high school my mother had this cat. He was a white angora with one of those smushed-in faces. So the same woman who stuck me with the most trite and common girls' name of the early 1960s sees this white puffball kitten and names it 'Angel'. Turns out the name was more apropos than you might think. Though not 'Angel' like my dopey mother had in mind as in cherubs and fluffy Heaven clouds, this Angel was pure Latin Street King. If he'd been human Angel would have worn hairnets and those plaid shirts buttoned at the collar and driven a low-rider. In short, this cat was a thug. A smart thug.

Before I was a crazy woman with sunflower seeds, I was a crazy girl with sunflower seeds and I used to spend my own money buying birdfeed in the winter. At the house I lived in in high school there was one of those house-shaped birdfeeder dealies roofed with the same cedar shake as our house was sided with mounted in the corner of the big back deck. The feeder was there when we moved in and that it went with the decor was the only reason my mother let it stay, otherwise it would have gone in the trash with all the rest of the previous owner's outdoor stuff like the croquet hoop fencing around the bushes and the garden gnome sentries on either side of the stoop. Anyhow, what I'm saying is feeding the birds was strictly my own gig and I'd top off the seed after school before leaving for work and then I'd trudge off to my job at the pizza place thinking happy thoughts about how the winter-starved birds were back there at the house having a grand meal and isn't Life wonderful?

Right.

What I didn't know was while I was hauling my half-frozen buns across town to the pizzeria Angel the cholo was the one having the grand meal. That sneaky bastid would hide under the deck while I filled the feeder and wait. I'd leave and here came all the hungry little birdies and there were so many there wasn't room for everybody at the trough so there'd be birds on the ground pecking at the seed spilled by the ones upstairs and...WHAMMO! The Angel of Death would come out from under the deck in a flurry of whirling claws and snapping jaws and take out as many birds as he could. Bastid.

What makes this worse was I didn't find out until spring. I'd gone out to mow the lawn and up next to the house between the big back deck and the little one where the end of the clothesline lived there was this section of grass beneath the kitchen windows and I go trundling in with the mower and even over the engine noise I hear this weird crunchy sound. I make a couple passes with the mower and there's more crunching and this "Ping! Ping! Ping!" noise coming from the clippings chute. So I cut the engine and investigate. There on the mowed part is all this stuff like ivory colored gravel. I bent down to take a closer look and started to scream. It was bird bones. That strip of grass was covered in bones. Little birdie feet. Skulls with beaks. Wing bones. Rib cages. Hundreds of bird bones. Thousands, even. I realized I was looking at Angel the thug cat's killing field. What I couldn't understand was how the hell had he managed to murder so many birds?

Then it hit me. The bird feeder.

All winter long I'd been feeling soooo good about helping out the hungry little birdies. But what I'd really done was lured them to their doom. However well-intentioned and innocent on my part, I'd been an accomplice to bird murder on a phenomenal scale. I was the Nuon Chea to Angel's Pol Pot. I stopped screaming and started to cry. The guilt! Oy, I felt filthy! And I couldn't even tell anybody to help expiate my guilt. My whole family thought I was nuts to feed the birds in the first place. I'd heard it from them all winter. Cracking up they'd mock, "Lee-lee, they're just birds! Who do you think you are, Mother Nature?" And they'd roll around snorting and cackling at their own wit. Their mirth at my expense was offset by my own satisfaction that I was helping. Uh huh. I'd helped those birds to be dead, that's what I helped with. And if I said anything to my stupid sisters or awful mother the razzing would follow me to my grave. They'd NEVER let me live it down. So, running tears and snot I finished mowing the killing field and then got the rake and raked up all the bird bones. I dumped them in a grocery bag and after finishing the backyard I took the bag across the street into the woods and poured the bones on the ground under my favorite tree. I kicked leaves over the whole mess and felt like a criminal. A stupid criminal. I couldn't even be angry with Angel; he'd just taken advantage of the situation. I'd been the one with my Lady Bountiful act who'd made his murder spree possible. It was then I truly understood the phrase 'No Good Deed Goes Unpunished'.

Of course I still feed the birds these days, but my cats don't EVER go outside.

Lesson learned, ~LA

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