Call Me Bird Whisperer

ToucanMED
Simon the Toucan

A story, with three art pieces, for three months of Summer: June, July, and August 2017.

In honor of:

Holidays for June 2017

Candy Month
National Seafood Month

6/4/17 – Hug Your Cat Day
6/5/17 – Festival of Popular Delusions
6/6/17 – National YoYo Day
6/12/17 – Ghost in the Machine Day
6/15/17 – Fly a Kite Day
6/16/17 – National Fudge Day
6/17/17 – National Hollerin’ Day
6/18/17 – International Panic Day
6/20/27 – National Seashell Day

Holidays for July 2017

National Culinary Arts Month
Anti-Boredom Month

7/1/17 – International Joke Day. My Daughter’s Birthday
7/5/17 – National Bikini Day
7/7/17 – World Chocolate Day (Remember, chocolate is a vegetable!)
7/8/17 – International Town Crier Day
7/12/17 – National Paper Bag Day
7/13/17 – Fool’s Paradise Day
7/14/17 – Pandemonium Day
7/16/17 – International Juggling Day
7/20/17 – National Moon Day, Get to know your Customers Day
7/21/17 – National Junk Food Day
7/25/17 – National Culinarians Day
7/26/17 – All or Nothing Day
7/27/17 – Take Your Pants for a Walk Day
7/28/17 – National Milk Chocolate Day
7/29/17 – National Lipstick Day
7/31/17 – National Mutt Day

Holidays for August 2017

Dog Days of Summer
Bystander Awareness Month

8/4/17 – International Beer Day
8/11/17 – Play in the Sand Day
8/20/17 – Chef Appreciation Day
8/30/17 – Tug-of-War Day
8/31/17 – National Eat Outside Day

A special thank you to Celeste.

 

Call Me Bird Whisperer

By Lys Tigrés

 

Portents

Call me Bird Whisperer. Years ago – it doesn’t really matter when – I walked the same path to a school of performing arts several times a week. I imagined I would get from the underground trains to my destination without a hitch, but that did not happen. Each time I passed a certain shop, a young Toucan in the window would tap the glass lightly and my uncast spirits would soar. He clattered softly and tilted his head to one side, bright blue eyes searching mine, his beak so large compared to his youthful body that it appeared he might fall down. Uncaged, he marched back and forth on his wooden plank flirting with me. I always did have a way with animals, they appeared to feel safe with me. Lost dogs and cats followed me as I walked. But this bird’s countenance was more than odd.

One day I decided to enter the store and talk to the bird. He politely returned my address. “I do not like it here. I want a real home. My name is Simon. You sure are cute.”

“You do realize I am human and not a Toucan, correct?” He nodded, and hopped up onto my forearm. I raised my arm up to look more closely at his wondrous coloration. He pushed his head into my cheek, one blue eye cocked toward me. He smelled of mangoes and papayas. Lightly, I petted the top of his head – he closed his eyes. His eyelids were turquoise and chartreuse. I asked the shop owner about him. How old is he? Does he have a name? How much does he cost? The information I received was disheartening. He was about a year old, he was unnamed – at this Simon barked, and his cost – $1800. I whispered to Simon that I was about to be late for my class, and I did not know how I could possibly come up with the large sum of money the shopkeeper was asking in order to bring him home, and above all that, due to conditions beyond my control – I feared for his life. The Toucan fluttered off my arm onto his tramway and hung his head – his beautiful light green and golden-orange emblazoned beak grazing the underside of the rough pine.

I related to the shopkeeper that I had four cantankerous cats and they would chase the Toucan day and night. The shopkeep thought Simon could take care of himself. “You see the size of that beak?” he queried, eyebrows raised. He did not expect a response. Little did he comprehend the tag-team killing machine that, together, the four felines produced. One would hunt, another leap five feet high into the air to swat down any offender, the third chase, and the forth sit and flick the end of his tail.

I said good-bye to Simon then, a tear slipping from my eye.

For several weeks I continued to visit the forlorn Keel Bill and spoke to him through the window, but I could not bear to enter the shop knowing it was impossible to bring him home. The boy sulked through the thick glass. Finally one day I came upon the shop and Simon was gone. I entered. Simon had been sold….

It is due to my association with Simon, as well as my easy relationships with my dear Grandmother’s parakeets that my peers call me Bird Whisperer.

I tell you the foregoing narrative at this time because it is, indeed, in stark contrast to the tale of fright and woe which follows.

Pockets

As it happens, after acquiring the highest praise during my formal education, I passed the requisite examination (with flying colors) for license in my desired occupation, and felt a deep need to honor myself with festive diversion. It seemed best to celebrate in some quite unaccustomed fashion, and I purchased a tour ticket for Atlantic City. Fortuitously, the packet I received included not only round-trip fare, but a legal note promising I would receive twice as much nickel coinage as I had paid for the transport upon de-boarding the bus. In addition, a surplus of discount vouchers for numerous eateries and shady tourist souvenir shops located in the various gambling establishments was provided. The entire parcel smelled of bubble-gum, and I wondered if the child-like odor was sprayed on for subliminal effect.

On the dawn of my adventure, the sun rose above the sky-scrapers searing the sooted bricks and raising the odor of old diesel fumes through my bedroom windows. Desiring to travel light, I folded the pass neatly and placed it in my right rear jean pocket. The promissory note was stuffed into my small purple leather bi-fold, which also contained my identification – proof that I was indeed over the age of 21. I looped a diminutive buffed purse, replete with brass hooped zipper, on my belt – in anticipation of a bevy of weighty currency. It contained only a deep peachy-pink lipstick. There would be room for nothing else, and the rest of my make-up must last through the evening. In my right front pocket I placed my house key ringed to a silver toucan trinket, and in my left, my good luck charm. For good measure I donned a blue and white striped railroad engineer’s cap, to protect me from the sun, and copper glamour sunglasses.

Motor Coach

The jitney arrived exactly on time, stopping at the corner of Neptune Avenue and West 5th Street. I had to bend to climb the high steps, straightening up on the platform in front of the driver. For unsavory reasons, he apparently could not remove his eyes from the point of my blue acid-washed V-neck tee. I handed him my departure ticket keeping the return close – in the pocket over my right buttock. The drooling cad punched the stiff paper and handed it back to me. I gave him the evil eye. Even then he continued to stare, now hypnotized by my behind as I walked away. I sneered at him from over my shoulder, moving my hands to my rear and cantilevering the palms and fingers to resemble a Mocking Bird’s tail, pacing the aisle, until finding an empty space midway through the vehicle. A smiling Grandpa sat in the window seat. We passed a pleasant hour chatting about his lunch – he’d brought a hot pastrami sandwich, a sour pickle, and potato salad – that his wife had packed for him, and by looking at pictures of his children, and grandchildren. He had a lot of them. I enquired how his sandwich would stay warm until lunch, seeing that it was only 7:50 AM when we boarded the bus. He said the pastrami was so spicy it would be hot even if it did cool off. After a while he fell asleep. His breath smelled of garlic.

At 9:28 AM the bus pulled up in front of a glitzy hotel-casino. A worn looking young man, who I had not noticed earlier, opened a locked case and handed each passenger a bag of rolled change as we departed. I asked Gramps if he would please walk directly behind me so that the bus driver could not leer at my ass again. He was happy to oblige, hoping that his granddaughters might avail themselves of assistance in a similar situation.

I stuffed the rolls of change into my purse and managed to zip the bulging sack closed, then meandered into the casino.

The Slots

At this early hour, the casino was abrim with gamblers. The dense air filled with the smoke of cigarettes and the foul odor of last night’s saliva-encrusted cigars. I passed through the varied aisles of slot machines and wandered around to the tables. I watched the suckers play 21, roulette, and craps for a bit – wondering what possessed them – phantoms of winnings past, perhaps?

Finally, I returned to the slots. For a time I kept vigil as a fine lady, scantily dressed in paradise-pink polka-dotted shorts and a puce paisley midriff blouse, played a high payout dollar slot. She achieved five in a row, then one reel mysteriously shifted. This occurred several times; each time she swore at the ghost in the machine. I speculated upon the possibility that it might actually be Lucky Luciano returning home for a bit of static geophysical revenge.

Bored, I sauntered toward the nickel devices. Turning into a shadowy arena I heard a loud screech. The tortured squall originated from a large scarlet macaw perched on a platform swing in a gilt cage – the marble storey beneath was strewn with seeds. The furious bird was beating her wings rapidly against the bars – her swinging support twisting in every direction. Each time a slot machine announced a winner – exploding with a ringing ding, ding, ding, ding – the parrot howled again. A billboard astride the spectacle announced the establishment’s new tropical bird slots, which had been installed two nights previously. I could see the mechanisms now through the dimmed light – prismatic images of flamingos, conures, peacocks, hummingbirds, cockatoos, love birds, and toucans enameled onto the glistening slot machines. A twinge pulsed my heart as I recalled Simon. Regaining my stamina, I whispered to the distraught avis. I suggested to her that calm would be much more beneficial in her present situation than delirium. She viciously tried to bite me through the bars. I tried again to diminish
her distress, but to no avail. What had happened to my gift? Was it her total isolation from her kin, and unending imprisonment that prevented success and turned her into a monster?

I rushed to the closest croupier, threatened governmental interference under the Animal Welfare Act, and demanded the immediate extrication of the damaged captive. He informed me that he himself was on verge of a nervous breakdown, and, in addition, of his splitting headache. I was assured imminent remediation.

Satisfied, I continued on my way to the nickel devices. I broke open several rolls of change and sat at a gleamer that displayed pictures of lucky sevens, lemons, stars, and gold bars amongst other meaningful symbology. I lost, I won, I lost, I won. I quit.

Even with the vouchers, the food at the casino was not worth eating. Buffets of the night left to dry under hot lights, with God knows how many sneezes and fallen ashes mixed in, oozed the sour scent of bacteria – and food poisoning. I exited the door of the casino and made my way to the boardwalk.

The Fresh Salt Air

It was a lovely day – sun-splashed wooden boards radiated heat, warming my feet as a brisk cool wind whipped at my bare freckled arms. Removing my cap, I allowed the sizzling rays and salted air to enliven my long wavy and tangled tresses. Several children ran over the uneven yellow pine boards, percussing them to fragments of asynchronous melodies, as they flew kites shaped like fighting fish, octopodes, and electric eels. The present slipped into the future, a misty juncture of dream and corporeality.

As late morning transformed to noon, my belly cried out for fuel. I spied a pizza place across the walk, and ambled over. The spell of fresh yeasted dough, olives, pepper flaked sauce, and parmigiana cheese filled my head. Through the open window, I watched a man throwing dough into the air, and spinning it on his fingers and palms as it gently dropped onto them. Wider, and wider the disc became, until it fit perfectly onto the large round baking sheet. He stretched the circle of dough, almost paper thin in the center – puffed raised edges, and it snapped back into place. I had not seen anything like this since I was a child, and hoped against hope… could this pizza be as good as Lenny’s on 86th Street and 20th Avenue used to be? The man looked up and smiled. In a smooth voice, speaking English burnished with a deep Italian accent, he asked me if I would like to claim a slice of the pie he was in the process of so masterfully creating. My tongue and palate bristled with the prospect. I said yes.

The inside of the eatery was cooled with large ceiling fans. I could feel the rhythmic dance against my neck, as I paid the pizza man, sat down at a bistro table, and waited impatiently for the sizzling lava-like cheese to cool down just enough so that the roof of my mouth would remain intact. I was not disappointed. I wished I could lift the entire shop – pizza man and all – and relocate it on the street where I resided. I had gone without real pizza for so many years. I grizzled at the crusts back home, which had become sweet and thick, and soft, instead of crisp and yeasty, and the sauces – mostly flavorless, sugary fare, instead of the rich, spicy tomato coulis they were meant to be.

After savoring each bite of air-pocketed, crunchy crust, and popping the final inch-and-a-half into my mouth, I gracefully rose from the high wrought-iron chair, ready to face life with renewed delectation.

Story Continues After Artwork
PinkBikiniGuyLRG
Pink Bikini Guy

Fudge and a Seagull

Contentment filled me as I was bathed again in the raw, savage sunshine. Sliding my glasses down from the top of my head, I was stopped short when the nosepiece caught in a strand of my hair. It took a while to detangle. As I stood there struggling, trying with my greatest determination to free my glasses from the knotted mass, the memory of chocolate candy mixed with snow bubbled up in to my consciousness – the juxtaposition brought on quite unexpectedly by the tantalizing aroma of chocolate fudge, which was wafting up through my nostrils. The adjoining shop had a newly-made batch of the treat cooling on a glass display case. Finally freeing myself from spectacle hell, I slipped my cap out from under my belt, propelled the crown open, and topped my scalp.

I was set on purchasing only a minute quantity of the chewy delicacy. However, the smallest measure the proprietor would sell was one-quarter of a pound – she dared not crumble the lot with eighths. A quarter seemed like a lot at the time, but when she slipped the cookie-sized portion of confection into a white waxed paper bag, I changed my view. I crunched up the top of the bag, walked to the seaside edge of the boardwalk, and leaned forward on the railing, as they did in “Titanic.” I cast my gaze out upon the deep dark teal of the Atlantic, and the one man laying supine on the beach. He was sporting a blush bikini bottom and making a sand-angel. The waves frothed peaks. I could hear the crash-sh,
crash-sh-sh, crash-sh as each crest collided with the wet-pounded boundary of turf and sea.

The day had, indeed, turned out to be a wonderful celebration of my accomplishments: I had a surplus of coins; a relaxing, yet invigorating, salty day; the best pizza I’d eaten in almost two decades; and presently, a favorite dessert of my youth. Beyond all this, the vastness of the ocean always gave me a sense of being unchained – of freedom.

I turned around, leaned my back against the railing, uncurled the top of the bag, pinched off a tiny piece of fudge and let it melt in my mouth. I closed my eyes – a chill of pleasure ran up my spine.

Momentarily, I heard very loud flapping of wings adjacent to my left ear. In my peripheral vision I saw a large seagull. It landed in front of me on the walk and began begging. Do you find this odd? I found it to be extraordinary. Living on the coast, I had come in contact with seagulls my entire life. None had ever begged for food – certainly not candy. And, indeed, there was a gentleman across the way slugging down fried shrimp from an open aluminum vessel. Would it not be more appropriate for the glutinous larid to accost him?

Story Continues After Artwork
SurroundedLRG
Surrounded

The Wings, the Tails, the Beaks, and the Claws

It was then that the scene erupted into pure pandemonium. The errant seagull and I each stood our ground staring one another down – he bitterly squawking – attracting yet another winged reprobate who dove upon me from above. I felt my blouse ruffle as the new plumed monster alit by my feet. This miscreant, too, created a ruckus which caused dozens more of his friends to descend upon the now feather-filled planks. I held my ears tightly, trying to block out the enormous racket, however the salient fact that I was NOT feeding even one bird did not phase them. A new wave flanked me. Another, then another, and another, and yet even more gulls, occupied the enemy line. Gulls landed on the rail on either side of me, hovered around my head, preventing my advance to a neutral zone. Shortly, I was pinned to the metal tubes – surrounded by hundreds of the offenders – bobbing their grey feathered nobs up and down – eyeing my little white bag of sweets. I tried whispering the gulls to calm, but again my usual endowment failed me. These birds were uncaged, free to soar to heaven and return. Had I completely lost my ability, or was it something in the air, the water, or the sin of the city?

The pizza man and the mistress of the candy emporium exited their shops and waved to me – laughing in awe and amusement, as every other shopkeeper on the boulevard joined them, pointing and guffawing – making almost as much noise as the bellicose birds. Indeed, the patrons of these shops, as well as those persons just wandering by, stopped to gaggle at the sheer bedlam before them. It was obvious the bemused onlookers had no estimation of the danger I was in.

I began to break the sticky square up into bits. I thought I might throw it out at them and escape but, alas, there was not even a foot hold for an exit. Before me was an ocean of snake-like jutting necks, and blustering wings blocking my route. Before I could toss the tidbits and escape, I must clear a pathway through the field of combat.

I said a prayer, then I remembered the fortunate relic in my pocket – my handy good-luck charm. I drew out the retractable yo-yo. I had neglected to replace the string that morning – would it hold? I had to take a chance. I threw horizontally – a Boomerang. This startled the mob and they began a slight retreat. A thin line opened ahead of me. I threw again, and again –Boomerang after Boomerang arcing my front line on all sides — and commanded a buffer zone. I could see the battleground clearly now, boards scarred with droppings and quills, then a wide area yielded ahead of me. I surged forward, tossing the bits of candy with an eerie strength, scattering them to the right, the left, and the rear. Should I toss the paper sack as well? I had a pet peeve against littering, but at this juncture my very skin was at stake – the creatures would never let me rest if I retained the bag. As I reached a position of safety, I let the bag fly away.

I turned to see a logger-headed chick – its crown and upper torso caught inside the sack. The imbecile was unable to extricate himself, until a flock of his troops ripped the paper off searching for candy. The assembly of competing peckers divided into two campaigns – one clutch surrounding the failed chick, the other a raving muckle of contenders vying for the few remaining motes of chocolate which had not yet fallen through the cracks. But I was no longer their prisoner – my part in the hostilities had ended.

Obsessive Ajay Comes to the Rescue – Too Late

Dizzy, I staggered leeward toward the multitude. They cheered. The pizza guy and the candy maven gave me the thumbs up. No one had ever seen the like. After many pats on the back, I was offered a wine spritzer to calm my soul.

Then quite suddenly a man, tormented, dressed in worn silver striped pajamas and torn terrycloth slippers charged into the fray. He smelled of stale beer, and corn chips. The crowd gasped. They knew him. Ajay, a local obsessed with seagull dangers (as well as many other vexations, like doorknobs) had for years spent his evenings as town crier, alerting the nightly after-dinner denizens of the safety, or lack thereof, of their constitutionals.

Hollering at the top of his lungs and pulling out his hair, Ajay raced toward ground zero. He reached behind his back and retrieved his weapon – a fiberglass sling-shot and a sack of pointed snail shells he had slung over his shoulder. His crusade – to rid the grownup playland of these hellish beasts – had reached a breaking point. Pelting the fishy birds with the sharp seashells enraged them. The muster of airmen turned, and attacked en masse. Utter chaos ensued. Ajay was driven down to the timbers. He rolled around, arms flailing, desperately trying to protect himself. His thigh caught hard on an old rusty nail. Blood spurted out. The jagged metal had rent an artery. Large splinters of wood bit at his scalp and ears. Enormous beaks shredded his thin nightclothes, and slashed his age-speckled skin. The merciless, bitter gulls clawed at his eyes, and plucked his tongue for unswallowed morsels. It was a madhouse.

Pizza man tore into the theater swinging his large bamboo rolling pin, followed by the saloon crew baring bats and seltzer bottles. A barrage of peanuts and aluminum pull-tops clipped the enemy’s eyes. One second baseman for the 17th Precinct hit a home run – the bird flew past the railing, sailing over the sand, and landed just beyond the toes of the sun-bathing man in the blush bikini. He did not even stir.

And then it was over.

The birds, weary with defeat and broken plumage, half flew and half bounced away. The candy maven, a nurse in a previous life, gathered shreds of silver cotton and tied off Ajay’s gusher. She listened to his breath, and checked his pulse, then began CPR.

When the ambulance arrived, the EMTs pulled out their portable defibrillator unit and shocked the hell out of Ajay. His chest hairs singed, and his nearly naked body soaked with blood, they lifted him onto a stretcher. Then the head tech guy called it – 3:05 PM.

The bar owner, closed Ajay’s eyelids. The infamous protector of the boardwalk was carted away, put into the waiting ambulance, and driven to the morgue.

I followed the crowd into the pub and spent my last hours in Atlantic City getting to know the local warriors who had tried to save Ajay; wishing I could wash their tears away as, guilt-ridden, they rehashed their efforts; toasting the torn dead hero; and hearing countless chronicles of his escapades.

The Survivor

As I stepped down off the tour bus onto my Brooklyn street, the cloud filtered light of a monolithic strawberry full moon illuminated my blank face to a rosy glow. I felt stunned by the day’s events, but I, at least, had managed to survive.

My mutt – a mix of Shepherd and Puli was skipping toward my apartment door. I could hear her toe nails – long overdue for a trim – tapping out her joy on my parquet floor. I pulled the house key out of my right front jean pocket and unlocked the steel door. My puppy did a dance, circling around, then jumping up on me, then circling around again. She let out a long, whiney, barking sort of yawn. I petted her soft head, and as she rolled over to give me her belly, three out of four of my cats were finally able to approach. They each rubbed their ribs against my legs, purring. The fourth was waiting by the food dish. My whispering talents were intact – at least for felines and canines, and who knows, without my gift I might be a goner like Ajay.

I filled all the bowls with kibbles or water, and took the leash off its hook. My pup jumped up – all the quicker to clip her collar. We walked out into the starless night, the moon’s rays obscuring them. The little stainless bone with my mutt’s name engraved on it sparkled in the moonlight. I heard the muted caws of gulls, and was relieved it was three long blocks to the Brighten Beach boardwalk. We traveled in the opposing direction.

 

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