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Off the cuff: A bird in the face is worth my two cents

During a trip to Tampa taken earlier this year, which I mentioned in post way back when, I went with my sister and nephew to a mediocre, overpriced sea food restaurant called Whiskey Joe’s. The main reason my sister took us there was that is was a gorgeous day to be sitting on a deck by the water. We settled in for a fine time of shelling and eating roasted peanuts, watching the inner skins and outer shells get picked up by the breeze and carried across the deck.

But our table, near the corner of the building, was next to where some birds lived tucked in the rafters. These birds flitted and chattered at us. They kept flying near us. They obviously wanted what we had. So we moved to a table not tucked under the eaves. Over the deck, the management, or more accurately the workers, had crisscrossed fishing line to try to dissuade the bird life from swooping down onto the tables.

Soon after our relocation, I was holding up a french fry, pausing before putting it in my mouth. A brown bird, possibly a female Boat-tailed Grackle, swooped down, its claws dug into my shoulder, its wings flapped against my hat. A second time it flew and knocked against my hat. The third time was the (c)harm. Its wings battered against my face and its claws dug into my lips as it tried to filch the french fry that I was putting in my mouth.

My sister later swore that my brown hat was a challenge to that particular brown bird. And it is true that no other patron had a bird flapping in their face. The rest of the birds were more circumspect in their attempts to pilfer mediocre restaurant food.

After the scrap of claws against my lips, I went inside. I didn’t want to hurt the bird even though I really wanted to hurt the bird, if you know what I mean. Perhaps you would have been filled with wonder, but I found that when another animal threatens my physical safety in the process of trying to steal my food that I am filled with violent urges. I used to judge myself for feeling so violently. Now I accept that in response to physical harm I have powerful urges to strike back. I do not have to act on those urges, I now can hold those feelings without exploding.

I stood in the restaurant waiting for my sister and nephew to finish up and knew that without a doubt that I would write about that damn bird. And months ago, I wrote most, but not all, of what you read above. These words have been sitting in my draft folder waiting for me to come back to it.

The bird batting at my face in an unfriendly way makes me think of the friendly way my cat Richard, a big beast of 17 pounds, insinuates himself into the puppies’ feeding. Richard could care less about their dry food, but when I put wet food down, he slinks into the group. He watches and waits semi-patiently. He noses his face into the dish. If I push his head away, he sneaks a paw into the dish and oh so carefully picks up a chunk of “meat.” I’ll admit that sometimes I let him eat with the puppies, even though due to his propensity to “penis crystals” I really shouldn’t let him. There is something about this moment of detente around the food dish that I find pleasing. It is a warm fuzzy moment, in more than one sense. Kind of like the recent story of the dog wouldn’t let people rescue her until they also rescued the kitten she had found that is bouncing off the strings of the interweb. It also reminds me of the raccoon sneaking food out of the cat dish.

We have a tendency to see the world of “nature” and “animals” as all tooth and claw competition, like the bird’s claws sinking into my lower lip, or all warm fuzzy aww, like my cat Richard “sharing” the puppies’ food. We tend to believe that animals’ motivations are much simpler than our own. I suppose this makes us feel superior. I’d like to offer that the bird batting at my lip and the cat eating with the puppies were/are acting in complex ways. My cat makes the decision to tolerate the puppies, who can, without a doubt, be annoying as fuck in order to get some tasty to him grub. His decision is calculated. I might feel warm and fuzzy but that doesn’t mean he does. The bird flapping against my face raises my ire, but perhaps the bird seeing me as a challenge versus a mark is a compliment. I, not just my food, was worth that bird’s aggression. Most likely due to my brown hat, I was distinguished from all the other humans present. And while it was not a distinction to be devoutly wished for, it meant I was noticed in a way other human bodies weren’t. You might argue it is because the bird is stupid and cannot distinguish between a brown bird and a brown hat, but it seems to me that the bird has survived because it is attuned to very subtle shifts in another animal’s body.

I will never, if I can help it, eat at Whiskey Joe’s again. The food is poor and costs too much, and despite the fact that a bird in the face is worth my two cents, I do not wish to battle battering birds while I eat.

The bird, maybe

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