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The Column

When Pigeons Fly
8/11/02

Pigeons have become my enemy. I don’t think they know this yet, so I at least still have the element of surprise.

I used to like pigeons. When I was a kid, I would love to see the old crazy ladies feed them in the park. I don’t know for sure if the ladies were crazy, though I’m sure they were old. Perhaps they were just lonely and kindhearted, like the woman in “Home Alone 2.” But more than likely, anyone who sits in a park all day crumbling three loaves of bread for flying rats while the birds soil the bench around her could use a few lessons in “society.”

So how did my love affair with pigeons devolve into hatred? Actually, having a love affair with a pigeon would be much crazier than being that woman in the park. Maybe that’s why she was luring so many pigeons to sit next to her. “Hey baby, there’s more bread where that came from.” Okay, now even I’ve lost me.

I started hating pigeons my junior year of college. (My second junior year, for those keeping score). I had to walk through the northeast corner of Amsterdam and 110th street on my way to class. I’m not sure if you are familiar with that corner of New York, but it has two things on it: bread and pigeons. Well, three things, because after the pigeons finish the bread, they’ve got to put it somewhere.

So as I trudged around pigeons and bread and pigeoned-bread, I was careful never to step in, or on, anything I shouldn’t. But this process took two full minutes out of my day, every day. It is not easy to walk through a group of 100 pigeons without causing any damage to them or your shoes.

Each day, I got more and more annoyed at the birds. My anger was probably misdirected, since someone must have put the bread there. But never being witness to this pigeon-lover, I had no choice but to channel my anger towards the 20th century’s answer to the third plague. Vermin, not frogs - that was the second plague, and they can be kind of cute if they’re small enough.

However, I moved soon after, and thus spent about a year with little pigeon contact. I was able to slowly forgive them, after lots of therapy and intermittent episodes of Sally Jessie Rafael. Until now.

My intent was simply to sit in Boston Common and write a column. I figured that it was a beautiful day - sunny, 72 degrees, and I had little to no responsibility, other than 800 words about whatever I chose. So I began to write, but I couldn’t get past the first line. The pigeons wouldn’t let me.

Realistically, they probably didn’t know what line I was on. Most pigeons can’t read. But it didn’t even matter to them. Selfish jerks.

I didn’t notice the birds at first. They were huddled quiet in a corner, preparing for the attack. And suddenly, the woosh of wings was all around me. Controlled by a six-year-old general barking orders from the rear, an army of pigeons scattered through the park. One narrowly missed my head. Another almost clipped my shoulder. A third looked at me funny as he whizzed by. It was bedlam.

I wondered how they mobilized so quickly. And if they ever sent carrier squirrels to relay their messages.

To avoid further confrontation (war just leads to more war), I calmly packed up my stuff and retreated to another part of the park. I found a neat little electrical shed as a backrest, and I began writing again. Until I heard the shrill shrieks of their captain, and saw the second wave.

This one was more massive than the first. More than 200 pigeons flew everywhere, narrowly missing people wherever they went. I thought of that picture of Fabio from a few years ago when he got whacked in the face by a bird as he was riding a roller coaster. After laughing for a few seconds, I thought of how horrible it would be to talk like Fabio. And to get whacked in the face with a bird. So I did the only thing I could - I put my hands over my head and ducked until it was all over. And I don’t know how or why, but thankfully, I was spared.

Perhaps I should be kinder towards the pigeons, since they were probably just following orders. But until I know for sure, they are my sworn enemy, and I will do all I can to protect myself from their ungodly reign of terror.

And their poop.

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