That particular Tuesday morning started like any other. We got up, went to the farmers market and purchased a sweet treat at our favorite Lincoln Square bakery, Café Selmarie. The similarities ended when a nice elderly woman asked which one of the kids playing in the Square was mine. I looked up gazed over the grounds and then pointed to the girl in the pink skirt running at me with a pigeon in her hand.
I stared in awe. Quite frankly, even when I’m completely convinced I’ll never be shocked by Lucy’s antics; there she is holding a flailing, terrified pigeon by its wing. I watch this situation unfold like some morbid slow-motion war scene. Women were grabbing their children and diving into bushes. Nannies were left screaming alone in horror as their over painted faces left black tears falling from their eyes. Coffee cups and quiches were overturned as restaurant patrons ducked under their tables. I half expected Lucy to pull out a flamethrower and char every last one of us. I look back to the kind old lady; there was nothing left but a plume of smoke and a trailing scent of junipers as she darted to safety.
This was all my fault... I forget that 99% of the time my sarcastically clever and whimsically eye rolling remarks are lost on my impressionable little girls. However, there is that 1% that she does get, it's moments like this, that I'm really scared of. This is a tale of that 1%. A few weeks ago, on a day very much like the one mentioned above, Lucy picked up a feather...
“Daddy look! A feather!” Before I continue, I must first emphasize how much I hate pigeons. They are in fact the vile, evil, cooing disciples of Satan. They are the homeless Hobo’s of flight, the winged white trash, the blue feathered menace to society. I can go on and on about my distain for that foul flying rat with wings, and how they’ve tortured me, but we don’t have the time. Before I continue some more, I also want to say something to Billy Wayne James and his litter of denim-wearing, mullet- sporting, tobacco-spitting, shotgun-toting, banjo-plucking offspring before they pull up to my house demanding an apology to the “white trash” people I may have offended. This is not a personal insult, I’m not saying that I detest you, or am I insinuating that the so-called “white trash” folk are directly connected to Satan in any way, as a matter of fact, I’d go as far as saying I’m 1/8 white trash and I have no problem with you whatsoever... but that all changes the day one of you decides it would be funny to defecate on my head. I hate pigeons!
“Lucy, put that feather down!” Just looking at it made my skin crawl.
“Why?” She screamed, “It’s beautiful.”
“It’s not beautiful it’s disgusting and full of germs. If you don’t drop it we’re gonna have to go home and shave your head.” She drops it immediately.
“Where was that feather from?”
“It’s a pigeon feather. We don’t pick up pigeon feathers. They are very dirty and very disgusting. We just don’t... Ugh, we just don’t go picking up feathers.” I stopped the stroller and began to forage through the diaper bag for some of that hand sanitizer paranoid people such as myself always have on them.
“I can’t pick up any feathers?” Awe, she seemed genuinely sad at this thought.
“Ummm... fine you can pick up eagle feathers.” Ohhh yeah, that’s right an eagle: A majestic creature born to bear the weight of a nation on its wings. A flying symbol of freedom, a guardian of independence, a bird of strength beckoned to soar over the land, circle the heavens, and protect us from terrorists. Man, what I wouldn’t give to make a coat lined with the feathers of freedom. Oh I can just imagine the adventures Lucy and I would have hunting this peacefully iconic creature. We would steal a harpoon made from the hands of a great Cherokee Chief, and spear the bird mid-flight. Then we’d take him home and stuff him with two dollar bills, run some wire through a hole I drilled in its head, screw a light bulb into its skull and top it with an amazing hand painted red, white and blue lamp shade that we bought on sale at Walmart. Now that’s a bird, that’s America! A pigeon ain’t got nuttin on that!
“Where are the eagles?” Lucy said this to me in a tone that implied that I don’t know what in the hell I’m talkin’ about.
“Colorado.” I said this even before she can finish her question. The quicker you answer, the smarter you sound, especially to a 3 year old.
“Are we going to Colorado?”
“Hmmmm... Well then, what if we clean the pigeons, then they won’t be so dirty, then I can have a feather. Okay?” I like that she’s trying, she’s so naïve. She thinks that all you have to do is clean something as foul as a pigeon and viola, it’s suddenly acceptable. Well, that might have worked for Patrick Dempsey in the 1987 hit comedy Can’t Buy Me Love, but I have yet to find a pigeon that has anything on McDreamy. I’ll humor her anyway.
“Well Lucy, where are we gonna wash them?”
“In the tub. I’ll hold them by their wings, and you could wash them with soap.”
“Them? How many is ‘them?’” I looked down at her. She makes me smile. We are having this conversation, as absurd as it might be. She’s answering my questions, she’s thinking about her words, her next step. She really wants to clean the pigeons… it’s fascinating.
“I guess we can start with six.”
“Fine, how are you gonna catch them?” This stumps her; we walk the last block in silence.
I unloaded the fruit from the market onto the porch, as I go to unbuckle Ruby from the stroller Lucy yelled out, “With a net! I can catch them with a net! Daddy I can catch the pigeons with a net.” She’s so excited about this answer and in an odd way I’m proud of her determination. But alas, I’m the voice of reason and it is my duty to distribute the reality checks…. “You don’t have a net.”
“Oh.” She replied with her head drooped down. She was devastated; I thought this was the end. It took her a whole block to think of a net, and I took 2 seconds to crush her dreams of a pigeon spa. I almost felt bad for her.
“Will you buy me a net?” She knew what my answer was gonna be, how could she not? She’s out of ideas and this pigeon nonsense was finally coming to an end. I went for the kill.
“No.” It was done, I had broken her, and she was down for the count. The dirty birds would remain dirty. I would now focus my energy on a family trip to Colorado. Then just before the count reached 10 she was back on her feet and she was throwing her final punch. She said it like she knew I wouldn’t take her serious. Her exact words were, “If you won’t buy me a net, I’ll have to catch one with my own hands.” I scoffed at the audacity, so much so, I said, “Fine. I dare you to catch one with your bare hands. You won’t come close, they’re too elusive (I don’t define this for her, and she doesn’t care). You can try, but it won’t happen. It won’t happen….
Of course, we now know that it does happen. I don’t know how she did it, she said, she just went over and picked him up… I doubt it. I’m sure it involved some sort of ritualistic dance, a voodoo curse and witches potion. Or perhaps, this was a calculated mission strung together over the course of 3 weeks. She plotted, spotted and looked for the weakest one. She got closer and closer each week until finally she struck. Like a lion preying on the injured wildebeest, Lucy captured her victim… effectively calling me out.
“Daddy, look what I got? You said I…” She didn’t even finish her thought when this pigeon, her beautifully feathered hostage unloaded what appeared to be a weeks’ worth of black and white all over her pretty red Crocs. Her jaw dropped and she stood there silently screaming for the next couple seconds. Lucy released the bird and it hobbled toward a bench. The crowd that had dispersed so quickly was now slowly returning to the Square. I grabbed the sanitizer and wiped her foot. The sounds of laughter and the clinking of silverware began to fill the air and for most of the people, the day resumed.
We walked home in silence. A silence that suggested that pigeons and their feathers would no longer be a topic of discussion, a silence that confirmed the filth and debauchery of the beast, a silence that upheld the notion that I was absolutely right. For now, at least in Lucy’s case, reality is no longer the prospect of bathing a pigeon; reality is in fact the bath she had to take after that very same pigeon crapped on her foot. I think that says a lot.