Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Death of a Bird Salesman

"There's a dead bird, daddy."

Well, that's a great fucking way to start the day, I thought.  If I smoked, I probably would have pulled out a cigarette, casually flicked open my lighter, shielded the tiny flame with my other hand, and lit the tobacco before calmly putting the lighter back into the pocket of my bathrobe, then taken a few pensive puffs before heading over to see what was going on.  But since I didn't smoke, and had never owned a bathrobe in my life, I had to feign the kind of nonchalance that smokers tend to exude.

It's hard to wake up when you know the rest of the world is still asleep.  It's soberingly lonely because for all intents and purposes, everyone else might as well be dead.  Next to sitting around a campfire, driving around on deserted city streets at three in the morning was, for me, the time for quiet contemplation and self-indulgent philosophizing.  It was like, being left alone with the world you finally felt you had the privacy so you could ask Her the really big questions.  Talk about your relationship.  Maybe think about seeing other people.

This wasn't one of those times.

My daughter was on the front lawn saying goodbye to her grandmother who had come to visit for the weekend.  And now, instead of metaphorical death, here I was confronted with the real thing.  A bad omen, I remember reading somewhere.  A dead bird.  Or a bird in the house.  A dead bird in the house?  Either way, the discovery of a decaying corpse on your front lawn, no matter its relative size, never really seems to sit well.

I dragged my ass to the front curb to take a look at the alleged deceased, and I had to calm myself.  One step at a time.  Slow.  Deliberate.  Play it cool.  Nothing to get worked up about.  It was just a dead bird.  It was just death.  Nothing major, you know.

I mentally took a few more deliberate puffs on my metaphysical cigarette.  I'd never really smoked before, except for a couple of cigars and, lately, a little weed.  But I wasn't a habitual, hardcore smoker with a two pack a day habit.  In fact, I can't recall ever even trying a cigarette.  To me, the whole proposition seemed immensely stupid.  I mean, you really have to be mentally retarded to do that to yourself, especially living in an age where decades of medical research had all but conclusively proved that the daily, habitual indulgence in cigarettes increased your chance of developing life-threatening and debilitating maladies up to and including cancer to a degree no sane, free-thinking individual would rationally accept.  Even the most hardened gambling addict would be loath to take those kind of odds.  And yet, the fact still remained that as retarded as it was, smoking cigarettes still looked fucking cool.      

While I could not fathom the mentality that drove people to chronic smoking (as opposed to smoking chronic), I could appreciate the the philosophical appeal.  Everything could be put on hold for a few seconds to inhale a few puffs of smoke.  The kind of zen that only a long-term, habitual smoker could ever probably fully understand, that sense that no matter how pressing or urgent a situation, there was always time to breathe.  Smokers could mentally put the world on hold, and somehow through the haze they saw a light that the rest of us missed that told them that for the short time they sucked on that little, white roll of burning floral matter, the universe would continue on, and wait for them to catch up.  Not too long, of course.  But whatever bullshit was waiting for them would still be there after the next puff, and in the grand scheme of things a few moments to steel their resolve against the next great barrage cost them little, and would most likely reap impressive dividends.

And then there it was.  A dead robin.  Just lying on my front lawn.  I don't know what it was about that bird just lying there, but all of the sudden, I felt something come over me.  In all the excitement of saying goodbye to granny, I managed to slip into the garage to grab a plastic Wal-Mart shopping bag.  With my wife keeping an eye on the kids, saving them from almost certain doom on the deathtrap of a street in front of our house I managed to abscond with the corpse without anyone noticing.  Normally, my first instinct would have been to toss it in the trash, but for some reason, when I went to toss away the lifeless body in the master garbage can in the garage, I hesitated.

I have no idea why.  I don't think I've ever been accused of being a sentimentalist when it came to animals.  I can't comprehend the strange emotional attachment that people seem to develop with animals.  The domestication of animals for the sole purpose of keeping them as pets to serve as some sort of emotional placeholder baffles me.  That's not say I don't appreciate the majesty of nature's creation, but to me actual interaction with animals should serve some kind of utilitarian purpose.  I can understand keeping animals if they are to be used to provide sustenance for me, or if they are to be used for transportation or trained to rip out an intruder's jugular should my house become besieged by hooligans or their ilk, but not for companionship.

But for some reason, standing there with the lid of the garbage can in one hand, and a dead bird in the other, staring into the stinking abyss of trash, I couldn't bring myself to just toss out his body like so many soiled diapers.  I remember a thought that I couldn't shake, that I couldn't push to the periphery of my consciousness, a thought that came to me unbidden with a startling clarity:

He deserves better than this.

I felt compelled.  I slowly closed the lid of the garbage can and set the plastic bag and its grim contents aside in a corner of the garage.  I waited until the next day when the kids were in bed and my wife was at work.  Then I went to the garage and retrieved the body and a trowel and went to the back corner of the garden in the back yard.

Underneath some bush I didn't know the name of, I dug a small hole, and solemnly laid the dead bird at the bottom of it.  I don't know what I was thinking.  I don't know if I felt some sort of connection to Mother Nature, and the communal, sacred spirit of All Life Everywhere.  I don't know if it was some sort of psychological transference where I saw the bird as an emotional surrogate for myself, or some part of myself.  I don't know  if it was supposed to be a symbolic gesture for god knows what.  I just know that I felt that the bird was dead, and even though it was just a bird, he still deserved to have his time here acknowledged somehow by somebody.  He was just out doing whatever shit it is that birds do, and wound up dead on my front lawn.  He was just out probably looking for something to eat, and then he was just... gone.  He just left for work one day and never showed up at home again.

I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything.  I just sat there for a couple moments on my knees, then I got back up and headed inside, hoping the neighbours didn't see me and start wondering what the fuck I was doing.  Before I went back inside, I turned and looked at the bush in the corner of the garden, where the dead bird was buried.

He was dead and I was still here.  I was still alive.  In my head I lit up another cigarette and took a long drag.  The rotation of the Earth seemed to slow to a crawl.  Then the moment was over, and I went back inside, back to my life.      


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