I came to the big apple with a plan, and a man. The plan was solid; the man, not so much. His sister warned me he couldn’t handle freedom. Without someone to constantly rein him in, he would self-destruct. She said it just seemed to be the way he was wired. Stan’s phobias and insecurities would kick in and he’d sabotage just about everything good he had going in his life.
But I was headstrong and just self-centered enough to think I would be enough of a tether for him. The world was ours, was how I saw it. Well, now apparently it’s just mine. I was a college man and I saw life like a tiger, ready to grab by the neck whatever I was after and shake it until it saw things my way. And I wanted to act; I can sing and dance, whatever the script calls for. And then, when Stan and I met, we were like a couple of puzzle pieces that fit with a click. He needed a tiger and that was me; I needed sweet understanding, and that was him.
Stan said he’d support me and my dream and go with me to NYC to see my name (Richard, by the way) in lights. I promised in return to help him find his strength and achieve his dream, whatever it may be, and nurture his spirit along the way. Yes, pretty vague; I see that now.
So, this is my new reality. My man Stan wasn’t a stand-by-you kind of man. I should have listened instead of thinking I could just grab him by the neck and make him mine. I’m not worried though; I’ll be sober tomorrow and I’m sure I can figure something out.
* * *
Here I am again, having downed two Hangover Helpers. I can hardly blame me. I can deal with this new turn of events, and will, but why couldn’t Stan stand down before we signed the fucking lease? I could go after him for his half of the rent, he did sign, but he’s so pathetic. I mean he was crying as he packed, and even though I’d seen him sob at the drop of a hat pin (his words), he knew that always got to me. He was a crier, and I accepted that going into this arrangement, but I enjoy making the sad happy again. There’s a kind of magic to having the gift of turning tears to laughter. It's a challenge I enjoy. Stan was a soggy putz but I loved him in a “he needs me” surface kind of way. I see that now, too. So, maybe things do happen for a reason, but this timing is monumentally bad.
I have this place for one month before I’ll have to cough up the full rent on my own. I have some savings but not a ton, and I was hoping not to touch it. So, here’s a new challenge, certainly not one I’d choose but it’s here nonetheless. Okay, classifieds, my eyes are seeing steady images again, and only one of you, so let’s take a look and see if you’ve got anything for me.
* * *
I decided to take a walk around the block to clear my head. Man, it’s cold! Why is it I never remember to take any tissue with me when I go out in winter? Within minutes I become a runny faucet and never think to prepare for the inevitable. And I hate using my sleeve in public; I feel like a bum. Where’s your dignity, brother? Well, maybe I should turn my attention to more important matters like coming up with a new plan. I came to NYC to audition for any and every door I could jam a foot into. Now, I’m down support in two major areas.
It'd be easier to hate Stan, but he even took that option away. I found an envelope under my pillow when I decided to take a pity nap. It was from Stan and had next month’s rent in it, and a note telling me it was all he had but hoped it would see me through until I could get things going. I almost lost it right there, but held it together. Now, here I am, walking around in the cold and can barely see through the mess that is my face, and without a tissue to my name. Well, I have an audition for a commercial tomorrow. I’d better head back while I can still see my way.
Oh shit, I forgot! I left the window open! While I was reading the classifieds, I left a bagel in the toaster too long and by the time I noticed, it was nothing but smoke and char. I was afraid it’d set off the alarm and that’s all I’d need to cement my reputation in the building. Ah yes, he’s the one whose lover left, so he nearly burned the place down. Watch out for that one; not exactly stable. Oh, fuck it, I’d better run.
* * *
Whew, it’s cold in here. But at least the air’s mostly cleared; just a hint of burnt bagel still lingering.
What was that fluttering?
There it is again. It’s coming from the bedroom. Oh, Lord, please, I can’t take much more . . .
At that moment, I see this bird fly, dash really, right at me, then past me and make a beeline for the window I’d just closed.
Oh my God! I’ve killed it!
I inched over to what I see is a small pile of grey and blue feathers. I can sense some movement and hope it’s evidence of a heartbeat and not death throes.
I’m too stupid to consider West Nile or whatever plagues these things carry. I’m more rural in nature but this is all new to me. I’m just lost. I kneel next to the lump and inspect closer.
Do birds require CPR? I took a course once but that was for adults and children. I really want to make something go right on this god-forsaken shit storm of a day. I gingerly roll my victim onto his back. (I just imagined it was a "he." If I’m about to perform such an intimate procedure on something, to my mind it’s better if it’s “he.”) Then I put two fingers together on my right hand and tried performing tiny compressions on the bird’s chest.
Lo and behold, his orange eyes sprang open and the thing grabbed hold of my finger like it was a French fry. I reacted as anyone would. I screamed bloody murder and pulled my hand away with bird still attached. That was a quick recovery, I thought in my state of panic. And so now the idea of disease and death suddenly occurs to me. But just then, the bird dislodges from my middle finger and awkwardly flaps and flutters a short distance to the floor. He's breathing heavily and looks as indignant and disheveled as I feel, but at least he’s breathing.
I check my finger for damage. No blood. Wouldn’t want to give the thing a taste for it. I’ve seen Hitchcock’s films and have experienced quite enough horror for one day, thanks. I slink to the bathroom and wash thoroughly and throw on some rubbing alcohol for good measure.
After taking a minute to breathe and collect myself, I head back to the living room to check on my guest.
He looks a little better. He’s not standing upright but appears alert enough to be fluffing feathers back where they belong. He jerks his head around to give me a look and I prepare to run. I’d better explain something to him.
“Hey, now. I'm only trying to help. I mean you no harm.”
It may have just been me but I swear the thing cocked his head and was listening. Anyway, he didn’t look particularly concerned anymore and went back to getting his feathers in order. One wing looked a little funny. I’d never paid much mind to birds in general. Stan and I were both cat people and that had been part of the plan. Oh, forget that, will you? There’s a new plan that’s no plan and it begins with what am I going to do with this bird that I’m responsible for. He wouldn’t be hurt and squatting in my living room were it not for a hangover and a bagel.
Then my new friend reminded me of what birds are especially good at, and at a fairly impressive rate. Birds poop. A lot.
“All right,” I said, “I’ll give you that one. I deserve it. But hold the rest in until I can find a better situation for you. I’ll be right back. By the way, you’re a pigeon, right?”
I took the blank stare I received in return as a Yes, stupid.
I went into the kitchen and looked around. I found half a cardboard box in the pantry that had a few canned goods left in it. I removed the cans and took the box out. Then I lined it with a couple dish towels and arranged a makeshift bed/potty box I thought would suffice for the bird’s recovery, and hopefully save my furnishings as an added bonus.
The patient was in the same spot I’d left him; both a good and bad sign. I wonder if there are pigeon veterinarians. Well, let’s get our friend settled and I’ll do a little research.
This time I had the presence of mind to retrieve the gloves I’d worn during my walk and donned those before gathering the patient, surprisingly docile this go-round, and depositing him in his new quarters. I tried not to gag when I saw the present he’d left me. Well, so I had more messes to clean up; what else is new.
All right, let the healing begin. Time to get out the disinfectant and put rug cleaner on the shopping list.
* * *
After spot-cleaning the rug and further situating the bird box on the welcome mat I’d swiped from the front door entrance, I shredded some paper, including the classifieds that hadn’t done me much good earlier, and tried making the pigeon more comfortable.
“You know, I can’t keep thinking of you as ‘the bird’ or ‘the pigeon.’ You need a name. Let’s see. Oh, let me get you some water while I’m thinking.”
More blank staring but at least his eyes were focused and I noted there was no apparent injury to his beak.
“What do you guys eat anyway? Besides fingers.” I called back as I entered the kitchen.
I found a small bowl and opened a water bottle. My guest deserved better than tap. I was feeling better, calmer, and set about looking for what a pigeon might eat. I settled on a buffet of taste testers. On a paper plate, I laid small piles of whatever I had available: popcorn, oatmeal, peanuts, chopped apple, lettuce bits.
I brought the sampler into the living room. Still hasn’t moved.
“Okay, let’s give this a go.”
I placed the dishes within the bird’s reach. He startled for a moment and pecked at my hand, only giving it a little nip this time. I tried calming him with some reassuring sounds I’d used on my nephew when he was a baby. I laid on the floor nearby so that I wasn’t towering over him and watched to see what he might do.
I was fascinated by the jerky head movements of my guest as he tilted every which way to inspect his options. I rejoiced inwardly when he finally dipped his beak in the bowl and leaned back to allow the water to run down his throat. I felt elated.
“Nice job! Good bird.”
I had a thought. I inspected my finger where he’d left a tiny indent.
“How about Midas, since you can’t seem to keep your beak off my fingers?”
Everything changed in that moment when my new friend managed a cooing sound from deep in his gullet. I was hooked.
* * *
Midas gradually improved. One of his wings had been slightly damaged, not broken, thankfully, so I called a local animal hospital. They advised me to keep the bird in a dark place so he wouldn’t attempt to fly and damage it further. It would most likely heal on its own over time. Nature has a way.
So, that’s what I did. While Midas convalesced in my closet, I attended auditions and ran errands. I spent most of my spare time tending to my feathered charge. I learned as much as I could about the way of pigeons and had a newfound respect for the species. They were favored wartime messengers due to their ability to find their way home, even blindfolded. They suffered an undeserved reputation for being disease-ridden pests. This was patently untrue. They were as capable as any other bird of contracting disease but it was a rare occurrence that they would spread them to any other living organism. I became expert on the subject.
I also discovered something about myself; I enjoyed caregiving. I kept Midas' box clean and soon invested in a more spacious habitat for my friend to feel secure and comfortable as he healed. I certainly didn’t mind dipping into my savings for healthy grains and other vitals so that Midas would have the best chance of regaining his strength. I kept an eye on him and minimized any loud noises or activity that might make him anxious or frightened.
As he got healthier, I heard him cooing more and have to admit I loved the sound. When I’d appear after spending time auditioning or networking, his eyes beamed brightly at the sight of me and he bobbed and clamored for attention, cooing nonstop. I was charmed beyond measure.
I called my parents and asked for a loan, something I’d been loathe to do. I’d only spoken with them a handful of times since I’d moved and had yet to explain what happened with Stan. But now I filled them in, and then told how Midas had flown into my life. My parents surprised me with their understanding, followed by their generosity of what I assured them was a loan, not a gift. They countered with, consider it part of your Christmas.
I hadn’t realized Christmas was just around the corner. We discussed getting together as soon as we could; my family lived in the Midwest and, of course, I was now a New Yorker. That was a good call.
* * *
Midas was spending more time out of his cage. His wing had healed and he followed me around like a bobble-headed pup, noisy and curious. We were to the point where Midas would eat from my hand and sit with me on the couch while letting me stroke his head and ruffle his neck feathers. My favorite times were sharing a bowl of popcorn and watching old movies. Midas had become the perfect companion; and that concerned me.
There came a time, and I’d been avoiding it, that I had to set my desires aside and consider what was best for my feathered friend. I couldn’t remember what life had been like before Midas, but was this really best for him?
New Year’s Day was nearing. I purposely made no plans. I’d determined it was time to let my friend decide what he wanted. I’d read that pigeons actually made lovely pets, but Midas hadn’t started out that way. I wanted him to have the life he was best suited for, now that he’d experienced both.
I put it off for as long as I could. On New Year’s Eve, I took Midas to the same window he’d flown in those many months before.
“Midas, it’s your time now. You’re all healed and ready to have your life back. I’ll . . .”
That’s as far as I could get before choking. Midas was perched on my hand, bobbing and tilting, his orange eyes flashing. I couldn’t take it anymore so I set Midas on a chair-back and opened the window, securing it.
“It’s up to you now.”
Midas strained his neck peering out the window. He was obviously enticed by the sounds of the street. My heart sank a little when I sensed his excitement, but I willed myself to hang back.
Then he decided, and was gone in a bright flash of grey and blue.
I ran to the window and looked for him. There was a flock of pigeons below that were pecking their way around. I looked to see if Midas was among them, but no matter how many times I wiped my eyes, I couldn’t see through my tears.
I closed the window but couldn’t bring myself to lock it.
* * *
I had a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator and went to retrieve it with more consolation than celebration in mind. Sometimes doing the right thing carries a heavy price tag and I was hurting. I took my time and poured a drink into a juice glass. A flute just didn’t seem appropriate for the occasion, any more than confetti or noise-makers would. I sipped and slipped into a cloud of sadness and the heavy recognition that something special that I had considered mine had never really been.
I sat on the couch and prepared to let my feelings just carry me and run their course for the evening. My little friend was well worth whatever devastation I was left with. I knew I’d gained much more than that anyway. I just needed to find my way back to it. Time . . .
What was that?
Tapping? No, it couldn’t . . .
I turned to look and almost jumped up but forced myself to slowly settle my glass on the coffee table. Then I deliberately crossed the room to the window where a pigeon, faced sideways, pressed up against the glass. I really had to control the laugh that wanted to erupt at the silly, beautiful sight.
I gently lifted the window and Midas plopped himself down onto the rug, waddled and jutted himself over to the couch, crouched down low and then jetted himself up and onto a cushion. I watched this and knew it for the gift that it was.
* * *
Following that day, Midas had the run of the city, and me. When weather permitted, I kept the window ajar for him to come and go as he pleased. In colder weather, I’d await the tap-tap that signaled Midas' desire to arrive or depart. He had the best of both worlds, as did I.
But that first New Year’s that I rang in with my friend will always remain with me. When midnight came around, I was still ruffling and petting his neck when he climbed up my shirt and nuzzled my neck, pecking gently at my ear. A pigeon’s kiss.
Happy New Year indeed.