Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Here, pigeon pigeon pigeon

(props to Jen B. for reminding me of this story)

I didn’t always hate pigeons. Like most people, I pretty much paid no attention to them. As a young child, I think I even may have liked them. I remember in 2nd grade for Show-And-Tell, my friend Danny T. brought in a stalactite he had found under the Lincoln Park bridge. Mrs. LoCicero looked a little heartbroken when she had to inform him that his geological treasure was really just a collection of pigeon poo. I told him I still thought it was neat.

So you see, I didn’t always want to drop-kick pigeons. For me, the turning point was when I moved to Paris for a year during college. Like any big city, Paris is home to a lot of pigeons. In fact, by my rough estimations, I would say there are approximately 14,259 pigeons for every human being living in the city. And while I haven’t spent a lot of time with, say, New York pigeons, or even Chicago pigeons, I would venture to guess that Parisian pigeons have the most annoying and aggressive attitudes in the world.

Almost every flat building surface in the entire city of Paris is covered with row upon row of 4-inch spikes to keep the pigeons from landing. And any surface that isn’t protected is covered with about 4 inches of pigeon crap. So I guess all the constant circling around in search of somewhere to land has made them particularly irritable.

Most birds are somewhat afraid of humans, except in big cities where for some reason, tourists think it’s really neat-o keen to feed the birds and have their pictures taken covered with diseased plague carriers. Thanks. Thanks for taming our vermin. And we wonder why the French hate Americans.

I was able to tolerate all of this, until about my sixth month in Paris. After a particularly long and stressful class on La Literature Francaise, I stopped into a bakery to pick up my favorite lunch of a camembert sandwich and some Orangina. I scoped out a spot that seemed free of fowl, sat down and started to unwrap my sandwich. The moment I took that first huge bite of soft cheese and crusty bread, it arrived: the ugliest f**ckin’ pigeon I had ever seen in my entire life.

For starters, it only had one eye. It had remnants of a second eye, kind of like a water mark. When it turned its head a certain way, you could see where the eye might have been. Then this pigeon probably had, at best, a dozen feathers left on its body. I can only assume that it was plucking them out in a vain attempt to disguise itself as a rat. Finally, I noticed that it was kind of hobbling toward me, not the confident stride of most Parisian pigeons. When I got the courage to look down, I realized that it had a club foot. No lie, my friends. This bird’s left foot looked remarkably like a stick shift.

Within seconds, I felt my throat closing around the partially chewed piece of sandwich. The muscles clamped shut and I just couldn’t swallow it. That bird knew exactly what he was doing - he was a pro. His own hideousness was his ticket to unlimited food. I coughed out my bite of sandwich, tossed the rest of my lunch at his one good foot, and knew I had been beaten by the best.