Target Practice with the Local Pigeon Population Fouls California’s Superb Animal Kindness Record
ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
on neighborhood watch
On a walk through my neighborhood, I came upon a man standing on the sidewalk and aiming a Daisy Model 25 BB gun into the leaves of a tree. He pumped the gun, pulled off a soundless shot, and pumped it again. I noticed a silver cane leaning against the trunk.
“A little target practice?” I asked him. Within the tree, behind its green leaves, shadows fluttered
He lowered the gun. “Trying to nail those pigeons up there,” he said. He rubbed a hand over his graying crew cut hair. On his arm was a dark tattoo of an eagle carrying a mermaid in its talons. In the mermaid’s clamped teeth was the tail of a snake. In the snake’s fangs was the swallowed genitalia of a sailor, as the sailor flailed his arms helplessly in the air. He was giving the mermaid the most bewildered look.
“They huddle up on the ledge of my garage,” the old man said. “They seem to think it’s like gripping the edge of a sea cliff. When I shoot at them, they flock in the tree for cover.”
I asked his name. He said it was Wilson. I introduced myself.
“Get any yet?” I asked.
“Damn things. Not yet.”
“Don’t be hard on yourself. I’m sure it’s not your aim,” I told him. “They’ll dodge pellets. I’ve seen pigeons do that. Just like a jack rabbit will leap forward as soon as it hears the crack of a .22. He’ll pop up lightning fast. I’ve seen my uncle square up a dozen times trying to shoot one on the farm. But that’s back in North Dakota. The Indians are much better shots. They know how to aim ahead of the rabbit. Or maybe they anticipate the next moment better than we do.”
“There aren’t any Indians left,” Wilson told me.
“Maybe not in your reality,” I said. “But in North Dakota, there are wandering bands of peoples who held onto their ancestors’ indigenous lifestyles. When they aim at an animal, they drop into the lower vibrations of that animal, like a rabbit, or a deer, for one moment. They ask the animal through spiritual channels if it’s permissible to take its life. Killing is an act of thanksgiving and worship. It’s for sustenance. Nothing is wasted. Even the animal submits.”
Wilson concentrated on the tree. He seemed to be getting into the fragmented mindset of the city pigeon.
What does it all mean?
Seeing a man quietly grinding his teeth while chipping away at the local bird population in Los Angeles raises a conundrum, since California is known as the most animal-friendly state in America. Most people uphold the same values in LA. There are even free classes for the 254,000 homeless men, women, and children in LA County on how to properly care for “urban wildlife” they might encounter in the nooks and crannies of Los Angeles.
So friendly, so concerned over animals is LA, that its fire department once redeemed its disgraced reputation by responding three seconds faster than the national average to save a pigeon impaled anally on an anti-bird spike. That was a big headline that went mostly unnoticed. Those were three crucial seconds, after all, since the LAFD was known to be a few seconds behind the national average response time when it came to calls for ailing humans.
Then there was the media hype in 2011 about the flocks of dead birds falling from skies throughout the world. Experts were baffled. The phenomenon hit its crescendo when 317 dead pigeons rained onto Sunset Boulevard, in Larry King Square. Los Angeles and the world was shocked by the images broadcast that day of homeless men scooping up the pigeon carcasses like suburbanites would snatch up butterball turkeys from the freeway after a Jennie-O big rig crash.
The homeless men cleaned the birds with rusty jack knives right on the street and cooked the meat on a hot dog vendor’s grill.
Many said, How dare people mutilate animals like that in public. And right outside of the CNN building. Californians are better than that. Others said, Only on Larry King Square would we see something like this.
Onan was no friend of mine
Wilson let more BBs fly into the leaves as I explained this tortured animal-conscious modern day history of LA. His face was red and he let out a few choice words. I stood just behind him to get the same view he had. I couldn’t see the birds. I put my head next to his. I squinted and looked past the gun’s sight.
“What kind of tree is that?” I asked into Wilson’s ear.
He jumped, not realizing I’d moved. “Callery pear,” he finally answered.
“How can you tell?” I asked.
He turned to me. One of his eyes was bloodshot. “When it blossoms it smells like jizz,” he said.
I took a deep breath. “I smell it,” I said. “Oh Lord, I smell it. Almost viscous, it’s so strong.”
“It don’t smell like that now,” he said. “It ain’t blossoming yet. When it does, it’ll have pretty white flowers and you’ll be slammed with the scent of freshly spilled semen. Whatever you’re sniffing now, it’s in your own nostrils.”
Plop-egg Art (Milo Moire would be covetous)
“You’d better get a shotgun,” I said, “otherwise we’ll be here all day hunting these birds.”
“We?” he asked. He sent a couple more shots into the tree, but nothing was jarred loose. “A damn shotgun would turn this tree to salad, you twit. And the LAPD doesn’t really care for shotgun blasts in this neighborhood.”
“You’re shredding it one leaf at a time anyway,” I said. “And don’t underestimate the respect the LAPD has for sheer force. Why are you trying to shoot the pigeons, anyway?”
“This is my driveway. That’s why. See all the glop on the cement?”
I did. White and black splotches exploded on the pavement like an artist had recreated the craters of the moon on Wilson’s driveway.
“It’s jazzy,” I told him. “In a postmodern art kind of way. Adds a local flavor, a real balance to time and place, and the loosey-goosey quality captures that slow-motion confrontation where urbanization undermines the natural order of things, yet nature poops and piddles the glamour right out of what we call personal property.”
I paused. “So you’re going to shoot them for that? Because the bird kingdom hasn’t advanced yet to running water and functioning sewage systems? Because they live like Europeans did 500 years ago?”
“No,” Wilson said. “Because this is where I park my car, and they sit on that ledge and shit the hell all over it. Every morning. Every night.”
I saw a gray two-door Jaguar sparkling in the sun. Wilson’s? “Why not keep it on the street?”
“I don’t have a driveway for a piddle playground.”
“And if you have it your way, the pigeons won’t have a playground on which to piddle.”
Winged Rats & Soy Pigeon (We’re all fighting for bread crumbs…)
I said goodbye to Wilson.
“I can’t be a willing party to animal abuse. Here I thought you were trying to knock a pigeon out of that tree so you could eat it. I could justify that if the proper intention were made. Especially considering the long-term dead end economic activity of Los Angeles, and California in general. Food is food, after all. Even the prostitutes are out of work. People are stretched out on the pavement outside of restaurants, starving, while loads of wasted food is dumped in the trash. It’s time we find our own means of survival.”
“Eat a street pigeon?” he said. “What’s wrong with you? You want to eat a rat with wings?” He grabbed his cane with two fingers and leaned on it.
“With all due respect,” I said, “my great-grandmother ate many things she probably shouldn’t have during the Dust Bowl in the Midwest. If a rat with wings fell into her lap, she would have basted it and roasted it and told the kids it was gourmet chicken and they’d have fought over the tiny drumsticks. As for me, I don’t eat meat.”
Wilson rolled his eyes.
“But I have tried soy pigeon. You know, soy-protein manufactured to taste and resemble pigeon meat. I hated it though. Too tough. Greasy. Stringy texture,” I said.
“Sounds like they did a good job capturing the true essence of the thing.”
Nothing going on here, officer…
Wilson tossed the BB gun onto the grass beneath the tree. I heard the crunching of tires rolling over the dirty, cracked city street. A police cruiser, drifting by. We stood straight. Both of us turned toward the street, with our shoulders nearly touching.
I surreptitiously nodded my head in Wilson’s direction, as if to say, “Here’s your man. I’ll help you take him down if you need me.” I was sure someone had called the police on the old guy.
Wilson lifted a hand. He smiled at the officer. The officer returned the wave and kept driving down the street until he turned and disappeared.
“Was that an old butt buddy of yours, or what?” I asked him.
Wilson bent over to grab the gun. His knees wobbled and I thought he was going to take a dive. “Butt buddy,” he said with a snort.
“What happens when you hit one?” I asked him, and pointed at the tree. “You’ll follow LA protocol, I assume, for animal homicide?”
“That means throwing it in the dumpster?”
“I thought you were going to get nailed there. You didn’t notice, but I gave the officer a signal to keep driving. He knows me. I’m the neighborhood watchman around here. I’ll be keeping an eye on you. I could have had you arrested, but I didn’t. I like you. And your tattoo. You remind me of the rural people I grew up with.”
“You gotta badge?” he asked. He raised his cane and pointed it at me.
“I’m not a sworn officer,” I said. “I’m only a volunteer. But there are stiff penalties for roughing up a neighborhood watchman.”
Wilson waved me off and walked into his home. He shut the door behind him.
I was on my way to the grocery store, so I left. On my way back, the sun was nearly down. Wilson was not outside. I could see the flicker of a TV from behind the living room curtains. I opened one grocery bag, pulled out the marked down loaf of expired bread I’d bought, and tore hunks from it and tossed them onto the ledge of his garage.
Wings fluttered in the hazy evening.