The Chemical and the Chemist

The Chemical gets a call from his wife, the Chemist.
How old were you when your grandmother spilled (what did she spill? Boiling water?) on your foot? 7 or 8?
Boiling oil. I was 12. 11 or 12. Although, maybe 10 or 11 come to think of it.
So just a year or two before she died?
The Chemist is researching family history. She knows more about the Chemical than the Chemical does. The Carboxyl family, the Hydroxyls, the rest.
So my brother was 8 or 9, he says.
And how old was he when he ate her thyroid pills?
Younger. 5?
And that was after the mental hospital?
I guess? I was a little kid.
So was her thyroid problem diagnosed after the mental hospital?
I don’t know.
Maybe the thing with Amino…
And Sulfhydryl…
Was enough stress to trigger a thyroid storm or some other crisis… and she was hospitalized and got the electroshocks… and eventually a thyroid diagnosis?
I don’t know the chronology. And anyone who knows is dead, except one or two who were directly involved in the whole scandal themselves so you can’t ask them, and their kids are all younger than I was so they probably don’t know either unless their parents told them later, which is entirely possible, everyone’s parents told them more than mine told me. Everything was a secret and now they’re dead.
Maybe ask Phosphate or Methyl, he says.
They finish their conversation and hang up.
The Chemical gazes out the window. It is a crisp fall day but warmish, the colors are bright (chlorophyll breaks down revealing yellows and oranges, any trapped sugars might turn into anthocyanins for the reds) and crows are arguing over the borders of their territories.
Mellow music is playing on his computer. The YouTube algorithm has decided to serve him mellow ambient music today, which irritatingly is just what he needs. He is wired, as if he had drunk a lot of coffee this morning, which he has but not that much, not any more than usual.
When he leaves the office in two hours he will walk to the subway, past various things including the attacking crow. He thought she had mellowed out, she stopped attacking him for a while, swooping only, but yesterday she whacked him in the head with her wing again.
Boiling fat, actually. His parents had a broiler pan in the oven, a flat pan to collect bacon drippings etc and when his grandmother forgot about it and it started to smoke, he drew her attention to it and stood there next to her and told her to use the oven mitts, so she wouldn’t burn herself. Careful, Grandma.
And she put on the mitts and took it by one end and as soon as it was free of the oven it tipped and emptied the boiling grease onto his right foot.
She felt terrible and he felt terrible that she felt terrible.
When he finished screaming every obscenity he knew, he tried to comfort her.
In the hospital where he got a skin graft he had rubber joke vomit and tricked a nurse with it, who then tricked another nurse with it.
Sometimes you’re awake and feel alive. Sometimes you’re tired and feel dead.
Anyone who thinks they understand this world raise your hand.

The attacking crow attacks, crow real estate part 2 or 3

One minds one’s business.
One walks down the street to catch a subway. But the crows, so one tosses them treats and they follow one to the very edges of their territory for more treats, and into (maybe they are new arrivals and don’t know, or just hungry now in the fall) the territory of the attacking crow.
Words are exchanged in crow, on this sunny fall evening. Like, “fuck you get the hell out,” and “fuck off.”
Then it quiets down and one thinks it is over until one receives a blow to the top of the head, and feels the claws of both feet of the attacking crow in one’s scalp.
This is an escalation, this attack. Previously there was a whack on the head from a wing tip, then there was a body slam to the back of the head.
This here, claws, feels like an escalation.
Who knows?
At least it’s not defecating.
It seems desperate, maybe it has a nest close, but it’s the wrong season for babies.
??
It sits there on a telephone wire, watching.
One throws it some treats.
It watches.
One throws it some more treats.
Some people walk past, pretending nothing unusual is happening.
One turns and takes a few steps in the direction of the subway station, then looks back and the crow is checking out the doggie treats.
Ok.
“Don’t reward the crow for attacking you,” one’s daughter texts.
“I’m trying to make friends,” one texts back, “but I see your point.”

Never leave without treats

The ceiling fan turned slowly, as if a small, discouraged helicopter had turned upside-down and began to poke through from the apartment upstairs, but then accepted its fate and given up. The private detective’s office smelled like cheap tobacco, medium-priced whisky and expensive divorces and the afternoon light slicing through the dusty, half-open Venetian blinds gave everything a slicy, dusty look.
“So how’d you describe dem?” said the PI.
I glanced up from my phone, which I had briefly switched on to see if its recent vibration had been from an important notification or something ignorable like “you have achieved your stair-climbing goal” (I had exceeded it) but then fallen down a rabbit hole of short videos of animals that were normally sworn enemies interacting cutely, like a puppy riding around on a goose or a cat with a mouse on its head.
“He was covered with iridescent black feathers and had a slender head,” I said. “So I’m not sure if it was a he or a she or a young he or what.”
“Iridescent.”
“Yeah! It turns out the iridescence might be a way they tell each other apart, like an additional feature they notice. Which makes me wonder if we have an invisible iridescence, invisible to us, but that they can notice, because how do they recognize me otherwise, no matter what I’m wearing, even a hat or sunglasses, or a raincoat or carrying an umbrella? Once I was standing in the middle of about 25 of them and pulled a feather out of my inside suit pocket and showed it to them. No idea what I had expected, but not what I got. They all, like, startled, and took a couple steps back, and a few left altogether. Despite the treats I was giving them.”
“Treats? You sure they like them?”
“Well another one today came over with 2 peanuts in its beak and when it saw the treats it discarded the peanuts and took the treats.”
“This the first time you got mugged?”
“I’m not sure that’s what it was. I mean, ok. It felt… as if someone had hit me in the back of the head with a medium bird. Feathery, initially, but an instant later quite substantial, and moving at a good clip. Not just a flyby and whack you in the head with a wingtip thing.”
“Not.”
“No. Cause that happened too, months ago. Same street corner, in fact. Same perp too, most likely. At the time it felt like a ‘hello!’ or something, to get my attention, but now I’m not so sure.”
“Slender, iridescent etc etc,” said the PI.
“Yeah. I mean, he might’ve figured I was affiliated with the others invading his territory.”
“Mob thing?”
“For all I know I *was* affiliated with them. They did follow me around. Into his territory. I have no knowledge of corvid real estate law.”
“Yeah, makes sense, I see what you mean,” said the PI, and leaned back and put his feet on his desk. He put his hands, which I noticed were oddly-shaped, behind his head.
The back of my neck crawled. I felt a hunch coming on. Then a shoe fell off and a bird head stuck out of his pant leg and I was sure.
This was no human private eye, it was a bunch of crows in a “sexy private eye” costume you can order on the Internet.
My eyes scanned the room for a route of escape. I couldn’t egress via the fire escape, there would just be more out there.
I had to leave the way I had come, through the front door.
“So these treats,” the PI said.
I reached into the pocket of my overcoat and removed a handful. “These here,” I said.
The PI’s countenance took on a greedy aspect. I threw the treats to the floor and they rolled into a far corner of the room. Everything that happened after that is blurred in my memory. I lurched for the door while the detective dissolved into a swarming mass of iridescent black-feathered birds and attacked the still-rolling treats in a cacophony of caws and flapping wings.
To my shock and horror the door was locked. But luckily the key was in the keyhole and by turning it I was able to unlock the door and make my escape after all.
I slipped a few more treats through the mail slot in the door just to be nice before leaving.
“Never leave without treats,” I thought, “no matter where you are.”

Show and tell

It’s one of those days, one of those late-summer days where it is still summer but fall already has your heart by the back of the neck like a fox stealing a goose so I took a walk to fend off melancholy. I filled up the plastic bag in my pocket with a few handfuls of crow treats and went to the park.
There were new crows on the way to the park, some new anyway, and some regulars but they all knew me. How do they describe you to each other? They recognize me no matter what I am wearing, even hats and umbrellas. They leave other people alone, but they haze me when I try to pass through their territory without treats. They swoop me and if that doesn’t work they swoop closer and whack me on the head with their wing. Or touch me with their wing, I don’t know how the gesture is intended, but I love it.
How does a crow describe a human? How does their language work?
Same thing in the park. Some new, some old crows, the ones in the territories where I feed them all knew me. Two sentry crows in the beginning, more as I passed through the trees near the benches, then a lot more over by the ponds. Relaxing off to the sides, higher up in trees, pretending they are not watching but definitely watching because when you toss the first treat to a crow they all swoop down.
I walked to the far side of the pond, surrounded by perambulating crows, some stepping, some hopping, all of us nonchalantly not acknowledging each other’s existence.
I sat on a bench and they surrounded me, waiting. Watching. I look at my watch. I’ll wait two more minutes for stragglers then we’ll start the lecture, I felt like saying. I toss them a few to keep their attention. That works. I feed several of them by hand. They hop up onto the back of the park bench and I stretch out my arms and they eat from my hands.
When people walk by we all pretend not to know each other again.
What do you guys think of this, I say. I pull a black crow feather out of an inner pocket of my suit jacket and show it to them.
They’re all like, whoa! Their eyes get big and they take a few steps back, the whole bunch of them. A few leave entirely.
I’m like, it’s ok, I didn’t pluck it from someone, I found it on the sidewalk!
They were wary after that. No one wanted to eat from my hand anymore, for the rest of my lunch break.
They still followed me around though, so I had to budget the remaining treats to see me through to the edge of their territory.

Running up that you-know-what

I was racing a nun up a hill this morning, the final and steepest hill on my morning walk from the train station to the office – it goes past a nunnery, convent, something along those lines, the ground floor windows are barred and when you look in you generally see nuns, stamping out license plates, sharpening spoons into shivs in metal shop – and she was tough, despite the early heat – maybe she wanted to get a to a bus before the dogs picked up her scent – the scent of a nun – Al Pacino’s lowest-grossing film (at the box office at least) but I was doing pretty good, I was ahead, I was leading but then I had to stop to feed a crow because rule is, if the crow recognizes you and you have anything edible on your person you must share and this crow definitely recognized me – I even recognized it, black with a white spot, unmistakable – plus it said, Racing nuns now are we, Mig? And I was like, More like trying to get in my fitness points this morning – my wife gave me one of those watches that tracks your every move – And this is my best hill, the longest, steepest hill on my morning walk, here have a Frolic. Have five Frolics. And it went to work on the Frolics and left me alone. And that’s why I got fitness points this morning, just not as many as I had hoped for.

I just want to say

I just want to say
that it doesn’t hurt much
when a crow pecks you
accidentally
trying to get the doggie treat
you are holding out for it
while sitting on the park bench
surrounded by crows
regarding you like acolytes
waiting for words of enlightenment.
It is scarier feeding a bagel to a juvenile seagull
than a snack to a crow.
This is especially true if you grew up
getting pecked by chickens all the time.
I just want to say
my thing with the crows
is not going unnoticed at the park,
a young family walked by
and referred to me
as “Professor Rabe”.
I just want to say
that I am still sadder
and more broken up by
my mother’s death
than I had expected.
But the crows help.
If someone asks me about them
I will say, “I have to come and feed them,
they know where I work and
come and shit on my balcony otherwise,”
but that is not the reason.
I know it’s just crows and doggie treats,
but it’s a comfort.

Notes on the proper selection of an appropriate amulet

Ask the sun, when you fell upon me, reflected off the orange garbage truck my streetcar was stuck behind on the way to work this morning, filling the streetcar with bright amber light and turning the interior into mysterious silhouettes, was it a judgement or a blessing? Or do you not perceive any of us at all?
Ask the crows, what say the slain? And listen to their answer: they are waiting for you to delineate your sadness over your mom dying, to put a name on it, for you to find a balance for it between heart and head but for that to happen it has to come out of the dark. They are waiting for you to understand something ununderstandable.
Ask the bear, do you feel like I do when I am walking down the stairs at the subway station and faster descenders pass me right and left when you stand in the river and running salmon crowd past you on their way to spawn, or is there a difference bc you are eating them and I am not? And are people right who say a fish does not perceive the water surrounding it, or are fish as aware of it as we are of air and ground, do they even hold swimming contests and do they maybe, crowding into the mouth of a river on their way to spawn, arrange dates when they hit it off, baby that shady spot under the alder tree, lay your eggs there, I have so much milt for you.
Walk in a circle while reading the instructions on the can of blue insulation foam, especially the bit that says ‘only fill the space 1/3 of the way with foam, as it continues to expand after application’ because if not the foam will expand uncontrolled and drip onto the floor and onto the attic ladder/steps, the bookcase, two books, your slippers, your shirt, your glasses and your hair, and if that happens do not try to wash it out of your hair because the instructions also say, For better adhesion dampen target area prior to application, and if you read that after making your hair wet you will feel like a moron, justifiably, and the insulation foam remover you rush to the hardware store for won’t work for you either, although if you make an emergency appointment with your hair stylist she will, together with two colleagues, in the emergency hair salon operating room you didn’t realize they had, using the foam remover and some stuff they use to remove hair extensions, in a dramatic and slightly painful medical-drama-style operation not only successfully remove every last bit of foam (which is, chemically, a close relative of super glue) from your hair, which you had expected would have to be shaved off, they will also laugh while working on you and say, “This is a first, this is one for the books, we have never had anything like this,” and ultimately style your hair and leave you looking nicer than ever, and charge you such a paltry sum you give everyone big tips.
Ask the crows, what say the dead, to which they will answer, nothing today.
Then wander into the junk shop with your eyes closed and hold your hands over the amulets and feel the vibes.