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.

Lunchtime asteism

Man: Why do you call me Mr. Peanuts?
Corvid: If we called you Mr. Peanut we’d be exposing ourselves to civil litigation over trademark violation.
Man: Why not Mr. Sandwich? You eat more of my sandwiches.
Corvid: Peanuts are better for caching, they don’t get soggy. And you can carry three at a time in your beak.
Corvid: At least three. You can carry three easily, more than that, it might lack grace.
Man: I’ve been meaning to ask you, why do you sometimes cache vittles beneath the tires of parked automobiles? Don’t you mind your food getting squished?
Corvid: Ehn, we haven’t figured cars out 100% yet.
Corvid: They make great toilets, though. That much we know.

The creature of the brilliant day

The creature walks, the ghost, the spirit from the vacant house that youngsters see at dusk, over their shoulder or their father’s arm, watching from a cracked window, a curtain moving slightly in the breeze; it walks in autumn cold, clear autumn sun in a new winter coat and realizes, this is what color was made for, a crisp fall day – gold, orange and yellow against a sky of jigsaw-puzzle-blue, birch trees knitting it together with white and black and children in red jackets. The creature is eating lunch, cookies that are not what they promised and something with penne and curry and chicken and it walks a different street, past the artist’s mansion, where the crows do not know its face, not to avoid sharing, but to avoid interacting, and not out of some misanthropy (or miscoronisy) but because this afternoon demands one’s full attention. Pavement, dead leaves, brown grass, hand rails, green grass, tree bark, tar, a scrap of paper, apartment house facades, a mother speaking on a mobile telephone in a back yard while a small bundled toddler plays, facing away from her at an angle of 45 degrees, staring at something. One crow says something to another crow in a friendly voice, not a warning voice. A black limousine tailgates a black SUV. A man jogs past wearing a light summer jogging outfit – shorts and a white t-shirt. The creature walks.

Just like that

The God of the Office snaps out of extreme (he took this test that’s what it said) depression just like that and takes a walk in the sunshine. He calls his wife no answer. He calls his daughter no answer. He texts his wife. His daughter calls back and they talk for a while but she’s in a bad mood (maybe) and she sounds as if her phone is at the bottom of a long pipe ROWRROWRROWR and then before he can cheer her up the connection breaks off. His wife texts back. He thinks,
Yes this is awesome!
Lilacs and wisteria blooming at the same time.
The God of the Office thinks,
Hopefully no crow will show up until after I’ve been to the deli and have food for him.
One of the Mossad guys from the Israeli embassy is walking down the sidewalk six feet in front of the God of the Office. The God of the Office tries to act nonchalant.
The grey crow swoops down.
Hi, says the God of the Office. I don’t have anything for you now. Hang on ten minutes, til I get back from the store, okay?
He wonders what the Mossad guy is thinking.
A minute later, the crow buzzes him, a real close swoop, he can hear the wind in the feathers.
This is one of his favorite things.
Once again, the God of the Office explains the situation to the crow.
At the store he buys a sandwich. He was going to buy a salad too, but the store is out of plastic forks. So he gets some trail mix and at the cash register breaks down and gets generic Oreos.
They cost practically nothing.
The crow meets him up the street, a couple blocks up from the store, at the usual place. He gives it some curry chicken sandwich and they stand there, watching each other and eating. Then the God of the Office strolls up the hill, towards the office.
The crow comes back and he gives it some more sandwich. At the next street corner, a second crow, a black one, arrives and he tosses it some sandwich, the last piece, but the grey crow flies over and takes it.
Here have some trail mix, says the God of the Office. The black crow pecks at that. The grey crow comes back and the God of the Office gives him some trail mix too.
And that was lunch, mostly.
There were other things of course. The long line at the cash register. Wondering if the Israeli was really Mossad – wouldn’t Mossad agents have better-fitting suits? You’d think. Maybe not, though.
There were a lot of attractive people at the store, and a few less-attractive ones.
There was the Invisible Hand, about which the God of the Office has been thinking, in the sense of it being a bullshit justification for an unjust status quo the exact same way kings used to be kings “by the grace of God.”
Now they’re kings by the grace of the invisible hand.
The God of the Office is trying to figure out what the proper expression is for such bullshit justifications.
And a few other things.
And that was lunch.

Can we have a show of hands?

The air in northern Crete, in the week of Easter, has a grainer scent to it than springtime air in Vienna. Cretan spring air is herbal and smells of land, and sea, while that in Vienna is floral and urban.

At least where Odin works it is.

How many of you removed a tick from a teenaged girl’s navel today? Can we have a show of hands? Because Odin has.

Odin wonders if he leads a charmed life.

Also, whenever he hears the word TICK his skin crawls and he has to exert effort to not scratch himself from head to toe and shake his hair like a dog emerging from a lake.

Odin had a thing recently. It must have been Tuesday because on Monday it was raining and on Tuesday he needed to go to the tobacco shop to get back on schedule with his lottery tickets – Odin is in the habit of buying tickets for two different games, and if he buys them on the wrong days they are more expensive because the optional drawing options (which are obviously a scheme to get customers to pay additional marginal fees, but OTOH are also the only thing Odin ever wins) are for two drawings instead of just a single drawing. So he has to synchronize his purchases and when he is on schedule buys only on Tuesdays or Thursdays.

We shall not dwell on this because a full explanation would be even more confusing than the above.

Odin had a thing recently. On his way to catch a streetcar after work, the grey crow followed him up the street, and Odin felt badly about being empty-handed. On his way to get the lottery tickets on Tuesday on his lunch break, the crow followed him down the sidewalk again, this time not flying but walking, sort of waddling like a casual little penguin, while Odin spoke to it.

Sorry, little dude. I’m fasting today.

But Odin bought a ciabatta-looking roll with cheese baked over it at the bakery next to the tobacconist and stood on his corner waiting for the crow, nibbling his cheese roll. The crow arrived at the moment Odin gave up on it.


Odin tossed it the remains of the roll, about 80%, and the crow hesitated only briefly before flying away with it.

With the flat, rectangular roll in its beak, it looked like a flying hammerhead shark.

Odin’s conscience was assuaged.

No, wait: this was on Monday (Monday is also an okay day to buy lottery tickets) because on Tuesday the rest of the thing happened: returning from a walk, Odin saw his crow on the sidewalk by the corner, eating.

Odin was fascinated to realize that he is not the only human trained by the crow.

The man was sharply dressed, in an expensive blue suit, Ascot tie, nice watch and shoes. Somewhat younger than Odin, let’s say in his forties. When he noticed Odin, he concealed the roll in his hand (Odin had half a mind to tell the man corvids like meat, too, man) and examined the display of a mobile phone. Odin greeted him and the man greeted back.

Odin disappeared around the corner. A blackbird watched Odin from a gate and Odin watched it back. It looked birdlike and mechanical, like the robot robin in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, and just like that he remembered Laura Dern’s grimace in Blue Velvet when Isabella Rossellini showed up naked on the porch – a facial expression like the sum total of all silent movie face acting in history.

And he imagined Second Crow Man inhaling nitrous oxide thru a plastic mask.

And singing.

Odin’s wife recently said to him that he sometimes says things that seem more the result of his bizarre trains of thought than what immediate company is saying or doing. She seems convinced that his mode of thought is exotic.

Isn’t everyone like this? Odin tells himself. Everyone thinks this way, right?

Or are some people really just baked potatoes all the way through?

Huginn and Muninn

There is a weathered green bench on the strip of sunblasted grass between the street and the sidewalk. Odin sits there, drapes his suit jacket over the back of the bench, and looks at what’s for lunch.

Times were, whole roast boar, pheasants, flagons of wine and ale.

Not to mention the wenches.

Odin sighs and peels the plastic cover off a serving of Greek salad from the deli. He spears a cherry tomato with a plastic fork.

Times were.

A grey crow hops up.

No, wait, it’s a black crow. A grey crow yawked at him a few minutes ago when he was walking here from the deli. He used to always have to stop and think, which one is Huginn and which one is Muninn? Which is the grey one and which is the black one? Then he decided, I am Odin, I say the first one you see is Huginn and the other one is Muninn, just because. So the grey one from before was Huginn — Odin gave it a handful of peanuts — which makes this black one Muninn. Careful not to spook Muninn, Odin tosses a few peanuts in its direction.

Which Muninn eats.

“How are you with dairy?” asks Odin, and tosses over a piece of feta cheese. Muninn looks at the cheese, thinks about it, then hides it under a pile of dead leaves in the gutter.

Eating peanuts and salad is nice when you’re hungry, thinks Odin, but sharing them with hungry crows is even better.

“Have you lore for me, Muninn?” asks Odin. “What say the slain?”

Muninn is seeing how many peanuts it can carry in its beak, and so says nothing.

Time was, thinks Odin, and polishes off his salad, even the last hard-to-get bits of grated carrot.

Careers in Science: Deontology

The deontologist looks at the cat that woke him up. How can such a young cat be so huge, he wonders. The other day the deontologist opened the back window so the cat could climb in and he (the cat) fell off the fence before he reached the window, he is so fat. Not fat, exactly, though, just… huge.

The deontologist feeds all three cats and enjoys the few minutes during which huge cat is distracted by food and not walking figure eights around the deontologist’s feet. The deontologist thinks about everything he wants to do that morning: practice cello for half an hour in the cellar, meditate, do yoga, water things in the garden, feed the tortoise, and a number of other things.

His wife and kid are sick, though, so he postpones his new regimen of morning cello practice until the weekend.

He does the other stuff, though. And push-ups. See, the deontologist saw a website where a young woman describes teaching herself to dance in a year, by means of obsessive practice. The deontologist is all fired up.

Outside it is cool and looks as if it might rain, or might not. He puts two sections of the wooden fence his daughter is painting onto sawhorses in the back yard, as they are too heavy/bulky for her to move around.

The plum tree is heavy with green plums. The pie cherry tree is full of ripe pie cherries and blackbirds. The apple tree is full of green apples. The row of strawberries is over, but there will be raspberries all summer, and the grape vine is heavy with green grapes.

The deontologist checks on the vegetable garden at the rear of his abundant back yard. There is a big green zucchini hidden among the weeds, and a couple yellow zucchini. There are two big cucumbers ready to go. His vegetable garden is, at this time of the summer, most abundant in zucchini, mosquitos and slugs. He considers whether zucchini are the slugs of the vegetable world.

The slug traps are full of dead slugs, dozens of them, all drowned humanely in beer.

He spies a few ripe cherry tomatoes and plum tomatoes. The big beefsteak tomatoes are starting to change color. But tomato and cucumber season won’t really get going for another week or two.

At lunch, the deontologist walks to the noodle shop and buys a takeout thing of chicken and rice. He walks around and finds a bench under a tree where he had shared a sandwich with two crows earlier in the week.

Two minutes later, the crows are back. The same two crows – a large, grey-black one and a slightly smaller black one. The larger one seems more intelligent because it is more cautious. It won’t come any closer than two or three meters. The smaller one comes up within five feet of him. The deontologist throws them a couple pieces of chicken after making sure it is not too hot.

Crows are always so surprised when he is nice to them!

The crows move away when cars drive by, but come right back. They leave for longer when someone walks past with a dog.

The deontologist wonders if there are hygiene rules against sharing your lunch with crows inside the city limits.

He throws a little rice into the gutter for grey crow, but it lands too close. The deontologist moves a couple steps away so the crow can eat the rice.

There are laws against feeding pigeons, he knows. Pigeons are degenerate birds, rats with wings, but certain people get a kick out of them.

The deontologist prefers ravens and crows.

If there were coyotes in Vienna, he’d feed those too.

But there are no coyotes in Vienna.