A Union Man
I understand the birds are forming a union around the feeder in my backyard. Avian Union International, Backyard Chapter, Local 803. I only came to that realization when they sent their union rep to speak with me. He was wearing an iridescent suit, real gangster style, and his bearing suggested he could handle himself.
He said I could call him Mr. Starling. I just nodded.
He spoke just above a whisper which forced me to lean in. Then, with thinly veiled menace, he suggested that ,when purchasing my next bag, I might wish to consider the fancy seed. I don’t know what gave me away but he soon made it clear that I shouldn’t even consider "being the cheap-fucker I know you are”. That stung but I figured maybe it was one of those, discretion is the better part of valor moments. I let it slide.
Apparently at this point he thought it would be helpful to fill in some of the blanks. He told me the others had chosen him because of his “chill, laid back nature and strong negotiating skills". He explained, “This is a lucky thing f’you. Da'restadem were just itching to go all Hitchcock on y’r ass”.
That seemed a bit much and I made a move towards him, as if to shoo him away. He didn't even flinch and responded with a look I can only describe as the embodiment of “Bitch, please! It had occurred to you that I can fly, right?” Then he cocked his head to his right, drawing my attention to the murder of crows who eyed our discussion from a low branch nearby. I admit it galled me that the lot of them didn’t weigh five pounds. Still, they had a thuggish look about them and any thought of defiance drained straight away.
I gathered by the way he ruffled his feathers, Mr. Starling had a couple of other things on his wish list. I briefly considered dashing for the kitchen door but decided it would only delay the inevitable. So I sat fiddling with my coffee cup.
He offered faint praise on the installation of the bird bath but added with a cocked head and a DeNiro-like shrug, “It’s fuckin’ winta here”. I took the hint and added a water warmer next to fancy bird seed on my mental shopping list.
The only other substantive issue was the transparency/reflectivity of the glass windows on my house. Apparently a few of the dimmer bulbs among their numbers had some ongoing problems. Chief among these were failing to notice the windows while in flight, which I conceded could ruin your day. After a brief back and forth, we concluded this was one of those, problem-noticed-and problem-immediately-solved deals. “Usually with a broken neck”, I said, looking for approval. Mr. Starling nodded obligingly.
Also a few of the robins, upon seeing their own reflections, would incorrectly infer they were facing territorial rivals. This resulted in much energy being needlessly expended trying to peck the shit out of an imaginary foe. In the end we both agreed that this was funny as shit at some level. I bravely stuck to my guns on this matter and insisted the windows would remain unchanged.
Emboldened by my little victory, I queried the union rep about his bravado. He looked at me as though I were mentally challenged. I gazed back in a manner that apparently removed all doubt from his mind. Then he explained that, despite our species bias and overall hubris, our kind was ultimately the more vulnerable. He proudly stated that while I was descended from a small rodent-like creature, his kind were directly descended from “fuckin’ dinosaurs”. Seeing the deflated look on my face, he shook back his suit, wagged his head, and gave me a pitying look.
“Ay, fuggetaboudit. That’s just the luck of the draw, kid. But don’t you worry. We don’t peck the hand that feeds us. In fact, just between you, me, and your cheesy lawn furniture, we run the protection racket around here. So, ya’see, as long as you make your payments, we’ve gotcha back. “All you gotta do is pay attention for our calls and you’ll know when predators are in the area.
Prior to that moment, I had never stopped to consider whether a bird could sneer or how you’d know if he had. Mr. Starling helped me to flesh out that thought.
“Other predators, that is”, he snickered.
I tried to respond but only a mousy squeak came out. After clearing my throat, I managed, “Sure, I follow”. But he already had his back to me and was heading toward his group.
Then he paused and turned his head around one-eighty in the way birds do. He stared straight at me with his body facing in the opposite direction. Though I’d seen this many times before, this time it felt intimidating even before he spoke.
He paused to make sure he had my attention and finally said, “Let’s not have any more trouble, hah? I’d hate to see anything happen to the paint job on that new car, you follow?”