you were only waiting for this moment to be free

Take these broken wings and learn to fly
— sir james paul mccartney

We were walking in the bird park in the twilight hours a couple of weeks ago. A bird was sitting next to the sidewalk. At the point where birds normally take flight, he did not. I knew what was ahead. It would Not Be Fun.

Mo gave him a concerned look. Why wasn’t he flying away? Was he hurt? And then the answer was obvious. One of his wings was broken.

One thing you should know about Mo. She has the biggest heart I’ve ever encountered. And when it concerns an animal, it doubles. I braced for the ordeal that was sure to follow.

She considered trying to catch him, but we didn’t have anything with us, it was getting dark, and he wasn’t interested in the idea. She looked at me hopefully. I gave her what I hope was my “whatever we need to do” reassurance, which may have looked like my “dear lord not this again” look. But it’s all part of the “till death or cormorants do we part” vow, so I rolled up my sleeves. Actually I was wearing a singlet. But still.

She decided the best we could do was to herd him over to the creek, where he could swim and be protected from the neighborhood coyote. So we made like a sheep dog, walking behind him, then next to him, then nudging him, until he finally made it into the water. He seemed happy enough. End of story!

Or not.

We talked for a while about the options as we watched him paddle around. Leave him and let nature take its course. Capture him and hope for a rehab. Get him some ivermectin, which is a known cure for everything. I was selfishly hoping for option one. You can’t save every bird. You just can’t. Mo agreed. End of story.

So of course, early the next morning, as I began work, Mo stuck her head in and said she was going over to the park. She had a towel and a plastic tub and planned to grab him and take him to the wildlife rehab joint.

I waited for the update, fearful he would be gone, or dead, or a zombie. Beware of cormorants who want to eat your brains. Or your popsicles. Mostly that second one.

But then, she was home again. The bird was still in the water, in a place she couldn’t get to, and besides, she said he looked pretty darn happy there. Food, water, scenery — like a trip to Belize without the spotty internet service. So she just said hello to him and came home.

She’s been checking on him every day since and said he’s doing well. He hides in the branches of a tree that fell into the creek at night, the avian version of the homeless guys in the park. So last night when she couldn’t find him, Mo shrugged and said she was sure he was OK. I feared the worst.

Today, she showed me the fallen tree, and he still wasn’t there. He’s OK, Mo, said, but I was worried. So on the next lap, I went walking up the creek, hoping against hope that I would spot him.

And there he was! Sitting on a rock, basking in the sun, perfectly content. Belize, you know. I excitedly called Mo to tell her about My Discovery.

“Of course,” she said. “That’s his rock. That’s where he hangs out in the morning. He’s a celebrity now. A lot of people shoot his picture.” Dang paparazzi. I assume she didn’t tell me this earlier because I’m competing with a bird for her affection, and clearly losing.

He could have gone to a wildlife rehab center, sitting in a cage, maybe healing, or maybe spending his last days suffering in captivity. Instead, he’s reveling in a sweltering Arizona day, swimming and sunning and eating a fish dinner. Better to burn out than to fade away, Mr. Young once said. But then he also wrote “Birds,” so I should have known he’s an authority.

Edward Abbey got his friends to kidnap him from the hospital so he could die peacefully at home. I think he would approve of a cormorant spending his final days of a rock in the park he loved. Seldom Seen Bird. It has a ring to it.

There’s probably a lesson in life here about adapting and being happy where you are, how you are. Not to look back on how things once were, but about how things now are still pretty dang good. A little push in the right direction, a little karma, a little bit of happiness that sneaks into a grinchy runner’s heart when an ending is happy.

You don’t need to fly to enjoy life. Just keep swimming. You’ll get there.

And maybe find a good rock. I’ve got mine. Thanks, Mo.

Posted in margarine | Comments Off on you were only waiting for this moment to be free

never trust someone who puts cream in her coffee

You live with someone forever and think you know them. Their strengths, their weaknesses, their deepest secrets, all the quirks and details in the ebb and flow of their life.

And then, 25 years after meeting her, the horrible truth comes out.

Mo like candy corn.

A lot.

And that was the day their relationship changed forever.

Posted in margarine | Comments Off on never trust someone who puts cream in her coffee

brothers, part 32

Of all the things I miss most about Rick, this might be the one I miss most. That look.

He had a look that always made you think he was up to something. It might be a scheme, an escape plan, a breathtakingly bad pun, a column in his head waiting to be put down on paper, a Grand Adventure just a dusty West Texas road away. But when you saw that look, you knew something was up, and you hoped you would be along for the ride.

I miss that look.

Posted in margarine | Comments Off on brothers, part 32

interstate love song (a phone text transcript)

Oregon: Hi this is niece Kate! New Oregon number so people here will stop thinking I’m a spam caller. We’re excited to see y’all soon.

Arizona: Clearly spam. Nice try, Nigerian prince.

Oregon: We’ve been trying to reach you regarding your car’s extended warranty.

Arizona: Hey, wait. I DO own a car. This must be legit. But much consternation over trip. We’re watching the COVID numbers and hoping things take a turn for the better, but looks bad so far.

Texas: Oregon in the spring might be lovely!

Oregon: Yeah, I was worried about that too. If we need to wait that’s okay. Oregon is beautiful in the spring. And hey, our house might finally be finished then. But no promises …

Arizona: And by then the extended car warranty will have kicked in!

Oregon: That reminds me. If you would wire me $500,000, and all your flannels, you will be richly rewarded. Thank you for your assistance in resolving this matter.

Arizona: Will do. We’re about to hold up our neighborhood independent bookstore. They should have millions. Yay for mask mandates!

Oregon: Woohoo! If they have any cool stickers you should pocket a few of those too.

Arizona: They have turned their newspaper rack into a holder for sundries. You may have chosen the better career patch, although I always enjoyed the sundry paper.

Oregon: On the other hand, you’ve never had to insert a urinary catheter, so it all comes out in the wash. Well, hopefully it all comes out in the wash.

Poor cat’s going to miss her flannels …

Posted in margarine | Comments Off on interstate love song (a phone text transcript)

brothers, part 31

Please Papa can I go
Down to Richmond to the traveling show
Please Papa don’t you say I can’t
I just want to see the elephant
— the prophet mcmurtry

I was 50 feet away from one of my favorite singer/songwriters on the planet. It was fate.

James McMurtry had been scheduled to play at a Fancy Boy concert venue in Phoenix. Luckily, it was on a Saturday and I had to work, doing away with the moral dilemma of whether it was safe to attend.

And then.

The venue refused to abide by The Basic Rules of Sanity: proof of vaccination and wearing a mask. Apparently, McMurtry has this weird notion that he doesn’t want his fans or himself to die for an hour and a half of songs, even if they’re some of the finest songs ever written.

So he moved the show at the last minute to a different joint on Friday, my day off. Sold out, I told myself. But no. Tickets were to be had. A small venue, maybe a couple hundred capacity, run by our favorite promoter over the past 30 years. It would be an honor to give them both some money after such a long, hard stretch. And it would be a chance to see McMurtry live, which has never happened.

We came close a long time ago. We were driving from San Angelo to Corpus Christi back when it was OK to be in Texas, when we stopped at Threadgill’s in Austin. The marquee said he was playing that evening. We were just outside. But the show was eight hours later and that drive home is ugly in the wee hours. Another time, we thought. We kept driving.

And this was it.

I ran the idea by Mo. She gave me an encouraging “NO.” I explained that vaccinations were required. She pointed out that I am severely immunocompromised, making me a sitting duck, if ducks can get COVID, and I believe the research thus far is inconclusive. So is that a maybe, I asked hopefully. NO. I mentioned that the new album is glorious. She mentioned that I’m sick. I don’t think she meant it metaphorically, but it’s hard to tell when her eyes start rolling around.

And that was that. Instead, we went downtown to the First Friday art walk. Coincidentally (really!), it just happened to be in the neighborhood of the McMurtry concert. We pulled into the parking lot. The wall separating us from the show, which was just beginning, was right there. I looked at Mo. She looked at me. I’m pretty sure she would have caved if I asked. I didn’t.

And then we kept driving.

Living in a bubble is so hard. I have two years to go before I will finish chemotherapy and build up any sort of resistance. Until then, getting the vermin likely means I’m a goner. Just how much are you willing to risk? We wrestle with that one every day.

And now we’re looking at the Oregon map. It’s the darkest red you can get, what the NYT comfortingly refers to as “extreme danger.” We’re supposed to drive there in three weeks or so. I’ve had a cough for a month. My lymphocyte numbers, the wacky little guys who protect you, are on extended vacation. And I’m dying inside with the fear of not seeing Rick.

Do we say screw it and go see him anyhow? We’ll be careful along the way, and we’re all going to die eventually. Worst case scenario, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad way to go out. Also, they might have pie. I like pie.

Or do we do stay home and delay the trip again, hoping things will get better by spring? Seems like it can’t get worse than it is now. But we’ve said that a lot over the last 75 years since cOvId*  arrived. How long can you live in a bubble before you burst? 

There will be other chances to see McMurtry. I’m not sure how many shows my brother has left in him. I desperately don’t want to miss the last encore.

They’re looking for a few good men
Could be war by summer’s end
Sure would hate it if I went
And never got to see the elephant

Being Smith Boys, Mike and I put off the decision. We’ll wait and see how things are in a few weeks. You never know. Even if you do.

We live behind our masks, inside our bubbles, fighting our fears. What should we do?

Only one thing is for sure.

I just want to see the elephant.

* if you type it cOvId, it seems much more wacky.

Posted in margarine | Comments Off on brothers, part 31