Doing the Pigeon
I’m standing behind an abandoned Catholic church in Boston’s Latin Quarter eave-spying on a pigeon four-baller. The church – built back when the Catholic Church was the Catholic Church – is, or was, beautiful with its soaring, red bricked walls, slate roof, red-clay-tiled dome, creamy terracotta trim: Its overbearing immensity a testament to the power of human belief.
But belief dropped off, the Catholics moved out, the pigeons moved in. On this cold spring day, the grounds, where Irish, Italian, Polish, Puerto Rican, Mexican, and El Salvadoran kids once played every Sunday morning, are dotted with pigeon couples freaky-eyeing each other up for an orgy of avian procreation.
Pigeons, domesticated thousands of years ago, now sneered at as flying rats, had – back when colonialists were colonialists – an auspicious start in North America. They were brought over by the French, who, being the French, took a few hours off from obliterating native populations and grabbing their land, to jumpstart snobbery in North America, by being the first to bring cool-shit over from Europe. It worked: As soon as the wealthy in Quebec had pigeons, the wealthy in Boston wanted pigeons. Before going feral and, getting back at us by, literally, shitting all over everything humans hold sacred, pigeon meat was considered a delicacy, and live pigeons were cool to observe because of their quasi-human characteristics, including monogamy.
Despite the bitterly cold wind, the sun is high enough in the sky to let the two pigeon couples that I’m surveilling, in the courtyard created by the abandoned church and the repurposed Catholic school building behind it, know the time has come to get it on.
The two pigeon couples adopt distinctly different approaches to their intent to procreate.
One male, in a, fittingly, Latinesque take on Bert from Sesame Street’s classic “Doing The Pigeon” skit, is strutting his stuff – hard. He swells his chest with air, his body extending an inch and a half taller, his luminous-green-running-to-purple feathers glistening in the weak spring sunlight, as he paces around the female with the self-importance of a bullfighter playing the crowd. All the while, he coos with that broken-glass-in-the-lungs sound, as his grey head, with those freaky white-rimmed eyes – that seem to know so much more than one would expect from a being who survives on our thrown away junk food – nod-nod-nods like a windup toy. He obsessively shadows the female, who with feminine guile continues to peck at what might be crumbs on the broken asphalt, but is more likely grains of left over winter salt. All the while she appears not to notice that, right next to her is a twice-his-normal-size male member of her own species, apparently on the edge of a nervous breakdown, sweating bullets on a freezing April morning.
The other pigeon couple are Irish.
He’s wandering around like a lost dog, nary a puffing up of his feathers, nor nothing even close to it, fake-pecking every now and again, paying not a whit of attention to her, but staying kinda-sorta close, definitely never looking at her – no way, what would the point of that be, only encouraging her – no, mostly his freaky eyes look up at the sky, as he’s clearly considering, with great anticipation, the Man U – Man City clash on Saturday.
The female ups the ante, obsessively rapid-pecking, her beak hitting the ground like a machine gun, nearly taking his pink-leathery-toes off, she sort of backs herself around the courtyard, her body language saying there’s not “wan other pigeon left on this planet, let alone that miserable gobshite standing next to me gazing up at the sky wasting his two brain cells wondering will that bollix Mourhino last!”
The wind cuts across the courtyard.
I shiver, and wonder will someone come to let me into the old school building. I’m way too early – a terminal disease for me – and well used to finding distractions.
The Latin male is fully swelled up now, looking like he’s about to burst with the innate urge to procreate. The female, looking up for a second from her all-important pecking, casts him an avian “wouldn’t-you-love-to” sidelong look. Driven by this modicum of female interest, the male somehow stuffs his lungs with a few more cubic millimeters of air, and I start to think I’m about to witness the first ever spontaneous-pigeon-explosion.
The Irish couple are in I’m-so-fucking-oblivious-to-you-that-I-keep-bumping-into-you bliss. Himself with his head up in the clouds, from as every bit unlikely an elevation of twelve inches, as we humans frequently get to the same mythical place from an average height of five foot six inches. Herself, with her feathered arse serving the same purpose, and intent, as a mobile police barricade, backing aggressively around the courtyard. Thus they shuffle – the lost and the angry – pink-leathery feet lurching across the asphalt in a staccato-sudden-movement, bitter dance.
Another male pigeon drops in – an Aussie, on an I’m-fucking-my-way-around-the-planet-mate walkabout. With an overly practiced, casual-wing-flutter, he settles himself in, surveys the scene, head turning as if on a swivel, freaky eyes capturing everything – including my staring-self.
The Latin male swells up like an indignantly-ready-to-pop-luminous-purple-green-balloon. His movements are stiff, but definite, as he stalks – one pink-leathery foot after the other, head snapping back – between his soul mate and the Aussie interloper.
The Irish male makes a weak effort at the puffing up thing, but, honestly it’s been a while, he’s not exactly sure how it goes anymore. Plus he’s thinking, ‘I don’t want that wan thinking I’d be getting all puffed up over her. Heh, just because this tanned gobshite drops in looking to extend his line of DNA on the back of all the hard work I’ve done letting her know just how little interest I have in that sort of thing. I mean, I’ll do it if she wants to do it, but otherwise, I’d be happy enough with a skin-full of Guinness and a couple ham sangwiches.’
He looks a small bit ridiculous as he throws a few shapes at the puffing up: A couple his feathers rise; turns out he has that same luminous-purple-green coloring, and with a big gulp of air can get a bit of height too.
The Irish female is thrilled.
She looks up from her obsessive-rapid-pecking long enough to make freaky-eye contact with the Aussie male.
This triggers deep-chip-on-the-shoulder instincts in the Irish male, and he swells up like his Latin neighbor, the broken-glass rattling – with an Irish accent – in his chest, his freaky-eyes glaring at the interloper.
Across the courtyard a dumpster lid slams closed.
All five disperse in different directions.
The courtyard returns to its windy loneliness.
Just red bricks, broken asphalt, me.