Thursday, November 25, 2021

FOR THE BIRDS

Something I wrote several years ago. A tale for Thanksgiving.
I am not always a grinch.


BEST THANKSGIVING EVER

He had been in the city for several days now, and he was getting seriously paranoid. Someone would discover him and then it would be over. Walking down the street he would withdraw into his overcoat and pull his fedora down. He tried to be as unnoticeable as possible, and avoided eye to eye contact. Fortunately, being rather short, not many people looked at his face. He resembled almost any other pedestrian, and most passers-by were too busy to give him more than a passing glance.

Still, he worried. And with good reason.

It was less than a week since his escape.

Surely the authorities were mounting a search?


He walked along Clay Street, under the Gingko trees. One tree had all yellow leaves, so glorious, so beautiful. It reminded him of the California hills in early summer, when he was still young and lived on the farm. All golden in the sun.
Life, then, had been wonderful. Warm carefree days, cool evenings, lots of friends.

But that had changed. Those last few days down at the farm had been truly nightmarish.
Why did none of the others understand?
Why didn't they get it? Fools!
Their giddy optimism and complete blindness to evil frightened him, why were they so cheerfully and simple-mindedly upbeat?
Were they after all just turkeys?
He shook his wattles irritatedly - of course they were! They had been promised by the farmer that they were going to a feast, and so they happily scuttled into the truck that would bring them there. The silly birds hadn't even questioned why they were being transported in a vehicle boasting "Johnson's Poultry - we put the gobble gobble in holidays".

Only he stayed behind, hiding in a dark corner of the barn. He had tried to warn them, but no one had listened. They didn't want to hear his gloomy theories, why should they fear anything from the farmer? Hadn't the farmer taken care of them, fed them, housed them in a nice warm coop?
The farmer was a good man, and there was going to be a wonderful party.
They were looking forward to some serious fun.
Them and their state of denial.
Hmmph, feather brained idiots!


That evening, after darkness fell, he snuck out and headed for the open road. A kindly driver gave him a lift to Richmond, and told him where to get on B.A.R.T. He was determined to go to San Francisco, feeling that he would stand out far less in a big city.
But it wasn't easy to get used to this place.
He had only known the farm.

He was preparing to sleep in the bushes next to a church, on his first evening in the city, but after he saw some raccoons shaking down a seagull he got scared. The hobo behind the next shrub over mumbled that those animals were nothing but thugs, man, worse than the cops. And nobody says anything about that! Nobody does anything about those black-hearted furballs!
He spent the rest of the night at a twenty-four hour donut place, finally stumbling out at dawn, wired and jangly from too much coffee. He wandered around for hours till the caffeine and sugar wore off.

That evening he was kicked out of the main library at closing time - "yo, dude, you can't sleep here, go to the shelter at Polk and Geary, they'll put you up for the night."
He had taken one look at that place and decided against it. Several people there looked carnivorous, and quite a number of the others were missing either their wings or their drumsticks. That alone would have been suspicious, but what really freaked him out was that there were pictures of HIS kind on the walls. Some turkeys were illustrated in pilgrim clothes. Others were shown surrounded by all the fixings. He felt sure that if he stayed there, he would be fingered and roasted. No way man, he didn't plan on getting caught! And he sure wasn't going to let them harvest his limbs one by one, like they were doing to some of these people.
He nearly got run over by a wheelchair on the way out.

He spent most of the night sitting on the bus-stop bench at Jackson and Polk. Occasionally a squad car would roll by, and he'd remain as motionless as possible, desperately hoping that the police wouldn't see him. Sometimes people would come out of the bar for a cigarette, and one or two of them asked him for a light. He told them he didn't smoke.
Long after closing time, a drunk sat down next to him and started talking about the Grateful Dead - that really freaked him out. He tried to explain to the fellow that Thanksgiving just wasn't a good time for his kind please don't make insensetive jokes about 'gratitude', but the man started screaming about his plump meaty thighs so he fled.

He spent the next several hours in an unlit doorway on Larkin Street. Just before dawn a raccoon ambled past and glared at him, but was obviously too tired from strenuous illegal activities elsewhere to make any trouble. He resolved to avoid Larkin Street at night, too many furry criminal types. Yeah, he realized he was stereotyping, but better safe than sorry.
He hadn't realized that city living could be so dangerous. The city is not a gentle place, if you are short, feathered, and wearing only an overcoat and a fedora.

One significant problem was that the ATM machines were all far too high up, altogether NOT turkey accessible.
And bank tellers insisted on seeing a photo id.
For obvious reasons, he didn't plan to go to the DMV to have his picture taken until after December 25th. Just too risky before then.
During the holiday season, he was a marked man.
Bird. Marked bird.
He'd simply have to pile boxes in front of an ATM when no-one was looking, but it was hard.
Short wings do not give one much leverage.

On the plus side, he got to ride the busses for free, provided he acted like the nearest adult was with him. And if it was too crowded he could always scoot under the seats for safety. He had seen what happened to a pigeon that wasn't smart enough to do so and tried standing in the aisle with the tall people. The crowd of office workers heading down to the financial district had crushed the poor bird, and thrown its carcass out on Montgomery Street.
They had utterly NO respect for feathered Americans! Brutes!
San Francisco can be a cold and heartless place.
Whatever you do, don't make eye-contact.
When other people stare at you, leave.
Especially with wattles trembling.
Never let them see your fear.

He spent most of the time exhausted from lack of sleep, wandering the streets trying to stay out of trouble and out of sight.
Once he saw an accident happen, but ran away because he couldn't risk being a witness. Not only no id, but no fixed address either! He was sure the cops would give him the stink-eye at the very least. They might even take him down to the station, and he'd disappear into the system forever. They ate people like him there!
No way was he going to be imprisoned again.

A crazed addict in the Tenderloin tried to steal his wallet, but he pecked her fiercely and fled down an alley, then hid for several hours underneath a parked van while she roamed up and down the sidewalk howling, howling, howling. That had been a close call, but there aren't many places in the downtown where a turkey can walk down the street without being in danger.
There were other incidents.
He nearly got mobbed by parrots several times. Such rude birds!
And they kept importuning him for beer money or cigarettes, too!
A large shaggy dog had leered suggestively, and followed him for several blocks. He finally lost his amorous pursuer when a passing fire hydrant called out "why hello sailor, doing anything tonight?" At that the canine delightedly licked his chops and grinned. Wow, free sex!
In Chinatown it was made plain that he looked different, when a little tyke pointed at him and happily exclaimed 'wah, fogey, fogey!'
The mother shushed the child, and looked at him with mute apology, but it still hurt.
It was only a matter of time. He was sure of it.
He was keenly aware how vulnerable he was.

The combination of sheer exhaustion, fear, and far too much coffee had a demoralizing effect.
An excess of tryptophan, adrenaline, and caffeine made him jittery, and it twisted the mind.
He knew that he was no longer seeing things straight, but he had to stay alert.

Except at the public library. When nobody was watching, one could scoot behind the encyclopedias and sleep.
He liked the encyclopedias. Warm, tall enough to hide him from view, and so smooth.
Encyclopedias were very nice. More books should be like that.
Clean, comforting, and hardly ever touched.



Finally, on the fifth day in the city, he had a stroke of luck.
He was reading the San Francisco Chronicle in the library when a small boy asked for his assistance at the computer. The youngster was doing his homework, and needed a helping hand.
Helping wing.
Whatever.
The boy's mother came by later to pick him up, and asked "who is your little friend?"
The kid introduced him, and explained how kind he had been.
When she found out that he was new to the city, and had no plans for the holiday, she invited him over - "we're vegetarians, Tom, I hope you don't mind....."
It was quite the nicest thing he had heard in his life.

He went home with the two of them, and was introduced to the rest of the family.
Then they all sat down to a sumptuous supper of borsht with sour cream, tofu and spinach casserole, and lentil-stuffed cabbage rolls.
With red tomato sauce.
It was all so VERY delicious!
This was the best Thanksgiving ever!
And he had never slept in a real bed before.

*      *      *

Have a happy Thanksgiving.
火雞節快樂!
Fo-guy jit fai-loh!




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