The Curious Case of the Carcass and the Crow

It’s warm once again in New Jersey. And so I have been outside much more than I have been in the past few months, riding bikes, observing life, looking for unique symbols of roadside minutia in and about my environment.

More often than not lately, being outside involves direct interaction with a few common species of birds found in New Jersey, and it’s allowed me to quietly observe the strangely unique lives in which birds of all sorts spend their days. I’ll begin with something I once thought of as a nemesis in my life, Canadian Geese.

In case you’re wondering about the “nemesis” label, it goes back to a little over a year ago, when I was attacked from over head by a large male Canada Goose, doing his damndest to protect his mate’s nest and his new offspring. I was on my bike, it swooped in from behind, landed on my back, started pecking at me and causing me to flip over. After a short spat with him, he retreated, though I was left with a deep hole in my knee and the knowledge that I had been taken down by a 15 lb. bird.

The past few weeks, when the opportunity arises, I spend an inordinate amount of time at the Rutgers University Football Stadium, riding my bike and as of late, observing the two families of Canadian Geese that have begun to use the adjacent grass lands as a nesting area/chill spot. The first time I encountered them, I was a nervous wreck, staying close to my car in the event that the events of April 16, 2005 happened to repeat themselves. But the families ignored me, instead commuting back and forth and back and forth between two grassy areas that offered food and kept them far away from any dog walkers or passing cars. At dusk, a male leader began squawking, approaching my direction with his wings outstretched. I shuddered for a second but decided to hold my ground, thinking I was up for another turf war. Instead, the goose took flight, out over the Raritan River, with his family behind him in an arrow shape. A few seconds later, another male leader made the same movements, and his family took flight towards the river. Clearly, this was the motions of a family sticking together, moving into an area that was safe during the night. And no way or how was I in any danger at any time during the encounter. I’ve observed the same group movements three more times now; with two male leaders taking to the sky just short of sunset, as their families spread their wings and follow suit. And damn, it makes me think that the Canadian Geese got their shit together when it comes to family values.

But something happened on Monday which made forced me to bear witness to another side of well, being a bird, and the fucked up shit that can happen. Monday morning, there was a dead very young female mallard duck in the parking lot of the farmer’s market down the street, about 1-2 miles away from any significant water source or accompanying family members. It was sad to see this young lifeless bird, strayed from its family and suffering an untimely death as a result. I felt bad but moved on, wondering who was going to have to clean up the carcass to myself.
But later on that day, while riding my bike through the same parking lot, I noticed the dead mallard still in her place, only her feathers were strewn throughout the parking lot, with a large American crow perched atop her body. In between guarded glances, the crow was tearing the mallard’s feathers to shreds, gnawing at her coat and joyously cawing so that the whole world might know about his (I’m assuming he was a male) newfound scavenged victory. I paused for a few minutes and observed his actions.

By nature, crows aren’t seasoned experts at scavenging. Their beaks aren’t designed to break through skin, and they usually focus their scavenging habits on roadkill and easily accessible sources of meat. This duck had no open wounds, but this particular crow wasn’t about to waste the opportunity. He pulled, gnawed, pecked and even shouted at the mallard’s body, hoping to pierce her skin and feast on her insides. He defended his territory atop the body from passing cars, pausing in his mission only to threaten any passerbys with a boisterous caw. I stayed for maybe 10 minutes, observing the crow as he tore the mallard’s body to pieces, then rode past him to test his boundaries. He didn’t move from his position, and so I left shortly thereafter. I don’t know if he ever succeeded in tearing open the mallard’s skin, but I do know that this crow wasn’t about to give up his position in nature, atop a slab of heated pavement in the parking lot of a farmer’s market.

Today, all that remained of the incident was a few feathers.

I’m not here to draw some subjective conclusion on the inherent cannibalization of a crow eating a mallard. Birds eat other birds, it happens. Nor am I here to draw praise to some other birds that protect their young. As admirable as I think it might be, it’s just part of nature. But these two experiences with various strata of bird society has demonstrated two very distinct sides of life, which have carried over into humanity since removed from nature.

Some of us are simply striving to keep some semblance of family together, while some of us are doing whatever it takes to get ahead in life, even if it’s completely outside of our natural ability. Two concepts united by resolve; the only problem is figuring out whether you’re a goose, a duck or a crow…..

THE GHOST IN MY KITCHEN (How Sears Helped Me Win $1,000)

This morning was unlike any other. I awoke, showered, and prepared breakfast as I read the New Yorker. Waking up was uneventful; the shower even more so. For breakfast, I decided to make a tofu scramble thing. Only problem was, tofu was the single ingredient I had in the refrigerator. The rest was a half mile down the road at the Farmer’s Market. I walked downstairs, pulled my bike from the trunk of my car and pedaled down the road. Shopping was easy; onion, pepper, avocado and water. Five minutes later, I was across the busy intersection and on my way home.
While preparing everything, I read an in depth account of Nigerian e-mail swindling called 419 Scamming. It’s not really of importance here, but it did occupy my time waiting for tofu to cook better than television might’ve. As the dish was nearing its completion, I decided unceremoniously, “Hmm, a piece of toast seems appropriate,” and so I went through the toaster motions as my meal cooled on the stove top. When the pan was cool enough, I removed some of its contents onto a plate, placing my now-toasted piece of toast on top of the scramble.
I positioned the plate on the kitchen table and was about to sit down to enjoy breakfast, when the sudden urge to piss overcame me. So I left the meal, walked out of the kitchen, into the bathroom and closed the door, going through the motions of the second piss of the day.
When I returned to the kitchen, the piece of toast was on the floor about 8 feet from where it once sat. The windows in the kitchen were closed (so there was no wind coming in) and we have no pets (who might’ve moved the piece of bread.)
Normally, I’m not so quick to jump to the paranormal explanation, but no one else was home in the house, I was baffled, and I’ve never experienced any jumping toast prior to today. Nor have I ever heard about jumping toast outside of the paranormal explanation.
So unless anyone has any better explanations, I’m under the impression that there exists a ghost in my kitchen. One that doesn’t like toast, or earth-bound humans that excuse themselves during meals to piss.
I have leftovers, so I plan on going through the same motions tomorrow morning, to see if anything happens. And if this toast bandit spirit appears again, I will be ready, with dairy-free spread in one hand, and a butter knife in the other….

Fast forward approximately three hours.

Sears Auto Center is the home of my friend Anthony Wilson. He just recently earned his 5-year pin, so he carries breadth in the esteemed halls of Sears. (And he also gets a discount on auto repairs.)
My car has needed brakes for about two months now, and I’ve been procrastinating the repair until the last minute, which, when calculated, is quite cheaper at Sears than anywhere else. But this week, amid the sound of the final warning line making itself known on my brake pads, I knew it was time to get my brakes repaired. I called Alfredo (Anthony’s nickname) and asked when would be good to bring it in. He assured me that Tuesday was fine, so I went to Sears yesterday to get my brakes repaired.
The one thing Sears Auto Center seems to be highly regarded for is their lack of stock. They never have what your car needs when you need it, and this always involves a few extra days of back ordering when the time comes to get your car repaired. It happened with my struts, and it inevitably happened with my brakes. Sears didn’t have my calipers, so I was told to come back tomorrow. They ordered the correct parts from the warehouse yesterday, and the calipers and pads arrived this morning. This is normal fare for Sears, and since I’m getting a deal, I can’t complain.
Alfredo called a few hours after the toast bandit spirit created an interesting morning, and by 3 PM, I was on my way back to Sears. By the time I arrived, Alfredo was doing something somewhere else, and I couldn’t find him. So I pulled my car in, handed my keys off to Raphael (the Volvo guy at Sears) and took a walk to 7-11. I wasn’t even hungry, just buying time til I could waste time with Alfredo while my brakes were being repaired. I perused a Vanity Fair Magazine, then bought a bag of mini Nutter Butter Cookies and a $2 Cool Hand Loot NJ Lottery scratch off game.
I walked back to Sears, sat in the lobby and started eating my cookies. I pulled the scratch off game from my pocket and for the life of me, couldn’t find a coin to scratch it with, ultimately relying on my fingernail to scratch the ticket. By the fourth line, I had wasted $2, but the fifth line proved more fruitful. My number matched the lucky number. And when I revealed the prize, it was $1,000.
Had Sears actually had brake calipers and pads for a ’92 Volvo 740 on Tuesday May 9, I would’ve been $1,000 poorer right now. But alas, Sears never has what I need when I need it, and because of that, I won $1,000 from the New Jersey Lottery today.

But I neglected to mention something I had seen along the way. Between Sears and 7-11, there exists a path. Along the path is a bird’s nest. From the nest, two baby Robin Redbreasts had been tossed, which were lying dead along the side of 7-11; their tiny, lifeless bodies appearing as nothing more than roadside minutia among a sea of torn candy wrappers, discarded Slurpee cups and burnt out cigarette butts. The mother and father, above and on the top of 7-11, shrieked in grief for the entirety of my visit to Sears. Some time during the brake job, landscapers made their way through the parking lot, destroying the bodies of the lifeless offspring as the parents voiced opposition from above.

I can almost hear the spirit in my kitchen, mumbling aloud. “You can’t have the good without the bad,” it would say. “Now where the hell is Tunney’s bread…”

Locked Out

I don’t change my pants daily. Per washing, their daily use usually runs somewhere between 2-3 days. The pair I had been wearing fell into the two-day pattern, on account of the slightly warmer days and the predictable sweat that follows. Additionally, the pair in question has, within the past few weeks, developed a strange stretch quality which inhibits me from passing the 3-day mark in any case. By day two, they’re about 4 times too big for my waist and exude a bagginess in the lower leg which hasn’t been fashionable since 1991. Friday morning, they were snug and wearable. Saturday morning, still doable but getting a bit lazy. Sunday morning, if not for a belt, I would’ve been pants-less.

So when I came home this morning and finished the normal coffee-read-shower routine, the pants were thrown on my bed, where they awaited the subsequent trip into the laundry basket within my closet. But while getting dressed in new pants, I was contacted by my friends and told to meet them soon in a neighboring town some 12 miles and 30 minutes away (by Sunday mall traffic standards.) Quickly, I gathered my belongings and did my best to get the hell out of my house as fast as possible. The two-day pants stayed on my unmade bed, shielding the pocket contents of keys, wallet and Burt’s Bees Lip Balm from my absent-minded, hellbent on beating Rt. 1 mall traffic mind. I shut my bedroom door, grabbed my bike in the hallway, and headed downstairs. I closed the back door behind me, locking it and walked to my car in the parking lot, reaching in my Day-1 pants to find no keys, no wallet and had I bothered checking at that point, no lip balm.

There I sat in the parking lot, stunned by the fact that it had been years since I locked myself out of anywhere, wondering what to do. No one else was home, the door was locked behind me, and I had places to be. There was a time when getting locked out at home was a much more common occurrence, but that dates back to sixth grade, when I was first awarded with the responsibility of owning a key to the house in which I lived. Since it was a new attribute to my life, and one that was entirely strange to me, I left it home almost daily. After school, I’d arrive to an empty house and no way to get inside, which was circumvented by the spoon I carried with me daily (for yogurt at lunch), and a faulty window latch in the garage. Somehow, at that point in my life, being equipped with a spoon made much more sense than being equipped with a key to my house. So almost daily, I’d wedge my spoon into the garage window, pry the latch open and climb in.

But that was twenty years ago. I’ve long since giving up carrying a spoon around with me, and the window to my bedroom is now 30 feet higher than it once was.

Luckily, I’m still slightly resourceful. There was a wheel barrow, two air conditioners and a lazy window latch a floor below my bedroom, my keys, my wallet and my lip balm. I positioned the wheel barrow against the house so that the handles were pointing upwards, wedging it in the corner and hoping that it could hold 150 or so pounds. I stepped up onto it, balancing with one foot on the edge of the handle, mimicking the crane technique seen in The Karate Kid, and reached upward for the first house-borne air conditioner. It was stable, and I pulled myself off of the wheel barrow and onto the first floor of the house, hoping the neighbors weren’t wondering what the hell was going on. I walked across the first floor roof, to the point at the second floor where yet another house-borne air conditioner was positioned. I held steadfast to the gutter over my head and pulled myself onto the top of the air conditioner, which enabled me to climb onto the second floor of the house. At this point, the only thought in my head was, “I hope that window latch is feeling lazy right about now,” as I walked around the second floor’s roof to the side of the house where the window was positioned. I pushed forward on it, feeling some resistance, then rocked it back and forth til it gave. Luckily, it did, and opened up onto the stairway which pointed upwards towards my bedroom, keys, wallet and lip balm. I crawled in the window, closed it behind me, and walked upstairs, finding my pants on the bed.

I retrieved my keys, wallet and lip balm from the pants in question, then threw them into the laundry bin in my closet. On the way out, I stopped in the kitchen, grabbed a spoon which I had stolen from Panera Bread Co. a few weeks before, and walked back outside to my car. I put the spoon in my glove compartment, and got caught in Rt. 1 mall traffic on the way to meet my friends.

The pants in question are currently in the dryer. The keys, wallet and lip balm in question are currently on a chair next to my bed. The spoon in question currently calls my glove compartment home, but serves as a reminder of the person I once was, the haphazard way in which I’ve always taken the long road around simple prospects in life, and the fact that I can still climb pretty good. Plus it just seems like I’ve always gotten more of out of spoons in life than keys.

All that from a pair of pants that get too baggy after two days….