Oct 1, 2023
I’ve been in a running battle with birds in Boothbay Harbor for several years now.
Unfortunately, my battle isn’t with interesting birds like Non-Philly Eagles, Bushtits, Masked Boobies, Dickscissels, Horned Screamers, or Titmouses. Not even a Common Shag. No. I’m battling uninteresting, small, gray birds. They’re not even song birds. They just kind of cheep-cheep and shit on everything. I thought they were Grackles, but now I’m thinking scientists thought they were too boring for a name.
They are most definitely the same nondescript gray birds that routinely committed suicide on our windows when I was a kid. My mother would scream from somewhere, “DON’T TOUCH IT!!! IT’S SWIRLING WITH DEADLY GERMS!!!!” I took my mom’s word for it, as she was an RN. I left the poor, dead, uninteresting birds where they lay, only to be consumed by the wonder and beauty of nature where the end game was apparently to be eaten by something. Unless you were a tree. Then you had no choice who your neighbors were and could be cut down into patio furniture at any given minute.
Since that time, my life was sadly bereft of birds. Sure, there was the occasional friend’s parrot, the seagull I’d inadvertently hit with my car, or the band of noisy crows that always seemed to rip apart my garbage on Friday. Of course there was The Bald Eagle – the DDT-ravaged symbol of our great nation and the moniker of an Englishman named Eddie who likes to ski.
How, exactly, did I find myself at odds with a flotilla of dull, nondescript, angry birds in Boothbay Harbor? I shall take things slow and from the beginning. In that way, I think you will be hugely uninterested and never finish this, saving me the inevitable litigation and death threats from my neighbors.
It was a neighbor of ours. He was from Connecticut, but I didn’t hold that against him because previously there was a Whackjob from Maine living there who said my business was Satanic. That was lots of fun. She shot daggers out her eyes whenever we met. The guy from Connecticut was much friendlier. He would be a dawdle.
My first run-in with him was right after he moved in. He was pouring something out of what looked to be a large plant pot from his deck onto our parking spot and vehicles below.
I said, “HEY! Please don’t do that!!!”
I said it in the most jovial way I could muster, considering he was splattering his garbage all over my car, a UPS delivery, my dogs, their dog beds, and everything else in range. Secretly, I was disappointed there wasn’t at least one employee out there.
He said, “HEY! It’s just water!” in a sing-song way back at me.
I said back in a sing-song way, “Then pour it in the si-ink!!”
“But there’s di-irt at the bottom!”
“THEN IT’S NOT JUST WATER YOU IDIOT!!!” I screamed at him. “DON’T DUMP SHIT ON ME!!!!” Liana looked at me and shook her head side-to-side ever so slightly. Drop it. I was being rude.
He stood on his deck, looking into his plant pot perplexedly. Liana and I walked out to the road and he scuttled inside.
I secretly wished the Whackjob was back in that apartment accusing me of Satanism.
Then the worst possible thing happened– he and I saw each other at Kalers enjoying a drink and he avuncularly put his hand on my shoulder. He saw fit to give me trite and embarrassing advice he no doubt thought sage and compelling. He kept that hand on my shoulder for what seemed like the life of the galaxy. I wondered if I was going to be the victim of Dr. Spock’s Vulcan Mind Meld or Vulcan Nerve Pinch.
The encounter sent alarm flags up my spine. Was he a creepy molester of fat-middle-aged-pet-store owners, or did he work in the insurance industry? I remember when he had me in his grip Liana gave me a sideways, wide-eyed look that said, “I’m so proud of you for not punching this guy in the face.”
I was right. He worked in the insurance trade, which pretty much guaranteed his brain was over-taxed by simply opening a box of Graham Crackers. It explained why he couldn’t see dropping garbage on his neighbors as inappropriate.
As Liana can vouch, I always Christen weirdos I am guaranteed of seeing a lot in the future. There was DipSpit, Ass-Tank, Mr. Creepy, Motor-Mouth, The Dog-Faced Family, and Spazzle Dazzle (Spaz).
Ego posthac nominabo te, “The Dummy.”
At some point, The Dummy decided he liked birds. So he put a bird feeder on his back deck.
The happy birds ate at the feeder all day long. They showered us with sunflower seed husks and unclaimed seeds. Also bird shit. Then The Dummy got the idea to put up some suet bird feeders. Those literally rained rancid fat onto our back steps, driveway, dogs and employees. Don’t worry, the employees were OK with rancid fat raining down on them. Haha! Just kidding! They were as calm as the spectators of the Oregon DOT’s attempt to blow up a dead, rotting whale with dynamite. Despite my employees being exposed to little drips of rancid fat and birdseed, you would have thought rancid chunks of whale blubber the size of septic tanks were raining down and crushing them like the cars in the whale video.
Then the birds started flying into my shop. They scared the hell out of my customers. They also fear-pooped on my product (the birds, not the customers). I debated closing the back door, but I would have cut off the breeze and the shop would have quickly become a warm, humid, severed-animal-part-stinking cesspool that resembled the Carboniferous Period.
I fear few things. Death? No. IRS Audit? No. Ridicule by teenage girls? A little bit.
But I am ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED of a mouse, rat, vole, mole, squirrel, chipmunk, capybara, beaver, Steve Buscemi or any other rodent loose in my shop’s storage shed. It’s hardly vermin-secure. It would quickly mean an end to about $10k of my pet food and treat inventory. I watched the birdseed and rancid suet rain down and I fretted incessantly.
I felt bad for yelling at The Dummy about the water. I felt even worse when I complained that their beagle howled for hours on end when they left him to go golfing. But I saw no end to the puddle of rancid suet, bird seed, and bird shit rain and had to do something.
And maybe this is why just about everyone who has ever owned a business is described as an asshole. Every once in a while the owner has to put on the asshole pants and stand up for his livelihood.
I remember coming to the shop one day and seeing all the shells and seeds and putrid fat on the ground. It must have smelled horrible up on their deck, judging by what I was smelling down below. Why wasn’t this bothering them as much as my hysterical teenage employees?
There was no way around it. I had to be The Asshole and have a serious talk with The Dummy.
I practiced putting my hand on Liana’s shoulder and smiling at her for long periods. I practiced telling her sincerely about all the things that concerned me regarding “his” birds. After several hours of this kind of practice, Liana said I had almost stopped referring to him as “The Dummy.”
I was ready.
I spoke to The Dummy the next afternoon as he and his wife were going out for a round of golf. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best time.
To hell with it.
I showed him the seeds and rancid fat all around my shed. I showed him all the inventory I held in it. I showed him how I thwarted rodent invasions in the past with poison and sonic rodent dispersers. I calmly explained to him my concerns with feeding “his” birds. I asked him if he would please stop feeding them over my head. I was rational, lucid, and gentlemanly.
The Dummy got angry. He puffed his chest out. His wife recoiled. She got in the waiting car and put all the windows up. He yelled that I was out to get him. I was insane. He paid the his rent, same as me. Why did I want to continually persecute him? He stalked off and dismissively waved his hand at me. He got into his car with his terrified wife and left a little too fast.
I was upset that all my practicing with Liana was for naught. But I understood. He thought he was Thoreau at Walden Pond. He was here to commune with all the nature Maine had to offer. I was The Asshole owner of a loud, demanding business below him. And I’m sure he was despondent that all his nature quest ever attracted was unremarkable, gray, non-song birds that shit on everything and cheep-cheeped wearingly like they needed their mothers desperately all the time.
What else could I do? What options did I have? Even Liana was out of ideas. She suggested I punch him in the face and run away to Veazie to start a shadow U.S. government. Haha!! She didn’t suggest I run away. She suggested I waddle away as best I could.
I ended up tattling to the landlord. The torrent of rancid fat and birdseed stopped.
And I had seen enough movies about prison life to know there were only so many times a grown man could tattle without getting a shiv right between the shoulder blades.
Oh how hath the mighty fallen?
At one time in my life, I was a much sought-after engineer for rehabilitating hydroelectric dams. The next minute, I was the loudest tattle-tale on the Boothbay Harbor playground. Just a common, run-of-the-mill despised shivvable snitch.
The Dummy then played his game. He no longer put his beagle in doggie daycare. He stuck it out on the deck where it howled like it was being vivisected. The beagle’s water bowl leaked down on us. I didn’t say anything. As The Dummy himself said only ten months prior, “It’s only water.” The rancid suet and birdseed were gone. My shed was safe.
The birds continued to fly into my shop and terrorize my customers. My employees responded by screaming and running around in a panic only slightly worse than the customers. I thought they actually looked forward to it.
Then one afternoon I noticed liquid cascading from upstairs. It wasn’t near the beagle’s water bowl. It was near the steps to our shed. I got some paper towels and pressed it into the liquid. It came up yellow.
I picked up the phone and dialed The Dummy in a blind, spitting rage. I let loose a stream of obscenities and accusations that would shame Quentin Tarantino. I was done with being avuncular. I was done tattling. I was going to do what I did best – use my breathless rage to squelch someone into cowering submission.
Having heard nothing The Dummy had to say, I (metaphorically) slammed the phone down and immediately dialed our landlord. This wasn’t at all like tattling. No. Of course not. No No No. Not at all.
The landlord didn’t renew The Dummy’s lease. That should have taken care of all my problems.
Welcome to the hard streets of Boothbay Harbor, baby.
Before The Dummy left, he gave our neighbors everything necessary to keep his birds shitting all over everything.
The neighbors didn’t even bother with a bird feeder. They just threw all the feed and suet on the asphalt. The birds showed up in droves, dimming the sun and ravaging the land like locusts. Perhaps a little melodramatic, but fun to write. Speaking of dim, these people didn’t even realize they were condemning the birds and their subsequent hatchlings to a slow, horrific, starvation death this winter.
And the birds multiplied like fruit flies at a dive bar. In only one summer, an athletic bird generation begat a fat bird generation. Then that generation let loose a generation of obese, surly, birds that enjoyed flying into my shop, scaring my customers, knocking over my merchandise, cheep-cheeping monotonously, and carpet bombing the place with their shit like it was a standing order from Henry Kissinger.
Then it seemed like everyone in town was feeding the birds. I think “They Might Be Giants” with their song “We Want a Rock,” said it best. It explains a lot about what happened next.
“….I’d buy a big prosthetic forehead
And wear it on my real head
Everybody wants prosthetic
Foreheads on their real heads
Throw the crib door wide
Let the people crawl inside
Someone in this town
Is trying to burn the playhouse down
They want to stop the ones who want
Prosthetic foreheads on their heads
But everybody wants prosthetic
Foreheads on their real heads…….”
I interpret the lyrics as being about the tendency of Good People to get sucked into trendy, whimsical, and mildly cultish infatuations and the paranoia associated when more reasonable and objective people suggest the Good People are being mildly self-destructive.
Some Batshit Crazy Girlfriend in the next building saw all the dull birds swarming all over the asphalt for the free food. Of course she needed the joys of a shitting bird army at her command, and started feeding them too. Perhaps the thronging, fat birds reminded her of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Perhaps she was just dead inside and needed a spark to give her a reason to not drive her ass back to Maryland. It’s not my place to speculate.
She got a bird feeder and hung it up on the second story. That sent the entire multitude of dull birds into a state of frenzied jubilation. They were dive-bombing people on the street. They were chasing off other birds and attacking isolated small children. They were feeding like Val Kilmer at a Golden Corral buffet.
The distance between the bird feeder on the second floor and the food dumped on the asphalt created what I called “Dive Bomb Alley.” For about 2 weeks I felt like I was the USS Bunker Hill being attacked by kamikazes every time I went out my back door.
The water bowl we kept out back for the dogs was choked with bird shit. It looked like porridge. Loose feathers blew into the shop like tumbleweeds and congealed in our shop’s corners like dust kitties. And of course we had the usual, persistent problems of emboldened birds flying into the shop.
Apparently, I had misread the situation. This was a war of attrition.
And I was losing.
As so often happens in war, the tide is turned by some unexpected, miraculous event and one side’s will to exploit it.
A business near us had a bird fly in and knock some expensive things off a shelf. The owners were irate– they had expensive stuff instead of filthy severed animal parts. They quickly informed Batshit Crazy Girlfriend that she was liable for any damages as a result of “her” birds. I went out in front of their shop and saw bird shit splattered all over the sidewalk. I spoke to the owners. They had been fighting the same battle for about the same time.
Like The Dummy, Batshit Crazy Girlfriend ended up giving up all her bird feed and bird-feeding apparatus to the Ground-Feeding neighbors. Despite now having two feeders, they still spread all the seed on the asphalt so rodents and other vermin could have easy access to my shed.
Also like The Dummy before, I kept trying to find a good way and a good time to tell the neighbors my concerns on “the whole bird thing.” But I kept letting it go. I felt like a tattle tale. I felt guilty. I didn’t bring it up to them. I had other things to do that summer. Like help confused senior citizens get back to their cars and recommend the best place to get a lobster roll.
The birds kept flying into my shop. There were now several distinct generations of birds. You could tell which generation they were by how fat they were. I thought every generation was more demanding than the previous, but that might have been me just honing my curmudgeonliness (Probably not a word).
After another series of kamikaze birds flying into my shop, and one in my storage shed on a busy August morning, I had enough. That was it. I was that someone in this town who wanted to burn the playhouse down. It was time to stop the ones who wanted prosthetic foreheads on their real heads.
After I got the bird out of my storage shed and cleaned all the fear shit off my merchandise, I calmly told my neighbor. She looked at me like I had a huge mushroom growing out of my head. How could I hate the little birdies? What kind of monster was I? Couldn’t I see that there were several generations of nondescript, monotone-cheeping birds depending on the food she put down? How could I ask her to take that away?
I told her what I told The Dummy: Spreading all that food everywhere not only fed the uncute little birdies, but it attracted all kinds of vermin and was a threat to my shed and my very livelihood. The birds flying into my store and shed were a nuisance and cost my business customers, money, and time.
I calmly asked her to get rid of the feeding area on her asphalt. I did NOT put my hand on her shoulder. I DID NOT explode in anger.
She said “OK” although it was painfully obvious she thought I was an asshole.
The next day I felt bad. I said to her, “I’m sorry. I know how much the birds meant to you.”
She said, “In all my previous businesses I always had birds fly into my shop.”
I wanted to tell her that feeding the birds this summer would guarantee they die a horrible death this winter when she wasn’t here to feed them. I wanted to tell her that if she wanted birds flying around her shop and shitting on her customers, she was welcome to do so provided my shop wasn’t affected. I wanted to tell her that there were laws and statutes regarding leaving foodstuff in the open that would attract rodents. I wanted to tell her that my business had borne the brunt of her indulgence with nature. I wanted to scream sense into her thick skull….
But what would any of that do?
I looked at her in disbelief. The dull, swarming, surly, shitting, shop-invading, dive-bombing, disease-laden, vermin-spreading birds were gone.
I said nothing. I had eventually won. That was enough.
Then I found out she hung one of the feeders out back, even closer to my shed.
And the war slogged on.