Johnny America


Let Me Tell of My Love of Pigeons


Let me tell of my love of the beau­ti­ful and charm­ing beasts called pi­geons. They hold a re­viled po­si­tion in the feath­ered species. It’s a sad com­ment on hu­mans that pi­geons rank along­side crows and vul­tures. Those who hate pi­geons hate life. Call them rats of the sky, but it’s im­pos­si­ble to de­ny that they’re the Most Amus­ing Bird. Ea­gles are ma­jes­tic and blue­birds fetch­ing, but the no­ble ea­gle is sim­ply Not That Fun. Pi­geons have gusto.

Two win­ters ago I had a job sell­ing Christ­mas Trees on 3rd Av­enue. Peo­ple would stop by post-bagel/pre-work to take in our wares then re­turn in the evening to se­lect their Per­fect Cana­di­an Bal­sam. Busi­ness was ter­ri­ble be­tween ten o’­clock and four, leav­ing just me, my fel­low sales­man Frank, our books, and the pi­geons.* Our tree stand flanked the long side of an en­closed rac­quet­ball court. It was win­ter, so save the Sat­ur­day morn­ing games be­tween the Sweaty and Loud el­der­ly men of the neigh­bor­hood it was a pi­geon’s Mecca.**

Most morn­ings Frank and I would sit on the ground with our books (we were not al­lowed chairs; I do not know why) and bull­shit for an hour about whether Rachael Leigh Cook’s cute­ness was more in­tense than J. Lo’s moun­tain­ous ass, then get down to se­ri­ous read­ing. I can on­ly man­age about an hour of Ayn Rand or Fou­cault at a time, so I’d wan­der in­to the rac­quet­ball court for a quar­ter of my day; chas­ing pi­geons, skip­ping stones to­ward pi­geons, spout­ing im­promp­tu haiku about pi­geons at pigeons.

Rush to­ward a spar­row and it’ll take to the sky; rush to­ward a pi­geon (not too fast or too close!) and it’ll on­ly run. Walk more quick­ly and a pi­geon’ll take off and land sev­en feet from its star­ing point. With prac­tice you can guide their turns by hold­ing an arm to your side, in­tim­i­dat­ing them.

Ush­er­ing a pi­geon around a city block in late De­cem­ber beats any glass of wine I’ve ever sipped, hands down. I take more sat­is­fac­tion know­ing I man­aged an In-Place Triple Jump from a pair of pi­geons try­ing to avoid the scraps of chick­en wings I was hurl­ing than I do in my GRE score. A sim­ple Rush-and-Scat­ter ma­neu­ver in­to a group of birds is thrilling even af­ter you’ve ad­vanced in­to the more tech­ni­cal­ly ad­vanced pi­geon games; this sim­ple tac­tic nev­er grows tired.

The life of the pi­geon-bash­er lacks po­et­ry. There are peo­ple who strut through life mind­less­ly, com­plain­ing of their bore­dom yet nev­er man­ag­ing an hour of fun, then there are those who ap­pre­ci­ate ice storms for how they trans­form park­ing lots in­to play­grounds for Fig­ure Eights. Sad and va­pid are the lives of the pi­geon haters, for they are Miss­ing Out.

* This state­ment is not true. On week­ends we were joined by strug­gling ac­tor Clay­ton Bar­clay Jones. Clay­ton made three guest ap­pear­ances as ‘Bil­ly Crock­et’ on Mi­a­mi Vice dur­ing the late nine­teen eight­ies and had a star­ring role in the 1994 film adap­ta­tion of Lassie. In Lassie he played Josh Gar­land, ri­val of child pro­tag­o­nist Matthew Turn­er. Clay­ton’s char­ac­ter is ini­tial­ly hos­tile, steal­ing the Good Turn­ers’ sheep for his own fam­i­ly’s prof­its, but af­ter Lassie hero­ical­ly pulls him from Cer­tain Death in the Rapids he un­der­goes an ad­mirable moral transformation.

** There aren’t as many good pi­geons in my home­town of Lawrence, Kansas, as there are in New York City. What few we have aren’t as fast or as feisty, but they have good hearts and they’re up for the game. The side­walk by Round Cor­ner drug store is prob­a­bly the best op­tion if you’re look­ing for a com­plex ur­ban chase sce­nario. Rock-skip­ping off the side­walk pos­es chal­lenges you don’t have with as­phalt, but it’s the best spot if you want to tack­le street cross­ings and pedes­tri­an in­ter­fer­ence. I sad­ly know of ze­ro re­li­able spots for spot­ting large groups; Lawrence lacks the in­fra­struc­ture of New York that sup­ports the mag­nif­i­cent pi­geon population.


Filed under Commentary on November 3rd, 2003

Care to Share?

Reader Comments

Kat wrote:

I love pi­geons but I still sort of dis­agree with you. What’s so bad about crows? Their al­so smart and kind of pretty.

another Kat wrote:

i think that you are a true ge­nius, you’re rightabout play­ing with the pi­geons, i spend hours chas­ing them round the ten­nis courts, n im all the way in eng­land!! the pi­geons splen­did­ness is universal.

Consider posting a note of comment on this item:


Previous Post


Next Post


Join our Irregular Mailing List

For very occasional ramblings, word about new print ephemera, and of course exciting investment opportunities.