The Applause of Birds

The day began well before dawn in snowy, sub-zero Anchorage. There were northern lights in the sky as I began the long flight over the unending Pacific horizon. The monotonous blue broke only once all day – during a short, but viciously hot midday stop at Wake Island. Too many hours later, I arrived over the beautiful coral reefs and clear water of Midway Island. Omnipotent Dad – who’d been there as a submariner during WWII – always described the place as a bomb-pocked hunk of rock jutting up from the sea. He’d told me many times about Navy ships inbound from the US hauling in loads of dirt in an attempt to green the place up. Apparently the effort worked, because the Midway I saw below was a lush place with the big green lawns and thousands of coconut palms common to most tropical military bases.

Dad also told me stories about the gooney birds – the huge and comical albatrosses that crowd the island. My image of them was mostly based on National Geographic pictures and tales of sailors taking a break from the nasty business of war to feed ice cream to the chicks.

Meet the Goonies

As we taxied to our parking spot, I was amazed that hundreds of the birds lined the runways and taxiways. None of them seemed the least interested in the giant metal bird screaming a few feet away. Off in the distance I could see one or two using the runway for their own takeoffs. They gullomped down the runway flapping their impossibly long wings and bumping their asses on the concrete. After seemingly running for miles, they slowly lifted and struggled for altitude like an overloaded airplane. Once in the sky, their clumsiness fell away and they soared in effortless beauty over the sea. Their flight was so economical. It put man’s feeble confection of being the master of the skies to shame. They flew for hours on the island thermals, adjusting their flights with only the subtle movements of their tails.

When we shut down our banshee-screaming engines, it became so quiet. The air held nothing except the gentle ticking of the cooling engines, the hush of the far-off surf, and muted voices from the crew as we unpacked. The wind picked up slightly and the solid thock of a coconut falling onto the concrete reminded us we were in the tropics.

After checking in, a sailor from the naval facility ferried us to our quarters in an ancient Jeep. If I’d been impressed by the number of goonies around the airport, I was totally unprepared for what I saw on the streets. It was mating season and every inch of the island – lawns, driveways, picnic tables, cars, even the road itself – was choked with birds. It was Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds writ huge. There were so many birds that we could drive no faster than 5 mph. Our sailor navigated around eggs laid on the bare ground and straddled birds that refused to make way for the Jeep.

Mom, Dad, and the Chicks

Some of the nesting couples had already hatched their huge eggs and jealously guarded their chicks and ridiculously small patch of ground. It seemed the only thing that ruffled their feathers was another bird or a human getting too close. They squawked loudly and bobbed heads at intruders. If you drew too close, they’d snip in your direction with a pronounced clap of their hooked bills. I’m sure they could do real damage if they managed to connect with flesh.

The chicks couldn’t be more different than their parents. Instead of strikingly white, three foot tall birds, the chicks were cantaloupe-sized balls of furry brown fuzz. Lost in the tangle were two beady, glistening eyes and the tiniest of beaks. They looked like fobs on the end of a teenage girl’s key chain. Although the parents made poor nest builders – bare ground was fine with them – they made very attentive keepers of their small broods. Periodically, one of the adults would make the long takeoff run and return later with a mouthful of regurgitated fish. It seemed as though the parents might swallow the chicks whole as their kids fed directly from Mom’s beak. But they were happy families, the parents periodically stopping to do their silly dipping, flapping love dance culminating in an orgy of claps from their massive beaks.

The Applause of Birds

Our quarters were in an old house, previously used by a navy family. We removed the plywood from the windows and the protective plastic from the mattresses and settled in. We watched the sun go down in a dazzling display from the back porch. When it grew dark, we all moved inside for sleep. As I lay down I felt the cool island breeze tickle the hairs of my body. I could feel a slight sheen of sweat evaporating in the breeze. My eyes grew heavy and as I began to drift off I could hear only one thing – the quiet applause of a million goonies doing their dance and clapping their bills of love. My last thought before I slipped below the waves of sleep was that avian applause seemed like a very fitting end to the day.

Clap, clap, clap.

Randomness Run Amok

Attention Cap’n Dyke – Calling all lesbians! Further proof that you aren’t freaks of nature like James Dobson claims. And in other dyke news, this just in from Cap’n Dyke.

Chilly Willie
– Fighting global warming, one ball at a time.

Wowsa!This is some deal! I wonder if he’s related to Mrs. Fatti Zongo from Nigeria? I hear ketchup and rice is the Nigerian national dish. Apparently Fido gets in on the act too.

Sniff, Sneeze, Cough – If bird flu wasn’t bad enough, check out these. They’re perfect for that little two-year old pre-med student who has everything.

Caution: Capitalism at Work! – Good Lord! How long will it be before Anna Nicole’s implants go up for sale?

Pack Rat Alert – Some people collect airline barf bags…go figure.

Mon Dieu! – The Parisians hated the Eiffel Tower when they first built it, but somehow I think these will take a little longer to get used to.

Who Shot My Cheese? – Personally, I find a voodoo doll works much better, but hey…what ever makes you happy.

Swordus Interruptus – You’re sitting home, minding your own business, watching a little porn and what happens? A crazed samurai bursts in trying to save the girl.

Does Size Really Matter? – For years women have been lying to men, now turnabout is fair play. Very NSFW.

Couch Potato Excess – If you get any lazier, they might as well just remove your brain and let it operate from than Mason jar in the kitchen. BTW, do these fit?

Sign the PeTITion – Come on, give these boys a helping hand. Allow them to fulfill their dream!

Keep Your Reichstag Clean – Vee haf veys of makink du vipe der feeten.

We Want Crappie! – These guys get all the cool fish. Bush went fishing and all we got was that crappie fishing shirt (and Katrina, but we’ve all forgotten about that, haven’t we?).

What an Orgasm, Eh?Nothing gets in the way of Hockey Night in Canada, eh? And I mean nothing.

Take a Pill – You got it, they can cure it.

Some People Are Just REALLY Into Fruit – If you have a banana you might want to lock it up before it’s employed in some disgusting ritual. On second thought, maybe the locker might BE the tool for the disgusting ritual. (Dip o’ the Omnipotent Wings to Konagod)

Roots for the New Millennium – You just can’t make this shit up.

Oooo, You Forgot the Diapers Too – What, no plastic sheeting? Clearly, NASA missed Professor Chertoff’s class at the Institute for Disaster Preparedness.

Dwarfs of the World Unite

Sometimes it’s the little things that hurt, but the trouble is, which little things are they? According to one recent newspaper article it apparently includes calling a dwarf a midget.

A dwarfs’ rights advocate told the story of how he has been derided since birth by people calling him a midget. I’m sure he has been subjected to all manner of sick jokes and derision by a society full of hard-headed and hard-hearted people who hold idiotic stereotypes. I have no lack of empathy for his pain, but despite his lengthy explanation of the word’s roots and how dwarfs themselves have used it to make class distinctions between themselves, I’m not sure I see how calling midgets dwarfs or little people solves much. I’m confident that no matter which word the dwarf community chooses, the mental midgets who use midget to deride them will simply use another name. People who use words to hurt others aren’t much concerned about etymology anyway.

Many similar arguments have been raised over the past decade. African-Americans have moved through nigger, negro, colored, black, Afro-American, African-American, and people of color since the forties and fifties. Even blacks themselves argue over whether nigger is an acceptable term to be used between people of the same race. I’m not stupid enough to suggest that nigger isn’t a hot-button word. It is and more often than not, people use it as a term of derision. It shouldn’t be tolerated by anyone as far as I’m concerned, but at the end of the day constantly evolving your description won’t make the derision go away.

Many Native Americans, nee Indians (or First Nations or First Peoples in Canada) are insulted by sports teams choosing Native American mascots. Many people on both sides (Native American and other) see it as a term of respect while others think it is degrading and crude. I don’t think any person with an ounce of sense would say Native Americans haven’t been, or aren’t still, victims of extraordinary injustice, but if we followed this logic, almost any sports team name would be verboten.

For example, wouldn’t Spartans and Trojans perpetuate stereotypes of Greeks? Wouldn’t the Fightin’ Irish seem to honor drunken leprechauns hopped up on too much clover? How about the Ottawa Senators? Wouldn’t their mascot conjure up visions of dim-witted politicians who can’t agree on what language Canada should speak (well, maybe that one would)?

Seemingly innocuous names might not even make the grade. One local high school near me is named the Hayward Farmers. Does that make you think of some stupid Clem Cadiddlehopper with straw in his mouth and shit on his boots? How about the Wildcats? Would PETA come to lobby against the stereotype of feline killers? Maybe a truly strange name – like the University of California at Santa Cruz’s Banana Slugs – would be OK. However, I’m sure there’s a Banana Slug Liberation Front out there itching for a slow-motion fight over their mascot too.

There’s no doubt that some of these names are hurtful and clearly out of bounds. There are others where that’s a slightly finer point. I believe stereotyping and hate-speech are wrong. There is no room for wiggling on that point. Those who intentionally inflict this kind of pain on others are some of the lowest of the low. However, bigots will be bigots regardless of their lexicon.

I have no problem with groups announcing that whatever term used to define them is offensive – I even support many of these crusades myself – but I try to gauge which ones seem to make sense vs. those that merely seem nonsensical. I think that by lowering the debate about these offenses to quarrels over mascots, heights, or colors it cheapens the effects of the real injustices and distracts people from agitating for real change.

I mean after all, I’m a fat, pasty-skinned honky, member of the patriarchy with insane, drunken paddies and Teutonic war-mongers in my background. You don’t hear me complaining during sitcom commercial breaks about the depiction of my people as imbeciles who are incapable of doing anything without a woman’s benevolent touch.