Sunday, March 07, 2010

Bob's Wild Life

My husband loves animals and has always had them in his life. We would have a dog, except that he's not home enough to take care of one and we would have a cat except that I'm allergic to them. So instead he feeds the city wildlife. We moved into our current apartment three years ago, partly because it had a room Bob could use for smoking: an enclosed front deck. Since we're on the first floor, it looks right out onto the trees and grass that are between us and the street.

First Bob bought a birdfeeder and got a lot of pleasure out of loading it up every morning and then spending hours watching the sparrows devour its contents. Feeding the little guys made Bob feel good and gave him a calming focus as he sat smoking and listening to the radio each day. But our landlord didn't like it. He said it drew pigeons which were damaging the structure of our building, so eventually Bob took the birdfeeder down and moved it to the back porch. When the landlord found it there, he just took it. Our landlord doesn't like direct conflict so I know talking to Bob about this was hard for him. And passive aggressive people do things like just steal something, so that birdfeeder is gone now.

Then Bob turned to the squirrels. Tossing them whole peanuts didn't draw pigeons because they couldn't open the shells, but the squirrels could. That was actually even more fun for Bob because he would put a pile of nuts right in front of him, on the ledge of the window of the enclosed deck, and the little rodents would climb up to get them. Bob gave them names like Blackie, Cloudy and Fred, and always greeted them. When a squirrel would nervously dash off again, Bob would say, "Okay, 'bye now." Bob went through a lot of peanuts.

Sometimes a squirrel would be on the ground outside Bob's deck and it wouldn't feel like going all the way up there. It would stand on its hind legs and stretch toward Bob. Bob would hold a peanut out the window. The squirrel would inch closer on its hind legs, looking like it was dancing. By the time Bob threw the peanut, I'd be laughing.

After that, Bob got in the habit of tossing the squirrels peanuts as if they were dogs, but unlike dogs, squirrels have really bad eyes and could never find a peanut unless it landed right next to them or hit them on the head, which sometimes happened. I used to wonder of the squirrels were developing a Pavlovian response to the smell of cigarette smoke or the sound of WGN.

But this couldn't last either, since the peanut shells littered the tiny lawn that our landlord carefully tends in front of our building. He does a considerable amount of landscaping and nurtures fresh grass, flowering bushes and tanbarked trees. It's the most beautifully landscaped building on the block, so of course it drove the landlord crazy that Bob's generosity was causing litter and holes in his garden. I didn't like that the front of our building was starting to look like the inside of a bar, with the broken peanut shells, but I also knew how much pleasure Bob got from his ritual. I just tried to stay out of it.

It was a low-intensity standoff between my husband and our landlord. Carlos. Bob started picking up the shells that dropped, but that still left the holes the squirrels would dig to hide the nuts. When Carlos came around, he'd bring a slingshot and try to hit the squirrels. Bob couldn't stand this and would withdraw into the apartment when he saw Carlos coming. If I were home, I confront Carlos about the cruelty of the slingshot, but both my husband and the landlord loathed direct confontation, so theirs was a low-contact conflict.

One day, when Bob returned to his post after Carlos had finished his vigilante work, Bob saw a hole in one of the enclosed deck windows. He went to find Carlos.

"Were you just outside shooting rocks at the squirrels?" Bob asked him.
"Yes," said Carlos.
"You broke one of our windows!"
"No, I don't think so."
"Yeah, you did. Come here."

As they stood and looked at our double-paned window, the outside pane of which was punctured, Bob said, "See? Look. How would you like it if someone took a slingshot to you? You're too old to be playing with a slingshot. And I'm not paying for this!"

Carlos looked at the hole and wouldn't look Bob in the eye. He still wouldn't admit breaking the window, but he said, "I'll take care of it."

It was months before Carlos replaced that pane, but he didn't let up on Bob. He wanted the peanuts to stop. So, Bob finally stopped. Having peace between him and our landlord was more important. There were no more peanuts for his friends, but because Bob couldn't stand having the squirrels look at him "that way," he stopped sitting out on the front deck. For months he switched to smoking on the back deck, waiting for the squirrels to forget and stop coming around, which they eventually did.

While on that back deck, Bob noticed a cat with a litter of kittens that was living on the abandoned lot next door. The condominium had been half-built when the recession caused all construction to stop. Now it housed a family of cats. Bob tried to figure out how to get food to the cat, but he hadn't quite worked it out when workers came and boarded up the building, to keep out transients. After the doors and windows were sealed shut, Bob didn't see the cat or her kittens again. We tried not to think about it. Then Bob discovered Mob Wars and Farm Town and stopped spending as much time outside, listening to the radio.

In the past few months, Bob has discovered his latest "work around." Carlos doesn't want peanut shells on our property, but no one's keeping tabs on the abandoned lot next to us. The grass in front grows wild and is choked with weeds and litter. So now, each morning, Bob fills one baggie with peanuts and another with birdseed and scatters this on the ground there on his way to work. He doesn't get to watch the recipients enjoy it or see their smiles of gratitude, but he knows how they feel. I think you just can't stop some people from taking care of others. It's going to happen one way or another.


Anonymous said...


Good to see you are still blogging. And well. Writing. And married with new obsessions .

Hysterical Blackness

Mick said...

What a complete prat your landlord is.

I've a hedge at the side of my garden that is full of nests and in a morning as soon as the sun comes up lots of little birds appear from within, think Bob would enjoy watching them.

Anonymous said...

My decision: The landlord should be put to death for cruelty to animals. Bob should be immediately evicted. The deleterious effects of feeding "wildlife" are obvious. If you want to do so, you should buy a large piece of private property. Also, smoking is gross.

Regina said...

Hysterical Blackness - good to hear from you! Yeah, I'm finally married and it's going about as well as you'd expect.

Mick - I'm sure Bob would love to watch birds getting up in the morning.

Anonymous - how nice of you. Thanks for stopping by.

Rayfield A. Waller said...

This was a very funny, touching, and then funny again piece to read on my birthday.

I usually miss you around my birthday, Regina, and feel sadness and nostalgia about the past we share, when we were at Cornell in grad school, a long time ago now even though it is as sharp in my memory as if it were an hour ago, a time when I saw you pretty much every day on campus and I took your presence in my life for granted.

Remember that incredible lunch we had one day at the Kayuga Japanese restaurant in Ithaca, down the hill from Collegetown? A sumptuous, delicious, excessive, endless, and FREE lunch (because I was reviewing the restaurant for the Ithaca Times)!

I decided to see what's up on your blog as a way of feeling close to you today, and like always whenever I spent time with you, I found myself laughing out loud as well as feeling touched as I read this piece on 'Wild Bob'.

Bob sounds like exactly the kind of man you deserve to have as a husband and friend, and I am so happy you found each other.

One thing has changed in the tone of your writing: it is just as funny, just as deadpan, just as sarcastic, and just as poignant, but it now sounds far less lonely.
It sounds happy.

Thanks to my spending a part of my birthday today with your writing, I am less lonely too.

Stay Brown. Stay happy.
Love you,


Regina said...

Ray Baby!

I remember that Japanese meal. That was one of the best things I did while I was in Ithaca. Thank you again for inviting me.

I'm so glad you enjoyed reading my blog today. Thank you for the comments on how I seem happy now. I think I'm happiER. I still get mad at myself and afraid of life, but now my set point is "Maybe it's all right" instead of "I'm sure death is better than this" (as it used to be).

Stay Black. Happy birthday!

Anonymous said...

thx u very much, i learn a lot