The Pigeon Episode

Published: January 17, 2014

Well, seeing as there’s been a lot of talk about helicopters recently I suppose I could relate to you all the wonderful story of the pigeon in the rafters.

While back, we got us a pigeon in the rafters. Just flew right in, did the pigeon, and took up a kind of amiable residence way up over the fermenters, not far from the paper-strewn aerie within which Daddy Mumbles haunts us–the stooped lord o’erseeing his shambling fiefdom. On the daily, lots of barley corn gets scattered outside and the pigeons love it, oh how they love it; they wait patiently up on the power line, so many of them and so quiet it’s The Birds all over. When it’s warm out we leave the big door open and usually one of us will chase them off with a spray hose. When it’s cold you’ll interrupt them, a frenzy of pigeons bearing down on a pile of spilled grain like jackals to carcass. This is the grain gone viral, in a way. People like the grains more when they’re melted into broth, collectivized, anonymous, but pigeons, a pigeon bows to each individual kernel as if it was gold. Isn’t that nice? Well anyway.

They can overdo it, too–particularly when the Rubbermaid cans overflowing with steaming spent grains get parked outside. These the pigeons can actually get drunk on.

Once (and only once, my hand to God) we were molested for the better part of a day by a piss drunk bird of a generally brown hue. There is something unplaceable and weird about how a drunk bird acts: not getting out of your way, weaving a bit, just looking at things. This one was sort of wet all over, if memory serves. You got the impression it was having a bad hair day and was about to die. It was fearless and, in its pigeony way, truculent. It stared down the forklift I was driving like we were in Tiananmen Square. I loved this bird.

At first it seemed death was imminent and would come at any time. That was around nine in the morning. By lunch, it was stronger, though still grounded: it went on expeditions, it peered at things and got in the way, it was possibly scratching items off its bucket list. I had high hopes. But someone said in late afternoon that it was dead, and that was that. So it goes. I think Chris W. handled the corpse, which is one of the things we rely on him for.

Maybe you’ve seen the almost unwatchably funny nature documentary clips in which Serengeti wildlife get hammered on that rotting fruit that ferments in their bellies. All those reeling monkeys. That ostrich. My favorite is the elephant who can no longer stand and isn’t even managing to lie down well, but who’s still trunk-shoveling those things into his mouth with this deranged glee in his eyes. I see I’ve ranged a bit from the point.

So everyone became obsessed with getting the pigeon down from there. The pitchforks came out, the torches. We hoisted brooms, contemplated ladders, thought about throwing things. We turned off the lights and opened the doors and stared into the rafters and scratched our heads. It just sat up there. Someone said, We need one of those toy helicopters. It was exceptionally calm. It occurred to me that the pigeon was possessed of the martyr’s preternatural calm.

The clouds drifted apart and my mind flooded with light.

“This pigeon,” I told everybody, “is a decoy.”

While the flower of the French Broad Brewery’s young, capable, intelligent staff was embroiling itself in a quixotic, unwinnable campaign, the warehouse was left unoccupied, unguarded, the garage door wide open.

The warehouse: the Fort effing Knox of grain.

Even then, a squadron of pigeons was working in concert, clutching with their scores of beaks and talons a single bag of Maris Otter, their frantically beating wings percussive, inspiring, a terror in the cold empty dusty abandoned warehouse. You can see them straining, the fixity of their beady eyes, the bend in their necks. How long did they plot this caper? It had practically torn them apart. To think of it now, this lifetime of precious eats all theirs, if only they’re strong enough…

Finally the bag separates from the cement floor, from the earth, just an eyelash, then a smile’s worth, then an inch–here we goooooooooo!–but the exhilarant wind moves them too fast and they’re falling again, the bag crumpling to the floor. Now they notice, as one, the quiet that’s come over the Brewery, a quiet of no mean moment… They’re on to us… They’re figuring it out. They’re coming! It’s now or never–HEAVE, boys! HEAVE! 

At the exact moment that doom is unavoidable, the miracle: we careen into the warehouse, all us enormous and powerful human beings, just in time to see the bag, sneezing through the air in a cloud of laboring pigeons, at last flying out the garage door and into open sky. The Spirit of St. Louis is airborne; it just cleared the trees.

And what happens while we dumbasses gawk pointlessly outside, having been taken by a bunch of rats with wings? Rafter pigeon, alone at last after a day of torment, dives, takes wing, and flies unharassed to his comrades’ aid. We watch him join up.


That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.








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