The tawny owl had been showing some of the cooler sights in the Santa Cruz Mountains to a pair of distant cousins from outside of South Philly who ate a lot of brown rats in their diet. He could see how hard they were trying to remain unimpressed. But, then one of them swooped down and nabbed a struggling salmon right out of the froth in the San Lorenzo River. The tawny owl was happy for him. That Philly dude was hooked for life. He could hardly stop smiling like some simple minded bear. There’s nothing like fresh salmon.
The tawny owl said, “That’s a tough town, Philly. Somebody’s always asking somebody, ‘Who do you do you think you are, Mr. Big Stuff’?”
“A lot of good music comes out of there, though,” he added.
“So I’ve heard.”
“It’s all about turf. They lost most of their better minerals a long time ago. More of your buddies with their shovels, digging. I still have a lot of family back there. Most of them are spotted owls. They try to stick together when they go out.”
“Why my buddies? I don’t know anybody back there.”
“You all look alike to me.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“How you think from way down there you can tell me way up here what I mean?”
The tawny owl was getting ready for a big all night bash on the top of several mountains between Palo Alto and Pacifica. He knew for sure that at least two dozen owls would be attending, mostly couples. The main menu included plenty of rabbits slathered in goo. Nearly everyone loved a juicy rabbit. He and his lovely wife were meeting a pair of Northern Pygmies for a pre-party snack of sliced toads with a garnish of marinated lizard tails. Tails were sweet this time of year. They were a pretty laid back and mellow pair, for a couple of pygmies. They dug the romantic sounds of Barry White, the Stylistics, and the O’Jays. Feasting, feathering, and fornicating were a few more of the items on the agenda.
The tawny owl was looking pretty darn sharp, as usual.
I said, “You’re looking pretty darn sharp as usual.”
He said, “Well, yeah, like…duh.”
It doesn’t bother me any more when he says that, even in his snidest tone of voice, or when he arches one eye while the other droops, or when he does that 270 degree thing with his neck. When I think about it, which I do, it does not hurt nearly as much to be mocked by a superior animal than it does by a mere human. After all, I can barely do a 180 degree thing with my neck. Not to mention my lack of facility with figure eights, the basic building block of all the multiverse.
Then he added, “If not me, who?”
Then he hooted like all the children of John Coltrane in syncopation. I stopped counting parts at sweet sixteen. Reverberations were duly noted on a wide scale. Then he looked hard and frowned as if he was trying to solve an equation. He intimated that he was receiving cryptic messages from the next galaxy over. I think there was a little bit of Bob Marley tossed in the mix too. I tapped my toes, wiggled, and gyrated to the best of my ability. The tawny owl laughed his ass off.
I said, “I think my figure eights are getting better, tighter.”
I said, “What do you think?”
He said, “Too plain, too stiff, too simple, too narrow. In short, I think not.”
I said, “How about now?”
Then the tawny owl said to me, as a thoughtful warning I thought, or at least hoped, “Something on your stove is starting to burn.”
“You sometimes say that when you are trying to get rid of me.”
“I mean what I say for as long as I’m saying it.”
I did not repeat that I was moderately certain he was just trying to get rid of me in order to concentrate on a profound synapse of a thought that was part of his equation, and when I ran into the kitchen to turn off the stew on the stove, sure enough it was only simmering nicely.
It was a simple rabbit stew. The tawny owl had smelled it earlier but had refrained from commenting. I wonder if he meant to spare my feelings. I had attempted to create a hearty meal that highlighted the piquant spices more than the stringy meat. I don’t know what that had to do with unrestrained sex in the wild but the tawny owl began to imply that the monogamous relationship he enjoyed with his lovely wife was the source of all nourishing meat on his figurative table, attached strings and all.
“The key is, “he said, which I already knew, but refrained from commenting upon, “you got to be digging it while it’s happening.”
I had never eaten much rabbit before becoming friends with the tawny owl, but I think I am beginning to develop a taste for it. The tawny owl does not think any more highly of the intelligence quotient of the average rabbit than of the average human. It’s hard for me to know what to believe in many of the areas in which he is an expert so I mostly keep quiet. Although what he calls us is not friends. He refuses to pin the relationship down that precisely. And I hardly blame him. How could I?
I added a fistful of diced habaneros to the stew, and several generous pinches of turmeric, coriander, and cayenne, probably too much in the way of overcompensation, before reversing my course. Then I washed my hands before I rubbed stinging pepper into my eyes. I know humans of average intelligence are prone to that.
When I came back, however, the tawny owl was gone, gone, gone. I could hardly blame him. He really gets far out there. If I could fly like that on the strength of my own wings, I know that most of the time I’d be gone, gone, gone, too.
Do you believe in letting bygones be bygones?
What happens when your bygones come back to bite you on the ass?
COMING SOON: GET IT WHILE YOU CAN