In the type of sweeping pronouncement that the tawny owl often likes to make from one of the higher perches in the redwood tree overlooking my back door, and which I usually swallow whole, with no choking, he was stating unequivocally to me that quail are just plain dumb. No way to get around it. They is what they is. Funny looking empty heads. The official state bird of California.
“A disgrace to high flying birds everywhere. Hardly higher than humans” he added, just in case I was as slow as usual to get the main point.
I have often watched the stubby legs of quail play follow the leader into traffic on the lone road leading to the top of the hill on which I live, and I had no reason to doubt the judgment of the tawny owl on the issue until early the next day, a hot day in September when I was blasting a funky track from Bootsy Collins out of all of my open windows. About a dozen quail in a variety of sizes, presumably from the same extended family, had gathered atop the fence that separates my property from the techno-yuppie dweeb next door whose wife pampers one of the treacherous cats that murders beautiful birds, and they began to bop right along with their funny looking heads in a magnificent display of syncopation that seemed as if they had been studying the soundtrack from Wayne’s World. Unless that was funk from George Clinton and the entire P-Funk Nation that I was blasting.
So, it seemed somewhat natural to me, and not out of the ordinary, when later in the day as the winds were whipping like el diablo from the desert, that I began to mull and muse in a revolutionary new context about the minutia of my solipsistic plight as I am wont to do. I was fairly sure I had no need to once again look into any mirror due to the fact that I believed I had seen it all before. And yet, I conjectured as sensibly as I could, and concluded, albeit tentatively, why not me? I too should be qualified to emulate the example of an empty headed quail and rise above my average station digging in the dirt, and if not fly exactly, make a great leap forward into unknown space, sort of.
Then I not only thought but said out loud, and not exactly for the first or last time, “Whoa, fucking, whoa.”
I conveniently ignored the fact that quail have managed to survive for six million or so years on a volatile planet that runs hot and cold without need for either smoke, or mirrors, or sugar coating, or plastic packaging, or stick figures, or whirling dervishes, or lace doilies, or action heroes. Ignoring inconvenient facts is a time-tested human trait that has served the species, if not well exactly, then at least with continuity. It has been popularly perfected by quasi-political and religious zealots who yearn to repeat only what’s tailored and fit to bleat in slowly mixed yet proscribed bovine company while entrapped in a reptilian death roll that you better believe and bet your dumb ass on, you schmuck, or else face Moses, Jesus, Che, Muhammed, Mao, Vladimir, or any number of slower moving soporific also-rans, who are able to propel real bullets with scatter-shot accuracy.
Then, another odd thought came to me. From where, it’s hard to know. I thought, what if. It was not really a question.
According to the tawny owl, the numerical slew of overabundant humans, currently soaring past seven billion and counting unceasingly, and still only at the collectively teeny-weeny hundred thousand year mark in existence, are fated to fall considerably short of any meaningful milestone due to rapacious gluttony, greed, hostility, fear, and ineptitude, which can hardly be sensibly denied.
But nevertheless I still felt compelled to pose the question. It can happen to anyone. There are no submission requirements. And fuck the standard rules.
What if I simply spit out the nasty swill that I’ve swallowed, and send it back into the nasty pot where it was brewed? What if I wrassle a mean bear? What if a mismatch colors? What if I stir my own lumpy gravy? What if it’s not so hard or easy? What if it’s not a race? What if this time, top or bottom, no matter?
That night I had a recurring dream about the unwed hippie mother who had been exiled from her Berkeley collective due to excessive anarchist tendencies. She lived in the first ramshackle house that was plopped atop this golden hill back in the day. That was before I had it torn down in order to build what I believed fit me better. Her big black lab kept the treacherous cats at bay. No beautiful birds were murdered on his watch. Or hers.
In my dream this old Berkeley hippie lady came close to flying. It was a stunning display. She was tripping out past her mind, which lagged far and dully behind, with no ground beneath her. She was floating to the endless guitar riffs of the living Grateful Dead. Her hair trailed behind like a balancing act in the axiomatic circus. Her stream of consciousness flowed like translucent jelly. She was higher than I’ve ever witnessed.
I’ll admit I’m still jealous of her to this day. The tawny owl used to watch the old hippie lady, who was actually only a kid, with the same big eyes that I have since learned see me inside and out. He admits that she introduced him through her open windows to Ornette Coleman, Otis Spann, John Lee Hooker, and Taj Mahal. After that, humans were never quite as worthless as they previously seemed. By the time I came along, the tawny owl was able to demonstrate every hip-shaking move in the human book of sha-la-la. It came to him from long ago and far away. Unlike mine, his ancestors held nothing back. He raked it in while I sucked my thumb and toddled in short pants in the corner. But, I could see in his example that there were a multitude of trajectories to be followed alongside the twist, the shimmy, the mashed potatoes, and the shake. Lucky for me I came along. Lucky for me I landed on my head when ejected from the bumper car I was steering past the penny arcade. Lucky for me I found that place to park, place to march like a puppet in line, place to wilt in the dank heat. Lucky for me that when the pinball machine went Tilt, which means Game Over, I was too stupid to know any better. Lucky for me that rules were set up to be broken. Lucky for me that airy coed whose name I forgot dropped me when I turned up missing in action. Lucky for me my head spins. Lucky for me that the heat continued to rise and the ebb continued to flow when the bottom dropped out. Lucky for me I was still breathing. Lucky for me I still don’t know any better.
Lucky for me that an empty head is not a bad place to make a good clean start while scratching.