The dirty gulls that flock to the lagoon formed where Aptos Creek used to flow directly into Monterey Bay before the state of California slammed its bureaucratic stamp down are not a popular bunch. In the argot of beautiful birds they answer to slow, superficial, weak, and shallow. They peck at trash, suck up scum, plunge into shit of their own making. As a force, they hardly muster any thrust at all. No high flying bird has much respect for some of the other troublemakers in the lagoon such as coots and loons, but no bird is lower on the almighty food chain than a sniveling, scavenging gull.
But, the tawny owl had to admit that they were were doing a pretty good job at what they do best, shitting on human heads. He was enjoying the spectacle while perched at the top of a palm tree overlooking Rio Del Mar Beach, nibbling on a wayward, washed up sardine. A chorus line of officially sanctioned humans thrashed like minnows in the middle of icy Aptos Creek, resplendent in day-glo orange vests. The orange vests sagged in the turgid high water that used to be calm. The government bought the vests cheap from a state-of-the-art factory utilizing nimble child labor in Bangladesh, a win-win achievement for international diplomacy. Unless that was orange skin. And Uzbekistan.
The vested interests appeared to be chasing small fish with tattered nets, gyrating like ritualistic dancers who hailed from a pallid tribe that could not dance. No rhythm, no reason, no awareness, no result. The tawny owl had come for a light seafood snack at dusk before some late night gallivanting and had not been expecting a comedy show to break out. He coughed up a small bone while laughing so hard.
When he talked to me about it later I had to abort an illuminating session of atonal humming so I could listen intently. Developing news of higher consciousness, even a mere hint or a glimmer, is still that much of a thrill to me. Charlie Haden was playing bass behind me, along with Kenny Barron on piano, the sky turning from cardamom to cayenne.
I said, “Say that again. Who was doing what to whom?”
He said, “I was laughing my ass so hard I shit on a few bald heads, too. They was playing the same tune over and over. A whole lot of oom-pah-pah with no oomph. A red-nose clown nearly drowned. All he had to do was stand up. Next, out of the blue there’s a lot of kissing and hugging and crying.”
“Probably, they were just trying to assist a fallen comrade.”
“Don’t give me none of that. You know the human back patting routine as well as any of your kind.”
“Are you ever going to stop referring to me like that?”
“Why should I?”
“But, you never let me forget.”
“No creature can pat his own back better than a human male, not even a baboon. Fact is fact.”
“I think that has to count as second-hand conjecture on your part.”
“It’s all hidden in the misdirected rotator cuff. How you throw curve balls and spitters, too.”
“Unless you’ve been back to Africa lately.”
“I’m where I am. Where else I be? Who was that waist deep in the big muddy water is what I’m axin’.”
From where I was standing, I did not need to know the precise answer. Confidently, I said, “They were probably just a bunch of do-gooders from the government who are trying to capture the fish in order to save them.”
“Like how they captured Hooty Owl and stuck him in his gilded cage? That government?”
“And then sold him out to a rat.”
“Also the same.”
“How about those nights they stuck you in your cage?”
“Mine was called jail. The government has many facets, but all of their principles work the same.”
“That’s where lots of rats come in handy.”
“All those fish need is clean water. Where’d it all go? More rats?”
“It must be needed for watering the latest cotton crop to grow in the desert.”
“Cotton is thirsty.”
“Can’t eat or drink it.”
“During the day, the desert is hot. At night, the desert gets cold. There’s lots of skin to cover up.”
“Flimsy as the rest of y’all.”
The tawny owl suddenly flew high. I could only presume he had heard enough. I could not follow. I could not see anywhere near that high or even pretend. That’s the way it is. I would like to be able to say I experienced a residual quotient of aerodynamic churning, but I can’t. It’s always exciting, though.
The tawny owl does spontaneous shit like that a lot. He keeps it real, too. He starts and continues in bursts, invites the neighborhood to watch his antics, pauses to make allowances for slow witted seed peckers. It’s hard for me to think of the teeny yellow warbler who is so cute and adorable as slow like that but I know the tawny owl is right about nearly everything in the realms of higher consciousness. Lower, too. He detours deeply and angles sharply until he gets far out there. It’s likely to be anywhere.
When he came back, though ephemerally, he said, “I feel good.”
I said, “What’s news about that?”
Unlike the tawny owl I remained in the same place. As a stepped back to avoid backlash from the bombastic thrust, my neck became strained by too much looking up. Looking down is lots easier. But, still. I tried to turn as far as I could go but it wasn’t far enough. It’s been like that since before I can remember. Daily obstacles tend to block free and lubricated movements: unwieldy bags of tendons, bones, guts, cuts, abrasions, occlusions, traumas, psychodramas, illusions. Many days started out in the same way, ended up in the same way, and continued until one day turned into another.
I know that, encouraged by cultural preferences for myopia, I have squinted at large quantities of minutia in the human laboratory for too long. It takes a hidden toll. Big pictures that orbit far out there rarely turn a decent profit. A lot of fucking numbers pop up and get in the way. I can only presume it is anatomically related to back patting. Consequently, my eyes hurt a lot and I can’t see worth shit. With limited vision there is little to do but turn a few tricks, bust some moves, fake it. Faking works, believe me. I have ample proof, quantified.
There oughta be a bunch of laws against all the shit that collects deep enough to wash over my head. And against the pains that are difficult to locate when I turn my back, as well as the itch that come and goes, leaving suspicious tracks behind. You say there are? But, still.
The tawny owl said, “How many figure-eights did you perform today?”
When figure-eights are attainable from a standing, sitting, or prone position, verifiable excuses are hard to come by. I gulped and I swallowed. As icky as it was, the knee-jerk denial stayed down. I no longer maintain the same messianic faith in low consciousness that used to fill my void in a pinch. I know as well as any other dipshitter that common lies don’t satisfy for long. The tawny owl has seen to that. So I admitted, “None.”
He did not have to tell me that when he flew away this time, I would remain responsible for my own fate. What a disappointment that has proven to be. If there was a way out, I’d be on my way.
All that seemed to be left to me was plenty of my own shit to swim in. I know I had lots of company, though. I only had to look in the lagoon. But, still.