My family has my future planned. They intend to drop me off at the train station with a round-trip ticket to Manhattan, a bag of peanuts and a bag of bread crumbs so I can spend the day in Central Park, feeding the birds and squirrels. Maybe they’ll only give me a one-way ticket.
They want to ship me off to the big city when I retire — whenever that fateful day arrives — so I can sit on a bench, watch the world go by and toss crumbs to the pigeons, which is a perfectly respectable pastime in retirement, second only to a job at Home Depot. The other possibility is they may buy me a plane ticket to St. Petersburg. When I worked there in the 1980s, it was the retirement capital of America and the only place in the Northern Hemisphere where seniors outnumbered pigeons.
I’ve long been committed to the cause of bird nourishment. I have seven bird feeders, which attract everything from blue jays to woodpeckers, squirrels, chipmunks and deer. The bad thing about bird feeders is the birds. You see, they don’t care whether they poop on cars, windows, sidewalks, bushes or your head, and it can get downright messy. To end this scourge, my family wants to exile me to Central Park because if I stay around here, our seven feeders will become seventy. (I’m a bit obsessive.)
However, their plan just hit a roadblock because the parks department has declared it a crime to feed birds and squirrels. They claim it makes the wildlife aggressive and invites rats and rodents. They don’t seem to care about aggressive panhandlers, but aggressive pigeons are classified as a public-safety hazard. New York is always passing new laws, each one crazier than the last.
People who violate the ban could be fined up to $200. (I’m convinced our governor will latch onto this idea as another way to extract money from us.) The most socialist city in America cares about everything except its wildlife. What they fail to realize is that we all have to eat — squirrels, pigeons, rats, mice, socialites, Socialists, Democrats, Republicans and Kardashians.
I love feeding songbirds although pigeons never appealed to me. As for squirrels, I finally stopped fighting them and started feeding them ears of corn, which I hang from tree branches with twine. They’ll leap up and grab the corn cobs and swing back and forth like the Flying Wallendas.
The deer can be really destructive and treat my wife’s garden like the salad bar at Stop & Shop. All night long, they’ll munch on hosta, lilies, impatiens and everything else that suits their palates. Feeding wildlife has always been sort of a corporal work of mercy for me, along with feeding my sons-in-law, clothing my grandchildren and paying college tuitions.
Actually, this is an honorable family tradition. In his senior years, my father would sit on the back porch and watch the chickadees and titmice at his feeders, with a BB gun across his lap in case the squirrels got rowdy. Like most of us, he could never keep them off the feeders because squirrels have significantly higher IQs than humans. He concluded that violence was the only solution even though he was a pacifist. But the BB gun was worthless and couldn’t even shoot a hole through a Kleenex, although it did make a loud noise.
Then, there was my mother, who should have been named the Sierra Club Homemaker of the Year because every evening after dinner, she’d send me into the woods with the leftovers to “feed the animals.” I brought them veal parmigiana, pot roast, ravioli and chili dogs, which as far as I could tell only attracted coyotes. If she tried that in Central Park, they’d put her behind bars in a New York minute. But her heart was in the right place. Come to think of it, those animals ate better than our neighbors. Come to think of it, our neighbors probably ate those leftovers.
Joe Pisani can be reached at email@example.com.