I found a companion in the most common of places
I run down Broadway despite the heat. I left my umbrella on the bus and I am determined to get home before the rain hits. The black cloud overhead is getting blacker. It’s four in the afternoon but it looks like early evening. Birds fly in every direction, as panicked as I am. Water plops on my head and shoulders, seconds before I reach the door of my lobby.
In my bedroom the air-conditioner purrs as I pull off my damp T-shirt. Suddenly, I hear scrambling sounds that seem to be coming from the outside window sill. I dash out of my apartment to look through the hallway window at the backside of the bedroom’s air-conditioner.
There he was, a black-and-white pigeon looking like a lump of feathers squeezed under my air-conditioner. I grinned. He was one smart bird. He’d found shelter from the rain and heat two minutes after I had. We solved the problem almost simultaneously.
Gentle reader, I confess, I am an avid animal lover. I teared up at the shelter in Spanish Harlem while signing adoption papers for Rocky 2, my schnoodle.
Back inside my bedroom, I say aloud, Welcome pigeon. To my astonishment, he responds with a pleasant cackling kind of coo. He spent that entire rainy night crouched under the cooling machine. I can’t fault him. My pigeon has common sense.
Most days I write in the bedroom. As soon as I turned the air-conditioner on, the pigeon alighted on my windowsill and squeezed himself under it. I must say he was a handsome young fellow, with a pure white body, symmetrical black lines on his wings and on his head, as well as a wonderful iridescent neck-many colors of the rainbow.
Welcome back pigeon, I’d say. He always responded with that soothing cackling coo.
Weeks passed. I bragged about my pigeon to my friend, who responded with a gasp of horror: get rid of him. He’s a rat with wings; he’s vermin.
I was a little rattled but I’ve heard worse things about male company I’ve kept in the past.
I consult an Hispanic handyman in my building who keeps a pigeon as a pet. He tells me he’s lived happily with his pigeon for 10 years. The building super happens by. A kind soul, she is frightened for me: that bird’s dangerous to your health. Viruses will come in from him through your air-conditioner. I’ll send somebody up to install metal spikes there, so he can’t get under your air-conditioner ever again.
As I said, I’m an animal lover but my hypochondria trumps my other feelings. So I acquiesced and soon ugly gleaming metal spikes were installed under my air conditioner. I hardened my heart the same day when I spotted my pigeon sitting near the air-conditioner, turning his head to stare at the spikes blocking his cooling refuge.
I missed him. I began staring at pigeons on rooftops and in the park. I did see many many pigeons mating—alarming myself. Was I projecting some weird yearning for my pigeon on to them?
But then I calmed down. I researched.
First, pigeons aren’t dangerous, otherwise Mayor (no-salt, no-transfat no cigarettes) Bloomberg would have had troops marching through Central Park with traps and shotguns. I turned to Google: it seems pigeons are much safer, say, than my chatty neighbor down the hall who wore a prison ankle cuff for a month. These former denizens of European mountains, who’ve adapted to our skyscrapers, have as many as eight broods a year when food is plentiful. (That accounts for the mating dance’s I impolitely witness)
Pigeons are so intelligent that they can find their way home over hundreds of miles and also recognize themselves in mirrors and are able to differentiate human faces in photographs. They also recognize letters of the alphabet. (There’s a chance they’d even get Seinfeld reruns.)
There is one possible and very unlikely health danger from pigeons. Their fecal matter contains traces of bacteria-causing illness, easily treated with antibiotics. To catch it you must have a weakened immune system and inhale a lot of dried droppings.
I miss my pigeon. But the super refuses to remove the metal spikes under the air-conditioner. A few dusty birds have taken to sitting near it on my window ledge on very hot days. They are no substitute, however, for my handsome friend with his symmetrical black striped wings, his loud comforting cackle-coo, his glorious iridescent ruff and his communicative nature.