Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Florence Cracked Corn (and I DO Care)

It was late fall. I parked my car alongside the Starbucks on Main Street, got out and turned the corner into the shop. I got my usual quadtallamericanohotwithroom, ($3.10) fixed it at the fixings counter and walked out. As I rounded that same corner back to my car, I saw a pigeon huddled against the side of the building. This pidgeon did not look well. Her feathers were ruffled up against the wind whipping straight down the sidewalk. I approached, doing my best pigeon coo. She had her eyes closed and seemed a little wobbly, even though her little red legs were tucked underneath her. She had found a nook in the facade, right in front of the taxi depot. It was a poor wind shield, but it did allow some sun to shaft down, warming her a bit.

I went back into Starbucks and came out with a corn muffin ($3.75) When I returned, she was as I had left her, head down, feathers up. I crumbled some corn muffin up and spread it on the ground a non-invasive distance away. She looked up and stood. Her legs, red, like most of our town pigeons' were distorted with painful-looking tumors, especially the left one. She hobbled over to the muffin crumbs and ate with gusto. I got into my car and drove home.

The next day, she was there again, in the same spot, huddled, waiting for a few friendly sun rays to penetrate her shivering body. I got another muffin, cooed to her and crumbled it just the way she liked it. She ate greedily, nodding occasionally to me as if to say, "hey, by the way, thanks for the food".
I decided to name her Florence.

Visits with Florence continued into the winter, when the livin' outside ain't easy even for the hardiest of wildlife. Some mornings I would come and a crumbled muffin would already be in place, courtesy, I believe of the rangy taxi dispatcher who dressed in cowboy boots, ten gallon hat and fringed vest. He chain smoked and had that constant raspy smoker's cough. I switched from corn muffins to cracked corn, since I had googled pigeon food and learned that cracked corn was a fine food base for most any bird. Florence liked it and cleaned her plate every day. Word spread throughout Pigeon Hotel (A large tree by the train station) that Florence had a rich benefactor. When I came in the mornings, now I would find a robust (yet still limping) Florence chasing and pecking opportunistic relatives away from her recent and regular windfall. It was futile. Every time she shooed one cousin away, another would sneak in from behind and grab a beakful of corn. Invariably Florence would give up and join in with the group, pecking and flinging dried corn kernels all over the sidewalk.

Florence could fly just fine. Some days, she would not be in her spot, but if I cooed, she would drop from a nearby eave and walk over saying, "what took you so long? I'm starving!"

The cold days dragged on. Spring finally came and the winter birds left, replaced by courting robins, sparrows and starlings. Florence too disappeared. I looked for her for a few weeks, carrying my container of corn in the glove compartment, just in case. I half-heartedly threw some out to the new crowd who waited until I was gone before coming down.

Another winter has come and gone. I don't know how Florence has fared or even what the life expectancy of a pigeon is. I do know she was a lovely creature sharing a moment and a space on the sidewalk with me. I hope it made a difference to her.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Mass Wedding and Me

28 years ago this past July first, I was part of the mass Moonie wedding at Madison Square Garden. It was the summer of 1982. Older folks will remember this as an offbeat news item of that time. I was 27 years old and had been a member of the Unification Church (UC) for 9 years then. My husband and I had been matched by the Reverend himself three years earlier in the main ballroom of the (UC-owned) New Yorker Hotel. We were lucky to have those three years to get to know each other a little. Hundreds of the 2000-plus couples married that hot day had only met three DAYS before.

I was also fortunate to have gotten an American guy, with an extremely similar family background to mine. White middle-class Catholic Republican. We grew up on the same TV shows, same rock bands, same knock-knock jokes. These commonalities helped a whole lot as we spent time getting to know each other well enough to feel comfortable being actually married to each other.

I am flashing back here. The day dawned hot and sunny. We couples were all staying at the same New Yorker, just a block away from our wedding venue at the Garden. I was staying in one small room with five other brides-to-be. We got up, prayed and began putting on our identical wedding dresses (Butterick pattern # 56709 or something) and taking turns in the bathroom. I wanted coffee, but there was none to be had. We went downstairs, lined up for yogurt and fruit and met with our new life partners in the lobby. Mine looked dashing in his new blue suit (they all wore blue suits and red ties) and bright red wavy hair. We queued up again and, slowly processed up the block and across the street to Madison Square Garden. Bystanders stared, some smiling, some scowling at us. A few muttered utterances were heard about "cults" and "brainwashed". We looked straight ahead and did not answer.

Now that week, the Garden was also hosting the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Circus trucks and trailers were parked everywhere and the aroma of wild animals was in the wind. As we walked into the building we could smell elephant all the way up and around. Fortunately, the staff had the wisdom to turn off all the escalators so our long dresses would not get caught. THAT would have been awful. As we came closer to the opening of the main room, we could hear the excitement of the audience, made up of relatives who were willing to come to such a show, other church members, curiosity seekers and the media.

Since I actually liked my fiance, I was happy and calm. In the UC, marriage is called 'the Blessing' and it is not only the joining of two people, it is meant to be the beginnings of a new and holy human lineage from which would spring the kingdom of heaven on earth. No doubt, a great thing to be part of. As my soon-to-be husband and I entered, we passed through the gate of the Reverend and his wife, standing on platforms on either side of us. They were wearing white robes trimmed in gold with matching crowns. The 'Wedding March' played over and over and over again. The Moons threw handfuls of 'holy water' on us and we continued to our spots. Hymns played softly in the background. I looked around at the sea of believers around me. Some looked scared. Some looked miserable. Some were crying, moved by the magnitude of what they were about to do. Or maybe they were just crying. I'm not sure.

Vows were read simultaneously and the Reverend pronounced us married in the sight of God. We did a loud Korean victory cheer and moved off the greet our families.

My husband and I were lucky. My mom, dad, brother and my favorite neighbor, Mrs. Schramm (see blog entry entitled, 'One of the Boys') all came. His dad had traveled from the midwest to be there. I loved his dad. A D-day veteran and career military officer, he was a man of few and carefully chosen words. "I don't approve of this method of marriage," he had said to his son. "But it looks like you got lucky." The Colonel passed away two months shy of 9/11 and was buried with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery. That is a story for another day.

My dad took us all to Tavern on the Green for a celebration dinner in the garden room. I don't remember what we had, except I do remember champagne and white cake. Looking around the room, we saw several other parties from the mass wedding there as well. They toasted us and made us feel loved and special. Despite the oddness of the occasion, it was a really good day for both of us.

My husband and I are in the process of divorce right now. 28 years, five children and an entire adult lifetime spent together is coming to a close. I have no regrets. We are still friends and we have been good parents. An end to a chapter that ran the gamut from exhiliration at the births of our kids, fun summer road trips to see grandparents, to bouts of depression, unhappiness, misunderstandings and misplaced expectations.

We are moving on with new homes, new dreams, new loves. Not a bad way to spend an anniversary.