Late summer and the geese are talking. It’s what they do. Like the way they deface our precious Roger Williams Park here in the modest city of the Superman Building with ubiquitous, acidic goose manure. They’re loud, cantankerous and thoroughly self-absorbed. They’re the reason I’m late for most places I have to be. They’ll cross my way through the park in waddling rows of twenty or thirty at a time, loping at their own pace, more concerned with the fat little grubs there might be to eat in the grass on the other side of the road than whether we humans sitting tight in our idling automobiles are having good days or mediocre.
In the immortal words of Kenneth Mars’ landlady in Mel Brooks’ The Producers, “Filthy, disgustin’ boids!”
They’re decidedly cantankerous birds, following the pace of their own appetites as they waddle across the road and hold up traffic, but they’re the reason I take the long way through the park, even when I’m running late, knowing they could well make it worse if they happen to decide to cross my path.
I’m a good, American motorist, which means I save my sacred driving time to indulge all the spiritual and emotional sludge for which there never seems to be a better time to let free. We call each other names and treat each other to single digit gestures most of us wouldn’t dream of making if we were looking at each other face to face, but we are the most cantankerous birds of all, and if anyone could teach the geese about being self-obsessed, irascible bastards, it’s us.
I was running late one sweet, summer day – even for me – and found myself sitting in a line of cars waiting. Stuck. Indignant over being chumped by a waddling queue of cantankerous birds. I grew angry with the birds, of course, when I should have been angry with myself for poor time management. I was angry with the other drivers for being in the same boat and making it rock too much. I was angry over being stuck in a society that bandies phrases like “time management” in the first place. It was a perfect day to be angry with pretty much any damn thing I pleased.
But then I found myself watching those filthy, disgustin’ boids and felt a sense of calm. For a few minutes, it was almost like being part of the continuum in which they live. The notion of being late and angry just didn’t make sense anymore.
When I got to where I was going that day, I walked in with a clear mind – clear of anger, at least – and no one really seemed to notice how late I was, or at least they chose to be too polite to point it out.
So I drive through the park, most especially when I’m running late, hoping the stupid geese will do their job and cross the road and calm me down once again.
A few months ago, I was stuck waiting for them to cross, and the line of idling internal combustion engines waiting for them kept getting longer. Up ahead there was a couple on a motorcycle. It was spring, and one of the first few days you could get out on a bike and ride free and feel the wind and all that goose manure. I think the biker couple were the least patient of all. A stocky woman with tattoos got off the back of the bike and started throwing bread crumbs off to the side of the road. Obviously, the geese would hurry up for that. But they didn’t. They just kept waddling along at their pace, apparently unconcerned about this sudden windfall of bread crumbs. The woman decided to help instruct the birds, waving her arms and moving toward the spray of crumbs at the side of the road. Maybe she imagined herself to be like some kind of goose whisperer and could lead them to the Promised Side of the Road. But the geese just got confused and broke rank. Their organized formation descended into chaos and squawking, and it took two or three times longer than usual to make their way across.
They finally made it, though, and the woman got back on the bike and the couple took off to be on their merry way riding free and feeling the wind – or maybe just breaking some.
I need the geese. I need to be late everywhere I have to be, and I need to remember their lessons in patience and behavior. They’re more organized than we are. They have a code of behavior we don’t seem to have time for. We’re too much in love with all the psychic dissonance with which we fill our brains to make ourselves feel more vital.
Such wandering thoughts come at the beginning of a time of migration, after a long gap in writing anything. I’ve spent much of the past year very much in the manner of those geese, squawking in chaos around a tattooed woman flailing her arms, trying to teach them how to be more like ignorant geese. Or maybe I’ve been more like that woman than I care to confess. Either way, migration time is upon us, and while the birds head south, I’ll be heading west.
I found another playground last year. One of the best I could imagine playing in. Yet I’ve spent so much time in classrooms this past year it has been impossible to think, write or talk about teaching or learning. I briefly became a student, thanks to my very good friend, Sophi. Her sister, Muni, who sleeps on the sofa in my apartment further down this page, has just this week completed her own work for her diploma through the National External Diploma Program. We had to move our class out of my house since I started spending my Saturday mornings at the new playground. It’s called The Socio-Economic Development Center for Southeast Asians, and it is a cradle of triumph and heartbreak.
In another week, I will leave it, but I’m counting on the possibility it won’t leave me.