Friday, January 30, 2009

Kids These Days

In February, the Complete and Total Loser will live in the suburbs, tending his elderly parents' house while they bake like turtles in the Florida sun. Therefore now, at noon on a Friday (he works a later shift Fridays) he's bicycling to a train station to buy a monthly pass. The savings and convenience will be considerable.
He's waiting at a light to cross a busy intersection that has several cars waiting to head east, but none waiting to head south. There are teenagers in Catholic school uniforms milling around a food cart on the corner, talking, waiting to get a plate a greasy food, a bag of potato chips, a soda. The Loser sees that there are several pigeons in the middle of the intersection. They will be in jeopardy if the light changes. They are feasting on a mostly intact, large soft pretzel someone has dropped or tossed into the middle of the intersection.
The light changes. A minivan, the first in line, floors it into the half dozen pigeons, who are distracted by their competition for the bounty. The van's driver knows exactly what's happening.
One pigeon doesn't make it. It sits on the road, it's lower half crushed, wings splayed, blood seeping out from beneath it. Its head is erect, alert, as its avian brain tries to comprehend why it is not flying through the air, free and safe.
This amuses the teenagers, who laugh and shout at the injured animal.
The Loser waits for two other cars to pass, then dismounts his bike and limps over to the remaining pretzel, which he picks up and throws away from the street, onto a strip of cold grass. The children laugh at this, too. He knows there's nothing to be done for the bird. Best to leave it to another car to crush it and end its agony.
Years of being mocked and derided have taught the Loser to ignore the jeering of the kids and say nothing. Teenagers will learn nothing from a deformed middle-aged man in the street, his face red and pinched by the freezing wind.
The Loser does eat meat, though very seldom beef, which he hates himself for eating when he does. He knows pigeons are not well liked in cities. Yet he has just seen the act of cowards and bullies, and it stirs a tenderness in him toward the victim and feelings that will intrude on his sleep this night. He wishes it weren't so. He wishes his heart were as hard as the one he presents to the world (he hasn't cried since the age of 12). He wishes people were kinder. He wishes cars and cities and crowds didn't grant people anonymity. He wishes he had chosen a different route to run this errand.

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