The Blue Girl

The Blue GirlA number of years ago, the bird population of Illinois and other Midwestern states was nearly devastated by West Nile virus.  For reasons I never quite understood, crows, jays, magpies, which are all part of the same family, were particularly hard hit.

When I was a caddy, one of the things I loved was the pugnacious behavior of bluejays and also finding their feathers on the golf-course; that other-worldly blue of the tail feathers, which you’d find on the ground after the spring moult happened.

They were like finding small treasures.  Other caddies would pick them up for me when they spotted them, knowing I liked birds.  The idea of the bluejay population being damn near wiped out made me immensely sad.  They’ve come back some, but not like they used to be.  When I caddied, if a golfer got too close to a bluejay nest, the female would dive-bomb the poor fucker and peck at him.  I laughed my ass off many times watching grown men run away from these birds trying to shield their heads with a putter.

The females are the bad-asses of the species.  Fool with them at your peril.  They are busybodies, loud-mouths and bullies; little gangsters who muscle other birds out of their nests.  They also love shiny objects; bottle caps, foil, keys. . .all of these things have been found in bluejay nests.  They are born thieves.

When I was a kid, this was my favorite bird to draw.  I enjoyed the black, blue and white lines.  They were fun to draw and looked nutty in my renderings.  I often drew women’s heads onto bird bodies and this made my teachers crazy.

One time in seventh grade, one of my dipshit teachers told me to only draw birds with bird heads.  Sister Elaine.  When she turned her back I muttered, “Maybe you ought to mind your own fucking business.”

The crazy old bitch heard me and it was off to the races.  I got sent home (with a note, which I ditched in the garbage) and she called my mother and raised hell.

I really hated these whackjobs.  I was convinced they were all mental defectives and nobody would acknowledge it.  I told my mother how crazy they were and she half-believed me, but knew that I provoked them.

My mom was always sending peace offerings to the nuns; homemade bread, little bottles of Jean Nate’ which, I told my mom, was like putting socks on a pig.  My mom thought she could make the nuns like me.

Oh, how wrong she was.

I declared war on the old bitches.  Lunch bags full of dog-shit in their desks. Rubber Snakes. Big chalk drawings of giant dicks on the blackboard.  You name it; I did it.

They always knew it was me because of the quality of the rendering.  I took special care to only draw big, veiny, throbbing tools, accompanied by an ample and hairy sack.

They would tell me they knew it was me, and god help me if they caught me.
I’d tell them, if they didn’t catch me. . .I didn’t do it.

The brides of Christ looked upon me with a jaundiced eye.  My philosophy was return fire.  If they were going to make my life miserable, I believed  I would share the pain.

I started referring to Sister Regina as ‘”Reggie'” or “Slappy.”  When she would sarcastically say, “Good morning, Mr. Fitzpatrick.  Nice of you to grace us with your presence,” I’d say, “Glad I could be here, Slappy.  How’s life in the mental home?”  Then she would go bat shit and send me home with a note (which I would ditch) and I’d get suspended for a couple of days.  How’s that for punishment?

Oh, you can’t come to school for three days?  Boo-Hoo.  Wow. . .hurt me.

In early folklore, bluejays were thought to be handservants of the devil because of their noisy and boisterous nature.  I remember them as a pleasant and mysterious part of childhood.  The mystery being that you would see them everyday for a while (a weeek or so) and then they would disappear for six months until I’d almost forget about them and then they’d be back.  I was always wondering where the fuck they went.  They were the Houdinis of the natural world.

In high school, I had a job cutting grass in Queen of Heaven cemetery during the summers.  The place was full of pine trees and thus, bluejays.  In fact, if you want to see a lot of birds, go to any cemetery.  It is a relatively safe place for them.  As accidental bird sanctuaries, they are a safe place to nest and enjoy relative safety from humans cutting down trees and shooting birds.

I kind of liked that job.  I worked with lots of guys from Mexico and in the middle of the afternoon, one of them would hop the fence and go buy beer.  we’d hide our mowers and drink beer in the bushes and smoke cigarettes and take naps.  It was great.  Learned all of the dirty words in Spanish I could think of and met people from another part of the world who were nothing like me, except that we wanted the same things;  to work outside and to be left the fuck alone.

I loved watching birds with these guys.  They could imitate bird calls and told me in Mexico, at night, birds turned into angels.

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Published in: on June 4, 2011 at 12:03 am  Comments (1)  
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The Cleveland Songbird

The Cleveland Song BirdLast year I was quite fond of saying that there were only three magical cities in America–New York, Chicago and New Orleans; the rest of it was fucking Cleveland.  I said this in my effusiveness to rally support for New Orleans and it was a funny, if cheap, laugh at the expense of Cleveland.

I’m going to stop saying that.  A great many of my friends from Cleveland didn’t appreciate it, and have fond memories of that city like I do of Chicago and New Orleans.  And the more I read about the city of Cleveland, the more I realize it is not very different than Chicago.  Dumb luck has made us the sexier city.  Dumb luck, geography and machine politics is what kept Chicago from sharing the fate of Cleveland.  My studio director, Stan Klein, is still a Cleveland Indians fan,which lately is a lot like being a Cubs fan; thankless, joyless exercises in the absence of reciprocal affection.

There is a longing about the city of Cleveland.  Many citizens groups are fighting the banks in the wake of the mortgage crisis, where banks and lenders fucked citizens with mortgages and interest rates that they knew the folks they sold them to could not repay and then getting even richer by selling “reverse mortgages.”   Clevelanders have not taken this lying down.  They’ve pushed back and tried to wrest some of the primacy of their neighborhoods back.

There are beautiful parks in Cleveland.  Cain Park, in Cleveland Heights, on the east side is a place loaded with birds, gardens and hills for sledding, as well as a theater and art studios.  My friends from Cleveland remember this place with great affection.

I wanted to make a metaphorical songbird for Cleveland and some months ago I bought a collage from my friend Alpha Lubicz.  She is my favorite collagist right now and last September she accompanied my crew to Japan.  In almost every flea market, Alpha and I went after the same kind of stuff.   She has an amazing eye for scraps and makes astounding works.  She is the goods.  For those of you reading this on Facebook, look her things up  in my friends list and get one.

For months, I looked at this beautiful bird-woman collage and finally called Alpha and asked her  if she’d mind if I drew it into my new piece.  After getting her blessing, I made this piece.   I changed  it a bit, but make no mistake; it is a case of out and out theft and generosity on behalf  of my friend Alpha.  I’ve learned much from looking at her work and so should you.

I gave her a bluejay’s body  just because  I love the fuckers.  They’re obnoxious and noisy and operate like gangsters; and they are so beautiful.  They, like starlings, often steal their nests by muscling the occupants out of it.   They just kind of show up and chirp, “Fuck You. Leave.”   And the other birds comply.  Bluejays are badasses and don’t take any la-la from other birds.

When I was a kid, I caddied and every once in a while would find a bluejay feather on the golf course and I don’t know why, but these were real treasures to me; simply because of that paralyzing blue. . .somewhere between cobalt and cerulean. . .a blue you saw nowhere else in nature.  A jazz blue.  A story blue.  A midnight kind of blue. . .carved right out of the holy sky.

Published in: on May 7, 2010 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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