March 14, 2006

Never Happy

WHEN I LIVED in Manhattan, I never needed to know when winter officially arrived. I could count on one particular coworker to announce it. The official date changed every year, but he never failed to signify it by dropping by my office first thing in the morning, a Starbucks commuting coffee mug in his hand, and saying, "Boy, oh, boy, do you believe how cold it is? Damn!"

Having just peeled off watch cap, ear muffs, scarf, gloves, and a ten pound top coat, I could -- while watching the sleet moving horizontally across the windows -- say with some conviction, "Yes, as a matter of fact, I do believe how cold it is."

With this exchange, the first of a daily ritual that would be repeated between us for months without variation, I knew that winter had been declared open.

In New York City, there are really only two seasons -- "Winter" and "Road Work." Winter was cold and

inconvenient. "Road Work" was hot and inconvenient. My coworker wasn't happy with either. Yet he never failed to announce the beginning of "Road Work." The official date changed every year, but he never failed to signify it by dropping by my office first thing in the morning, his Starbucks commuting coffee mug in his hand, and saying, "Boy, oh, boy, do you believe how hot it is? Damn!"

He was a living, breathing, mind-numbing example of why the number two fantasy of people who work in offices is the ruthless slaughter of one or more of their coworkers. (The number one fantasy? I don't have to tell you. You know. And you should be ashamed of yourself.)

When I moved to southern California, this was one little daily irritation I was happy to leave behind along with "Winter" and "Road Work." Instead, I got only one season, "Traffic," but since you have to go to "Traffic" in order to be in that was okay. I no longer needed to kill my coworker, so that was a win.

In the hills above Laguna, however, I discovered another two seasons -- "No birds" and "Birds." That's otherwise known as "Not Spring" and "Spring." When the birds leave sometime around the Christmas holidays, you don't really notice it. At least I didn't until I passed a neighbor, a Starbucks commuting coffee mug in his hand, on his daily constitutional and he said, "Boy, oh, boy, do you believe how quiet it is? Damn! Sure wish the birds would come back."

He walked on but I stopped and turned slowly to look at him. Brief memories of fantasized mayhem washed over my mind until I shook my head and thought, "No. Can't be. Just your imagination," and went on my way.

But, of course, what couldn't be, was. Over the course of the next few months, I'd pass this neighbor on our overlapping walks and he'd invariably say, just to be neighborly, "Boy, oh, boy, do you believe how quiet it is? Damn! Sure wish the birds would come back."

In time, of course, the birds, as birds will, did come back. I noticed it one day when, just at dawn, a bird woke me with a Bachesque series of trills and calls. A day or so later, when passing my neighbor on the hill, he said, "Boy, oh, boy, did you hear that bird this morning? Terrific!"

But nature is not decorative no matter how much we might wish it would be. Where you have one bird, you get two. When you have two, you get ten. And ten is just the prelude to a hundred or even more, as Alfred Hitchcock knew.

About a month after the first return of the birds, I was awakened by a cacophony of bird calls hooting and screeching at the first crack of light. I shrugged it off and went outside to get the paper from the drive way. My bird-loving neighbor lives diagonally across the intersection. I picked up the paper to go inside when I heard the sliding door to his deck open. I looked across and saw him in his underwear stagger sleepily out into the rising and falling cloud of colorful bird calls, wipe the sleep from his sad eyes, and shout out into the pristine morning, "Shut... UP!"

Even in paradise it seems that some people are never really happy. Must be the traffic.

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

Posted by Vanderleun at March 14, 2006 9:49 AM | TrackBack
Save to


"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

LOL! What a wonderful ending. He got what he wished for--in spades. I love stories like that, especially the true ones.

Posted by: Bill at May 26, 2005 7:48 AM

Is this in any way related to Lileks' weather blues this morning?

Posted by: Uncle Mikey at May 26, 2005 8:56 AM

Not that I know of. I haven't been to Lileks yet, but on my way.

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at May 26, 2005 9:03 AM

You will be happy to know it is still "Winter" here in NYC, the "Road Work" season has yet to begin. In some places, the wind chill yesterday was in the high 30's.

Posted by: tk at May 26, 2005 12:59 PM

My Mother tells of the time when I was 3 and those *&^%$#@ BIRDS were making so much noise ...
I stuck my little head out the window and screamed exactly that ... 'SHUT UP'!!!

Posted by: Steel Turman at May 26, 2005 3:49 PM

When we lived next to the zoo in DC, we were next to a cage full of large birds who mated every night and gave birth hourly to wet cats, or so it sounded. I was happy to leave for quiet peaceful Minneapolis - only to discover there was a nest of birds outside the window who regarded the dawn as a signal to count to 1000. They have their uses and their place, but outside the window at dawn is not one of them. Unless you have to rise early for a good reason, like escaping the advancing Nazis.

Posted by: Lileks at May 26, 2005 7:19 PM

That shrill symphony might have been the birds' revenge for last night's combo of snoring AND leaving his bedroom window open. Sure it was sleep he was "wiping from his sad eyes"? Even early in the morning, birds are guano sharpshooters. As you pointed out with Hitchcock, never ever tick off a bird.

Posted by: DarkoV at May 27, 2005 7:31 AM

As someone who was born and raised in Louisiana, where the seasons are "It's Sixty, Fire up the Fire Place," "Hot," "Hot & Moist" and "Hot & Wet & PLEASE, GOD, SEND ME TO HELL BECAUSE IT'S GOT TO BE MORE COMFORTABLE THAN THIS," it's always grated on me how wimpy New Yorkers are about the weather. Granted, New York summers can be absolutely brutal, but I find that New Yorkers whine about EVERY season. I say it's perfectly acceptable to hate one season, but in my office, the same people who were whining about the cold a month ago, will be crying about the heat a month from now. Wanh-wanh-wanh.

Posted by: ken at May 27, 2005 8:03 AM

Wimps, one & all...

I'm 30 miles from New York City right now, and it's 71 degrees & bright sunshine out my window. As for the birds, my window has a new, high-tech anti-birdsong device. I think it's called "glass."


Posted by: Brian Greenberg at May 27, 2005 9:19 AM

Ah yes! The birds of Washington, DC...I live not far from the Zoo, but thankfully far enough to not hear what Mr. Lileks heard...On 32d Street, NW I park under tree in front of my house...this tree, unknown to me when I bought here, is the dysentary ward for the Giant Condors... it is where they come to treated and recover when they have developed the many and varied maladies that causse them to crap ten times thier body weight in any given hour...(I wont even address the concerts that the well birds put on for the sick ones)
Now, this tree is really more of a "treeling" isnt more than a few years adds a nice artistic quality to my house...but even at a mere twelve feet it is quite sufficient to support dozens of feathered shi* machines...

Today I called my yard crew...the tree, some how damaged by an infection, is coming down...NOTHING is going up in its place...the bird hospital will have to move to a meighbors tree...

Posted by: C.K. Dexter-Haven at May 27, 2005 3:05 PM

In Oregon we have two seasons as well, rain and not rain. We are starting to have a third, traffic. All the Oregon natives blame it on a front from the south that has moved unusually far north.
"You mean, like, El Nino?" I ask.

"No, Californians." they reply.

Posted by: dennymack at May 27, 2005 3:39 PM

In Southern California, we have noted one continuous long season, since just before the Los Angeles Aqueduct was put in (think 20 years prior to the setting of "Chinatown" - movie with Jack Nicholson). My family calls this season "a world of shit." The Oregon poster has a hint of what is coming - now mulitiply it by a factor of one thousand. I pray for more natural disasters here - not because nature is so great, but to cull the herd of some of the sheep who moved here to bleat, bleat, bleat.

Next, who is not up at dawn? (Gee, it is surprising that we are said to be, collectively, the fattest, laziest worthless bastards worldwide)

Problem with nature? Dress up like a housecat and sleep outside - the coyotes will
take care of you.

Complain, complain, complain - meow, meow, meow.

Posted by: Californio at May 27, 2005 5:42 PM

We live on a very busy road. So busy, we don't like to leave the windows open during the day, beause the traffic is so loud. At 5 am though, it's relatively quiet, and we get woken up each morning with the singing of our resident cardinal, the wap wap wap of the downy woodpecker, and the catbird calling, Jerry! Jerry! . I'm hoping for a steep increase in gasoline prices, to thin out the traffic a bit, so I can listen to the birds a little more during the day, after the morning brain fog has burned off.

Posted by: JM at May 29, 2005 4:12 PM

Two seasons here in New England: winter and the Fourth of July.

And I believe "The Birds" (the movie, that is) was set in New England, also. It figures. Although, as I recall, the original was a Daphne Du Maurier story that was set somewhere in England (old, not New). I read it as a child and it scared the heebie jeebies out of me--far scarier than the movie because of the element of imagination.

Posted by: neo-neocon at May 29, 2005 6:32 PM

Oops--apparently the film took place in California. That's what I get for relying on my decades-old memory.

Posted by: neo-neocon at May 30, 2005 11:25 AM

What you've missed in this is the one common thread that is in fact your warning of impending banality: Starbuck's commuter cup. When you see one coming, it's time to go to a meeting. Run. If you have to, call a meeting. Just move.

Posted by: ed in texas at March 14, 2006 10:24 AM

Excellent. That one made my sidebar.

Posted by: Gerard Van der Leun at March 14, 2006 10:39 AM

Pity those of us who comment on the weather/traffic/birds.

Think of us as particulary sensitive and attuned to our surroundings. Or, as having a firm grasp on the obvious and a need for human interaction, but not anything too - uh - close.

I prefer the former.

Posted by: Babs at March 14, 2006 11:08 AM

Or, Babs, you could consider us a bunch of fussbudgets. :)

Things like morning avian concerts are reminders that we don't run everything. No matter how some might wish it otherwise. There are simply things not under our control. We can bitch and moan about it. Or (in the case of birds) we can leave food out for the neighborhood cats, and wait for them to take advantage of the opteryxian buffet.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg at March 14, 2006 6:39 PM
Post a comment:

"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated to combat spam and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Remember personal info?