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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 “Street Repair.” Winter was cold and inconvenient. “Street Repair” 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.” Southern California has only one season, “Traffic,” but since you have to go to “Traffic” in order to be in season that was okay. I no longer needed to kill my coworker, only tailgaters.

However, as a hermit in the hills above Laguna Beach, 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, ye olde 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 driveway. 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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ghostsniper March 21, 2018, 4:53 AM

    I never tire of the birds and everything about them. Except their shitting on the handrails on the decks. I could do without that, and I’m thinking of a cure in my spare time. other than that, they are eye candy. Like a real life screensaver, constantly changing but staying within a select category. Nice.

    Yesterday morning as the snow fell in pillowcase size flakes the birds were frantic. Man must have been this way too long ago. Having to eat constantly to survive the cold. Just got a new 50 pound bag of corn a couple days prior and I was shoveling it out to them several times yesterday as the snow did not let up until late last night. Not really a shovel, but about a pint size rubbermaid container dipped into the large paper bag in the corner of my office, then thrown high in the air to broadcast widely. I also put 2 new suets in the double shepherds hook cages. The area outside my office door was a veritable aviary disney world.

    Hundreds of em, birds that is. From the smaller black cap chickadees up to the “big boy” pileated woodpeckers and the gargantuan crows strutting around talkin’ shit like they owned the place. The crows are bold and brash but cowardly if they hear the door open. Nothing but assholes and elbows when that door moves even a fraction. The crows hear all and see all all the time. Exceedingly sentinel.

    With each swooping swing of the rubbermaid several hundred full corn kernals are spread out on the snow and their room temperature causes them to immediately start sinking in. The birds know this and dive bomb the kernals in mid air, sometimes successfully, but usually they have to go italian ice diving to get that tidbit, then right up to the tree limb to savor it.

    The coolest ones are the ones directly overhead on a limb. They do what I call a power assisted horizontal dive. Think of a parachutist exiting a plane, he immediately assumes a horizontal position to slow his descent. The bird steps off the limb in a horizontal position and drops straight down, but does the opposite of the parachutist. The bird flutters it’s wings at first powering itself down faster so as to get the treat faster, but at the last second it trims it’s wing tips to slow down for a gentle landing. VTOL artists they are.

    So I sit at my window that looks out upon the small area outside my detached office where all the birds are. Eventually my eyes glaze and I’m lost in though as the screen saver continues. Only occasionally does something break the snow induced coma that has taken me.

    Something about winter, and especially the snow, that captures me. Perhaps having been born in Jan in a rural place has something to do with that. And the comfort in knowing I am the only human in the world at that moment. Just me and the birds.

    And the squirrels. Did I mention them? There are many, maybe 30 or more, all vying for a tidbit of warmth inducing nutrition. They find a kernal and sit back on their haunches rolling the nugget like a person rolls an ear of hot buttered corn at the picnic table in late summer. They are divers, the squirrels are. They will dive in and disappear under the snow, tunneling about only to spring up over there to devour their found prize. Over and over.

    We talk about moving now and then, to a place more sparse of people. No place in particular, anywhere in general. We don’t care about state lines. We care about people lines and how far they would be from where our new domicile will sit. Buffer zone. Got’s to have as much buffer zone as possible. At least a thousand feet or more. The nicest neighbors are those that can’t be seen by the dense forest in between. All the bad things about neighbors are lessened by distance, the sounds, the sights, the thoughts, the behaviors. Privacy has it’s rewards, both ways. I don’t want to know what they are doing and don’t want them to know what I’m doing. This is a mindset that is just not possible in suburbia.

    For many decades in suburbia I would get out of the shower in the morning and open the bathroom window to exhaust the steam only to be confronted by the guy next door, a mere 20 feet away, doing the same. Twin steam clouds intertwining skyward at the property line. People aren’t meant to live that way. Everybody needs elbow room, a buffer zone. Without it you die a little each day.

    I’ll live here until there is no reason to live any more.

  • M. Murcek March 21, 2018, 7:40 AM

    Just moved to Florida and the weather is awesome. All my friends back in PeeAye say “You picked a good time to move!” The locals are distraught when it hits 40 degrees, which happens rarely and late at night heading towards sunrise. I go out in a sweatshirt, jeans and a leather jacket and people say “that looks warm,” with obvious envy. I notice the watermen and women have it figured out. Nobody else except us transplants do…

  • Bunny March 21, 2018, 9:03 AM

    I really enjoy your critter comments, Ghostsniper. You would be surprised how much wildlife we have right here in the burbs, especially in spring and summer. Possums, coons, squirrels, bunnies, bobcats, coyotes, lizards, snek and birds, of course. I once saw a huge vulture up close and personal perched right outside my office window. The Slaughter of the Grackles took place some years back when our neighbor got fed up with the flock pooping all over his pool deck. And I enjoy the hummingbird show in the summer like you. Nature is grand!

  • Roger in Republic March 21, 2018, 9:47 AM

    A co-worker at my last job would announce winter every year by stating. “It must be getting close to Pearl Harbor day. There’s a Nip in the air.”

  • ghostsniper March 21, 2018, 11:31 AM

    @Bunny, I did 40 years in suburbia, I wrote the book.
    In southwest Florida, right on the coast.
    Gators, monitors, moccasins, mosquitos, fire ants, sand spurs.
    We had a family of great horned owls move in one year with 2 fluffball baby’s.
    Then people creep happened again and we knew it was time to go where most people don’t like to be.
    If people just minded their own dam business and stopped trying to make things better for everyone else this world would be a much nicer place.

    If a wild creature gets all up in your grill you have the authority to eliminate it without prejudice and if the same thing were true for humans I imagine a lot more people would concern themselves more of their own affairs and leave other people alone.

  • Rick March 21, 2018, 11:59 AM

    M. Murcek

    Get back to us in July and let us know how the warm weather is working out! Lol

    ghostsniper- Been back recently? It’s just unreal. South Ft Myers is just cheek to jowl developments now. There are at least 6 developments on Corkscrew east of Alico and more headed east constantly. We moved across the river to east Lee County 12 years ago but our day has come too. 1200 house development going in half mile away, 200 houses going in on the end of our road, 300 more on 66 acres on Slater.

  • ghostsniper March 21, 2018, 2:38 PM

    @Rick, I have not been back, left there in 2006. Our son and his family live in NW Cape, my wife has been back a few times. I designed over 7,000 architectural projects throughout Lee County since 1972 and still. Last 20 years most have been on the islands, Useppa, Cayo Costa, Boca Grand, etc.

    After living in Fort Myers for 20 years (graduated FM high in 1972) we moved to the Cape because it was affordable and lived there til 2006. Gerard spotlighted the only McDonalds in FM about a year ago that I worked at when I was 15 in 1970. About 2000 Fort Myers became unrecognizable to me and I rarely went over there.

    In 2004 First Homes, the largest homebuilder in the country at that time, bought all the vacant land around us in NW Cape, some 1300 lots, and started dropping their cheap houses all over the place and packing them full of migrants from all over the country. We sold our brand new home for $400k and got the hell out. Bought a little 7 year old crib back in the sticks of Bean Blossom USA for cash and if I live anywhere else after this it will be in the dense forest out west somewhere. The abrasive nature of suburbia would be the death of me now, so I stay away from it.

    You’re right about late summer temps. Brutal. And that humidity. Jayziss. I didn’t mind it so much in my youth I guess, worked in concrete construction on Focal Point behind the Edison Mall and Sundial condo’s on Sanibel, and practically lived on the beach all the time. But as I got older my tolerance for the heat became strained. Then it got miserable, and I believe if I stayed there it would have killed me. I was born in the snows of Gettysburg and will most likely die in the snow.

    Funny, northerners work in the factories all their lives complaining about the cold winters and then retire to the screaming hot oven of Florida and turn into wrinkled old catchers gloves only to die a few years later, their lifelong dream turned to hell. Do you know where Mike Greenwell’s house is way out past the arena on Bayshore Rd? He has 120 acres right on the northside of the river and I designed his 11,000 sf house back in the mid 90’s. Designed Deion Sanders 12,000 sf crib out in Gateway. Designed the a home for the owners of “Bagel Bites” in Fiddlesticks, and one for the owners of FlexBon in Buckingham. This writing has be almost missin’ the place. Nah, not really. HA!

  • Rick March 22, 2018, 5:12 AM

    Even the islands are getting crowded. Useppa is just as packed as south Cape and lots harder to get to. I’m not sending anyone to the beach until after the snowbirds are gone in mid April. 2 of my guys spent 3 hours just getting off the island last week. Boca Grande is still nice but just because it’s expensive and isolated.

    North Cape is different than the south part which is for my money a hell-hole. North has woods and some decent lots of lakes and creeks but I still wouldn’t live there, much to regimented for me. Back in the day I worked for an AC contractor and we installed new AC in all 3 of the Lee County MacDonalds. There have to be several dozen now.

    Focal Point is a low income dump now. One of my guys was going to buy a unit there recently for $60,000 until I talked him out of it. Sundial was really hammered by hurricane Charley and got a total remodel and facelift but is still showing its age. Sanibel traffic is as bad as anywhere with gridlock every day. They won’t install traffic lights because they would spoil the tropical paradise feel so they hire people to direct traffic all day!

    The retired northerners still pour in and not only bring their politics but even their politicians too. Lee County is slowly swinging from red to purple. I know Mike Greenwells house well, actually not far from mine and my wife passes it twice a day driving to Alva where she teaches. She loves the drive from 31 down 78 and is always telling me about the wild turkeys she sees. Dion’s Mom, Connie, brought “the baby he raised that wasn’t his” to daycare at my wifes school for years. Dion took good care of his Mom. I know lots of the Johnsons and worked on several of ther houses over the years. They sold out to Sherwin Williams about 10 years ago and all the stores are gone now.

    My kids and grandkids are here so we couldn’t leave if we wanted to. I grew up on James Island near Charleston SC and all my brothers and sisters still live there but it’s also become a Yankee town with traffic that is surreal it’s so bad. I envy you for getting away.

  • ghostsniper March 22, 2018, 7:22 PM

    @Rick, sounds like we almost know each other. Did you work for Modern Air? If so, know Frank Seifert? Gatewood Custom Carpentry is the primary construction company on the islands and I have been doing all their work since the 80’s. I remember when Alva was this || big, now it too is out of control. People are like a virus. That drive your wife takes to her work, along 78, is what it’s like around here all the time. When I have to go to a metropolis my blood pressure goes through the moon and stays there but as soon as I turn onto Helmsburg Rd it drops off a cliff. The trees, and lack of people, does that to me. I’d be arrested for road rage if I had to drive on S41 or Del Prado now.

  • mmack July 15, 2022, 5:14 PM


    I enjoy the birds chirping in our trees in the back yard in the spring, summer, and early fall. I miss the little fellas when winter hits. We have a dove nesting in our Spruce tree sitting on some eggs. Circle of life and all.

    As for oblivious co-workers, I’ve lived in the Midwest my whole life:

    It snows and is cold 🥶 in the winter
    It rains a lot in the spring
    A lot 🌧
    It’s HOT 🥵 in the summer.
    Very hot 🥵
    It gets cooler to cold in the fall and there’s leaves 🍁 on the ground everywhere.
    That’s all you need to know. And yes, those of us from here know this. 😏

    • Vanderleun July 15, 2022, 6:22 PM

      BRAVO! Commentor Silver Medal with Gold Clusters for a distinguished use of emojis in a reply!

  • Dirk July 16, 2022, 8:26 AM

    We’re above 4000 ft here, I watch birds all day long, my fav are the mountain Quail, I enjoy hearing them Cooooo, at 0500/0600 every morning. Very centering. Again at evening dusk.

    I’m planting Bamboo in the drainage behind our home. I love watching bamboo swaying in the wind. Magical!

    • Jack July 16, 2022, 9:14 AM

      I’ve always loved bamboo but some folks complain about it because it’s hard to contain. Runners will pop up in the Spring but they can be mowed in areas they aren’t wanted.

      I planted a small stand, probably 8′ x 25′ in my backyard in Tulsa. In the Fall when the starlings begin to migrate they would pitch into that bamboo by the hundreds. The noise was inspiring while they were settling down but at some point in their occupation for the night, they would all stop their chatter at the same time as if on cue.

    • ghostsniper July 16, 2022, 10:21 AM

      First house we bought had a large thatch of bamboo in the corner of the backyard and I liked the way it looked. Many of the stalks were more than 20′ tall. In short order though it started getting on my nerves with all the noise it makes when the wind is blowing. It creaks something fierce. Ever sit on bamboo furniture? Noisy AF. So I cut all of it down. Then the following week I cut it all down again. It’s a grass afterall…