THUMP! Scrape. THUMP! Scrape. THUMP! Scrape.
“What in hell?” I murmured as I rolled over and extricated myself from the tender arms of somnolence. I reluctantly blinked at the clock that blinked back at me: 5:15AM. The day, or what there was of it at that hour, presented as murky, dull and grey. The same could be said of my brain as I groggily wrapped erratically firing synapses around the strange, percussive sound that was emanating from the next room.
THUMP! Scrape. THUMP! Scrape. THUMP! Scrape.
The irritating rhythm persisted. Gratefully, it wasn't the sort of crashing and bashing that had awakened me around a month ago when a large black bear of very little brain yanked my bar-b-q grill through the deck railing, smashing the lattice in the process, and made off with the grill's greasy griddle in his jaws. No, this muffled yet distinct sound had a story all its own and over the ensuing month, it would nearly prove to be my undoing. And as you shall see, it was not simply sonic intrusion alone that nearly drove me to the precipice of madness and terminal mayhem. It had some help in the corporeal form of my muse and grand frommage, Doctor Easy, and a feathered fiend I came to know as the Kamikaze Robin.
The thumping and scraping continued unabated. Rolling back over, I shut my eyes and told myself that the noise, while intrusive and decidedly annoying, didn't sound particularly dangerous. Not able to fall back asleep, I found myself counting the interval of time between impacts: consistently 4 to 5 seconds. I got up to investigate. I shuffled barefoot into the adjoining living room, looked out from the wide double bay windows where the emerging day had taken on a lighter shade of grey. Seeing nothing unusual, I turned to go back to bed when . . .
I whirled around just in time to see a small dark object hurl itself at my window and fall to the deck below. Closer investigation revealed a rather irate, seriously determined projectile disguised as a robin. It would appear that he had seen his reflection in the windows, become filled with wild bird machismo, and was simply defending his turf from a fierce and threatening interloper who looked - just like himself. It all made sense now. Sort of. I returned to my bed thinking that he'd go at it until daylight revealed the truth and put an end to his pugnacious delusion. Or he broke his own fool neck.
But I was wrong. So very wrong. The thumping and scraping wore on, making it impossible to sleep. So I arose and prepared for the day. As I sat at the table with my coffee and read the news, the bird continued to hurl himself senselessly into the windows. I'd get up and walk towards the window; he'd fly away. I'd sit back down; he rapidly return to his shadow boxing routine. It became mildly amusing. As amusing as four hours of sleep would allow anyway.
I headed downstairs to my workshop to continue the construction of two recently commissioned cigar box guitars. Four hours later when I came back upstairs to grab a bite to eat, the bird was still at it. “How long do you plan to keep this up?” I wondered aloud. Little did I know. After my lunch, accompanied by his non-stop thrashing and banging, I went back to the workshop and returned at 6 o'clock for supper. Guess who was still exercising his territorial privilege? As I sat eating my evening fare, the robin continued his rabid display of relentless, concussive tactics.
I watched as this foolish fellow, looking more than slightly rumpled, sat on the deck railing cocking his head this way and that. Then, as if jolted by lightning, he'd leap into the air and fly with full, feathered force into the window...THUMP! As the laws of gravity pulled him earthward, he angrily kicked his yellow feet at his reflection while his flailing wings uselessly throttled the window as he fell to the deck. Momentarily stunned, the robin would sit on the deck, ruffle his feathers and then excrete a large, whitish poop. He would then fly back to the deck railing and repeat this entire manoeuvre again. And again. Sometimes he'd add some variety by charging a different window and instead of falling to the deck, he would crash onto the lawn. But that didn't seem to matter and this routine – Charge! THUMP! Scrape! Crash! Ruffle! Poop! - continued until it was too dark to see.
I went to bed as usual and fell asleep reading. Next thing I knew, there it was: THUMP! Scrape. THUMP! Scrape. THUMP! Scrape. I looked at the clock. It was 5AM. Someone was getting an even earlier start. I leapt up out of bed and stomped through the house towards the bay windows. The robin, in mid-flight, saw me and rapidly changed course and flew high up into a tall hemlock tree. I opened the door and bellowed “Get the hell outta here, you idiot!” Suddenly I realized that if my neighbors, typically early risers, had happened to hear me they'd have yet another reason to wonder about their neighbor - “Yup, wonder what's up with that strange fella this time...out there screamin' at the trees.” I slammed the door and returned to bed. I hadn't lain down for more than a few seconds and the attack upon my domicile resumed.
Chagrinned, I rationalized that this robin was only doing what robins do. Surely he would stop all this nonsense in a few days after he tired himself out and realized that the unwelcome interloper was simply his own rather benign reflection. I had obviously overestimated his intellect - the term “birdbrain” made perfect sense to me. This jerk just wasn't getting it. This bird was most certainly brain-injured and totally incapable of learning anything. And he was NOT going away. For days he kept up his moronic blitz from dawn 'til dusk, non-stop. Even wind, rainstorms and the weatherman's shrill threat of tornadoes didn't stop him. He thrashed his soaking frame against my windows, imprinting muddy lithographs of himself on every glass surface. After a week of this my windows were a haze of dislodged feathers, bird snot and mud. And my deck and railings were slimy with poop.
I was up against a stupid yet formidably frustrating foe. I was held hostage by a Kamikaze Robin! And he had crossed the line – this was to be all-out WAR! In reality, though, our skirmishes more resembled cartoon scenes from the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote.
After another week of stomping around and yelling obscenities at the bird, it occurred to me that my Boogey Man scare tactics were ridiculous and I became reminded of Einstein's description of insanity - something about repeating the same actions over and over and expecting different results! The Kamikaze Robin was clearly winning. That I was being regularly trumped by a “birdbrain” did little for my esteem. I needed to plot different, more effective strategies. In response I put masking tape on the windows so the bird's reflection would be broken. This seemed to slow down the percussive invasions for a day or two and I actually thought I might declare victory. It was, however, a very short-lived respite, for soon there returned the repetitive, numbing thump and scrape that was the signature of the dreaded Kamikaze Robin.
I figured that if I wasn't going to scare this maniacal bird away, perhaps a natural predator might. It occurred to me that right now might be a great time for Owl to be employed into service. Owl is a life- size, life-like plastic...Owl. He has a 360 degree rotating head, his huge eyes are alert, his beak intimidating. Three years ago I bought Owl to threaten the chipmunks and squirrels that were eating all the peaches from my backyard tree. He did a lousy job. Every single peach was purloined, I never tasted a one and Owl retired, sulking on my mantle. But here was an opportunity for Owl to redeem himself; surely Owl could stand up to a - robin? So I installed Owl on the deck railing, right upon the Kamikaze Robin's launching pad, with the strict orders, “Keep that little twerp away!” Again for nearly two days, there was no noise, no sign of the robin. Owl had redeemed himself and would be my hero! Huzzah! for Owl!
Then one evening as I was sitting at my table eating dinner and enjoying the gentle woodland chorus of twilight birdcalls and crickets, a dark blur appeared just on the edge of my peripheral vision. Another fluttering motion caught my full attention. There was the Kamikaze Robin, head cocked jauntily, hopping boldly along the railing towards the stalwart Owl. He got to within inches of Owl, looked up with beady eyes, spun around, looked at Owl again, ruffled his feathers confrontationally and let a loose, white poop drop to the deck below. Owl did not seem to notice and kept his gaze as steady and unplacable as the Queen's Guard at Buckingham Palace. The robin gave his feathers a quick preen and suddenly catapulted into the window – THUMP! Scrape. “DAMN!” I cried.
Not to be deterred, I tried moving Owl around to different strategic spots. He went inside the house to sit in full profile upon the window sill. He moved to different windows. He shared the windows with more masking tape and cut-out cardboard silhouettes of raptors – thus proving that the combination of two ineffective techniques was twice as ineffective. I don't know why – just crazy, I guess - but I again reintroduced Owl outside to different stations on the deck. He would do his job for a few hours, but then his territorial imperative was rendered obsolete. Kamikaze Robin didn't take no shit from no plastic Owl. But he could sure dish it out!
As we approached the three week mark in our contentious pas de deux, I was becoming more and more sleep deprived. My tolerance was on low reserve, and my irritation was tinder-dry, ready to explode. I had taken to wearing ear plugs and running a white-noise fan in my bedroom. Kamikaze Robin celebrated his victories over Owl, masking tape decoys and my best Boogey Man antics by ratcheting up his assaults. He attacked at first light and continued relentlessly until dusk. There was no evidence that he took a break for lunch. I, on the other hand, felt like I was out-to-lunch and ready to break. Every one of my attempts to vanquish the valiant bird fell puny before his superior feathered fury.
Late one afternoon as I sat slumped in my chair, eyes at half-mast, conspiring how I might procure an effective weapon of mass distraction that would eliminate the cursed bird, restore my rest and save my sanity, I felt a familiar presence.
“Look a' deh face on dat, will yah! Look like yah got deh grouch all ovah yah, meh-son!”
It was Dr. Easy, showing up as he often does when I'm about at the end of my rope. Time to tie a knot and hang on! And, as per usual, he arrived just before dinner time. “Wha' gwan witchu, meh-son? Yah look vex...an' like yah nah sleep feh days. Wha's for supper dis fine evenin'?”
I proceeded to recount my tale of feathered frustration, sleep deprivation and eroding sanity as the good Doctor rummaged around in my kitchen, banging cabinet doors and rooting through my refrigerator. “I be listenin' to yah, but meh belly be grouchin' jus' as loud as you! A man need sus'nance! Den meh put meh bes' min' to deh issue a' hand.”
He found a jar of peanuts, a banana, a piece of cheese and a can of ginger beer and came and sat down cross-legged on the floor across from me. He looked me square in the eye and said, “I be hopin' yah got somet'ing mo' substantial planned for our supper dis fine evenin', but dis be 'nuff to ge' me min' ta turnin'.”
“I wasn't exactly planning on company for dinner tonight, Doctor,” I replied as I wearily reached for some peanuts. It was then I realized I hadn't eaten since early this morning. My days had become scrambled and preoccupied with robin eradication. “Any thoughts about how I can get this damn bird outta my hair? It's times like this I wish I had a gun!”
“Whoa now, meh-son! Yah nah be shootin' nah gun 'roun' here. Prolly shoot yah own foot and den yah have somet'ing to be grouch about! 'Sides, meh gah bettah plan. Clean an' quiet, an' it do deh job, jes' like we do it down deh island way. Nah fowl geh 'way from me. Yah gah an' ol' rubber tire tube? Gah piece o' ledder an' string? I mek meh a sling-shot do deh job quick. I gah meh good eye! Gi' me dese t'ings an' move yahse'f in deh kitchen on deh bizzy end o' dat fry pan!”
I was somewhat incredulous, but I was also worn down and had had enough experience with the Doctor to know that once he got his mind planted on a plan it would be futile to attempt to diffuse him. Besides, perhaps a sling-shot could be the solution I sought. I rummaged around in my workshop and found an old bicycle inner tube from which I cut a twelve-inch length. I then cut a three-inch square of canvas for a pouch and located some stout cord to fasten the pouch to the rubber sling.
While I got busy making us a light repast of omelets, toast and tea, Dr. Easy fashioned a pretty fair sling-shot from the materials I'd provided. He then went out to the stream in the back yard to find some small, smooth stones for projectiles. I looked out the kitchen window and saw him adjust his ever present cap and shades, take a small stone from his pocket and place it into the pouch. He held the rubber sling tightly in his right hand while he pulled back the pouch with its payload in it with his left. The rubber sling strained as it stretched thin, awaiting the release of its deadly force. He closed one eye, took aim at a tree about thirty feet away and released the pouch. The sling contracted with an audible snap and the stone missile sailed through the air, striking the trunk of the tree with a THUNK!
“Meh still gah it!” I heard him exclaim as he turned, grinning, and walked jauntily back to the house. “Dat fowl soon gon be tek he las' flight!” he said proudly.
As we ate our supper discussing further The Great Robin Eradication Plan, the unwitting Kamikaze Robin continued his wild accost upon my windows. “Nah backin' off, he!” exclaimed the Doctor. And then he added with a broad, reassuring smile, “Soon fowl be wishin' he nevah come 'roun' here! Enny mo' dem eggs, meh-son? Say, dey nah robin eggs, right?” Though I couldn't see them behind his shades, I knew his eyes were twinkling with anticipation.
After he'd eaten his fill, the Doctor restated his plan as if I wasn't sharp enough to have gotten it the first and second times. “OK. Yah stay inna house, an' don' mek no noise. Gotta work fas' while we still gah some light. Now, I a-go out deh back an' 'roun' deh house, sneak up on deh bird while he be settin' on deh deck poopin' an' plannin' his nex' move. When he smack deh window an' fall onna groun', I lets loose wit' de stone. Pop! Fowl all done! All yah gotta do is watch deh mastah do his woik. An' den bury deh corpse!” There was a wild look in his eyes.
“Terrific,” I said, somewhat skeptically, “just don't shoot my window! Or put your own eye out!”
The Doctor gave me a scowl and disappeared out the door as evening shadows lengthened. For a few minutes I didn't see or hear him; the robin kept up his barrage. It amazed me that this bird was still alive after the past several weeks' assaults on his noggin. But here he was, like some nutty, lobotomized Narcissus staring at his own reflection, back on the railing in preparation for another window strafing. “Well,” I smiled to myself as I sat quietly watching from my kitchen table, “it'll all be over soon. I think we're probably doing the robin gene pool a huge favor by removing your stupid self from it!”
Then from out of the shadow of an ancient hemlock tree darted Dr. Easy with his sling-shot drawn and a slightly crazed look upon his face. “BANZAI!” he screamed and he loosed the stone in the general direction of the startled bird.
“No!” I shrieked, leaping up, knocking my chair backwards onto the floor as I ran towards the door. “That's not how the plan is supposed to go!” In his enthusiastic heat-of-battle, Dr. Easy did not wait until the robin had attacked the window and fallen to the ground before he fired his sling-shot. Instead, he ignored his own battle plan and fired the first shot.
As if in slow motion, I heard the sling-shot ssssnnnsnaaaaaaaaaapppppp as the stone whizzzzzzzzzed through the air in a convoluted arc, followed by a pained cry of “Oooowwwwwwwooooo!”, punctuated with a loud CRACK!
The stone smacked into the deck railing several feet from the robin, ricocheted off the railing and back towards the hemlock's trunk. From there, losing little of its energy, the stone bounced off the tree trunk and struck the Doctor squarely on the forehead, knocking off his shades and his cap. The shocked robin evidently still had enough of his wits about him to realize that he needed to quickly get gone and bee-lined it up into the hemlock tree from whose high perch he looked down upon the Doctor who was leaping about alternately rubbing his thumb and his forehead. The robin ruffled his feathers, cocked his head and let a volley of poop loose upon the dancing Doctor below.
“Enough already,” I shouted from the deck down to the wounded gladiator, “quit this shenanigans before you break something!”
“I t'ink I a'ready shoot meh own thumb up bad an' deh damn rock hit meh inna head! Mek meh face broke up...lookit!” he said, pointing to a burgeoning bruise above his eyebrow. “Wha' yah got meh into? I ha' 'nuff dis foolishness, meh-son! Yah on yer own wit' dis schtupid vexation.” And as quickly as he had appeared from nowhere, Dr. Easy had vanished.
I looked up into the hemlock tree. I was reasonably certain the robin was smirking at me. “You may have won this battle, bird, but you will NOT win the war!” I growled. The next morning I did what I should have done weeks ago: I went to the garden shop and bought thirty feet of fine, plastic netting and hung it from my eaves...enough to cover all the windows in the front of my house.
More than two weeks have passed since the slingshot debacle, and I've not heard a single thump 'n scrape. Owl has retired to sulk on the mantle. There's not been a single robin to be seen in my yard. Come to think of it, Doctor Easy hasn't been 'round either. Yet one question still remains: Will the real birdbrain please stand up!