Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Signs and Wonders

First thing today, a bird fell out of the sky at my feet. I was walking north on Dearborn Street and a pretty feathered olive green thing dropped to the sidewalk in front of me, its white legs askew. It was not as dramatic as having a cougar cross my path, as one crossed my assistant’s a few weeks back, but birds don’t fall before me every day, either.

I stared at it a moment—baffled at what to do—and then picked it up between an old receipt and a train schedule. I had no idea if it was dead or alive. A hardened-looking blonde woman stopped and suggested I put it in one of the planters on the street, so “it could be in nature.” I laid it down under a fat, sprouting hosta leaf in one of the city’s planter beds, and rode the elevator up to my office.

At my desk, I googled ‘injured bird Chicago’ and right away a phone number for Chicago Bird Collision Monitors popped up. I was only mildly surprised since Arthur Pearson from my writing group wrote a youth novel about bird rescuers at the John Hancock building. The CBCM has an emergency hotline, and a network of volunteers who retrieve birds who get injured flying through the Loop; one rescuer works in City Hall, just down the block. The operator said to place the bird in a box or a paper bag. So I found a stray Levenger bag (thrown under my desk with about 7 pairs of shoes).

I went back downstairs with my deputy and we scooped up the bird (a warbler? A finch?) and tucked her into the bag. It was hard to tell if she was still alive—her tiny black bead of an eye was open, rimmed with delicate white feathers. We toted her upstairs, stapled the bag shut and waited for the volunteer.

An hour passed and nobody rang. So I called the hotline again, and the operator located a second rescuer. She couldn’t leave her office, but I offered to bring her the bird. I picked up my little olive green bag with the little olive green bird inside, and set out for the corner of Monroe and Franklin, about a half-mile away. A few blocks later I realized I’d been swinging the bag by its string handles. Yikes! I apologized to the bird and clutched the sack at its top.

About 10 minutes later I reached the ATT lobby and called “Barb” from my cell phone. She said “I’ll be wearing a grey shirt” as if I was making a surreptitious drug delivery. She came down and quickly retrieved the bag without opening it. She’s learned to keep the bags closed; she’s had birds escape, and it’s problematic if they fly around indoors. She shook her head knowingly, then disappeared behind the security turnstile protecting the elevator banks.

That was that. I don’t know if the bird is dead or alive, and I would rather not know. If it’s alive they will give it medical attention. If it’s dead, they’ll note where it was found, and put it to rest. Either way, I’d like them to identify it for me—I couldn’t determine anything from the web, though it looks somewhat like an orange-crowned warbler without the crown. Sadly, deposed.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Letting the Blister Rise

This week, Susan Henderson asks LITPARK devotees about what's in their drawers or pockets. In my pocket was an email, with the address of the Israeli consulate, and this is why:

If you’ve ever been to Israel, one of the first things you saw when you landed was a larger-than-life bronze bust of David Ben-Gurion sculpted by my Aunt. Dorothy Wolf. It greeted me when I visited at 17. My son and his friends saw it when they debarked during an 8th grade trip. My Irish researcher, who married a Holocaust survivor’s daughter, saw it there, at Lod Airport.

Today, two days short of the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state, I met my family at the Israeli consulate to dedicate the original cast, a gift from my aunt’s family. I submitted my passport number in advance, took a taxi to Wacker Drive, checked in with my driver’s license at the security desk, rode the restricted elevator and pressed the buzzer beside the locked steel doors.

They gave me a pass on the metal detector, and I joined the crowd.

Aunt Dorothy was there, and thrilled to see me. In truth, every time she saw me she was ecstatic, and gave me a warm embrace: when I walked into the room, 2 minutes later, and 2 minutes after that. Each time was the first time—or so it seemed through her Alzheimer’s fog.

Still, she celebrated. The Israeli Consul-General spoke a moving speech. My father fumbled with his new digital camera as the consulate unveiled a plaque commemorating the occasion. Dorothy blinked, perhaps uncertain about the fuss. It hurt my heart to think about waiting so long for recognition, to the point where it is unrecognizable.

We repaired to a conference room for cookies and wine. Dorothy’s grandchildren were careful to not speak to their father.

My father spoke to me. “You look terrific,” he kvelled. I had done nothing to earn this fawning, save scrub my face and keep mustard off my shirt.

I talked to my taut and pretty girl cousins--talented artists both--in their fashionable black leathers, and they talked back.

There were words I expected and words unexpected:

“Have you ever slept with a black man?”
“I never really noticed this sculpture. I wonder if my children notice my paintings.”
“My husband takes propecia, and his wanger still wangs.”

All this, while my parents argued, just steps away. My father reached for my mother’s hands, and she growled and snapped, more wolf-like with age. I asked them what I always ask, would they please fight later. They tried, and failed, and tried again. And when they left in the elevator, I hid in the bathroom. Not a terrorist or intruder, just a refugee from a Jewish family—safe behind the barriers of windowless steel doors and restricted elevators.

I lagged behind. I skipped the limo and lunch in the suburbs, opting instead for a long, slow stroll on a sunny day. I turned away from them, taking the long-cut through the old library, letting a blister rise on the outside of my foot.

There was a crowd in the large hall on the first floor of the Cultural Center, with retirees, students and lunching lawyers filtering in. A performance was set to begin. I limped happily to a seat. In the center of the room, two men perched on chairs, hugging their guitars. A middle aged white man, and an old black man named Honeyboy Edwards. A guitar legend, or so said the bald human rights lawyer who sat beside me, grinning and describing his work resettling Chinese laborers whose 18th century farms were flooded by 21st century dams. I worked to ignore him while Honeyboy launched into his blues. He strummed, he plucked; he belted out lyrics. Yet nothing but a weak vibration flew from his fingers, a hoarse mumble from his throat. He may be an icon, but he’s not much of a performer anymore. The lunch crowd clapped along, enthralled with his songs. But to me, he was too like Aunt Dorothy, his vitality as shriveled as an old peeled apple.

At a break, I slipped away from the human rights lawyer, before he could ask my name. It was two blocks to my office. With every step I took further from the music, from the consulate, from my family, the blister kept rising--tinting my relief with pain.

The light went yellow at the corner. The traffic cop plugged her lips with a whistle and I picked up my pace.