Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cardinal Sins

I was approached in the parking lot outside of my work this week by a short man wearing a faded baseball cap. His voice was effeminate and his shyness was nonexistent. I was leaving work for the day, and all I wanted to do was get in my car and drive home. I had a twenty five mile commute from South Sarasota to Northwest Bradenton to make, and this tiny roadblock was not welcomed.

He was standing over by the retention pond about 50 yards from me as I made a beeline for my car door. He saw me, and walked at an angle so he would meet me at my vehicular destination. I tried not to make eye contact with him, but he didn't seem to care. Once he was within lisping distance, he called out to me.

He said, “Hey, do you live around here?”

I replied, “No, I live down in Bradenton.”

“Don't you mean up in Bradenton?”, He said.

I hated him even more for correcting me. First, he was interrupting my getting home and out of my work clothes, and now he was telling me how to talk. He obviously needed some information from me, and this was his way of opening that dialogue. He was not winning any hearts or minds.

He continued, “Well, I rent a room in a house down the street, and I was hoping you knew of someone else that might be looking for a roommate or had a room for rent in their house. The people who live in the house with me have a lifestyle that I don't approve of.”

What I wanted to say was, “No, and I wouldn't recommend you to any of my friends or acquaintances anyway. I don't think they would want to share a home with someone who ends their sentences with a preposition.” I wanted to correct his misuse of language too, but I feared that would elongate our encounter, and only continue to keep me away from the tall glass of vodka and cranberry that my parched palate was requesting.

What I did say was, “No.”

I'm not sure if he sensed my increasing frustration with him, or if this actually happened, but what he said next abruptly ended our conversation.

He said, “Oh, I gotta go. A cardinal just flew into my car.”

Wait, what? I was happy that the distance between our beings was increasing, and that I was released from the prison that was our interaction. However, I was not sure what the hell just happened. I have ended most of my conversations with random strangers with a quick, “Goodbye”, “No thanks”, or “Sorry I don't have any spare change.” But never in my life had one ended with “A cardinal just flew into my car.”

The tiny stranger flew off toward his black Pontiac Solstice, and paid me no further attention. I didn't stick around to see how everything worked out. I just got into my bird-free automobile, and headed home.

During my thirty minute drive, I thought about that tiny man and his housing predicament. I wondered how he ended up renting a room with other strangers in a house where one's lifestyle is evident to the other. Most of the rented housing situations of which I am aware involved separate entryways with lockable doors and very little communal space. This fella was obviously in a different position.

I also wondered what kind of lifestyle his roommates had that offended him so badly that he would lurk by a retention pond waiting to ask random strangers if they knew of any rooms for rent? I know I shouldn't judge him based on his effeminate speech pattern, but I did. I generally associate that with gay men, so I can only assume that the lifestyle he spoke of was not the alternative type. It had to be something else.

Is it possible that this bird story was the first thing that came to his mind when he wanted to sever our conversation? Is it also possible that it was a Freudian situation, and his obsession with birds was what caused that to be his first choice of excusing himself? I can only assume that had to be the case.

This tiny lisping gentleman was obviously a down-on-his-luck and out of work bird watcher (or birder as they like to be called now). Hence his lurking by the pond. That area was well known by the people in my office for having a raft of ducks, a family of Sand Hill Cranes, and an occasional Spoonbill or two. He wasn't lurking, he was observing. How could I be so judgmental?

His love of birds was matched only by his hate for his roommates. They were most certainly a gaggle of duck detesting, lark loathing, heron hating, pelican punching, skimmer scorners. And this avian enthusiast wanted nothing to do with them! I now understand his need to find a new domicile to rest his hat-covered head. He could not stand to spend one more night fluffing his feather pillow and tucking himself into bed beneath his down comforter (which by the way would be way too hot to use in Florida).

I felt sorry for him, and I wished I knew of a place where he could stay. Somewhere far away from those awful people. I also knew that he would eventually find someone that will take him into their home, or rent a room to him over their garage. Someplace where he can nestle in, and hang his collection of watercolor paintings of water birds and other feathered subjects. I just hope that place is up there in Sarasota, and nowhere near me.

I've always wanted to end a story with a little "Free Bird."

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