“What the hell is going on here?” I am addressing my footwear. Though Buddy, the sleek black feline on my bed, is listening in and observing the other party in my conversation.
The Bud, for instance, astutely notes with a nod of his head the fact that I have in fact dropped my shoe for the second time in the last minute.
“Maahh,” he says, turning to face the balcony door. He stretches, then lies down regally in the classic cat 'lion' pose. I no longer merit his interest.
Yes, Buddy, I know that the day is starting as badly as the night just finished.
Professional-level politically-motivated drinking was standard at the main bar of Mimi’s in the Marigny last night, brought on by the Trump apocalypse. The discussion concerned putting down deposits on Canadian condos and rural properties, thus, getting ahead of the possible northern land boom in the second week of November. Moves to the frozen tundra were also being contemplated, even though the primary meteorological rule here in New Orleans remains in place: “ice is for cocktails.” There was also the voiced frustration that south-of-the-border beachfronts are now less attractive, what with the declining popularity in Mexico and beyond, of supposedly rampant amigos norteños de Trumpos. Besides, how would we be able to commute around 'The Wall'?
It was a hard night, even when sleep finally provided some welcome relief. I do not wake up easily, and this sluggish progress does not bode well for a morning yet to be faced.
I balance on the rumpled edge of my unmade bed, mentally scrambled and off-kilter after hours upon hours of what was nothing more than a series of tormented, roiled and broken catnaps, only to find that I am having a hard time getting these things onto my feet. The right shoe is forcing me to solve an unexpected puzzle. Cloth laces and leather tongue are somehow tangled in a black, writhing bundle. A simple task is suddenly more difficult than I can manage. How does this lacing device actually work?
I bend over to pick up the other shoe, reasoning unconsciously that maybe the left will be easier going than the right, and... bang my head against an open door of the cabinet lined up against the room’s interior wall. The collision hurts.
Coordination gone. Patience gone. I am helpless against the combined onslaughts of an increasingly aggressive universe.
Buddy turns his head, seemingly amused. After all, I just yelled at a shoe. Again. Almost slapped it. Stop what? Stop not going on my feet? What is the shoe doing, exactly, to make me personally upset? Isn’t this the same shoe that went on this same foot so passively, and in such orderly fashion, just yesterday?
Suddenly, there is a loud tapping behind me, coming from outside. Tap-tap-tap. Ignore. It happens again. Tap-tap-tap.
I turn to the “15-light” balcony door. Fifteen panes of glass equal fifteen lights, I remember the carpenter explaining. For some unknown reason this now forges to the front of my mind. Fifteen lights.
Tap-tap-TAP. Focus. Just in time to see a red bundle of feathers take off from a branch in the tall fig tree beyond the balcony and soar six feet directly towards me, only to hit the glass of door with his beak – a couple of times, hard. With a purpose. Tap-TAP-TAP.
Buddy's head is focused. He stares at the very point where the beak touches the glass, every muscle in his body tensed. He sees a meal.
A meal who looks directly into my eyes for a split second, spins mid-air, and returns to a branch. A mere six inches away from his resting spot, a female, obviously his mate, sits on another green-leaved limb facing outward towards the yard. She is hunkered down, her back to me, though she seems to look over her shoulder every so often to observe the current interaction.
The male executes another aerial charge, again hitting glass. Three times. Loudly. Aggressively. And again. The female ignores the noise and commotion. Again.
“What in the geewilly hell is going on here?” I ask Buddy. The cat does not answer. The bird, however, returns to perch in the fig tree, facing me, looking straight through my flesh and into my soul. I get up and return his stare. Hold it. Rather spooky, this concentration. He is transmitting something to me, I am sure of it.
Finally, I walk towards the door and stand close enough to see my breath fog the glass. He does not falter, fixated, his eyes aimed directly at me.
“Anything I can do for you?” I say, as loudly as I can without causing further head pain.
That does it. He shakes his beak, dismisses me, and then flies off into the yard. His mate turns to see the source of that last bit of human sound. She tilts her head to the side, as if she too does not consider me to be worth the trouble of replying to, and follows her beau, winging away to the line of citrus trees at the rear of the yard.
Buddy jumps off the bed and stands at the door, angry that his plans for a winged Happy Meal have come to naught because of my actions.
I am wondering if all this is a sign. Maybe the red bird was indeed telling me something important. This pair of cardinals has inhabited my patio for the last decade, pretty much all year round. I am happy that they stay here, they sing wonderfully. But they are most noticeable visually when the male seems to brighten up a tad, and takes on an ultra-red cardinal tint for mating season. Maybe it is an illusion brought on by the spate of singing after the long, cold winter. Supposedly, cardinals do not molt, but he does seem brighter when he is horny—versus the female’s year-round drab brown. With very few hints of the male’s majestic spring coloration, she is camouflaged while incubating in the nest, and being personally fed by her partner. This happens frequently, as they usually produce three broods of one to three eggs each in a single mating season.
I think at first that this cannot be the same pair, but when I retrieve my phone and look up the breed’s life span —isn’t this what telephones are for? —I find that the average cardinal’s life in the wild rolls on for some 15 years. In captivity, they have been known to approach thirty. But why was this resident bird now attacking me?
And, of course, then the real facts of our encounter begin to dawn on me. The cardinal male did not even see me. He was focusing on his own reflection in the glass. Until the human showed up and distracted him.
It is then that the 'Big Light' turns on: the bird was exhibiting an avian Donald Trump display. Here was a naturally-occurring, inwardly-focused alpha male, who makes a huge noise and a physical exhibition of macho behavior, while contemplating his own reflection without regard for anything deeper. My god, does that qualify Trump as a natural occurrence, a human force of nature?
I start back into reality. I realise I haven’t moved for some moments. My hands are clenched, my neck tight.
Buddy looks up at me from the floor, then clenches his muscles for a graceful jump back onto the bed, where he sniffs my tangled shoes. The wise cat does not care about spiritual awakening, and has even forgotten about the loss of an unanticipated meal. He slowly drops back into his primary position of physical rest and philosophical contemplation.
I can now only think about the coincidences, the parallels. The bright red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap that Donald wears over his own feathery plume.
That said, and with the world still revolving a bit, I have not found a comfortable way to get the shoes onto my feet. Maybe I will just wear flip-flops today. And my red St Louis baseball cap, which I think the presumptive Republican candidate should immediately adopt, in place of his present red-captioned chapeau.