Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Greek-like Grackles, Clairvoyant Orangutans and Other Paradoxes

Some things have struck me funny lately. These have turned out chiefly to concern the animal kingdom. As in the case of all incongruences or paradoxes, there is an element of inherent humor in them. In this blog, I thought I would consider a slender swath of them, offering a few of my own trifling thoughts in a rolling commentary.

I am not a native Texan, and thus I still find myself observing features of this state as if I were but a visitor here. It is not the case, of course, that my own state, which boasts to be the birthplace of America’s current vice president, doesn’t have a claim on various and sundry oddities. But still, I come from there—I was born less than twenty miles from Mr. Biden’s birthplace—so I leave aside Pennsylvania’s claim on nutty people or implausible things. Rather, I note here that birds in Texas, particularly those blackbirds known as grackles, congregate in intersections, perched high on wires or in a tree that is near the intersection or even upon the traffic signal. gracklesNowadays, a solitary grackle will even perch on the personal-space-invading camera that (I suppose) either records those impatient people who barge dangerously through red lights or controls the flow of traffic, or both.grackle on camera

But none of this is paradoxical per se. Rather, the incongruity, the strangeness of the event of the bird gathering, which is itself arguably weird, even bizarre, to a Pennsylvanian like me, lies in the fact that the birds seem always to be evenly spaced. My wife pointed out recently to me that they seem somehow automatically to know what the proper distance between them should be. And they are talkative. When one espies a grackle in one’s yard, one rarely hears the bird, for it is then normally busy about the task of finding a worm, or picking up some stray piece of straw or a dry weed to be used to build or strengthen its nest. But when the birds are in the intersection, they seem actively to be engaged in conversation, even lively debate. They remind me of men I used to see regularly in Greece drinking thick black coffee out of demitasse cups filled and refilled from shiny bronze ibriks.ibrik The birds are like those old men, gathered to talk, to share whatever comes into their minds, maybe even to gripe about the current political situation or the lack of promise that the next round of politicians holds. Like the Greeks, the grackles also like to sit and watch the passersby, of which, when I was in Greece, I was one and now find myself yet again, as I pass swiftly beneath the grackles perched overhead.

Greeks in plaka
Greeks in plaka

But Texan grackles are a lesser paradox—lesser, at least, I would surmise, than the wild parrots of Brooklyn. parrots in BrooklynApparently, in 1968 several parrots escaped from the Kennedy Airport; now what they were doing in the airport, e.g. if they were about to board a plane —which might be yet another paradox or a playful sort of mis-en-abime (sc. fliers within a flier)—or how they performed their daring escape or what their motive for escape even was, I leave aside, save to say that of course if just one parrot escaped from a cage, there would be no issue here, nothing to speak about, much less to write about. But a gaggle of them? How in the world? In any case, they would seem to have decided to imitate their forebears and to become wild parrots. Now that is odd, because parrots are normally not “wild.”woman with parrot They are highly domesticated, especially (at least before 1968), those that live in Brooklyn. Now one needn’t parse this too much. The fact that Brooklyn has wild parrots at all is amply paradoxical. Are they tougher than the nearby Bowrey parrots? Do they drive the parrots inside the Brooklyn brownstones batty?brownstones If they can talk, do they have thick, New York accents?

But the parrots have nothing on orangutans, for such primates are very intelligent, if easily entertained, creatures. Some of them are, it seems, also clairvoyant. orangutanTake for example, the orangutan who predicted this year’s Super Bowl winner. Apparently an orangutan by the name of Tuah destroyed a cardboard copy of the Carolina Panther’s logo and then, perhaps to show that he was not a complete Panther hater, kissed lovingly a replica of a Panthers’ helmet, but left untouched any of the paraphernalia appertaining to the Denver Broncos, thus suggesting to officials from Hogle Zoo that, the kiss of the helmet notwithstanding, the Denver Broncos would prevail in the Super Bowl.  If only they had won by a Tuah-point conversion.orangutan superbowl

But the orangutan has nothing on the swans. Swans, like termites, are creatures that mate with one another for life. Now since it is my wife’s birthday this very day, I think I shall end here, for she is graceful like a swan. She hasn’t a long neck like a swan—not that it is short, but it is not precisely swanlike—but she does do yoga and swans seem automatically to do something like yoga, as they are noticeably graceful. And she is that, and gracious, too, indeed, and she even, paradoxically, married me some thirty-five years ago, when she was but a lass, and I, a lad.

So I shall close with this thought—that it is a strange thing that some animals can get right something like mating, a thing that people often do not get right at all. I thank God that the swan of my life chose not to be a wild parrot or a talkative grackle but has been willing to put up with an orangutan-like husband, one who has but rarely picked Super Bowl winners and is rife with bad puns (to wit, “Tuah-point” conversion). In any case, Happy Birthday to you, mon amie. To you dear reader, I offer the perpetual wish for the right kind of paradoxes and other silly things, whether generated by your place of birth, circumstance of work, a trip to the zoo, a park in Brooklyn or a Texan intersection bedecked with nattering birds, to fill your life. Life is full of paradoxes. Enjoy!


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