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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Birds: Part Two

posted by on November 22 at 13:11 PM

A fancy friend in New York City decided to help the poor by volunteering at a soup kitchen. It was her first act of real charity. She served food, sorted clothes, and blogged about the experience here. Out of what she had to say, this particular passage caught my attention—it describes one of her three assigned tasks, “bread duty” :

As the line dwindled down, one woman, Sandra, came by with a huge cart and relieved me of all the bread to - you guessed it - feed the birds. According to Sandra, it’s best to hit the lesser known parks, as opposed to Central Park, because the birds in Central Park are quite spoiled when it comes to handouts.

The birds in this picture can be found every morning lining the telephone wires above a food bank on 12th, across the street from Seattle’s youth detention center.
626fc8ef0981.jpeg The birds are waiting for the poor and homeless to feed them bread. This is all they have to do to gather energy: the food bank opens, the homeless and poor get free bread and buns, and then feed them the surplus. It is an easy life.

But now we must ask a hard question. Why are homeless people often so kind, so generous to birds? And what is this type of generosity that grows from another, higher form of generosity? Do the homeless feed pigeons as a way of soothing the shame of being reduced to a recipient of pity? The pigeons are, at least, begging from them, the beggars. (The pigeons, however, have no pangs of shame—when generosity comes down to them, it meets its end with their panicked pecking.)

We all know nothing is worse than pity. It is the worst because it is a power that pretends that it is not a power. The rich at least are open about their power and are happy to exert it, to make us feel the full force of it. Not with those who take pity on us. They believe they are doing the right thing by giving help—a help which they are in a position to give. The homeless/broken person accepts the help (“this bitter earth”). She eats some of it and then offers what remains, what she doesn’t need, to the birds. The homeless person feeds the pigeons because it is an exertion from the last position of power in this society—power over the pigeons.

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Living a life devoid of simple happiness, believing that every gesture, every emotion is utterly negative, enforcing and re-enforcing social inequity - I pity you.

Posted by dewsterling | November 22, 2006 1:28 PM

It makes them happy.

Posted by monkey | November 22, 2006 1:52 PM

I think it's a nice metaphor, but I think you're projecting a little Charles. It's probably just "something to do", especially for some men as they get older and their "routine" becomes all-important.

Also it's fucking insane anyone in a city would feed birds. In SF the city actually introduced hawks to, I assume, "manage" the pigeons. While waiting for a bus a few weeks ago, a group of us were recently treated to an awesome, and gruesome, display of natures - ehem - pecking order. Hawk 1, nest of pigeons, 0.

Of maybe Charles might be right, and I’m simply telling my own, bourgeois version of his metaphor, from a few rungs up the ladder. Where the homeless sooth their shame by helping the birds of the bottom caste, I’m patronizing a gladiator spectacular, comforted by my standing as well fed and having a home - rooting for one of the same.

Not really, but still.

Posted by Dougsf | November 22, 2006 1:52 PM

Somehow this comes off as condescending. I would guess that the homeless are doing it because it makes them feel needed and wanted and they simply enjoy being with birds (a common feeling shared by anyone who has a pet - home or no home). The pigeons are hungry and are probably enjoying themselves too. As to the homeless at least, you could go talk to them about it if it's such a cerebal puzzle for you. The piece sort of smacks of the ivory tower attitude that is being derided within it.

Posted by dwb | November 22, 2006 1:59 PM

Say it, Charles, they empathize with the pigeons because in the modern, overpopulated human world, they are both useless animals.

Posted by djfits | November 22, 2006 2:04 PM

You won't feel so powerful after I shit on your giant head.

Posted by A Pigeon | November 22, 2006 2:06 PM

In prison people use to be allowed cats and they were treated kindly, and were taken care of and the comisary use to sell cat food and shit, whereas, your fellow cons were treated with suspicion and violence. Vittles for the cats a shank for the peckerwoods.

Charles is right, pity is a motherfucker, but sometimes it feels good to be able to help, even if youre doing it to feel good about your self and to excercise your power.

Posted by SeMe | November 22, 2006 2:10 PM

I imagine the reasons for sharing their meager repasts with others are as varied as the homeless themselves. There is not a single monolithic entity called "the homeless" with a single mindset or a single reason for sharing their food with critters.

In other words, Charles, if you were truly curious about this, you'd go ask individual persons. You aren't, you're idling speculating as a form of intellectual masturbation.

Posted by Geni | November 22, 2006 2:48 PM

Duh, "idly speculating," not "idling speculating." Not being able to edit comments makes us all look quasi-literate. Which is not to say that is not true.

Posted by Geni | November 22, 2006 2:49 PM

Bird pity is the lowest form of dishonesty.

Posted by Gabriel | November 22, 2006 3:01 PM

The hummingbirds come to and jockey over my feeder (a feeder I took over from the long-time apartment-dweller before me). They're afraid of the bees that visit the feeder more than they are of me.

It's more marvel and respect that I feel for them. They are as uniquely equipped to survive as I am, and this is the one place we can recognize each's otherness.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | November 22, 2006 3:23 PM

Funny how people feed birds that are not even indigenous to this continent and carry decease but then they are here and there is no getting rid of them.
Pigeons starlings and sparrows all never used to be here but survive on human waste and feeding.

Posted by Brian | November 22, 2006 8:18 PM

The Buddha is quoted as saying: "If you want to learn how to love, start with plants and animals. They're easier." Perhaps in a world that shows them little love, homeless people can still love the birds who love them for their generosity.

Posted by treacle | November 23, 2006 5:08 PM

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