Street Smart Chicago

Dime Stories: An Autumn Dream of Blue Jays

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

A number of years ago, the bird population of Illinois and other Midwestern states was nearly devastated by West Nile virus. For reasons I never quite understood, crows, jays and magpies, which are all part of the same family, were particularly hard hit.

When I was a caddy, I loved the pugnacious behavior of bluejays and also finding their feathers on the golf course—that other-worldly blue of the tail feathers, which you’d find on the ground after the spring moult happened.

They were like finding small treasures. Other caddies would pick them up for me when they spotted them, knowing I liked birds. The idea of the bluejay population being damn near wiped out made me immensely sad. They’ve come back some, but not like they used to be. When I caddied, if a golfer got too close to a bluejay nest, the female would dive-bomb the poor fucker and peck at him. I laughed my ass off many times watching grown men run away from these birds trying to shield their heads with a putter.

The females are the bad-asses of the species. Fool with them at your peril. They are busybodies, loud-mouths and bullies; little gangsters who muscle other birds out of their nests. They also love shiny objects; bottle caps, foil, keys—all of these things have been found in bluejay nests. They are born thieves.

When I was a kid, this was my favorite bird to draw. I enjoyed the black, blue and white lines. They were fun to draw and looked nutty in my renderings. I often drew women’s heads onto bird bodies and this made my teachers crazy.

One time in seventh grade, one of the dip-shit nuns told me to only draw birds with bird heads. Sister Elaine. When she turned her back I muttered, “Maybe you ought to mind your own fucking business, you crazy bitch.”

The crazy old bitch heard me and it was off to the races. I got sent home (with a note, which I ditched in the garbage) and she called my mother and raised hell.

I really hated these whack-jobs. I was convinced they were all mental defectives and nobody would acknowledge it. I told my mother how crazy they were and she half-believed me, but knew that I provoked them.

My mom was always sending peace offerings to the nuns: homemade bread, little bottles of Jean Naté which, I told my mom, was like putting socks on a pig. My mom thought she could make the nuns like me.

Oh, how wrong she was.

I declared war on the old bitches. Lunch bags full of dog-shit in their desks. Rubber snakes. Big chalk drawings of giant dicks on the blackboard. You name it; I did it.

They always knew it was me because of the quality of the rendering. I took special care to only draw big, veiny, throbbing tools, accompanied by an ample and hairy  nut-sack.

They would tell me they knew it was me, and God help me if they caught me. I’d tell them, if they didn’t catch me, I didn’t do it.

The brides of Christ looked upon me with a jaundiced eye. My philosophy was return fire. If they were going to make my life miserable, I believed  I would share the pain.

I started referring to Sister Regina as ‘”Reggie’” or “Slappy.” When she would sarcastically say, “Good morning, Mr. Fitzpatrick. Nice of you to grace us with your presence,” I’d say, “Glad I could be here, Slappy. How’s life in the mental home?”  Then she would go bat-shit and send me home with a note (which I would ditch) and I’d get suspended for a couple of days. How’s that for punishment?

Oh, you can’t come to school for three days? Boo-Hoo. Wow. Hurt me.

In early folklore, bluejays were thought to be handservants of the devil because of their noisy and boisterous nature.  I remember them as a pleasant and mysterious part of childhood.  The mystery being that you would see them everyday for a while (a week or so) and then they would disappear for six months until I’d almost forget about them and then they’d be back. I was always wondering where the fuck they went. They were the Houdinis of the natural world.

In high school, I had a job cutting grass in Queen of Heaven Cemetery during the summers. The place was full of pine trees and, thus, bluejays. In fact, if you want to see a lot of birds, go to any cemetery. It is a relatively safe place for them. As accidental bird sanctuaries, they are a safe place to nest and enjoy relative safety from humans cutting down trees and shooting game.

I kind of liked that job. I worked with lots of guys from Mexico and in the middle of the afternoon, one of them would hop the fence and go buy six-packs and dirty magazines. We’d hide our mowers and drink beer in the bushes and smoke cigarettes and take naps. It was great. Learned all of the dirty words in Spanish I could think of and met people from another part of the world who were nothing like me, except that we wanted the same things;  to work outside and to be left the fuck alone.

I loved watching birds with these guys. They could imitate bird calls and told me in Mexico, at night, the birds turned into angels.

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