There are many worlds in New York, and one of them has birdwatchers in it. This is not a pastime for people with pattern recognition issues, such as myself. Al, the hub, experienced unending mirth when he discovered that a) I usually can’t recognize Tom Hanks and b) until last year, I thought that Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Matthews were the same person. The conversation goes like this.
Al: “Come here! Quick!”
Me: (putting down income tax returns, unanswered emails, half-opened can of food for dog, and financial aid forms for eldest child) “What? What’s happening?”
Al: “They’re showing Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Matthews side–by-side in an ad! I want you to see how different they are.”
Me: “Yes, yes, I KNOW they’re not the same f*cking person! It was an honest f*cking mistake, OK?”
Al: “They have different hair color! Different noses! Different eyes! Look at the way Chris squints at the teleprompter!”
Me: “I KNOW already!”
Him: “How could you think they’re the same person? You’re not usually THAT stupid.”
Me: “Well, if you want to talk about stupid, I’M not the one who says things like, and I quote, ‘You can’t throw a lizard at a television set these days without running into that clown’. What the hell does THAT mean?”
And we’re off and running. The point is, that although I have 4 birds on my life list, compared to my neighbor’s 1800, those 4 could actually be 8, and I’d never know.
I do know about people watching, though. Individual faces may be a problem, but after living here in New York City for so long, I can recognize a wide variety of native and transplanted species. For the novice, here’s a handy guide.
The Bochinchera The bochinchera is a tropical subspecies of Yenta. Although there are no males of this species, this does not prevent the Bochinchera from being a fixture in many
New York neighborhoods, although the main habitat is in Northern Manhattan and Southern Bronx. The Bochinchera can be useful as a building alarm system, a public news network in case satellite technology fails, and a wealth of information not available by any other means. If you think you’re being slick, and no one knows about your other wife and family, think again. The Bochinchera knows.
The Faceless Suit The faceless suit is rarely found outside of East Midtown and the Financial District. Within its native zones, individuals of this species can be found in
impressively numerous flocks. They are notable for the drab colors of both the male and female, and the purposeful gaze with which they move other species out of their way. Although originally an invasive species from Connecticut, Westchester, and Northern New Jersey, they have begun to nest in Tribeca, Chelsea, and parts of Brooklyn.
The Flaming Asshole The Flaming Asshole sports brilliant plumage and engages in jaw-dropping mating displays whenever the markets are up. They can be lured from their preferred watering holes (which tend to charge the same price for one shot of single-malt scotch as my corner liquor store does for two bottles) by ingenious devices such as flecks of gold floating in bottles of vodka, flecks of gold topping an otherwise edible
hamburger, or flecks of gold sprinkled over an ice cream confection. Their strident and melodious cries can be heard throughout the downtown area until the next crash, at which time they will shed their brilliant feathers, sell the contents of their elaborate bowers at a loss (mostly late 19th century and early 20th century impressionists), and morph into either a Faceless Suit or the more numerous Major Asshole. Most people believe that, since the male Flaming Asshole outnumbers the female by 100 to 1, they are unable to mate. This is patently false, as can be seen by the large flocks of Gold-Plated Trophy Chickadees that converge around them at exclusive watering holes. Do not vote for them when they run for President.
The Burrowing Musician In order to spot the burrowing Musician, you will need to ride the One Train after 9:00 pm on weekends, or go through Grand Central Station’s IRT platform during the evening commute. For the serious connoisseur, a trip to Brooklyn, Harlem, or the Lower East Side to track them after midnight to their native habitats in underground clubs
will be required. These are not subtle birds, and their elaborate mating calls are much loved by some, but despised by others. Individuals can vary widely: some seem to be going places, whereas others just want some spare change.
The Common Tourist Snipe This is a parasitic bird, which flocks wherever tourists are found. So, Times Square. They are masters of disguise, and the unwary tourist will mistake them for vendors, tour guides, Burrowing Musicians, helpful sales people,
or a humble citizen down on his or her luck. There’s no need to overreact when one is sighted – the Common Tourist Snipe is sly but not aggressive. Merely smile tightly while narrowing your eyes, square your shoulders, and wag a finger at nose height while saying in a firm voice “No thank you, sir. Not today.” This will induce the Snipe to look for other prospects.
The Younger Grackle The younger grackle is colorful, noisy, gregarious, and idealistic. They are a migratory species, and will linger in New York for between 2 months to life. They can be distinguished by a youthful air, stars in their eyes, and a willingness to Occupy Wall Street. All of them gradually morph into any one of the other species listed here; Bernie Sanders is only known case of an Older Grackle.
The Bitter Tern The Bitter Tern was probably a Younger Grackle several decades ago. Individuals can mate for life, and pairs may be seen wandering between the hours of 10:00 am and 6:00 pm in a four block radius to their home nesting area. Their cries of “In MY day
things were different!”, “These young folk don’t know one damn thing!” and “The whole city is going straight to hell!” are usually a prelude to a longer diatribe. They do not alarm easily, and when approached, are happy to stay and share their wisdom as long as you can stand it.
The Migratory Carpenter Migratory Carpenters are a numerous, colorful, vital, and diverse group who come from every habitat on the planet and bring their customs, dress, cuisine, and music with them. Besides being carpenters, they are the drivers, cleaners, babysitters, plumbers, construction workers, merchants, vendors, traders, tour guides, bakers, bicycle messengers, cooks, teachers, social workers, interpreters, and professionals who make the city what it is. Without them, New York would not be a great city – it would be a second-rate backwater inhabited by Faceless Suits and Flaming Assholes.