Thursday, May 22, 2008
Dr. Doolittle, I Presume?
You know, for a second there, I thought I was back on the farm.
I came out of my bank branch on Hudson Street Monday afternoon and was heading back to my office when I swore I heard a sheep.
Yes, a sheep—as in, “baa-baa, black sheep, have you any wool?”
With Memorial Day so close, I was thinking about the annual sheepdog contest that’s held at a country fair near my aunt’s farmhouse in the Berkshires.
I’ve gone there a few times and even though I have no idea of the rules of the game, I always enjoy watching the doggies get out there and round up them sheep.
It is so soothing to be there, miles away from all the crap that threatens to break your spirit. For me, it’s the official start of the summer season, not July Fourth.
But I wasn’t in Cummington, Mass. now. I was in Soho and you don’t expect to see a herd of sheep walking down the block. So where the hell was this sound coming from?
Then I saw this man in his forties wearing a jacket and tie and walking down the street with a briefcase in his hand. And he making the sheep noise.
People starting looking around and so did the man with the briefcase, as if he didn’t know where the noise was coming from—even though he was the one making them.
The guy was walking in my direction so I fell in step behind him and watched the effect he had on other people as he went along, switching now to bird calls.
Two women waiting for a street light to change turned when he did his pigeon routine. A delivery man on a bicycle did a double-take as our man let out a crow’s “caw-caw.”
It was strangely entertaining watching people react to this guy; sort of getting a thrill when someone falls for the same practical joke that you did.
I have to confess that the briefcase and tie threw me off a bit. Usually you can spot your weirdo types from a block away. But this guy looked—and I hate to use this word—normal.
Maybe he had lost his marbles just that very morning; perhaps he watched Hitchcock’s The Birds once too often and decided to join the flock.
My aunt suggested that maybe the guy really didn’t know he was making these animal sounds, like he was suffering from a kind of bestial Tourette ’s syndrome.
Or it could be that he was just desperate for attention, as so many people in this increasingly impersonal world are.
Like the chimpanzee who screeches and bounces off the bars of his cage, it’s not important why people are looking at you, as long as they’re looking.
Admittedly, he could have been doing much worse. The guy wasn’t attacking people or touching himself; he wasn’t trying to save souls or sell timeshares. He was just making animal sounds and I have to admit he was pretty good at it.
As he disappeared into an office building, the briefcase man did one more bird cry and four young delivery guys who were smoking cigarettes and shooting the breeze did the now familiar look around and then got on with their conversation.
I have to wonder what this man did for a living, where he was going when he entered that building. What exactly does he have to offer to a company? It's not the kind of skill you would normally put on your resume, as in "I can type 80 words a minute and wail like a lovelorn baboon."
I don’t believe animal noises have been in big demand since radio drama went out of style. Of course, for all I know, the guy could be the CEO of a multinational corporation with a yatch and a summer home in the Hamptons. When you have that kind of dough, you can make any noises you want.
I’ve been reading all sorts of strange animal stories this week. There was a report in the Wall Street Journal about the packs of wild dogs in Moscow, who cross at the light and ride the subways with the commuters, though I don’t think they pay a fare.
The dogs have this way of sneaking up on people eating in public places and barking so the victim will drop his or her lunch to the ground and unwillingly feed the animals. Apparently the mutts are good at deciding who will be most likely to drop his Big Macski.
Then there was the lost parrot in Japan who was reunited with his owner when he recited his name and address. The bird’s family said they had been teaching this information for two years to the wayward parrot, which is a lot more helpful than “Polly want a cracker?”
And finally there was Blacky, a donkey in Mexico, who was actually thrown in jail for three days for biting and kicking two men. Blacky got out of the joint after his owner paid a fine and the victims’ hospital bills.
I wonder if Blacky had been framed. If only hell had phone service, he could have called Johnnie Cochran. But now Blacky has a criminal record and won’t be able to run for office like all the other jackasses.
I won’t be going to the county fare in the Berkshires on Memorial Day. It’s been so long since I’ve been to the sheep-herding contest, it almost feels like a dream, and I would really get back there some day.
But for now I’ll be in here in New York, celebrating my birthday and doing my damnedest not to make animal noises in public. Grrrrr.....