For the Birds

I have a goose. Well, my parents have a goose. But What's So Funny thinks in terms of inheritance, and what's theirs is mine; ergo, I have a goose. Ergo. Her name is Penelope, and she lives in the back yard. Neighborhood children often gather at the fence, poke their fingers through the links and call out, "Penelope, Penelope," and she will cluck and stare at them with her evil goose eye, unblinking, always unblinking. That's when I sneak around from the side yard, tiptoeing with girlish glee, and blast those little fuckers with the hose! You haven't lived until you've liberally doused the snot-nosed kids from down the block in the dead of winter, scattering them back to their various houses to cry to Mommy. And as for Mrs. Dowripple's claim that it was my soaking of her son Reggie that led to his losing two fingers to frostbite? Prove it. I'll see you in court, Dowripple; I'll be the one seated between Norton and Frickey.

But things weren't always so peachy keen between me and Penelope. There was a time when I thoroughly resented her presence.

The home of Cayton and/or Holland has always served as a sort of halfway house for animals down on their luck. In the same way that hobos notched fence posts of families sympathetic to their cause during the Great Depression, stray pets must have marked our house in some elaborate urine-spraying ceremony years ago. When I was growing up, feral cats fell out of trees at random intervals and were promptly wrapped in blankets and ushered inside. Mangy dogs that wandered by were kept in the garage until we could track down their owners, and when that didn't work, they were welcomed onto our beds. When Penelope came our way, I believe we already had two dogs, eight rats, a rabbit, a turtle, a hedgehog and five cats. And a roving posse of pygmy aborigines that we adopted to protect the estate's perimeter. All this, even though my father is allergic to cats. We regarded his frequent sneezing fits the way other families do old pipes that clang during winter or radiators that hiss at night: as a minor inconvenience that we eventually stopped noticing altogether.



I didn't like living with so many animals, and I certainly didn't want another.

My little sister, Lydia, hatched Penelope in her freshman biology class's segment on imprinting, after which all the hatched geese and ducks were to be returned to some farm. Lydia, of course, brought the incubator home over the weekend, and I watched skeptically as my mother and sister doted over the eggs.

"Don't bring a goose into the house," I told them. "Geese shit. They shit all the time. They're never not shitting. Plus, the cats would probably kill it."

"We're not getting a goose, Adam," my mother said.

Penelope moved in about a week later, and I immediately hatched numerous plans to get rid of her. Here's the most perverse: On Christmas Eve, I alert my overburdened family that I will make that night's meal, then I kill Penelope and cook a Christmas goose. At dinner, I unveil my secret feast. Chaos ensues: You're not my son, you demon spawn -- screaming, tears, the whole nine. But eventually everyone calms down and goes to sleep and gets up to celebrate Christmas the next morning, because that's what families do -- they persevere. The kicker: What does Lydia then find at the bottom of her stocking? Penelope's head!

But I never executed this scheme, because I fell in love with Penelope. She's pretty and she's funny, and when she's laying eggs, she will let you pet her. She's increased my tolerance for geese tenfold, which is why I find the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's new plan to get rid of unwanted geese so disturbing. In order to curb the proliferation of an urban ill that some people consider the new pigeon -- utterly ridiculous; you have to feed a goose way more rice to make it explode -- the plan would allow killing the birds in addition to the already-in-place methods of destroying nests and eggs.

Not so fast, toothless-man-in-City-Park-fishing-for-catfish. (Do you actually eat the fish you pull out of that festering sinkhole? I got thrown in that lake once and developed a bump on my neck that took two years to go away. Gross.) Don't go home for your shotgun yet, hobo: Only landowners, farmers, public-health officials and airport-manager types will get to kill unwanted geese.

But even so, are the geese in Denver's parks really such a problem? Sure, some of them are mean, but on the whole, they provide more joy than burden, wouldn't you agree? When you're lying in bed at night and hear a flock of geese flying overhead, honking their way south, doesn't part of you wish you could soar with them?

Just me, huh? Well, fuck you very much. Because you obviously haven't read Sometimes a Great Notion, in which Ken Kesey wrote: "At night, above the lullabying roll of the wind and rain, the ring of their voices could be heard, the free, bright, yodeling toll of Canada honkersŠcalls out to me, ŒGo south! Follow the sun. If you wait too long it will be too late.'"

So do what you must, Fish and Wildlife Service. Penelope and I will be watching carefully with unblinking, always unblinking, eyes, hose at the ready.


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