(Publication date: July 11, 2003)

Birds of a Feather

Our son didn’t want to go see the birds movie.  The Birds movie, now that would
have been different.  He would have loved to sit in the dark clutching his popcorn
tub, inching ever closer to the edge of his seat while Tippi Hedren sat on hers,
outside the schoolhouse in Bodega Bay, sucking compulsively on her cigarette and
feeling uneasy but not knowing why, unaware that behind her more than four and
twenty blackbirds were fluttering around on the jungle gym, not one of them safely
baked away in a pie.  But this other birds movie, this Winged Migration, what, were
we kidding?  With his parents?  On a Saturday night?  Parker is eleven, and I resisted
the urge to ask if we were interrupting his date with Madonna.

The line at the Albany Twin backed up around the corner.  Afloat on the tide of
people still flowing toward the theater ten minutes before showtime, we merged
briefly with Parker’s classmate Alex and his family, and once we had somehow
located three adjacent seats inside, I noticed plenty of other kids in the audience.  
This fact did not impress Parker.  He still figured we had dragged him off to see
Schindler’s List in an aviary.  This wasn’t exactly going to be the crows on the
telephone wires in Dumbo.

Except that it almost was, and more about that in a minute.  First there was the show
before the show.  I suspect there are those for whom the highlight of the week (and
not because their lives are devoid of other cheap thrills) is sitting in the seats at the
Albany Twin on a Saturday night, arms outstretched like the mouths of baby birds
straining above the nest and screeching for attention from mom.  But we weren’t
calling out for mashed nightcrawler.  We were trying to catch the eye, the arm
(really, any body part would do), of Ben Putman, the irrepressible manager of the
Albany Twin, who was racing up and down the aisles, laughing, whooping like a
crane, and firing out candy bars, cookies, and other stuff I couldn’t identify—maybe
it was packets of bird seed. He does this every Saturday night and I don’t know
about your house, but it beats whatever is usually going on at ours.

Parker perked up during the sugar shower, but Ben was bound to run out of ammo
sooner or later, and he did.  So all that was left was the movie.

I won’t bore you with an account of every minute of the event--after all, I’m not a
golfer.  But I will say this.  Imagine you’re this bird with a long, rapier-like beak.  
Your job (and really, it’s one of only two jobs you have) is to eat fish.  The usual
technique for you and the rest of your species is to grab one out of the drink, toss it
straight up, open your gullet, and, you know, down the hatch.  Only this one time,
you’ve got a problem. You did the grabbing and tossing parts okay, but you missed
the hatch and now the poor fish is flopping around, speared on your mouth, or your
nose, whatever that thing is.  You’re thinking how nice it would be to have hands,
never mind opposable thumbs, but you don’t.  And here’s the worst part:  Those
guys filming Winged Migration are around, their camera is running, and it’s pointed
right at guess who.  

Not for me to spoil the suspense by telling you how, or whether, this bird solves his
problem.  But it’s not spoiling anything to tell you that the movie is full of this stuff,
meaning lots of laughter.  Plus astonishing mid-flight footage, meaning lots of open
mouths, in the theatre as well as on the screen.  Plus a few poignant natural events,
meaning films of mist over pre-adolescent (or older) eyes.  By the time it was over
and we were filing out, Parker was done being grumpy.  

As we migrated up Solano towards home, I noticed he was walking under his mom’s
wing.  “Well, it wasn’t Matrix Reloaded,” he announced.  “But it wasn’t bad.”

Life Is a Movie