It Ends Sitting in a Car, Thinking About Birds


I had a long day. It could have been worse. In a stressful moment I was rude to someone I didn’t want to be rude to. Mega-retail on an understaffed, hot Sunday. I remembered to take some Excedrin two hours in and that helped.

In the early morning (later as well), we had an unusually high amount of homeless people looking to steal, or just negotiating some of the innumerable crises that make up their lives (I deal with the phone crises), or some combination of the two. Some Sundays the early part of the day can be dead as doornails, hours with just a few people wandering through. When it’s like today, my feet get beat down. I hope I helped some people.

Some cell phone companies decided to run promotions where you trade in an active cell phone for a deal on a new expensive phone, and chumps on the hustle think they can get a burner and flip that in a day. I try to tell ’em to read the terms of those deals more closely, because cell phone minutes aren’t returnable and they could be out forty bucks for nothing.

The company has a problem with staffing the store on weekends. When people are new, it’s easy to get them to work whatever hours you want. But when they get a little experience, they realize weekends are hell, and restrict themselves to weekdays. So Tha Man has been busting moves and leaning on people to open their availability, cutting hours all over the place. Other companies have been doing the same enough that Oregon was crafting legislation to make it illegal to force retail and grocery proles to work on-call or not at all.

All that’s to say the photo section guy has been reduced to one day a week, and only shows up if he feels like it. The rest of us aren’t as trained as we’re meant to be and have other responsibilities, so it’s a rolling train wreck over there. But I still have to go over and help people with it. One of these days I might figure out how to use the SD card slot on the new kiosks. It’s kinda funny watching a place go to hell.

There’s a weird banana toy thing with a hole in the side, someone left on a counter. It’s got drifts of uncanny powder all around it. What is that stuff? No one wants to clean it up and we’re all non-verbally daring each other to see how many days or weeks we can leave it there. It’s right in front of the drop box for customers sending out film to be developed, and that process takes a little over a week. If we have the resolve, someone could see that banana-thing as they send out the film and again when they come to pick it up.

It wasn’t even the hottest day in recent memory, but for some reason people were feeling it. Back to school shopping, or trying to hump the last days of the summer for all they’re worth, they cram into the place. Meanwhile, our own summerhumpers skip work and leave us even more understaffed than Tha Man’s hijinks have. Lines thirty deep. Stuff like that.

The babies were feeling it worse than usual. The stereotype of retail, I think, is of hating children because you hear them crying all the time. That doesn’t have to be true. I take on board the education I’ve had in recent years about ableism and children’s rights, think about the kid’s perspective. Plus they usually are not as jumped-up as the stories tell. But today they were upset. Zombie-walking with sweat-rimmed cheekbones, falling on the ground squalling. May you have better times tomorrow, babies.

I usually see our security guys, but today they were not to be found. I don’t know why, but the place really took advantage and got weird. There was a white dude slapping a belt in his hands as he walked around. A middle-aged couple almost jovially having a domestic dispute at 90 decibels while they strolled up and down every aisle. I noticed the man had a bizarrely formed earlobe. I used to feel upset about deformity and mutilation as a kid, but I see so much of it every day now that it’s helped me to be less ableist. Still some residual feeling a type of way about it.

While the couple was throwing out that massive wall of sound, a customer and I were trying to finish a transaction and having trouble thinking. She was pretty mad about it, but I tried to quell that by being casual. I said, y’know, people gotta keep life interesting somehow. We can watch drama on TV, some people feel the need to live it. Is it bad?

With overflow business from the understaffed front end of the store, I spent a lot more time than usual at the cash register. That helped my feet get less busted than usual, but I was still wiped out enough to need some rest at the end of my shift. I was waiting for my ride to finish some shopping of her own, drifting in and out of consciousness. I realized it was taking over an hour and went to check on her, helped finish that up and get out the door.

She’s borrowing her sister’s car while she waits to get her own fixed next week, and as payment for that, she had to get groceries for her. The sister is a chatty cathy, so when she brought the bags into the condo, my ride disappeared on me for several minutes. Five? Ten? Fifteen? I couldn’t tell, waiting in that clean new borrowed car in a suburban residential parking lot, surrounded by low buildings and tall trees.

When we first showed up, Steller’s Jays were running up and down rooftops and flitting through dense tree boughs. I heard more of them than I saw, and they were joined in the shuffle by several northern flickers (and another type of woodpecker I didn’t get a good look at). Eventually they all took off for higher treetops, leaving the ground level to a solitary junco.

There was one tall tree I could see well and it had tons of birds in it, like a bird apartment building. I couldn’t see them all at once, but I could see many go in and fewer come out, and hear lots of bird calls. The jays, the flickers, birds too small at that distance to identify. May have been chestnut backed and/or black capped chickadees, goldfinches, red breasted nuthatches, and more.

Among the calls, I heard notes that sounded like the chime of a cuckoo clock, and wondered if it could be a cuckoo. No, the cuckoos here surely have different calls from the European ones of infamy. But it put me in mind of my feels about brood parasitism again.

I was wondering why brood parasitism is selected for, why it is advantageous enough to stick around after it comes into being by whatever odd fluke. (In the comments on my brood parasite article, Icthyic linked to a scientific paper on the evolution of the trait. I’d forgotten that.) Anyhow, it occurred to me cuckoos are not just saving labor energy by non-parenting. They are also hobbling the competition.

In order to have their chicks raised by another species, that species must naturally serve food edible to the parasite. To avoid poisoned chicks, the adults have to be eating the same thing, so they’re competitors. A competitor for food that is being run ragged by your offspring is easier to beat in a race for resources.

I felt clever-ish, despite the fact I probably heard Richard Attenborough say the same shit at some point in time and just forgot about it. But why do I think about brood parasites like this? Last time I wrote about it, I had seen one in person. This time, it was just a random thought.

Since time immemorial, the cuckoo has been a symbol for the sexual paranoia of demented patriarchs. It’s seen a resurgence in the form of the alt-reich’s fetish porn-inspired cries of “cuck.” So it’s in the air. But it occurred to me, is this personal?

My father married my mother when she was already pregnant with my sister from another man. That baby grew up to be dangerous, exhausting, life-ruining. Antisocial Personality Disorder is rough. But then, so is being biracial in a house full of white people. I wish her well (for her own sake as well as the unfortunate people in her life), though I never want to see her again. Most likely, this background has nothing to do with any of my thoughts, waiting in that car. It just felt important to mention. So I’m mentioning it.


Comments

  1. says

    The turn of the season will help some. The store doesn’t have AC, just a half-assed swamp cooler remote controlled by corporate dicks in Arkansas. But yeah, fall is coming, so it’s really gonna get better. Hail to the Pumpkin King!

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