January 23, 2019

Al Martinez...On Everything Else: The Squirrel and the Peafowl


It flashed by a living room window as I was lying on the couch in my underwear watching the king crab fishermen on TV scoop the giant crustaceans from the Bering Sea.

They were a bunch of cool dudes all right, laughing and smoking cigarettes and using a lot of beeped-out F-Words as icy waves crashed over the bows of their little boats and sent them skidding like turtles across open decks.

“You still watching those shows?” Cinelli said as she crossed the room. “It’s the same episodes over and over again. Steve and Mick and whoever doubling negatives, dangling participles and generally screwing up our native tongue while bouncing across the ocean in some sort of testosterone-fueled journey through hell,”

“It’s the ultimate adventure,“ I said, “Man challenging the violent sea so that you might have crab soufflé on your fancy dinner plate tonight.”

I could tell she was reloading to continue the argument over the intellectual quality of the show when I saw the thing flash by the window. She saw it too. It was small and gray and fat.

“What kind of a squirrel was that?” I said.

“That was no squirrel,” she said, looking out. “Squirrels don’t have wings. Wash the salt water of the violent sea from your eyes and you can see that it is some kind of bird.”

I sat up as she headed out the back door to locate the animal anomaly intruding on Dutch Harbor, calling back, “And don’t come outside in your underwear. The heroes of the Bering Sea might mistake you for a Beluga whale and eat you on toast.”

It turned out to be a guineafowl strutting through our yard and down the street pecking at bugs and making a kind of rusty, scraping sound while neighbors gathered to watch. Only earthquakes and lightning strikes usually bring out those kinds of crowds. I hadn’t seen them for years. I thought some were dead and others had moved to Salem, Oregon.

No one knew where the bird had come from or why it was here. They instantly, of course, gave it names like Gertrude and Picasso. Women saw it as a cuddly little friend while men visualized it basted and steaming on a platter or stuffed and mounted on a shelf in their dens.

It was a group of men and women with nets summoned from Topanga Animal Rescue who identified it as a guineafowl, but how it got here and why no one seemed to know.

I looked on Google later and discovered that the bird was native to Africa. The people with nets took it away and we all went back to our otherwise drab, everyday lives, except for me.

I went back to the 125-foot Northwestern to help Capt. Sig Hansen pilot the boat through the salty, rolling sea while clutching my crotch and singing a lusty sailor shanty. They could do whatever they wanted with the damned squirrel for all I cared.