Thursday, September 26, 2013

Even Peacocks Hide

I found them in the bushes today.  They were wet and crumpled.  I had to put on gloves to pick them up.  I knew immediately what they were, but I started wondering what the story was behind how they got there and what it had to say to me.

I live in a typical suburban neighborhood in a typical large suburb.  There is not much that happens here outside of the ordinary. Every now and again something bubbles up and shows you that you are not immune to the things that happen in every large place where people live.  Even in my safe little postage stamp of the world foreclosures, drug overdoses, larceny, and even murder are things we, like everyone else in the world right now, have to deal with.  I wish it wasn’t so but it’s there. I didn’t imagine, though, having to ever consider what to do with the remnants of a peacock.

Peacocks are nasty birds. Sure they are beautiful, but don’t get in their way.  On our honeymoon in Hawaii, when Karen and I were settling down to a picnic lunch, a gang of them attacked her trying to get her sandwich.  Being the good husband I am, I tried to capture it on film.  Minutes later I was rescuing her from a relentless band that might have pecked her to death for a chance at a turkey on wheat. Consequently, I am not a fan of peacocks.

I grew up for the most part in a suburb northwest of Chicago.  It was and is the classic example of sprawl.  You can drive less than five miles in any direction and be in another town.  The only way you know is that you might see a sign that says, “Now entering…” or “Welcome to…”  I don’t know why but I expected the same thing when we moved out of the city to our current house.  It wasn’t quite like that. Because I was working and traveling Karen took care of most of the setting-up and moving into our new house.  On the first weekend I was there, she sent me to the hardware store and I got lost.  I called her. I said, “Well, I’m in cornfields somewhere and I don’t know how to get home.”

Our town has built up a lot since we first moved here seventeen years ago but there are still pockets of the old farming town that Naperville once was.  There are still a lot of unincorporated areas and places where people decided not to sell when subdivisions, parks, and preserves were being established.  Most of these cannot be discerned from other neighborhoods around them but there are, as always, exceptions.  

The most notable exception for me is the guy across 87th Street that holds a carved out parcel in the forest preserve.  He lives in a fairly dilapidated house and makes his money by letting people park their trucks, RVs and boats on his land.   He also has a barnyard where he raises chickens, ducks, rabbits and other assorted creatures.  He is not a good barnyard keeper.  It is not rare that we have to stop our cars on the streets to avoid fleeing geese or to wake up to guinea hens that have traveled into our yard because he doesn’t know how to pen things properly.  When I was still in the corporate world, I knew it was near time for the bus to arrive because that is when the roosters went off.  Unfortunately, because of this, I also have to deal with foxes, hawks and coyotes that have been attracted by the restaurant fare.  I have a family of rabbits that live under a shed platform on the side of my house that I have essentially left alone because I am soft and I don’t want them to be the fodder of owls.

One night when we were having a bonfire, Lexi, my American bulldog was whimpering and playing with something in her paws. I went over to her.  It was a baby white rabbit that had been mauled and was barely alive.  My son, Ben, asked, “What are you going to do?”  I said sadly, “I’m going to as quickly and as humanely as possible kill it.” After I did the deed I stood by a tree in the front yard and cried for twenty minutes.  One of Ben’s friends came to me and asked “Are you alright, Tom?”  I said, “No. I hate that son-of-a-bitch for making me have to do that.”

Recently, the straw came that broke a lot of backs.  Posted on the road down from the neighbor’s barnyard was a crudely handwritten sign that said: “Lost peacock. If seen call…” I had had enough. I called our city’s animal control people and was basically told that there was nothing they could do unless it was found on our incorporated property.  I called the county and the State and got a lot of runaround. “Nothing we can do unless you see it and it is a nuisance.”  Driving by the sign one day while I was taking my daughter, Meredith, to her friend’s house, I got incensed again. She said, “Mr. Keith says, if we have seen that sign this long what we have here is a former peacock.” I knew she and Keith were probably right but something inside me hoped that maybe that peacock, wherever it was, was still alive.

One of the last things I did when I was working corporate was to fly to North Carolina to do some, what seemed like, simple demonstrations of my company’s products. I like talking in front of people.  It is kind of a rush for me. I prepped for a long time, so I felt great about it.  My first indication that I was in over my head was when I got to the airport and there was a man holding a sign with my name on it. He took me to the hotel where I was going be staying and he handed me his card.  He said, “Mr. Sharpe, I will be your driver while you are here.  Just call when you’re ready to go anywhere.”  I checked into my room, which was quite the sweet suite. I had dinner in the hotel restaurant and they were very deferential. I paid for nothing.  I thought “I must be the man.” 

The next day I went to rehearsal for the demos. When they miked me, turned on the huge plasma screens, and told me that I would be following Clayton Christensen, Harvard professor and the reigning guru of innovation, I realized they were expecting a lot more out of me than I had right then. “Tomorrow you will be having lunch with Clayton as well,” they said. I said, “Well, OK.” Later that first that day we went to lunch and visited the third largest collection of classic Porsches in the world.  It is owned by the family of one of the giants in the pharmaceutical industry.  I excused myself early and went to my room to revise what I was going to talk about the next day…and to throw up.

Somehow I managed to acquit myself without embarrassing either me or my company.  As soon as the meeting was over I went to the airport, rented a car, and headed to see my brother-in-law, Michael, and his wife, Jody.  To my chagrin I was given an electric lime green Kia soul.  I could not get my IPod to play anything through the car except for rap music, which as much as I like it, was not what I wanted to hear right then. All the way on the road I had to stop myself from tapping my hand on the steering wheel like some anthropomorphic hamster in an overplayed commercial.

Michael and Jody own a horse farm not far from Winston-Salem.  Aside from the fact that Michael and Jody are two of the most generous and kind people in the world, their home is by far the one place I always want to be when I need to find peace.  It is an amazing place of calm. I love walking in their woods, watching the sun go down on the horses in the meadow, and sitting on their porch rocking in a chair listening to the trees swaying in the breeze.  That weekend they must have sensed that I was at a crossroads in my life.  That I was trying to figure something out. They let me be. They let me be alone and hide out for awhile. I sat on their back porch and wrote a lot, I cooked in their kitchen. Michael and I sat up one night talking about books and movies, texting my sons, laughing and listening to Frank Sinatra.  It was just what I needed. Mostly, I just took the time to think a lot about where I was and where I thought I might go next. 

For the last couple of  weeks or so Lexi has been acting strangely.  Lexi is not a killer.  She thinks that ground squirrels are wind-up toys put there for her amusement to chase but she never tries to catch them. She never barks either.  What is odd is that for awhile whenever someone walks through the side yard she does.  She gets agitated.  I thought maybe the rabbits were bothering her, but she never advances on anything, so I wasn’t sure. Most days she just parks in the sun looking at the side yard and then barks whenever anyone comes through that path.  Today I figured out why.

I was moving some wood around and I saw in the bushes the remnants of a colorful feather.  I dug a little deeper in the brush and found some more.  I knew immediately what they were. They were crumpled and wet from the dew.  I got gloves and cleaned them out. The whole time I was doing it Lexi looked on, like I might find a treat for her.  I finally took her face in my hands and said, “I’m sorry, girl. Your friend was here but he is gone now.  I hope he is still well.”

For such a proud and aggressive bird, I guess the peacock is no different than the rest of us.  Sometimes we all need to hide out for a bit, get strong, and then figure out what we are going to do next so we can flourish. For peacocks it may be the hedges in my side yard.  For some of us it is North Carolina.

The important thing to think about and to take away from this is that even peacocks need shelter and a friend to watch over them every now and then.  Even peacocks need to hide sometimes.