As I was saying yesterday, mourning doves aren’t among my favorite birds, but they have their attractive qualities, not the least of which is their mournful morning cooing and who-who-whoooing. Grackles, on the other hand, have almost nothing to recommend them.
Eight a.m. and I’m hard at work in my summer office. That would be the front porch, for those of you new to Mannionville industrial and retail complex. Not much people activity, except for me, but lots of bird activity. No sign of the catbirds who live in our bushes but I expect one or more will be along shortly to remind me who really owns the place. But right now I’m being watched by a mourning dove perched on a telephone wire. He or she is busy with grooming its feathers but since that doesn’t seem to require studious attention, the bird’s keeping an idle eye on me as if I might somehow make myself interesting and interrupt the boredom. Mourning doves aren’t among my favorite birds mainly because even though I know better I think of them as just a kind of pigeon, and, while it’s unfair to call pigeons as they’re often called “rats with wings,” the phrase just pops into my head when I look at a mourning dove. Makes it hard to give them the admiration they deserve.
Pigeons, by the way, the gray and brown gluttons you feed in the park type, aren’t officially named pigeons. They’re rock doves. But they’re pigeons, not doves. Cornell’s Ornithology Lab doesn’t bother being polite about it. They flat out call them pigeons. Rock pigeons. Mourning doves, though, are doves, and being watched by this mourning dove reminded me I’ve been saving an article from the New York Times to share with you since March and this morning is a good time to finally get around to it. Here you go:
How big a dinosaur? Really big. Titanic, in fact. As in Titanosaur. Its hind legs are 17 feet long and weigh over 700 pounds, each. It pelvis is 9 feet long, 9 feet wide. It’s so big, according to the New York Times, it almost didn’t make it into its new home at the American Museum of Natural History. As it is, it doesn’t fit in the space allotted to it. Its head sticks out the door. Which makes for a nice effect.
By Jan. 2, the titanosaur was ready to go, but without a head. With no skull, fossil paleontologists had initially estimated that the head was about four and a half feet long, Mr. May said, but subsequent study led to a last-minute revision, and the skull lost more than a quarter of its length.
Then there was another glitch. The truck carrying the metal base down from Canada was stopped at the border over a paperwork issue, pushing construction back by a day.
Last week, museum workers steered the huge components, like the femur, on wooden dollies, out from a garage and through the museum’s corridors. The pieces on parade were met with expressions of bewilderment and amazement in a variety of languages, though the lingua franca was the quick deployment of cellphones for photos and videos.
Then came an urgent call from the garage. The pelvis would not fit through the doors…
There’s a reason political reporters long to be like sportswriters and a good reason they shouldn’t be. Good sportswriting is a form of fiction. Sportswriters are allowed to read minds, attribute motives, pass off pure guesswork as insight, and not only take their sources---players and coaches, at any rate---at their word but encourage them to make those words...colorful. Basically, reporters and players collaborate in creating stories based on embellishments, exaggerations, and out and out lies. The best liars give the best quotes.
Sure, certain facts have to be reported. The final score, for instance. Who actually played and what they did when the ball, puck, or another player came their way. But the rest is subject to interpretation. Poetic license is granted to sportswriters and all their stories are just that, stories. Tall-tales, legends and folk tales in the making, and might as well begin like movies with the warning: “Based on a true story” or “Inspired by real-life events”.
This is fine with me. It’s part of the fun, and sports is meant to be fun. I’m a fervent believer that good fiction is more truthful or at least more true to life than most non-fiction. But it’s also part of the fun, and sports is meant to be fun. It’s entertainment. Games and fights and matches are entertainments. They’re staged events. Therefore, they’re subject to review and criticism as entertainments. And criticism is simply opinionizing, hopefully informed opinionizing, but still, when you get down to it, it’s just a matter of the critics writing about what they think about what they saw. That makes sportswriting writing. And all writing is about the writer and the writing---its intent, quality, and effect---as much as it’s about an actual subject. So the writer better be smart and talented and the writing better be worth reading.
It better be entertaining.
It’s more entertaining if it’s also accurate.
One more thing. Sporting events are comedies. I know, not to the fans of the losing teams and players, and not to the fans of the winners who have invested too much of their vanity and sense of self in their favorite teams and players. But, with a few exceptions, all games end happily in that everybody had a good time, including, when they look back on it, after enough time has passed, the players who lost. There are some unhappy stories. Sad stories can be told. But then the inherent tragedy is essential to the comedy. We need to laugh or we will cry.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who had been having a pretty mediocre day to that point, saw the football roll behind him. He scampered, picked up the ball and peered downfield.
His line of sight was consumed by three or four Vikings defenders, steam rising from their mouths as if they were draft horses, rumbling at him. “Uh-oh,” he thought to himself.
At halftime, the Vikings led, 3-0, prompting more than a few to speculate that it was simply too cold to think, much less to score.
For now, let’s return to the game, which through halftime appeared to make a star of cold that was borderline insane. The Seahawks’ Sherman noted that the ball did not fly right in temperatures like those more often found on the plains of Mars. Asked how he had managed, Sherman smiled. He was born in Southern California; this not his natural habitat.
“It was all good until my eyelashes froze,” he noted. __________________________________
A hardy perennial of postgame news conferences is listening as players attribute their team’s pure dumb luck to Him and His Son. So Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor claims that he knew the kicker would miss and attributes his assurance to God. Cornerback Richard Sherman speculated that Jesus would have approved of the Seahawks’ team effort.
God, perhaps preoccupied with a tricky black hole, has so far declined to offer a comment. Jesus’ telephone number is unlisted.
Let me pause, also, to note that along with a few players recklessly running about the field in short sleeves, we got to watch the Vikings’ cheerleaders dance in the subzero temperatures and shake in their mukluks for slightly more than the cost of gas for their cars. This gilded league could of course take care of this problem of cheerleader poverty by rooting about in its loose change drawer and by forcing teams to pay a proper wage.
Commissioner Roger Goodell would rather pretend that these women are independent contractors.
Hmm. In that last one, Powell’s veering dangerously close to serious journalism.
Or if you think about a certain fact about football. Like I said, tragedy is essential to comedy. Comedy is funny because life is not.
This game, even with its silly God talk, came as a bit of a relief after Saturday night’s A.F.C. playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals, which served, with its impressive stupidity and violent gratuitous hits, to demonstrate why football is so often indefensible. As player after player was laid out, as a quarterback returned to the field presumably in enough pain to keep the maker of Percocet in business for months, you are reminded once more that there is to football a recklessness about men’s lives.
If coyotes and deer are surviving and thriving in the city, you’ve got to expect that raccoons are there and making a go of it too. After all, they’re wilier than coyotes and more dexterous and adaptable than deer and they like being around people. Not because they like us. They like our garbage. All that food we throw away makes any place where there are humans an all-night diner for raccoons. All night, please note. Raccoons are mainly nocturnal. See one out and about in the daylight, steer clear and call wildlife control. Odds are it’s rabid. One of the things about raccoons that makes them not as warm and cuddlesome as they appear and are often made out to be in movies, stories, songs, and cartoons---they’re a “rabies-vectors species”. They’re also mean and ornery and have chips on their shoulders. It’s having hands that does that. Makes them feel superior to other animals. The other thing they like about being around people is that people build shelters for them. We call those shelters houses or garden sheds or garages, et cetera. The raccoons call them home. And they long ago figured out that the foodstuff that’s easy pickings in the garbage cans outside is available with not much more effort inside.
Raccoons are often thought of as forest-dwelling creatures, but they can reach a very high density in cities, said Samuel I. Zeveloff, a professor of zoology at Weber State University in Utah and the author of “Raccoons, A Natural History.”
“They’re truly incredible in their adaptability,” Professor Zeveloff said. Raccoons are omnivorous and opportunistic, easily switching from eating grubs or bird eggs to devouring human and pet food, and from living in tree hollows to inhabiting attics and chimneys. This flexibility, combined with a relative lack of predators, can lead to rapid population growth.
But what experts call raccoons’ “synanthropic trend” — their capacity to thrive among humans — can also feel invasive. Female raccoons looking for a den to deliver their kits, as the offspring are called, can squeeze through vents and chimneys, tear through screens and lift up shingles with their dexterous forepaws.
So you really don’t want them in the neighborhood.
Folks in Brooklyn have learned that. Raccoons are moving in. And these aren’t hipster raccoons. They’re not there to hang out at coffee shops and talk about the novels they’re planning to write.
A truck pulled up at a small house with a brick porch and a garden on a recent afternoon, and a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt climbed out. A woman led him to the backyard. When they emerged a few minutes later, he was carrying a wire-mesh cage.
The woman handed the man a check, and he put the cage into his truck. As he drove away, he murmured comforting words in the direction of his cargo. On this day it was a male raccoon, lured into a trap with a handful of cat kibble.
Where, exactly, was the man taking the animal? “I’m not going to reveal that,” he said. “No one is going to reveal that.”
The episode did not happen in the countryside or the suburbs, but in the middle of Brooklyn, in South Park Slope.
The woman, Wendy Hooker, a retired designer of window displays, had first called the trapper in August after seeing a dozen raccoons “wilding” in her yard, as she put it. This one, caught in December, was among the last of the bunch.
“They were trashing my grapevine, beating my cat,” Ms. Hooker said. “It was like a frat party. They were insane.”
For a few years, William and Malya Levin could hear the loud movements of a raccoon above their Park Slope apartment. “It sounded like a large dog,” Mr. Levin said. Then they endured the stench of what they believed was a kit that had fallen into a cavity in a wall and died. Later, the Levins knocked a hole in their kitchen wall to extract another kit. (They called the exterminator Nice Jewish Boys Who Kill Bugs, which removed the raccoon and said it had been taken to a rehabilitator outside the city.)
Raccoons have mauled a chicken being raised in a Crown Heights backyard and frequently fight with feral cats. When threatened, they growl, hiss and screech.
In Sunset Park, when residents of a walk-up discovered a raccoon family living in an unused chimney, the mother fled down a fire escape, screeching, and then two of her kits hurled themselves off the roof. The kits survived, but “it was a traumatic night,” one resident, Michael Fleshman, said.
There’s another problem:
In Carroll Gardens last year, at least two raccoon families moved onto one block. Antonia Martinelli, who chronicled the invasion on her blog The Momtropolis, noted the animals’ unnerving habit of staring in people’s windows from fire escapes. But it was “the sheer amount of waste, mounds and mounds of it,” that Ms. Martinelli said drove her neighbors to contact Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon. Raccoon feces can carry roundworm.
And once they’ve moved in, they’re hard to get rid of. Trap them---and it’s not recommended you do that yourself. Law sense you can’t, in fact. You’re supposed to hire a licensed trapper---and what do you with them? Laws says they’re to be euthanized “in a humane fashion”, a good idea if they’re showing signs of being rabid---outside in the daytime, staggering about, settling in one spot and not budging when challenged---or acting out dangerously’
But many trappers, as well as homeowners who do the job themselves, say they transport raccoons to parks or wilderness areas and set them free instead, because they don’t have the heart to do what is legally required.
Taking them to a park or out into the woods makes sense. They’re woodland creatures, after all, right?
The problem, experts say, is that from there, the animals tend to wander into the nearest neighborhood. People see wooded areas as the animals’ natural habitat, where they belong. But these are city raccoons that tend to make a U-turn for civilization when dropped off in nature, said Stanley D. Gehrt, a wildlife ecologist at Ohio State University who has studied urban raccoons for two decades. “When you take them and drop them off in a natural environment, they’re going to look for buildings,” he said. “It’s what they’re used to.”
And so, it appears, the spread of raccoons is being aided by the very people employed to combat it.
The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge lies on the city’s southeast edge. Along with Floyd Bennett Field and the Marine Park Golf Course across the bay, it serves as perhaps the biggest raccoon dumping ground in the city.
“We don’t kill them,” said an exterminator from Queens who said he could not provide his name without his employer’s authorization. “We take it to the refuge.”
There is evidence of the consequences in Broad Channel, a Queens neighborhood of wooden homes on stilts, near the refuge. “The neighborhood has been invaded like crazy,” said Peter Perugini, a trapper with Above All Pest Management in Nassau County.
Mr. Perugini said he had removed raccoons from four Broad Channel homes last year and euthanized them. He described “lots of property damage.” One family, he said, had been forced to rip off their roof and pull out the insulation because it was caked in feces.
Even when they stay put, they cause trouble.
In the refuge, shore-nesting birds and diamondback terrapin turtles have suffered as a result of the raccoons’ arrival, said Russell L. Burke, a Hofstra University biology professor and terrapin expert.
Just three decades ago, there were no raccoons in the area, he said. He added that now, “the terrapin population is crashing.” Raccoons ate 95 percent of the terrapin eggs at the refuge in 2015, he said.
So, what’s to be done? This article by Annie Correal I’ve been mining at the New York Times, Raccoons Invade Brooklyn, has some examples. It’s a good long read as in good and long but more as in good with lots of anecdotes and information and sketches of city life. One on the many fun things I learned: there’s an exterminator business in the City called Nice Jewish Boys Who Kill Bugs.
Saturday morning. January 2, 2016. Back at McDonalds. King of Prussia, PA.
As you can tell by the uniform, that’s not Mr Met over there at the end of the line of players on the right. That’s his Aussie cousin, the mascot for the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball Leauge, which is in mid-season way down in the Land of Down Under. Photo by Wendy D’Souza, courtesy of the Perth Heat. Via the New York Times.
Old Father Blonde assumes that because I went to the University of Iowa for grad school, I’m loyal to Iowa’s football team and am therefore chagrined at the drubbing the Hawkeyes just took from Stanford in the Rose Bowl yesterday. I’m here at McDonald's for the coffee and the WiFi but I was glad to flee the house to get away from Old Father Blonde’s determination to go over the game in detail as he read the newspaper. He was trying to sound sympathetic, but I suspect him of secretly wanting to rub it in. He’s a Philadelphia sports fan, after all, and Philadelphia sports fans are mean that way. What else do they got to keep them going but Schandefruede?
The thing is not only do I not care about the Hawkeyes. I don’t care about college football, period.
Well, that’s not true. I care about it as a blight on the planet. It’s corrupt, corrupting, exploitive of the players, and
But I don’t get into that with Old Father Blonde. He loves college football. And college basketball, about which I have ambivalent feelings that make me something of a hypocrite. I should treat it with the same contempt as I do college football for pretty much the same reasons and then some. Problem is, I like basketball a lot more than I do football. Football I can appreciate. Basketball I get caught up in.
I love my father-in-law and I enjoy coming here to visit---except for there being no internet connection and Old Mother Blonde’s refusal to allow me to have a cup of coffee in peace. She has to make it for me. Then she has to hover in case I want a second cup or need more cream or something to nosh on with it. She lives to fuss. And then there’s Old Father’s Blonde eagerness to engage me in talking about sports.
And not just college sports.
He likes to talk about golf!
As if there’s anything about golf to talk about!
(I don’t play. Never have. You probably guessed.)
And I wish he'd talk about pro football as if there were more teams than just the Iggles.
Also wish he understood there's more to talk about about baseball than how bad the Phillies are.
It’s this last point that really drives me nuts.
See, he’s not actually a baseball fan.
He’s a Phillies fan, and if they’re not in it, he’s not interested in the game as a game, which would be fine, except that it doesn’t stop him from wanting to talk about it, he just talks about it as if you’re like him and only interested in how your team is doing. So as far as he’s concerned, as a Mets fan, all I must want to do is rehash the World Series.
And of course he assumes that I want to do that in the manner of a Philadelphia sports fan, bitterly focusing on the many ways my team blew it.
Now, I’d rather focus on the fun of the game in general.
I miss baseball.
Go ahead. Ask me how much I miss baseball.
“Ok, Lance. How much do you miss baseball?
I miss it enough that if I was rich I’d fly down to Australia tomorrow and spend the next few weeks in the stands rooting on the Perth Heat.
More than 10,000 miles from his home in chilly New England, Pawtucket Red Sox Manager Kevin Boles tucked a stopwatch into his sweatshirt pocket and clocked the first pitch of the game between his Perth Heat and the Canberra Cavalry. It was 80 degrees, a typical December day.
“It should be an absolute ripper,” one of the online commentators for the Australian Baseball League predicted earlier in the week. “And if Canberra can get over the line, they’ll have won four on the trot”— Australian for a four-game winning streak.
Managed by Boles in his off-season months, the Perth Heat play in what may be the world’s most isolated professional baseball stadium, a cozy 1,000-seat park just inland from a distant stretch of Indian Ocean coastline closer to Singapore than to Sydney.
On what became a windy night with an orange sunset here in early December, the game proceeded without the baritone beer vendors or Let’s-Make-It-Loud! jumbotron exhortations of the United States. Instead, the whistling of passing trains and the chirping of crickets provided a distinctive soundtrack to the infield chatter and the slaps of balls hitting mitts.
Between innings at that early December game, the few fans in the lounge took no selfies or group photos of the shield. They were more interested in strolling toward the hot-dog stand as the public address system overhead spat out a subdued rendition of the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.”
At the same time, shuffling cheerfully along the ballpark’s concrete concourse, between packs of giddy Little Leaguers and a beer-bellied Mr. Met look-alike, Bill Sinclair, Perth baseball’s elder statesman, surveyed the scene.
These days, Sinclair, 79, spends a good deal of time outfitted in customized Perth Heat superfan livery while he sells fund-raising tickets for the team. Known around the ballpark as Spider, he also distributes packs of cards that depict his journey from player in 1953 to coach in 1957 to mainstay in the Australian umpiring ranks from 1960 until his retirement this year.
For Sinclair, it has been a long and enduring relationship with a sport that first made itself known in Australia during the 1800s. Now, more than a century later, it is promoting itself here with live-stream ads built around American all-star cameos: “Hi, this is Mike Trout with the Los Angeles Angels, and you’re watching the A.B.L.”
As for the city of Perth itself, it calls to mind Gulf Coast Florida, with a midsize downtown skyline, glaring sunlight, a salty sea breeze and a population just over a million. On the other hand, cars drive on the left, the swans here are black and professional baseball runs in a condensed 56-game season from October to February.
And while the A.B.L.’s league office tries to distribute players as equitably as possible, teams here have kept up their own longstanding agreements with major league clubs in the United States, de facto affiliations that do not always equate to fair competition. The Perth Heat, for example, have dominated the A.B.L. in recent years after having maintained strong relationships with several major league farm systems.
“We go back with the Baltimore Orioles till about ’91,” said Geoff Hooker, the longtime Perth Heat chairman and newly appointed chief executive officer of the league. “They actually listen to us — and we always say to send the cool guys over, however they see fit, which is actually important in spreading the game’s popularity.”
Hooker added, “They tend to love it here.”
Most notably, Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier played one season for the Canberra Cavalry, and Didi Gregorius provided the first at-bat of the new A.B.L before moving on to replace Derek Jeter as the starting shortstop on the Yankees.