Two months ago I sent the above tweet. I had been standing in White Plains waiting to take Metro North back to the city when I spotted the sign on a wall. It was perfect, I thought, not just as the subject of a tweet but as a life lesson. After all, how many times have I invited crap into my life without realizing it? Sure, everybody’s got crap, but the trick is not to encourage it, at least not intentionally. Even a small gesture like feeding cold, hungry pigeons can turn on you in a New York minute. I was convinced that the sign was a reminder of my tendency to let anyone into my life with a shoeshine and a smile. As you might imagine, you can get into a lot of trouble with that kind of attitude, especially in Vegas, so it’s a good thing I don’t live there.
Here’s the thing about not feeding pigeons, as it were: you end up closing off, shutting down, boarding up, painting over, and every other kind of prepositional phrase you can think of to end a relationship. And they don’t even have to be relationships. Acquaintances will do. Don’t get respect from the doorman, garbageman, guy at the Rite Aid counter? End it. Who needs that crap? There’s enough to deal with from people you don’t know: the cabbie, bus driver, obnoxious woman behind you at the Metro turnstile. Do people not see that I am standing there? Perhaps I am invisible. You can see where this is going and how, perhaps, the stereotype of the jaded New Yorker came about.
This is serious. Not inviting crap into your life is the same as setting up boundaries, which psychologists will tell you is absolutely crucial to maintaining a healthy sense of self. But what they don’t tell you is that the perimeter of your boundary will get smaller and smaller over time so that, eventually, you avoid not just those people, places, and things that suck the life out of your bones, but other people as well. You can end up living a very professional, aloof life with perhaps a handful of friends and a reputation for being unapproachable, even stuck-up. Once you’ve crossed that line, it may be too late to return.
Still, there are some positive byproducts from not feeding pigeons, one of which is indifference. What do I mean by that? Not that I don’t care about things, since I care about a lot of things, but that not a whole lot impresses me. I don’t jump up and down anymore (well, unless I am jumping rope at the gym). J.Lo? That’s nice. A film crew asking if I would like to be interviewed? Not, really, but thanks anyway. A chance to see “Sir” Paul McCartney? Is he still alive? Sure, part of this is sarcasm, which is more than alive and well within me, but a lot has to do with keeping things in their proper perspective, living a simple life, and age. Once you’ve been to the moon you don’t get all worked up over sitting curbside at the Thanksgiving Day parade. You offer your spot to someone else. Like a kid.
Another byproduct? Well, if not many people are going to treat you with kindness, respect, decorum, humor, etc, then you’ll just have to do it yourself. The irony, of course, is that once you start treating yourself that way, others will follow. You end up having your cake and eating it, too, which is not exactly the kind of image you want with crapping pigeons, but there it is.
I wish I could say all of this apparent wisdom was easy to come by. It wasn’t. I am reminded of the time that I, my family, and a group of parishioners were scammed by a meth addict outside of church one day. We ended up taking her home, putting her to bed, feeding her, giving her money, and taking up her cause with her estranged husband, who lived in South Carolina. This was straight out of Luke’s gospel, right? The husband listened patiently and wisely as each one of us got on the phone and pleaded with him to help this poor woman. It wasn’t till after she disappeared from our midst that we realized how right he was and how wrong we had been. We had fed a pigeon the size of the Trojan Horse and got dumped on with a hot, steamy one.
The upshot of all this? Pigeons are everywhere and they don’t care who they crap on. Cavete.