|TO ENVISION HOW BIG THE CAN WAS, FORGET ABOUT THE FIVE OUNCE CANS YOU HAVE IN YOUR PANTRY. I NEED YOU TO PICTURE AN INSTITUTIONAL-SIZED, FIVE-POUNDER.|
In 1976, I took a film studies course at Brooklyn College. It was supposed to be a candy-coated easy “A” (and was). But while I expected to goof-off and watch classic movies, I developed a deeper appreciation for film as an art form...and that appreciation eventually spread to literature and art.
This transformation began on day-one. In the dark auditorium, during the opening credits of the first film we saw, the spark inside was lit. It started when I noticed an undercurrent of excitement from apparently unacquainted students, happily whispering to each other. I got the impression that something was about to happen onscreen. I was still clueless until the movie’s director (I soon found out this gimmick was his trademark), made a cameo appearance.
That first movie was Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 suspense thriller, “PSYCHO.” When I found out the history of these incidental appearances, it felt so good to finally “learn” something at college after three years. But beyond being in on this one subtlety, I soon realized how backward I was when I discovered how symbolism is used to support the plot with cryptic messages and themes.
I remember how my jaw dropped when the professor began listing “Psycho’s” recurring “bird theme.” (The opening scene was set in a high rise hotel room, in Phoenix. Then the voyeuristic audience has a bird’s eye view from the open window as a couple has some afternoon delight).
Also, actor Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, has his beady eyes described as bird-like. In the Bates Motel office, taxidermy birds and paintings of birds are used as decorations. Later, the first murder victim, Marion Crane, was said to have eaten like a bird.
|(above) THE ICONIC SET FROM "PSYCHO." THE STORY ORIGINATED FROM ROBERT BLOCH'S NOVEL THAT WAS INSPIRED BY WISCONSIN MURDERER AND GRAVE-ROBBER, ED GEIN.|
Maybe Hitch had something for birds because three years later he directed, “THE BIRDS.” I saw it in the Canarsie Theater with my sister, (actually, she was so scared, she spent more time shreiking on her way to the lady’s room and lobby). Even when she was lured back to me by her share of the popcorn and raisinets, she covered her eyes with her hand.
|AT THE MOVIES, WE HAD A LIMITED BUDGET. BUT BY AGE TEN, SIS WAS ALREADY A DRAMA QUEEN. SO REGARDLESS OF HOW IMPORTANT IT WAS TO DRAW ATTENTION TO HERSELF, SHE KNEW BETTER AND NEVER LEFT ME FOR LONG WITH ALL THE CANDY.|
Edgar Allan Poe realized how scary birds can be 168 years ago. He wrote “THE RAVEN” in 1845 and it is still considered one of the most famous poems of all time. This Gothic, supernatural tale involves a mysterious midnight visit by a talking raven, to a man on the brink of losing his sanity, while mourning the death of his love, Lenore.
I never really gave much thought to the actual raven until the NFL put a team in Baltimore with that name.
|ALTHOUGH EDGAR ALLAN POE WAS BORN IN BOSTON, HE WAS A LONG-TIME RESIDENT OF BALTIMORE. HE WROTE "THE RAVEN" WHILE LIVING THERE. SO THE TEAM NAME "RAVENS" IS A TRIBUTE HIM AND THE ON-FIELD MASCOT (above) "POE," BEARS HIS NAME.|
I never knowingly crossed paths with a raven until June 2009. My family vacation took us to the Grand Canyon. Park rangers, in addition to answering questions about the incredible scenery, are quick to point out how rare California Condors are and how they are often confused with the abundant raven.
|KIN TO THE VULTURE, THE CALIFORNIA CONDOR IS THE LARGEST NORTH AMERICAN BIRD. IN 1987, THEY WERE NEARLY EXTINCT. THROUGH ARDENT CONSERVATION EFFORTS, BY MAY 2012 THE POPULATION HAS RISEN TO 405, (187) IN CAPIVITY.|
One night, during a Grand Canyon lecture on the park's wildlife, a film estimated that there were less than four-hundred condors and most of them lived near the park. (If my math is right, they've made some modest progress in the last four years).
We were reminded of the extreme rarity of these birds when we were told, "Don't be fooled by similar birds in flight." The similar birds he spoke of were ravens. He mentioned that unless you see white plumage underneath the wings, you were looking at a raven. What he should have said was, high flying ravens seem as large as condors. And when you look hundreds of feet into the air, you lose prospective of just how big Poe's fine feathered fellows are.
On several occasions the next day, I noticed people pointing to the sky and boasting, "I see a California Condor!" So due to the lack of prospective and the inability to spot white feathers under the wings from so far away, all you can say is, maybe they did a condor up there...but overwhelmingly...they did not.
|OUR MOTEL, THE RED FEATHER INN WAS IN THE TOWN OF TUSAYAN ARIZONA (ADJACENT TO THE GRAND CANYON ENTRANCE).|
Both mornings in Tusayan, I woke up at 7:00AM and did my hour-long power walk through the mostly uninhabited streets. On the second day, I retraced my steps. One strip mall wasn't as recessed from the street as the others. I went out of my way to take advantage of its shady boardwalk-like path along the store fronts (it was already ninety degrees...but it's okay because it's a dry heat).
|JUNE 29, 2009, IN PAINTED DESERT ARIZONA, (THREE HOURS FROM THE GRAND CANYON), OFFICER OBIE EXPLAINS WHY 112 DEGREES "TAINT" SO BAD.|
At the end of the Tusayan walkway, I knew remembered the open space before the next set of stores had a row of ten dumpsters. Within seconds when I looked that way, I was shocked to see that I surrounded by two-hundred ravens, (I didn't need them to lift their wings to see if there were white feathers...these had to be ravens or else it would have been every condor in the wild).
While sifting through the garbage, these hungry bastards seemed angry that I was disturbing their feeding frenzy. In that instant, I was the most scared I ever was. It didn't help that I flashed-back to Hitchcock's, "THE BIRDS" ad that the park ranger claified for some kid that being omnivores meant ravens eat anything.
I thought I was going to spontaneously soil myself when I realized that they might attack. I pictured them trying to peck out my eyeballs and making me a part of their balanced breakfast. When a few of the giant black birds made the threatening gesture of flapping their wings, I thought for sure my life was over. Lucky me, not only did I not crap my pants but holy schnikees, I was able to verify that the feathers under the wings were pure black. Thus my astute eye proved that this was indeed an "unkindness" of ravens! Somehow, I had the wherewithal to keep moving. Then without any unnatural or sudden movements, I veered right and got the flock out of there.
|IMAGINE THIS SCENE FROM "THE BIRDS" WITH THIS MANY TWO-FOOT TALL RAVENS...I GUARANTEE, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE SCARIEST SEQUENCE IN MOVIE HISTORY.|
Like the girls in the luncheonette, we perceive how big things should be and have difficulty accepting new realities. But I bet Edgar Allan Poe never conceived of a situation with that many two-foot tall ravens, (like the photo above ). So I sincerely doubt, even on Halloween, he could have ever walked past those monkey bars...nevermore!