There’s one that Robert Ludlum never came up with!
Back in my painting days, me and my buddy Ed Waller would pass the time by coming up with imaginary Ludlum book titles about interior painting and decorating, like The Drywall Conspiracy, The Primer Identity, or The Latex Manifestation. I was delighted a couple of years ago to come across a clip of the late Christopher Hitchens (God I miss Hitch), talking about how smart Salmam Rushdie was, and using the example of a discussion he once had with the author about how dreary Ludlum books were. They were all the same, with the same sort of title. Hitch challenged him on the spot to re-title Shakespeare’s plays as if authored by Ludlum. Do Hamlet! The Elsinore Vacillation, fired back Rushdie, without so much as a moment’s thought.
Hey!, I thought, We used to do that!
Oh happy, carefree days, toiling away in rich peoples’ houses, painting their french doors and their long, elaborate bannisters festooned with ornate newels and balusters. The Ludlum titles were just for fun then, purely hypothetical. Not any more. Now, it’s the title to my autobiography. I’m living The Pigeon Conundrum.
See, our condo building here in Mahone Bay, known as The Moorings, has a bit of a pidgie problem. Some readers may recall the account of my own campaign against the little flapping poo bags, which were turning my deck into a spectacularly disgusting avian latrine, fit to be mined by abused Third World wage slaves for fertilizer. I can report, proudly, that via the application of spiked landing surfaces, fishing line barriers, and ultrasonic bird blasters with auto-activated strobe lights, I have broken the back of the insurgency. The ugly little excrementalists have taken their craptacular custom elsewhere.
Bully for me, but “elsewhere” is the building’s roof. This isn’t really a big deal for me. My deck is nestled safely under a section of that roof. It’s still a little annoying when they sit on the skylight over the shower stall in our en suite, taking dumps and looking down quizzically, cocking their heads to and fro as you bathe as if to say “put on a little weight there, have you, champ?”
It’s also a little unsightly when you look out of the upstairs windows and try to stare past the piles of guano and focus on the ocean beyond, sure, and to folks looking at the building from across the bay, the broad, mottled, black and white crapscape up there makes the once proud Moorings look as if it’s suffered some sort of strategic bombardment (“Geez“, you can almost hear them saying over there, “Somebody pissed off Air Combat Command”), but I can live with that. Like Victor Hugo at the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, sitting here on my covered deck I’m in the one place in town where you can’t see the eyesore. I’m content.
My fellow owners, however, have broad decks that don’t have roofs over them. In the absence of anything equivalent to the cunning mix of high and low tech counter-avian technology deployed by Pigeon Defence Command at my place, they continue to suffer repeated, devastating air strikes. I sympathize. I do. I cannot, however, countenance their ham-fisted and grossly expensive solution.
Rather than explore their own local remedies as I have here, nobly, trying to minimize the annoyance, and completely eliminate any cost, to my fellow owners, they voted to use the condo reserve fund to go out and hire a pest control unit named, dubiously, Rent-O-Kill. I guess that’s as opposed to Buy-O-Kill, the careful use of the word “rent” in their moniker denoting that they’re merely itinerant hired assassins, not permanent staff. Rent-O-Kill. Not quite in line with the prevailing mood over at PETA, one assumes, but whatever.
The minions of Rent-O-Kill, “ROK” let’s call them, have swaggered in here like the U.S. Marine Corps, all decked out in uniforms with shoulder patches, wielding power tools and other equipment. Their solution is two-pronged. First, they will trap and remove the pesky pigeons. Then, they will deploy devices to deter pigeon recolonization. Shouldn’t cost more than 6,000 bucks, depending on the breaks.
Now, the “trap and remove” phase of the operation strikes me as utterly daft. On its own, it would seem to accomplish nothing. Unless they put them in burlap sacs weighted down with lead ingots and toss them into the bay, or spare the things by driving them somewhere like Vermont, they’ll just come right back. Heck, you could napalm the buggers and they’d simply be replaced by other members of their inexhaustible pigeon reserve corps. There are lots of pigeons. There will always be more pigeons. “Ah”, says ROK, “but our deluxe bird deterrence modules will stop them from coming back!”. OK, fine, so why not just deploy the deterrent thingys and be done with it? Why bother with the time-consuming, and I’ll wager fruitless, effort to trap the bastards, if the devices on their own will stop any of them from ever again wanting to drop on by?
Well, I’ll tell you. It’s the trapping part that earns them their kopecs. It takes weeks, they tell us, and requires many, many return visits, which, sadly – but hey, whattayagonnado – costs an arm and a leg. It’s a key part of the service. It’s a vital facet of the complex overlapping bird-busting strategy. You do want the pigeons gone, don’t you?
Fine, fine, say my fellow owners, getting out the cheque book.
Then what does ROK do? They install the bird deterrence technology first. If it works, there won’t be anything to trap, right? Because the pigeons won’t come around any more, correct? Well, arguably yes, sir, says ROK, but best to carry out several weeks of costly trapping operations in any case, just to be sure. Oh yes, we understand, say my fellow owners, by all means do the thorough job for which ROK is praised far and wide.
So I figured ROK would mount something similar to my ultrasonic annoyance boxes up there on the roof. Silent to me, brain-curdling to them, it’s like magic. Nope. They’ve installed what amount to an interlocking network of disco balls, except shaped like pyramids instead of spheres:
Each has little flaps that catch the breeze and make it spin on its axis, thus reflecting brilliant sunlight in all directions, and thereby, we are assured, dazzling the alarmed and disconcerted birds into an autonomic flight response. We are assured of this.
They are indeed dazzling. TO ME. They’ve got them mounted on the peaks to the right and left of my balcony at just the perfect angle to ensure that if I’m out on the deck, the both of them blast searing photonic light missiles straight into my eyes despite the roof over my head. Their silvered mirror surfaces are polished to a degree that reflects what must be over 95% of the incoming sunlight, and this makes them blinding. Dangerous to look at. I’m OK, so long as I stare rigidly ahead with the things just barely within the sweep of my peripheral vision, but God help me if I forget the protocol and look out towards the mouth of the bay, or over towards the famous three churches. Then it’s 50/50 whether they fry my optic nerves. Meanwhile, even if I avert my gaze, they’re spraying sparkly patches of light all over, like I’m out on the dance floor with John Travolta at the goddam disco. The light goes straight through those big beautiful windows that look out over the water, and flickers across our living room walls and floor. Upstairs, Kathy has a workspace with a built-in desk that looks through another set of windows, providing a pleasant prospect of the town and the water beyond – or it used to. Another pair of spinning solar pyramids is right outside, flashing in her eyes so brilliantly that we’ve had to put sheets of cardboard over the glass, which tends rather to dampen the once cheerful ambience of the space:
This wasn’t really the idea.
Look, I’m a team player. I’m a reasonable fellow. I’d hesitate to over-rule my neighbours, even if I could, and doom them to an ongoing literal shit-storm just to spare my retinas and preserve my ability to look wistfully up the bay. I’m not selfish. If the common good requires me and my eyeballs to be collateral damage, I have no principled stand to take. Needs of the many, and all that.
BUT THE #@%**@ THINGS DON’T EVEN WORK.
They fail, I reckon, for two reasons.
First, they don’t bounce enough light around when it’s overcast, or rainy, and gosh, this is the Maritimes, it does do that around here. It’s only when it’s nice and sunny, and breezy, on those lovely days when you’re just cracking to go sit outside on the deck, that the pyramids start spinning and blasting punishing radiation in all directions.
Second, and dang-nab it, the pigeons don’t give a flying rat’s ass. No sir. Doesn’t bother them. Here, I caught a snap of them flying right into the teeth of the light storm, straight towards one of the roof-mounted pyramids:
To be fair, this was taken later in the day when the Sun wasn’t at maximum brightness, but that’s only because it’s hard to have the camera right where you need it at the moment they fly by. Ask any wildlife photographer. That perfect shot is tricky to catch. Trust me, they’re flapping around, apparently unperturbed, all day regardless. The light might even be attracting them. “Hey, looks like a party down there! Let’s go see! And poo all over it!!”
Besides, even if the light show does bug them enough that they don’t feel like hanging around, they still flock around continuously at squadron strength up there, tracing figure-eight patterns like airliners stacked up over LaGuardia – look, I just took this:
All day long, flap flap flap, around and around right overhead, and here’s the rub: they don’t have to land to poo. Oh no, they’re quite happy to poo copiously on the fly. I believe they take pride in it. It’s what they do. It’s all they do, except eat and make more pigeons. I’m wondering if in fact they do it at even greater volumes and velocities if they’re startled, say by brilliant rotating light sources.
I don’t have an easy answer for them. The only real solution seems to be to put a roof over your head – when they’re at medium altitude, my noisemakers don’t bother them any more than the revolving ray guns. It only works for me because they have to fly right under my ceiling and sit right next to the ultrasonic speakers if they want to pinch bird-loaves all over my deck chairs, and they can’t stand it close up like that.
One idea I’m floating, which would fix my wagons at least, while making things no less marginally effective for them, is that narrow little shields be mounted at an angle to the poles that support the pyramids, just wide enough to obstruct that limited arc within which the spinners hit us right in the pupils. Something quite small could do the trick. It might look like this:
From Where I Sit:
It might be feasible, but I bet the ROK guys scratch their heads, frown, and say it can’t be done. Or it can be done, but it’ll cost $18,000. Maybe more. Hard to say, never been tried, sir.
A big flock just flew over again, just now as I’m typing. We’re your happy neighbourhood Pidgies, Mahone Bay Local Chapter 574!! Hi down there!! Look at us! It’s fun to fly around endlessly, crapping on everything! Wheeeeeee!!!!