only solution is joining
Sunday, May 28 2006
setting: Woodland Hills, California
Behind Luc's house, in the thin strip of vegetation between the pool and the back fence, a mallard duck had been sitting on a nest of eggs for the past twenty some days. This morning I got up early and went out to the pool first thing to see if they'd hatched. They had! The mother duck and ten little ducklings were swimming in a tight flotilla on the surface of the pool. I didn't know at first that the pool was very low in pool chemicals (probably the reason that the duck had nested here in the first place), so I felt it was important that the ducks be able to get out whenever they felt they'd been in long enough. The problem for the little ducks was that the water level in the pool was three to four inches below the level of the surrounding patio, and there was no way they'd be able to jump up that high. So I endeavored to make them a ramp. My first attempt was built around a short piece of two by six lumber I found in the garage. I used duct tape to attach one end to the side of the pool, allowing the other to float freely.
Time passed and I heard a horrible peeping out by the pool, so I ran out to check. I found the mother and all but one of the babies had used my ramp to get out of the pool, but in the process they'd managed to dislodge most of the tape and one of the babies was stuck to it! It didn't cross my mind at the time how funny it was that a duck had been caught with duct tape; this was an emergency! So I got down on my knees and started unsticking that poor little duckling. It wasn't easy getting him loose. Part of the problem was the stickyness of the tape and the other part was that the mother attacked me viciously the whole time I did so, slamming into the open palm of my hand with everything she had (which wasn't much; she'd lost a lot of weight during the month spent incubating the eggs). When the little duckling was finally free, leaving a few tufts of fluff behind on the tape, he charged across the water back to mother, who had just retreated to prepare herself for another charge, one that now she realized was no longer warranted.
After repairing the duct tape duck ramp and making it so tape was less likely to peel loose, I made a stronger, more permanent ramp in a corner of the pool using a piece of luan plywood bent under the slight overhang the patio made over the water.
In the afternoon Mike, the guy who set me up with this Los Angeles redux, made good on his offer to loan me a car while I'm here. The oppressive gravity of Valley car culture is an iresistable force and the only solution is joining, as it cannot so quickly be beaten. Mike fully admits to his complete surrender to its clutches. He says there is a ghetto liquor store a block from his house and, though he patronizes it frequently, he has never once gone there on foot.
Mike drove the forty miles from his place near Pasadena and picked me up in his sporty new gold-orange Nissan Z and, after a lunch of ghetto burritos1 in a nearby Hispanic neighborhood, he drove me the 40 miles back to Pasadena. His is a tidy, colorful, tasteful suburban house with two units he rents out, one of which is a full-on "party house" in the back yard suitable as a base of operations for single young adult males. The room where Mike does his computer work, on the other hand, is a concentrated reminder of the chaos of my laboratory, with the added benefit of ashtrays brimming with the full-length butts of weird Eclipse "cigarettes." They deliver their nicotene payload via steam, not smoke.
We drank iced coffee as I helped Mike with setting up his WiFi access point. In his neighborhood, everyone has WiFi but none of it is unsecured. He explained it this way, "That's the way it is when your neighbors are all Asians."
My car for the next few weeks is a sporty red Honda Prelude with a cluttered back seat and a drink holder with yet more of those undiminished Eclipse "cigarette" butts. Unfortunately, the radio isn't functioning. But the price is right.
Momma duck and the babies making use of the better of my ramps.
Out in that preternaturally blue pool water.
1In this case, I really mean ghetto. It was just past the lunch rush and the employees were hosing down the patio around us as we ate, anything to make the counterfeit "A" health inspection placard seem legitimate. But those burritos sure were delicious.
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