Breakfast at a local restaurant with an outdoor patio where families are welcome is well underway. Pigeons look for crumbs falling from tables. A young mother trundles to the door with her small child under her arm: "No, that's not a dog." Baby, who is extended forward and backward like a miniature superman flying past the diners and tabletops toward the exit door, looks down, nonplussed, surveying all, absorbing it without a sound. The pigeons, who are not dogs, peck and walk beneath the tables, and their eyes look blank.
A waiter comes to the patio with a four large plates full of food balanced up his arm, all piled with breakfast for the family of four. Two kids are coloring with crayons and swinging their legs under their chairs. Parents, glancing around the patio, look at each other and at the two kids. The waiter's setting plates down now. They are brimming with food and the parents' eyes search for clues. Scrambled eggs for him, breakfast burrito for her, kids get pancakes, did you bring the syrup?, and she gets the small plate with toast, we also ordered extra sausage, you have it? Oh good, and we'll need hot sauce for the eggs, no more coffee please, put down the squirt bottle, that's for the birds or they land on the table, eat your eggs first, I'll cut up your sausage, scoot your chair in closer, your napkin's on the ground, this looks good. The waiter leaves quickly. The family picks up their forks and begins to eat.
A group of diners finish, gather their things and stand up to leave, sorting themselves out. They walk slowly away from their table toward the exit door. Their faces are smiling vaguely, looking pleasant but unfocused. Instantly, five English sparrows rush to their remaining plates and begin fluttering between them and the tabletop in search of scraps. A nearby boy in jeans and shirt who has short blond hair and no more breakfast to eat, reaches across his table for a squirt bottle with a pistol-grip sprayer and takes aim at the sparrows who are aggressively scavenging leftovers 10 feet away. The boy's aim is bad, then better and then very good. An arc of water tags one bird and it flies away a few feet and cocks its head to the table again. The boy aims at it again, intent on making it his sole target. Two other birds return to the table again. He turns quickly, aims at them and squirts again and again, now trying his aim at silverware and plates, absorbed in his new skill. Droplets of water land on a couple nearby who look up to check for rainclouds. They haven't noticed the boy and his squirt gun.
There is another table further away where another family with a boy are eating. He watches the first boy hitting the bird and then the tabletop with the squirt gun and looks around for his own to shoot. His mother sees this and says, "No way." He slumps back in his chair and begins to kick the umbrella pole extending down through the center of the table. He keeps his eyes on the first boy though. The first boy has stopped shooting, halted by his own mother who tells him to watch his own plate, the birds are coming closer on his other side. He looks quickly down and around him as if a lookout in a tower surrounded by marauders, which the English sparrows seem to be.
The waiter comes through the patio and checks coffee cups, asking the adults if they'd like refills. There are a few takers. It's a cool morning and the sun is not yet high enough to warm the morning air. Our coffee cups are full for the third time and breakfast is over, so we gather our own things and leave. I wonder if the boy will shoot birds from our table, too, once we are gone.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way