The Catbird Seat: Couch Birding
by Pete Dunne; Illustration by Jeff Sipple
October 15, 2009
The man dressed like an ex officio mannequin with a binocular strap groove cut into its neck stepped into the office. Inside, a quirky little man doing his best not to look like an Austrian psychiatrist aping the manner of a Hollywood fad shrink (which he was) invited him to lie down on the couch.
“Vat seems to be the problem?” the psychiatrist asked, tugging on his eyebrows.
“I want to be normal,” the patient said with a sigh. “I’ve been a birder for years, and it’s ruining my life.”
The psychiatrist’s eyes went wide. “Yah,” he said, walking to the counter and adjusting a file folder so that it squared perfectly with the corner. “An obsessive-compulsive problem. Vat are your symptoms?”
“Well, I go to bed before all the reality TV shows come on and get up, rested and eager to start my day, at dawn,” he said.
“Yah,” said the doctor, writing quickly. “Dat is not normal. Vat else?”
“At parties I hear people talking about the Ravens and Blue Jays and Eagles. I start talking about a Bald Eagle I saw, and everybody laughs. See, they’re talking about sports teams, and I feel like a jerk.”
“Yah,” the psychiatrist intoned. “Der inferiority complex. Continue, please.”
“In the supermarket checkout line, I look at People magazine covers, and I don’t recognize a single name. Coworkers tell me about their vacations to Cancun and Disney World, and when I tell them about my trip to Asa Wright they look at me blankly. I want to know who Judge Judy is,” he whispered. “I want to make a lush, green lawn the centerpiece of my life and turn my living room into a shrine to Dale Ernhardt. I … just want to be normal.”
“Yah,” the psychiatrist said as he folded his note-filled page down to the size of a sugar cube, then unfolded it again. “I have just the treatment. First ve put you on a strict toilet-training regime so that you can relive your anal stage und purge your psyche. Five hours a day. Nothing but National Inquirer und People magazine to read.
“Den ve install a 190-inch plasma TV in your bedroom. Ve block der Weather Channel und play only Bridezillas, Wheel of Fortune, und QVC. Ve play this all night. In no time, ve vill have you wanting to kill your father, marry your mother, und craving lots of stuff you don’t need, like normal people. Speaking of dat, do you know anything about binoculars?”
“Yes,” the man admitted.
“I have been thinking about buying a 20x pair. Gut, yah?”
“Oh, 20x is too much magnification. You’re better off with a 7x or 8x. What will you be looking at?”
“Vell,” he said, “I have a bird feeder, but it is too far from the window.”
“Yes,” the man said, “7x is the way to go. You’re looking through glass. The less magnification, the less distortion.”
“Gut,” the psychiatrist said. “I am glad I asked und … do you mind if I lie down?”
“Not at all,” the man said, rising and taking the psychiatrist chair as the shrink appropriated the couch.
“Maybe you can help. I have a bird coming to my feeder und it is a puzzle. So crazy have I become to know this bird I cannot sleep sometimes.”
“Describe it,” he suggested, reaching for the clipboard. “Size and shape, first.”
“Yah,” the psychiatrist said. “It is small but very straight when it perches. It is a sparrow maybe, but with red on the head and the breast. Very beautiful.”
“I see. Sings a lot, does it?” he asked.
“Yah!” the psychiatrist exclaimed. “A happy jingle. It makes me glad just to hear it, but not knowing its name drives me cuckoo. At night I watch American Gladiator but cannot pay attention because the bird is on my mind. I see other birds, now, and I want to know what they are, too.”
The man tapped his finger to his lips.
“I lead a bird walk every Saturday morning. Why don’t you come along?”
“Oh, dat is a wonderful idea. I will cancel my appointments.”
“And you should buy a field guide to help you identify the birds you see.”
The psychiatrist’s eyes brimmed with tears. “So wonderful this is. The birds will now bring joy und challenge und focus to my life, yah?”
“Yah,” the man said, writing. “Here’s the name of a good field guide. You can pick it up from the nature center on your way home and study it before bedtime.” “Oh, yah. Thank you. Thank you. I am feeling better already.”
“Don’t mention it.”
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