The Trees, the Birds, and the Patio

Have I mentioned that I can open a locked 1977 Chevy Malibu with a large paperclip in under a minute? And a locked 1977 Buick LeSabre with a metal coat hanger in under thirty seconds? That’s if the metal hanger is coated with plastic and if you discount the time it takes to go into Wal-Mart to buy it.

I was musing on cars and paperclips this afternoon during a pause in my drive home from Writers Who Write. I’d arrived at the coffee shop where we meet feeling rather jiggly in both mind and body, possibly because I’d been awake for only thirty minutes, most of which I’d spent en route. The banana and iced mocha I counted as breakfast didn’t help, so three hours later I left feeling just as jiggly as when I’d come in.

On the way home, I pulled into Trader Joe’s. The voice inside my head–the same one that told me to slow down only seconds before I hit the Black Angus cow back in 1996–had already warned me to go straight home. But guilt over ceding grocery shopping to David for most of the past four years overcame intuition, also known as good sense, and I stopped anyway.

There I faced a dilemma: what to do with the laptop lying on the passenger seat. I knew I should take it in with me, so I reached into the back seat, brought forth several large grocery sacks, and piled them on top of it.

That’s one advantage of Austin’s disposable plastic bag ban–I forget mine so often that I have to buy a reusable from the HEB cashier nearly every time I shop. There are enough of those things in my car to hide several laptops and a baby elephant besides.

Now. Here’s where the pause I mentioned earlier started. Satisfied no one could see the laptop, maybe, I shouldered my purse, picked up one of the grocery bags, and headed for Trader Joe’s. No more than a dozen steps later, I did a U-turn, headed back to the car, and peered through the window. Just as I’d expected, the ring of keys still hung from the ignition. Laying my hand on the hood, I felt a vibration. The car was running.

(Said car is ten years old. Because it’s been sitting in the sun, the red paint has begun to oxidize, so the outside looks totally disreputable, but it runs beautifully, knock wood. If the A/C hadn’t been on, I might not have felt a vibration at all.)

Well. My first impulse was to dump my purse onto the hood and follow it with my forehead. So I did. My second impulse was to hide a couple of cars away and wait for a burglar to break in for the laptop. Then I had a better idea. I stood up straight, head up, shoulders back, and asked myself, “What would Nancy Drew do (if she’d left her cell phone at home?)”

I’m certain she would do something more dramatic than finding a real phone and calling Ned Nickerson. But I’m not Nancy. I marched into Trader Joe’s, asked (in the most pitiful voice I could manage) to use the phone, and called David. He said he would run right over. I headed for the produce.

Back at the car, I set my own HEB insulated reusable shopping bag, with groceries, on the trunk. The putative temperature was 68 degrees, but sunshine had warmed the metal to at least 400, and I figured with any luck the salmon I’d bought might be cooked by the time I got home. Later I decided acting on whimsy might not be wise and took both the groceries and myself to a small, sandy promontory in the shade of a live oak tree at the other end of the car. Leaning against the tree’s trunk, I remembered other trees I’ve known:

The first high school I taught in was built around an open patio. Two young live oak trees grew on one side of it, outside the library. They were about the size of the tree I stood under while I waited for David.

The patio was a lovely spot. Students sat on the steps and at picnic tables during lunch, and the honors banquet was held there on spring evenings, and one pep rally that’s best forgotten (and that I’ll write about sometime) took place there. It was, as I said, lovely. Everyone who visited the school commented on its loveliness.

And time passed, and the live oaks flourished.

Then the birds arrived. And things began to go downhill.

The birds took up residence in the trees. Others joined them, and more and more, until the trees were thick with birds.

Birds, like cats, have no idea of the rules. They chattered and shrieked. They flew into glass doors and into windows overlooking the patio, unsettling students and teachers holding class on the insides of the windows. Unlike cats, they displayed no concern for personal hygiene. The patio did not smell nice. People stopped gathering there. They would have stopped walking by it at all if they’d been able to get to class any other way.

The Powers That Were made a number of humane attempts to get the birds to leave. They hung tin pans in the trees. They draped rubber snakes in the trees. They swatted at the birds with tennis rackets. Swatting might strike some as inhumane, but it was nothing compared to the alternative. This was, after all, a community dedicated to guns and hunting. Anyway, the same students who’d been traumatized when birds hit their windows got quite a kick watching the swatters flit about the patio, swiping at thin air.

At this point I must digress. I have admitted elsewhere that I sometimes exaggerate. Hyperbole is my favorite literary device. What I’ve written about the birds, however, is true. If anyone doubts my veracity, I can call on at least a hundred other eyewitnesses to back me up.

But back to my story. I was leaning against that live oak in front of Trader Joe’s, reminiscing, when I spotted my rescuer about three lanes over. I waved. He pulled his car into a space across from me.

“Did you call from a pay phone?” he said. Then he kissed me hello and unlocked the car.

That’s when I remembered, one more time, how lovely it is to have a husband who is as kind as my father was. My father never complained about retrieving my keys from locked cars, either.

Of course, that was before 1977, when I learned to use a paperclip.


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19 thoughts on “The Trees, the Birds, and the Patio

    1. Yep, that wasn’t my best day. Except I found out the man in the Trader Joe’s office is really nice about letting women in distress use his phone. Thanks for commenting.


    1. Thanks, Linda. With habits like mine, a dry wit comes in handy. Better than sitting on the hood of the car and weeping. 🙂


  1. This had me chuckling, smiling and laughing all the way thru. It is a great story that only you would know how to tell! I love your writing and style…and I couldn’t do without that hyperbole. 😀 Great great story.


    1. Thanks so much. I’m happy when I can make someone laugh. Your posts–love those cats!–always give me great pleasure. A picture of a cat brightens the day.


  2. Most amusing post.

    And, oh, yes, I’ve done the “lock the keys in the car while the car’s still running” thing. I was running late to a substitute teaching job, pulled into the parking lot, hopped out of the car, only to immediately realize what I’d done. This was followed by my going, “Nooooooooooo,” and flailing about in a rather dramatic fashion. The school was not happy with me, because they had to get a substitute for the substitute (me), while I waited for the tow truck guy.


    1. A substitute for a substitute…I know what you mean by flailing dramatically. Seems funny now, but probably not then…I taught in a small school in a small town, but all AAA tow trucks came to know where it was. One man said, “I’ve unlocked this car before.” Uh-huh. “And it was sitting right here.” Uh-huh. By that time, I was the librarian, so my assistant could carry on while I waited outside with the car.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting.


    1. Kate, if I’d had children, I’m afraid they’d have spent half their pre-school years locked inside a car, waiting for the tow truck. I also have visions of older children locked inside a car and refusing to unlock it while I stood outside glaring and thinking unpleasant thoughts about their futures. 🙂


  3. This made me chuckle and remember the day when I locked my keys in the trunk of my car during a visit to my friend’s house. We both discovered her mom could break into a car with a hanger – she was wearing fuzzy slippers and a robe when she did it!


    1. Mothers have so many talents we find out about only in times of great need. I’m so grateful to have been fully dressed during all my break-ins. 🙂 Thanks for visiting and commenting.


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