the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Pigeon on the Patio


My father loved the back patio we have in Redondo Beach.  Whenever he would visit, the first thing he would do was to go outside and sit on the patio.  He would carry his transistor radio, turned to the classical music station, and read the “Calendar” section of the LA Times to see “what theater was in town.”   After my father passed away, our patio hit on hard times.  It began to take on the look of some abandoned exterior from a gothic novel set in Savannah.  Even when our interior was spotless, the patio was always in disarray, with spider webs on our unused flower pots.  We bought a grill, but never used it.  Our umbrella turned black from the foggy beach air.   Our ficus trees died.   The only life to ever be found on our patio was this annoying grey cat, a neighborhood scavenger, who one night at 3AM, knocked over our last two remaining ceramic planters, shattering them and waking up half the neighborhood.

After Sophia heard that she didn’t need any more surgery, she decided to take up a life-affirming hobby — fixing up the patio.  Sophia loves flowers – cut flowers, plants, potted flowers.  She was so over the moon when some of you sent her flowers.  She said that having beatiful flowers to look at will bring her joy and help her heal.  So we cleaned up all the leaves and hosed down the walls.  We spent several hundred dollars at Home Depot, buying pots, flowers, soil, and Miracle Gro.  The nice thing about Home Depot is that the “garden guy” actually knows about his subject, which is different from the experience you get from the imbeciles at electronics stores like Best Buy.  At Home Depot, Sophia and I learned about perennials and annuals, and which flowers do better in the sun and in the shade. 

As we toiled on the patio, re-potting our new flowers, my image of gardening forever changed.  I used to visualize it as a hobby for a retired woman.  Now, I see it as workout more draining than using the elliptical trainer at 24 Hour Fitness.    Just carrying those heavy pots and bags of soil are enough to build your biceps.   No wonder why men who “work in the field” are so muscular.  Gardening is hot, sweaty, and dirty work, completely different than my typical day of sitting at my computer, drinking diet Snapple with my pinkie raised.  One regret:  I wish I had never read the side of the soil bag:  “contains worm crap, bat droppings, and chicken manure.”  Ugh.  From now on I double-wash all my fruits and vegetables, including the packages which say “pre-washed.” 

As the sweat soaked my Izod polo shirt, which apparently is a bad sartorial choice for gardening, I thought of my father, and how much he loved this patio.  It was also Father’s Day.  I remembered how my father always got short-changed on Father’s Day because June 19th was also his birthday.  The two “holidays” got merged into one, and he usually got one gift.

Even though he died almost two years ago, I don’t think the information has settled in… yet.   I don’t walk around “missing him,” as much as I thought I would, mostly because I act as if he’s still around.   By saying he’s “still around,” I don’t mean he’s “still with us” in a spiritual way.  I mean that he was such a “character,” that I still can vividly hear and see him in my mind’s eye.  Sophia, my mother, and I still talk about him all the time, even making fun of his quirks, as if he’s sitting in the next room.

“I just paid eleven dollars for a movie,” I recently told my mother.  “Imagine what Dad would say!”  And we would laugh, because we knew EXACTLY what he would say.

I’m sure in several years from now, when his image and voice become less distinct, I’ll “miss him” more in the traditional sense.  For now, it still feels like he’s around. 

Sophia and I worked on the patio for several hours during Father’s Day.  As we were re-potting the foxgloves, Sophia and I noticed a tiny black bird, hiding behind the tree in the far corner of the patio.   He crouched  in the darkness, hardly moving.  Every few minutes he let out a little faint chirp and rustled some leaves.  We wondered whether it was hurt, unable to fly, or just abandoned by his mother. We discussed at length whether it was a hated crow or a hated pigeon, and decided it had to be a pigeon.

We continued on with our gardening, giving very little thought to the bird.  Neither of us are animal people.  Neither of us ever owned a pet.  We figured that it was safe enough for the bird while we were on the patio.   As for later, that’s HIS problem.  After dark, the nasty neighborhood cat would come out, looking for food.  We assumed that if the bird was injured, he would eventually be eaten. 

At this point, you might think us as uncaring people, but we had plenty of reasons to feel unsympathetic towards pigeons.  Several weeks ago, pigeons created a nest on our roof.  Every morning at 4:00 AM,  these ugly pigeons were squarking outside our bedroom window, waking us up, even when Sophia needed her rest after the surgeries.  Then, to make things worse, they would take a crap on our cars, and on what was left of our patio.  We assumed that this tiny bird was the spawn of these nasty intruders.  He was as ugly as his mother, with the same beady, unfriendly eyes.

While Sophia and I didn’t care about this little, lonely pigeon, I knew someone who would care — my father.   He would be extremely upset about this scared bird.   My father was the type of guy who got tears in his eyes when he would see homeless women (and only women) begging on the street.  Before you start oohing and aahing over his kind heart, I should make it clear that my father wouldn’t actually DO anything for this poor pigeon if he was around, but he would have certainly felt the bird’s pain.

I am my father’s son, so I naturally felt bad for the little bird.  But what could I do?  And so what if the cat eats the bird.  That’s the natural order of things.  For a while, I was able to ignore the faint chirping of the baby pigeon, and the way it shook with fear, hiding in the corner of our patio, knowing that his end was near.  But soon, I realized that I’m not just my father’s son.  I’m my own man.  And I’m stronger than he was.  I could go one step better than he ever could.  I put down my package of soil, wiping my dirty hands on my Izod shirt.

“I need to stop gardening for a while,” I told Sophia. 

“Already?  But we have so much to do!”

Yes.  It was time to make my father proud.

“I’m going to save this baby pigeon from the cat!”



  1. helen

    I’ve not been here for ages and I’m glad I dropped by. Hope this has a happy ending… I’m such a sucker for one. 🙂

    PS: Thanks for dropping by my blog!

  2. Girl Friday

    It only takes one moment and a perfect stranger…
    [EXT DAY close up of baby pigeon]
    …to change a life forever.
    [close up: Neil’s hand pushing aside potted plant leaves and reaching for baby pigeon]
    This summer, one small bird…
    [close up: pigeon feeding from medicine dropper]
    …will change your life.
    [INT NIGHT medium shot: dining room of apartment]
    [Neil and Sophia at a candlelit table sharing a bottle of wine, candles, bird in nest made of shredded newspaper placed on a high chair ]
    From Alan Parker, the director of Birdy
    and Neil Kramer, author of My Big Fat Russian Separation

    comes a story about one small moment.

    In theaters now. Check local listings.

  3. better safe than sorry

    and girl friday has it going on:)

  4. You can call me, 'Sir'

    …then you ripped your shirt open and there it was, the capital ‘S’.

    You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.

  5. alissa

    Love the cliffhanger!

  6. RD

    Alright! Now it’s getting good. Restoring the patio is a lovely way to remember your dad. He and I share the same birthday, so he surely had to be a great personality! 😉

  7. Not Fainthearted


    I love that. It’s exactly what they do.

  8. Elisabeth

    This is a very promising story, and the Girl Friday screenplay is absolutely brilliant.

    My favorite bit: “my Izod polo shirt, which apparently is a bad sartorial choice for gardening.”

    Neil, I am anxious to see If your story will manage to convince me that pigeons should not be eradicated from this planet.

  9. V-Grrrl

    Girl Friday still has me giggling over My Big Fat Russian Separation.

    What I wanna know is: Should I send you a recipe for pigeon? I’m sure I can find one in Southern Living (add bacon, cheese, and sour cream and it’ll taste great!

  10. Karl

    Well, that’s different than what I pictured. At first I thought you were going to say, “I’m going to make pigeon soup!”

  11. Neil

    Ha Ha — didn’t expect a heartwarming story, ala Lassie, where the pigeon and I become best buddies and travel the world together.

    Girl Friday — I even can hear the music to the soundtrack!

  12. Michele

    If the pigeon ends up as the target in a Bocce ball game, I’m gonna fly to Los Angeles and kick you in the shin.

    Nice to see a little soft underbelly, Neil. You’re quite a fine writer.

  13. Jenn

    I can hear a soundtrack and the deep voiced announcer guy, Girl Friday. I read your post to the cats. The ending they are hoping for is slightly gorier than mine.

  14. Margaret

    howl, why would you leave me with such a cliff hanger?

  15. Nance

    V-grrrl, virtually anything smothered in bacon, cheese, and sour cream will taste great!

    Oh, and you forgot the butter–lots and lots of butter. You did say Southern Living, right?

  16. teahouseblossom

    I had a baby pigeon in a nest on my balcony. But I didn’t get nostalgic and want to save it. In fact, it made me mad.

    Does that mean I’m an evil and heartless person?

  17. Jazz

    Poor pigeons. They’ve got to be the most reviled bird in history. And yet they don’t deserve it… But I won’t start ranting. Nope. I’m more mature than that.

  18. Paris Parfait

    Neil, I see you haven’t lost your touch. So glad that Sophia is feeling better and that you and she are enjoying the life-affirming task of gardening. It’s hard for me to have much sympathy for a pigeon, as in a city they are everywhere, noisy and dirty. But the lone little bird might be an exception.

  19. shortie

    On the edge of my seat and I can not believe I’m anxious to know what’s next.

  20. MichelleVan

    I see poop on the Izod, or yes, maybe even pie in the making. say it isn’t so.

  21. sarah g

    awww, the poor little guy! : )

  22. Churlita

    You are a true samaritan. Your dad would be so proud.

  23. Dagny

    First of all, that stuff in the dirt? Really good fertilizers. You should have some nice, healthy plants.

    Secondly, good job in saving the bird.

  24. whoorl

    Oh, the SUSPENSE! Hurry it up.

    By the way, your father and D share the same birthday. 🙂

  25. Finn

    Your Dad was a man after my own heart. I’m proud of you. Now don’t screw it up.

    And Girl Friday — brilliant!

  26. Dana

    Gardening will do you good. The rewards are great. Good idea, Sophia. I had an apt. once where stupid pigeons (is there any other kind?) took over the entire balcony. Not good. I was not glad with it. Then my friend’s grandma told me it was good luck and meant “happy family” and I shouldn’t disturb them. So there you go. Here’s my Poetry Thurs. poem about pigeons:

  27. Alice

    “rats with wings,” my own dad calls ’em…

  28. melanie

    I am lucky to have my father around still. Fathers day is bittersweet to me now, though.

    i hate pigeons too, but there is no reason to feed him to the cat! Can’t wait to hear what happens. Take pictures of the patio!

  29. tamarika

    … I hope you complete the story before I set out for my hike … am intrigued and slightly fearful about the ending … oy!

  30. sandra

    Ooh, Neil — a cliffhanger…!

  31. Amy K

    Save that bird!!!

  32. N

    Heartwarming story!

    I like Girl Friday’s preview… I’d pay eleven bucks to see it.

  33. The Cynical Girl

    Don’t let anyone call you a ‘dirty pigeon lover.’

    People are such snobs!

  34. tamar

    Great old fashioned way to cut up an endless tale… as did Charles Dickens, I.B. Singer, and other writers whose writing they unravelled in installments to eager newspaper reader-buyers.

    A nit: you mention “…the imbeciles at electronics stores like Best Buy…”

    Well, Best Buy and other corporate cheapskates hire folks who don’t know the products, and Best Buy won’t spend its resources to train these folks. If the employees knew technology or whatever they are charged with selling, they wouldn’t work for Best Buy (if they had alternatives) because the cheapskates either wouldn’t hire them (too experienced…) or refuse to pay their fair worth.

    So, please spare the workers blame or name calling. The worker needs a job, then gets one sans training or proper support. Let’s not add to his (and our misery). I say, take your complaint to the top where it belongs.

    Next, you write, “By saying he’s “still around,” I don’t mean he’s “still with us” in a spiritual way. I mean that he was such a “character,” that I still can vividly hear and see him in my mind’s eye.”

    I so relate to what you say. My mom has been physically present the past years yet otherwise not here. And while she is not “still with us” in the usual way and we haven’t talked in years (she can’t), I still hear her voice and feel she’s really here in the familiar long-gone ways.

    Glad you are taking on such a wonderful project together. Restoring order, planting roots, engaging in life right there on the patio.

  35. Blitz Krig

    Great timing Neil. I just started night run and now have something to look forward to this week. If you could drag this out through Friday morning you would make my week.

  36. tkkerouac

    I love your blog!

  37. wendy

    First, Izod?? Label dropping…you’re such a girl!!!

    For seconds…all life has worth. There I said it…to you and all your cruel hard ass readers. V-Grrrl..Not EVER eating at your house…

    As for the poor baby bird…I have tried saving them numerous times..not so easy..really, almost impossible. But there is special food….

    Never had a pet…EVER??

  38. littlepurplecow

    I can’t help but think that your next post might be “The Poop on the Patio.”

  39. gorillabuns

    all i have to say, make sure the cat nibbles on the foxglove, it’s poisonous.

    i’m scared i know this little fact.

    can’t wait for more, more, MORE!

  40. eco

    Fantastic blog! Great!

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