Bye Bye Birdies
So you have your Cipro, your gas mask, your canned water and your
crank-powered radio. You have a bike locked on the other side of the East River
and your escape route is all planned out. You’ll be fine. Unless, of course,
you’re in the shower alone in your apartment when it happens, the radio and TV
happen to be off, and whatever it is that’s supposed to kill you doesn’t smell
like anything .
“I have a plan for that,” said Jen Lee of Brooklyn. “I am getting a canary.”
Ms. Lee isn’t the only one. An informal survey of shoppers and
employees in pet stores around the city reveals that dozens-maybe even
hundreds-of New Yorkers have been snapping up canaries since Sept. 11, with the
idea of using their birds as an early-detection system in the event of a
terrorist gas attack.
Ms. Lee was ogling birds on a recent afternoon at the Petco pet
store near Union Square. She said she’d decided to purchase a canary a few days
previously, when she was walking down the street and ran into her eighth-grade
social-studies teacher. During the encounter, Ms. Lee, who is in her 20’s,
remembered something she’d learned in class.
“Back during, you know-West Virginia-when the coal miners had to
go down those deep tunnels or whatnot, and they were like, ‘Um, are we dying
down here or not?’ because there were like all these poison gases,” Ms. Lee
said. “The miners all got canaries. And if the canaries died, it meant get the
hell out of there.”
A saleswoman came over to help.
“I want a canary,” Ms. Lee said.
“Red or yellow?” the saleswoman asked.
“It doesn’t matter which one,” Ms. Lee said, and then she changed
her mind. “Which is cheaper?”
“The yellow ones. They’re $90,” the saleswoman said.
“Good,” Ms. Lee said. “‘Cause I think the yellow ones work better
The saleswoman asked her if she wanted a male or female.
“Ummm, I don’t really care,”
Ms. Lee said.
The saleswoman boxed up a bird. Ms. Lee touted her purchase.
“O.K., so I’m in the
apartment, and suddenly the canary stops singing,” she said. “It’s dead. Then I
either go outside right away, or if that doesn’t look safe, then stay inside.”
Ms. Lee glanced at her new pet. “Such a good idea,” she said. “My friends are all going to get
Maybe they already have. Finding someone at a local Petco to talk
on the record was difficult, but privately, employees at sev-
eral of the pet chain’s locations in the city said that they’ve noticed a surge
in demand for canaries. One staffer at the Petco on 86th Street, speaking on
the condition of anonymity, said: “I don’t want to seem unpatriotic or
anything, but [canary] business has been great ever since Sept. 11!”
Other stores have noted similar increases. The Bird House, an
aviary on the Upper West Side, ran out of canary cages for the first time that
anyone there could remember. And Pierre Brooks, the owner of 33rd & Bird in
midtown, said he’s been amazed by “the influx of people buying canaries.”
Breeders have noticed a spike in demand, he said; they can hardly keep up.
Still, Mr. Brooks warbled a note of caution.
“Ever since Sept. 11, 50 percent of our customers are buying
these birds for the wrong reasons,” he said. Canaries, he added, require
special nutrients, ample space, toys to play with and plenty of attention from
their owners. “We’re very concerned they’re not going to take good care of the
It was early afternoon, and Mr. Brooks, a professorial-looking
man in a warm sweater, was flanked by screeching parrots, finches, macaws and
parakeets. He pointed to a pair of white-bellied canaries perched next to a
“The frill, which is $199, these
people will go for, no questions asked,” he said. By “these people,” it was
pretty clear what Mr. Brooks meant: canary-buyers-come-lately.
“People are coming in, they’re asking, ‘Give me a canary, I don’t
care if it’s male or female. But I want one ,'”
Mr. Brooks said. That seemed to make him even madder. “The female doesn’t sing . So that’s an indication to
us that they’re buying them for you-know-what .”
A parrot stuck its talon into Mr. Brooks’ sweater, and he plucked
it out. “We’re very concerned. If they think they can walk in and walk out with
a bird-well, they weren’t expecting to run into me,” he said. “We put people
through a little grill.”
He said he’s told canary customers: “‘I understand you’re in here
to buy it because of the state of affairs. But I want to know that you’ll care
for it. Is this just a trophy that’s going to be tarnished at some given time,
and in the meantime you’re not polishing it?’
“I turn a lot of people
away,” Mr. Brooks said.
But if a worried customer
still insists-begs, even-Mr. Brooks said he’ll try to persuade him or her that
canaries don’t save lives.
“I tell them, without being a biologist, that I don’t think a
canary is the answer,” he said. “I don’t think the canary dying is enough of a
sign of what’s going to come.”
Dr. Michael Garvey, director of the E. & M. Bobst Hospital of
the Animal Medical Center on the Upper East Side, generally agreed with Mr.
Brooks. For the most part, people who buy canaries to warn them of gas attacks
are “very silly,” he said.
But Dr. Garvey admitted there was at least a chance that a canary
could help alert a person that something bad was coming.
“It would depend upon the agent,” he said. “Small birds are very
sensitive to inhalation of all kinds of noxious gases, some of which don’t even
bother human beings. You can kill a bird just by overheating Teflon on the
stove …. I can’t speak for all noxious gases, but in general, a canary would
likely be more sensitive to gases than a human. Technically, they would succumb
first. It has to do with their body weight-their body size.”
But, Dr. Garvey said, “that’s not the point.” The real question, he said, is “What would
you do after the bird died? Where could you go?”
To Love and Dis In
Single people in New York City say that it’s a lot easier to get
some action these days. Partly it’s because of the tragedy and the natural need
for comfort, companionship and warmth. Others point to the conven-ience of
“speed” and Internet dating. Of course, it’s also partly because of the booze.
(It’s always a little bit about the booze, isn’t it?)
But amidst all the joyful couplings, single people are still
getting rejected, too. Rejection is one of the hardest, ugliest aspects of the
pick-up scene. It stinks to be rejected, and unless you’re a true cold-hearted
sicko, it stinks to reject someone, too.
A new service called the Rejection Line, however, makes rejecting
someone in New York City a whole lot easier. Here’s how it works: On its Web
site, Rejectionline.com, the Rejection Line provides a number-as of Oct. 30, it
was 212-479-7990-and, when confronted by an undesirable suitor (or suitorette),
a user supplies it as his or her own.
People, of course, have been doing this for years-giving poor
slobs the number of a Ray’s Famous, 1010 WINS, the British Consulate, etc.-but
the genius of the Rejection Line is that the caller hears an actual rejection
on the other end.
“Unfortunately, the person who gave you this number does not want
to talk to you or speak to you again,” a male voice says. “We would like to
take this opportunity to officially reject you.” After choosing from several
options-including “to hear a sad poem written by a kindred spirit, press 2” and
“to cling to the unrealistic hope that a relationship is still possible, press
3”-rejected callers can leave a message.
The Rejection Line was
founded by siblings Jonah and Chelsea Peretti, who are both in their 20’s. Ms.
Peretti, who lives in the East Village, jokingly described the genesis of the
Rejection Line as “a burst of transcendental understanding,” but more seriously
as a “response to being catcalled and harassed.”
“The people that we have
gotten messages from who were rejected tended to be really aggressive males,”
Ms. Peretti said. “I think of it [the Web site] as something for the underdog,
I guess because I’m a woman. I think of it as something that a woman could use
as a tool.”
After several months of growth by word of mouth, the Rejection
Line is exploding in popularity. Launched this summer, it quickly outgrew the
first phone-mailbox system that housed it and has been expanded to accommodate
eight simultaneous calls. To date, the Rejection Line has been a not-for-profit
enterprise, without ads or fees-although the Perettis aren’t ruling anything
Is the Rejection Line yet another worry for New York singles? Ms.
Peretti offered a little advice: “I think if you’re perceptive and you’re
picking up on people’s body language, you’re not going to get a