Spring in New York City belongs to the toddlers. I love to watch them, but I get nervous when they come too close. Their mothers make me anxious, too. For I am that most tired of clichés: the married careerist, who can’t choose between freedom and family, and therefore spends equal time reviling and desiring all things reproductive. This year, during my annual visit to the gynecologist, I was introduced to a new cause for anxiety: Advanced Maternal Age (A.M.A.). It seems that women over the age of 35-I’m 34-are entitled to instant acronym status and reams of literature warning of potential complications with pregnancy.
There are many complex reasons why advancing age is linked with infertility, but the explanation boils down to this: Your eggs go bad.
Perhaps it was all coincidence, but around this time, I came into contact with a whole different world of eggs and babies.
I know that extended winters can induce all manner of urban critters to seek refuge on city balconies, but nothing had prepared me for what I found on the terrace of our Upper West Side apartment during a bout of spring cleaning.
In the corner, tucked behind a bench, was an entire nest, complete with two small eggs and one live baby pigeon.
If this were any other place in the world, such a sight would give rise to feelings of wonder and admiration at the miracles of nature. But there was nothing pastoral about the nativity scene on my terrace.
Traditional nesting materials being scarce in my neighborhood, the pigeons had built their home from whatever they could find: bits of milk cartons, cigarette butts, scraps of the Sunday New York Times , a shoelace.
Aside from the stench of the garbage, and the ghastly sight of the featherless newborn, there were also countless deposits of pigeon crap that had turned our terrace into a revolting Pollock painting.
Now, I value life as much as the next person, but this state of affairs could not continue. So I did what any self-respecting urbanite would do: I hid in the bathroom while my husband Phil scooped up the nest, threw out the unhatched eggs, and placed the baby pigeon in a leafy area just behind our building.
That should have been the end of it, but it wasn’t. After all, we had destroyed a home and separated a family. There were consequences:
Day 1: The pigeons are back on our terrace searching for their young. I am filled with pity and self-loathing. I try to help by gesturing wildly to the area below where their surviving offspring has been left. “YOUR BABY IS OVER THERE!” I yell. The creatures blink uncomprehendingly and fly away. “Perhaps our pigeons are deaf,” Phil suggests.
Every couple of hours, the creatures return and the ritual is repeated. It’s always the same two birds: One is stout and struts paternally around the other, which looks more delicate and wounded. The latter bird, which I presume to be the mother, shoots me dagger looks when I approach. They go straight to my womb.
That night, I have a dream: A vulture is pecking at my ovaries. I awake in a cold sweat. I’m not thinking about the pigeons or even the baby. I’m thinking about the unhatched pigeon eggs that are now mixing with the city’s garbage supply. How is it that I, someone so attuned to the issue of rotting eggs, could have participated in so brutal an act?
Half doubled-over with anxiety, I call friends who will still be awake. I am looking for affirmation, but all I get is pious disapproval. The conversations go something like this:
Friend: “You separated a helpless little pigeon from its parents?”
Me: “It looked like Satan’s spawn.”
Friend: “And you threw out the eggs?! Those were going to be living beings soon.”
Me: “But you’re pro-choice!”
Friend: “All I know is, I couldn’t do it.”
Day 2: I step onto the terrace before dressing for work, and it’s like I’m Tippi Hedren. The birds are back and the terrace is strewn with garbage. They are rebuilding. “STAY OFF OUR TERRACE!” I scream. The fat father is especially persistent. He won’t move unless I rush at him, arms akimbo, which I do at least six times before leaving for work.
Once out the door, I make a pit stop at the neighborhood drugstore. A guy with a neck like Tony Soprano leans conspiratorially over the counter as I explain my predicament.
“Look, girlie,” he says. “Get yourself some Alka-Seltzer. The birds eat it and they can’t digest it. Once they drink some water, their stomachs blow up.”
I shrink back, horrified. “Works like a charm,” he says, smiling.
Day 3: The birds are completely disrespecting the massive amounts of Alka-Seltzer I have scattered all over the terrace. They walk on the tablets; they shit on them; they do everything but eat them. At one point, they seem to amass the stuff in a third attempt to build a nest.
I throw away the nesting material, but as I return, I suddenly realize that the fat pigeon for whom I have particular enmity is not the paterfamilias. He is, in fact, a very pregnant mother. I stare at the bird with newfound recognition.
When you start feeling spiteful and vaguely envious of pigeons, it’s time for some soul-searching.
Day 4: After spending hours scouring Web sites like birdbgone.com, I make an important discovery: The best advice on animal removal comes from 14-year-old boys. Schooled in sophisticated forms of animal torture, they are far more helpful than the faux-humane “bird evasion” companies. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this, having grown up with a younger brother who, when he wasn’t making my life a living hell, was tormenting all manner of God’s creatures.
Here’s what I learn: Alka-Seltzer works on pigeons, but you need to pre-mix it with water and set it out for the varmints to drink. I head back to the drugstore and find the Alka-Seltzer relocated near the prenatal vitamins. Reading this as a clear sign of fate, I purchase both.
On the walk home, the irony is not lost on me. In my right fist, I clutch the very thing meant to make my stomach a healthy, nutrient-enriched place of growth and generation. In my left fist, I hold an agent of death, meant to literally explode the innards of another potential mother.
But my sympathy soon dissipates. When the pigeons aren’t completely ignoring the chalky mixture I’ve set out for them, they seem to be mocking me by using it as a bird bath. Between popping prenatals, I vow revenge.
Day 5: I notice that when I approach the terrace door, the pigeons fly off before I even get a chance to flail my arms. Inspired, I construct an elaborate scarecrow out of a five-foot cactus plant that lies desiccated in the corner of the terrace. I drape it in towels, place my father’s ambassador-style hat on top, and attach a pair of oversized sunglasses and a menacing grin.
Although my new scarepigeon keeps the birds at bay for most of the afternoon, by evening a fresh marker of pigeon disrespect decorates our terrace.
Still, there has been progress, and it has been achieved humanely. For the first time in days, I don’t have nightmares about the Grim Reaper taking a scythe to my womb. When I awake at 3 in the morning for a pee, the events of the preceding day are a distant memory. Sadly, not for long: When I return from the bathroom, the shadowy form of the scarecrow-unable to frighten the most pathetic of bird life-succeeds in scaring the crap out of me.
Day 6: Phil has started calling me “Pidge.” When friends phone, he passes on the nickname. Someone suggests I write about my bird travails: The Diary of Pidget Jones .
Day 7: The scarecrow has been disassembled. I am sleeping again, but so are the pigeons. On my terrace. In desperation, I call my brother. But at 33, he is no longer the Dr. Mengele of wildlife that he was. He suggests the anodyne remedy of a fake owl. This makes no sense to me. Even if I could get hold of such a thing, how would the pigeons recognize it as a natural predator?
But my brother, whose childhood penchant for animal destruction was inexplicably paired with a fascination for wildlife survival, gives me the answer for which there is no comeback: “It’s instinct,” he says.
I am skeptical, but go owl-shopping the next day. The results are miraculous. The birds have grown increasingly respectful and have ceased home improvement on our property, even if they occasionally pay a visit on their way up to our neighbors.
Things have settled down on my end as well. I no longer court gastro-explosion fantasies, and my vengeance-induced consumption of poultry is back down to its pre-spring levels. Indeed, I’ve gained new empathy for the procreating pigeon. I recently bought a basal body thermometer. Pretty soon, I may just start nesting.