Slumber Parties, Cancelled Surgeries, Distant Flamingos

The daughter of one of my colleagues recently celebrated her ninth birthday. Three or four other young ladies were invited to spend the night. Unfortunately, the evening turned sour when one of the guests – a strong personality – led a sort of revolt against the birthday girl, recruiting others to her side and refusing to participate in the planned activities. Tears and recriminations followed, and the night was largely spoiled. I had a slumber party on my ninth birthday too. Adam and Chris and Neil were invited. We camped out in the living room, our sleeping bags thrown down in front of the TV. We drank gallons of Mountain Dew and Dr Pepper and ate M&Ms and Reese’s Pieces. After my parents went to bed, we watched episodes of Benny Hill on the local PBS station. It was, at the time, one of the most outrageously fantastic nights of my life. The lesson here is never plan activities.

Someone ought to invent a word for the special pleasure of cancelling surgeries. Twice now I’ve scheduled a hernia repair surgery and subsequently cancelled it because I felt so well. Anyway, it’s a minor hernia. In the past three years it’s only rarely caused me notable discomfort. I figure, if I can hike nine miles with a heavy pack and suffer no ill effects, why volunteer myself for the carving table? I’m in no rush to be anyone’s roast turkey. St Paul in his letters complained of a mysterious “thorn in the flesh,” a temptation that pestered him to no end. I’ve come to believe the apostle had an inguinal hernia too. It’s a convenient complaint for a regular church attender: you’re immediately off the hook when fellow parishoners want help moving their pianos. The temptation, however, is real, and St Paul was a passionate man.  For all we know, he may have scheduled and cancelled dozens of surgeries all over the eastern Mediterranean.

On a father/daughter birding expedition last month, I was shocked to see, at a great distance but still unmistakeable, a flamingo in San Francisco Bay. I would have doubted my own eyes, but apparently there have been several confirmed spottings in the past two years. My daughter was ecstatic, breathless, leaping up and down and shouting her astonishment in an attempt to interest passersby.  How, and why, had it come here? Despite the absurdly pleasant weather we’ve had this winter, Northern California is not yet the tropics. David Sibley in his field guide assures us that any flamingos spotted in the western continental United States are escapees – from the zoo, presumably, or from some Hollywood celebrity’s or tech magnate’s personal golfcourse. My daughter and I prefer to imagine that our flamingo was simply fed up with all the other flamingos back home – their gossip, their politics, their pet causes. It wanted some quiet, some isolation, some anonymity. But anonymity is hard to come by when you’re the only bright pink animal around for hundreds of miles.

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