Al Batt: Who let the dogs out? Because I let the bird in

Published 9:32 am Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.I was headed outside.

I can’t remember why. There are many reasons to go outdoors.

I’d just been outside, playing basketball. I’d played a game of H-O-R-S-E. The first player attempts to make a basket (the hoop was hung outside on the west end of the chicken house) from a certain spot and in a particular way, explaining to the others beforehand the requirements of the shot. If the shot was successful, every subsequent player must make a basket in the same way. If a player failed to duplicate the shot, they acquired a letter, starting with H. If the first player misses a shot, control moves to the next player. Whenever any player spells out “Horse,” he loses. I’d played against our horse. I’d smoked him.

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I opened the door. It’s my habit to do that before I walk out of a door. I’m appreciative of a junior high teacher who taught me to do that. Those English teachers know stuff. The advice didn’t arrive in time to prevent me from having a crooked nose, but it did save some wear and tear on my beak.

A bird flew in the opened door. It was a house sparrow. I’m sure that it had tried ringing the doorbell, but we didn’t have a doorbell. We’d just obtained a TV and my mother was afraid that a doorbell would take away electrical current better used for watching TV.

The bird might have come in just to have a look at a field guide to make sure that it had properly identified itself.

I don’t know who let the dogs out, but I know that I let the bird in.

There was no panic in the household. It didn’t give us the willies. We didn’t feel as if we were wearing someone else’s underwear. We didn’t scurry around covering our priceless antiques in bedsheets. We’d had birds in the house before and we had no priceless antiques.

We weren’t that superstitious. Birds have long been thought to be associated with otherworldly powers. The ability to fly gave a bird a mystical quality that many look to as a portent. A bird flying into a house through a door or window, was said to foretell a death. If that were true, there would be few humans left.

I took a class on superstitions and their meanings. The instructor felt that the original superstition was that when a bird flew in through an open window, circled the room or landed on the back of someone’s chair, and then flew back out, it was saying that someone who lived in that dwelling was about to buy the farm. There was probably no time limit applied for this to occur.

Supposedly, Lucille Ball was terrified of birds. Lucy refused to stay in any hotel room that had images of birds. No birds or pictures of birds were allowed in her home. Reportedly, in the 1950s she had the Japanese silk print wallpaper ($90 a roll) torn from the front hallway of her Beverly Hills home because shadowy images of birds were part of its pattern. That sounds goofy to me, but who am I to question anyone’s sanity? I’m afraid of microwave ovens.

Superstitions were a way that our ancestors tried to make sense of an existence that seemed capricious and frightening. And they didn’t have microwave ovens to concentrate their fears upon in those days.

In these enlightened days, few people think that having a bird fly into a house is bad news. Our cat, Purl (a housecat that never sets a paw outdoors, but is a dedicated bird watcher), would consider a bird entering the house to be a dream come true.

We left the door open and the bird flew out the same way it came in. About 518 houseflies flew in. It was a crummy trade, almost as bad as the one I made years later when I traded off a well-used Ford for an even more used Plymouth.

The bird left. Nobody died. Nobody was injured.

It was much better than the time when I thought it would be fun to hit a golf ball in the basement.

I know that brought bad luck.