Al Batt: He said there would be whooshing and I heard it

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, March 21, 2023

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

No one is fully prepared to become a year older in just one day.

Al Batt

I suppose I should have found someone a year older than me and followed him around for a year. That would have been enlightening or frightening. An elder told me he hears a whooshing as his natal day goes past.

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It’s another year of not receiving a MacArthur Genius Grant for convincing my wife that I couldn’t shovel snow without a license. Welcomed cards congratulated me for being old and my wife shoved a lava lamp into my birthday cherry pie. Why have cake when you can have pie?

I learn things each year. I discovered if you think a banana and mayo on white bread is good, you should try any other sandwich. I still wonder if the hokey-pokey is what it’s all about.

People born in March have the qualities we look for in our leaders — we’re confused. My birthday is on March 16. I share it with Jerry Lewis, James Madison, Pat Nixon, Henny Youngman, Will Eisner, John Butler Yeats, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Lloyd “Little Poison” Waner, Don Blasingame and some people who remain alive.

“What would you like for your birthday?” I get asked and I never have an answer.

I’d have enjoyed a visit to Central Park in Manhattan. I’ve never been. I don’t watch the Super Bowl, but I enjoy seeing a superb owl. It’s because I know Hans, a superb owl that lives at an eagle center I’ve been involved with since many birthday cards ago. Hans is a Eurasian eagle-owl, a handsome fellow with pumpkin-orange eyes and feathery ear tufts.

The Eurasian eagle-owl is considered the world’s second-largest owl after Blakiston’s fish-owl, which is slightly heavier but shorter. A great gray owl is slightly longer, but lighter.

Flaco (“skinny” in Spanish), a male Eurasian eagle-owl, escaped from a zoo where he’d spent nearly all his 13-year life following vandalism to his zoo enclosure. The male owl is smaller than a female, but his wingspan can reach 6 feet— about a foot and a half more than a great horned owl. Flaco has shown no sign he intends to return home and is adjusting to life in the wilds of Central Park, successfully evading capture.

Other large owls have made the 843-acre Central Park their home in recent years, great horned owls and a barred owl nicknamed Barry that died after a collision with a Central

Park maintenance truck. Barry had potentially lethal levels of rat poison in her system, an issue that could befall Flaco if he ingests a poisoned rat. Eurasian eagle-owls can go weeks without food because ordering a rat pizza isn’t possible. Gladys, a Eurasian eagle-owl that escaped her Minnesota Zoo handlers during a training session in 2021, did well until she was hit and killed by a vehicle. Flaco has been coughing up fur and bones, proof he’d been hunting. He’s being bothered by blue jays, the local Unwelcome Wagon.

Karla Bloem, the executive director of the wonderful International Owl Center in Houston, Minnesota, said an escaped barred owl from a Minnesota nature center was captured by the use of a Super Soaker filled with soapy water. The owl was squirted until it became too wet to fly well.

Flaco remains at large. I haven’t been to Central Park to see that superb owl, but that’s OK. That pushpin will remain on the map.

My Aunt Edith was no quitter. She lived 105 years, 8 months, 13 days, a few hours and a smidgen of minutes. Her hearing was great for someone who had heard that much whooshing.

I’m a lucky man. Life is a bargain for someone in a constant state of awe who basks in the reflected glory of friends and family. I have a decent appetite, a soft pillow, a wounded toe that’s healing and an adequate sufficiency. I’m on velvet.

As I write this, I’m watching a deer poop in my yard. Now that’s entertainment. I like knowing the deer is there. A birthday is an unfamiliar parade. You never know what’s coming next, only that the horses will be last.

Realizing it will end with horses, not deer, caused me to whoosh a sigh of relief.

Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday in the Tribune.