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Clipping the pigeon’s claws 1

Francesca and I were nearing Piazza Cavour when we saw a homeless man marching in place with his back to a brick wall. He was waving his left hand spastically in front of his face, either suffering from a neurological disorder, under the influence of some brain-straining substance, or a combination of the two. A backpack was propped against the wall, and a cereal bowl with several coins inside was on the ground by his feet. We took a wide detour, worried his swinging hand might take a swipe at us as we passed.

A nun walking ahead of us was not to be deterred, and I slowed my pace and watched her stop in front of the man. She stared at him for a few seconds, and when she asked if he was okay, the man continued to march, his hand swishing back and forth. The nun asked if she could do something to help him. Did he need an ambulance? A doctor? When the man realized the nun was there to stay, at least until she understood how she could help, the man suddenly stopped walking in place and his arm dropped to his side. He eyed the nun, frowned, and said, “I’m okay. I just have a nervous tic that acts up sometimes.”

Without a word the nun turned and walked away, apparently understanding, as we did, that he was acting up in an award-winning performance aimed at winning people’s pity . . . and their loose change.

An hour later, while passing Piazza Benedetto Cairoli, we noticed the park had reopened after more than a year of renovations, so we decided to look around. As we headed toward the only available bench, we saw an elderly lady near the fountain. She was buried in pigeons. Hundreds of them were climbing on her head, her shoulders, her arms, and crowding her feet.

Then I saw she had a pigeon in her hand, which she lifted above her head, holding the pigeon’s legs near her eyes and squinting. She reached up with her other hand and started clipping the pigeon’s claws with a pair of scissors. At first I figured she was loony, but then I realized she was cutting away at a mess of twine tangling the pigeon’s legs together.

Once she was satisfied with her work, she released the bird into the air. Then she reached into her jacket pocket and scattered birdseed on the ground and along the fountain’s rim. She also fed pigeons from her cupped hands. Feathers flapped in her face, beaks pecked at her pockets, claws gripped every inch of her jacket and pants. At the same time she bent forward and stared down at the other birds, eyeballing their movements in search of other pigeons in need of her services.

I guess the events of last Sunday’s stroll have served to prove the old adage: appearances can be deceiving. A homeless man with a disturbing pathology can turn out to be a swindler in disguise while an old maid bird freak might end up being an animal enthusiast, which offers clarity, but also confusion. After all, what if our dear cat Jimi isn’t a cat but some freeloading fox hustling us for free room and board and all the grub she can get.

Wouldn’t that be something?


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