I’m going to kill that bird.

Granted, there’s more than just one bird out there. At this time of year, the whole backyard looks like a Disney film exploded, with multitudes of squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, and wrens, chattering, chirping, and singing about their longing for a handsome prince (one assumes). The wife and I can keep the windows open during the cooler nights and wake to the soothing sounds of nature wafting in on the breeze. This is the primary benefit of living in the country: Enjoying the sound of songbirds outside rather than the parking lot smackdowns and Ghostface Killah CD’s of the concrete jungle.

But there’s always this one bird, this ONE bird, who has to be heard above the rest of the woodland chorus. And he’s there outside our window at the crack of dawn, screeching his little birdy heart out, waking me from that dream about making pancakes with Tina Turner I like so much. And as this bird yodels at top volume, I lie there in sleepless agony, imagining the swift wallop I would like to deliver with a shovel handle, bashing that bird from his tree branch like a Spongebob piñata. As far as I’m concerned, killing someone, man or beast, for waking you up too early should be considered justifiable homicide.

And I realize, as I fantasize about the bird’s grisly death, that what makes this unrequested wake-up call even more irritating is that it seems to be the sound of joy. This is cheerful chirping, a celebration of a glorious new day. The bird actually seems to be screaming, “Neat! Neat! Neat!” The promise of this sunrise seems neato-keen to Little Mr. Loudlungs, and he just can’t help turning his happiness up to eleven.

It isn’t that I dislike happiness itself, of course – I’m not that far gone yet. In fact, that’s one of the warning signs I’m turning into my father that I check myself for vigilantly. He’s been known to project a little sarcastic laugh when he overhears the laughter of others. He actually mocks the very idea of laughter. I certainly don’t want to become embittered to this degree. I only ask to maintain a reasonable amount of bitterness, which demands to know why these people are having such a good laugh before I decide to hate them.

I can’t help feeling that if this bird’s loud proclamation was a cry of distress - if the bird was protesting a broken wing, or he was upset about the political turmoil in Istanbul, or his girlfriend walked out, reducing him to Boone’s Farm and Elliott Smith records, my reaction would be one of sympathy. This is human nature. We sympathize with the depression of others because the root causes of bummerhood are so basic. No one cultivates their depression in specific ways like they do with the things that make them happy. Rare is the individual who amasses a collection of decorative thimbles because they fill her with revulsion and sadness. No one takes annual trips to Disneyland because each ride on the teacups brings them closer to suicide.

No, depression doesn’t work like that. Depression seems common, universal - inspired by understandable, unavoidable tragedies - and we relate to it instantly. Depression fixates on the big stuff: the dead grandma, the career destroyed by one’s foosball addiction, the fear of Canada developing nuclear weapons, and so on. We nod in solemn agreement when anyone shares their sad tale of having to put their parakeet to sleep. We relate to the big bringdown. But someone else’s happiness is nearly always stupid. They’re giddy over a Robocop remake, or how tasty the cheese fries are, or the opportunity to meet Donny Most. Stupid, low-calorie happiness over specific stuff we don’t care about – what’s not to hate?

I know this irritation at a joyful noise is pure jealousy on my part. I’m one of those seething malcontents still clinging to the youthful conclusion that only depressing topics have any real depth and are therefore worthy of dark, teenage poetry. Happiness is a spontaneous, emotional response, lacking in the brooding contemplation usually afforded, say, a disfiguring train accident or irreversible stains on an expensive new Snuggie. I want to appear deep, and the happiness of others is harshing my darkness.

But great spiritual leaders from the Dalai Lama to Fat Albert insist that attitudes like mine are the devil’s superdome. To connect with the joy of others, they say, we must begin by voicing our appreciation for them and their disastrous haircuts. We tap into our own happiness, so the infomercials tell me, by pronouncing our gratitude for the people and environments around us, regardless of how irritating they are. This is the whole point of Thanksgiving, for example - a holiday where we are forced to express love for our family members despite the tension between Gertrude and Uncle Slim over the long-remembered ball peen hammer incident. We should remain focused on positivity and habitually speak our appreciation for life’s discount parade, just as the piercing early bird does as he gives thanks for the sunrise, the backyard bounty, and the deliciousness of his fellow woodland creatures.

So, I’m trying to do this. Really, I am. I’m trying to learn how to express these declarations of simple gratitude and admiration like my Croc-wearing peers are able to do. I want to openly marvel at someone’s spiffy, new pentagram tattoo or get giddy over an upcoming episode of “Zombie Chef.” But the best I’ve been able to manage so far – the only thing that comes naturally – is a sort of Vegas-style, Rat Pack schmoozing - that kind of show-biz false sincerity that keeps telethons and Shriner’s conventions running at a steady clip. I channel a maudlin Jerry Lewis, or perhaps the Chairman himself, to deliver some glamorized affirmation to my fellow man. I mean, I may have difficulty telling a co-worker his shirt looks nice, but I have no problem throwing my arm around his shoulder and loudly proclaiming:

“Ladies and gentlemen, if I can get serious for a minute, I want to tell you right now that this man right here – this warm, wonderful man – is one of the most talented, funny, and generous human being I have ever had the pleasure of working with. This man, who is simply a giant in our industry, is a truly special individual – a gifted professional who’s brought joy to our hearts for years – and I’m proud to call him my friend. Let’s hear it for this superstar.”

It’s schmaltz, but it’s start, right? I figure if I practice this kind of approach long enough, I can work my way back down to more direct expressions of appreciation. Pretty soon I’ll be greeting the dawn with a heartfelt “Neat! Neat! Neat!”

But until then, I just want to say thank you to all of you beautiful people out there. You’re one in a million, and I really mean that. Give yourselves a big hand.


Esri Rose said...

Without you to voice my inner malcontent, how could I go singing and dancing through my day?

Pinkhamster said...

The observation about your dad's sarcastic laugh was great and the Vegas routine really brought the piece up to a humorous crescendo!