In Dire Straights

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A cry for help can come from the oddest places. We all need a little help at one time or another throughout our lives. I’m not just talking about people needing help, but I’m referring to dogs and cats and horses and all those creatures who sometimes can’t pull themselves of the circumstances they find themselves locked into. It might even be a pigeon needing assistance. And that pigeon might even return the favor of you saving its ass by shitting on your car. However, we don’t go out of our way to assist others for a reward or for the appreciation from another being. We do it because we see a fellow creature in desperate need. The award is the uplifting feeling that arises within when individuals act together or alone towards a selfless goal.

Last spring I worked a shutdown at a pulp mill, I wasn’t involved in welding fractured metal or replacing worn pipes or cracking on wrenches to fine-tune a motor. I was a tank watch person. I was assigned each morning to watch the door of a vessel that may or may not have previously contained chemicals and caustic substances. I was responsible for ensuring the gas test was kept current for the people that would be working inside, and I was responsible for signing people in and out of the tank as they came and went to ensure everyone got out of the vessel safely.

One unusually warm spring day when the upper levels of the plant hovered near thirty-two degree’s, I was posted on the eleventh floor of the recovery boiler. My morning was passing as slowly as an ice cube melts in a chilled drink. The vessel I watched contained only one welder creating the odd burst of fireworks. The steady rumble of engines below vibrated through my feet on the steel grating. A shadow flickered by in my peripheral vision. I turned my head to the disturbance of light. Nothing existed there. I refocused my attention on the hatchway mesmerized by the reflection of the tradesman’s sparks dancing on the shiny metal. Again a shadow swept into the edge of my sight. I twisted around in time to witness a pigeon land on a pipe suspended from the ceiling. I sighed. Its outcome wasn’t promising. A few hours earlier, Marty, the gas tester had pointed out a couple of dehydrated pigeon husks at the top of an elevated section on the eleventh floor. I felt terrible. What an awful way to die. Trapped up here in a manmade dust bowl hearing nothing but the roar of machinery in the absence of sun and water.

Over the next forty-five minutes, the bird renewed its cycle of fluttering around and then landing intermittently. If a bird could pant, I would have thought it was panting. At one point it settled on the steel grating twenty feet away from me. The pigeon was noticeably distressed.

When the welder went downstairs to the camp trailer for his coffee break, I marked my vessel closed and tried to steer the bird towards a fenced off open shaft leading down to the bottom floor of the building. Maybe I could get it to dive down to freedom. It was going  well, the bird hopped up onto the cement border surrounding the shaft and cocked its head eyeing me up. Maybe it sensed the cooler fresh air wafting up the shaft. Perhaps it would escape the fate of its fleshless relatives on the eleventh floor. I hoped with all the hope I had that the bird would soon be liberated. I watched the pigeon spread its broad wings and leap off the cement curb. I held my breath— It dropped down and then quickly flew upwards and landed on the nearest metal platform.  I shook my head. Of course, it wouldn’t go down, pigeons aren’t diving birds.

I heaved out an exasperated sigh and spoke to the bird. “You know, I said tipping my head to the side, “If you would frickin co-operate with me I could pick you up and carry you outside?” The greyish blue pigeon tilted its head and eyed me with a curious stare. It blinked, and then I blinked. Now we were communicating. I crept up the stairs on the metal platform towards it. It side-stepped around to watch me. I spoke in a soothing tone, “That’s right, ohhh, you’re such a pretty bird. Good job, you’re doing wonderfully.” I continued approaching with sneaky movements. My hand was four inches away from the creature. I saw the thin layer of dust on its plumage, and the way it puffed in and out with stressful breathes. It looked nervous. It was going to fly. I made my move. I snatched at the bird, and my fingers brushed past its feathers as it flew away. I wrinkled my nose and growled— So close.

I glanced at my white-banded wrist watch. The welder wouldn’t be back for another twenty minutes. That would give me enough time to go down and use the bathroom and go to the tank watch trailer to refill my water. I pressed the button for the elevator. I waited a minute, and then I decided to take the stairs. If I stayed I’d be delayed forever because the elevator was always backed up at coffee time. As I trotted down the cement stairs, I poked around in my brain trying to stir up an idea how to trap the pigeon. After I had emptied my bladder and filled up my water, I headed back to my post. I lucked out, there was no line-up at the elevator. I pressed the button and abracadabra the doors opened.

I stepped inside, “Hi Mike, the eleventh floor please.”

“Sure thing,” he answered merrily, Mike always seemed to be in a good mood. He did this shut-down work as a part-time gig to supplement his retirement income and add a bit of diversity to his life. He usually had a tank watching assignment like myself, but today he was giving the elevator lady a break from her tedious job.

He pressed the button, and asked, “How’s it going up there?”

“Pretty good,” I said straightening my hard hat. “A bit boring though with only one welder working in the tank . How about you? Good times in the elevator?”

He chuckled, and then leaned back on his stool regarding me with a curious expression, “Actually,” he drawled. “You wouldn’t believe it? When I went up to the eleventh floor earlier and the door opened there was no one there— And then—a bloody pigeon walked right into the elevator.

My mouth dropped open and relief flooded into my body, the little pigeon was rescued from his prison of heat and dust. “That’s great,” I exclaimed, ”Did you give him a ride down?”

He frowned and scratched his gray head, “Well no— I shooed him away.”

“Oh,” I said as my face lost all enthusiasm for life.

Mike couldn’t help but notice, “Well, maybe he’ll still be there?”

“Yeah, maybe, I replied glumly.

We arrive on the eleventh floor, and the door slid open.

Mike leaned forward and the jabbed a finger towards the opening, “There it is.”

My excitement returned, and my eyes shimmered with glee, “Ok,” I whispered to Mike. “You hold the door open. I’ll herd it in, and then you take it to the ground floor and shush it out. The big door to the outside is right there, I’m sure it’ll find it’s way out from there.”

I moved stealthily out of the elevator while Mike kept the door open. I crouched down so I wouldn’t be as intimidating to the bird. Then I gently waved the pigeon in the direction of the elevator. The worn out fowl strutted right into the confined space like a well-trained trooper. Mike pushed the button to close the door as the pigeon hovered against the far wall. I grinned widely at my accomplice, “Good luck Mike, it’s all yours now.”

He smiled hesitantly, “See you later.”

The door shut and I couldn’t help but wonder if Mike would have pigeon shit in his hair the next time I saw him. Or even worse, what if the bird freaked out with claws extended frantic to escape the tight space? My co-worker might have bleeding gashes on top of his silver-haired head the next time I saw him. What have I instigated now?

On my lunch break, I actively searched for Mike. I exhaled a weighty sigh of relief when I found him. There was no bloody rips in his skin or bird shit in his hair. I plopped down on the chair beside him and asked, “How did the pigeon transport go?”

He giggled a bit and then went on with breathy expression, “Well, it started out alright.  The bird was as calm and as cool as could be. Even when the elevator started moving it simply looked around like it was no big deal. But then when we stopped on the fourth floor and  people got on—” Mike sucked in a deep breath of air and puffed it out shaking his head,  “It went crazy. The bird started flapping all over the place, and people were ducking and squealing.” He chuckled and leaned in close to me, “I closed the door anyhow. Then the pigeon really went bonkers— I thought, oh no— but then out of the blue a welder reached up and plucked the bird right out of the air. He tucked it under his arm, and when we arrived at ground level, he walked the little critter outside and set him free.” Mike shook his head with amazement, “I just couldn’t believe how quickly that guy snatched the bird out of the air.”

“That’s awesome,” I laughed. Big bubbles joy rose up inside me. One less husk on the eleventh floor. I slapped Mike enthusiastically on the shoulder, “Good job man, but I have to say after the door closed upstairs, I was worried about you, I had visions of you being covered in bird shit and claw marks.”

He chuckled, “Nope, no pigeon poop. But it wasn’t all me, you coaxed the bird into the elevator. I couldn’t believe how you ushered it in. Boop, boop, boop.”

“That part was easy, I had plenty of practice shepherding chickens when I was younger.” I paused. “But that welder you mentioned? That was cool.” I pause trying to find the words to describe what we had done, “What’s that saying? It takes a village to raise a child? Well, apparently it takes a work crew to free a pigeon.”

That was a good day. It was such a brilliant feeling to help a creature that was in dire straits. I hope you have a pigeon rescuing kind of day.

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