Tartar Sauce
Photo by Victoria Alexander

There was one birthday, back in college, when a bird shit on his head. Or, well, it shit on the brim of his ball cap. But that’s the same, isn’t it?

He and his friends had just come back from a breakfast place, one of those chain joints (because the greasy spoons in town were too greasy for his yuppie roommate, who didn’t get that greasy was the point). He had parked his car in the main lot, the big one that sat between the big brick building up front and the sprawling lawn where there had once been tennis courts. Leaves were falling from the trees — one of each kind native to New England, or at least that’s what the tour guide had told his parents to sell them on this place — and he couldn’t quite remember why he’d parked here when he lived on the other side of the bridge. But they were all laughing and headed vaguely in the direction of the campus center, where the mailroom was, and maybe he’d meant to check and see if any more cards had arrived. It was a Sunday, but maybe it was okay to check just in case.

That was when the bird got him, in that moment of uncertainty, a gull emptying its bowls on its way down to the river, as purposeful an act from as single-minded and driven a creature as ever there was on God’s clichéd Earth. He felt the plop on the brim of his hat, then watched as the white gunk dripped down in a kind of slow motion past his face. He watched it plummet into the grass before his feet, watched himself step in it before he could stop himself, and then he tore the hat from his head — bad hair day be damned! — and he chucked it across the lawn, invoking all seven of the words Mister Carlin had implored him never to say on TV, all seven of them in a fantastically foul yet gloriously grammatical sentence that made his friends cackle with glee.

Or maybe they were laughing at how little the hat carried in the wind, or at how the gull kept going, completely oblivious to their friend’s screams that he would murder the thing, that this was not over. And maybe they are laughing still, fifteen years later, thinking about that bird long gone as they wonder over drinks if Ed — a professor now, but, as ever, the kind of man who holds a grudge — might still be stewing about it after all this time.