Another installment from the Wild But True Tales From Caspar Files.
No one knows, exactly, when or why the peacocks appeared. It was possible that Frank bought them, since they seemed to start at the top of the hill and work their way down. That theory certainly made sense, since Frank owned other livestock, and Frank’s livestock had a way of getting loose and insinuating its way into the community. At any rate, Caspar had its own colony of wild peacocks, and may have been one of the few communities in California with this distinction.
The peacocks loved the Tin Palace. Almost every night, they would roost on our roof. We would hear a series of thumps and excruciating scrabbling sounds as they hauled their way onto the roof and settled in for the night. Every now and then, an ear-piercing scream.
You got used to the screaming. It got to the point where the scream of an actual human being probably would have been ignored, because everyone was so used to blood-curdling shrieks followed by gurgling noises. While at first everyone would jump and run outside to see what the problem was, eventually we just started ignoring them. Guests would look extremely disconcerted as we went right on doing whatever we were doing, occasionally raising our voices to be heard over the din.
In the summer months, we often left the Tin Palace wide open during the day in a vain attempt to get some air circulating through the building. Upstairs, where my father slept, he dubbed “Marine World Africa USA,” for reasons which are a bit obscure, but I think it was supposed to suggest that it was hot and humid every night, whether or not the windows were left open.
At any rate, one day we went to the beach with Mr Bell (who would, for the record, follow us to the beach and sit on the sand at the high tide mark, staring balefully at us until we were done). And when we got back, we found the lower floor of the house in shocking disarray. It looked like it had been tossed by a team of inept criminals; nothing was taken, but the pots and pans were flung to the floor, books had been dragged out of the bookshelf, the woodbox was overturned, the side of the refrigerator was dented, and festoons of shredded paper decorated the floor.
What could possibly have caused such devastation?
My father and I heard a noise upstairs and froze. It was a sort of whispering noise, with a bit of a clatter too it, and then there was a clack of toenails. Large toenails. Mr Bell slunk up the stairs to investigate. We could see him clinging to the steps and flowing up them like an oil slick in reverse, and eventually all we saw was his hind legs and the tip of his tail, because the rest of him was upstairs. The tail switched back and forth.
It abruptly stopped. There was a hiss, and Mr. Bell rocketed down the stairs like he’d been fired out of a cannon.
“YEE-OY! YEE-OY! AH AH AH A!”
Only one thing in Caspar could make a noise like that. The peacocks were upstairs.
Here’s something you might not know about peacocks: There’s really no way to put this delicately. Their shit stinks. It was a fact of life in Caspar; where there were peacocks, there was A Smell. Our noses couldn’t detect A Smell, but we were concerned that the peacocks might feel the call of nature before they felt like leaving, so we had to get them out before that happened.
However, we faced a problem, which is that when birds get anxious and upset, they tend to, well, void. Hence, we could sit out in the yard and hope that they left before something happened, or we could go upstairs and try to chivvy them out of the house without upsetting them too much. I was a big fan of the second option, but then we heard a noise like fabric ripping, and a distinctive creaking sound.
The peacocks were on my father’s bed.
Armed with brooms, we ventured upstairs.
Have you ever seen one of those paintings romanticizing harem life? Here’s a picture, for reference:
(This painting is “In the Harem” by Juan Gimenez-Martin)
That’s kind of what it looked like upstairs. The contents of my father’s bed and drawers were artfully tossed across the room, two peahens and one of the peacocks lounged on the bed, another peacock strutted across the floor, his dignity somewhat impaired by the fact that a pair of underpants was looped around his neck, and another peahen perched on top of the dresser.
Fortunately, as soon as we arrived, the peahen on the dresser lumbered out the open window right behind her and onto the roof that covered the addition. That left two cocks and two hens to deal with. The cock without the underpants launched his tail into full display, glaring defiantly at us, while the one with the underpants clattered down the stairs behind us and resumed despoiling the downstairs.
My father and I approached the bed from either side, intending to encourage them over the footboard and out the windows or downstairs. One of the peahens and the peacock obligingly leaped down to the floor, while the other stayed on the bed. She was just sluggish enough for me to catch her and bundle her out the window, but to my despair, the penhen who had jumped out the window on her own jumped back in. My father charged her in the hopes of getting her to go back out the window before she got all the way into the room, and she responded by voiding, copiously, all over the dresser and then disappearing under the bed.
The rest was like a French farce. Every now and then we would manage to successfully eject one of the birds, only to have another one sail in through another window. Meanwhile we and the upstairs became steadily more befouled with peacock poo. If the peacocks had had mustaches, they would have been twirling them insouciantly at us. We periodically heard ominous noises from downstairs as the peacock with the underpants clattered about, apparently blissfully unaware that he had not one but three open doors to the outside through which he could opt to exit.
Clearly, this was not working out. So, we came up with a new plan. We focused on catching them and immobilizing them in the sheets and blankets they had already soiled. Eventually, we had four bundles on the floor upstairs. We carefully carried them downstairs and laid them out in the yard, still keeping them bundled up while we went after the remaining peacock, whom we finally pinned against the refrigerator and captured. We carried him outside, released all the others from their bundles, and the peacocks promptly flew up onto the roof and sat on the ridgeline, glaring at us.
We ended up throwing out my father’s linens and pretty much every article of clothing he owned before scrubbing the upstairs, repeatedly, with bleach. Even then, for several years, on very hot days, A Smell would waft through the air upstairs.